Sweet Tooth: A Dessert Walking Tour on New York City’s Upper West Side

Posted by on Nov 25, 2012 in Featured, Food, New York City | 5 comments

Sweet Tooth: A Dessert Walking Tour on New York City’s Upper West Side

I’ve always associated the Upper West Side of Manhattan with the art of the urban chic, especially when it comes to food. From the “Tequila Bar meets Sushi Bar” Citrus, to the hip Magnolia Bakery, the area seldom disappoints.

I lived in a small, postage-stamp sized apartment on West 72nd for about a half year before I decided I needed far more leg room (and hence moved to the other side of the pond in Weehawken, NJ). While the Upper West Side is beautiful, it’s more coach than coach class when it comes to real estate at least, unless you’re plunking down some serious dough for your square footage.

But it’s hard to argue that this is one delicious area in New York City. I was therefore quite excited to discover new places to indulge my sweet tooth, on the “Desserts and Wine Walking Tour,” a Cloud Nine Living experience (this 2.5 hour guided walking tour promised to open our eyes to some of the niche gems).

The Upper West Side: Once Rural, Now Urban Glam

Our guide, Matt, explained to us that the Upper West Side was far from the diverse and densely packed area that it is today. Dutch immigrants occupied the area towards the mid 17th century, and it was an area of rolling farms. What we now know lovingly by the name of Bloomingdales was actually a family name and a large producer of tobacco in this area.


The statue of the famed composer, Giuseppe Verdi

We started our walking tour in the beautiful Verdi Square on 72nd and Broadway, which is an area with plenty of Italian history. This famous subway stop on 72nd Street was the first subway stop in the country, opening in 1904. Now a community filled with artists, the Upper West Side is a magnet for socialites, shoppers, gourmets and outdoor enthusiasts.


Verdi Square is a stone’s throw away from the Ansonia, a beautiful building located on Broadway between 73 and 74th streets, and was originally built as a hotel. I have fond memories of the now residential building because I used to receive piano lessons here. Our tour guide says that there was an entire floor devoted to maintaining cattle there to give fresh milk to visitors!

Magnolia Bakery


Our first stop was the famous (or shall we say, thanks to Sex and the City, infamous) Magnolia Bakery where we had a creamy but delicious signature red velvet cupcake, quite moist and with good consistency. If you’re in the area, be prepared to wait a few minutes in the long line–it’s always worth it.

200 Columbus Avenue New York, NY 10023

(212) 724-8101



This is the place for the authentic Italian donut, made fresh and offered to you in lip smacking, off the beaten path varieties from blood orange to nutella. They’re incredibly light and airy too: your stomach won’t feel as though you’ve indulged in pastries after you eat one, two or even three of these. This is the Willy Wonka Italian Donut Factory, folks.

Levain Bakery


Home of what I believe to be the Sicilian Style type of cookie (it’s that thick, and that good), the chocolate chip creations we tried made me feel we had hit the sugar jackpot. But Levain Bakery offers tons of other goodies as well, from the plain brioche to the walnut sticky bun. It’s most famous for the cookies however. Although a bit pricey (they retail for $4 a pop), they’re large, gooey and completely worth the trek.

Pour Wines

Pour Wines Upper West Side New York

Since this was a desserts and wine tour, one of the stops was Pour, a beautifully curated wine store filled with wines with cheeky liner notes and segregated by type (e.g. Full Bodied, Sparkling) so when you browse the store’s offerings, you immediately know what you want. And if you don’t, the store’s learned experts will point you in the right direction. Pour has a unique food and wine pairing tool and there are free wine tasting seven nights a week. One thing we did try and loved, the Italian Bubbles 2011, a beautiful rose. Contrary to popular belief, roses should not be too sweet: this one is actually quite dry and pairs beautifully with food.

Jacques Torres Chocolate


This master of chocolate has an Upper West Side location, and it is buzzing! Try their everything, especially the signature hot chocolate. We loved the Bean to Bar chocolate bar and intense dark chocolate ganache with high cacao content.

Beard Papa’s: Home of the Best Cream Puff

Beard Papa Home of the Best Cream Puff

Honestly, cream puffs are so not my thing, but Beard Papa’s original cream puff is the closest thing you can have to pastry heaven: light, airy and perfectly sweet. The shell is thin and not flaky and the insides have great texture and consistency.


Matt and I were guests of Cloud Nine Living, who provided the experience but the opinions are completely our own. If you’re interested in receiving a chance to receive a transformational experience of your own, enter the Cloud Nine Living here that is currently going on for the holidays, and you might win a chance to be a Fighter Pilot for a day.


How Social Media Is Helping Hurricane Sandy Victims

Posted by on Nov 3, 2012 in Featured, New Jersey, New York City | 3 comments

How Social Media Is Helping Hurricane Sandy Victims

I remember that Monday afternoon as vividly as I do a Jackson Pollock painting. The wind picked up with such alarming speed I thought a supersonic jet was whizzing above our heads. The baby’s crib was right by the window, a few feet away from a young tree whose branches intersected a telephone pole crammed with wires. I knew that if that tree crashed into our house, it would be disaster, to say the least, and so we moved baby and crib well away from the window into the deep depths of the living room.

We couldn’t believe the stuff we were reading on the news: the entire evening felt surreal. We live next door to an Emergency Medical Service station, and rescue workers battled rain and gusting winds throughout the night to field emergency calls. I peeked out the window every five minutes, making sure the tree was intact and there were no messed up live wires.

Hurricane Sandy left me, my husband, my infant daughter Erika and our au pair completely displaced and helpless. An invisible guardian angel was watching over the roof, which my tenant swears shook like pieces of Scrabble. I felt that the lanky pole with its swath of wires would fall on the house at any moment. Unfortunately for some people in New York State, trees did collapse. But luckily for us, our house escaped without a scratch.

My heart went out to those who had lost lives during the storm. Our neighbors were not that lucky: some had awnings blown off that tumbled onto parked cars and the streets. Some lost balconies. A few people lost lives too precious to mention when trees crashed into their homes.

Gusting winds in Weehawken post Hurricane Sandy

Right across the river, we saw a pitch black Manhattan the following evening as electricity was suspended for some 220,000 people below 39th street. The entire downtown portion of the city looked like a dark, black limb –quite a contrast to the sparkling champagne-like place I knew and loved.

Over the next few days, we heard so many heartbreaking stories that all I wanted to do was to turn off the news and hope that it was a bad dream. President Obama promised a “no red tape, no delays” approached to distributing aid to the hurricane’s victims, but when Thursday and Friday rolled around, residents in critically affected areas –especially Staten Island—had received barely any help, and most of it only from the Red Cross.

Hurricane Sandy tree down in Weehawken NJ

Hurricane Sandy tree down in Weehawken NJ

My town of Weehawken, NJ suffered some minor damage but some people lost roofs, tiles and awnings

Some of the delay seems to be with costs associated with allowing union workers to help the battered states (non-union electrical workers are not allowed into New Jersey, for example).

The idea that no red tape should exist is such wishful thinking: Social Media came to the rescue once again with many people relying on the kindness of strangers and neighbors and friends. I learned more about where to go and help through Social Media than any other methods.

Here are some ways Social Media made an impact in the aftermath of Sandy:

  •  New Yorkers used Twitter to find out if other neighbors got electricity back on (e.g. @siobhang tweeted “Can someone confirm for me if there is power on Houston Street? @ConEdison);
  • In Staten Island, arguably the most affected New York City burrough, Social Media channels were what residents and volunteers used to mobilize help and ask for donations that were critically important to lives who needed instant help;
  • The Twitter account of FDNY, run by Emily Rahimi, proved to be a lifeline for many;
  • Individuals on Facebook are posting pictures of where they need help the most, and connecting with friends to ask for donations and supplies;
  • With landlines unavailable in many places, Social Media channels were what concerned friends and family monitored for news about their loved ones.

While donating to the Red Cross is a way of giving, many social media feeds point out that these supplies are heavily delayed and people need food and clothing immediately and cannot afford to wait for a few days. If you see someone who needs help, lend a hand. Every bit counts. Check out the Twitter feeds of the FDNY, Red Cross and individual friends’ accounts with hashtag #sandy to see how you can help.



In SoHo, a Forgotten French Pastry Gets a Second Look

Posted by on Oct 21, 2012 in Featured, Food, New York City | 9 comments

In SoHo, a Forgotten French Pastry Gets a Second Look


It was pouring buckets, and my umbrella was nearly swept away like Mary Poppins as I exited the Spring Street subway station. Water licked every cobblestone on the street, the variegated fall leaves were already yellow orange from the season.

I was running late to an appointment, but because I had not eaten a crumb for breakfast, the sign DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY sounded even more appealing.

Clean as a whistle, the small SoHo store proudly boasted a board in front, with the compelling words “Try our world famous Kouign Amann.”

Don’t mind if I do, I thought, without having the foggiest notion as to what a Kouign Amann (also known affectionately in the shop by the acronym DKA) would taste like. I silently hoped that it would be vegetarian. As it turns out, the pastry is made out of dough fit for a croissant, with the addition of sugar.  Famous in Brittany, it wasn’t really popular in New York until a slew of pastry chefs, starting with Dominique, decided that it deserved some better attention.

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo

The Kouign Amann with its exterior caramelized crackly crust and a soft core, is very similar to the croissant

Ansel’s version is slightly different from the norm. The caramelized, crispy crust has a flaky core but the traditional Breton version is slightly heavier. Think of this version as the New Yorker’s best friend: light, airy and oh so sweet that stays well clear of saccharine.

I eye the other baked goods and pastries carefully, realizing that that moment was not dissimilar to a Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory experience. There were tiny brown canneles that looked nice and sticky, like toffee pudding. And those giant elephant-ear like Arlettes, which are similar to palmiers, are South of France specialties. “These are rolled by hand to four times the size of the beginning dough,” says Ansel. “It is covered with a mix of sugar and cinnamon, and makes for one mighty cookie.”

Mighty, but light. This is what is ideal about Ansel’s bakery: from the multi-colored macarons to the miniature meringues, the offerings are both eye and mouth candy.

“In France, every village or town has its own specialty item. If you go to Bordeaux, you’ll see canneles in all the bakeries there. If you go to Brittany, it’s the Kouign Amann. In the south of France, you’ll find the Arlette,” continues Ansel.

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo Cakes

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo Cakes

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo Cakes

After plunking down the change for a delicious soy latte and a Kouign Amann (pronounced KWEEN AH-MAHN), I took a plastic fork, looked at the caramelized delicious and crispy exterior and hoped that it would live up to the expectation. I wondered if this moment was going to be similar to my reaction at the recent Oscar Awards, when I had heard that Hugo swept away most of the Academy Awards. I was not doubting the technical mastery of the movie—I just wasn’t sold.

But thankfully, Ansel’s recipe exceeded my Hugo moment.

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo The Garden

The Garden at the back of the cafe  is a cozy dining area

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo The Garden

Dominique Ansel at work in the kitchen (left)

Dominique Ansel Kouign Amann Breton Pastry in SoHo The Garden

New York Magazine voted the bakery’s DKA as one of the best bets of 2012

With one bite, I could feel the crackly crust of the Amann, and caramelized sugar that melted on my lips. I was hooked, line and sinker, for life. There’s also a tender flaky core that is as light as the most buttery croissant that just begs you to pair this sweet breakfast treat with a mug of coffee.

“We’ve sold out of DKAs on most days since opening,” says Ansel.

I’m not surprised in the least bit to hear this — these crispy treats are so addicting I wanted to jump on a subway and come and get another after an hour. “The open-mindedness of the people here in New York and the curiosity for good food is unbelievable here” Ansel adds.

This is a delicious resurrection that won’t be going out of style anytime soon.

Dominique Ansel Bakery 189 Spring Street (between Sullivan and Thompson)

New York, NY 10012

8am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday) 9am to 6pm (Sunday)


A Delicious Obsession: Lessons from a Chocolate Historian

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in Featured | 7 comments

A Delicious Obsession: Lessons from a Chocolate Historian

Who doesn’t love chocolate, in all its variations? We catch up with Mark J. Sciscenti, BA, Chocolate Historian, Artisan Chocolatier, Chef Instructor & Pastry Chef of World Tree Chocolates to give you a snapshot on chocolate trends, origins and everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

Butterflydiary: How long has chocolate been consumed?

Mark Sciscenti: Chocolate has been consumer over 4000 years, from about 2000 BCE to now. It was initially consumed as a bittersweet spicy drink. The first chocolate bar was invented in England by Joseph Fry in 1847 and consisted of cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar. It was not like the chocolate bars we are familiar with today, which is made up of ground cocoa beans, cocoa butter and sugar.

What exactly is a Chocolate Historian?

A chocolate historian is a professional culinary historian who researches the history of chocolate. I am one among many chocolate historians around the world – I believe that there are 6 of us here in the US. However, many culinary historians are knowledgeable on a wide range of history and food-ways which include some or a lot of chocolate history. My focus is pretty specific with chocolate although this does include culinary history around the world.

I am passionate on the history of chocolate for one obvious reason – I love chocolate! I’ve been drinking chocolate (hot/cold chocolate) for most of my life and preferred it only lightly sweetened. I have been a pastry baker and chef for over 20 years. I also grew up in an archaeological family here in the Southwest and have history in my blood. In addition, I am intrigued by the complexity of many flavors – the form of chocolate consumed throughout its history was as a bittersweet, complex and spicy drink.

When I was given an anthropological book on the history of chocolate over 12 years ago I pretty much devoured the book and fell in love with the idea of this pre-Columbian and historic chocolate. As a chef and pastry chef I set out to make these chocolate drinks, which I’ve been making since. I’ve been lecturing on the history of chocolate for over 10 years around the country at prestigious museums, anthropological and medical conferences, living history museums, businesses, schools and at private events. I always sample some of these historic drinking chocolates at these events. At this point, I make over 28 different kinds of historic drinking chocolates which span the Mesoamerican and pre-Columbian time periods, the historic European and Colonial American and Mexican time periods.

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

Why do people love chocolate?

There are many reasons. The one obvious one is that chocolate has a luxurious taste and mouth feel. Another reason is that many complex bio-chemical reactions happen in the brain that induces euphoria.

How has the use and value of chocolate changed over the years?

Oh, there have been lots of value changes. Originally during Mesoamerican times, the cacao beans were not only made into a chocolate drink, but the beans were used as value units for trade – barter/money. From some of the historic documents we know that food or services were bought using cacao beans – an avocado or tamale was worth 1 cacao bean, portage could be had for 100 cacao beans, and the services of women could be bought with 10 cacao beans (an indication of how women were valued).

Drinking chocolate was pretty much the exclusive right of the rulers and kings, medicine people or shamans, warriors and wealthy traders, and it was drunk in ceremonial fashion. Commoners were allowed to have chocolate during important dates, festivals and weddings.

Those who were growing cacao in the lowland tropics also drank chocolate but only for the same reasons. During the historic European period the drinking of chocolate was consumed only by the aristocracy and wealthy merchants. It was only in the mid to late 1800′s that the consumption of drinking chocolate was available to anyone due to manufacturing processes that made it inexpensive. Then of course, in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s you get all the candy made from chocolate. This happened because plantations of cacao were being grown all over the tropics – more production and better machinery.

I believe that the chocolate museum in Belgium has some literature that says chocolate prevents acne, is an aphrodisiac and isn’t proven to cause weight gain. Is this true?

Let’s take these one at a time: chocolate does not necessarily prevent acne, nor does it cause acne. An aphrodisiac? Well, that is a stretch and a theory that is over 400 years old. No. There are a lot of compounds in chocolate that can make humans feel good which can lead to sex – but in and of itself, no, it is not an aphrodisiac. Weight gain from eating “junk” chocolate or candy is a proven fact. Too much sugar and bad fats added to chocolate causes this. Dark chocolate, when consumed in small quantities (about an ounce) will not cause weight gain. In fact, the drinking of about 3 oz of dark chocolate – 70% or higher (not just cocoa powder) 20 minutes before a meal will reduce the amount of food a person eats. That could help someone lose weight.

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

What are the current chocolate trends you’re seeing?

A lot of attention to the so-called “fair-trade” and organic issues, which are valid as there is a lot of inequity around the world in cacao plantations; attention to origins and types of cacao beans; the production of fine-flavor chocolate and smaller chocolate makers (here I mean bean-to-bar chocolate makers, not candy or confection makers); interesting flavors being added to chocolate confections; the so-called “raw” chocolate movement (a bunch of misinformation and hype, to put it bluntly).

Regarding consumption: who’s producing a lot, and eating a lot?

The Swiss are the world’s largest consumers of chocolate, with the rest of the Western EU countries behind them. Then England, then the U.S.

What beans of cacao do you personally love?

Criollo and Trinitario, the fine-flavored cacao beans. The Criollo only produces around 1%-5% of the world’s crop – really rare! Trinitario produces around 15%-20%, also rare. And both are expensive. But, they have the most variety and range of flavors.

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

A Brief History of Chocolate, Interview with Chocolate Historian Mark Sciscenti

What are the impact of “Fair Trade” prices on the quality and cost of chocolate since those from whom Cocoa and many other products were from the longest time being practically “taken” have begun to stand up against the injustice?

This one is complicated.

“Fair-Trade” prices have only made a small impact upon the cost of chocolate – not enough produced at the moment. As to the quality – Quality has never been of importance to “fair-trade” chocolate makers. The bulk of the cacao going into the production of “fair-trade” is of the Forastero cacao beans – which make up 80%-90% of the world’s crop. While Forastero has the deep chocolate flavor it has the least fine-flavor notes. It can also be quite acidic and astringent. Forastero cacao requires more fermenting and careful drying and roasting to bring up any of the flavors. All too often, these steps are ignored.

There is a concerted movement by a lot of companies to address the inequity issues surrounding cacao. However, sad to say most of the larger companies will not address these issues. There are a few larger companies like Mars, but not many.

Most of the movement is from smaller bean-to-bar chocolate makers and other companies. These companies may, or may not be involved in the “fair-trade” movement, however they are working towards the same goal of empowering the cacao growers. Unfortunately, and I say the following with trepidation, most of the money from the “fair-trade” organizations do not reach the cacao growers. There are quite a few issues with the internal bureaucracy of these organizations that contribute to this.

There are quite a lot bean-to-bar chocolate makers around the world who do a better job of working with the growers and pay rates way above the “fair-trade” rates (which by the way, is tied to the worlds commodities markets rates). However, they are not certified (the certification process is quite expensive which the growers are responsible for in the long run and the money goes into questionable places).

The greatest increase in the cost of chocolate is coming from the loss of crops due to the high disease rate. This is raising the prices of the bulk commodity cacao which goes into candy – so the price of candy is going up. So what? I don’t eat candy!

Will you pay more for chocolate made from “fair-trade” cacao?

I already pay prices that are at a premium and are quite a bit higher than the “fair-trade” chocolate as I buy from the ethical small bean-to-bar chocolate makers. Most people who buy candy are used to paying around $1.50 per item; most chocolate bars run in the $2.50-$3.50 range and up to $5, including “fair-trade” bars.  I pay $7-$16 per bar, and these bars run from 1oz to 3oz.

To reach Mark Sciscenti or to book him for an event, reach out to him at marksciscenti@gmail.com. All photos property of Matthew Minucci, Butterflydiary.com. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. 


Ways that Social Media Is Changing the World

Posted by on Sep 23, 2012 in Featured, Social Media | 4 comments

Ways that Social Media Is Changing the World

How can Social Media change the world?

The big, burning question in my head as I attended my first Mashable Social Good Summit at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

Sure, we’d all like to think that social media, the Big Kahuna, really has the wherewithal to do some technological heavy lifting, but my experience with it has been mostly on the leisurely pursuits side: tweeting blog posts, sharing photos on Facebook, hosting and participating in Twitter chats and offering advice on say, where to book the next luxury bed and breakfast to see the fall foliage.

All very valuable advice, surely, but not game changing.

Social Media is the darling word of just about everyone these days (and joined by its stepsisters authenticity; viral; engagement; influence and the distant cousin Klout Score). I’ve heard the term tossed around by cab drivers and bartenders alike, and by marketing executives who only had a vague notion what it meant. So, Mashable’s Social Good Summit then, would surely open my eyes to the bigger picture.

And it did.

Lessons Learned from  Mashable Social Good Summit 2012 New York City

Social Media Deconstructs Complex Policies, Makes them More Accessible

Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver, and Chrysula Winegar of Million Moms Challenge spoke about how social media helped them break down the barriers of high level technical policies and bring them to the people. And not only that, every time they wanted to get their message across, the amplification factor of the tweets and retweets ranged in the millions (one campaign reached 2.5 million people). And Sheffield’s efforts target women –by and large young girls—who are 25 years of age. “This is their time,” she says. “They live with technology and are certainly using it, and it’s our turn to engage with them. Technology is a wonderful tool and it needs people.”

Technology helps People to be Accountable, Transparent

These two qualities can help save lives. Sheffield noted that “every minute, a woman dies somewhere in the world, and that’s unacceptable. That costs the world lost work.” Her first call to action is to take young people, young women seriously. “Investing in girls and women isn’t the right thing to do…it’s the smart thing to do.”

Data is Out There, and it Leads to Job Creation

Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer of The White House was full of enthusiasm and passion when he spoke about technology and social media (in fact, I thought he was going to fall off the podium in excitement). He echoed Joy’s Law (attributed to Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy) who said, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”

Park’s words of wisdom: don’t just think of what you can do for yourself, but how you can enable everyone else in the world to move with your mission. There is great truth to this because at the end of the day, no social good can come out of something that’s not innately social. In order to achieve something big, tangible and impactful (and maybe even lasting), we need to motivate others to share that passion and help our cause.

Park spoke about how plentiful data was, and how that data is leading to job creation. Check out data.gov and you’ll see what I mean. This data helps create jobs for those who are inspired to take it, sift it and find a use for it (e.g. developing apps, writing content, elucidating the data to the public). Park is also realistic about data’s uses: “I can’t pour data on a broken bone and fix it, I can’t pour data on a wound and cure it. Data is only useful if you apply it.”

Social Media and Diplomacy

Diplomacy too, has changed quite a bit with the advent of Social Media channels. Victoria Essner, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy, U. S. State Department says that she tweets a lot, and that scrutiny and tweet checking are not something that would apply these days. “The 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak,” she says.

While corporations can sometimes struggle to maintain the quality of tweets, the worry of someone going rogue is on a different scale if you’re using State and National Social Media accounts. “It’s a way of connecting with people,” says Essner “and it’s a critical part of diplomacy no matter which country you’re from. You cannot manage tweet at a time, or you won’t be authentic to the community you’re trying to cultivate.”

Arturo Sarukhan, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States, says that diplomats are comfortable with the fact that his personal tweets are not approved by the Foreign Ministry. While it is “not a substitute for regular diplomacy,” he says that it’s definitely a unique tool for engagement. And most of his tweets are bilingual, and reaches an entirely different audience.

The bottom line, the point of diplomacy is to provide unique opinion and motivate the community that follows you.

Text Messaging for Birth Control

Dr. Jenny Francis, Global Health Fellow at Mount Sinai Medical center, uses text messages to improve birth control options. Since 88% of teens used their phones just for their text messages and since the US has the highest rates of teenage pregnancies (much more than any other developed countries), smartphones become an effective way to give and receive birth control messaging to this population. Unintended pregnancies are a big deal because studies show that this population is less likely to enter the workforce, and only half of the women who have unintended pregnancies use birth control.

In one study at the Mount Sinai, the enrolled participants (around 150) are not just sent reminders but encouragement to use their birth control effectively. Francis says that all the participants are excited about using technology for birth control use.

Social Media Eliminating Pediatric AIDS

Every 90 seconds a girl is born with HIV. And 90% of these children are in sub Saharan Africa. Many will will die before the age of 2, and a pregnant women with HIV without care has an increased risk of disease transmission and death. HIV testing is therefore critical in reduce maternal deaths.

Anu Gupta, Director in Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson says that she has seen a transformation in these children and women from a death sentence to a life manageability. “If we’re going to get to zero percent, the game changer is a mobile phone, and mobile phones ARE changing the pediatric AIDS change the landscape,” she says.

But how can a phone change lives?

There are a billion people who will never see a doctor in their lives. The statistics there don’t make sense and the villagers trudge hundreds of miles to just get care. Medic Mobile, which provides care to these women and children, equipped a hospital in Malawi with solar panels and phones, and soon these womenwere tweeting and documenting cases through their phones. “Data is important because it has a direct parallel to cure,” says Josh Nesbit, CEO, Medic Mobile. “In India, with a smartphone intervention we put basic profiles for kids, and if the kids missed their appointment they were sent another automated alert. In a 15 month study, vaccinations jumped from 15% to 90%.”

Google Earth & Global Culture

Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager, Google Earth Outreach & Earth Engine Google, Inc showed us several imagery where Google Earth is mapping forests, showcasing mines (in an area where children go to school each day) and how the Surui Tribe in the Amazon showcases their cultural footprint on the screen.  The David Sukuki foundation uses Google Earth to calculate the value of nature in their communities.

How will you change the world using Social Media?

The Most Romantic Bridges in New York City

Posted by on Sep 7, 2012 in Featured, New York City, Photos, Travel | 9 comments

The Most Romantic Bridges in New York City

From the iconic, cobweb-like Brooklyn Bridge to the stately George Washington, New York City offers a bridge to suit every type of traveler. There are those built for the walkers, the genteel joggers, and the keen-eyed photographers. For many, a bridge may simply be a utilitarian, functional landmark whose only purpose is to join two places. But for others with a more romantic soul, they’re shrines of inspiration, and emblems of artistic and structural achievement.

Here are some of the most romantic bridges in New York City, in the sense that they inspire and offer unparalleled views of the city:

The Brooklyn Bridge: A veritable veteran in the category of suspension bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge is what inspired poet Hart Crane to write an entire ode to its legacy. It was completed in 1883, and spans the East River, connecting two important burroughs: Manhattan and Brooklyn. It has several firsts to its credit: the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world, and the first bridge on which P.T. Barnum (of Barnum and Bailey) led a parade of 21 elephants for a publicity stunt for his show, Jumbo.

The fact that a poet of Hart Crane’s caliber should pen down such verse about a bridge (nothing along the lines of the nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down) should give you an idea of how romantic its view can be. It may be built of limestone and cement but it is anything but ice cold. This bridge, with its tan and silver tones, is ideal for a leisurely walk or a jog, and a terrific way to greet the day. If you’re thinking of popping the question, the perfect Manhattan backdrop is yours for the taking.

Fun fact: More than 4,000 pedestrians and 3,000 cyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge each day.

The George Washington Bridge:

Another stunner of a suspension bridge, this iconic structure stands majestically on the Upper (Upper) West Side of Manhattan, connecting New Jersey with the city. It spans the Hudson River like a shiny albatross and has an upper and lower levels for traffic. It also has a pedestrian section for those who value their views. What’s impressive about the George Washington Bridge is not only its structure, but its freight load. 

What I love about the George Washington Bridge is the silhouette it forms in the evening, gracing Hudson Bay with the same stature as San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate bridge. Not as much romantic by day as it is by night, the George Washington also towers above a lush park (on the Jersey side) where you can go for picnics and photography.

Fun fact: This is the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge. It has the largest vehicular capacity of any bridge in the world, and hosts some 106 million vehicles per year, like an Atlas Shrugged.

Williamsburg Bridge:

Another graceful suspension bridge, this structure connects the Lower East Side of Manhattan at Delancey Street to the hipster Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood. Originally heralded as the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was constructed, it is odd as far as suspension bridges go, with trussed side spans. What’s interesting about this silvery trussed structure is that it also carries rail traffic as well, a trait I find retro, quirky and romantic as well.

The pedestrian bridge is a recent addition in 1999, and walks across the structure yield terrific Hudson River views, especially on a brilliant, sunny day.

Fun fact: There were once two sets of trolley tracks on the bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, an architectural marvel at the time of construction, and an emblem of nostalgia at the Ferry Landing






A Franco-English High Tea and the Best Macarons in New York: Bosie Tea Parlor

Posted by on Aug 30, 2012 in Featured, Food, New York City | 6 comments

A Franco-English High Tea and the Best Macarons in New York: Bosie Tea Parlor

Located on charming brownstone-studded Morton Street in the West Village, Bosie Tea Parlor is a curated oasis in the hustle and bustle of downtown. Its quiet, clean demeanor understates what you will find when you open the door: shelves of golden tins fragrant with tea, deliciously chewy macarons, and pastry specialties created by wunderkind dessert chef Damien Herrgott.

The vision of owner­­ Nicky Dawda, Bosie Tea Parlor is everything a traditional tea parlor is not: it features unexpected pairings, quality desserts and a fusion of English High Tea characteristics coupled with French desserts. A true epicurean with the taste for that outlandish ingredient pairing, Dawda grew up in India and quickly absorbed his mother’s cooking lessons as well learning about the benefits of tea.

What appealed to me about Bosie is the traveler’s sanctuary aspect:  you can find worldwide influences in the menu, from the Viennoiserie to the Macarons. Think: Darjeeling tarts made with sweet dough, Darjeeling ganache, Chantilly and Nougatine; Matcha Eclairs (an unexpected tea twist on the traditional éclair) with matcha pastry cream and a matcha glaze; and strawberry/wasabi macarons.

With all his travels and love for both the English and Parisian teas and desserts, Dawda explains he wanted New York City to reflect his passions. “I wanted a grown up tea parlor,” he says. As though the stars had aligned, Dawda met Tea Master Kiley Holliday, the youngest female Tea Master or Tea Sommelier in the U.S., on a yoga retreat in Guatemala. Subsequently, the two joined forces to create l’Age de The, a company that sells fine, artisanal tea blends.

Both Dawda and Holliday have journeyed to finest tea-growing regions of the world (including remote mountains and jungles) to scoop up the finest ingredients for their hand-crafted teas. They then decided to start Bosie Tea Parlor, which pays a nod to both Oscar Wilde and Franco-English influences.

I spent a delightful summer evening there along with a few other travel writers. The highlight of the menu for me was what I think is the most delicious tea cocktail ever invented: the Cabernet Sauvignon infused with Golden Monkey Black Tea and garnished with a bit of orange juice and triple sec. To know this drink is to understand Emerson’s quote, “Give me wine to wash me clean of the weather-stains of cares.”  Subtle, refreshing and with an unexpected twist, this tea cocktail is worth journeying to Bosie’s alone. Dawda and Holliday really know their stuff.

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

After drinking our way to some superb geographical territory, we sampled some desserts. New York City may pat itself on the back for giving Lauduree macarons to the population, but Bosie’s is on an entirely different level: they’re chewy and cool-whip light and never saccharine. I’m willing to bet that in a taste test against Lauduree, the Bosie macarons would win, hands down.

We also learned a lot about Bosie’s history that evening.

Oscar was very into tea, and he had a lover, Sir Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie. “We felt that Bosie was a decadent influence on Oscar, and considering all these sugar-filled pastries, we felt that the name of the tea parlor should be Bosie and not Oscar,” says Dawda. Bosie’s most popular sale is the Afternoon Tea Service. The brand recently had a Royal Tea Service offered on Gilt, with custom-made macarons and tea canapés with “very high level ingredients” says Dawda.  “We had a white truffle macarons and paired it with a Perrier Jouet and sold out 300 of those in the first two days,” says Dawda on the Gilt sale.

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

Everyone who works at Bosie wear stylish fedoras: this is the fresh strawberry prosecco tini being poured

Bosie Tea Parlor with Leslie Koch of DowntownTraveler

The tea tasting crew: a studious bunch (from right) with Leslie Koch of DownTownTraveler.com, Travis of NYCityMama.com, Mario, Nicole from TeaForMePlease.com, Myself and Johanna Fausto from ActionJojo.com

From left to right: Johanna Fausto, myself, Carol Cain, Leslie Koch, and Mario Nicholas

A month ago, Bosie launched their brunch menu with items like Eggs Florentine, a Brioche French Toast, and signature Quiches (a vegetarian must: the Tomato and Olive quiche). Damien’s French Toast is a “French” French Toast, with thin, softer toast infused with vanilla flavors and fresh raspberries instead of the standard crispier bread. The latest addition to Bosie’s menu has been the tea cocktails, mingling teas and wines.

“Tea is an uplifter, alcohol is a downer,” laughs Dawda. “For the evening, instead of adding Coke or Redbull to wine, we thought why not add tea to wines?” And the proof is in the mixture. Think:  ice-cold fresh strawberry prosecco infused with a blend of hibiscus/apple/ dried berries tea. It was a truly a-ha moment when I took a sip.

The latest feather in Dawda’s cap is turning Bosie Tea Parlor into a full fledged catering service. He recently signed the lease on a space in Harlem which allows him the facilities of a full commercial kitchen. With everything in the parlor produced in-house and made from scratch, Bosie Tea Parlor is wilder than Wilde: a decadent sanctuary that both pays homage to tea traditions, yet breaks the rules.

Try: the Sojutini infused with tulsi (holy basil) tea; the tea sandwiches (the cucumber dill and cream cheese variety are divine); the macarons (Damien is most famous for this). The Chocolate Mint Roiboos tea, which is especially spectacular after a tiring day, and is near Nirvana when paired with a macaron.

Consider Bosie Tea For: Bridal Parties and Showers, Afternoon High Teas, Brunches, or an afternoon of roiboos-fueled writing/reading.

Bosie Tea Parlor
Located in the West Village
10 Morton Street (btw Bleecker & 7th Ave.)
Tel: 212-352-9900  |  E-mail: info@bosienyc.com

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

A tea-inspired twist on the traditional eclair

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

The highly-efficient space in West Village

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

Owner Nicky Dawda

Bosie Tea Parlor New York

Tomato and olive quiches

Laughing Man Coffee: Ethics and New York’s Best Flat White Coffee

Posted by on Aug 25, 2012 in Featured, New York City, Travel | 3 comments

Laughing Man Coffee: Ethics and New York’s Best Flat White Coffee

I was running late. My friends were meeting me at Laughing Man Coffee, that sliver of a shop that had opened in Tribeca about a year ago.

Founded by actor Hugh Jackman, Laughing Man is not just your ordinary coffee shop whose profits go to glorify some corporate CEO. Jackman’s visit to Ethiopia and his friendship with an Ethiopian coffee farmer –Dukale –was the inspiration behind Laughing Man Worldwide. At the core of the charity’s belief is the tagline, All Be Happy.

As I read more about Jackman’s vision, I realized that this vision was far from a get rich quick scheme or just another coffee outfit. Jackman has a genuine interest in and hope for humanity, and that sense of purpose pays off in that Laughing Man Coffee gives 50% of its profits back to Laughing Man Worldwide, and benefits the community of farmers from whom the beans are sourced. Laughing Man Worldwide, according to its website, gives 100% of the profits it receives from companies worldwide to charity.

Committed to education as the building block and foundation of a peaceful and prosperous community, the foundation supports various educational initiatives both in the U.S. and worldwide. Compared to so many other coffee shops I know and love, the vision and commitment of Laughing Man to improving the lives of humanity stands out.

That’s not to say that other coffee companies don’t give back: Starbucks has its Ethos Water Fund which takes 5 cents from every bottle of water sold for its sanitation, hygiene and educational programs in water-stressed countries; Green Beans Coffee donates a portion of proceeds to charities that help military families or children of the fallen. But Laughing Man Worldwide is more than generous in the proportion of profits it gives back to the community.

Laughing Man Tribeca is barely a few square feet of space, but along its walls are curated bags of whole bean and fresh ground coffee, teas, chocolate bars, accessories and gift sets.  Many locals and visitors come here for their famously advertised Flat White Coffee (this originates from Australia and made using microfoam over a single or double shot of espresso; Think of it as a Caffe Au Lait—Aussie style). But many also come to buy whole beans which are roasted in Tribeca and Maspeth, NY.

“The most popular coffees that people purchase are the Ethiopian and House Blend,” says Angel, the General Manager of Laughing Man and one of the key personnel in the startup. The House Blend varies in the proportion of its beans according to seasonality, so it’s hard to predict what the House Blend will taste like. But that’s half the fun.

Since the Tribeca location is the size of a postage stamp, my friends and I had trouble finding a seat. One of us ended up standing.

What the Tribeca location lacks in space it amply makes up in charm and hospitality. The croissants are flaky and fresh. The flat white coffee is perfection—not too acidic, not too sweet or unduly roasted. In the words of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, “Just right.”

In a quest to expand, Laughing Man Worldwide has opened another coffee shop in Battery Park on August 4th.

New York Mercantile Exchange
1 North End Ave, Unit 2A
New York, NY 10282
Ph: (212) 227-3240

Laughing Man Coffee New York City Hugh Jackman Tribeca

Laughing Man Coffee New York City Hugh Jackman Tribeca

Laughing Man Coffee New York City Hugh Jackman Tribeca

RunawayJuno at Laughing Man coffee, where we had our first proper NYC meeting!