Hillary Reeves

A blog about living and eating in New York City.

Little Nonna’s

Little Nonna's Meatballs Philly

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It appears that stuffed meatballs are becoming a little mini trend. I’ve seen them pop up on my Twitter feed a few times in the past month, whether filled with oozy mozzarella cheese, basil pesto or meatloaf-sized and stuffed with cooked spaghetti. That last iteration is a little overboard, even for me, but I am very interested in the cheese-stuffed variety, especially since I tasted them at Little Nonna’s in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. It also helps that I’m pretty sure Little Nonna’s incredible meatballs are not only stuffed with melted cheese, but also tasted– and I could be wrong– like they were maybe deep-fried. Incredible…like meaty arancini.

The “Sunday Gravy,” stuffed squash blossoms, negroni, and calamarata were all incredible too; the kind of food that you crave after a long day spent exhausting yourself while exploring a new (to you) city. It didn’t hurt, either, that I was a handful of my oldest friends. It’s weird to think how so many of my dearest friends, I’ve only really known in adulthood, whether I met them at college or in the workplace. But this night at dinner, I was surrounded by people who’ve known me since at least my teens, which makes for some impassioned and honest conversation (as you can see by James’s lawerly expression in photo #2, ha!).

We were lucky enough to get a last-minute reservation at the red sauce joint. We sat in their back patio, which, strung with simple lights and garden accents,  felt more like a backyard get together at Taylor Swift’s house than an uptight dining experience, in all of the best ways. At moments, the service got slow and the water was a bit too warm for the likewise hot space, but the cheesy meatballs and overall charm of the restaurant left me with a happy, glowing memory of the evening!

Federal Donuts in Philly

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This past weekend, me, Dan, Can and Rich headed down to Philly for a no-reason adventure. I’d never been to the City of Brotherly Love before, but it’s definitely one of my new favorite places. Not only is it a clean, friendly, nicely-sized town with lots to do and the feeling of historical significance wafting through the cobblestone streets, but we also ate A LOT of excellent food. Possibly the most notable was Federal Donuts… certainly it was the most notable donut shop/fried chicken joint (is that not the dream!?).

Candice and Rich are expert donut-eaters. The first time I met Rich, it was over donuts from Paula’s up in Buffalo (also VERY MUCH worth visiting), and the two of them are known to spend their weekend on donut benders, starting at Nostrand Donut Shop, making their way to Dough, Peter Pan and Doughnut Plant. I’ve literally seen them buy 3 dozen donuts at once– first dozen to eat now, second dozen to share with friends, third dozen for tomorrow. So, when we were thinking about what to do in Philly, the question was not “should we go to Federal Donuts?” but was “how many times will we go to Federal Donuts during those 36 hours?” (I could actually screenshot that exact email convo if you want proof.)

It was well worth it… blackberry walnut (cinnamon cake donut dipped in walnuts and doused in blackberry frosting), blueberry mascarpone (sweet, simple and summery), chocolate sea salt, s’mores, even the plain was perfect. The cold brew coffee was also pretty noteworthy, and the Korean-style fried chicken (which they serve at 11), is a great chaser to the sugar rush.

IF YOU GO: While we only visited the Rittenhouse Square location, I definitely think there is some strategy involved with visiting Federal Donuts. We got there at about 10:30. It wasn’t too busy, but one of the special flavors of the day had already sold out. We could sit with some breathing room and hang out with our amazing donuts and awesome coffee.

Once 11AM rolled around, the place got standing-room-only packed; it’s chicken time. I kind of expected a bell to ring or an announcement, but that never happened, so I recommend just hanging out and keeping an eye out for the first batch crispy legs coming out of the fryer. We tried one wet rub flavor and one dry rub flavor which were both great. Know that the chicken order comes with one plain donut, but they say that their “fancy flavors” usually sell out around the time chicken rolls around. The chicken sells out too pretty quickly, so balancing this 10AM – 11AM time slot seems to be the trick!

August Essentials

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1. Above are three books I devoured in the past month. I don’t claim to have great taste in books… In fact I’m horrified that, when I think about it, I realize that most all of my favorite books have to do with rich white people and their first world problems (Brideshead Revisited, Persuasion, Franny and Zooey, Tender is the Night). Happily, I’m adding some diversity to that list with Americanah. It’s an incredible, thoughtful novel that I know I’ve come around to kind of slowly, but I’m a better person having read it! As for the others,  Bernadette is a fun, quirky read that would be perfect to take along on a weekend trip. And One More Thing is a collection of absurd short stories by B.J. Novak that I’ve really enjoyed.

2. Knitting. My mom likes to tell a story about the first time I learned how to knit. A grandma at my church taught me one evening when I’d arrived a few hours too early for choir practice (dork alert!) and had time to kill. She invited me into a knitting club of 10 old ladies, all working on their knitting together — they were going to sell their creations at the church fundraiser in a few weeks. I became obsessed with finishing a hat and contributing to the sale, so I sat all weekend, cross-legged on my bed and watching Barefoot Contessa (even as a twelve-year-old, I acted as retired as I do today) and knitted away. When I emerged on Sunday evening for dinner, I complained of sore, creaky knees, which my mom still laughs about and refers to as my “knitting injury.” Anyway, this weekend I started a new knitting project after a very long hiatus, but the effects of obsessing over my messy purling were the same, all these years later– ooh my knees! Check out this great little shop that I visited to buy my new yarn.

3. Temples. My cool uncle introduced me to this band last week. They released their debut album early this year. Temples is currently touring and doing the late night show circuit. Definitely have a listen, especially if you like British psychedelic pop and are growing weary of listening to Billy Joel’s greatest hits on repeat… I may have said too much.

4. The Dick Van Dyke Show. Gosh, I love this show. It’s on Netflix. Let it become your “I just want to have a happy TV show on in the background while I do other things” go-to (you’ve already seen every episode of Friends fifty times anyway). Sure, it’s a bit dated in its representation of gender roles and things like that, but it’s too sweet, kind-hearted and hilarious to get under my skin. Also, unlike sitcoms of today, there are occasional musical numbers built into the story, and there’s always just ONE story line, which just adds to the  ease of watching it.

5. Canada. Last week, I admitted to my book club that I’ve become obsessed with Canada. I then told them all to look at my Pinterest board for evidence of how naturally breathtaking the country is. And then I hated myself for telling people in real life to look at my Pinterest board. (But if you do look and become convinced of how incredible Canada is, let me know and we can plan a trip to Alberta!)

6. Ringly. My boss introduced me to Ringly. It’s a piece of jewelry that you can hook up to an app on your phone and all of the notifications you have set up. So, when you’re on a date or in a meeting at work and don’t want to have your phone out, but still want to receive important notifications (maybe your kids’ school is calling, or you want to make sure you don’t miss a message from a family member about her flight arriving, but you don’t want to see every Foursquare update), it’ll buzz! They’re really pretty too.

7. Taylor Swift giving this girl $90 for birthday burritos at Chipotle. Self-explanatory.

8. VincenzaDiMaggio.comMy girl Vinnie started her blog today and I’m blown away by how pretty she makes things sound with words. (Meanwhile, I’m over here doing the math on how many burritos I could buy with Taylor Swift’s $90.) Give it a read and a bookmark because if I know Vin, there will be a bunch of posts to come with impeccable design advice and outfit inspiration that feels lifted right out of an Anthropologie catalog.

Happy August!

Weekend Walks

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Living along Central Park is super special. I live in a tiny apartment that we just happened to be lucky enough to find, but it seems that most of my neighbors call an entire brownstone their home… and it’s pretty clear they’ve got a second home somewhere that’s used solely for summer getaway purposes. On Friday afternoons, the entire ‘hood clears out, as families pack up their cars and clear out for the weekend. It’s eerily quiet for a few hours every Saturday and Sunday morning, but by about 10 AM tons of tourists descend to make up for the difference.

However, if you’re lucky enough to live near the Park, and can take an early morning walk through the park around 8 or 8:30, it’s practically deserted. It’s such a cool contrast to the scene later on where you can barely find a place to put your foot down without stepping on someone’s blanket as you make your way through Sheep’s Meadow.

Me, Dan and Beej have made a little habit out of it, usually grabbing a coffee as we begin our stroll and my weekend has started to feel incomplete without it!

What’s that one ritual that gets your weekend started?

Uncovering Family History

One of my favorite memories is from when I was maybe about five or six. I was visiting my grandmother’s house before she passed away and was digging through the depths of the guest room closet. In there, I found a mildewy old box that clasped together on one side. I snapped it open to find a bald Barbie doll (I’d later be corrected that this was “Midge,” Barbie’s brunette best friend). She came with a collection of wigs and you could try out different hairstyles on the doll as you pulled one wig off and placed another one on. I loved how particular the doll felt to such a specific time and place. I excitedly told my mom about my discovery and she told me how the doll had been hers as a girl — my aunt Cindy got to have Barbie because they were both blonde and my mom had Midge.

I’m not sure where that doll ended up, but even when I was little, I felt transported by touching the doll’s hair. Gently replacing the wigs one-by-one brought me back to 1959, when my mom would have been my same age, playing with the same doll.

I get the same sensation when I read my great grandfather’s journal. Somehow this journal landed in my hands despite my disconnection from my father’s side of the family. I recently found a handful of my aunts and cousins on Facebook (my father was one of nine kids, and I’ve got 30+ cousins on that side) and every time one of them pops up in my newsfeed, I guiltily wonder if they know that I’ve inherited the precious item. I’ve also got two portraits painted by the same man– the images of the two different women used to haunt me as a kid, but now I hang them proudly in my tiny apartment. When I run through emergency life scenarios in my head (What if this house went up in flames and I could only grab one thing?) they’re always the three things I think of saving first.

My great grandfather, Erel Guidone, was a Harvard graduate and medical doctor. He lived in Hartford, CT as a young man, and moved to the Boston area when my grandmother was growing up. He worked in hospitals in Boston, but also wrote, painted, played the bassoon in an orchestra with other doctors, illustrated books and traveled quite a bit.

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Reading his journal from 1912-1913 illuminates the time before he’d started medical school. It seems like he wrote the diary in his late teens/early 20′s; a class graduation photo is tucked into the back page of the book. Nine stern faces face the camera, and he’s the tenth graduate with a slight, mischievous smirk. I don’t know much about his personality other than what he says about himself, but it’s nevertheless fascinating to open to a page that was written on today’s date, 102 years ago to see what he was up to. There’s lots of looking for work, visiting the nearby screw factory to collect paychecks, records of receiving a letter from a friend named “Shep,” driving in “the machine” to New York City, nights spent at O’Connell’s (O.C.’s) playing cards, dates with a “dame” named “Flossie,” trips to see shows at The Palace, and, etched on the back page, a list of names, addresses and numbers, including one for Helene Clark of New Jersey who eventually became my great-grandmother (I believe!).

I revisited the journal this past weekend and then attempted to Google some of the names and places he’d mentioned visiting in July of 1912. Eventually, I came across this article about his sister, Elvira Dolores (what a name!) who ran away from home when she was fifteen. The family searched high and low, placed missing ads in newspapers and presumed that she was kidnapped. A few days later, though, she telegraphed home to say that she’d boarded a train to Boston seeking adventure, and was ready to come home now. One article even supposed that she wanted to become an actress and that’s why she ran away, which I love.

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Elvira Found

Anyway, that’s that story which totally made my week. I love how tough and fearless “Dolly” was and I like believing that I have a little bit of that blood in me.

Reading the diary, I feel such a rush knowing that this same page was looked at and written on a century ago. It makes me wonder: do objects transport you at all, or do you feel like they don’t hold any greater power than their object-ness? I listened to an interesting podcast by Radiolab a few weeks ago on the topic. Find it here, and let me know what you think if you listen! Also, if anybody has any tips for digging deeper into family history, I’d love your tips!

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