A Visit to Jen Agg’s New Wine Bar, Grey Gardens

During my time going to university in downtown Toronto, the draw of the Kensington Market was its eccentric, bohemian charm. Personally, I had felt this had always resonated most with similarly young people who looked like they were always discussing some art or photography project for school while trying to stretch their cash as much as they could for a good meal or a thrifty ensemble. But as I got older, my attention moved away from the youthful and creative community exuberance of the Kensington Market, as though I had outgrown it. When I would walk around the market with a friend, we would see the same students working on their photography projects in the streets, and half-jokingly say something to the effect of “Man, we are officially too old to be here.” When I graduated from my undergrad, I naively felt I also had to graduate into a new neighbourhood hang-out spots.

But in the past few years, the Kensington Market area saw an exciting growth-spurt, as new larger businesses began entering the community, which, fortunately, blend in very nicely with the culturally diverse and charmingly eccentric neighbourhood. Around summer of last year, Grant van Gameren, the owner of Bar Raval and Bar Isabel, opened the El Rey Mezcal Bar, where the servers are more than willing to introduce you to the more rare variations of tequila’s cooler, older sibling. And keeping up the growth is the new wine bar Grey Gardens, the famous/notorious restauranteur Jen Agg’s latest venture, which opened three weeks ago — an inclusion that will likely be the talk of the community for quite some time. I thought I was done with Kensington Market, but it is sure as hell not done with me, because I can clearly see myself going back.

Photo Credit: Renee Suen

For those unaware, Jen Agg is the owner of The Black Hoof, and the bars Rhum Corner and The Cocktail Bar, all of which are likely at the top of any Torontonian’s list of places to visit. Even when she is at one of her restaurants on a given night, her presence is undoubtedly felt by those in the food service industry all over Toronto, as her strong personality and wit are always on full-display through her twitter — @TheBlackHoof — along with her vocal feminism and her willingness to call out other restaurants for various types of misconduct. Such openness has given her a widespread reputation, which she will soon be taking advantage of in a new medium, as her appropriately-named memoir, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, is set to be published by Doubleday later this year. As her name becomes more recognizable, it is certainly no stretch of the imagination to think she may be well on her way to becoming one of the most prominent figures in, or perhaps as Anthony Bourdain once noted, a leader of the modern restaurant scene in Toronto.

Grey Gardens seems to fill a curious void in the Toronto bar scene: that of the wine bar with an exhaustive list comprised of selections from different countries and regions. At the bar, I asked the bar manager, David Greig, what his personal favourite places to go for wine in the city are, to which he answered Archive and the Midfield Winebar & Tavern — which at this point I take to be the standard city-wide answers. With so few comparable options, Grey Gardens should have no problem carving out its own recognizable character that’s also separate from Jen Agg’s other restaurants.

The interior can be best described as a room in an 18th century English countryside-mansion repurposed for young urbanites — as evidenced by the soft colour scheme, flowery wallpaper, candlesticks along the bar, and a communal table that seats nine people at the front underneath a chandelier. The owners have gone out of their way, however, to balance the stately décor touches with the sensibilities of the neighbourhood — there are two bar areas, one for walk-ins and another that can be used for reservations. So it’s equally welcoming for a couple on a date, as well as a gent going by on his bike, looking for a snack. And while perusing the menu, the following songs were playing throughout the room: The Fairest of the Seasons by Nico, Downtown by Petula Clark and Alone Again Or by Love, giving off that signature laid-back and seemingly effortless “cool” one feels in Agg’s other establishments. Atmosphere-wise, I’m sold. But now on to the good stuff.

photo: Renee Suen

The menu has a nice selection of cocktails and ciders, but the extensive wine selection will intrigue guests upon their first visit. It features selections from various regions in Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Australia, Austria, Germany, and Spain. Being in the mood to try something new, and never having tried any before, I first went for a glass of the only selection of orange wine available, the Jorel ’14 ($12). For those unaware, orange wine is made similarly as white wine. Yet whereas the grape skins are removed from those white grapes rather quickly during the process, the orange wine procedure gives a longer exposure to those skins and seeds. The resulting effect is an interesting balance of both worlds: the tannins and fruity aromas commonly found in a light red, followed by the crisp finish of a white. Orange wines seem to be a growing curiosity given how, according to wine expert Amelia Singer, the variations in the taste, as well as continued experimentation by different wineries, allow it to go well with many different food pairings. As such, this may likely turn out to be an intriguing menu option for wine-enthusiasts keeping abreast with the latest trends. Having now dipped my feet in some interestingly layered tastes, I moved on to my first dish.

The snack menu consists of oysters, a cheese platter, bread, and a Smoked Mackerel dip accompanied with gaufrettes (crispy potato wedges, with a seasoning not all that dissimilar to barbecue), which in terms of originality, was what I considered to be the stand-out ($13). In terms of experience, it is kind of what you want — something that is small in portion size, with each bite consisting of two or three textures and sensations. The boneless mackerel is mixed with sour cream, chives, and caper powder. Taking a bite with gaufrettes, one initially feels the rich creamy texture of the sour-cream, followed by the kick from black pepper of the gaufrettes which continues to linger on your tongue. Give it a few seconds and you’re hit with the strong mackerel aftertaste, something that is not too dissimilar to tuna. If you’re not the biggest fish person in the world, I would suggest it is still a dish worth trying, given the different tastes working in tandem without overpowering one another, but still managing to make an intriguing, new whole.

The same can very well be said regarding the second dish I tried, the octopus with shrimp, beans, and peppers ($24). Described to me as being similar to a Mediterranean-style stew, the dish consists of slices of octopus, very generous sized shrimps, chick peas, red peppers, and parsley in a bowl atop a small pool of thin and spicy red pepper purée. Similar to the smoked mackerel, this dish was equally successful in granting an experience you want to remember. My initial worry after hearing it described as a stew came from thinking that one component or spice would overpower the whole dish, as though I would get a big heaping of the red pepper purée, making the parsley insignificant. My experience with stew has never been all that fruitful. But the dish has just the right amount of the purée, making it evenly distributed amongst the different components of the dish, and giving everything in the bowl its own unique spicy aftertaste. The portion size of this dish was fairly small, in my opinion, so you’re definitely paying for quality over quantity.

Along with Jen Agg, Grey Gardens is also co-owned by Mitch Bates, who previously worked at Momofuku Shoto and Momofuko Ko. As such, the dishes seem to be a nice marriage of the creatively casual feel of something from the Black Hoof and the elegant sensibilities of Momofuku.  Hopefully, after your first visit, you will be intrigued enough to return for dinner to try the larger dishes, which consists of oxtail, salmon, duck, and skate, or one of their interesting pasta options.

After leaving the restaurant, a friendly older man, who I assumed lived in the area, was standing in front of his bicycle, looking at the sign out front. “Is it the same people who own El Rey?” he asked me as I was leaving. “I know they also own Bar Raval and Bar Isabel.”

“No, it’s Jen Agg, y’know The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar,” I said, to which the man gave a sly chuckle. After asking me about my experience and having a nice conversation, we talked about her and her career for a little bit. Needless to say, judging from what he had to say, her reputation certainly proceeds her, but when asked if he plans on checking it out some time, he laughs and says, “Oh, of course!” It would appear as though Grey Gardens will have no issues being welcomed with open arms, and it will likely have many fun and bustling nights ahead of them.

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Where Toronto Eats: Loga’s Corner

Eateries abound. But where to eat? In a peculiarly sprawling city like Toronto, where side streets are left to thrive in their residential calm adjacent more often visited avenues, on a single crowded block you can find a mulch of names that do not give in so easily to guesses. Unless you’re the type to read and ruminate on menus on a busy street putting smooth pedestrian mobility, the foundation of urban civilization, in danger — please don’t —, you go where you’ve been before; a place a friend recommended; some place you’ve heard from a coworker; one with a decent Yelp review. It gets boring, tedious, and downright no-good-places-to-eat-around-here ridiculous when it should rightfully be exciting, like Pizza Hut birthday parties were back when you were eight. 

Novella rose to the occasion to bring it back. Welcome to Where Toronto Eats, a new series focused on where we eat and where we should eat more often. We talk about the food and the culture behind the quiet eateries that hold Toronto down as the multicultural food capital of Canada.

I’ve lived in Toronto for six months. The nature of a transplant is such that it feels the need to know its environment in ways a born-and-raised cannot. As a diehard stickler for rules when it comes to all-important matters such as pizza and slurping noodles — the answer is ‘Always Slurp’ —, I’ve done my share of food-adventures here. Jordan D., our arts & culture editor, on the other hand, is steeped in Toronto’s food scene. We hope that our different perspectives on the city will give us fresh insight into its culinary cartography.

Loga’s Corner at 216 Close Ave, Parkdale

Loga’s Corner in Parkdale is a real life brick and mortar place you’ve visited in your flighty dumpling fantasies; a place where perfectly shaped momos — thin doughs packed with delicious beef and vege fillings steamed or fried — are served on unpretentious paper plates for $6; where the bright orange and jubilant homemade hot sauce in unassuming red bottles jolts you out of that dreamy state of dumpling satisfaction into an even more profoundly delicious reality.

Dorjee and Loga

This Tibetan eatery is run by Loga and his family who moved to Toronto from Northern India back in 2012. Loga manages the restaurant while his wife, Dolma Yangchen, and his eldest son, Dorjee, work momo magic in the kitchen. When Loga first opened his Tibetan eatery, it was a small take-out place with almost no seatings. Then over the years the business expanded twice to first take over an adjacent room then what was formerly the Fat Lava Vintage Coffee. Now the spacious café offers many seatings, Loga’s generous hospitality, which includes a plate of tangy and spicy pickled daikons sprinkled with sesame seeds, and photos of his holiness the Dalai Lama.

Momos aren’t a staple dish in Tibet. A more typical meal, Loga said, consists of salty butter tea mixed with tsampa, roasted barley or wheat flour, and some beef. Vegetables are scarce as few thrive in high altitudes. Momos are a special-occasion dish, a delicacy. Even in India, Loga said, the necessary ingredients are too pricy to make them regularly. Only once he and his family moved to Canada did making momos as a business venture make financial sense. And it wasn’t such a farfetched idea as Dolma Yangchen is more than proficient in the exquisite art of dumpling making. “My wife,” Loga said, “is very good at understanding what people like.” That we can enjoy the delicacy on a daily basis here in Toronto is a testimony to our unprecedented and relatively unreal prosperity — something to be thankful for while sipping on a cup of mango lassi and waiting for the momos.

Beef momos come in a crescent shape

Though the dough of a momo is light and soft, the contents are hearty. The beef, mixed with just the right amount of onions, has a certain kind of homeliness to it, like being tucked into a duvet after coming in from the cold. The vege momo, on the other hand, filled with potatoes and other goodnesses, is a wonderful union between a dainty dumpling and a perfectly spiced samosa.Then there is the beef noodle soup — a bowl of beefy umami broth and perfectly chewy and soft noodles to be slurped with bite-size pieces of meat. All of them offer simple, clean satisfaction.

Vege momos
The beef noodle is served in a meaty, hearty broth with fresh vegetables on top

Loga’s Corner, though unassuming from the outside, is in fact a beautiful microcosm of multiculturalism. After the 1959 Tibetan Uprising following periods of armed struggle, Tibetans, in steps with the Dalai Lama, left their homeland for Northern India. Loga’s parents were a part of this exodus, which only increased in numbers with time as political and cultural repression worsened under Chinese control. Once in India, many Tibetans, Loga’s family included, were left to adapt to a drastically different environment with little to no means of easing the transition. Though Loga was born in India, he remembers this history as both a personal and communal experience.

Now in Parkdale, Loga and his eatery reflect his mixed cultural heritage. The parathas, flatbreads stuffed with curried potatoes, and the spices and the spiciness of the hot sauce, atypical in Tibetan cuisine, harken back to time spent and meals had in India. The potato balls, deep fried, crispy, and amazingly only $1 each, were included in the menu because Loga saw, with his ever increasing business acumen, that we in North America love our potatoes especially when they’re fried.

There is a reluctance about Loga when he speaks of his family’s success as though it were less of their doing and more of a benefaction bestowed upon him. Indeed when he speaks of his success, he speaks of it in terms of moral responsibilities to be respectful and honest to his customers and community. Sitting on a table where there used to be a wall, Loga spoke about Buddhism, laws of causality, and the need to do good on a daily basis: “I think a Good Samaritan [approach] will work where ever you go.”

There are three doors to Loga’s Corner. The first, closest to Queen W. with a blue staircase, is the main entrance and opens to the original space of 2012. The second is usually locked, though if Loga sees you, he will gladly unlock the door and welcome you in. The third retains signs of having once been a ‘vintage’ coffee place. Once inside, Loga opens your heart with his warmth while Dolma Yangchen’s momos open it through your stomach.

Loga’s Corner Menu:
Beef Noodle Soup – $6
Beef, Vege, and Chicken Momo – $6 (+1 for fried)
Potato Balls – $1
Paratha – $6
Mango Lassi – $3
Butter Tea & Sweet Tea – $1.5
Soda – $1

Loga’s Corner is located at 216 Close Ave. in Parkdale and is open from 11 A.M. to 11 P.M. everyday. If you go with friends, order one of everything and share. If you’re on your own, definitely the beef momos, a potato ball, and a mango lassi. 

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Winterlicious 2017: What Restaurant Offerings are worth seeking out?

Until February 9th, over 200 restaurants in Toronto will participate in Winterlicious, offering meals at a fraction of the usual price. Now, even though you’re saving money, quality should always be the top priority and, honestly, it can be a challenge when trying to figure out what establishments offer the best menus for this. So as you begin your journey for the best budget conscious lunch and dinners that Toronto has to offer during this time, here is a list of restaurants with Winterlicious menus that we feel are worth checking out!

Casa Manila (879 York Mills Road)

Although there are a few quality establishments in Toronto, Filipino Cuisine far too often tends to fall under the radar. Personally, I find this to be a curious pattern, considering how whenever I introduce friends to Filipino food, it is usually met with gleeful surprise, as though they are trying flavor combinations that are hard to find elsewhere. And as far as Filipino options in Toronto are concerned, you can do a lot worse than Casa Manila, which has been featured on the Food Network and Global News Canada. So head over for a traditional three course meal — go for chicken spring rolls (always a winner in my household during the holidays), adobo coconut beef with garlic rice, and a banana crepe for desert. Winterlicious should be an excuse to try something different, and Casa Manila will not disappoint. Lunch: $18.  Dinner: $28

Megan Leahy

Parts & Labour (1566 Queen Street West)

This Parkdale establishment has that hard-to-resist air of effortless “cool” with its minimalist and whimsically industrial aesthetics and communal seatings. It has become somewhat of a staple of this laid-back and friendly neighbourhood, but don’t think its popularity is all surface-level. If you plan on taking advantage of the $38 three course dinner currently being offered for Winterlicious, be sure to go with their signature P&L Burger, topped with bacon onion jam, and Monterey jack cheese all on an egg bun. I recall having it for the first time some years ago, and have been having rapturous fever dreams about it ever since. Dinner: $38

BlogTO

Il Fornello (576 Danforth Avenue)

Over the years, the Pizzeria Libretto franchise has slowly but carefully established itself as one of the top tier Neopolitan Pizzerias in Toronto, if not the absolute best. Its sister chain, Il Fornello, offers pizza of the same quality but with different variations, along with their signature appetizers with twists on Italian classics as well as delicious desserts. For Winterlicious, Il Fornello is offering an $18 lunch menu and a $28 dinner.They are quite similar, but the Pizza Fichi on the dinner menu — made with mascarpone, prosciutto, and shaved grana padano — is likely to be the biggest crowd-pleaser on the menu. Accompany it with an order of the deep fried arancini with mozzarella, and finish it off with their Tiramisu, and you will be singing the praises of this Italian restaurant empire in no time. Lunch: $18.  Dinner: $28

Museum Tavern (208 Bloor Street West)

If you’re spending your day around Bay and Bloor — maybe you plan on going to the ROM with a special someone — end the night with a causal dinner at the Museum Tavern, located just across the street. The décor is slightly elegant but unpretentious — as underscored by the rows of banquettes and cozy, busting atmosphere. Essentially, an ideal impromptu hang out place to unwind after work. They offer traditional American comfort food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of their offerings is anything to scoff at, as their Prime Beef Double Cheeseburger was recently named the best burger in Toronto in 2016 by Toronto Life. Unfortunately you will not find that dish on their Winterlicious menu, but don’t fret: their fish and chips over the years have been a steady favourite and their 6oz flatiron steak is a juicy delight. Lunch: $18.  Dinner: $28

CopaCabana (150 Eglington Avenue East)

I could have chosen a restaurant where the Winterlicious menu price is of a more significant drop from their regular listing, but let’s be honest — if you have serious carnivorous cravings and you have never been to Copacabana before, then you clearly have made some questionable decisions in your life. This Brazillian Rodizio — where one pays a fixed price, and waiters proceed to bring around various samples of meat and other offerings — gives you a rather impressive bang for your buck. The list of dishes offered includes prime rib with cheddar, garlic steak sirloin, lamb, parmesan crusted filet mignon, and the delicious roasted pineapple! Couple all of that with a buffet of appetizers and, all of a sudden, the Winterlicious price of $38 seems quite reasonable. Eat all the meat your clogged-heart desires, tip your server, and call me in the morning. Dinner: $38

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What Novella Loves

Dolce and Gabbana The One Fragrance

I’ve always been on the hunt for the perfect fragrance. I’ve been looking for my signature scent for years now, and I think I’ve finally found it. I was given this perfume as a Christmas gift and I am completely obsessed with it. It smells classic and sexy, but, at the same time, it’s the perfect combination of sweet and musky — which is what I love the most about it. I get compliments all the time, seriously. — Claire Ball, Editorial Contributor

Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen

Before diving into Ottessa Moshfegh’s recently published Homesick for Another World, a collection of short stories, I decided to revisit her 2015 novel, EileenThe eponymous Eileen Dunlop is a secretary at a boys’ prison in a New England town who is stuck taking care of her alcoholic father. The description may sound grim but it does not even measure up to the noxiously delicious mix of comedy and bleakness Moshfegh’s writing offers. Take, for instance, this scene early in the novel: “[I] remember that day on the stairs, how he winced when he turned to look up at me, as though the sight of me made him ill. I stood on the landing, looking down. ‘You’re going out again,’ he croaked, ‘to Lardner’s.’ Lardner’s was the liquor store across town. He let the empty sherry bottle slip from his fingers and roll down the staircase, step by step.” Reading Eileen is much like being shown the many physical and mental details — ones often deemed best kept unseen for civility’s sake — that make a person. As such, it’s discomfiting and thrilling. Most of all, as Eileen gathers her momentum, it’s nauseating in ways only a good novel can be. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Striped Pleated Skirt from Club Monaco

I found this striped pleated skirt from Club Monaco in a midi length. Bold and colourful stripes will be a massive trend in the upcoming spring, so there is no need to limit ourself to only one stripe style. I choose this skirt because of the retro feel it’s evoke, plus it’s versatile and classic, which means you can wear it from winter to spring just by adding the right accessories. This skirt is a winter slump buster and this is exactly what I need right now — Liat Newman, Fashion Contributor

Samsung Gear S2 Smartwatch

Monitors your heart rate, sleep pattern and notifies you of messages, calls and more. Unlike some other smartwatches, the Gear S2 Classic is sleek. Bands can be interchanged and watch faces are ever-ending. This intuitive accessory is more than just a step-counter, it’s innovative and chic. — Natalie Dixon, Contributor

Father John Misty — Pure Comedy

Father John Misty is an American singer/songwriter well known for his unique vocals and indie rock sound. His third album, Pure Comedy will be released on April 7th 2017. Along with the announcement, Father John Misty released a 25-minute short film performing snippets of new songs from the album. As stated in the official press release, Pure Comedy “navigates themes of progress, technology, fame, the environment, politics, aging, social media, human nature, human connection and his own role in it all with his usual candor, and in terms as timely as they are timeless.” Pure Comedy is an album that you don’t want to miss, and we at Novella are here to remind you. — Kimberley Drapack, Contributor

Kehlani — SweetSexySavage

In crazy times, I tend to look to music for solace and/or a good distraction. R&B singer Kehlani has finally released her debut album SweetSexySavage, and it’s just what I needed. I became a fan of the soul singer after listening to her mixtape ‘You Should Be Here’ almost two years ago. Kehlani song ‘Gangsta’ off the Suicide Squad Soundtrack was the best thing about the movie other than Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, so I am excited to have new music to bop my head too. — Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief 

Moleskine Bullet Journal

I’ve been loving my Moleskine bullet journal that I received for Christmas. I’m a very organized person but I also enjoy being creative and the journal is a nice medium. Initially, the journal is empty but you have the ability to organize it however you like to suit your day to day schedule. I’ve personally split it into a daily planner and a creative outlet where I do things like collages. I also really enjoy the fact that the journal is customizable and was engraved with my initials. — Andrea Vahrusev, Contributor 

Grapeseed Oil

If anyone understands the woes of dry skin, it’s me. I already have really dry skin and in the winter, it’s a nightmare. To combat this Sahara of a face I have, I use oils usually twice a day, or at least every time I wash my face. Lately my vitamin E oil just isn’t cutting it, and my Almond oil is really thick so it leaves a sheen. I recently bought a bottle of grapeseed oil for around 10 bucks and I love it. It leaves my face moisturized but it doesn’t give me that oily sheen when I use it. The lack of scent is a bonus. Extracted from grape seeds, the oil is a non-comedogenic, which means it doesn’t clog pores. It comes with many benefits and is used to treat acne, diminish dark circles, reduce scars and restore collagen. You can use it to nourish your hair as well. As for me, I don’t have to worry about my face cracking when I smile anymore. — Helen Jacob, Contributor 

Renpure Sea Salt Spray

I find having curly hair is somewhat of a communal thing. We all trade product secrets, weird tips, humidity horror stories and more. This spray has been amazing for days when I can’t wash my hair and do the whole 12-step routine (curly hair people get this). Instead, I brush through my curls — don’t freak out — and spray this through my hair and it is good to go — full, shiny, all day curls! — Meg Summers, Contributor 

Molecule necklaces by Alternative Thinking

There is no better way to showcase what you are passionate about than with a metallic necklace. Over at Alternate Thinking they have perfected this method by designing necklaces with chemical compositions in their basic molecular formula. They feature everything from THC, dopamine, and LSD to Serotonin, the love drug. Head on over to showcase your vice in flair, all for only $30. — Daniel Caudle, Contributor

Shura — Nothing’s Real

English-songwriter Shura’s debut LP is a powerhouse of dreamy synth-pop, a music style dominating the charts lately. Shura’s sweet vocals and heartfelt lyrics evoke the feeling of first love, of when you were in high school and all you could think about was kissing someone else. In particular, the tracks “2Shy” and “What’s It Gonna Be?” gave me a real feeling of romantic nostalgia and took me back to the soul-crushing experience of being seventeen and in love. — Natasha Grodzinski, Editorial Contributor

Treat Yourself Real in 2017

A couple of years ago, I used to close my eyes and imagine colourful videos. That was my reflection on the brightest moments of my life. Sadly, I notice that it’s getting harder and harder to do the same now. While images keep changing, I see less and less continuous scenes. Life becomes more of a picture rather than a video. A picture in a museum, a picture on the beach, a picture in a new cafe… We are trying to be everywhere and experience everything. But very often, instead of experiencing we get just another picture on Instagram.

That’s why my biggest New Year’s resolution is to capture everything I do, wear, and experience in my heart. Here are some tips on how to treat yourself REAL in 2017.

Musician Oddane Taylor. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Go for Music

You already know how to make Spotify and Soundcloud create a playlist that satisfies your musical tastes. However, you can make your musical experience even more entertaining by actually going to events. The fact that the Greater Toronto Area is a home to many talented producers, singers, and DJs makes your musical discovery not only exciting but also affordable. You don’t always need to spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket to see someone at the Air Canada Centre. A lot of musicians prefer to hit nightclubs. For example, a Brampton-based rapper Roy Woods has recently performed in Mod Club, while Tory Lanez (from Brampton as well) threw a dancehall party in Rebel. A $25-50 ticket for those shows buys you a party and adds many favourite songs to your playlist. The songs that you will have personal connections to.

Bonus: Check Red Bull Sound Select for more inspiration. Last fall, I explored Mick Jenkins and Smino, two cool hip hop artists on one of the Red Bull concerts.

Sousse, Tunisia

Make your travel destination your dream motherland

Instead of hitting multiple places, explore one place in depth. Saying you’ve been all over the world sounds cool, but saying it doesn’t make it real! Your trip doesn’t deserve a quick glance from bus windows or an impressive post on Facebook or Instagram.

Build a relationship with a place. Make a playlist of its music and listen to it on the plane. Meet the locals and go to their parties. Dance with them and listen to them talk. That will tell you a lot about the country.

Ask your new friends (not your tour guide) about the best places to eat, go for a picnic, and party. Keep your head up, don’t let the camera on your neck restrain you from looking around. Pick one or two days for a proper photoshoot, and forget about pictures for the rest of your trip. Breathe, take your time to stop and live in a moment. That’s what will make your travel experience unforgettable.

Last summer I made friends with Tunisian animators during my stay at a hotel in Sousse. I helped them host mini-disco for kids and entertain people on the beach. That experience made me closer to Tunisian culture and added many funny moments to my vacation.

Bonus: Explore the world through volunteering and educational programs. They will help you bring a positive change to the communities and make new friends. Volunteer Forever has recently posted 2017 Best Volunteer Abroad Programs, Organizations, & Projects.

Photo by Olga Rodionova

Build Your Dream Wardrobe

This year make your style iconic by purchasing only high-quality clothes and clothes that will tell a unique story about you. Don’t buy items because they are on sale or because you just need another sweater. Choose something you really love. Most of the time, it will be pricier, I agree. But with hundreds of fast fashion items in your wardrobe, you still complain about having nothing to wear — it’s worth a try.

I noticed that clothes that I usually buy in malls lose their attraction after a couple of weeks. But items such as overalls from Smoke + Ash or a Mischa Lampert fur-pom-pom beanie that I bought years ago, still give me confidence and a sense of beauty.

Items that I got when traveling to other countries make me feel special too. One of a kind leather gloves with orange ruffles that I bought in Venice seven years ago still get many compliments as well as a cheap scarf that I bought in Turkey.

Make your skin your sunshine

It’s fun to smell and try different skin products. But honestly ask yourself: Do you really need all those day and night creams, toners, and serums? Loading your face up with products or using many of them at the same time might cause irritations and breakouts.

Clean your beauty shelf out of everything that didn’t work for you last year and leave or add only those products that make your skin perfect.

If you still haven’t found your ideal skincare, you might want to check Mèreadesso, a new line that Novella reviewed last month.

The creator Linda Stephenson proposes a simple combination of products such as moisturizer, cleanser, and body balm that will replenish all the needs of your skin.

Bonus: DIY beauty hack recipes for fans of natural treats.

Photo: Tullahoma News

Don’t take your phone to the gym

Get better results from your workout by simply leaving your phone in a locker. My personal trainer in Russia always asked me if I was thinking about something else while exercising. He urged me to turn off my brain for half an hour and think only about the areas of my body I was working on. Exercises such as sculpting and stretching need your full attention. Checking your phone and messaging interrupts you from the process and extends your breaks between exercises, which can ruin the entire workout. If you already follow this phone etiquette, try to improve your results by shortening your breaks between exercises.

Photo: Food & Wine Magazine

Go on a food trip in your kitchen

Tired of your standard dinner recipes? Broaden your culinary horizons and take your family on a food trip! Ask your Italian friend about an authentic pasta recipe or get an Irish family to give you the secret for the best Shepherd’s Pie. You can also search for the recipes on the Internet. Write them on pieces of paper and throw them in a bowl. This is your new culinary globe! Each time you aren’t sure what to cook for dinner and thinking about ordering in a pizza, slip your hand into the bowl and cook whatever you get. Moroccan chicken tonight? Hawaiian poke bowl tomorrow? All countries come to your kitchen in homemade goodness.

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