Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Bucket List: Feasts, Festivals, and Fairs

What's on the Fall Bucket List this year? Feasts, Festivals, and Fairs.  I was inspired to make this my unofficial goal of the fall season, as there are so many different experiences to choose from that I could fill my calendar every weekend.  The inspiration for this bucket list originated from a gorgeous day we experienced prior to the fall season when we attended the Oyster Festival in Asbury Park, NJ with some friends.

The weather was superb, music was playing in the background, there was an abundance of food and drinks to try (even if you are not a seafood lover), and of course there were some local vendors peddling their artistic wares. All in all, it was a perfect day and I started to search for other feasts, festivals, and fairs to attend during the fall season.

Hungarian Chimney good!
While some of us ate some oysters at the festival, I spotted my favorite food at the  El Lechon Negron food truck.  I couldn't pass it up, so my husband and I secured some Pernil and Tostones.  

El Lechon Negron Food Truck


Pernil..Pork with Spanish Rice with a garnish of
Plaintains on top.Yummmmm!

After the Oyster Festival, I started to scan the internet for other events going on during the fall season. There are so many to choose from, of course most of them involve food, but that's what makes them great.  There are three upcoming events that I am looking to attend to fill my fall bucket list for feasts, festivals, and fairs. The first one is The Zombie Walk in Asbury Park on October 4th.  


This is one my son will absolutely love, as he is a HUGE fan of The Walking Dead. Last year it was the largest gathering of Zombies and it secured the title in the Guinness Book of World Records. This year's theme is "GREY MATTERS" and it will start the campaign to raise awareness about brain cancer, with proceeds benefitting Camp Jinka, a summer camp for kids and families are battling the disease.  There will be events starting at 10AM all the way through 9PM,.   They are even having a food drive to restock the shelves at MOVE FOR HUNGER.  Overall it looks like it will be a day of fun, entertainment and charity.  

The last two upcoming events on the Bucket list this fall's Feasts, Festivals, and Fairs are the Belmar Oktoberfest on October 12th, and the Red Bank Food and Wine Walk on October 19th.  

Belmar Oktoberfest
Food, Wine, and Red Bank..Perfect together!

So there you have it.  Three events on the upcoming list. Looking forward to filling my bucket (and my plate) with new experiences to report.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pumpkin Flavored Everything: The Flavor Virus

Sondheim should have penned the lyrics, "Everything's coming up PUMPKINS," rather than roses, because as soon as we flip the calendar page from August to September, or swipe it, everything becomes pumpkin flavored!  So many things take on the autumnal flavor of the pumpkin, but have we gone over the top with the pumpkin flavor? Indeed, I think we have.  

Summer is officially over in two days, and we are
already inundated with pumpkin flavored everything!

There once was a time that I looked forward to the rare establishment that served pumpkin flavored ice cream during the fall. It was a treat, a gentle reminder that Thanksgiving was on the way, and that we would soon be having pumpkin pie! Finding the rare pumpkin flavored treat before our day of thanks was like sneaking a peek at your presents; you knew what you were getting, but you were still excited to get it when you unwrapped it.  

Now, by the time Thanksgiving arrives, I am pumkined-out!  After smelling it infused into coffee for three months, seeing it in every yogurt shop and bakery, not to mention on many of the restaurant dessert menus, it has taken over society like a flavor virus.  There were a few years that I wasn't even in the mood for pumpkin pie on the day you are supposed to eat pumpkin pie. 

Some may argue that the pumpkin flavor tsunami of Autumn is a joyous time of year, but so many of us just want to enjoy these delights at the flavor appropriate time.  Last year, I refused to eat or drink anything pumpkin flavored until Thanksgiving.  I enjoyed my pumpkin slices (of course I ate more than one), but noticed that I was the only one in my family eating the pumpkin pie. Everyone else had been on pumpkin overload so they reached for the other desserts. 

So, now it's my annual tradition to skip the pumpkin-flavored anything until I can experience it on Thanksgiving.  At least I won't have to fight anyone for a slice, or two, of pumpkin pie!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Year's Eve Abroad

This New Year’s Eve will mark our family’s fifth New Year’s Eve in a different county.  This tradition happened accidentally for us when we found ourselves in London accompanying our daughter, who was going to be a cheerleader in the London New Year’s Day parade.  When we were making the plans for this trip, we knew that we were going to be out of the country for New Year’s Eve, but we did not expect to be so positively affected by the experience. 

My Daughter in the 2011
 New Year's Day Parade in London.
So, that New Year’s Eve we were already tucked into our hotel room, as my son was only 8 years old, and just at the stroke of midnight, we looked out our hotel room window and there was an amazing fireworks display over the Thames River.  The kids were so excited!  New Year’s Eve had never reached fireworks level back home, in fact, it had never reached any level of excitement.  It was at that exact moment that I said to my husband and kids, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were in a different country every New Year’s Eve?”  It was an immediate and unanimous, YES! 

Jumping for Joy Near the Tower Bridge
on New Year's Day 2011 .  

As soon as we returned from London, we scoured the Internet for our next destination.  It took us less than a month to choose a location and make our reservations. We were going to Italy for our next New Year’s Eve abroad!  Booking the trip immediately had solidified our goal of making this an annual tradition. 

My kids playing around in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella
 in Florence on New Year's Eve.
New Year's Day 2012 in Front of the Ponte Vecchio
in Florence. My son trying to steal the scene. 

You would think that traveling during the holidays would mean extra crowds, long lines, and that places would be closed.  Not true at all.  Most people do not travel during the holidays, so there are shorter lines everywhere and fewer people overall.  That was a another pivotal reason we decided to start this tradition.

New Year's Eve in Front of the Eiffel Tower
New Year's Day 2013 in Disneyland Paris.
While visiting a country each year, we plan our sightseeing for the trip based on what will be closed on New Year's.  We were pleasantly surprised that so many things are OPEN on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  Some things do close a little early on New Year's Eve, but more likely than not, we would have dinner reservations anyway.  With a little bit of forethought and careful planning, we are always able to plan exciting things to do and hit all of the must-see locations.  

On our last trip abroad for New Year's we were in Amsterdam, and we visited the Anne Frank House on New Year's Eve.  We booked our tour time for 3:15 PM, and the last tour of the day was 4:00. I had done some research in advance and purchased the tickets online so that there was no last minute hassle or stress waiting on line, and THE LINE IS LONG.  Blocks longs.  Advance ticket purchasing gets you in the side door at your reservation time! 

New Year's Eve in front of the
Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

New Year's Day was full of fun, too. We visited the Van Gogh Museum with tickets purchased in advance.  Once again, we walked straight to the front of the line. These are the times my family realizes how great I am at planning.  After the museum, we took pictures next to the larger than life sized letters outside the Rijksmuseum  that spell IAMSTERDAM.  Coincidentally, my kids' initials are R and D, so it made for a great photo opportunity.  

At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on 
New Year's Day 2014. My son is standing in 
front Van Gogh's Sunflowers Painting. 

My kids in front of the IMASTERDAM letters. 

The only thing we didn't plan in advance last New Year's Day in Amsterdam was the canal boat ride. When checking the schedules, it seemed like there was always going to be an availability. After all, it is a city of canals, so we were confident that we would find a tour. 

My daughter on the canal boat ride sporting
the Amsterdam winter hat that seemed
to be all the rage last year!
We had always planned on taking the kids abroad to experience different countries and their cultures, and we had finally found a time of the year that was not only festive, but it worked for everyone’s work and school schedule. Now, when we are on our long plane ride home, we start to discuss where we will be heading next New Year's Eve.  This is a tradition we hope to continue for a very long time, not only with our kids, but with their families, too, when they get older.  

This New Year's Eve we will be in Austria!  We will keep you posted about our Experienced Time!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Color Run

If you ever see me running, you should run, too, because it probably means that zombies are chasing me or that aliens have invaded the Earth.  Needless to say, I do not run.  Ever.  Like seriously, never!!  I would definitely be the first one eliminated in the Hunger Games.  So now that we have established that running is not in my vocabulary, let me clarify that I do exercise, I just do different methods of cardiovascular muscle movement.  So that being said, I have particpated in a 5K run for charity that involves loads of colored cornstarch being thrown at the runners throughout the race.  It’s the self- proclaimed Happiest 5K on the Planet…The Color Run.  Most importantly, no running required.  
The Color Run: Before the Race and still clean!

I have actually participated in two Color Runs, or walks in my case, and both of them lived up to the slogan of being "The Happiest 5K on the Planet." I did my first Color Run with some girlfriends and my daughter two years ago, and this year it was a family event.  Both times were equally as colorful and fun. 

There were all kinds of athletes at the Color Run, people who actually RAN (haha), people who jogged, people who walked, and those lucky little ones who got pushed around in strollers.  It's really an event for the whole family no matter what your athletic ability or your age.  There were lots of people who came dressed as a team with matching bandanas, tall sport socks, team t-shirts and even tutus. 

Spending quality time with my family was an important goal of the day, but more importantly, my family was determined to end this 5K race for charity covered in AS MUCH COLOR AS POSSIBLE.  Before we ran through each color station, we were betting each other who would be barraged with the most color while passing the people throwing the colored corn starch.  We would walk slowly, pause in front of them, and do pirouettes to ensure front to back color blasts.  At one point, toward the end of the race my son just decided to roll on the ground through the purple color.  We all have a "play to win" attitude in my family so we took this color challenge very seriously.  Needless to say, we were all very colorful at the end of the race, more colorful than most.  
My son, after doing a body roll through the color. 

         When crossing the finish line, each runner received a packet of color which you are supposed to save for the DJ area.  The DJ gets the crowd pumped and dancing and prompts the runners to release the colors into the air at specific times to create multiple bursts of colorful clouds.  Not my kids, they immediately opened the packets and continued to douse themselves in as much color as possible. Fortunately, there is a guy standing at the exit with a giant leaf blower that will blow the majority of the loose color off of your body  before you get to the car.  This was especially needed for my family!

I think my son was the overall family winner,
           as he was covered in the most color.
              Look at that face!

We always take a jumping picture.  

            The Color Run people made it even more fun to participate in the 5K by providing clever signs so people could take pictures of their experience along the way. 

All in all, the Color Run is a great event for everyone and it supports a charity, so my family will probably do it again next year when it comes to town. Who wouldn't want to spend a day getting covered in as much cornstarch color as possible? Luckily, the Color Run takes place in so many places around the country that if you miss the event closest to your town, it wouldn't be such a far drive to get to another race if you really wanted to participate.  

Color Run Cities


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mother/Daughter Dessert Crawl in NYC

     When my men go on their annual father/son weekend trip in the summer, my teenaged daughter and I try to plan fun things to do while they are away.  We have considered planning a mother/daughter trip at the same time, but more often we have opted to stay home and plan local activities or mini day trips.  Although it seems like we are getting the short end of the stick, we find that there are so many things that we want to do that are within a short drive from home.  This year, along with going to the beach and seeing chick flicks, we decided to make our NYC day trip double the pleasure by not only riding bikes in Central Park, but planning a Dessert Crawl, as well. 

      Prior to our day in the city, we did a little research as to which places we wanted to visit for our Dessert Crawl. We didn’t want our day trip to take us all over the island of Manhattan, so we chose our bike rental location, the parking garage we were planning to use, and all of the Dessert Crawl establishments according to their locations on the map. Not that we were opposed to winging it, or walking far, but we were only going into the city for the day so we wanted to make the most of our time by planning our locations.  Although I tend to be the organizer of events and travel in my family, I relinquished the reins of control, (not easy) and let my daughter choose the dessert places she wanted to visit. With the plan for the day in motion, we set off to first bike through Central Park, so we would work off the dessert calories in advance, and then walk (possibly crawl after biking 7 miles in Central Park) to all of the dessert places. 

We arrived in NYC earlier than our reserved bike tour time, so we decided to walk to the nearest dessert location, the Momofuku Milk Bar in Midtown on 56th street between 5th and 6th. We arrived excited to try our first dessert, and my daughter’s eyes immediately zoned in on the cake truffles in the display case at the counter. Sold. That’s what we were getting.  

Momofuku Milk Bar display case.
We settled on two flavors, birthday cake and cookie dough, each of which came in packs of three. We each tried one cake truffle in each flavor, and although we both usually think that anything birthday cake flavored is way too sweet, the birthday cake flavored Cake Truffles at the Milkbar are tiny orbs of confection perfection! So delicious, and not overly sweet, we highly recommend the birthday cake flavored cake truffles, and we are excited to visit again to try all of the other delicious items that tantalized our eyes like the cookies, pies, and bagel bombs! 

Momofuku Cake Truffles come in packs of three.

Momofuku Birthday Cake Truffle. A Tiny Orb of Confection Perfection!
Our first dessert crawl establishment was a success! We then headed back to peddle our way through Central Park.After our 7 miles of peddling through the park, we dismounted our bikes, calories earned, and we prepared to walk to the remaining establishments on our carefully mapped our Dessert Crawl.  We thought it best to start with the furthest location and then work our way back, so we set out for Serendipity3 on 225 East 60th Street, which was six streets up and 6 avenues to the east. Now, after our long, and somewhat challenging bike tour, we decided that we would most likely be taking a cab back to the parking garage later that night, because although we still had energy to walk, such may not be the case later in the evening.

After a brisk twenty-minute walk, we finally arrived at Serendipity3’s at 6:45PM and we realized that we were starving! So we decided that not only would we be sampling a dessert, we were going to eat dinner, too!  Since we didn’t make a reservation, we put our name on the list and were told there was a forty-five minute wait, which wasn’t bad for a NYC restaurant without having a reservation. We decided to use our wait time to satisfy other dessert establishments on our list, which were much closer than we originally thought. 

My daughter at age 5 (in the middle)
           at Serendipity3 with close friends.
At the end of the block from Serendipity3’s is Dylan’s Candy Bar, a candy store extravaganza!  There were so many types of candy to choose from such as loose candy, candy bars, nostalgic candy, and oversized candy, etc. My daughter chose a little glass jar with her brother’s name on it to fill with candy (miracles do happen). This was especially thoughtful, since his name is Dylan, too. We bought some candy for dad that he likes: a Zero bar, Cowtails, Turkish taffy and Now and Laters, and then we picked up a few things for ourselves for after dinner, as we were starving and wanted to eat some food first! 
Dylan's Candy Bar

Themed Candy Choices

Candy! Candy! Candy!

We still had a half of an hour before our table would be ready at Serendipity3’s, so we walked around the corner to our next delicious, dessert, destination: Sprinkles, which is on Lexington Ave. My daughter chose Sprinkles because it has a cupcake ATM. Yes, an ATM that dispenses cupcakes 24 hours a day.  This experience is not to be missed.  We walked up to the ATM screen, chose the flavor of cupcake we wanted, and we were then prompted to swipe our credit card (no cash accepted at the ATM).  Once the transaction was processed for $4.95 (not bad for a gourmet cupcake in NYC), a window opened with our cupcake already in the box! 

Sprinkles on Lexington Avenue

All ATM's should offer the option of cupcakes!
People were standing near the ATM watching customers purchase cupcakes, because it was such an intriguing concept. You can also go inside Sprinkles, as it is a nation-wide dessert chain that offers other dessert selections, as well. There are two locations in New York, but only the Upper East Side Location has the ATM. In the vast array of trendy cupcake establishments, Sprinkles and its ATM is a must see, and my daughter said it was the best cupcake she ever had.  

Choose your cupcake and your quantity, and then swipe your credit card.

Wait for the Cupcake ATM window to open and take your cupcake!

So our Mother/Daughter dessert crawl was just about reach its final destination, as we were going to head back to our table at Serendipity3’s, when we saw that Baked by Melissa, one of our longtime favorite cupcake places was right on the next corner! What an unexpected pleasant surprise. We had just enough time before our dinner reservation to pick up a few of the bite sized cupcakes to take home with us.  My kids love the mini cupcakes, and I have had them delivered to our home many times for different occasions.  The mini cupcakes are always a hit, because you can taste a few different flavors without the guilt of eating a whole cupcake.  Baked by Melissa was definitely the perfect addition to our dessert crawl.

Baked By Melissa on Lexington Avenue

Bite sized cupcakes!

After hitting Dylan’s Candy Bar, Sprinkles, and Baked By Melissa, all within our forty-five minute wait for Serendipity3’s, we were ready to finally sit down and eat.  We had worked up quite an appetite peddling around the park, and walking through the streets on our Dessert Crawl. Although we took my daughter to Serendipity3’s when she was five, she didn’t remember the experience, so I was excited to see her experience it again as a nineteen year old.

Throwback Pic: My daughter with her close friends at age 5.
 We were seated upstairs, (Yay!, as I had never sat upstairs before), and it was interesting to see the original architecture of the building was still in tact, although it had been painted over in pastel colors of pinks and purples.  We were lucky to be seated in front of the beautiful fireplace, which was original to the building, and as we were seated our server mentioned that it was the table where a scene from movie Serendipity was filmed starring John Cusack. 

A lovely lighted display over the fireplace upstairs.
Since we chose Serendipity3 as part of our Dessert Crawl, we wanted to stay true to our goal of having dessert, but we did order the most delicious burgers first, which we completely devoured. Many people, we noticed, were ordering the famous Frozen Hot Chocolate as a drink, but wanted to wait until after our meal to order any type of sweet drink or dessert.  Also, the Frozen Hot Chocolate is really big, and after inhaling the burger we didn’t think that the two of us would be able to finish it, so we chose simple dishes of ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry.

The Frozen Hot Chocolate is enough for three or four people to share. 

Fourteen years later, my daughter is back at Serendipity3's
        enjoying some chocolate ice cream.
My daughter and I sat across from each other, satisfied that our planned day of a Central Park bike ride and Dessert Crawl went so well.  We paid the check, and contemplated whether we were going to take a cab back to the parking garage, but even after such a long day of biking and walking, we still had some reserved energy. The twenty-minute walk back to the car was just what we needed to balance out the calories we had just consumed during our Dessert Crawl and dinner. Surprisingly, our legs were not even weary or sore, even though we did more of a “Dessert Dash” rather than a Dessert Crawl.