Absolute Bagels

Bagels are a reason I can't leave New York. Growing up in pretty basic New England town, we had one guy who made bagels the New York Way. They were good, not great, but chewy in a much better way than most non-metro area bagels tend to be. Then I moved to New York and started eating Bagel Bob's all the time. Hello, pimento olive cream cheese. A bagel love affair began in my life and has yet to cease.

Currently my favorite bagels are found at the edge of the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights at Absolute Bagels. This is a non-frills, kinda grimy, bagel cafe.It is not meant for Instagram selfies with matcha and pink walls. But they are one of the best in New York according to Eater!

The bagels are just right: they're chewy, not too big, not too small, salty and perfectly New York-ish. You can literally watch as the bagels are boiled and baked here, emerging from the giant oven like little golden nuggets of joy. The everything bagel is perfectly garlicky and salty, which is my real taste test for a bagel. If there is no salt I am done, that's it. Your bagel is dead to me.

I can't describe it actually but you just know what a good bagel is when you take that first bite.

Spring for the Thai iced tea if you're an iconoclast. It makes a good bagel friend.

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Absolute Bagel 2788 Broadway, 108th St.

Momofuku Milk Bar Cereal Milk Always and Forever

I feel like the scene of instagramable softserve has exploded in the past five years.  I'm a fan of one of the originals in that very important life category (I kid) namely Momofuku Milk Bar's cereal milk. I'm also partial because I live very close to their Upper West Side location so I'm constantly sneaking in trips, even in the winter.

The cereal milk flavor typifies a flavor profile I love: it starts out weird and then sinks right into umami addiction. I love when things are oddly salty and oddly sweet all at once. The layers are perfect here, too You get the crunchies on the top AND the bottom.

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Momofuku Milk Bar Many locations across NYC

Provence in the Off-Season

I love traveling in what my travel guru Rick Steve's calls as the off-season in Europe. So we did just that for the first time last year, over brisk but sunny Thanksgiving, skipping the American traditions for Barcelona (post to come) and the south of France

There are upsides to traveling in the off-season in Provence. Sure, you're not going to be frolicking in the fields of lavender but we found everything to be quieter, giving us slice of life somewhere else. Our Airbnb was cheaper than it would be in summer, too.

My main advice for off-season travel in the region is to prepare for weather, as well as to look up times for anything in case it's closed or on a different schedule. I had to buy a sweater for a few brisker days. But the beauty of French living is all the sidewalk cafes still go strong in the late fall. I love those heat lamps and intrepid patio diners!

We picked medieval Aix en Provence for our main spot of exploration, a beautiful Provencal city close to Marseille known for it's fountains and inspiring a later in life Cezanne.

From there we drove around the Luberon for a day, which is known for some of the most famous of the provencal hill towns. We picked a few off-the-beaten-path ones. The towns in the off-season were full of closed up stores, quiet beautiful streets, impressive views, and a lot of cats among smattering of year-round residents.

Another day we drove to Avignon for some medieval and papal history. I ate a particularly good tartine there, too. On a next trip I'd love to stay in Avignon as well. It was very charming. Since Also we drank some great Cote du Rhone wines.

We only rented a car for a few days to be more relaxed about our travels. Thankfully the Aix buses run everywhere, making it quite easy to get around without a car.

We spent a day too in Marseilles because it's easily reached from Aix bus bus. We just roamed around the old port. Something about that city, a city doesn't get the same kind of love as other French locales, really hooked me. It's has that mythical ancient crossroads port city aura about it. Also the Moroccan food was plentiful appealing to my budget friendly sense. It was cold and windy, but the blue Mediterranean

We saw only a small slice of the region in our five days. I'd love to come back to hike the Calanques or spend more time around the Rhone river valley sipping wines, or even hike around Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Something about the landscape, the colors, the air, and that proximity to the sea keeps me dreaming of an alternative life in a small Provencal hill town.

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To Do: 

Aix en Provence  Markets everyday People watching on Cours Mirabeau Le Grillon for a local cafe to drink on the terrace Fromagerie Lemarié for the best goat cheese ever Musee Granet Confiserie Brémond for sweets Weiber for sweets, too Saint Saveur Le Bidule for burgers

Luberon Loumarin Cucuron Ansouis

Avignon Pont d'Avignon Les Halles Market Tartines at Ginette and Marcel 

Marseilles Moroccan food! So many options, I forgot which little place we went into in the neighborhood.  Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations for the view (skip the museum, the view is free!)

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