Tagged Cooking and Cookbooks

How to Pretend You’re in Tunis Tonight

Panorama La Medina, a rooftop cafe in Tunis, offers some of the best views of the old city.
Panorama La Medina, a rooftop cafe in Tunis, offers some of the best views of the old city.Credit…Sebastian Modak/The New York Times

How to Pretend You’re in Tunis Tonight

The Tunisian capital beckons with white-sand beaches, the medina, cafe districts and Roman ruins that speak to its place in history. Luckily, there are ways to capture its spirit at home.

Panorama La Medina, a rooftop cafe in Tunis, offers some of the best views of the old city.Credit…Sebastian Modak/The New York Times

Sebastian Modak

  • Jan. 12, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

There are worse places to be lost than the old medina of Tunis, a dizzying labyrinth of ancient alleyways. As I discovered on my visit to the Tunisian capital, there is so much to look at: the vendors doling out spices, the cats watching the afternoon pass from sun-soaked stoops, the groups of friends sitting around crowded tables and sipping mint tea. You might pass the open window of a traditional music school and hear snippets of a haunting song hundreds of years old or, out of another storefront, the thump of techno music accompanying an experimental art exhibition.

From left: Shopping in the old medina of Tunis, swimming at a Carthage beach, and the ruins of ancient Carthage.
From left: Shopping in the old medina of Tunis, swimming at a Carthage beach, and the ruins of ancient Carthage.Credit… Andy Haslam for The New York Times (left and far right); Mohamed Messara/EPA, via Shutterstock (center)

It is hard to believe that all of this exists in just one corner of a sprawling, cosmopolitan and complex city on the tip of North Africa. Elsewhere, there are nightclubs that spill out onto white-sand beaches, cafe districts that wouldn’t be out of place in southern Europe, and Roman ruins that speak to its place in history as a gateway to Africa and a center of Mediterranean commerce. It is a lot to take in over a single visit, and I am looking forward to my next one. In the meantime, I will be following these tips to make it feel as if I am back in Tunis, even if just for a night.

Cook with harissa

Tunisian cuisine is sometimes hearty, other times delicate. It can be spicy, but is not afraid of a little sweetness. It is also brimming with history. Arabs, Romans, Sicilians, Byzantines, Berbers and more have all, at one point or another, called this land on the Mediterranean home, and that is all on display come mealtime. Rafram Chaddad, an artist and food researcher, spends much of his time tracing that history, with a special interest in the food culture of Tunisian Jews like his own family. He consulted multiple old recipes to come up with this one, for a pan-fried sea bass with dried rose petals and harissa, a ubiquitous hot chile paste. Featured in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “Jerusalem,” a collection of recipes from around the world that converge in that city, Mr. Chaddad’s recipe highlights the importance of seafood to Tunis’s food scene.

A Tunisian woman preparing harissa.Credit…Mohamed Messara/EPA, via Shutterstock

“Fish in the Tunisian sea are special,” said Mr. Chaddad, who grew up in Jerusalem and recently returned to Tunis, pointing out that the hot temperatures and shallow depths make for a special flavor. “The seafood here is kissed by the sun.” While you might not be able to get your hands on bona fide Tunisian sea bass, the flavors — the way the spiciness of the harissa plays with the perfumes of the rose petals — are evocative enough of the city’s cuisine.

Make sure the egg is runny

For a snack, Mr. Chaddad recommends brik a l’oeuf, a deep-fried cousin to the dumpling, filled with some combination of tuna, potatoes, onions, capers, harissa (because of course), and, the star, a runny egg yolk that will drip all over your plate at the very first bite. His recipe, also included in “Jerusalem,” was featured in a write-up from the travel website Roads and Kingdoms, alongside an iteration from a Tunisian grandmother. Sarah Souli, a journalist whose associations with Tunisia’s capital are closely linked to visits with her grandmother, told me that she wouldn’t dare try it on her own, even if she encourages others who want a taste of Tunis to do so.

“I don’t cook brik at home because I think longing is an important part of loving,” Ms. Souli said. “I’ll wait till I can go back to Tunis and Memeti, my grandmother, makes me one.”

From left: Tastes of Tunis, including a traditionally prepared couscous dish, fish at a market and sweets.Credit…Photographs by Fethi Belaid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Or put in an order

If the thought of cooking up your own Tunisian pastries is too daunting and you happen to be in the United States, you can order a box of them. Layla’s Delicacies, based in New Jersey, ships boxes of pastries across the country to Tunisians who miss the taste of home.

“Traditionally made by hand at home, Tunisian pastries are made with the noblest ingredients, and take an incredible amount of time and attention to detail,” said Rim Ben Amara, the company’s founder.

While the pastries are most common at gatherings, there’s no shame in digging into a box on your own. For something that you would come across in Tunis, try kaak warka, a doughnut-shaped treat filled with almond paste and rose water, or samsa, a triangle-shaped sweet pastry encrusted with pistachios and filled with almonds and hazelnuts.

The Bardo Museum, a converted mansion, houses one of the largest collections of Roman murals in the world.Credit…Sebastian Modak/The New York Times

Take a museum tour

Tunis is brimming with history: the mausoleums of the medina that have remained unchanged for centuries; the Roman ruins at the original site of Carthage, in the city’s northeastern suburbs; and the Bardo Museum, a sprawling 19th-century palace that is home to one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world. While there is nothing like seeing them in person, you can get a sense of the scale and craftsmanship of the ancient artwork through a virtual tour that allows you to roam the palace’s halls at your own pace.

But don’t forget the contemporary art scene

You also should get a sense of the contemporary art scene, which can be found in art galleries and pop-up events across the city. Dora Dalila Cheffi, a Finnish-Tunisian artist, paints brightly-colored tableaus, often inspired by the city she now calls home. Some of her work can be viewed online. Scenes from across the city are interspersed with more esoteric interpretations of Tunisian life.

“The slow pace of life, light and general atmosphere are great for the type of work I do,” she said, describing how her work has evolved over time. “There is less scenery now, but that doesn’t mean that the work doesn’t talk about life in Tunisia. If anything, it does so even more.”

Ms. Cheffi also recommends transporting yourself to the city through the work of a street art duo, ST4 the project. Their work can be seen not only in Tunis but also in other cities around the world, as they weave homegrown influences into their work to create connections across borders. “They use Arabic lettering and, as the work evolves, the letters transform more and more into an abstract and universal language,” Ms. Cheffi said.

Sidi Bou Said, a scenic town on the outskirts of Tunis, is popular with tourists for its white and blue buildings and views of the Mediterranean. Credit…Andy Haslam for The New York Times

Get cozy

While the fouta, a handwoven towel, has its roots in the hammam, or public bathhouses, and are commonplace today along Tunisia’s beaches, they’re just as useful as a cozy throw at home. Fouta Harissa works with artisans who spend hours spinning the cotton towels on looms that have been passed down through generations.

“I always pack a few when I travel — to give as gifts (along with a jar of harissa), and also as my one-and-done accessory,” said Fouta Harissa’s co-founder, Lamia Hatira. “It’s a wrap, a sarong, a beach towel or a blanket depending on my destination.” It’s a versatile accessory — even when that destination is your living room couch.

From left: The old British Embassy in Tunis, which has been converted into a hotel, the Royal Victoria; the rapper 4lLFA performing in Gammarth, a suburb; and the Tunis medina.Credit…Andy Haslam for The New York Times (left); Sebastian Modak/The New York Times (center and far right)

Wind down with some music

Finally, it is time to unplug with the sounds of Tunis. For an introduction to Tunisian music, check out this radio broadcast, featuring a wide survey of traditional genres and an interview with a Tunisian percussionist. If it is current sounds you are after, Emily Sarsam, a cultural programmer in Tunis and one of the hosts of the aforementioned radio show, recommends “Lila Fi Tounes” by Deena Abdelwahed, an experimental and electronic rendition of the jazz standard “A Night in Tunisia.”

Ms. Sarsam, along with Ms. Cheffi, also recommends the work of Souhayl Guesmi, a composer who releases music under the name Ratchopper. A frequent collaborator with some of Tunisia’s biggest rappers, his solo albums are ethereal and full of barely contained energy — much like the city of Tunis itself.


How are you going to channel the spirit of Tunis in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

To keep up with upcoming articles in this series, sign up for our At Home newsletter or follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. See more Around the World at Home guides here.

To Start a New Habit, Make It Easy

Well Challenge Day 7

To Start a New Habit, Make It Easy

Removing obstacles makes it more likely you’ll achieve a new health goal. The 7-Day Well Challenge will show you how.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 9, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Whether your goal for the new year is to lose weight, start exercising or focus on self-care, ask yourself: How can I make this easier?

In the scientific study of habit formation, the thing that makes it harder for you to achieve your goal is called friction. Reducing friction means removing an obstacle or coming up with a strategy that makes a task easier to do. And if you figure out how to make a goal easier, you’re more likely to succeed.

Friction typically comes in three forms — distance, time and effort. For instance, living far from the gym or a favorite walking trail makes it less likely that you’ll go. (One study found that people who lived 5.1 miles from the gym went only once a month, but those who lived within 3.7 miles went five times a month or more.) Time constraints can also get in the way of new healthy habits. If you don’t have much free time, it’s harder to start meditating or working out. And if something requires a lot of effort — like healthful cooking in a disorganized kitchen — you’re less likely to do it.

Sometimes adding friction to your life helps you achieve a goal. In one study, slowing down elevator doors by 26 seconds prompted more people to take the stairs. Removing vending machines from schools makes it harder for teens to snack on junk food or drink sugary soda.

“The friction you set up or remove in the environment is going to have an effect long after you’ve gotten discouraged and are less excited about the new behavior,” said Wendy Wood, a research psychologist at the University of Southern California and author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits.” “That’s why friction is so powerful. It persists.”

Pandemic life has altered many of our routines — so friction that used to be there may have disappeared, and new challenges may have added new friction. For instance, some people no longer commute to work, giving them more time to do other things. While online schooling has made life tough on many parents, families also may have fewer extracurricular obligations, making it easier to have dinner at home. To identify the friction that may be stopping you from achieving your goals, take a moment to think about the time, distance and effort the goal requires.

“Ask yourself, ‘What would make it easier for me to do this?’” said Dr. Wood. “You want to reduce the effort. The thing about friction is we often don’t focus on it when we’re changing our behavior. We focus on ourselves and keeping ourselves motivated and exerting willpower. But you have to recognize that you’re also going to be influenced by the things going on around you.”

For today’s final Well Challenge, try to make a new habit a little easier with these friction-busting ideas.

Day 7

Make Your Life Easier

Everybody has different goals for better health. Here are several different ways you can create a new health habit with less effort. Choose one or several to try or come up with your own easy health resolution.

Sleep in your workout clothes. If you’re trying to start a morning exercise routine, make it easy to get dressed for a morning run or workout. Sleep in some or all of your workout clothes. Put your shoes and socks by the bed. It’s one less obstacle to slow you down in the morning.

Put hand weights by your desk. Keep light hand weights nearby and do some reps while you’re on a conference call.

Hang hooks by your door. Whether you’re always losing your keys or forgetting your mask, creating a station of hooks or shelves by the door for masks, keys or any other essentials you need when you leave the house will help you make mask-wearing a habit.

Put extra masks in your coat pockets. I bought a pack of disposable masks and always have a half-dozen stuffed in the pockets of my coats. You never know when you might drop a mask on the ground, decide you want to double mask or offer a mask to someone in need. Over the summer my daughter rode a bike to meet me for an outdoor dinner and her mask blew away. She knew I’d have a replacement handy.

Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. Standing on one leg while brushing your teeth is a way to practice balance. (Change legs after a minute of brushing.) Or use tooth-brushing time to practice mindfulness. You can find a tooth-brushing meditation here. When you add a new habit (like meditation or a balance exercise) to an old habit (like brushing your teeth) it’s called “stacking.” Stacking your habits makes them easier to remember.

Buy kitchen tongs. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to cook, toss a salad or serve noodles with the right set of tongs. In general, having the right gadgets for your kitchen is a way to make cooking easier, and easy is good. Read “These Are the Only Kitchen Tools You’ll Need,” from Julia Moskin, or check out Wirecutter’s advice for the best kitchen tools.

Organize your refrigerator. Often the tipping point in a kitchen is the refrigerator. When your fridge is a mess, it’s hard to know what you have available to cook, what food might spoil soon and what you need from the store. Wirecutter has the best fridge organization advice from Marguerite Preston, a former pastry chef, who knows how professional chefs organize a kitchen. “In restaurants, organization is important not only because it helps cooks move quickly and smoothly, but also because wasted food is wasted money,” she writes. “The same is true at home. You may not see the effects of a chaotic fridge in a bad Yelp review or a balance sheet, but they will show in the time it takes to cook dinner and the stress involved.”

Watch the jellyfish. One of the best mindfulness tips I came across this year was from Cord Jefferson, the television writer who thanked his therapist on national television when he won an Emmy. Mr. Jefferson told me he struggled with traditional meditation, but he enjoys watching the feed from a web camera showing the jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Bookmark the jelly-cam on your phone or laptop browser and get lost in the jellyfish for a short mindfulness break during your workday.

Do the Standing 7-Minute Workout. All you need is a wall and a chair nearby for balance. You don’t even have to change your clothes. Our new workout video is a friction-busting workout for anyone who avoids exercise because it’s hard to get up from the floor after a push-up, plank or situps.

Complete a 1-minute task. One of my favorite health tips for dealing with stress is the one-minute rule. It comes from Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before,” a book about forming new habits. This simple advice helps you decide what to tackle on a long to-do list. Just do the one-minute tasks first. Hang up a coat. Read some emails. Clear and wipe the kitchen counter. Tidy a book shelf. Whenever you take on a one-minute task, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment and quick boost of happiness.

Do a five-finger meditation. This is an easy way to calm yourself, no matter where you are. (I tried it in a dentist chair, and it worked for me!) Start by holding your hand in front of you, fingers spread. Using your index finger on the other hand, start tracing the outline of your hand. Trace up your pinkie, and down. Trace up your ring finger and down. As you do this, breathe in as you trace up, and out as you trace down. Continue finger by finger until you’ve traced your entire hand. Now reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinkie, making sure to inhale as you trace up, and exhale as you trace down. You can find more tips for beating stress in my story, “Peak Anxiety? Here Are 10 Ways to Calm Down.”

Create a Sunday basket. I learned this tip from Lisa Woodruff, author of “The Paper Solution.” She suggests dumping your bills, receipts and various papers into a basket. (She sells a product for this, but I just use a regular basket.) Once a week, sort your actionable papers (those that need attention) from your archive papers (those that can be filed.) The Sunday basket approach (she claims it will add five extra hours to your week) is part of a larger system proposed by Ms. Woodruff that uses three-ring binders rather than a filing cabinet. (She suggests five binders for financial information, medical needs, household reference, school items and daily operations.) For me, the Sunday basket is enough, but if you feel chronically overwhelmed by paper, you can learn more on the Organize365.com website.

Buy partially prepared food. Buying chopped up food and meal kits costs more, but it does save time. “I always used to avoid buying cut fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, but I found I actually use them sooner, so in the end it kind of pays off,” said Dr. Wood.

Keep a tip jar. Tipping in person (rather than by credit card) is an easy way to add a gratitude practice to a delivery day. Pandemic life has meant a lot more deliveries to my door, but I never had cash, so I usually just added the tip to the card. I decided to create the tip jar and make an effort to tip in cash. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would get so much more enjoyment out of tipping in person. (I always wash my hands first, wear a mask at the door and keep it brief.)

Put a notebook and pen by your bed. Keeping pen and paper by your bedside allows you to do a nightly stress-dump of all the things on your mind that might otherwise keep you up at night. You get a head start on tomorrow by creating a to-do list. And you can end your day with a simple gratitude practice — writing down three things for which you are grateful.

Create a device charging station outside your bedroom. The blue light in your screen has the same effect on your brain as sunlight, which means it wakes you up just when you want to be drifting off. If you’re trying to cut back on screens at bedtime, add some friction by setting up a charging station in your work area, the kitchen — anywhere but your bedroom. “If it’s in the bedroom, it’s easier to use,” said Dr. Wood. “That’s part of the temptation of always staying online. Keep devices out of the bedroom.”

How to Pretend You’re in Cartagena Today

Restaurants around San Diego Plaza in Cartagena. At left is the School of Fine Arts of Cartagena, once a church and a monastery built in 1608.
Restaurants around San Diego Plaza in Cartagena. At left is the School of Fine Arts of Cartagena, once a church and a monastery built in 1608.Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

How to Pretend You’re in Cartagena Today

The Colombian port city, home to the trademark sounds and dances of the region, is so full of magic that it has inspired entire books by Gabriel García Márquez.

Restaurants around San Diego Plaza in Cartagena. At left is the School of Fine Arts of Cartagena, once a church and a monastery built in 1608.Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

Sebastian Modak

  • Jan. 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

On a clear day, from the 17th-century La Popa Convent on the crest of a 500-foot hill, the view of Cartagena can trigger mild vertigo. Slowly, using the skyline as your guidepost to the Colombian port city, you can begin to get your bearings. That improbable cluster of skyscrapers is Bocagrande, a neighborhood where beach resorts share space with gleaming office towers. Next in the panorama is the walled old city, where narrow alleyways connect colonial-era churches with brightly colored shops and restaurants. In between the two neighborhoods is another: Getsemani, unremarkable from afar but, on closer inspection, a veritable street art gallery exploding with creative energy.

Scenes from Cartagena, from left: the defensive walls surrounding the historic center; the lively restaurant scene in San Diego Plaza; and a tranquil sea view.
Scenes from Cartagena, from left: the defensive walls surrounding the historic center; the lively restaurant scene in San Diego Plaza; and a tranquil sea view.Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times (left and center); David Freid for The New York Times

From high up, it can be hard to tell, but this is a city so full of magic that it inspired entire books by the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez; even after he settled in Mexico City, he continued to keep a house here. Maybe that’s because Cartagena’s magic leaves an indelible mark in your memory, even as it fuels your imagination. I still remember my first visit, over 20 years ago, as part of a bigger trip to my mother’s home country. In my mind’s eye, the blue of that sea under the bright Caribbean sun is bluer than anything I’ve seen since.

Cartagena has long been a top stop for international visitors to Colombia. The city managed to escape the worst of the country’s drug-related violence, though it continues to struggle with issues of police brutality and racial inequities.

People come to the city for glimpses of its history; it was once one of Spain’s most lucrative (and extractive) global outposts. But they end up falling in love with much more: the nightclubs that buzz until the early hours of the morning with musicians from across the region; the seafood and fried treats; and the less tangible ways it unlocks creativity. There will come a time when we can experience the city on the ground again, but in the meantime there are a few approaches to channeling the city’s magic from the comfort of home.

Driving by the fortress walls of Cartagena’s old city.Credit…Joaquin Sarmiento/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Get a taste of magical realism

According to the Cartagenera novelist Margarita García Robayo, it is impossible not to draw connections between her hometown and the books of Gabriel Gárcia Márquez, who died in 2014. “If you have read García Márquez, there is no way you can go to Cartagena and not hear all the alarm bells of recognition,” said Ms. García Robayo, whose collection “Fish Soup” includes explorations of life on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Many people don’t realize how influential the city of Cartagena, where Mr. Gárcia Márquez worked for a time as a journalist, was to his writing. Some of his most imaginative scenes — men with giant wings, blood that can move up staircases, ghosts more prone to conversing than haunting — seem less far-fetched when you have spent a day lost in the city’s sun-dappled, cobblestone streets. And reading his books will bring you right into those streets, magic and all. It is why the author said he was more concerned with truth than fantasy. “The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination,” Mr. García Márquez told The Paris Review in 1981. For something directly related to the city, start with one of the author’s most celebrated novels, “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Despite the fact that the city in the book is never named, you will find whispers of Cartagena throughout.

From left: a dancer in Plaza de Bolivar; the nightclub Cafe Havana that often features live salsa music; and drummers in the nearby town of San Basilio de Palenque.Credit…From left, Robert Caplin for The New York Times; David Freid for The New York Times; Kike Calvo/Associated Press

Get an education in champeta

“Cartagena is a city full of sound,” Ms. Gárcia Robayo told me. “The people speak in shouts, music blares at deafening volumes and always, always there is laughter in the background.” That’s a lot to recreate in your living room, but here’s where to start: champeta, the Afro-Colombian dance music that blares from picós, or brightly colored sound systems set up on street corners across the city. The lyrics are sung in Spanish and Palenquero, a Spanish-based Creole spoken in the nearby town of San Basilio de Palenque, the first free African settlement in the Americas. Melodies were originally derived from the dance music of South Africa, Congo and Ghana, which showed up on the docks of Cartagena and Barranquilla in the hands of West African sailors in the 1970s and ’80s. Once stigmatized and associated with delinquency — an outlook born from centuries of colonialism, racism and inequality — in recent years, champeta has begun to take its rightful place as the trademark sound of the Colombian Caribbean.

To feel like you are having a night out in Cartagena, put on the kind of songs you would hear at nightclubs like Bazurto Social Club or at pop-up picós away from the tourists, outside the walled city. Start with this tailor-made playlist, featuring some big names in champeta and related genres. If you are feeling particularly ambitious, try your hand at the accompanying champeta dance moves.

Take a virtual music tour

Of course, champeta isn’t the only style of music you will hear in Cartagena, so to get a fuller immersion into the sounds of Colombia that converge in the city’s streets sign up for a virtual tour. Impulse Travel, a Colombian tour agency that works with community organizations, is offering a virtual version of its “Sounds of Colombia” tour, condensing the 8-day trip into an hourlong virtual experience, which they are offering on-demand.

“We were lucky to have captured a lot of footage and high-quality audio recordings from the trips we had made in the past,” Rodrigo Atuesta, Impulse Travel’s chief executive told me. “So we put together a virtual experience to make people travel through the soundscape of this unique trip.” You might not be dancing at sunset to the sound of an accordion or watching craftspeople carve traditional flutes, but squint (and sip enough Dictador Rum as an accompaniment) and you might think you are.

Recipes from New York Times Cooking, from left: Colombian beef and potato empanadas, Colombian-style chicken, short rib; and potato stew and Colombian corn and cheese arepas.Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevic (left and far right); Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times (center)

Dance while you cook

Cartagena is among the best places in the country to try Colombian cuisine, a hearty and delicious fusion of African, Indigenous and Spanish culinary traditions. While there are a number of dishes over at New York Times Cooking to try, why not get cooking with the help of a local, to really feel like you are there? And, because we are talking about Cartagena here, this cooking class comes with music.

Foodies, a Colombian food tour company, is offering an online “Arepas and Dancing” experience, where guests will learn how to make arepas, a pancake-like delight made from corn, accompanied by a killer soundtrack. You will try your hand at arepa de huevo, a yellow arepa stuffed with egg and ground beef, and a white arepa with anise. In Cartagena, arepas de huevo (or empanadas de huevo, as they are sometimes confusingly called) are found everywhere across the city, including at the picós. So, to make you feel like you really are taking a break from the champeta blaring out of sound systems, Foodies has a playlist to accompany the whole process.

Palenqueras, Afro-Caribbean women from nearby San Basilio de Palenque, the first free African settlement in the Americas, sell fruit common to the region.Credit…David Freid for The New York Times

Finish off with something sweet

You have navigated the twists of Cartagena through the written word, danced to the stomach-churning bass of champeta music, and tried your hand at a local specialty. Now it is time to wind down with some dessert. Cocadas are little coconut-based treats found throughout Latin America. But for some of the best, you have to go to Cartagena and seek out the palenqueras, the Afro-Caribbean women from San Basilio de Palenque who have the confections down to an art.

AfroLatinx Travel, a tour company that focuses on Latin America’s African heritage, is offering an online cocada-making presentation with María Miranda, a Cartagena-based cocada master. Along with an introduction to a rich culinary heritage, Ms. Miranda’s class offers a reminder of our responsibilities as tourists, virtual or otherwise, the need for respect as visitors and the underlying trauma that permeates Cartagena’s history.

“In Cartagena, we often see these women in their brightly colored dresses and their products for sale,” the experience’s description reads. “However, do we see them beyond their colonial style dress and products for sale? These are real women. These Black women have fought to remain in spaces that have despised their presence. These women are not tourist attractions.”

A pedestrian walks along a street in the old walled city of Cartagena. In the background is the iconic Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

How are you going to channel the spirit of Cartagena in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

To keep up with upcoming articles in this series, sign up for our At Home newsletter or follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. See more Around the World at Home guides here.

How to Get More From Your Pandemic Bubble

Well Challenge Day 3

How to Get More From Your Pandemic Bubble

Social bubbles have helped us cope with the restrictions of Covid-19. For today’s Well Challenge, look to your pandemic pod to inspire and motivate you toward a healthier and happier life.

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Is your pandemic bubble a keeper?

Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the power of a trusted friend group may be the most lasting. This summer, nearly half of Americans said they had formed a “pod” or social “bubble” — a select group of friends to help them cope with pandemic life.

It took a pandemic to teach us what many cultures have known all along — that friendship pods can give us healthier, happier lives. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, has studied the habits of people who live in “blue zones,” which are areas around the world where people live far longer than the average. He has consistently found that cultures with long life expectancies value strong social ties. In Okinawa, Japan, for example, where the average life expectancy for women is around 90, people form a kind of social network during childhood called a moai — a group of five friends who offer social, logistic, emotional and even financial support for a lifetime. Members of each moai also appear to influence one another’s lifelong health behaviors.

Mr. Buettner has worked in several cities to try to replicate the moai effect. In Naples, Fla., for instance, he found 110 people who wanted to improve their eating habits, and he started by grouping them by neighborhood. (“If they live too far apart, they don’t hang out,” he said.) Then he asked questions about shared interests and values, like whether a person watched Fox News or CNN, whether they liked beach vacations or hiking, attended church or liked country music. People with shared interests who lived close to each other formed “moais” of five or six people, and then planned five pot luck dinners together.

After 10 weeks of planning healthy meals together, everyone reported eating more plant-based foods, Mr. Buettner said. And 67 percent said they had made more friends, 17 percent had lost weight, 6 percent had lowered their blood pressure, 6 percent reported lower blood sugar and 4 percent reported lower cholesterol.

Moais can form around activities like walking or bird watching, healthy eating habits or hobbies, like photography. The key is to find like-minded people with shared values and goals. And once the groups form, the members tend to support one another in other ways. When one member of a walking moai in Southern California was diagnosed with cancer, other members of the group stepped in to help with meals and caregiving.

While pandemic life has stalled many of our social plans, we’ve also learned a lot about friendships, who we can depend on and even who matters less than we thought. Even if you didn’t form a social bubble, the new year is a good time to reflect on the friendships that counted the most during a difficult year.

“It’s not only the importance of social connections, but also leaning into anything we’ve learned about the relationships that matter,” said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of “The Joy of Movement.” “What were the relationships that lasted during Covid is a really interesting thing to pay attention to. I’ll remember who kept texting when I wasn’t always texting back.”

Mr. Buettner noted that when it comes to forming healthy social groups, we sometimes have to re-evaluate friends who might be a lot of fun, but aren’t really making our life better.

“I used to have a group of friends who had a lot of unhealthy behaviors,” said Mr. Buettner, whose latest book is “The Blue Zones Kitchen.”

“They felt good to be around, but they weren’t good for me. I think it’s important to curate your pod. I’m not saying dump your old friends. I’m saying you want to be aware of the people who are additive to your life, who are going to give you the most good years going forward, and who aren’t going to infect you with their bad habits.”

To learn how to turn your pandemic pod (or any group of friends) into a health-oriented bubble, try today’s Well Challenge. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get the 7-Day Well Challenge in your inbox.

Day 3

Form a Health Bubble

The Challenge: Try to turn your pandemic pod into a lasting social group focused on shared values and better health. Add or subtract members as needed.

Take a compatibility quiz: Health bubbles are most successful when people have similar attitudes, values and goals. You probably already know if you and your pandemic podmates like the same movies, vacation spots and social media sites. Now focus on key questions around health and lifestyle choices. In the past month, how often did each person take part in rigorous activity? How often was someone sad or depressed? Does anyone in the group smoke? How many vegetables do they eat? Do they eat sweets or junk food? How much alcohol do they drink? You can take the full quiz online here.

Curate or strengthen your pod: Is yours a pandemic pod of convenience or shared values? The answers to the compatibility quiz will tell you if you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can help you achieve better health. If someone in the group is too negative or has lifestyle habits that bring you down, talk to them about their goals. If they want to make changes, support them. You may need to curate your pod or bring in new people who want to focus on healthy living.

Create a health goal: Start talking to your pod mates about long-term health goals. Do you want to exercise more? Try scheduling daily or weekly walk dates. Are you interested in cutting back on sugar or eating more plant-based foods? Make plans with your pod to share recipes and cook the same meals. Take Zoom cooking classes together, or do a Zoom exercise class of the 7-Minute Standing Workout. If you have Fitbits or smart watches, sync them so you can share step counts. Even if you can’t meet in person during pandemic restrictions, you can start supporting each other’s health goals now and build on them when we can all spend time together again.

“When you make a good friend, that could be a lifelong adventure,” Mr. Buettner said. “For those of us in middle age, having the right friends around us whose idea of something fun is physical activity, whose idea of eating healthy is plant-based, who care about you on a bad day, who can have a meaningful conversation — that beats any pill or supplement any day. It’s the best intervention you can invest in because it’s long lasting and has a measurable impact on your health and well-being.”

Butter, Sugar and a Tablespoon of Grief

Ties

Butter, Sugar and a Tablespoon of Grief

At the darkest time of year, we bake our pain and loss into something to pass to others when it becomes too much to carry.

Credit…Lucy Jones

  • Dec. 25, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

For my mom, the weeks before Christmas exist solely for baking cookies.

She stocks up on butter all through the fall, buying pounds of it and filling her second freezer. When I was growing up in Illinois, it served as a shelf for all the Tupperwares of cookies to perch on in precarious stacks, staying fresh in the icy garage. Our pantry overflowed with bags of flour, brown sugar, pecans, chocolate chips.

Early one December morning I would hear the stereo start playing something awful — the holiday albums of Jimmy Buffett, Mannheim Steamroller — and know that it had begun. The stereo was never used at any other time in our house. I’d come downstairs, the light barely leaking through Chicago winter’s overcast dome, and find her apron-clad, dusted in flour, in a frenzy. I would use my tiny fingers to “help,” placing the Red Hot buttons on the snowmen, but mostly I got in the way. By the end of a day of baking my mom would be frazzled, exhausted, leaving me plenty of opportunities to pinch dough from the mixer, cementing my love of all things grainy, chewy, unbaked.

As I got older, I couldn’t understand this cookie madness. We weren’t little kids anymore, jonesing for sprinkles and projects. Surely she could scale back the baking. So many days of mixing and rolling and cutting and decorating, so many hundreds of cookies, arranged on plates and wrapped in layers of red and green Saran wrap, to be delivered by my dad to neighbors and friends on Christmas Eve, a day when most households are already saturated with sugar. What was even the point?

In this year of stalled time, of unending news and numbers of deaths, of hospital beds filling and conspiracy theories brewing, as December loomed I found myself desperate for something to get me through the year. My dad’s mom, Mary, my last grandparent, died during the fall after many terrifying trips in and out of the hospital with pneumonia. She never got Covid, but for months I lived in fear that she might. I tried to call her and rarely got through. During her memorial service, at a cemetery bordered by Route 17 in Dwight, Ill., her coffin took up one of the Zoom squares and the whine of trucks cut out the sound of the pastor’s David Lynch voice.

Two weeks after my grandma died, her daughter Carol died suddenly and unexpectedly at 63. Again, my family sat through a Zoom memorial service, clutching our grief through the screen. This death from afar had no paper program to fold or wooden pew to steady me or clammy hands to shake. No heady soap or perfume smells, no mothballs or bad breath. With these contactless funerals, it’s almost as if the deaths never happened. The memories can’t imprint.

Left cold by the bodiless, two-dimensional loss, I began retreating into the three-dimensional world. I inherited all of my aunt’s knitting, her gigantic collection of mohair yarns. Knitting, something I had tried and failed to learn years ago, re-entered my life as a balm when I most needed something to do with my hands. Studying the fuzzy yarn, the hand-dyed magentas and Smurf blues and chartreuses, the orange that is a dead match for two of our cats, I marveled at my aunt’s choices. I’d always thought of Carol as my favorite aunt but I suddenly saw how little I really knew her, and how much I wish I had. She mailed us all scarves she’d made for Christmas several years in a row, and I mocked them. Now I walk around the house draped in them, squeezing them, missing the very idea of closeness.

The holidays are a time of grief for many people, when losses bubble up and balk at the meager attempts we make at cheer. I’ve never gotten it before. In this, the year of no gathering, those who are long lost or suddenly missing seem to have shown up early. For the first time I understand the holidays as something I need to get through the year. I cling to the twinkle lights, the snowflakes, any semblance of sparkle.

As my state, New Mexico, locked down in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I found myself searching the internet for butter, sugar, flour, sprinkles, fearful I might not get the quantities I needed after the latest wave of hoarding began. My mom had already finished her first 48 nutcups, a family recipe for the tiniest pecan pies, and decided to skip the kolachkys, Slovak crescent pastries with jam in the center, the kind I hated as a kid. Soon she’d be pressing green almond dough into her spritz gun with green dyed fingers and enlisting my dad to help sprinkle the wreaths.

And I, meanwhile, have abandoned my computer, my responsibilities, my bathing routine, and am scrambling from the oven to the wire rack with tray after tray of gingersnaps, crumbling piñon rosemary shortbread trees, lemon sugar cats. I am pressing my hands into dough, relishing the slap of sugar aerating butter against the side of the bowl, the papery crush of chocolate as the blade of the knife slides down it.

The thing about grief, big and small, is that it’s ordinary. We carry our losses in our bodies, they say, deep in the tissues of our hips, our shoulders, and each new loss we experience calls up all our previous losses. We can dissolve some of this grief by moving, working it out, stretching it out, talking it out, crying it out, but can’t we also roll it out on a lightly floured countertop, shape it with our hands into something small and delicate and crisp?

All these cookies and cards and gifts are also ways we hand off our pain and our loss at the darkest time of year, bake it into something to pass to others we love, share it when it becomes too much to carry. My mom’s cookies are the way she remembers her mother, the only real grieving she seems to allow herself, once a year, music blaring, oven beeping, singing “How’d you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?”

It is her chance to remember, a performance mimicking her mom’s, acting out her sorrow, dusting it with powdered sugar, dotting it with jam.

Like Penelope, weaving and unweaving night and day for her husband lost at sea, the only way I know to get through the year is to keep my hands moving. I’m not trying to busy it away, or ignore it, but to let myself feel it. The doing is where the feeling can happen.

When our bodies are busy our minds can rest, reflect in the repetitive motion. My need for projects is genetic. The squish of dough, the plush of wool in my hands are the best forms of solace.

I escape the dark days, snub my phone, and sink into mess, into tangibility, into texture, my glasses fogged from the oven and cellophane bags of cookies in each hand.

Jenn Shapland lives in New Mexico and is the author of “My Autobiography of Carson McCullers,” a finalist for the National Book Award.

How to Pretend You’re in Quebec City Tonight

A toboggan slide runs along the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace toward the castlelike Fairmont le Château Frontenac in Québec City.
A toboggan slide runs along the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace toward the castlelike Fairmont le Château Frontenac in Québec City.Credit…Renaud Philippe for The New York Times

How to Pretend You’re in Quebec City Tonight

As the song goes, there’s no place like home for the holidays. Wherever you are, you can embrace the coziness of the season like Québécois do.

A toboggan slide runs along the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace toward the castlelike Fairmont le Château Frontenac in Québec City.Credit…Renaud Philippe for The New York Times

  • Dec. 22, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

When the snow falls and the wind howls, the people of Quebec City don’t hibernate. Rather, they bundle up and celebrate with one of the most picturesque winter carnivals in the world. Overlooking the St. Lawrence River, with cobblestone streets and quaint stone houses, Old Quebec looks like an enchanted snow globe village — especially at Christmastime. In fact, the historic district of this former French colony is a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks in part to it being the only city in North America to have preserved its ramparts.

From left; In Quebec City, winter pleasures include strolling the 400-year-old city's streets, views of the St.-Jean-Baptiste area and snow bathers with Bonhomme. the official representative of the Quebec Winter Carnival, earlier this year.
From left; In Quebec City, winter pleasures include strolling the 400-year-old city’s streets, views of the St.-Jean-Baptiste area and snow bathers with Bonhomme. the official representative of the Quebec Winter Carnival, earlier this year.Credit…From left, Christinne Muschi for The New York Times; Renaud Philippe for The New York Times; Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

If I were there I’d be taking in sweeping river views from the promenade known as Dufferin Terrace and the Fairmont le Château Frontenac, the castlelike hotel where Alfred Hitchcock filmed scenes for “I Confess.” In the evening, I’d stroll amid evergreens and twinkling string lights on the Rue Petit-Champlain and stop into Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, one of the oldest stone churches in North America. Hours would be spent ice skating, warming up at an outdoor fire pit and refueling with hearty fare like poutine and tourtière (meat pie) from beloved restaurants.

But as the song goes, there’s no place like home for the holidays. Wherever you happen to be, you can embrace the coziness of the season like Québécois do — with maple syrup-inspired recipes, craft beer, outdoor pursuits and good cheer — even if a single snowflake never falls.

Le Projet Spécialité Microbrasseries, a bar in Quebec City, is known for its craft ciders and beers.Credit…Renaud Philippe for The New York Times

Cook up comfort with meat and maple syrup

“Blast some cheesy Celine Dion song on your iPhone at earsplitting decibels, find a good recipe for poutine — that trouser-busting dish of French fries, Cheddar cheese curds and gravy — and, if you are in chillier climes, go outside and build a snowman,” advises Dan Bilefsky, the Canada correspondent for The Times. Born in Quebec, Mr. Bilefsky has written about the “cultural skirmish over who deserves credit” for poutine: Québécois — or the rest of Canada. Happily, all you have to decide is which poutine recipe to make. Try one from Saveur, CBC/Radio-Canada, or Chuck Hughes, the co-owner and executive chef of Montreal’s Garde Manger and Le Bremner.

From left, a classic poutine, tartine au sucre and tourtière.Credit…From left, Alexi Hobbs for The New York Times; Craig Lee for The New York Times; Gentl and Hyers for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Jerrie-Joy.

“Québécois culture is defined by a certain cowboy excess when it comes to food,” as Mr. Bilefsky put it in an email. Cook up comfort with a New York Times Cooking recipe for a savory tourtière, or one for maple-roasted rack of venison from the celebrated Canadian chef Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon (often credited with reimagining poutine with foie gras). Be inspired by First Nations cuisine with chef Martin Gagné’s venison carpaccio with cedar jelly and sea buckthorn jam. And turn to chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, owners of the acclaimed Joe Beef in Montreal, for more recipes in “The Art of Living According to Joe Beef” cookbook.

For dessert, fill your kitchen with the scent of maple syrup pie. Though why stop there? Bake maple syrup-soaked doughnut holes or maple tarte tartin with sweet recipes from Mr. Picard, who also created Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack where the essential ingredient is — what else?— maple syrup.

Host your own winter carnival

Take part in some typical Quebec Winter Carnival activities from your hometown (though perhaps skip the local tradition of ax-throwing). Make snow sculptures and go sledding or snowshoeing. Not living in a winter wonderland? You can string up white fairy lights, sing “Au Royaume du Bonhomme Hiver” with Renée Martel (to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”), and savor the Carnival grog, a hot, usually alcoholic drink. A recipe to make some at home with maple syrup, cranberry juice, cinnamon, cloves and sweet grass is on the Quebec Winter Carnival website.

A view of the Château Frontenac.Credit…Alice Chiche/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Parlez français

On days it’s too cold to linger outdoors, learn or brush up on your French, the official language of government in Quebec (and a delicate subject in a majority French-speaking province surrounded by English speakers). Stick to your budget with “Want to Learn French? Italian? Russian? There’s No Time Like the Present” for language tools that are free or won’t break the bank.

Get cozy with a stack of detective novels

What better way to spend long winter nights than with intrigue and mystery set in a small Quebec hamlet? Light a fire, real or virtual, crack open one of Louise Penny’s best-selling detective novels and spend the evening with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec police force. In the most recent book, “All the Devils Are Here,” published this fall, the inspector heads to Paris. But the 15 books in the Gamache series that precede it are steeped in the culture and cuisine of Quebec (with the occasional murder), beginning with “Still Life.”

From left, still images from the films “Matthias and Maxime,” “And the Birds Rained Down” and “Antigone.”Credit…From left, Mubi; Films Outsiders; ACPAV

Spend movie night with directors from Quebec

Keep au courant with Canada’s Top Ten, the Toronto International Film Festival’s annual list of the country’s best films (10 features and 10 shorts). The 2019 selections include several from Quebec directors such as Louise Archambault, whose “And the Birds Rained Down” (“Il Pleuvait des Oiseaux”) is about older hermits living in the wild and a love that blossoms there; and Sophie Deraspe’s “Antigone,” a riff on Sophocles’ tragedy centered on an immigrant family in Montreal (it won best Canadian feature at the Toronto International Film Festival). Also on the list is “Matthias and Maxime” from the writer and director Xavier Dolan, the Cannes Film Festival regular who shared the Jury Prize in 2014 for his film “Mommy” with the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. (The 2020 list was recently posted online.)

Sing along with Celine Dion

For a road trip across Quebec in 2018, Mr. Bilefsky, the Times correspondent, made a playlist of songs that he felt embodied Québécois identity and would also provide an atmospheric soundtrack to the province’s landscapes. There was music from Samian, an Indigenous rapper who sings in French and Algonquin; Leonard Cohen; Éric Lapointe; Les Cowboys Fringants; the Dead Obies; and Arcade Fire. Obviously, Celine Dion, born in Charlemagne, Quebec, was on the list with “Destin.” After all, you haven’t really sung Celine until you’ve done so in French.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, center, and Fresque des Québécois, right.Credit…Catherine Côté for The New York Times

Wander galleries from your living room

Step inside Quebec City’s art galleries like Galerie Perreault, where you can browse works by contemporary artists as well as Canadian masters. Or take a virtual tour of the gallery. Discover Canadian Inuit sculptures through the Galerie Art Inuit Brousseau’s Instagram account. And stroll around town with photos of public artworks from Quebec City Tourism. You won’t even need to pull on your snow boots.

How are you going to channel the spirit of Quebec City in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

To keep up with upcoming articles in this series, sign up for our At Home newsletter or follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. See more Around the World at Home guides here.


Stephanie Rosenbloom, the author of “Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude” (Viking), has been writing travel, business and styles features for The Times for nearly two decades. Twitter: @Stephronyt. Instagram: @StephanieRosenbloom

How to Pretend You’re in Tokyo

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

A few years ago, I walked through Tokyo’s neon-lit streets for the first time, wide-eyed and jet-lagged. It only took three days to learn some of the city’s secrets. If you can’t find the perfect noodle shop for lunch, for example, look up and you will see another dozen options, filling the upper floors of what you thought were office buildings. Or that famous places — like Shibuya Crossing, the intersection you’ve seen in 100 timelapses — are famous for a reason, but there’s so much more to learn by picking a metro stop at random and going for a long walk.

This was supposed to be a big year for tourism for the city — already one of the world’s most visited — as it was set to host the now postponed Olympics and Paralympic Games. That, of course, did not happen.

With most of the world still confined to their homes, that Tokyo trip will have to wait for the millions of people who canceled flights and hotel bookings. In the meantime, there are ways to capture the spirit of a sometimes impenetrable, always fascinating, city. Perhaps, just for a night, these recommendations might even make you feel like you are there.

From left, the Asakusa Hoppy Street, commuters on the morning train, and a view of Tokyo from the Skytree.
From left, the Asakusa Hoppy Street, commuters on the morning train, and a view of Tokyo from the Skytree.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times (left and center); Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

Hear the city

I first met Kazuto Okawa, who performs under the name LLLL, outside a convenience store in the quirky neighborhood of Koenji on my first night in Tokyo. He was sitting on a curb in a circle of friends, his face obscured by long, disheveled hair. Over the years since that first encounter, his music — a blend of sugary pop hooks and space-age soundscapes — has become synonymous with the city for me. If those conflicting feelings of disorientation and joy that hit every visitor to Tokyo could be translated to sound, this would be it.

When I asked Mr. Okawa what music best captures his home city, he directed me to the classics. The musician Keigo Oyamada, better known as Cornelius, is sometimes reductively called the “Japanese Beck” for the way he swoops between genres with ease. Every album is a journey, but for the most evocative of the city, Mr. Okawa suggests his 1995 album “69/96.” “It’s forever futuristic,” he said. “A perfect match to Tokyo.”

If Cornelius is too out there for you, Mr. Okawa recommends “Kazemachi Roman” by Tokyo folk rock pioneers Happy End: you may recognize a song from the soundtrack to that great tribute to Tokyo, “Lost in Translation.”

To begin understanding the phenomenon that is Tokyo’s J-pop scene, Mr. Okawa says to start with Sheena Ringo’s “Kabukicho no joou.” “It captures the dark side of the city,” he said. “And it happens to be one of the most popular J-pop songs of all time.” For the flip side of the same pop coin — perhaps it’s a more lively summer night you are trying to recreate — he recommends Taeko Ohnuki’s aptly titled “Sunshower.”

The lunch crowd at a Tokyo restaurant. Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times
From left, crisp nori chips with toasted sesame oil, spring chicken miso soup, and yakitori chicken with ginger, garlic and soy sauce.Credit…From left, Evan Sung for The New York Times; Romulo Yanes for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Vivian Lui; Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Cook at the dinner table

No trip to Tokyo is complete without a whole lot of eating. While it may be hard to accurately recreate a bona fide Tokyo bowl of ramen or plate of sushi, there is plenty that you can do from home.

Head to New York Times Cooking for a selection of quick and easy dishes, from yakitori (yes, you really can make it at home) to nori chips (perfect with a cold Japanese lager).

For something more involved, and seasonally appropriate, follow the lead of Motoko Rich, The Times’ Tokyo bureau chief. “With the weather getting cooler, it’s time to break out the butane burner for shabu shabu, a classic Japanese dinner that you can make and eat right at the table,” she said.

First, make a kombu dashi, a broth flavored with dried kelp, then take beef, tofu, vegetables and mushrooms and dip them into the bubbling liquid, making sure to swirl in the ingredients long enough that they cook through. “Although we can cook shabu shabu at home, it also reminds me of fancier mid-20th century-era restaurants in Tokyo, where the servers wear kimonos and carry regal platters to the tables.” Ms. Rich recommends this recipe from Just One Cookbook.

Nakano backstreets near Nakano Beer Kobo.Credit…Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

Expand your literary horizons

If you want to lose yourself in Tokyo by curling up with a good book, we have plenty of recommendations, whether it is a long work of fiction you are after or more snackable short stories. There is more — a lot more — than Haruki Murakami. Ms. Rich recommends “Breasts and Eggs” by Mieko Kawakami. “I love the way Kawakami references real and recognizable, but not exoticized, Tokyo locations,” she said. “You feel in the know, reading it, rather than as if you are being introduced to a precious Other World. It is Tokyo as it is lived in, not a film set.”

Fron left, scenes from “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories,” “Shoplifters,” and “Tokyo Drifter.”Credit…From left, Netflix; Magnolia Pictures; Nikkatsu

See the city on the screen

If an evening of TV and subtitles is what you are after, start with the binge-worthyMidnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” on Netflix. The show is about the customers who pass through a tiny counter-service restaurant that is only open from midnight to 6. At turns heartwarming, hilarious and melancholic, it is a moving portrait of Tokyo after dark. If the opening title sequence doesn’t make you feel good, check your pulse: it is ASMR for the soul.

When it comes to movies, as Mike Hale, a Times’ television critic, said, “Tokyo is simultaneously the most cosmopolitan and the most intensely local city you can imagine, and that’s a perfect combination for storytelling, as directors from Kurosawa to Kiarostami to Sofia Coppola have shown.”

Where to start then? You can’t skip Akira Kurosawa, the influential filmmaker whose career spanned almost six decades. Mr. Hale recommends “Stray Dog” (1949), shot in Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II. He describes it as “a walking tour of the city in sheer survival mode.” Next, try “Tokyo Drifter” (1966) by Seijun Suzuki. “Suzuki’s stylized yakuza story sets traditional themes of honor and corruption against a jazzy, jagged, surrealist distillation of the rapidly changing city,” he said. Finally, for something more contemporary, watch the Cannes Palm d’Or-winning “Shoplifters” (2018) by Hirokazu Kore-eda. In Mr. Hale’s view, the film, about a family of grifters, “shows both the glittering modern metropolis and the shadow world just beyond the neon.”

Morning commuters in Shibuya Crossing.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

Get lost in the virtual world

While Japan’s most internationally famous video gaming figure may be an Italian plumber with a taste for mushrooms, there are also plenty of games more grounded in real-life Tokyo than Super Mario Bros. Brian Ashcraft, an Osaka-based senior writer at the gaming website Kotaku, recommends the expansive “Yakuza” series, which follows Kazuma Kiryu as he makes his name in the underworld. The Yakuza games are action-packed, but with dance battles, karaoke sessions and laugh-out-loud dialogue, they are also unabashedly silly. “This year has resulted in all events and trips to Tokyo being canned,” Mr. Ashcraft said. “The Yakuza games do a fantastic job of bringing parts of the city to life. These obsessive, digital recreations mimic the idea of Tokyo. For me, that’s good enough.”


How are you going to channel the spirit of Tokyo in your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

To keep up with upcoming stories in this series, sign up for our At Home newsletter or follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. See more Around the World at Home guides here.

How to Stay Safe in the Kitchen With Kids

How to Stay Safe in the Kitchen With Kids

Alice Callahan

Alice CallahanReporting from Eugene, Ore. 🥣

Handle raw meat and poultry safely.

Always thaw and marinate meat in the fridge, not on the countertop.

Don’t rinse raw poultry such as turkey or chicken before cooking. You’re more likely to splatter harmful germs around your sink and beyond than you are to wash them away.

Cutting boards, dishes, knives and utensils that have touched raw meat should be washed with hot, soapy water before be used with other foods.

Ask Well: Getting the Most Out of Whole Grains

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Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

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Learning to Live With a Child’s Allergies

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Credit Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

When your older daughter is a toddler and you are pregnant with your younger daughter, your husband says, “Every Friday, we should have family pizza night.” Four months later, you give birth to a daughter who is allergic to milk (meaning also to cheese), as well as to eggs, tree nuts, peanuts and maybe buckwheat and flaxseed. Very early on, certain foods leave rashes around her mouth or make her vomit, so you stop giving them to her. When she is 8 months old, her sister spills ice cream on her arm. Red bumps immediately rise in the places the ice cream touched.

Your daughter’s allergies are officially diagnosed just before she turns 1, and for her first birthday, you make her a “cake” out of puréed sweet potatoes topped with coconut yogurt (you are now well-versed in the debate about whether coconut is a tree nut and think it’s not). She feels about this cake the way most anyone would, which is that it’s gross.

You scour the Internet for recommendations on how to handle multiple food allergies. You find horror stories about children dying of anaphylaxis brought on by a single bite of the wrong thing.

You read every ingredient in everything you buy at the grocery store, even when you buy more than one package of the same thing, even when you buy the same product week after week. You come to know certain products so well that when they get a new ingredient, it’s like a friend getting a haircut.

You talk to a fellow “food allergy mom,” the friend of a friend, who explains that your family shouldn’t go out for ice cream because even if your daughter gets sorbet, the employee will use the same spoon to scoop it that he used for someone else’s cone of pistachio; and your daughter shouldn’t eat jelly at another family’s house because that family dips their peanut buttery knives in the jelly when making sandwiches. You have always been such a good worrier, but these are things you never thought to worry about.

You stop going to restaurants as a family; you stop bringing home carryout, except occasionally and furtively, when you and your husband take turns eating it standing up in a corner of the kitchen (his preference) or sitting on the upstairs bathroom floor with the door closed (your preference).

You never leave the house without Epi-Pens.

Your husband, who barely cooked before you had children, matter-of-factly learns to make vegan doughnuts and vegan waffles and vegan whipped cream.

Because it’s medically recommended that you keep exposing your older daughter to the foods your younger daughter is allergic to, you go once or twice a week with your older daughter to diners or bakeries or Vietnamese restaurants. These are delightful outings — your older daughter is excellent company and loves trying new things — at the conclusion of which you scrub your hands and hers, at the restaurant and again at home, with a vigor appropriate for performing surgery.

When your daughter starts preschool, you burst into tears at the meeting with her teachers where you discuss how to handle snack time.

On Halloween, your daughter goes trick-or-treating but you carry along a bag of candy for her to choose from. Your daughter takes her own cupcakes to birthday parties and her own snack on play dates.

You rarely travel as a family; when you do, you pack loaves of bread and jars of sun butter in your suitcase. You FedEx soy milk to Idaho.

You wonder if it’s all because you ate too many peanut M&Ms when you were pregnant. At the same time, you decide that if you had it to do over again, the minute your daughter emerged from the birth canal, you’d have chewed up a peanut and spit it from your mouth into hers, because you’ve heard that pediatricians now endorse early exposure to nuts.

Other things you’d have done to prevent her allergies, if only time-travel were possible and if only you’d known: gotten a dog; renounced your dishwasher; become Amish.

You lie awake at night fretting about what will happen when your daughter is old enough for sleepovers, or for kissing people, or for college.

Those parents who complain about not being able to send their kids to school with the PB&J they love? Those airplane passengers who groan audibly when the flight attendant announces they won’t be serving peanuts today? Those codgers who say allergies didn’t exist when they were young and it’s just a bunch of helicopter parenting? You detest them.

But you feel enormous gratitude towards the parents who write “sun butter” on the plastic bags they send sandwiches to school in, or who go over the exact menu for their kid’s birthday party and show no irritation when they say, “Bagged carrots,” and you ask, “Bagged carrots that you’ll buy bagged or bag yourself?”

You start going as a family to an ice cream parlor where your older daughter and your husband get ice cream and you and your younger daughter bring coconut bars from home. You frantically wipe down the table and chairs before you sit. You know this excursion would probably seem depressing from the outside; secretly, from the inside, you consider it slightly depressing. But mostly you consider it festive and triumphant. Now your daughter knows what an ice cream parlor looks like!

You understand that into every life a little rain must fall but just wish the rain had fallen on you rather than your child. Obviously, to some extent, it is falling on you. But you wish it had fallen on you completely.

As much trouble as her allergies are, you never wish your daughter was anyone other than her hilarious, stubborn, singing, dancing, mermaid-obsessed, food allergic self.

And even if you cannot master allergies, it turns out that you can make cookies that are both safe for your daughter and delicious.

Allergy-Friendly Cookies

For a family with a child with allergies to milk, eggs and nuts, this is a go-to recipe.


Curtis Sittenfeld is the author, most recently, of the novel “Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice.” This is adapted from an essay in “The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories With Recipes,” edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, to be published this fall.

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Fat Dad: Mom Makes Dinner

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Dawn Lerman and her mother in the mid-1970s

Dawn Lerman and her mother in the mid-1970sCredit

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I spent my childhood wishing my bohemian, free-spirited, wannabe actress mom would make a home-cooked Jewish dinner the way my maternal grandmother, Beauty, always did. My mother’s idea of a good home-cooked meal consisted of au gratin boxed potatoes, canned tuna fish, or maybe some Franco-American Spaghetti0s.

As my little sister, April, and I would fight over who would get the last pea or who would get the bigger half of the peach cobbler in the dessert corner of our Hungry Man TV dinner, our mother told us that her mother spent her whole life cooking old-fashioned food. To my mom, that meant anything made with fresh ingredients — particularly vegetables.

My dad, a 450-pound ad man, hated coming home to a house with no real food. His mother worked a 12-hour day in the garment district when he was a boy, but she managed to always have a feast on the table for him. To avoid domestic arguments he’d often choose martini and burger dinners at P.J. Clarke’s with his creative team at McCann Erickson instead of coming home to us.

On one rare occasion, my mom decided to cook a festive Swiss-inspired dinner. Maybe Beauty scared her by telling her that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, and if she did not feed him, someone else would. Pondering all the different scenarios, my mom called out in an unusually sweet voice, “Fondue, everybody.”

Charging down the thick, orange shag-carpeted staircase with 7-year-old April on my back, I noticed my mom’s wild, curly hair was neatly brushed and she had on her favorite red, white and blue shirt with the big stars. She looked pretty, swaying to the lyrics of “American Pie,” which blasted from our new Hi-Fi stereo — the one she had recently won at my seventh-grade school auction.

On the table, usually filled with receipts and scripts from my mom’s acting classes, was a gold fondue pot with a small burning candle. There were mushrooms, zucchini and pieces of crisp French bread for dipping.

When everyone arrived at the table, my mom demonstrated how the cheese stuck to the bread when you dunked it in the pot. She made sure all eyes were on her as she created the perfect bite with a long stick. “You do not want to oversaturate the bread with the cheese sauce; otherwise, it might break apart and the poor little piece of bread will sink to the bottom and drown,” she said, looking at my dad all bright-eyed. “I heard the custom in Switzerland is if the bread falls into the cheese, the man sitting beside the woman has to kiss her.”

My sister giggled and kicked me under the table. “Mommy is talking in a really weird baby voice,” she whispered.

As my mom gazed at my forever-dieting dad, she boasted that the whole meal was Atkins-approved except the bread. “Lots of fat and protein, and hardly any carbs. You can dip as many mushrooms as you like without guilt.”

Just as April and I were about to indulge in this bubbly, cheesy bit of heaven, we saw that my dad looked less than pleased.

“When you phoned and said you were going to make me a special dinner knowing that I have been struggling night and day to win the account for Kentucky Fried Chicken, I envisioned a dinner like my mother would have cooked — brisket with crispy latkes or tuna casserole with a potato-chip crust.”

While my dad perked up remembering the kind of dinners his mother made, I saw the light drain from my mother’s face.

“How am I supposed to eat this drippy mess? I need utensils and a plate!”

Running to the kitchen to look for everything, I saw my mother’s eyes well up. I fumbled through drawers, cabinets, shelves and even the refrigerator, which my mom often used for storage of paper plates, plastic silverware and napkins. I couldn’t find anything. Even worse, we were out of dad’s diet soda.

My stomach was in knots. Tears were streaming down my mom’s cheeks. I’d never seen my mother cry before. She was always stoic and strong — never vulnerable. In that moment, she looked unguarded, and it scared me.

“You know I don’t like to cook, but I went out of my way to try and make a meal that was special. I even bought two kinds of imported cheese and dry white wine so the fondue would be flavorful,” she shouted at my dad. My father looked up at her, shocked, rolling his eyes back and forth trying to charm her with his devilish grin.

I was always the peacemaker, but I did not know how to make this better. Seeing my mom so upset hurt me in a way that I had never hurt before.

I had never really noticed how young and beautiful my mom was or realized that she needed love in the same way I needed love. In that moment, I wanted to grab my mother and hug her and tell her I adored and appreciated her, but I stood frozen.

As my parents began to calm down, we noticed April, licking fingerful after fingerful of the cheesy mass. “Finger lickin’ good,” she said, reciting my dad’s favorite existing slogan for KFC. Watching her enjoy the warm melted cheese, my dad softened, matching her bite for bite and encouraging me and my mom to do the same.

“Finger lickin’ good,” he said, smiling at my mom as we all hovered around the festive fondue pot.

While my dad didn’t land the KFC account for McCann, my family found a new dish that we all enjoyed — and my mother didn’t mind preparing.

Dawn Lerman is a board-certified nutrition expert and the author of “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love and Family, With Recipes.” Her series on growing up with a fat father appears occasionally on Well. Follow her @DawnLerman.

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes With Goat Cheese Fondue

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Organic Meat and Milk Higher in Healthful Fatty Acids

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Credit Matthew Staver for The New York Times

Organic meat and milk differ markedly from their conventionally produced counterparts in measures of certain nutrients, a review of scientific studies reported on Tuesday.

In particular, levels of omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for lowering the risk of heart disease, were 50 percent higher in the organic versions.

“The fatty acid composition is definitely better,” said Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England and the leader of an international team of scientists who performed the review.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, and the Sheepdrove Trust, a British charity that supports organic farming research, paid for the analysis, which cost about $600,000.

However, the question of whether these differences are likely to translate to better health in people who eat organic meat and drink organic milk is sharply disputed.

“We don’t have that answer right now,” said Richard P. Bazinet, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto who was not involved with the research. “Based on the composition, it looks like they should be better for us.”

The two new scientific papers, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, are not the result of any new experiments, but instead employ a statistical technique called meta-analysis that attempts to pull robust conclusions out of many disparate studies.

They are certain to further stir a combative debate over whether organic foods are healthier. Some scientists assert that organic and conventional foods are nutritionally indistinguishable, and others find significant benefits to organic. Many people who buy organic food say they do so not for a nutritional advantage, but because of environmental concerns and to avoid pesticides.

The higher levels of omega-3, a type of polyunsaturated fat, arise not from the attributes usually associated with organic food — that the animals are not given antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified feed — but rather from a requirement that animals raised organically spend time outside. Organic milk and beef come from cattle that graze on grass, while most conventional milk and beef come from cows subsisting on grain.

“It’s not something magical about organic,” said Charles M. Benbrook, an organic industry consultant who is an author of the studies. “It’s about what the animals are being fed.”

Most of the same changes would be observed in conventionally raised animals that also grazed for the majority of their diet, the scientists said.“For once, this is a pretty simple story,” Dr. Benbrook said.

The review of comparisons of organic and conventional milk analyzed all 196 papers the scientists found. Because studies of meat are sparser, they could not look at just one type of meat like beef or pork. Instead, they did one analysis of the 67 papers they found for all types of meat. “Only if you throw them all in one pot can you do a meta-analysis,” Dr. Leifert said.

Two years ago, Dr. Leifert led a similar review for fruits and vegetables that found organic produce had higher levels of some antioxidants and less pesticide residue than conventionally grown crops.

Nutrition experts broadly agree that omega-3 fatty acids in food offer numerous health benefits. When the United States Department of Agriculture revised its dietary guidelines in 2010, it urged people to eat more seafood, which is rich in omega-3.

Omega-3 is much more prevalent in grass than in grain, which is why organic livestock and milk also contain higher levels. “Lo and behold, we altered in some fundamental ways the nutrient intake of these animals and hence the nutrient composition of the products that we derive from those animals,” Dr. Benbrook said.

The new analysis found that levels of another polyunsaturated fat, omega-6, were slightly lower in organic meat and dairy. Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential for the functioning of the human body, which can make neither. But some have argued that a skewing toward omega-6 has become unhealthy.

Centuries ago, people ate roughly equal amounts of the two fatty acids. Today, most Americans eat more than 10 times as much omega-6, which is prevalent in certain vegetable oils and thus also fried foods, as omega-3.

In an email, Dr. Walter C. Willett, the chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the differences between organic and conventional beef were trivial, and the amount of saturated fat in both were high.

“Far greater, and beneficial, differences in fatty acids are seen if poultry and fish replace red meat,” Dr. Willett said.

A shortcoming of the recommendation to eat more fish is that if everyone followed it, the rivers, oceans and lakes would be emptied of fish. Dr. Bazinet of the University of Toronto said perhaps encouraging people to switch to organic meats and milk would be “a way to kind of get at them with the foods they’re already eating.”

Dr. Bazinet said observational studies suggested that adding 200 milligrams a day of omega-3s to an average diet should yield health benefits. Switching to organic beef would add about 50 milligrams. “Eating one grass-fed beef serving per day is not going to do it,” he said.

But if combined with a couple of glasses of organic milk, “it should make a difference,” Dr. Bazinet said. “That would be the hypothesis.”

Scientists are now trying to examine the health question more directly.

Dr. Leifert cited several studies that indicated that infants of mothers who ate organic fruits and vegetables were less likely to contract some diseases. He is also conducting experiments to see if rats fed organic foods are healthier. So far, he said, it appears that crop pesticide residue does have measurable effects on the rats’ hormones.

“We still don’t know whether it kills you, but we do know it has an effect on hormonal balances,” he said. “It’s something that makes you think a little bit.”

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Fat Dad: Love in a Bowl of Soup

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Dawn Lerman and her dad at her bubbe’s house in 1970.

Dawn Lerman and her dad at her bubbe’s house in 1970.Credit

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Credit

“Eat your soup. It’s good food,” my paternal grandmother, Bubbe Mary, would say.

“Eat your soup. It’s good food,” my dad would playfully tell me, as he reminisced over the wonderful Jewish dinners his mom used to cook for him when he was a boy.

Split pea soup, poppy seed challah with six strands, braised brisket and potato kugel were a frequent occurrence.

“Your Bubbe loved to fatten me up even when the doctors would shame her for how obese I was,” he said. “But Bubbe was proud that her job as a fluffer in the garment district could provide me with such extravagance. Every dairy meal had butter, milk and cheese, and Bubbe made sure there was plenty for seconds and thirds.”

I giggled remembering some of the holiday meals at Bubbe’s, and how I hardly had a chance to swallow one thing before my plate was filled again.

“Just a little more,” she always encouraged. “Food is meant to be eaten, not wasted,” she’d say, squeezing my cheeks until they were bright red and stung with pain. “Think of all the hungry children in the world.”

With each bite I took, Bubbe would profess her love. “Shayna maideleh! Beautiful girl! Who loves you the most in the world?” she would say, as she checked that I polished off every last crumb on my plate.

But other than holidays, we did not visit Bubbe much. My dad was a rising star in the ad industry — he was an international creative director at the ad agency McCann Erickson, but Bubbe was confused about what he did for a living and was disappointed that he did not have a regular job like his brother Melvin, who was an accountant. Even before I knew what an accountant was, I knew my dad’s job was super-fun as he got to work with Tony the Tiger and the Pillsbury Doughboy. But Bubbe was never impressed: “A Jewish boy should be a doctor or a lawyer!”

My dad felt that if they were not talking about food, the room was silent, so he made jokes — most of which Bubbe did not understand — to break the silence. Even when my dad was a child, he did things that she did not understand, like creating satirical comic books, or questioning why they had two different sets of dishes, or turning the lights on and off on Shabbat when she strictly forbid it.

As my dad showed me how to slice the mushrooms for the soup, he talked about his new account: Campbell’s. The current campaign, “M’m! M’m! Good!” was no longer generating enough sales, and it was my dad’s job to help create a slogan that would sell more soup.

While we stirred in the barley and shredded the meat for the broth, my dad shared the story of how when he was in the sixth grade, he got beaten up by a bunch of bullies who jumped him from behind, hitting him with lead pipes until he was unconscious.

“Fat mama’s boy! Fat mama’s boy!” they taunted. The beating was so bad that he spent a week in a coma, and the doctors didn’t know if he would live or die.

Helpless, my bubbe cooked all day and all night, praying for his recovery. She hoped the smells of her famous mushroom barley soup, which she schlepped to the hospital, would revive him. When my dad awoke, Bubbe was standing there with a big pot, a bowl and a ladle — fully believing in the healing powers of her thick broth, made with beef bones, beef chuck and tomato paste.

My bubbe cooked all through the night when my dad was in the hospital, showering him with cinnamon raisin rugelach, sponge cake with an orange glaze, and mandel bread with big chocolate chips — feeding him obsessively, but never telling him she loved him.

My dad wanted to feel comforted by all the amazing food she had worked so hard to prepare, but he felt angry. He wanted to be thin. He wanted to be popular. He wanted to have self-confidence. The very food, which brought him such extreme pleasure, caused him to be bigger than the other kids, leading to ridicule and worse, landing him in the hospital.

When my dad dieted, he felt as if he was betraying my grandmother and dissolving the one bond they shared. Of course, as a child I didn’t know any of this; I didn’t understand the relationship between my father, my grandmother and food. I just knew that Bubbe Mary was a wonderful baker, and my dad missed her even though he would never say it.

As my dad served us each a warm bowl of mushroom barley soup with sweet parsnips and bay leaves, we looked at each other. “Eat your soup. It’s good food,” we said in unison — imitating Bubbe’s Yiddish accent.

The next day when my dad came home, he smiled, announcing the new tag line and jingle for Campbell’s soup, “Soup Is Good Food,” inspired by my bubbe’s soup.

The soup that revived my dad when he was in a coma. The soup he taught me to cook. The soup that said “I love you” the way Bubbe showed her affections best — spoonful by spoonful.

Mushroom Barley Soup : This soup is made with nourishing bone broth and root vegetables.


Dawn Lerman is a New York-based health and nutrition consultant and author of the newly published book, My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes,. Her series on growing up with a fat father appears occasionally on Well.


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