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Confessions of a Celebrity Event Planner

Confessions of a Celebrity Event Planner

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No one parties like a celebrity, that’s for sure. The photos and recaps of all the parties and dinners that stars attend are enough to make any party lover drool. But don't kid yourself — most celebrities aren't checking off to-do lists and buying party decorations themselves; every aspect of these events — the wardrobe, the décor, the menu — is carefully brought to life by A-list professionals for their celebrity clients.

Linnea Johansson just happens to be one of those A-list professionals. As a celebrated New York City party planner, she has curated the bashes of such famous faces as Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Donald Trump, and Martha Stewart. Given her weighty resume, it’s safe to say she’s an expert in the art of throwing of an amazing soirée.

In the second edition of her book, Perfect Parties, Johansson has revealed a few of her favorite trends, many outlandish celebrity requests, and what’s to come for 2013. If you’re looking for a true peek into successful party hosting, look no further.

Here’s what Johansson had to say about her party planning experiences:

What are some of the most popular menu requests?
Meatballs of all origins, from Italian to Turkish, and of course my signature, Swedish, have been popular lately.
Pretzels and spaetzle along with bratwursts and mustards — basically all things German.
Jungle foods, which are basically coming out of Peruvian rain forest
Pano, a type of Indian filled crepe
Foraged foods and foods with flavors from the woods, like sea buckthorn, bog butter, and sorrel
Homemade condiments, like homemade hot sauce, bitters, chutneys, ketchups, etc.

What are some trending signature drinks?
Shaken cocktails are out and stronger stirred drinks are in — drinks like Negronis or Sazeracs are on menus for the fall
Hand-shaven ice blocks, to make boozy snow cones and frappes
Barrel-aged cocktails or cocktails on tap, such as the classic '30s blood and sand cocktail
• Drinks with vinegar

What was your most outlandish celebrity request?
Well, celebrity "riders" (which are basically long lists that detail what the person would like) always have some funny tidbits. In all honestly, though, they don’t always write them themselves, but I have gotten some ridiculously long 10-plus-page riders. Not to name any names, but I once got one from a hip-hop star which even had specifics of what type of toilet paper he preferred.

Without regards to budget, what kind of party would you plan?
That’s a hard one, but since I am Swedish, I think the Nobel party at the Swedish Royal Castle might need a bit of a sprucing up, so I would love to give it a go.

Confessions Of A Rich Woman Who Retired At 49

I have the ultimate First World Problem. In my forties (okay, I admit, I am 49), I find myself to be rich and no longer needing to work. I don’t need a full-time job, and I don’t even need a part-time job — that is what I mean by “rich.” I own a small but nice home my family has two cars and an RV. We have no personal debt. We eat out when we feel like it and have great vacations — mostly here in Australia, but overseas probably every second year.

I have achieved what 21-year-old me, entering the workforce reluctantly and with not a clue what to do with that wonderful degree in Russian Studies and Anthropology, had dreamt of — I have financial independence and the freedom to do what I want. I should be happy. Should.

I am now that woman on Facebook, Instagram, etc. posting that she is off to yoga, the gym, swimming, or having lunches with friends. These things, plus caring for my family, are now my “job.” I guess I am a stay-at-home mom, but with an increasingly independent 16-year-old as my only child, this doesn’t feel like a full-time role. So my job now is “self-care” and I do need some — the years of juggling work and family and my particularly stressful last job have left me fat, unfit, and often anxious.

I come from a family that always struggled financially, where no one had a full-time job due to health problems, and a single parent household. My mom was good with the money she got from welfare payments and cash-in-hand cleaning and babysitting, and we had a roof over our heads in a decent three-bedroom suburban home and did not go hungry. But we had no holidays, and clothes were of the cheap and cheerful variety, and I changed out of my “good” clothes as soon as I got home every day to make sure they lasted as long as possible. I worked casual jobs from the age of 12 — paper delivery, retail, babysitting, etc. Thanks to the Australian system of free healthcare and almost free education even through University, I was able to set myself up for a better future.

I worked, married, started a family, then worked part time for many years, changed careers, and did a few full-time years teaching. Then I got burnt out and quit because I could afford to. My husband and I had invested sensibly, lived fairly simply (with our splurges being travel), and we have the money to not work. Either of us, ever again, even if we live to be 90. We can travel enough to satisfy my wanderlust, as long as we keep it simple. As long as we keep our lives simple and stick to the “less is more” mantra for material goods that I signed up for about 10 years ago. As a couple, we made all the right financial decisions — worked hard, invested, lived frugally, and we have now “made it” as young(ish) retirees.

I “have it all,” and I know my life looks like a dream to others, and my 21-year-old self would be patting me on the back — 49 and no longer needs to work. But I feel too young to retire, so I’ve taken on some post-grad studies. It is existential angst I guess — what is the purpose of my life? When you can do “anything”…what do you actually DO with your time?

Part of me sees my angst as an overdeveloped work ethic. I feel the need to justify my existence on this planet. I embrace the idea of being a volunteer, and maybe that role will develop in time, but part of me resists the loss of status that I feel comes with not being a “proper” employee, valued enough to be paid.

I know I am rich, especially compared to most people on this planet — compared, in fact, to most of my friends. So I am grateful, and most of the time I am happy, but I have realized that my identity was more wrapped up in my professional life than I thought. We worked hard to retire early, and the chase for financial independence was somehow important to me…and now that it is over, I feel, frankly, a little lost. And I think I feel guilty that I have all this, and yet am still not 100% happy, 100% of the time.

My message to everyone chasing the dream of financial independence, wealth, being “rich,” or however you think about it, is this: yes, do chase these things, but remember why you are chasing them. I seem to have forgotten.

Annie is officially a teacher, “parental,” and wife, but is really a time-waster, oxford comma denier, and social media layabout, spending too much time planning her next trip either at home in Australia in her RV or overseas. She lives in fear that she won’t get to see the entire world and won’t lose the baby weight. As the “baby” is now 16 and Annie is officially middle-aged, this is entirely possible.

1. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Keeping up with the New Yorker every week might be a slog, but this book by New Yorker grammarian Mary Norris is not. It humanizes grammar for the layperson, breaking down the proper use of, say, the Oxford comma, but without being condescending (or boring).

Why should event planners read this?

Because communicating well in writing is a major part of your job. Whether you’re composing an email to a potential sponsor or creating a promotional campaign, you can’t afford typos or grammatical errors. Plus, if you think your job requires exhaustive precision, it’s nice to know that it could be even worse.

Confessions of a Shoplifter: What It's Like to Spend 15 Years Stealing from Stores

I never did it because I wanted what I took&mdashI did it because I wanted something else.

I started shoplifting when I was six years old. One day at a department store in New York City, I dropped a bouncy ball down the waistband of my white tights. I just wanted it so I could beat my brothers at a game of Jacks, but later the things I stole had little to do with want or need.

I would definitely be prettier, or happier, or more interesting If I could just have that lipstick, I thought. Or that book, or that bathing suit. Of course the resulting spiral of guilt and then shame that followed each theft guaranteed I'd never be that prettier, happier girl. But I forged on, thinking each time that maybe this item would be *the* item that would finally unlock the door.

I would definitely be prettier, or happier, or more interesting If I could just have that lipstick, I thought. Or that book, or that bathing suit.

"Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we're supposed to be," Brene Brown, PhD, said in a 2012 TED talk. That's what my life was like&mdashconstantly being bounced from the rock of one sucky feeling to the hard place of another. And the whole time I thought I could steal myself away.

By high school, I had found other girls who shoplifted like I did. We went into small dressing rooms and pulled new clothes onto our nervous, sweaty bodies, then stretched our own clothes over the stolen ones. In the midst of these mass thefts, I knew I was on my own, regardless of who had come in with me. Stealing is a solitary event.

I developed my own method. After leaving the dressing room, I did not race for the door. Instead I wandered the aisles, looking at clothing, laying pairs of pants over my arm as if I were still planning to try things on. Sometimes I was even so bold as to walk right up to the cashier and ask her a question.

I was never caught. Which may seem like it would have been a victory for me as a thief&mdasha perfect record dotted with hundreds of smaller victories along the way. But it only intensified my shame. When a thief is caught, her actions are acknowledged. Laid bare. And she can then find ways of redirecting the guilt/shame complex that makes her steal in the first place.

The stolen items themselves weren't my prize&mdashI routinely dropped them in a dumpster behind McDonald's.

Aside from that first rush with the bouncy ball, when I was just six, there was rarely any joy that resulted from my stealing. Only hatred, toward myself. I was a bad girl. I did bad things. The stolen items themselves weren't my prize&mdashI routinely dropped them in a dumpster behind McDonald's. They were only evidence of my compulsion. Evidence of this thing that was wrong with me.

The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention holds support groups for people like me. But Barbara Staib, their director of communications, told me it's difficult just to get people to admit they steal. The shame is so great, she says, that some will say they'd rather be alcoholics. "If I tell my friends and family I was an alcoholic and that I'm now going to AA, they'll be proud of me," she explains of a thief's logic&mdashone I can relate to. "If I tell them I was a thief, they'll hide their wallets and purses."

I stopped shoplifting after I graduated from college. After a decade and a half of thieving, I realized that these items would never be enough to satisfy me. I had grown up enough to see, finally, that the hole inside me couldn't be filled by pilfered lipsticks or that one exhilerating bouncy ball.

That doesn't mean I don't feel the urge, and it doesn't mean I've completely figured out how to grapple with that shame. As Dr. Brown said in that TED talk, "Empathy is the antidote to shame. The two most powerful words when we're in struggle? Me too."

So: Are you a shoplifter? Me too.

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Confessions of a Wedding Planner

I plan 50 to 80 weddings per year. And let me tell you, I've dealt with all types of brides &mdash from those who were more obsessed with me than with their fiancé because they had seen me on the Style Network's Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? to women who called the whole thing off with just a week to go.

Crazy brides aside, planning such a big day means I get to witness behaviors that a couple doesn't always reveal to others. And over the years, I've deduced that certain actions &mdash as trivial as they may seem &mdash are predictors of whether a couple will live happily ever after or bite the dust. These red flags that pop up during the planning process tell me a couple doesn't have a shot in hell at making it.

The Bride Refuses to Let the Groom Choose the Cake

It's true: Brides are almost always more interested in the minutiae of wedding planning than grooms are. But when I encounter a woman who refuses to relinquish any control to her fiancé, it doesn't bode well. I can think of a few instances in which the woman ruled the event with an iron fist and the couple ended up in divorce court a few years later. Basically, they weren't able to make decisions together.

On the flip side, it's a positive sign when a bride takes the time to understand which part of the wedding is most important to her groom and then gives him full say in that area. A couple I worked with years ago &mdash who happen to still be very happily married &mdash serves as an example. He couldn't have cared less about the flowers, color palette, and hors d'oeuvres, but he was completely obsessed with the cake. When it came time for the tasting, the bride said, "Let's get whatever you want." Whether it's the cake, the photographer, the open bar, whatever, a bride who lets her almost-hubby have some say proves she's empathetic, and a guy who wants his taste to count shows he's not aloof &mdash both necessary traits for the relationship to pan out.

The Groom Lets His Mom Call the Shots

Most of my brides involve their moms in the planning process, and why wouldn't they? It's like having a second planner for free. But sometimes, grooms' mothers try to muscle in too, which is something I'll never understand. Not only is it inappropriate, but it's up to her son to tell her that.

Unfortunately, I've seen quite a few grooms chicken out. In one case, a domineering mom wanted nothing to do with her future daughter-in-law's Indian heritage and argued that it shouldn't be part of the wedding. Thinking it would only make things worse, her son didn't put up a fight on his bride's behalf. Watching him let his mother walk all over the woman he supposedly loved was heartbreaking. If the groom had put his foot down in the first place, there's a chance his mom would have gotten the message. Because he didn't, she is still trying to rule their life and putting stress on them that could lead them to break up.

The Bride Blows Half the Budget on Her Dress

I will never forget the look of fury and horror on one client's face when his future wife revealed she'd spent most of their wedding savings on a designer gown. Weddings are pricier than ever, and money-related issues can cause a lot of undue tension. So when a bride goes behind her groom's back and splurges on a big-name dress or expensive flower arrangements, I start to get nervous. It's a huge sign that she doesn't respect him and refuses to compromise. and trust me, those tendencies don't disappear after she walks down the aisle. I have worked with tons of couples who fought viciously over the wedding budget and learned later that many of them continued to argue and eventually split.

Recently, I signed on with a bride and groom who really impressed me. Throughout the process, if the bride wanted to spend extra on something, she would call her future husband, and they would discuss if it was worth it. She wasn't giving him full veto power, mind you, but she was showing regard for their union. I'm guessing they have real staying power.

The Bride Freaks Over the Groom's Bachelor Party

I've seen some women wig out about the possibility of her guy having a boys' night at a strip club. One client of mine even threatened to leave her fiancé if he had a bachelor party. But my motto is: If you can't trust him, why the hell are you walking down the aisle?!

The women who tell their man to have fun and don't grill him for details seem secure and confident in their relationship. and from what I've seen, that trust makes for a lasting marriage. On the other hand, the brides I work with who give their man the third degree either are really insecure or know their guy can't be faithful. One woman got so crazy over the thought of her fiancé going to a strip club that she threw a big fit and he canceled his plans. She'd made a big deal because she was afraid he would stray. Well, she ended up being right &mdash I heard they separated a few years later because he wasn't faithful.

The Bride and Groom Fight in Front of Me

No matter how in love two people may be, planning a ceremony and reception is overwhelming and will no doubt cause a few tiffs. But warning bells immediately start ringing for me if the couple gets really heated with each other in my presence. Arguments are private, and dragging me into them shows that there is a lack of respect for each other and for their bond.

Once I was meeting a couple for the first time for a consultation &mdash something I like to do before taking on new clients. I would ask the bride what kinds of things she wanted to include in the wedding. Anytime she said something, the groom would say, "That's stupid. We aren't doing that." Right then and there, I knew I couldn't take them on as a couple. I was unable to plan an event for people I knew wouldn't last. Sure enough, I heard later that they had divorced soon after getting married.

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75 Weddings and Counting: Confessions of a Professional Wedding Guest

From Milan to Malibu, Brussels to Bel Air and Minneapolis to Maui, I’ve had the honor of attending more than 75 weddings—with two more coming up this fall. And that’s not even counting the 20 plus nuptials I was invited to, but couldn&apost attend, or the nine weddings at which my husband Art, represented the two of us (thanks, honey!). I guess you could say that watching 75 couples take a trip down the aisle makes me a bit of a professional wedding guest.

When people hear that I’ve been to that many weddings they often look at me in semi shock. Some ask if I have a big family. Not really. Only eight of the weddings have been relatives.

Others tell me they find attending weddings a chore or a bore. Not me. I am a sucker for the entire spectacle. The declarations of love! The inappropriate speeches! The family drama! The tears! The dancing! The wacky moments! The gorgeous flowers! The champagne! The cake! What’s not to love?

I’ve been to weddings that were super casual and DIY as well as those that were crazy expensive affairs fit for a magazine, and I can tell you that couples don’t have to spend their life savings or invite hundreds of guests to create a beautiful, personal and memorable experience.

There was my sister Carolyn&aposs low-key wedding on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean followed by a potluck reception in the club room at a mobile home park. There was Mark and Gloria’s small fete at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego for fewer than 20 people. My friend Barbara had her girlfriends make floral arrangements the night before her wedding with attached notes reading, "made with love by. ” followed with our names. It added a sweet, personal touch.

Watch: Five Ways to Cut Wedding Costs

Aaron and Stephanie transformed the parking area at their apartment complex in Venice into a lovely wedding venue with homemade white and blue paper decorations and streamers. And everyone loved it when the In-N-Out Burger truck showed up at Lisa and Hugh’s Hawaiian-themed wedding on a sound stage in Culver City.

But I’ve also been to some super elegant fêtes—like the black tie wedding in an Italian villa where five courses were served under giant candelabras. The bride, a fashion publicist, wore a custom Calvin Klein gown and the designer himself was in attendance. And I’ve seen many tasteful ceremonies at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel Air Hotel complete with its romantic gardens and white swans.

I’m partial to weddings by the water. I’ve gotten my feet sandy at four beach events and taken in the salty sea air at least ten others—whether on a cliff overlooking the ocean, in an event space on the beach or in the ballroom of a yacht club.

I’ve also witnessed grooms vow to honor and cherish their brides in churches, backyards, wedding halls, community centers, casinos, hilltops, train stations and resorts, and heard brides say “til death do us part” in vineyards, photo studios, gardens, parking lots, hotel ball rooms, missions, and camp grounds.

I’ve seen Irish marry Italians, Hispanics marry Brits, Jews marry Christians, older men marry younger women, older women marry younger men, women marry other women, republicans tie the knot with democrats, and high school sweethearts vow to be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives.

I’ve seen matchups between a firefighter and an event planner, an actress and a cyclist, an architect and an agent, a veterinarian and a school teacher, writer and a chef and many other combinations.

I’ve been to the weddings of quite a few photographers and journalists and seen them walk down the aisle with flight attendants, artists, fashion designers, gallery owners, screenwriters, computer coders and travel agents.

And yes, I&aposve been privy to plenty of wedding guest hook ups (some that even led to marriages!) and helped nurse many a bridesmaids’ hangovers the morning after.

I’ve also seen my share of mishaps from the great aunt’s shawl catching on fire at my friend Mara’s wedding to torrential rain at Jenny and Doug’s yacht club fete, to Claressinka and Joe being stranded on the side of the road in Malibu when their getaway Rolls Royce broke down—we rescued them!. But as I wrote in a previous story, sometimes mishaps add to the uniqueness of the day and make for riveting stories later.

Wedding fashion trends? I’ve seen 𠆎m come and go, from bridal up-dos adorned with flowers, to tiaras, veils and wreaths. From poufy sleeves and ruffles to slinky, sculpted gowns. From pocket squares and colorful cummerbunds to skinny black ties. I’ve also seen bridesmaids in every shade of pastel, rainbow colors, white, black or even just wearing whatever they wanted.

I&aposve witnessed decor trends change too. It used to be all about hotel ballrooms or lush gardens with a few hippie/nature weddings thrown in. These days rustic-meets-glam affairs are all the rage. You know—old barns filled with velvet couches and chandeliers, chalkboard signs, mason jars full of lemonade, wildflowers and jars of honey or bottles of olive oil as party favors. And everyone seems to be loving long tables as opposed to dozens of round ones scattered around the room. They all work for me.

What stands the test of time though, are the weddings that feature something unique. I’ve seen a donkey carry cold beers to guests on a beach, a horse drawn carriage ferry the bride to the church and a dog serve as a best man. I’ve even eaten grilled seafood while exotic fish swam above me in huge glass tanks at the San Francisco Aquarium. Okay, that was a little odd, but I&aposl never forget it! I also recall the desert table strewn with dozens of different cakes, (Caitlin and Andrew!), the sparklers guests lit as the bride and groom entered the dance floor (Janelle and Kyle!) and the lanterns we lit and released up into the sky at a beach wedding reception in Mexico (Brenna and Paul!).

Humor goes a long way towards making a wedding memorable. I laughed along as my husband’s funny college pal John and his new wife Elyssa entered their reception to the theme of the sixties TV hit, The Dating Game, as a cheesy announcer introduced the new Mr. and Mrs. as if it were a game show.

The other thing that makes a wedding one to remember? Awesome music. I’ve gotten down to "Funky Cold Medina" and "Cake By the Ocean", reggae, big band swing, classic pop and Spanish guitar. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is as long as it makes guests want to move. At my wedding I even got on stage and sang "Jammin" with the band (OK, that was after a few glasses of champagne𠅋ut still.). The point is that guests will remember a lively reception with people tearing up the dance floor far more than they will recall whether they ate chicken or steak, Which brings me to the food.

Wedding food is important but not as crucial as most people think. I’ve partaken in fine cheeses, caviar and lobster. I&aposve stood at buffets, helped myself to heaping family style dishes and been served by white gloved waiters. But when I think about the weddings I’ve been to, food just isn&apost the first thing that comes to mind. Nobody wants tough roast beef or soggy salad, but in my humble opinion, too many couples fret needlessly about steak vs fish or asparagus vs Brussels sprouts. But most people even don’t recall the food unless it’s extremely amazing (5 courses from a top chef!) really horrible, or super fun like an In-N-Out Truck, taco bar, slow roasted pig, or warm donuts as you wait for your car. The rest of the meals are all a blur of perfectly fine mashed potatoes and roasted chicken. I will say that a tray of inviting appetizers can go a long way though!

To me, drinks are more important. I have been to a dry wedding and I respect that decision. Perhaps it’s to save money or for religious reasons or because the bride or groom is an AA member. I get it. But I’m not going to lie. I prefer weddings with alcohol served and it doesn&apost have to be an expensive cocktail. A cold beer or a glass of merlot will do. And note: signature drinks are really fun and add a personal vibe.

Most weddings I’ve been to have not served alcohol before the ceremony, which in general is probably a good idea, but I also really appreciate it when guests are offered a glass of bubbly to get things started. At a wedding in Sayulita, Mexico we sipped champagne and were serenaded by a mariachi band at a beautiful villa before heading down to the beach for the vows. Nobody got smashed until the reception.

But I also once went to a raucous wedding in Southern Long Island at one of those big event venues. We were running late and thought we had missed the ceremony, because when we entered the room we found the guests feasting on shrimp cocktails and pounding mixed drinks. But then someone made an announcement asking everyone to please enter the main room for the vows and we realized this was just the pre-party! Whaaattt? Let’s just say too much pre-game booze can make for a fairly boisterous audience.

Chicken-Chile Pozole

This brothy Mexican soup is chock-full of hominy, mild dried chiles, and shredded chicken or pork. Shredded chicken and mild New Mexico dried red chiles make this soup weeknight and kid-friendly. If you want a spicier version, try adding a dried chipotle chile (or two).

Serves 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes (plus 30 mins. to soak chiles)
Cooking time: 25 minutes

2 dried New Mexico red chiles (or Guajillo chiles, for more heat), stems discarded
1½ cups boiling water
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ medium white onion, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves
Juice of 1 lime, plus 1 lime cut into wedges
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 15-ounce cans white hominy, rinsed and drained
1½ pounds cooked white meat chicken or pork, shredded
½ avocado, pitted and diced
3 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Place the dried chiles in a medium bowl and cover with the boiling water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the chiles aside to soak for 30 minutes, turning them occasionally to make sure they are completely submerged.

2. Transfer the chiles and their soaking liquid to a blender. Add the garlic, onion, oregano, lime juice and ½ teaspoon of the salt purée.

3. Pour the chile mixture into a large soup pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick, 15-20 minutes.

4. Stir in the broth and return the mixture to a simmer. Stir in the hominy and the chicken. Season with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and continue to cook until the chicken and hominy are warmed through, 7-10 minutes.

5. Divide the pozole among four soup bowls and sprinkle with the avocado, radish slices and cilantro. Serve with a lime wedge.

PER SERVING: Calories 463 / Protein 57g / Dietary Fiber 9g / Sugars 1g / Total Fat 11g

Reprinted from Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and Know-How for Eating Well Without Spending a Lot. Copyright © 2014 by Melissa d’Arabian. Photographs © 2014 by Tina Rupp. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House LLC.

But what I mean is: I don’t know how to shell crab, pick and eat the meat, open the claws, you know – the whole show. And really, what I mean is: I’m too lazy.

Because my mom does it for me.

That’s right. Yes, I’m in my thirties and my mom still cracks open crabs and picks crab meat for me. Yes, I’m a foodie/food blogger/seafood lover and I manage to avoid doing it myself. Yes, I can figure it out, I just don’t want to. What’s that? Don’t I live oceans away from my mom in the Philippines? Yes, that is correct, which means I only eat crab fresh from its shell when we are together.

It’s silly, I know. But there’s a story to it (isn’t there always a story?) When I was in my teens, I was diagnosed as having low levels of iron, and the doctor recommended that I eat more seafood. Back then, I hated seafood. All I wanted to eat was pizza, pasta, hotdogs, and fried chicken (yum). So my parents “forced” me to eat seafood, including all the fresh shellfish from our island country. And because I was a lazy little eater, my mom would make it easy for me to eat: peel the shrimp, debone the fish, pick the crab meat. All for me. And I gobbled it allllll up.

Two decades later and I’ve absorbed my mom’s love for seafood. Now I’m the girl who orders the hamachi kama (yellowtail collar) or the salmon head, and picks at the meat and fish cheeks. I’m the girl who can deftly peel shrimp with a knife and fork (or spoon and fork, Filipino-style). I’m the girl who’ll eat sushi bowls for breakfast. I’m the girl who doesn’t want to eat fresh crab without her mom.

I’m also the girl who orders crab cakes whenever she can. Like my mom, I can never turn down a good crab cake. We always get it as appetizers, or stock up at home with pre-made ones from the grocery store.

I’m working with Gorton’s Seafood (check out these Crunchy Fish Tacos with Spicy Purple Slaw) and I wanted to try their Maryland Style Crab Cakes. The crab cakes are made with real crabmeat, sweet and succulent. They’re perfect in a spicy, garlicky pasta, slick with olive oil and flavored with the taste of the oeean, courtesy of salty anchovies.

Anchovies are another thing I learned to love because of my mom. Like her, I always order it with my pizza. Same with almond pastries. And a growing love for antiques. As I grow older, I’m learning that I’m becoming more and more like her. That makes me incredibly happy.

In two months, I’ll be marrying the love of my life, and I’m looking to my mom for a lot of wedding inspiration. Like her, I’m planning to wear a flower comb in my hair. I’ll be wearing her jewelry. I’ll be wearing a dress that looks likes it can belong in the seventies. And I’ll be smiling wide because she’ll be there and has always been there for me.

And maybe we’ll serve crab cakes at our wedding reception.

If you’re looking for an easy but special meal, I hope you try my recipe for Crab Cake Linguini, using Gorton’s Maryland Style Crab Cakes:

My husband and I were fighting over the last tube of Shanghai Tang lotion. Little did we know that the last time we mindlessly took home a couple of miniature amenities from the Conrad, one of our favorite hotels, that we would be cooped up and quarantined for months and months like the rest of the world.

Little did we know that it would be more than a year before we could check in to another Conrad again, when we typically stay at a Conrad location at least twice a year, from Tokyo to New York and a few other places in between. Little did we know that one whiff of that scent will take us back to the pre-pandemic days, when we meticulously planned for our vacation days, when we would save up dollars and Delta miles, when my biggest complaint about our day was room service forgetting to bring up the extra mayo for our late night fries. Of the many things I learned during this pandemic, I’ve never been more grateful for the life we have and will have in the future.

We haven’t been on a plane together this year, and I’m not sure when we can fly for a vacation again. I took a few work trips in January and February to Chicago, Detroit, and New York, but work trips – while they can be fun and memorable – don’t hold a candle to when I travel with my husband. Matt, who never once laughed at me when I first showed him my travel spreadsheet (itinerary, outfits, and packing list in one), who lets me pick restaurants from hole in the walls to Michelin stars, who patiently reminds me which baseball team is playing whenever we’re visiting a new stadium to catch a game (since I’m usually distracted by each stadium’s ballpark franks and soft serve game).

Since we didn’t get to travel together anywhere this year, I figured I’ll re-live last year’s trips instead. Between the Summer and early Fall, Matt and I travelled to six cities (including an international flight) in five months: Pittsburgh, Raleigh, New York, Atlanta, Manila, and Nashville. Here are a few of my favorite memories. Get ready for a long blog post.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Most of our summer travels include a baseball game because Matt is trying to visit all the baseball stadiums and I like saying I’m a baseball wife. Last year, we picked Pittsburgh as our first summer destination and went there during Memorial Day weekend. We checked out the Andy Warhol museum, which was conveniently within walking distance to downtown and PNC Park. I love that they close the Roberto Clemente bridge during games so people can easily make their way from downtown to the stadium. We had a beautiful view of the bridge and the skyline from our seats.

Most importantly, we tried a Primanti Brothers sandwich, a cultural icon in Pittsburgh, which features coleslaw AND fries inside the sandwich. We shared a pastrami sandwich before ambling over to our seats, and when I started getting antsy (second inning) I got up and got a soft serve. Kudos to PNC park for having the tallest soft serve I’ve had in a baseball stadium. I consider myself a stadium food aficionado now since I’ve been to eight: Fenway Park here in Boston, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Citi Field in Queens, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Camden Yards in Baltimore, and PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and Truist Park in Atlanta (more on Atlanta below).

Raleigh, North Carolina

During the 4th of July weekend, we went to Raleigh to visit some of Matt’s family and we had such a great time. We stayed right downtown and even though it was gray and rainy that weekend, we were able to walk to so many places. Our group loved Trophy Brewery – even though I’m not really a beer drinker, I still enjoyed their blueberry beer. Then we sauntered over to Beasley’s just a couple of doors down. I ate fried bologna for the first time (amazing), fried chicken with mashed potatoes (perfection), and the best slice of blueberry pie I’ve ever had (seriously, the best).

New York City, New York

We go to NYC regularly and often stay at the same hotels midtown, but this time, for our anniversary, we stayed at The Beekman downtown. My gosh, that hotel is so beautiful, filled with old school glamour – I can’t get over their incredible tiled floors – and just the best customer service. We would absolutely be going back there, and as an added bonus it’s a stone’s throw away from Joe’s Pizza. Matt and I don’t always agree on pizza. I want a super cheesy pan pizza (give me a bar pizza anytime), and he likes a classic New York pizza with a thin, hand-tossed crust, but we both agree that Joe’s is our favorite and that we can eat it (almost) every day.

We met up with our dear friend GP at Momofuku Ssam Bar specifically to try their famous roast duck ssam – a whole rotisserie duck that stuffed with sausage, deboned, roasted, and served with rice, greens, pancakes, kimchi, lettuce, hot sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger scallion sauce. We had to make reservations and order it in advance (haha remember restaurant reservations huhu) and it was this massive, immersive, joyous meal that the 3 of us finished (it is typically for 4-6 people). Just looking at that picture and typing this all up made my mouth water. And then, even though we were stuffed (like that duck, ha!) we strolled over to Milk Bar and got cereal milk ice cream. I loved eating with two of my favorite people and that day is cemented as one of my favorite meals ever.

Atlanta, Georgia

I’ve stopped over at the Atlanta airport dozens of times but this was my first time actually going out to the city. We spent Labor Day weekend there to see a Braves game, which is where I learned my lesson to never eat a giant tray of Fox Bros brisket before a baseball game because I definitely fell asleep at my seat. However I still daydream about that glorious plate of fried pickles and fried jalapenos, and when we go back to Atlanta, we are definitely getting that again.

We also went to the Coca-Cola museum, and spent a few hours at the Ponce City Market, where we met up with my friend Leia, who was working at Madewell at that time. Leah introduced us to Hop’s chicken and for a hot minute, I seriously considered moving to Atlanta. (Not closing our doors though!)

The best thing I ate in Atlanta, however, was the She Crab soup at South City Kitchen. So velvety and rich, with fresh cream, a touch of sherry, and a drizzle of an herby oil. It was flawless.

Also in Atlanta: we had a couple celebrity sightings! While we were having breakfast at the Four Seasons, Jack Quaid strolled past our table a couple of times. I really wanted to approach him and tell him how much we LOOVVEEEE The Boys (and also how much I love his mom’s romcom movies) but then I thought maybe celebrities stay at the Four Seasons to avoid weird fans like me? So I decided not to bother him and while I was focusing on my eggs benedict, Matt discreetly pointed out Karl Urban! Most people probably don’t know who Jack Quaid is (son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, played Marvel in Hunger Games) but more people would be familiar with Karl Urban (LOTR, Thor, Star Trek). Superhero/TV addicts like me would be familiar with both of them because of the Amazon series. We saw Butcher and Hughie!!

Manila, Philippines

We went back to Manila in September for a quick trip. We celebrated my mom’s birthday, my dad had a successful surgery, and because it was sort of an impromptu trip, we didn’t have a jampacked itinerary, and instead just spent our days hanging out with my family. My friend Fe (my first travel buddy) introduced me to some new local and artisan brands like Zarah Juan, which makes me even more excited to go back and do some serious shopping. Of course no trip to the Philippines is complete without overindulging in all things ube, like this ube shake from Manam.

Nashville, Tennessee

By the time October rolled around, we wanted to squeeze in one more fun trip before we hunkered down for the Fall. We’ve both been wanting to visit Music City for a while, and the perfect opportunity came when I went there for work, and Matt followed afterwards so we can spend the weekend together. We made the trek to Loveless Cafe where we gobbled up the most adorable biscuits and jams. We did a tour of the historic Ryman Auditorium, where Johnny Casy met June Carter, home of the Grand Ole Opry, where luminaries from Elvis to BB King have performed. It seemed like sacred ground, and I wish we could have seen a live show.

We also waited in the long lines for Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. There were different heat levels, from Southern (no heat) to Shut the Cluck Up (burn notice), and I went with Hot! (feel the heat), with a side of pimento mac and cheese and southern greens. (Plus some banana pudding which I brought back home to our hotel.) True to its word, Hattie B’s had HOT chicken – toeing the line between perfectly spicy to a little too spicy, it was addicting and I easily finished my order. 100% worth the wait in line.

Now, a year later, we are yearning for the day when we can travel again. Until then, we’ll be waiting and staying home, reminiscing with tiny toiletries and our memories.


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