Monday, April 30, 2018

River Cruises with U by Uniworld - Summer Travel Trend Alert

I know, I know, it's hard to believe summer will ever arrive, given how abysmal the spring has been so far.  However, the longer and rainier this spring gets, the more time I spend thinking about getting outside - into the woods, onto the sea, on a road trip.  ANYWHERE and soon.  From music festivals to international wanderlust, I'm jacking up my summer plans now to get out there and do stuff (and take my mind off the never ending rain...)

This is the first in a new series about local and foreign summer travel trends, music festivals and cultural shenanigans that are super hot right now. Pun. Fully. Intended.

River Cruises (more affordable and flexible than you think)

U by Uniworld

This is my kinda trip.  Seeing Europe by boat, pulling into tiny ports without the hassle of lines brought about by the throngs of passengers on the megaships, U by Uniworld makes their sailings even better with some cool gastronomic enhancements,  including on-shore meals with locals through their program, winery, brewery and farm tours and an entry-level price point that makes the river cruise concept much more attainable for the regular traveler. 

Plus, with a target audience of the more active traveler, off-ship excursions in this brand include multi-mile bike tours, hiking and other bulge-busting trips to combat the, um, indulgences of vacation. Take them or leave them, but know that when the guilt of indulging in a myriad of European culinary delights brings on that nasty Catholic guilt, you've got options.

Now, don't get me wrong.  The Uniworld brand and it's boutique ships are still, but with my eyes on multiple trips per year, U makes adding a river cruise AND a culinary adventure a very real probability this summer.

With trips starting at $1,499, there's never been a better time to book your dream vacation. Hurry, this limited-time sale ends tomorrow!  shoot me an email at or give the agency a call at 978-282-8216 and ask for me to get on board. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Doing the Math - Learning to Value Balance Most of All

Baby Julia, feeding my niece
At 43, I made a life-altering discovery.

Chasing "success" was destroying my harmony.

No joke.

As an educated woman with a pretty solid track record of success in marketing, I have been searching for that next gig that will last until retirement.  I wanted a job I could rise up through and hold onto and make my mark and a bundle of dough over the next 20 years.

Except, I really didn't.

I have a teenage daughter wrapping up her freshman year of high school, struggling to acclimate to the rigors of increased homework and honors classes and handle increasingly complicated social situations as her friend group grows and contracts, romance makes it's way into the dialogue and afterschool jobs become a thing.

I have a husband who's in his 15th year with a Fortune 100 company in a senior level training role that has him away ALOT. He's a superstar in his department.  He rocks at his job.  He's been at it forever and we have shaped our lives around Daddy being gone and keeping the  household running the same way whether or not he's here.  And she's a great kid because we committed to her as priority one, whether it is a we 2 or a we 3 week.

And that's probably the biggest piece of this post.

Like all other couples, we talked about parenting goals before we got pregnant.  We agreed that, although we were both working in the professional world, when the time came to have a baby, parenting would be one parents' main gig.  As progressive folks, we were open to it being either parent, depending on who was in the most promising career trajectory.  The other parent would work  around the needs of the children (we, ultimately, only ever had one).  Work would be secondary because nether of us wanted our kid(s) to be "raised by the nanny".  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I know a LOT of great kids whose primary day-to-day parenting was handled by loving, caring hired help.  It just wasn't for us.

My family in 2018 in front of the Tower of London
When we had Julia, Ryan was already working for his current employer, happy and on the rise in his career. I was working at a university.  It was a great gig, working across the IT department designing online training for professors on everything from Excel to Publisher as well as with the Editor, cultivating press releases about activities and discoveries at the university, even overseeing the creation of hard cover books to be sold in book stores.  I learned how to obtain an ISBN number to get a book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.  AND, I was getting my Master's Degree FOR FREE.

Until I had a meltdown.  Although we had her in a great morning daycare on a horse farm in the woods of New Hampshire and although I worked afternoons at home, writing web copy from my papasan chair in her nursery, I couldn't handle being away from my family.  I'm sure, looking back that I was super post pardum, but hindsight doesn't account for much.

So, we moved home.  It was the right decision.  I found another path, opening a fitness studio and working as a personal chef (ironically, providing meal preparation services for professional couples with nannies who wanted to ensure there was a proper dinner on the table when they did get home from their super lucrative full time jobs).  Julia was cared for by a local family when I worked in homes and with me at the studio (a bean bag was tucked behind a shoji screen with a dvd player so she could nap and watch movies while I worked, often as early as 5:30am).  Ryan traveled and excelled and grew in his company and we worked around it.
The handsome fella looking very corporate

And then I wanted to go back to my "career".  I'm pretty sure that's when my priorities went to shit.

I've been chasing my own tail, some fake idea of success and a bunch of bullshit markers of wealth that have only served to make me unhappy.

And I haven't been willing to give up the nurturing mother piece.  I won't abandon the homemade lunch piece.  I can't reject the helping with homework piece.  I hold tight to the beds made every morning and dinner at the table every night piece.  I won't "hand it over to the nanny".

And this has been the struggle all along.  I wanted the power job because I was convinced I was far too educated NOT to climb.  I wanted the big dough job and responsibilities because I KNOW I can do it well.  I thought that being the head of a department and taking home all of the BULLSHIT stress proved that I was SOMEBODY.  And, hell, if I could keep up the perfect mom and wife stuff, then I was SUPERSOMEBODY.

Scratch fallafel I now have time to make well
But my priorities were ALL FUCKED UP.  I've spent the past nearly 10 years working in very cool jobs, mostly in hospitality and consumer goods, that were made for either young people or people without kids.  I have worked for tyrants. I have worked for great bosses who had lousy bosses. I have worked impossible all-nighters.  I have made magic with no budget.  I've, literally, even, worked through a tornado.
Choosing health over pursuit

Don't get me wrong.  I've had a lot of fun in many ways (running marketing in restaurants and event venues is the but the never-ending work week, the late nights, the all-weekend emails, the middle-of-dinner texts, the lack of boundaries are not a healthy experience for anyone, and definitely were not an exercise in work-life balance for our brood.

Unconventional assortment of ingredients 
Never mind what we were spending to keep it all together.  $100 a month in pet insurance so the dogs could have every immunization possible to go to doggy daycare at $60 a day, twice a week so we could both work.  $90 a week for the housekeeper because who wants to clean after working 80 hours per week? $50 a week in dry cleaning because I had no time to iron. A Weight Watchers membership at $50 a month that I never even had the time to setup online, let alone attending meetings. A virtual NWT gym membership, again, because who the hell can get to the gym??? The $300 yoga card totally unused because, although I need yoga more than ever, I can't ever make a class.  Out of pocket chiropractor expenses BECAUSE I can't get to yoga.  Nevermind missing every fun thing happening in our community and in her school and in general because there was no time off for me and even in time off, I could never be off. Missing every lunch with the girls because my 9 hour onsite workday didn't include a lunch break, ever.  Gel nails, hair every 4 weeks, pedis, and a whole bunch of impulse shopping with our friend Alexa because we could afford it and, although in the past, if I wanted to spruce up a room, I'd make new curtains and recover pillows I had NO TIME, so I'd buy new stuff to satisfy the urge.

Happy new curtains in our pretty new kitchen

So I am done.  I left my last contract gig and am settling into this new me who is taking back the time I've lost.  This month, we are having the first floor redone.  I just made new curtains for the kitchen. I can't wait to get to the living room pillows. I cancelled WW and the gym and have spent every morning in the woods with the dogs.  I polished my own nails and toes while helping my daughter with an English essay.  I had lunch with my mom.  I ironed Ryan's work stuff.  We eat nightly dinner, crammed into the kitchen because the dining room isn't quite done but we didn't answer texts or emails.  Ryan's company doesn't expect him to have work email on his phone.  They are Fortune 100.  They obviously know a thing or two about success. And he's been there a long, long time.  So they obviously know a thing or two about retention.  When he's home, he is off duty.  And now, so am I.
Blissful pups in the woods

And, I am on to new endeavors.  I am shifting gears to do something that  I love that won't eat my life.  I am going back to working my life AROUND our daughter, just like we agreed to in the past. I am learning a new skill set that plays to my strengths and my primary role as a parent. I am soaking in every free minute with my teenager who will, before long, be off to college.  I am planning dinner parties with my husband and our favorite couples in our beautiful new dining room.  I am reupholstering the dining chairs where our guests will sit.  We are binge watching shows on Mondays and Tuesdays without picking up the phone every time it beeps.  I am going to those fun local events that were the very reason we moved back here.  I am hanging out with my people.  I'm posting on my blog.

I am remembering that healthy people work to live, and not the other way around.

I did the math.  The economy of balance is a beautiful thing. Worth it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Art, the essence of Frenchness

I'm just back from a journey to Paris and London.  Although I've traveled extensively, have visited Nice and Monaco, and am a self-proclaimed Francophile, I have, oddly, never been to Paris.


We rented a beautiful, sunny, 3rd floor flat in the 12th for 5 nights for a steal.  The neighborhood was perfect, cozy, and packed with lovely little shops which we shopped daily for our grocery needs. Browsing the fromagerie, patisserie, boulangerie and epicerie are the gems of life that made our decision to go with an apartment versus an hotel a no-brainer. 

Days were jam-packed with touring.  
With 5 days to cover so much, we were on the run for 12-15 hours, drinking in the flavors and aromas, the wines and the hospitality. Hours and miles were banked visiting the museums and  monuments and wandering the crooked little streets for hours on end.  It was HEAVENLY.

From a double-header at the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay (we were pleasantly surprised to find a visiting Degas exhibit including his sketches and The Little Dancer!) to our French "day of the dead" visiting both Pere LaChaisse cemitiare, final resting place of so many famous artists including Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and Jim Morrison, and the Catacombs, a morbidly beautiful gallery of some 6 million Parisians past whose bones and skulls have been artfully arranged into dizzying patterns marked with grizzly reminders that you have truly entered the "Empire of the Dead", we were on the move to do it all.

What struck me most profoundly, at every turn on our trip, is how tirelessly French the experience of evoking beauty in everything truly is.   

From the plating of the charcuterie boards to the elaborate detail of the sarcophagi to the arrangement of the wares in the street side markets, everything in France is, well, more beautiful. It's no wonder I have always wished I had been born Parisian.  It truly is a life made of crushed red velvet where every moment is drunk in slowly, as though it was 90 seconds long.

Travel notes , if you go... We got our tickets CHEAP.  Because it's February and not so warm, 3 round trip tickets with direct flights into CDG and out of LHR (I'll get to my London post later this week) were only $1800 for all three, including insurance.  The AirBnB was only $650 for 5 nights, but the area would be tough if nobody in your party spoke any French (I do). But look at flats, it'll save you all around. Most museums in France consider anyone under 17 a child, and offer free entry.  Also, there is no charge to enter Notre Dame.  

The Big Bus Tour is a great way to see a LOT of monuments in one day and learn a ton about what you are seeing.  The routes cover a lot of ground with both a red line (Paris proper including the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Champs Elysee) and a blue line (Montmartre with Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge).  

The Metro is VERY easy to navigate and will save you both a bunch of dough AND the hassle of traffic you'd suffer in a taxi or Uber. Plus, the French, apparently hate to drive in rain or snow so these New Englanders were stuck in a cab for an hour because of the drizzle, not uncommon in winter.  A light down coat will keep you warm and not burden you with carrying a bulkier one.  Also, pickpockets are a real thing, especially in crowded museums. Pay attention to your surroundings.  The French are friendly, despite what you've heard.  Make an effort to at least greet servers and merchants with a pleasant, "Bon Jour" - it goes a long way.  

A Bientot!

Monday, July 10, 2017

ROKC - a must for visitors of Harlem.

Last week my sister and I brought my daughter on her first ever trip to NYC. Overwhelmed by the idea of spending day and night in the Big Apple, we opted to stay at an AirBNB in Harlem. And I am so glad we did because we found THE BEST ramen I've ever eaten. In fact, it was so good, we went twice in our 3 day trip to NYC despite the millions of other options. 

Owned and operated by Shigefumi Kabashima and Tetsuo HasegawaROKC (Ramen. Oysters. Kitchen. Cocktails.) is an unassuming sparsely-decorated subterranean gem of a neighborhood eatery. Located at: 3452 Broadway, New York, NY 10031 b/t 140th St & 141st St  Harlem, is a few short blocks from the 145th ave subway station. 

Highlights for our trip were the melty pork bun (a little different from the traditional style and oh so soft and tasty) and the happy hour $1.50 oysters and clams, served with a mignonette which had  the most subtle hint of sesame.  And the ramen, oh my God the ramen. The layers of flavor in the ramen make every dish truly unique and we ought to know as we tried them all. 

The cocktails are crazy cool. They are, in fact, an art form and witnessing their creation is a little like watching a mad scientist at work.  From drinks served inside peppers to libations inside light bulbs, they are nothing short of eye candy. Sadly, I just can't drink booze so I can't report on the flavor although a quick review of ROKC's press reveals some pretty heavy accolades for their boozie drinks.  ROKC is kind of a big deal in the mixology world.

And ROKC is super purse friendly. In fact, the price point is so low, it'll make you check twice for a server omission. We will be back next time we are in Harlem. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Happy Belly - Bringing The Sunny Days Back

On the corner of Duncan and Main in downtown Gloucester sits an eatery inside of an impressive brick and stone edifice that was once a bank - one of the oldest, coolest, historical buildings in our city.  The location has been the keystone of conscientious cuisine for decades. Opening as the Glass Sailboat in 1975, the venue once sold, oddly enough, stereo equipment and bulk foods. The Sailboat's founder, Mac Bell, named the cafe for a stained glass window hanging won at a carnival. This glass boat hung in the window of the cafe for it's nearly thirty years of operation. The selection of wares for sale was far more methodical than it might seem. Young, hip, hippie Mac simply wanted to get wholesale pricing on things that were important to him as a consumer, so he set up his shop.

Over the course of time, The Sailboat evolved to include a full service cafe with a salad bar, the best pastries (that cheddar bread, though), sandwiches, coffee, groceries and vitamins and eventually a second location with skincare, clothing and jewelry - providing wholesome, homemade and environmentally responsible goods to Gloucester's crunchiest customers. The cafe was also a local favorite lunch and meeting spot for court employees and cops at the station across the street, a kind of ironic twist on the cops in the donut shop story, and to a whole host of local musicians, artists and oddballs.

I worked at the Sailboat through college on summer and winter breaks. I still connect with my Sailboat clan because, although is was just a silly kid retail job, the impact it had on all of us was real and lasting. Mac and Annie ( God I did love her) and their family welcomed us all into our homes, never made us feel like silly kids and valued us all as people - people who would inherit this community and do great things. I'm proud to say, most of my GSB crewmates are doing just that.

My Sailbot years were a formative time in my life and my exposure to the scene at the Sailboat was my first real connection to the idea that a community that breaks bread together stays together. Bustling with business people and babies, musicians and architects, the Sailboat was more than a cafe, it was an entity in and of itself, a living, breathing, soulful, warm microcosm of love, of nourishment, of all the things that made a body feel good.

When, upon the passing of the beautiful Annie Bell, Mac finally gave up the Sailboat for his many other enterprises, new owners, Sean and Valerie Colins and Tadgh Morgan, former Newbury Street juice bar owners and avid surfers-turned Cape Ann residents opened the Sunny Day Cafe, a similarly hip hippie eatery that continued that tradition of building community around food. Sunny Day fostered the welcoming atmosphere of the Sailboat, hosting a colorful cast of characters, often those who might not be welcome elsewhere for their eccentricities and their poor economic plight. . The Sunny Day was a hub for all the people on this island seeking nourishment, a warm spot to escape the harsh winters, and the feeling of belonging.

You see, 3 Duncan St is an inclusive place. It is the place where Tadgh met his bride, Paula, a love story shared with me by Peg Leeco, one of Sunny Day's bakers. "When she came in, Sean would run in the back and get Tadgh a fresh apron and tell him she was here. Their love story literally unfolded in front of us all at Sunny Day."

Melissa Hays, pastry genius
That's the reality of how 3 Duncan St marks a person. It's a melting pot and a place where whoever you are, whatever you are, you belong. And that's the magnet and the chemistry that draws you back again and again. It's alchemical.

And, speaking of chemistry, another important match was struck at 3 Duncan Street - one between chef, Jeff Cala and entrepreneur, Mark McDonough. It was at the Sunny Day that the pair met and began the partnership that would become Serenitee Restaurant Group.

As the Morgan and Colins tribes grew and operating the Sunny Day became no longer realistic, the ownership team looked to sell.  The newly connected Cala and McDonough, speaking often of the perfection of this enterprise, offered to buy. And, after months of negotiation, a deal was struck and both Alchemy Bistro and Serenitee were born.

3 Duncan street has that magic. It just does. It's as though the building itself has a heart. The space envelopes a person with the warmth and familiarity of  a favorite sweater. I can't explain it. But if you have been in that space, I don't have to. You know.

So it's not surprising that, years later, I found myself working there again, this time as the AGM of Alchemy. Alchemy took the hippie eatery idea to a whole new level. It gave it polish. It gave it style. Alchemy is, by definition, the process of turning something ordinary into something extraordinary.  And Alchemy Bistro did just that. It was the coolest place to work and, like it's predecessors, it left a void when it closed. Always awesome, but always just not quite what Jeff and Mark wanted when they set out on this long, strange trip, they shut her down in 2015.

Rhiannon Nowak, Executive Chef and GM
Fast forward to Spring 2017. After sitting shuttered for nearly two years, 3 Duncan Street is rising again as Happy Belly (and OMG the Buddah with Beets logo is rad). And I gotta say, it's even more exciting than I thought. Yeah, it really is.

Jeff invited me in for a sneak peak tour of the opening-in-early-June newest eatery to grace 3 Duncan. I was met by Melissa Hays, pastry chef who locals know from her days operating Sticky Fingers Bakery, a to-die-for gem of a pastry shop tucked inside the Brown's Mall for several years.

"Watch out for those pastries," Jeff warned me. "I'm going to be 300 pounds".  He wasn't joking. Melissa's sweets are lethal.

Fresh apple cake and cookies were laid out for my visit and a crisp copy of the new menu was provided for my reference.  Young Reese made me a honey latte and showed me the mac daddy tap system that will provide everything from cold brew coffee to batch cocktails to craft beer.  Executive Chef/GM Rhiannon Nowak pointed out the Zenith TV toy box that graces the brick room, a throwback to Mac's original offerings. Melissa beamed about the expo bakery and I was over the moon about the antique milk shake maker and the pretzel drying rack (pretzel and ice cream have the same kryptonic effect on me - I'm pretty sure my daughter is made up of ice cream and pretzels).

 The cheery, excited staff of baristas and bakers enthusiastically illuminated the wealth of culinary toys that will be churning to life in a few short weeks to provide our community, once again, with the sumptuous treats we all so fondly remember from Sunny Day and Glass Sailboat days. Juices, breads, pastries, sandwiches, soups, nightly blue plate specials and even an afternoon snack selection round out a menu that blends the favorites of 3 Duncan streets best iterations.

I cannot wait to "belly up" to Happy Belly.

Happy Belly opens on June 8th. Get in there and get belly happy.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mangia,The Taste of the North End is HERE.

This just in from my friend, Chris Haynes at CBH Communications in Boston. I love food news. I love Italian. I love the North End. And I especially love feasts for a cause. Do this. Tomorrow.


This year, the Taste of the North End will benefit the North End Waterfront Health, continuing the tradition of the North End restaurant community supporting North End charities. Proceeds will support the variety of programs and services offered by the health center, as well as other neighborhood charities for children and elders.

The Taste of the North End was founded by Donato and Nancy Frattaroli in 1993 as a benefit for Casa Monte Cassino. The Frattarolis became aware of Casa Monte Cassino when a family from Italy came into their North End restaurant. The family was staying at the CMC while their four daughters received medical attention at Boston's Children's Hospital Boston. The Frattarolis were touched by their story and inspired by the mission of the Casa; to provide a place to stay for impoverished families from around the world while their children receive serious medical attention in Boston. Over the next few weeks, as the Frattarolis developed the idea for the Taste of the North End to raise funds to help Casa Monte Cassino provide its invaluable services.

The Frattarolis, with the support of the North End restaurant community, held the First Annual Taste of the North End in the basement of St. John's School. That first year, guests were able to try dishes from fifteen North End eateries. The success of the event has been incredible. What started in St. John's moved to the local Coast Guard Base, the New England Aquarium, and finally to the DCR's Steriti Rink on Commercial Street. The Taste of the North End currently features over fourty five restaurants, bakeries and distributors. Since its inception, the Taste of the North End has raised over $450,000 for Casa Monte Cassino and other local North End charities.

for tickets please click the following link...

for more information please contact ...

Billy Costa Master of Ceremonies
Vanessa Salvucci Vocalist
Nick Scenna DJ
Recipients of the 2016 Awards

Recipients of the 2016 Awards
To Be Announced

Event Organizers
Donato Frattaroli  Founder, Taste of the North End
James Luisi CEO, North End / Waterfront Health Center
Zach Goodale  Event Coordinator
Donato Frattaroli, Jr Event Committee
Gianni Frattaroli Event Committee
Daniel Leonard Event Committee

Il Molo
326 Commercial Street  Boston, MA 02109
Coming Spring 2016.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My sweet new project - Sweet Reebs Heavenly Dessert Company

dessert deep dish chocolate bacon cookieI write automotive commercials every day. Also, I create copy for a flooring retailer and an inpatient residential detox center, an alternative wellness center and a mixed bag of other non-food advertising clients.

It's good work, but it lacks a certain, um, flavor.

So when my dear friend, Rebecca Doyon approached me to help her with a freelance branding project for her craft dessert company, I was positively hungry to get started.

Rebecca and I met when we both worked in a local high school, she as the business teacher and myself as an aide in the Language Arts department. We had both just gotten married and were buying our first homes, planning families and otherwise bumbling through our mid twenties as new brides and future moms.

Then we both got laid off due to budget cuts.

sweet reebs heavenly dessert company white chocolate cranberry bread puddingOur paths drifted over the years with kids, new jobs, a couple of relocations and a series of other non-academic jobs around our young families. I landed in marketing, Rebecca in hospitality.

Recently, our paths crossed again while eating dinner after meet the teacher night at our shared favorite eatery, The Franklin Cape Ann. Catching up on my newest gig in advertising and her newest spot on the bar at C.K. Pearl in Essex, MA, she mentioned her desire to fully launch her fledgling dessert business. We set up a meeting and it's been full speed ahead since.

Rebecca, or "Reba" as industry folks have come to know her, started making her ridiculous Key Lime Pie with Coconut Crust for two terrific seasonal restaurants on Gloucester's Rocky Neck, The Studio and The Rudder. The success of this offering led to more of her sweets on their dessert menu and a pretty solid following around her memorable baked goods. She has since added Jaime's Restaurant in North Andover, MA to her client list, and JUST THIS WEEK, before the official launch of the newly branded Sweet Reeb's Heavenly Dessert Company, and in time for Valentine's Day, Sweet Reeb's Heavenly Desserts can be found on the menus at The Franklin Cape Ann and Katrina's Bar and Grille in Gloucester.

sweet reebs heavenly dessert company mexican hot chocolate lava cakeThe website is still in the works and a sales kit with up-sell tools, a suggested pairing list and all the bells and whistles a restaurant owner needs to ensure that adding Sweet Reeb's to their menus will add a whole lot of new money to ticket sales and server tips,  are nearly finished. The price point for these craft-made, quality dessert which include weekly delivery is surprisingly affordable, meaning Sweet Reeb's is likely to show up on lots of local North Shore menus. Plans to do tastings at several Boston venues are also already underway. This is all happening now and it's very exciting.  In fact, this post was supposed to wait until we were ready to "go live" but with the recent additions to her client list, I needed to leak this now, so you can ask for her goodies at an ever-growing list of clients.

The sugar superstars in Reba's repertoire include:

Reba is currently accepting new restaurant clients and can be reached at:  Email Sweet Reebs