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The other day, I was chatting with a new and well-traveled friend, and she mentioned that she maps out her travel itineraries with militaristic precision. She books all the tours and activities in advance; scouts restaurants for meals, snacks, and in-betweens; and even charts travel times between itinerary stops. Reflecting on the research that went into our recent Calistoga, CA trip, and how time-intensive (though…fun?) it had been to trowel my way through countless Reddit threads on the subject of Northern Napa and cross-check them with recommendations from a few friends and Magpies, I asked: “How do you figure out what to do and where to go?” She shrugged: “The Internet.”
But, like, what and where?! Are there shortcuts I’m missing?
We all have those friends who know the best place to buy chocolate in Brooklyn, speak passionately about the fancy coffee-brewing equipment they’ve procured from a small glass-blowing business in Italy, attend the most interesting cultural programs. And we all want to know: how do they find about these things?
I know this because, first, I routinely ask this question when in the presence of my in-the-know friends, and, second, when I shared I’d seen Ann Patchett at the Library of Congress a few weeks ago, the number one response I received was not “what was she like?” and “what did she say?” but —
“How did you hear about this?! I’ve lived in D.C. for years and never know about these things!”
My knee-jerk reaction was: “It was kismet! I happened to look on Ann Patchett’s website out of the blue to see if she had any upcoming speaking engagements, and voila.”
But the truth is that I’ve developed certain habits of looking in certain places, and it’s more systematic than I perhaps thought. Today, I wanted to share some of the resources I use when seeking meaningful things, whether those be experiences, travel itineraries, technology, etc.
Travel, restaurants, really niche (non-fashion) purchases — Reddit, Reddit, Reddit! For example, I used it heavily when trying to buy Mr. Magpie a fancy manual coffee grinder. (Anything that you feel might have a passionate, geek-y followership — wine, coffee, technology) is bound to have tons of Reddit threads. You can search for nearly anything here using search terms like “best Calistoga CA restaurants” or “what to do in Calistoga CA.” You must then filter through tons of comments, sussing out the credentials/veracity/taste of each Redditor through context clues. (You know what I mean: the minute we read, “I swapped applesauce for butter, cornmeal for flour, and canned peaches for the recommended apples…,” we must firmly, kindly discard the subsequent critique.)
Technology — Mr. Magpie recently shared this technology review resource (Rtings.com) with me when I was trying to decide which pair of noise-canceling headphones to buy. They are very thorough and judging by the lack of “gloss” on their website, you can trust these are true engineer / tech nerds (ha!). I would cross-check this resource by skimming reviews of each product on Amazon and doing a quick dip on Reddit.
Recipes — We (well, mainly Landon) rely on a vast library of cookbooks, but top of the heap: for pasta, Missy Robbins and “Oretta,” as we fondly call her in our kitchen; for baking, Stella Parks; for fish, Paul Johnson; for French, Daniel Boulud; for American classics, America’s Test Kitchen; for Southern, Garden & Gun; for Mexican, Nopalito; for veg, Josh McFadden. Landon also follows tons of chefs on Instagram and is often reporting new finds, ideas, ingredient sources by following them. If you’re as passionate as he is, take a minute to draw up a list of your favorite restaurants, or the ones you’re dying to go to, and then follow their chefs de cuisine on Instagram.
Wine — Aldo Sohm and What to Drink with What You Eat. We also do things like look up the wine programs at restaurants we like to see what they’re serving and subscribe to the email lists / Instagram accounts for wine shops we know and like. We’re still big fans of Flatiron Wines in NYC (often have our wine shipped from there) and, here in DC, have been following Domestique for a long while but not yet made it downtown. They specialize in natural / funky wines. We’re all hot on Napa wine right now, and so are always staying plugged into a few of the wineries we liked out there. You just never know what they’ll be sharing — special deals, limited edition bottles, recommendations for food pairings!
Cultural Events — I’m on the mailing list for several local museums (Kreeger, Phillips, Smithsonian, Dumbarton Oaks) and try to skim their offerings every now and then. I also signed up for the French Embassy’s newsletter and sometimes come across really fabulous programming, like the evening we spent listening to a piano concert there! Kennedy Center and Warner Theater are musts, too.
Book Talks — In NYC, you MUST sign up for the 92nd St Y’s newsletter. They get ALL the gets. I attended some mind-blowingly wonderful presentations, poetry readings, author talks there and still review their events, telling myself “I can always train up for the day and crash with my sister or best friend, both of whom still live in NYC.” Here in D.C., I follow Politics and Prose and Sixth and I for these kinds of opportunities. I also look up speaking engagements on the websites of the authors I like most, especially if the book is buzzy — there’s a good chance they’re on a press tour. I’m SO sad I just missed a talk with Alice McDermott at Politics and Prose this past week…
Book Recommendations — I love Ann Patchett’s bookstore’s website for this. I have good friends and sisters who religiously stay on top of the top book awards and their shortlisted nominees for recommendations, too.
Household Products — I still use Wirecutter as a “first pass” for things like “best batteries” or “camping pillow.” I never go to them when aesthetics matter. They’re good at rating for function, but never aesthetics! I’m a little less enchanted with them ever since NYT bought them out, but still a solid resource.
Music — We’re not huge concert-goers, but I do check the lineup at Wolf Trap religiously in the summer (when in Chicago, I did the same with Ravinia) and skim The Anthem’s offerings. I’m still not cool enough for 9:30 Club. Never have been, never will be — but my sister did take me to see Norah Jones there when she was only twelve or thirteen! We always call it, fondly, “our first date.” (If you grew up in the D.C. area, you will understand what I mean by the vibe of this venue!) I also check the tour dates for musicians we like whenever the mood strikes — usually after we’ve checked out the latest “Tiny Desk” videos over a few glasses of wine. Ha! Danger zone. This is how I ended up buying tickets to Father John Misty, a performer I barely know. But I never regret the experience! Fun to get out there and try new things.
Then, of course, I follow a constellation of creatives and writers on Instagram who are constantly planting the seed for new experiences, restaurants, etc. I hope to be one of those resources for some of you, too. I spend a lot of time following fashion and shopping at the source and love curating the best.
Anyhow, turning things over to you now.
Where do you go for trusted recommendations? What are your sources for “meaningful stuff”?
+What music do you play at home?
+What is your current hyper-fixation meal?
+We traveled to the Eastern Shore a few years ago, and I still think about this placard about the vernacular of local oystermen.
+RUN to buy this $49 metallic turtleneck. The silver sold out within 24 hours. I managed to get the gold! Perfect for way to communicate “festive” while pairing with an easy pair of jeans.
+Perfect $12 thin velvet headband.
+Julia Amory just released the prettiest tree skirts. While there, may I urge you to try a Julia Amory shirtdress? I’m telling you — the best. So comfortable, easy to dress up or down, flattering, etc!
+These tall boots are SO GOOD. Very Isabel Marant, but waterproof and currently on sale for $160.
+Pretty earrings to finish your Thanksgiving look. Colors and scale are perfect!
+OK, Zara, we see you. This under-$200 cocktail dress is FUN.
+I just added a “Gifts” section to my shop this week — a simplified place to get my top gift recs in one spot. Will be adding to it over the coming weeks. Also: I updated my Shop weekly! Lots of great find there right now.
+My mom was texting me in pursuit of an “elevated loungewear” outfit for longer travel days. (She’s very dressy and I was almost shocked she asked about this.). I pointed her in the direction of either Gap’s CashSoft line or, for a splurge, these Kilte sets.
+These marbleized lampshades would look so spectacular on your Thanksgiving table.
+Just stocked up on these sweats for my son in basically all colors while on sale.
+Jo Malone sent me this candle and I’ve already been burning it, compulsively. I don’t usually like candles that smell like baked goods (vanilla, chocolate, etc), but this is divine. It has a spicy complexity to it that makes it feel less like “gingerbread” and more like “warm winter smell.”
+Love the color and collar of this cardigan.
+Love this complete set of Laguiole cutlery.
+CUTEST chocolate suede tote.