Archive for the ‘Advice’ category

The best hidden secret in Watertown’s Arsenal Mall…

September 5, 2011

…is definitely Coffee Traders, a family-owned coffee and wrap/sandwich/salad business. Every time I go to the mall or am in the vicinity of the mall, I stop there for a mozzarella and basil wrap.

The mozzarella and basil are always super-fresh, and so are the tomatoes that are also included in the soft pita. I like how the pita is nice and thin, so you don’t feel too full after eating it. You can have them add whatever sauce you’d like (including ranch and blue cheese), but I always go for their staple sauce: olive oil, salt and pepper. Perfecto. Today I introduced my sister to this hidden gem.

I got my usual mozzarella and basil wrap:

And she got a buffalo chicken salad:

She got her salad with ranch dressing (and buffalo sauce of course), and loved it. According to her, it was nice having grilled chicken instead of the usual fried chicken. She felt nice and healthy, which is a big reason why I love this little joint. It’s definitely much healthier than the other eateries in this food court (including Regina Pizzeria, a Mexican place and Burger King). She also liked how the buffalo sauce was less spicy than what she’s accustomed to.

If you can, try to support this business! It’s nice knowing the money goes to a family versus a big corporation. And they have ice cream and a wide variety of coffee drinks.

“I’m ba-ack!”

August 20, 2011

Wow, I’ve been MIA the last few weeks. Not that many people noticed, but I feel weird not having blogged for so long. So here I am, bright and early on a Saturday, ready to share my experiences from the last few weeks.

A few weekends ago I met up with some college roommates in Ocean City, Maryland, and we had a blast relaxing at the beach, going out for dinner and drinks and catching up. Here’s a picture of us at Liquid Assets, a bistro and package store with an awesome menu.

We started off the evening with martinis, shared a decadent cheese plate and enjoyed our delicious main courses. I got garlic chicken with roasted tomatoes, onions, fingerling potatoes, Benton’s bacon, spinach and herbs. One of my friends ordered the open faced slow braised Carolina pork BBQ with chipotle coleslaw and thick cut fries, and the other two got seared scallops risotto with roasted garlic and shallots, peas, mushrooms, fresh herbs and grana padano.

My garlic roasted chicken

The pork BBQ

The seared scallops risotto

The weekend following our Ocean City Extravaganza was a busy one as well. Jim and I hosted some friends, went to a Red Sox game and attended a two-day marriage prep class. The Red Sox game was a blast — thanks to our friend, Candace, we managed to get second-row seats!

Our view of the park

Unfortunately, the Red Sox did not win this game (and what’s worse is they lost to the Yankees), but we still had a great time. We enjoyed watching Dustin Pedroia do his little hop move before fielding the ball, making fun of Candace for her “crush” on Josh Reddick (I put crush in quotes because the rest of us sort of invented it) and going out after the game.

The marriage prep class was quite an experience. Due to a friend’s recommendation, we attended the one at the Espousal Retreat House in Waltham (completing a “Pre-Cana” marriage course is a requirement for a Catholic wedding, which we’re having). We showed up on Saturday to discover that 75 other couples in the greater Boston area were doing the same thing. Apparently, this was a record number. We spent the next couple of days together, listening to married couples share their marriage experiences and insights, receiving advice from a priest who’s worked with hundreds of married couples and discussing different aspects of marriage with out significant other.

The Espousal Retreat House in Waltham

In fact, they had each us one us complete forms devoted to specific topics, and then discuss our answers privately with our fiance (or fiancee). Topics ranged from finances to goals to religion. It was helpful to discuss those taboo topics you always try to avoid but really should confront. My fiance and I learned a few things about one another, but were pretty happy must of the subjects we’d already addressed (and were familiar with the other person’s perspective on).

The big theme of the weekend was: COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR SPOUSE. Even if you have an issue with another person (say, a friend of the family), you should always be willing to discuss your concerns with your husband or wife. Because you are a team and that person is there to help you out. They will feel validated knowing you trust them with your thoughts, and you’ll end up with a constant source of support and encouragement.

Last weekend my fiance and I headed to Syracuse, NY to take care of more wedding planning. We met with our priest for the first time, picked out the church readings and decided on the layout of the reception space. Also, my fiance designed wedding programs using his fine-tuned Excel skills. I was so proud of him. I had spent hours trying to figure out how to format Microsoft Word properly for a program. And then he goes ahead and whips up an awesome, perfectly formatted program on Excel in no time! I really think he should market his wedding program making skills!

Not only have I been so busy the last few weekends, but it seems like nearly every weeknight I’ve had some event to celebrate. For example, it was my sister’s 29th birthday on Wednesday (we had an awesome tapas meal at Solea in Waltham), my friend Bridget’s going away dinner on Tuesday, and my 3-year anniversary on August 10.

I love this card my fiance gave me for our anniversary

Finally, I feel like I can relax. I was so tired from all the recent happenings last night, that I went to bed at 8:30 (yup, on a Friday night). But now it’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday, I’ve already had my coffee and Stella D’oro almond toasts, and I’m feeling good! I’m really looking forward to this weekend — my only plan is to attend the Futures at Fenway doubleheader. Actually, I have one other plan as well: to celebrate my fiance’s acceptance into his graduate school program of choice! He’ll be attending Northeastern for political science starting in three weeks– yeah!!!

My friend Katie’s wedding advice

July 8, 2011

Katie on her wedding day

A few weeks ago I was freaking out over the idea of people not coming to my wedding. Very shortly after publishing a blog post on this topic, I received a long email from my friend Katie (check out her blog). It turns out she had similar feelings while planning her wedding. I appreciated her sympathy,  but most importantly I appreciated her advice.

She said it can be easy to focus on the people who don’t come to your wedding– especially if you’ve made every effort to attend theirs or be an overall good friend to them.  But wallowing in your disappointment, sadness, or even anger serves no purpose. Instead, it’s better to focus on the people who are coming to your wedding.

In Katie’s case, she had people attend the event she totally didn’t expect would (because they lived far away). It really touched her they came, and ever since she’s grown closer with them. So if anything, at least a couple of friendships grew stronger from the wedding.

For some reason, this advice really hit home. Since hearing from Katie, I’ve had some more people say they’re can’t make it to the wedding. But I’ve also had some others say they can. I now know those are the ones who really matter.

Make the most of the present

June 24, 2011

Have you ever not pursued a friendship because the person was leaving town in a few weeks? Or not been especially nice to someone because you thought you’d never see them again? I’ve certainly been guilty of these things, but the older I get the more I realize these are big mistakes. Life has a way of repeating itself.  I mean, things don’t happen the same exact way twice (obviously). But elements of your past return in ways you’d never expect them to. For instance:

  • I knew a girl for just a couple days in France, but a couple years later unexpectedly drove her 10 hours to a wedding in Indiana (and 10 hours back).
  • I met a guy for just a few hours in Boston, but ended up going out with him 10 years later (and getting engaged).
  • A friend I briefly studied abroad with had me in her wedding eight years later and I’m going to have her in my wedding in September.
  • A town official I covered for a daily newspaper gave me French translation work several years later.

These are just a few of the many examples of people coming back into my life. I’ve been thinking about this lately because a new friend of mine (from my French conversation group) is moving to California in a month or so. It’s sad she’ll be leaving but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make the most of being her friend for the next month. We might end up in the same place at another point in our lives, and even if we don’t, it’s still worth hanging out.

You never know what might happen tomorrow (you could get struck by a lightning bolt and die), so you need to make the most of the present. Enjoy people while they’re with you, and don’t worry about whether or not you’ll see them tomorrow.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/kicks01/4795408812

Friend or coworker

May 30, 2011

I recently came across this blog post on whether your coworkers are just your coworkers or also your friends. It was actually published on my new company’s blog back in 2008. I found the article extremely interesting. I liked how the author personalized the topic by describing her relationship with her coworkers. Here’s an excerpt:

Being 24 years old, living in a city, and having come from a company full of 45 year old financial consultants I thought to myself ‘self, you are going to work with a bunch of cool 20 somethings and drink beers with them, and hang out, and be friends.’ Right, totally. So after a few months, I found myself enjoying this office, these 20 somethings, and the general fun that goes along with hanging out with your co-workers. The problem then becomes, are these people friends? Or are they coworkers?

She goes on to wonder if you can hang out with coworkers in a bar or restaurant (saying all the things friends say to one another in bars and restaurants), and then have a totally professional relationship with them while at work. I’ve sometimes grappled with this question. I like how the author went on to ask her CEO his opinion, and I like even more his response:

“…in your 20’s the people you work with can be very much part of your social network, you spend a ton of time together, usually share similar interests, and are forced in to close quarters. After 29, all bets are off – your life changes, you get married, have kids, then you spend less time worrying about making friends at work and more about managing the friendships you already have [or wondering why you have no friends].”

I really identify with these thoughts. For much of my 20s I spent lots of my free time with coworkers. I mean, it’s really easy to just head over to a bar or restaurant after work with your colleagues, especially if you work downtown. You all have a TON to talk about, as you spend so much time together every day. You can gossip about a coworker who’s not there, discuss your thoughts on a new work policy, or exchange opinions on the company’s evolution.

Now that I’m approaching 30, however, I find myself spending less time with coworkers and more time with friends I already have. Maybe that’s because I’m more settled than I was before (I’m engaged, don’t have plans to move, etc.), and have built a more balanced, multifaceted life.

To me it makes more sense to cultivate a wide variety of friendships than to largely hang out with coworkers. As you get older, you realize that friends are more than just who you are currently spending time with. They are the people you’ll continue to spend time with (or keep in touch with).

Often coworkers are just people you happen to be with at the moment, not people you’ll maintain relationships with after leaving the company. So your time is better spent figuring out who your friends are, in all realms of life, and spending time with those people.

Yummy banana bread

May 3, 2011

I made some last night. I didn’t have a regular bread pan so I used this square pan.

The pan worked just fine. Here’s what two of the bread slices looked like.

I got my recipe from the Food Network’s website. It’s really quite easy. You cream together sugar and butter, and then beat in two eggs. In another bowl you mash up three bananas and add milk and cinnamon. In a third bowl you mix together your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). You add the banana mixture to the creamed mixture, followed by the the dry ingredients. After mixing everything up, you pour the batter into a buttered pan, and bake it for an hour or so.

The recipe calls for a stick of butter, but I only had a half-stick. Surprisingly, the banana bread still tasted great. In the future, I may continue to leave out the extra half-stick of butter.

Scholars Bistro in Boston has good food and service

May 2, 2011

At least that was my experience on Saturday evening with a bunch of friends. Scholars American Bistro and Cocktail Lounge just recently opened at 25 School St. in Boston near the Park Street T stop. Their wine is a little pricey (you can’t get a glass for less than $7), but I suppose that’s often the case in downtown Boston.

They have some unusual items on their menu, which I appreciated. Those dishes include rabbit fritters, braised beef tongue sliders, lasagna cupcakes, apple cider pork belly, and prosciutto pizza. I didn’t have the biggest appetite, so I just went with the mussels appetizer.

My mussels

From my experience, it’s kinda hard to screw mussels up. But the smoked salt, tarragon, and roasted tomato sauce made the meal tastier than your average mussels plate. Plus, they provide plenty of bread to dip in the sauce. My fiance had Tuscan flatbread pizza, which included sun-dried tomato, pesto, goat cheese, and red sauce.

My fiance's Tuscan flatbread pizza

He was quite a fan. Another friend of ours, who adores hummus, ordered the Za’atar flatbread pizza. That one’s made up of pine nuts, goats cheese, hummus, and labneh (Middle Eastern yogurt cheese). For an appetizer, another friend ordered some raw oysters. She let me have one, which is always a ton of fun.

Me slurping down the oyster

While staff didn’t seem 100 percent sure of the menu (that’s understandable as the restaurant just opened), they were nonetheless attentive. At one point, there were three waitresses serving us drinks and asking how things were going. When we first arrived (around 6 p.m.), we were practically the only diners in the whole place. But around 8 p.m. or so, things started picking up.

I think this would be a neat place to go for an after-dinner drink or two. Upstairs there’s a billiards room, comfy chairs, and dim lighting. It’s the perfect environment for enjoying one of their many creative cocktails. Beer fans will be glad to know they have 15-plus brews on tap. I will surely return to this awesome restaurant/bistro/lounge!

Peach Riesling sangria

April 17, 2011

Me drinking peach Riesling sangria

A few weeks ago I made sangria for the first time. I hadn’t heard back from a sangria-making friend of mine about how she makes it, so I researched recipes online. I wanted to find one that didn’t involve adding sugar, fancy alcohols, or carbonated beverages. I came across a recipe that fit all of these requirements; it also included Dole peach/mango/orange juice, one of my favorite 100-percent juices. An added benefit was it called for Riesling, a wine type I highly enjoy.

The recipe is from an Illinois wine and cheese shop’s website (it’s the third recipe on the page). The first ingredient is two bottles of Riesling (it calls for a specific Riesling, but I just picked one that was very affordable). I actually bought two 1.5-liter bottles of Riesling, as I was making the recipe for a fair amount of people. You mix the wine with frozen raspberries, orange pieces, peach pieces, lemon pieces, and some of the juice (check the recipe for quantities). You cover the drink, refrigerate it, and serve it cold.

My grocery store didn’t have peaches, so I replaced them with mangoes (but I can still call my concoction “peach Riesling sangria” because it contained peach juice). I was very happy with the outcome and would highly recommend the recipe to anyone.

Going to Charleston, South Carolina? Then stay at The Anchorage Inn

March 25, 2011

I already mentioned that my fiance surprised me by booking a room at The Anchorage Inn in Charleston, South Carolina instead of the Days Inn. Well, I find it necessary to expand upon the awesomeness that is The Anchorage Inn. Until last week I’d never stayed at quite a place. Let me list some of the bed and breakfast’s notable characteristics.

  • The inn is on Vendue Range in the heart of Charleston’s historic district. Not to mention it’s just steps from a fountain, park, pier, and Charleston Bay.
  • The Anchorage Inn is affordable. According to my fiance, it’s just $20 per night more expensive than the Days Inn. It’s funny because the other hotels on Vendue Range are much pricier. Sure, they might have doorkeepers and valets, but if you can do without those frills The Anchorage Inn will save you major moolah.
  • The inn takes you back in time. Originally built as a cotton warehouse around 1840, the building is furnished with handcrafted reproductions of seventeenth century English decor (the area was settled by the English in 1670).

This picture shows some of the sitting room's decor.

A lamp in our room

  • Staff are friendly. There’s always someone sitting at the front desk, ready to answer any questions you may have. Our first day in Charleston a young man helped us figure out which beach to visit. In fact, he firmly suggested we check out Folly Beach and the nearby Morris Island Lighthouse. We appreciated his assurance, especially because the outing proved wonderful.
  • Daily breakfasts are included in the price. Breakfast is served between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.; meal items include orange juice, grapefruit juice, coffee, cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagels, biscuits and gravy, danishes, and muffins.

Biscuit with gravy

  • Daily wine and cheeses are included in the price. This was one of my favorite parts of the vacation. Each day, starting at 4 p.m., the inn served complimentary wine (red and white), cheese (including cheddar, jalapeno cheddar, and Swiss cheese), and crackers. As we enjoyed our food and drink in the sitting room, we conversed with Anchorage Inn guests from all over the country and even world (e.g. we met a couple from England and a woman from Malaysia). We made so many new friends.

Wine and cheese table

  • Nightly sherries are included in the price. Every evening, from 8 to 11 p.m., the hotel provides sherry for its guests. Either before or after dinner you can stop by the sitting room, enjoy a glass (or two) of the cordial, and chat with anyone else who happens to stop by. Although these weren’t as popular as the wine and cheeses, we highly enjoyed them.

Enjoying my sherry

In short, be sure to stay at The Anchorage Inn if you’re ever traveling to Charleston!!!

What we can learn from the French

February 25, 2011

What we can learn from the French

It’s been seven years since I last lived in France, but I picked up on a lot while I was there. Plus, I’ve visited France a few times since 2004. I know you can’t clump everyone together and say they’re all one particular way. But you can point out things you noticed about many of the people you encountered.

  • The French know how to eat healthily.

This has been written about a lot (e.g. French Women Don’t Get Fat) so I’ll stick to what I observed personally. I noticed that French people (in general):

  • Don’t snack between meals (and when they snack they just have a cookie or a few pieces of chocolate)
  • Eat big lunches and relatively small dinners (That way, they have something to look forward to during the work day AND don’t go to bed on a full stomach.)
  • Have small breakfasts with coffee (Because they have big lunches, they don’t need a huge breakfast. And, coffee helps suppress your hunger).
  • Drink water with their meals (much healthier than soda, of course)
  • Eat lots of vegetables
  • Eat a wide variety of foods (For example, they don’t just eat chicken and beef. They eat chicken, beef, ham, pork, duck, rabbit, horse, fish, bull, boar, guinea fowl, oysters, mussels, shrimp, sea urchins, etc.).
  • Finish most meals with a dairy item (yogurt or cheese) and a piece of fruit
  • Take their time eating

I think all of these habits are good for you.

  • The French exercise less than we do.

But, because they eat healthily they don’t really need to exercise. I mean, their daily activities (walking, doing chores, etc.) are enough for them to get their daily dose of movement. Maybe we should follow their lead given this recent Wall Street Journal article.

  • The French take time to cook.

Obviously, this point relates to the first point I made. But I will expand on it a little here. Most of the French people I encountered just go out to eat for special occasions. The rest of the time they make their own meals. This allows them to control what goes into their bodies, save money, and go out to nicer places when they do go out. They also have a fair amount of dinner parties; those provide a great opportunity to see their friends and share their favorite recipes.

  • The French are polite.

OK, maybe this is a real stretch. And maybe their politeness often masks their true feelings. But frequently I observed French people saying (or doing) the right thing at the right time. Say your brother-in-law just died, for example. The next time they saw you they’d start off the interaction with a “Oh, I’m so sorry about your brother.” Or when they are invited to a dinner party they bring along a gift. While these might seem like obvious things to do, I’ve noticed this type of behavior isn’t always practiced here (and yes, I’m guilty of not being polite as well).

  • The French are experts in their fields.

In France, it’s really hard to get into a particular field when your degree is in something else. So, you’re forced to find a job in your area of expertise. While this certainly limits you choices, it helps ensure you’re good at your profession (or at least better at it than your average bear). Here, you might just get a sales job because you’re deemed friendly. But you don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of how to be an effective salesperson.

  • The French are into equality.

I’ll always remember this one particular experience I had while teaching English in France. I was in a fifth-grade classroom, quizzing the children on their knowledge of animal vocabulary. One of the students– Yoan (pronounced “Yo-on”)– was answering practically every question correctly. Each time I interrogated the pupils, his arm would shoot up in the air. Sometimes no one else would raise their hand, so I had to pick him. He’d get the answer right, and I’d congratulate him.

Well the class’s main teacher (a French woman) was not a fan of Yoan’s behavior. Whereas I viewed his ability and willingness to answer the questions as a positive thing, she viewed it as a horrible thing. She started screaming at him, saying it was not his place to answer so many questions. The others deserved a chance, she said, adding that he couldn’t participate any more. While most Americans would consider her reaction unfair or harsh (I think), it actually worked. Once he stopped raising his hand, the other students began participating in the exercise.

  • The French are fashionable.

They don’t necessarily have many clothes, but they know how to pick out items that fit them right. Sometimes this means spending more money on individual garments, but overall they might even spend less than your average American.

In a future post, I will write about what the French can learn from Americans.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/kalleboo/2036413105


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