Friday, December 9, 2011

A Station Transformation

If you live in Worcester county and are looking for things to do, I suggest you subscribe to the weekly emails from the Worcester Cultural Coalition.  They keep me privy to things going on in Worcester and let me know about discounts available using my Woo Card. Which leads me to another suggestion, get a Woo Card.

This is a woo card
This baby gets you tons of fantastic discounts at places around Worcester: restaurants, shows, gyms, shops, etc.  It's pretty fantastic and highly recommended by me.

Last week the Worcester Cultural Coalition email told me I should stop by stART at the Station, a large craft fair held at Union Station, Worcester's recently renovated train station.  stART at the Station is the winter edition of the fall and spring events, stART the street.  Having never been to any of these events, I wrangled up some friends and we attempted to do some holiday shopping.

Union Station was packed.  The fair started at 11AM and was scheduled until 5PM.  We arrived around noon and you could barely move through the aisles.  Awesome for the vendors, no bueno for customers, but we survived.  There was an extreme variety of goods available, which I appreciate, because I am really sick of going to shows that are comprised of dozens of jewelry vendors and a lady who knits things for infants. Not that I have anything against jewelry, ladies or infants, but I like a lot of options. 

There was no admission fee (w00t) and just for stopping by I got to swipe my Woo Card for double points (double w00t)!  There were refreshments available -bake sale style, with tasty treats that started a day-long sugar high for our small group.  Once you got used to sharing your personal space with other shoppers, it was a pretty awesome event.  Note: I really don't like sharing my personal space in large crowds with strollers and toddlers that roam free, not because I don't like children, but because I get overly nervous about tripping or being accidentally shoved and injuring a small child.  As it stands, I'm not very coordinated or graceful and I can't imagine how horrible I would feel if I toppled onto an unsuspecting stroller. I also can't imagine most parents keeping a cool head about such an accident if their child was hurt. It would get confrontational and awkward, two things I avoid at all costs. So I was a little anxious throughout the afternoon.  On the bright side, I've finally posted about a free, family-friendly event!

I can't list all of the vendors, but some that stood out - by description, not name - were the puppets, the orbs with plants, the tie t-shirts, some fantastic photographers and potters, unique serving trays, vintage ornaments, and of course lots of jewelry.  I stopped at one table that had the coolest set up ever.  This guy had antique luggage, lined with wallpaper (or scrapbook paper) with funky nobs and handles attached for his necklaces to display from.  There are several of these set up and they were completely awesome so I asked, "Excuse me, do you sell the jewelry cases as well?" He looked at me oddly and with a hint of attitude answered "uh, no."  I frowned and said, "Okay, thanks anyway."  He replied, still with the tone of annoyance or arrogance, I can't be sure, "If I had said yes, can I ask what you'd use them for?"  I was a little taken aback, because I thought their use was kind of obvious.  I glanced at the suitcases and my friend who was standing beside him and answered in a cheerful tone, "The same thing you are? I'd hang my necklaces so I don't have to look through drawers or boxes to find what jewelry to where." If he replied to that I don't remember, but it was an odd exchange that left me wondering if I had done something to offend him by asking about his set up.  I mean, I had audibly announced that I liked his jewelry prior to our conversation.  Either way, I'm now trying to figure out if I should make my own wicked awesome jewelry display case.  I'll post pictures if I attempt it.

 At the end of the day we all had a great time and most of us managed to cross a few names off of our gift lists.  I'll definitely be checking out the spring and fall events and I'll let you know how those measure up. For now, good job Worcester with your cool crafts, excellent advertisement and snazzy little cards that give me points!

Until next time,

<3K

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ready! Set! Trot!

You'd think I would have learned something from my Warrior Dash experience, but no, it turns out I am a glutton for punishment. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mother called and asked Jackson and me to run the Turkey Trot, or Holden Road Race, with her on Thanksgiving morning.  "It's just a 5k and it will be fun, then we can eat as much pie and turkey as we want!"

My mother presented an excellent point. You see, as a young couple, with both of our families in the area, we often attend two Thanksgiving dinners.  Each year, we try to pace ourselves, just eating small portions, skipping some sides with the expectation we will eat the butternut squash at the next meal, but it is normally easier said than done.  I love Thanksgiving. I love each and every side dish you can imagine: cranberry sauce, bread stuffing (or dressing if you are from the south), meat stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, rolls [although they were suspiciously missing from my family's meal this year], ... the list goes on.  It is extremely difficult to see your favorite foods, warm and delicious, sitting in front of you and not want to have at least a bite, if not a heaping helping. So, with my horrible track record of not scaling back, I agreed to race.

To prepare for race day, I had every intention of doing a few practice miles around my neighborhood park.  Unfortunately, the weather was not in agreement with my plans.  So, I was trotting cold turkey.  I hadn't even attempted to run in at least 3 months.  Sometimes I think that I'm asking to be injured...

Because this was a last minute decision, Jack, Mom and I arrived extremely early to register.  We wanted to make sure we didn't have to wait in a long line and we wanted to snag t-shirts before they ran out.  Registration is $25 a person and it goes to the Wachussett Food Bank, so kudos for this being a for a good cause.  We filled out our waivers, paid our fees and were told that they were already out of t-shirts. Bummer, but I moved on quickly to a more important topic, IT WAS FREEZING.

I'm not sure if I have mentioned this in any prior posts, but I honestly hate the cold.  I must have poor circulation or something because I am always chilled and my fingers turn blue on a fairly regular basis.  My teeth spend most of the winter chattering and it's not unusual for me to resemble the little brother from a Christmas Story due to the amount of layers I sport through the winter months.  I kid you not.

After registering, to escape from the cold, we retreated back to my car and blasted the heat. We watched the parking lot fill up (the race starts at a Big Y -a local grocery chain) and listened to Acoustic Sunrise, the Thanksgiving addition.  I hate to go off on an extreme tangent, but it must be said.  If you don't spend your Sunday mornings listening to Acoustic Sunrise, you are missing out.  Several radio stations option it and it is amazing.  I wouldn't lie to you. 

Alright, race time.  This time, we stood at the back, not like that Warrior Dash fiasco.  My mother and I decided we would stay together and let Jackson and his long legs go as far ahead of us as he wanted.  It was really really cold while we waited for the actual start of the race and by the time we got the go ahead, I was a little numb.  This may have been a good thing.  I couldn't feel any discomfort from running during the first mile, because I couldn't feel my feet. Mom and I found a decent pace and were feeling pretty confident through mile one.  We had decided before the start that our goal was to finish the race without stopping or walking, not to win it.

The race itself was an exciting experience.  It was fun to see all of the families, friends and pets running through the roads of Holden.  I had a golden retriever who was particularly fond of running next to me and sniffing me for about a quarter mile.  Many Holden residents stood on their lawns waving and cheering us on or had signs of encouragement for family and friends.  It was sweet and charming. 

Back to the running.  At the 1.5 mile mark, I was contemplating walking.  My shins hurt and I could feel me feet again.  I was getting tired and there was a hill up ahead.  As we reached the base of the hill my mother said to me "This is where I say to myself, if I count to 50 the hill will be over." I decided to take her advice and followed her little pep talk and began counting.  Unfortunately, I was way over 50 when we reached the top.  The hill was deceptively large - not steep but kind of rolling.  My mother sheepishly said "Oops" a few seconds later, but the good news was that after the hill I didn't feel like walking any more.  We powered through the next mile like champs.

I had no idea what the race path was going to look like, but I did know that you ended back where you started.  I also know that we started running down hill, so I correctly assumed that we'd have to run up that hill to finish.  I paced myself accordingly.  What I didn't account for was that we actually finished further up the hill than our origin point, so as I was about to turn into the parking lot to reach my assumed finish line, a "helpful" gentleman waved me on saying "Keep climbing, you are almost there." I gave him the stink eye, but continued on my way.

Mom and I finished the race strong and Jackson was waiting for us a few paces before the end clapping and cheering.  It was the perfect way to finish the race and to start Thanksgiving.  I then went on to eat my weight in pie...  just kidding! Kind of....

We'll probably be running again next year.  I'll be sure to register early to get a t-shirt!  Hope to see you there!

Until next time,
<3K

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Back off Oscar Meyer, we don't want your BallParks around here...

Today I bring to you a post about a Worcester institution.  A place that might actually be the most recognizable spot in in the city.  Anyone who grew-up here has a memory or story about this particular restaurant.  It's a big deal.
courtesy of worcestermag.com via google image search - not mine!
Yup.  Coney Island Hot Dogs. This place is like a time warp and my god is it awesome. There's something so simplistically brilliant about a hot dog restaurant.  Sure they have other things on the menu, but quite frankly you aren't really supposed to order them.  (Okay, okay, someone ordered a hamburger the last time I was there, but I know everyone around was rightfully judging them.) They have an ingenious business model and an established brand that keeps a steady line at lunch and makes them a household name. 

My childhood memories of Coney Island all include my father.  It was a go-to lunch spot after a midday doctor's appointment.  It seems to be a haven for dads and young children still to this day.  I am guessing it must be some sort of unwritten Worcester code that fathers must bring their child to Coney Island for a hot dog covered in ketchup after they have gone through the traumatic experience of getting a vaccination or blood drawn. To combat tears, instead of the hug or kiss because of an "oww-ie" or "boo-boo," Worcester dads heal wounds with chocolate milk and the messiest lunch available.  And god bless them for it, seriously.  

It occurs to me that my favorite Coney Island memories aren't even my own.  My uncle, father and older cousins tell stories about my grandfather putting them to work throughout the summer, doing some excessive landscaping, house-building or other rigorous job and if you've made acceptable progress by noontime he'd bring you a Coney Island hotdog for lunch.  If you were particularly successful he might throw in a bag of chips, too.

Walking into Coney Island for the first time in 12 years, I realized it hasn't changed a bit since my grandfather was stopping in decades ago. Stepping through the doors has you wondering if you've just joined the cast of Pleasantville. Old oak booths line the walls and center aisle, and a the counter servers still cater to the inevitable long line of the lunch rush. Over the decades, patrons have etched notes, names, dates, quotes and other colorful verses into the wooden seating, and while it may detract from the appeal at first glance, there is something comforting and unique about the environment it fosters.  To my knowledge, they've never tried to sand and re-stain the booths, the graffiti is part of the decor.

Two new items stood out to me.  First, the jukebox had been updated with cds of "newer" artists, as in the last decade.  No one was using it, but I did note it's presence.  Second, because Coney Island is still CASH ONLY, they have an ATM in an adjoining space that holds a bar room.  I, personally, had never noticed the bar room and can't really comment on it.  But, it's existence didn't really surprise me. 

So, moving on with my tale... I grabbed some cash, because I was stupidly unprepared to pay with cash and got in line. Coney Island is like a well-oiled machine when it comes to their hot dogs.  There is a system and they are prepared for the seasoned veteran and the new-comer alike.  They are "at-the-ready" waiting for your order and they are so quick that it is as if magically your hot dogs appear.  They even have their own lingo for your toppings, such as "up" or "with sauce."  I'm not going to tell you what each is, the fun of ordering is in the adrenaline rush that comes with trying to figure out what the hell everyone is talking about. They have some pretty awesome sides too, like gigantic pickles and baked beans.  They offer polar beverages and possibly Wachusett potato chips, but they might be just a generic brand. 

Anyway, the best part is that the food is so cheap! I think it is $1.50 per hot dog and I'm pretty sure that includes any toppings you want.  I paid for lunch for two people and spent less than $10, with 2 sides and 2 drinks.  Amazing, right? I know.

So, it is almost lunch time, head to Coney Island and let me know what you think.  I give it two very enthusiastic thumbs up and gold star for added effect!

<3 K

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

More Americana than a Norman Rockwell illustration

About a week and a half ago, I convinced my dear friend Lara to accompany me on what I will call the cliche New England Sunday. On the agenda: Horseback riding, apple picking, pie baking, football watching, and pumpkin ale drinking. It was going to be a blast...

Here's the catch, both Lara and I love the idea of being outdoorsy, country folk, but in actuality we are about as urban as you get.  We agree to these nostalgic outings of mountain climbing, bike-riding, kayaking, nature photography, etc and then realize that we aren't totally comfortable with natural environment. We appreciate the beauty of the landscape, foliage, and animal life, but we wish it was always accompanied with bottles of antibacterial, air freshener, and bug spray. You laugh, but I'm serious.

Anyway, we began our Sunday at 7:30AM with a quick trip to Dunkin Donuts for coffee and drove to Princeton, MA.  We ohhed and aahhed over the changing leaves and quaint towns we passed by as we neared our destination, Cornerstone Ranch.  I found Cornerstone Ranch through a Groupon for a 2 hour trail ride. They claimed to cater to novice riders.  Besides the fact I adore her, I invited Lara along because like me, she'd never ridden a horse.  I mean, we'd both been on pony rides as children, but had never been in control (or were under the guise we were in control) of these large animals.  So as we pulled into the ranch and signed our liability forms, we were a little nervous about what was to come next. 

The people who work at/own the ranch were bring the horses out of the barn and readying them for the ride, while the rest of us stood around chatting.  Most were chatting about there previous riding experiences and how beautiful the horses were.  Our conversation was a little different.

Lara: This helmet really smells. I think I'm going to gag.
Me: *trying to wipe dirt from my boots* I didn't expect to get so dirty already.  I should haven't worn designer boots, huh?
Lara: *pointing to some ponies* Do you think they'll let me ride one of those? I'm small and they look about my size.
Me: Do you think it will be really buggy out there? I hate mosquitoes.
Lara: We are so urban....

Let's fast forward a bit.  We've been instructed to each bring a horse into a fenced off riding area and line them up.  (I was informed that my helmet was on backwards and I should probably fix it.)  We spent several minutes being paired off with horses and the guide helped us climb into the saddles and prepare to ride.  She was uber helpful and gave several excellent instructions on how to make the horse go, "Git up," slow down, "Easy," and stop, "Whoa."  Seemed easy enough.  She mentioned that some of the horses were stubborn and we shouldn't be afraid to give them a good kick with our heels to get them moving or even use our reigns to lightly smack them and if completely necessary, take a thin stick and us it as a crop (mostly for the new pony on the ride).  This made me pause, but I decided I would just go with it and let things fall where they may. 

This is where things get interesting. As we are getting ready to leave, the guide turns to me and says, "Your horse is called Louie.  You look pretty comfortable up there, so I normally wait to tell people this until after the ride, but you'll be okay.  Louie was a wild Mustang.  You can see he has a brand (some type of dye not fire and poker kind of brand) there from the wrangler who captured him.  He has more of a survival instinct than the others, so you might have to be a little forceful with him. Alright? Great." She smiled and we started on our way. Except, I hadn't said alright, I hadn't nodded my head, I had sat there on top of Louie looking panicked and trapped and completely helpless. But, as I was too stunned to speak up, Louie decided we should follow the crowd and head to the trial.

I decided right then and there that my horse, with his superior survival instincts, knew better than I did about what we should be doing. If Louie wanted to take a break, we'd take a break, if he wanted a drink, he'd have a drink of water and if he wanted to take off in the other direction, I wasn't going to stop him.  As long as he didn't mind me coming for the ride, we were going to be fine. I told Louie this as well, in a soothing voice.  I kept up both of our ends of the conversation and decided that we'd be good friends. If he kept calm, cool and collected, I would keep the pesky flies and mosquitoes off the parts of his back and ears he couldn't reach.  I think the woman on the horse behind me thought I was insane.

The trial ride was pretty relaxing and Louie seemed to know what he was doing.  A few times I had to ask him nicely to move and stay out of the branches so I wasn't decapitated, but no need for any excessive force.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Lara.  She was on a younger horse, Hope.  Hope was new to the trail rides and, we came to find out, had recently had her first set of horse shoes attached (ouch!).  I guess Hope was hesitant when getting to a certain part of the path because before her shoes, the gravel was difficult on her hooves.  The part of the trail prior to the gravel happened to be in the middle of the road.  So, poor Lara was stuck on an unmoving horse, blocking traffic in the middle of a street.  From a few horses back, I heard her say, "Please move Hope, please. We've got to get going."  From in front of Lara, the guide was telling her to give Hope a few good kicks. Lara hesitated and I knew why.  Who would kick a horse? Honestly, isn't the cruel?  PETA and the humane society would be throwing paint at us or something.  So Lara tried her best to keep pleading with the horse to no avail.  Finally, much to her dismay, she gave Hope a slight kick. Nothing.  The guide was climbing off her horse and trying to get Lara to kick Hope again and harder until she started moving.  Lara really didn't want to kick Hope, but she also didn't want to be road kill, so she shut her eyes and gave hope a few swift kicks and Hope started moving.  I felt terrible for my friend and saw Lara apologize profusely to the horse afterward. 

We had a few more hiccups with stubborn horses, but for the most part the ride was relaxing and enjoyable.  My wild Mustang kept me out of danger and skillfully managed to take us up and down some pretty steep hills.  Louie is alright in my book and seemed to have entirely agreed to the terms and conditions I laid out at the start of our ride. He didn't even seem to mind that I kept shifting my weight to attempt to lessen the discomfort that the bones in my butt would feel in the hours and days to come... unfortunately, that was wasted effort.

After we said farewell to Hope and Louie -Hope nuzzled Lara and left her with some sticky substances on her jacket (gross!)- we found our way to the kind of nearby Meadowbrook orchards (I had never been there) where we could disinfect our clothing and persons and pick our own apples.  We took our time wandering through the orchard and picking as many Macintosh and Gala apples as our bags could hold, while enjoying the scenery. The layout is lovely, with a pond and Adirondack chairs that look out over the orchards. We stopped in the general store-like restaurant to have some chicken stew and apple cider for lunch and because it was getting later than we expected and we were tired, we bought some frozen pre-made apple pies (something I will never do again). As much as I enjoyed the experience, I doubt I would go back to this orchard, I prefer Brookfield Orchards and their apple dumplings to the pie and unlabeled rows of trees at Meadowbrook.

We ended our day visiting my parents, tasting the seasonal offerings of Sam Adams, including Oktoberfest and Pumpkin lager while watching the Patriots lose and eating the pre-made apple pie.  It was everything that I love about autumn in New England.   I suggest everyone spend a Sunday in October doing the same.

<3 K

Friday, September 16, 2011

Worcester does festivals

Not to sabotage myself, but I'm totally on a roll with my weekly postings! I'm hoping this new found motivation finds its way into other aspects of my life, such as showing up to work on time, cleaning my apartment, getting to the gym... you get the picture.  For now, I'll take my success with the blogging and ride that wave for a while.

It's been said ad nauseam that bad things come in threes.  Well, I don't believe that.  I think when bad things happen, people are just hyper-aware of the other sucky things in their life.  I'm sure millions of people disagree with me, but to those individuals I ask  - what is your explanation when four craptastic things happen to me in a short period of time? Have I begun a second series of three that will only bring about more despair?  I hope not.

To combat this dreary outlook, I present, for your consideration, the opposite that good things come in threes and it appears that downtown Worcester agrees with me.  Last weekend I attend not one, not two, but THREE festivals downtown that were worth blogging about.  When it rains, it pours... (another overused phrase).

1. Open Road Festival.
Location: Institute Park
Theme: Eco-friendly, sustainable, tree-hugging, local artist community
Highlight: Really well designed t-shirts and stellar food vendors.  Evo and Sweet T Southern Kitchen were vying for dominance of the deliciousness market.
Low point: I might still smell of patchouli oil and I really hate patchouli oil.  I know it is often the preferred Eau-de-earth (which I guess is true because I think it smells like dirt), but I can't stand the scent.

This festival, started by a young Worcester native, highlights the local music scene, budding artists, and eco-friendly options for consumers.  It's kid friendly, but not pet friendly (so if you decide to go next year, you have to leave the pooch at home).  We went early in the day, so it was still getting started.  There was a small crowd, but lots of free goodies -granola bars, coconut water, candy - just make sure to recycle your wrappers! Tickets were $10 in advance, $15 at the door, but if you have a Woo Card (yay me!) it was $5 at the door. It was a relaxed atmosphere, where artistically inclined, herb-loving individuals could enjoy one of the last beautiful days of New England summer.


2. Shrewsbury Street College Shuffle
Theme: Giving College kids more food!
Location: Shrewsbury Street participating restuarants
Highlight: Free Sam Adams pint glass from La Scala and peanut butter pancake from Cafe Manzi's
Low point: 25% of the restaurants served pizza, so by stop three we were more than done with pizza for the day.

This event is unfortunately limited to members of the Worcester college community and their families, but honestly, I'm sure you know someone who goes to or works at one of the 10 Worcester colleges. I think it started out as a means for Shrewsbury Street to make even more money and to foster some good intercollegiate relations.  Apparently the colleges of Worcester don't play well with others.  The set up was like your typical "Taste of" event.  We walked from restaurant to restaurant sampling an assortment of Italian foods.  The $10 admission was a steal! The portions were more than any of us could handle and the food was impressive over all.  I was able to try a few places that I had been meaning to check out and no one really disappointed - although beware the Margarita cupcake from Sweet actually has SALT sprinkled in the frosting, it's a strong after-taste to say the least.  I was glad to have a chance to stop by Juniors, my favorite Shrewsbury Street spot, where the WPI Jazz band was playing some great tunes. It was a good time, but I was stuffed by the end.

3. CanalFest!
Theme: Reviving Worcester's 19th Century glory!!
Location: Harding Street (Behind Union Station)
Highlight: The Silverbacks stellar performance, costumed interpreters with working weapons, and NPS rangers!
Low point: A temperature spike of 10 degrees to make it about 80+ degrees Fahrenheit with limited shade available.
Admittedly, at this point we were dragging, but the atmosphere at Canalfest was hopping!  The music was great, seriously, if you haven't seen the Silverbacks, you have to check them out.  The food smelled wonderful, but we were still full from the "Shuffle."  It was great, FREE, family fun.  There was no entrance fee, unlike the other festivals and there was a lot of free entertainment for everyone.  Vendors lined the streets and two large craft tents held a wide variety of gifts, books, toys, and jewelry.  The point of the festival is to raise awareness and funds for the re-opening of the Blackstone Canal.  The National Park Service is trying to revitalize the route of the canal to protect the land and create a more beautiful landscape for hiking and biking, much like Rhode Island has done on the Providence end of the canal.  They had a river simulation where kids could kayak in a "canal-like" pool, to show some of the more adventurous options a re-opened canal would provide.  CanalFest is an annual event that draws a huge crowd and provides a real service to the Worcester community.

Over all it was a great weekend! Maybe next year they can spread it out over a few weeks so I can blog about them separately!!!!

Until next time....
<3 K

Friday, September 9, 2011

Plouffe's Yankee Diner: The Worcester Diner Series

The Worcester Diner Series is still alive! While I've spent just about every weekend this summer traveling, Jack and I made a point to check out Plouffe's Yankee Diner! I realized it had been some time since I'd posted an addition to the Worcester Diner Series (or anything at all) and doing some breakfast spot research seemed like a perfect way to spend my Sunday morning ...er... midday by the time I finished laundry and got out of my apartment.

By this point, most of you are aware that I love diners. Really, give me a greasy spoon any day, but there's something unbelievably satisfying about a place that manages to prepare my favorite comfort breakfast food with a gourmet twist. That's what you'll find at Plouffe's Yankee Diner on Route 20 in Charlton, MA. Previously known as just "The Yankee Diner," the Plouffe brothers, Michael and Brian, have reopened the historic lunch car diner, bringing a new taste to your typical New England Diner.




Let's start from the outside and work our way in, shall we?

I promise not to bore you with too much architectural history, but Plouffe's is a true Worcester Lunch Car Company dining car.  That means it was built by the same people as The Boulevard, The Miss Worcester and dozens of other National Register of Historic Places holding diners across the US. It's preserved fairly well (I say fairly and not extraordinarily, because one of the past owners put a vinyl-sided, front lean-to entryway smack dab in the center of the facade.... the nerve!)  with most of the original decorate features still in tact.  The original porcelain refrigerator sits in the left corner of the main grill, matching the colors of the barrel roof and the antique wooded counter stools. (The refrigerator needs some pricey electrical restoration to bring it back to working order, so if we have any bleeding heart preservationists in the crowd, I'm personally starting a  Save the Fridge fund for this diner - so be in touch.) the windows are for the most part original with some great decorative iron and stained glass flourishes and almost all of the original interior wood work still adorns the walls.  You definitely feel like you are stepping back in time, but not in a Twilight Zone sort of way.  The team at Plouffe's have made a dedicated effort to try to keep any maintenance as historically accurate as possible without tipping the scales to cheesy which happens more often than not, so for that I commend them.  They've also done some stellar landscape work out front that makes the entrance inviting and homey (a valiant effort to combat the vinyl...).


Plouffe's packs in a crowd for weekend breakfast (and weekday as well, I've been told), so plan to eat at the counter or wait for a few minutes for a booth because the seating is limited, but well worth it.  Their menu includes all of the traditional diner fare, eggs any way you like them, homefries, bacon, sausage, HOMEMADE HASH. Yes, I said it, homemade deliciousness... honestly, I wanted to order an extra side of hash to take home for later.  Their pancakes are HUGE and in addition to your typical buttermilk and blueberry, they've got great specials like Pecan with brown sugar sauce.  New to their menu is Brian's Brunch Burger, a 1/3 pound all beef patty, bacon, and American cheese that is served on a "French toasted" bulkie roll topped with a perfect mix of ketchup & Vermont maple syrup. It's a huge hit with the regulars.


For lunch, they've got burgers, Rubens, the Yankee club, pastrami, and Philly Cheese-steak all with hand-cut french fries and a pickle.  Be sure to try the clam chowder and the award winning chili, too! (Jackson ordered the soups as a side for breakfast!) Everything is totally fresh and when available Plouffe's always buys their products and produce locally.  They serve Polar sodas, Good as Gold coffee, and their pickles are from Regal in Worcester! The diner's chef and co-owner, Michael Plouffe, always adds a few specials to the menu to give it some flare.  This week their website advertises Swedish Meatballs with egg noodles.

What makes Plouffe's stand out from the plethora of other Worcester diners, is their Friday night dinners.  Each Friday, Chef Michael opens his doors from 4:30-8:30PM to serve some local favorites and some top quality, but low-cost meals.  Jackson and I made a repeat visit last Friday to try it out.  We brought his sister along and the three of us made a point to order 3 different entrees to share around.  Jackson ordered the Prime Rib dinner (he had the last piece - it was late in the night) and it was heavenly.  Emily ordered traditional Fish and Chips - beer-battered fried haddock with hand-cut fries and homemade coleslaw. I had the baked haddock, it was delicious.  They offered a side of seasonal veggies, mashed potatoes with gravy or fries. No one went home disappointed or sadly with any room for dessert, but have no fear they always have a few dessert options for those still tempted.

The atmosphere at Plouffe's is casual family dinning.  You'll almost definitely meet both owners if you stop in.  Michael is behind the grill and Brian, the business partner, will be at the register or if needed helping serve.  They are completely open to special orders and substitutions, in fact, at dinner on Friday Michael prepared one little girl an order of french toast, even though breakfast wasn't actually still available, but she had her heart set on it.  Another endearing moment witnessed Michael chasing down the server with the fruit garnish that he adorns every plate with.  Michael sheepishly apologized to the patrons while assuring everyone that he felt personally responsible for the presentation on each and every plate. It's personal touches like this that will keep me coming back.

The guys were nice enough to send some photos for the blog! Thanks guys!











So what have we learned from this post?
1. I should never blog when hungry.
2. Check out Plouffe's Yankee Diner!

Until next time....
<3 K

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thursday Night Lights!

And she's back in the game!  Funny story, it turns out that you have to actually be in Worcester to blog about Worcester.  Strange, huh?  I've bounced back and forth from Boston, to Newport, to DC, to San Francisco, to Plymouth, and Cape Cod this summer - oh wedding season.  But, with the start of the school year things seem to be calming down a bit and my blog should be picking back up!  I've got some big plans for my September posts...

Last night, I was part of history, or so I was told quite frequently by the Holy Cross community.  I attended the first ever night game, under the lights, at Fitton Field.  The Holy Cross Crusaders took on the UMass Minutemen in their season opening home game.  And in all honestly, this was my first ever college football game.

I love football, but unfortunately, when I was applying for college, I didn't consider that it might be cool (let's be honest, it would have been pretty damn sweet) to go to a Division 1 school.  I was worried about academic programs, scholarships, etc, and that landed me at Salve, studying preservation, living in a mansion by the sea, so I really can't complain.  However, what I didn't realize is that our football team, the mighty Seahawks, played on a Newport high school field.  Yeah, we were that good.  The few games I went to were sad to watch.  The poor Seahawks.  It's really too depressing to recap.

My husband, who I was dating at the time, went to UMass - Go Minutemen! - and we went to one football game while I visited.  However, we missed the beginning of the game, showed up for halftime, along with most of the crowd, because we were actually there for the awarding winning marching band.  Oh the irony... the crowd skipping the game and coming to watch the band... teen drama screenwriters everywhere are convulsing at the thought.  Needless to say, I'm not counting that as true college football either.

I went to GWU for grad school, thinking to myself, "Hey! This is a pretty large school, with an athletics budget that rivals Salve's endowment, there must be a great football team."  Well, I was horribly mistaken.  The Colonials don't have a football team.  There really isn't much space for a football stadium in Foggy Bottom, but it's the principle of the thing.  Alas, four more years of higher ed -Jackson took his time finishing his masters (teasing... he worked full time)- and no college football to speak of.

At that point, I wasn't too upset about my lack of a college football experience, until I met someone who went to a SEC school and told me about their game day traditions. I heard tales of tailgating, epic post-game parties, and even dress codes that put gals in dresses and guys in shirt and tie.  How cool is that?! Sunday best for Saturday football... be still my heart!  Admittedly, this inspired some buyer's remorse when it came to my educational choices, but as with all things, I moved on.

Now I find myself back in Worcester and the buzz this week had been the Holy Cross vs. UMass game.  I decided I'd see what a well-funded football program looked like.  I gathered Jackson and his fellow UMass classmate, Chris and a colleague of mine and we made our way to Fitton Field.  (Historical note:  Fitton Field is named for Father Fitton, the Catholic priest who, in the early 1800s, was responsible for pastoring the entire northeast -well from Maine to Rhode Island.- and converting large settlements to Catholicism.  He also purchased the land that Holy Cross sits on, hence the namesake...I know this because a costumed interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village told me so.)

I'm not sure how many of you know this, but like the great city of Rome, Worcester, MA also has 7 hills. I'm not quite sure I can name them all, and depending on where you grew up, they often go by different names, but Fitton Field sits at the base of College Hill, which is also called Pakachoag Hill or Mount Saint James.  Anyway, College Hill was PACKED last night.  There were about 16,000 people, which for a small school like Holy Cross, is quite a turn out. Parking was kind of a nightmare and I would bet that half of Worcester's police force was directing traffic.  The stadium was swimming with Holy Cross's purple, with a trim of UMass maroon. It was all very exciting! I had previously decided to root for the offense.  I have loyalties to both teams, so cheering for good plays made by the offense seemed fair.  Besides, in football, I don't like to root against anyone - I'm a fan of close games and ties.  Unless we are talking about the Manning brothers.  I pray for their failure.  Peyton Manning makes me seethe with anger and I used to be a fan of Eli - I tried to inspire sibling rivalry to throw Peyton off his game - but then the 2008 Super Bowl happened and Eli joined my list. So, yeah... like I was saying, I was getting into that college game day spirit, and then the game started...

Despite what Gordie Lockbaum (a HC football great) announced over the local radio station, this was not a well-played game of two athletically strong teams.  It was kind of boring as football goes.  There were rookie mistakes that most high school football teams can avoid and both teams had a lot of trouble moving the ball.  UMass dominated for the majority of the game, which appeased my husband and Chris, but even they were disappointed with the overall caliber of event.

I do have to give credit to the prep work done by the HC and Worcester community. The field looked great, the tailgating layout seemed well designed, the concession stands were well stocked and the line kept moving, the energy was high.  Despite the larger crowd and the overwhelming parking situation, traffic flowed fairly smoothly. On the flip side, I think Holy Cross is breaking some ADA laws with their handicap accessibility and seating, just saying. Oh and a special shout out to the highly intoxicated woman sitting on the visitor's side, who cussed out my husband for standing in the handicapped area to keep his friend company (he was standing because there were no companion chairs provided), I hope for your sake there is no such thing as karma. 

Overall, I had a good time.  I think I'll try to catch another game this season and see if the team improves over the course of the semester.  I really do enjoy football, so it's hard to truly disappoint me.

I can't enthusiastically recommend the game or say it tips the scales in Worcester's favor, but I it wasn't a wasted evening.

Until next week!
<3K

Friday, July 8, 2011

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be Spiderman?

I have. Honestly.  I really have.  After a decent amount of thought considering the addition of several "spidey" senses to my abilities, I've come to the following conclusions.
1. There is little to no chance that I would ever wear anything resembling that spandex suit. Good for you, Tobey Maguire, you are a better person than I am.
2. Being a masked vigilante isn't really my thing.  So, my great powers would have to come without responsibility, or really, I'd have to say no thanks.  I'm kind of wimpy. I know this. Besides (and this is an extreme tangent) based on a theory presented by M. Night Shyamalan, there is duality in the universe, so therefore if I became a superhero, I'd be sparking the creation of a super villain. [See Unbreakable, don't listen to the critics, it was a cinematic masterpiece.] Using this logic, I should stay completely under the radar and just use my powers to my own benefit and just be super awesome, rather than a super hero.... and super selfish, but I'll ponder that another day.
3. I really don't like spiders, especially being bitten by them, but I've decided the the pros of having spiderman's abilities out weigh the terror of letting a furry little spider bite me.  Plus, Peter Parker didn't even notice that he'd been bitten, so I'd assume that I could just close my eyes and let one of those other 14 gene-splicing spiders bite me and hope nothing goes wrong. (Click that link for a truly awesome article from Cracked.com)
4. Without the fear of falling, I would pretty much climb every mountain, building, monument, spire, you name it.  Heights are awesome when you don't have to worry about falling to your doom (see previous post). And it's this point that leads us to my latest adventure.


The Central Rock Gym

In preparation for the Warrior Dash, Jackson and I decide to build up some arm strength by trying our hand at rock climbing. We had heard good things about the indoor climbing at the Central Rock Gym, did some research, and planned to meet a friend there early on a Sunday afternoon.  The day was a little pricey, but not prohibitive.  There is a $15 fee to use the gym for the day, a $10 equipment rental fee that includes shoes, harness, chalk, and carabiner.  First time climbers have to take a belaying class for $15.  So for two of us, that was $80, but you can stay as long as you want and climb as much as you want.

We laced up our climbing shoes, strapped on our harnesses, and we were ready to go.  I'd like to think I looked uber cool and outdoorsy in my cargo shorts and climbing harness, but I'm pretty sure I gave a whole new definition to the word geeky.  I couldn't get my harness to sit right and spent a lot of the afternoon pulling at it and adjusting it to try to get comfortable. Jackson, Matt and Tim seemed to be immune to this problem.  Perhaps it is a gender thing, or just a Kate thing.  Who knows.

First stop, belaying class.  This class takes place on the mezzanine level of the gym, which means you are practicing at half the height of the main floor. Now, being the safety conscious person that I am, who is also a paranoid, overachiever, I was a model student.  If I thought it were appropriate, I probably would have taken notes.  We began by attaching the ropes to our harnesses and practicing our double figure 8 knots.  I must say that I mimicked this knot with ease and had it tightly secured quite quickly.  Here's why.  I still have this height issue... as in fear, and if that knot was going to do anything to spare my life and limbs, I was going to be the best damned knot-tie-er they've ever seen. Our group had to practice a few times and once we had all mastered the knot, we were going to attempt to belay.  The instructor asked me to climb first with Jackson belaying me (yes, he snickered at the term and made an inappropriate 13 year-old boy joke that no one else heard).  The instructor showed us how to attach the other end of my rope (so one end was tied to my harness with my awesome double figure 8 knot - that rope was fed through a pulley at the top of the wall and the other end came back down to the floor and was now in Jackson's hand) to his belay device attached to his carabiner attached to his harness - are you following?  There was a certain way to feed it through the belay device to secure the rope. He was also reminded to lock the carabiner to make sure the belay device was fastened correctly - I checked this twice. We were ready to go and I was given the green light to start climbing. At this point, there were the two of us and another couple in our belaying class. I approached the wall and slowly began to climb.  Reminder: I really don't like heights.  I gingerly made it about half way up this wall, again, the shortest wall they have. Upon surveying my surroundings, I decided I had gone far enough. I was probably only 15 feet off the ground.  I looked behind me and saw the instructor, Jackson and the other couple look at me expectantly, expecting me to keep climbing.  I told them otherwise.

The instructor took my ridiculous fear in stride and told me to grab the rope with two hands and to propel back off the wall, sitting back in my harness.  He assured me that Jackson's device would allow him to safely lower me to the ground. Here's the thing... I trust my husband with my life. I pretty much promised that when I married him, but in reality, when I'm hanging in the air by a rope and he's pretty much in control of my fate, I was a tad nervous about the whole situation and till death do us part seemed entirely probable. I kid, but I was nervous.  It didn't help matters that images of Vertical Limit were swirling through my mind.  So as I'm hanging off this wall, above our little class, I'm picturing Chris O'Donnell hanging from a cliff trying to decide whether or not to cut the climbing rope that holds his entire family and let his father fall to his death or risk all three of their lives testing the strength of the rope.  I scare myself sometimes, but yes, this is what I was thinking about.

Turns out that the instructor was right and the whole system did lower me safely and comfortably to the ground. Who knew? After that, it was my turn to belay Jackson.  He quickly scaled the wall - his height was in his favor on that one, but even he looked a little nervous putting his life in my hands as I lowered him down to the floor. I guess we both have some trust issues.  The other couple got to practice as well and soon we were released to go forth and climb.  We made our way downstairs to the "big" walls and looked for some easier paths for me to start out with. I slowly built up some confidence, I think lacking an audience made it a little easier.

We had company soon after.  Jackson's good friend, Matt and his younger brother, Tim, joined us and because Tim was too young to belay, we all took turns climbing.  I was still a bit nervous for the first half of our outing, but all it took was a fall to calm my fears.  On one particular trail, I was reaching above me and stretched a little too far and lost my footing, instead of careening to my death, as I had feared, I was just hanging there -like on a tire swing- waiting for Jackson to lower me to the floor.  With my fears conquered, I couldn't climb enough and I became more adventurous in my choices/grips/leaps.  Hence my earlier spiderman reference.  I do have a few suggestions for anyone interested in trying out the rock wall.  It's best to cut your nails before climbing, otherwise the wall will cut them for you, and by cut, I mean break, every manicured finger nail. Take your time, your arms will tire quickly. Get a chalk bag, your hands are not used to gripping in such a manner. And, most importantly, do not allow the rock wall to make you believe you have conquered your fear of heights.  As many of you will have read in the last post, without that lovely harness and belay device, you're going to realize how high up you are and how far you have to fall.

I'll definitely be headed back to the Central Rock Gym.  Two very enthusiastic thumbs up in Worcester's favor.

Until next time....
<3 K

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The day where running through fire was the least of my worries...

Or.... the strangest Birthday present my mom has ever asked for.

I realize I'm a slacker blogger. I have excuses, but even I don't want to hear them.  This particular post was requested by several people, so here I am blogging again and stepping outside the boundaries of my original challenge, but what the hell... enjoy!

About a month and a half ago, I had a conversation or two with my mother that went something like this:
Mom: Kate, I want to do this thing that people from work told me about called Warrior Dash, do you and Jackson want to do it with me?
Me: Um, warrior dash?
Mom: Yeah, it sounds like fun! You run through these difficult obstacles like climbing walls, sliding through mud and jumping over fire.
Me: Fire?
Mom: I'm a little worried about that myself, but people love it. I think we should do it. Ask Jackson.

Of course my husband decided he was on board with my mother's suggestion. After a little more planning and registration we had, for my mom's 51st birthday, signed the three of us up for the Warrior Dash and recruited 2 other people.

For the following month and a half I thought about training. I really did.  My friend Amanda, an unbelievably fit 24ish year-old, told me she was training. It was obvious from the facebook posts that others were training, but me... I kept procrastinating.  I had really great conversations about the training I was planning on doing.  Example:
Mom: I did two classes at the gym today and ran 3 miles yesterday. I've got to get ready for Warrior Dash.
Me: I'm planning on going to the gym and I think maybe I'll try rock wall climbing.
Mom: Great. We'll be in perfect shape for the race.
Me: Yup.

Truth be told, I made it to the gym or out running maybe 5 times in the last month. I did make it to the rock wall once.  I will blog about it soon, but know this, indoor rock climbing can give those with a fear of heights a false sense of accomplishment/courage.  This will be important later.

Alright, enough of a preview, on to race day!

So, the Warrior Dash is set-up like so...
From 8am -7pm waves of 600 people race around the 3.02 mile course encountering around 8 obstacles in 30 minute intervals (ie. 600 people dash at 10am 600 more leave at 11am and so on).  When you finish you get a free beer (well not free since you registered) and join a party of other warriors, don your new warrior dash t-shirt and warrior helmet you received at registration. Everyone is happy. Sure.

We had the last run at 6:30pm, but being the planner I am, our group (which included Mom, Dad (spectator), Jackson, Lauren, Mike, Paran (Spectator), and me) arrived around 4:30. We were told by dashers earlier in the day that parking was terrible because the rain the week before made the lot a mess. Cars were getting stuck and people were missing their waves. Luckily by the time we arrived, they had opened a new parking lot. We boarded school buses and were delivered to the venue.  It's a zoo. There are people everyone, but honestly the only thing all of us racing can look at is the hill (called the Summit) that we are about to run up and the mud slide that ends the dash.  It's about this time I think about backing out.

We make our way to registration, get our hats, t-shirts and shoe lace tracker things (the way the figure out results), and regroup - this takes less than half an hour.  We then realize we have an hour and a half to wait. This does not sit well in my flip-flopping stomach.  We get a brilliant idea: There are 10,000 people here, who will know if we jump in an earlier wave.  We go to run for the 5pm, but Jackson decides he doesn't want to join the end of the crowd, but begin at the front. So we all agree to wait for the 5:30.  We leave our stuff with our groupies and line up behind the red tape. At this point my flip-flopping stomach is doing back-flips and the tango all at once, fearing both the race and getting caught for being in the wrong wave. Oh, my Catholic guilt.

The conversation in the line went something like this:
Me (to everyone): I'm really scared. I don't run that fast. I should be in the back. I'm going to fall and get trampled.
Mom: I'm so nervous.
Jackson: *looks unaffected*
Lauren:(laughs) I'm more nervous about this than my marathon
Mike:*looks sympathetically at all of us with a reassuring smile*
Me: I mean, I'm really really scared. Can we move back?
Everyone: nope.

They finally sound the horn and all 600 people attempt to take off. We are some of the first 20 people crossing the line. I sprinted up the hill (as much as I can sprint), my mom is a few paces behind me. I've lost Lauren and Mike and I'm about 15 steps in when I see Jackson reach the top of the hill -I was briefly contemplating divorce.  Three quarters of the way up the hill, my legs are tired I feel like all 550 people are gaining on me (picture the stampede from Jumanji) and I'm trying to remember what you are supposed to do in a mob... tuck your arms and legs up and let the crowd take you. As my mind wanders, I forget to dodge one of the several slippery patches on the course and face plant.  I'm not kidding. I went down, as predicted. On the bright side, I jumped up like someone lit a fire under me. My mother was right behind me and after making sure I was okay, we both dash to the top.

At this point, my legs are jello, I can't breath, I think I might die, but the optimist buried deep inside me whispers "at least it is down hill from here." I smile a little as I attempt to trudge along. My mother is not far and I'm struggling to keep up with her and keep upright. Then I see it.... and honestly, I thought about trudging back down the steep hill to the start.

Mud. Tons of mud.  The same type of mud that rendered the parking lot useless. Thus, my mother and I began 1 mile of slipping down hill.  This mud was gross. Everyone was grabbing at trees to try to keep from falling, only to have someone else fall into you.  Tree roots that were once buried in the ground were now something you had to hop over. Your sneakers were nearly lost in the muddy mess with each step you took.

As I gingerly made my way down the path, I was walking quickly at this point -running wasn't an option without breaking my neck- Lauren and Mike passed us. We waved a hello and those fit bastards kept running. Just kidding. I love them. Mom and I decided we'd have to walk the course to preserve our limbs and catch out breath. Which was fine by me - I knew I wasn't winning this thing. At this point I wanted to finish and not have to be removed on a stretcher.

About half way through the "run," we encountered a new type of mud. This was half water/half mud that could go from ankle deep to thigh deep with no notice. Awesome.  If you tried to run around it, you chanced slipping on the slick slope (say that 3 times fast) and falling into what I could only assume were beds of poison ivy knowing my luck. It was under these conditions we met our first real obstacle.  I think they call it the spider web, an elastic-y rope woven through tree limbs in the fashion of it's name sake.  It wasn't much of an obstacle because the mud was so deep you could just duck under the rope.

My timeline gets a little hazy after that.  I know we had a water station (which was appreciated) and 2 more obstacles, the order of which escapes me.  One of them involved a set of planks (ala chicken coop) and walking across a muddy balance beam. It was more complicated than that and much more treacherous, but 4 attempts at describing it leaves me aggravated and moving on, just know that I slid down the wooden plank with rivets rather than fall to my doom.  The other was something called muddy mayhem.. ha!  First you hurdled a wooden wall about 4 feet high then you crawled under barbed wire (which had a beam at the bottom so there was no terrible danger - you followed this pattern 3 times before you finished.  Arguably one of the easier obstacles. OH! I missed one. I guess originally we were supposed to do something called "knee high hell" and run through a field of tires, but because of the mud they attached ropes to the tires and we had to run through a "jungle of swinging tires." Not bad.  I suspect if you were running through with 30 other people it would be difficult -or with Lauren, who admits to trying to be "warrior-like" and smashing into a swinging tire to shove it out of her way only to have it fling back and hit her boyfriend.  Nice...

We did some more "running" after that.  It was less of the deep mud and back to the slippery kind.  Picture an adult learning to ice skate and that is what 90% of us looked like trying to make it around this portion of the course.  At the end of this run we encountered the wall. Well, the first wall, but this is the wall that counts.

Some back story... I hate heights. I am terrified. I can't even watch people climbing or working on roofs.  I get anxious.  As we approached the wall, I nearly fainted. Let me attempt to describe this. The wall was about 25-30 feet high.  There were thin wooden beams every 4 feet or so (I am really awful at gauging height so I could be off) and a rope to help you steady yourself.  I took a deep breath and made it quickly up the first side.  Until I got to the last beam and realized that there was no way on earth I was going to be able to flip to the other side.  I froze. I may have teared up and I looked down.  My hands we shaking. My mother was telling me it was okay, Lauren and Mike were encouraging me, random warriors were cheering me on and a safety guard was speaking calmly to me as if I were about to jump.  It took some coercing, but somehow I managed to swing my leg over and straddle the wall. Unfortunately, my anxious self did not see this as an improvement.  In my defense, the wood and rope was coated with mud. It was slippery and I'm a clumsy person as it is. So 25 feet from the ground on a muddy wall = me tempting fate. It took some time, but I managed to try to reach the beam on the other side, unfortunately I couldn't grab any rope, because there wasn't any on that side. Super.   Mike, the saint that he is, ended up climbing up to help me place my foot on the beam and from there I was able to climb down.  When I finally reached the ground I wanted to vomit or do a jig, but mostly vomit.  After a brief moment of thanks, we started jogging again.

We could hear the music from the finish line party, so we knew we were close to the end.  We finally met the 2 fire pits, but honestly, at that point, I had survived the wall so the fire didn't phase me. So we cleared the dangerous flames and made it to the second wall. Yeah, I'm not kidding. Luckily, this wall was lined with cargo nets.  I made it over without issue, surprisingly. From there you had to slip and slide down a mud hill.  It was actually quite fun.  My mom bruised a little, taking a running jump before her slide, but we all made it.  We reached the final obstacle - this cargo net thing that crossed a pool of mud.  The four of us scrambled across, passing other warriors in our final push for the finish.  We all crossed the finish line in the same second and the smile on my face was the only thing that told me I was still actually alive.

Sadly, this is not the end.  When you finish warrior dash, you are covered from head to toe in mud. They provide this handy "shower" area that consists of large fans spraying freezing water at you.  Standing in front of these fans feels like being stabbed by a million tiny knives while suffocating. It takes about 20 minutes in front of the fan to get all the mud off.  We gave up after 7.

Most of us donated our disgustingly muddy sneakers to a charity that the Warrior Dash supports that reuses soles of shoes, which was nice for two reasons: helping others and not having to deal with gross shoes. After we dried off and put on clean shirts, we enjoyed our "free" beer and listened to some live music before boarding the bus to go home.

Just some things that were left out.
1. I'm sure the people in the beginning of the day had a different experience.  By the time we ran, the track was awful, so if you are considering trying this, go for an early time.  With that said, I bet Sunday sucked.
2. Jackson's time was 40 minutes.  My chivalrous husband abandoned me and my mother, but who needs him anyway. Our overall time was 1 hour 4 minutes and some amount of seconds.
3.Costumes are a must. Honestly, if you are going to do this - go big or go home.  If I do this again next year, the group is planning on themed costumes.  There's a prize for the best ones too.
4.Bus drivers are saints. The ride back to our cars was worse than a 1st grade field trip. Drunken 30 -something men were being obnoxious as possible. It was amusing for a minute, but got old quickly.
5. Here are the pictures you've been waiting for (these are all on facebook)!!!

 So that's the story!! Enjoy!!

Until next time!

<3K

Friday, May 27, 2011

Who Rocks? Lou Rocs! Part 2 of the Worcester Diner Series

I ventured outside of my normal Shrewsbury Street area diner choices to check out the next installment of the Worcester Diner Series. Lou Rocs is on the out-skirts of Worcester (so much so that it is practically West Boylston, but Google confirms that it is actually in Worcester).  My cousin, Jen and her family LOVE this place.  She had been raving about it for months, so we picked a Sunday morning to battle the crowds and check it out.

This place is unbelievably popular.  From the exterior, it is a little deceptive.  A more recent addition masques the classic diner look that surprises you once you enter the building.  The newer section provides much need extra seating, but it bums the preservationist in me out to lose that classic store front.

There were 5 of us in our party, so we expected a bit of a wait.  My husband, Jackson took to antagonizing my cousin's 6-year-old son, Brayden, while I got the inside scoop on the menu from Jen and her husband Chris.  While there wasn't really a comfortable waiting area, it didn't feel awkward and to our surprise, they were able to seat use fairly quickly.

To my delight, we were placed in the older section of the diner, across from the classic twist top stools, where regulars have their coffee and chat with the cooks while they fry up their bacon, eggs and home-fries.  It's a snug area, but it's part of the diner charm.

I'm told that the omelets are to die for, but my choice was made for me when I saw cranberry walnut pancakes on the table. They were delicious.  The service was quick, friendly and attentive. Brayden had a blast, so they carry the kid friendly seal of approval.  Jackson's coffee cup was never empty, so it also receives the bottomless-mug seal of approval. Many diners have fallen short of the bar he sets when it comes to free coffee refills.

Warning: If you are a big fan of personal space, I'd look for a different place to dine. Lou Roc's is a cozy place that sometimes requires you to become well acquainted with your neighbor.  It's totally worth it though.

The portions are more than generous. The waitress was even kind enough to warn me that I really only wanted to order 1 or 2 pancakes, because the full stack would have been obscene.  Normally, this might bother me. I really do love food and probably could have, on a good day, finished the larger portion.  However, it was to the benefit of my thighs, waist, hips, tummy and bottom that I took her advice.  Even with the smaller portion, everyone left stuffed to the gills and smiling.

So my overall rating of Lou Roc's:  A great diner and lively atmosphere, but it isn't stealing the Boulevard's spot as reigning Worcester Diner.

Until next time!!!

<3 K

Friday, May 13, 2011

A gift certificate for a door and a suitini.

Two weeks ago (I know, I'm a blogging slacker), my bride-to-be, cousin, Jill and I embarked on a journey. This adventure had the two of us dodging traffic, traversing seas of ottomans, following mysterious yellow arrows, and riding freight elevators - luckily there was a free cocktail involved!  Jill was my date to the Worcester chapter of Dress for Success's annual Girls Night Out fundraiser at Rotman's furniture. 

Being the health conscious, active women we are, and by that I mean, because we were in a post-Panera guilt trip and the possibility of a cocktail or 3 left neither of us wanting to play designated driver, the two of us walked to Rotman's from my apartment.  The weather was nice, the company was pleasant, and a few of Worcester's finest lechers were honking and hollering at us unassuming girls walking down the street.  Oh, how I've missed honking season in Worcester.  If you haven't experienced this annual event, it's really eye-opening.  As soon as the weather gets nice, men of all ages and lacking any civility, give themselves a free pass to whistle, cat-call, and honk at any and all women out for a walk. Stay classy, Worcester. Another one of my epic tangents, but let's continue shall we?

We arrive at Rotman's about an hour after the start of the event.  It's pretty quiet in the front lobby. After a cursory glance, I walk over to the customer service desk to ask about the event, where the rep points at a sign right behind me... with balloons attached.... I didn't feel stupid, at all. We follow the balloons, winding our way through the store. Now, for those of you who have never shopped at Rotman's, the place is a maze.  It several floors of sprawling showroom. It's a child's wonderland with DO NOT TOUCH plastered all over the place.  There is no logic to it's layout, but don't worry there is a sales rep every 10 feet waiting to ask you if you need any help and point you in the right direction and walk you to the next rep and follow along a few feet after that. The customer service overkill was only further exacerbated by fact that these individuals were standing next to the signs for the event, also adorned with balloons marking the path and the HUGE YELLOW (I think... it has been two weeks) ARROWS lining the floor.  Oh the redundancy...

We finally arrive at the event location (having left our trailing entourage at the elevator doors) and paid our admission fee. It was a $30 per person donation to Dress for Success, a non-profit organization that provides interview suits, confidence boosts, and career development to low-income women.  I dig this cause and really admire it's mission, so I was happy to pay. With admission, you get access to several jewelry, clothing, and accessory vendors set up throughout the floor, your name entered into the raffle for a plentiful array of door prizes, and a Suitini, the designated cocktail of the evening. 

Jill and I decide to forgo browsing until we had a cocktail in hand.  We made our way to the bar (supplied and manned by KJ Baaron's - see earlier post) and asked for our Suitinis.  I assumed this was a themed cocktail for the event and pronounced this beverage as a "Suit-ini" -get it, suit as in business suit, as in Dress for Success- however, I stand corrected.  It is a Suite-ini -  I honestly thought they were stretching it a bit with that name UNTIL I tasted the drink and my lips puckered and eyes squeezed shut of their own accord due to the sickly-sweet flavor.  Needless to say, not my favorite drink.  So, we sipped gingerly, to say the least.

We browsed the vendors for a while. There were a lot of cute options: flip-flops with fascinators, some beijo bags, fine jewelry, funky clothes, tiffany-esque lamps, etc.  We weren't really looking for anything in particular, but I found at least a few things I wouldn't mind owning. After about 20 minutes we made our way back to the front because they were starting the raffle.  There were probably 25 items donated.  We listened and pouted as they called off each prize. 

We were chatting quietly when I heard the hostess call out, "A gift certificate for a door!" Jill had obviously heard it to because she was wearing the same baffled expression I was sure was plastered on my face. And then again we hear, "A gift certificate for a door!" Luckily, we didn't win that one, but we remained puzzled. They took a raffle break and we decided to wander to the few of the vendors we had missed on our first lap. I was soon drawn in by a cute dress hanging on one of the racks.  While I admired the outfit, I overheard the owner chatting with another customer. She said her shop was fairly new and located on Pleasant Street.  This seemed familiar to me.  My mother loves the new boutique on Pleasant Street called Adore'....oh man. Adore' = a door.  I laughed and told Jill of my revelation. She was also amused.  I introduced myself to the woman (whose name escapes me) and explained that my mother loves her shop.  She looked at me and said, "Oh my goodness, you are Mary Ellen's daughter! Congratulations! Your wedding pictures are beautiful!" ... yup. Thanks, Mom another random stranger has seen my wedding photos -awesome.

After a lovely chat with the owner of Adore', whose seen my wedding pictures and loves my mom, the raffles started up again.  Much to our surprise, Jill won! She is now the proud owner of a gift certificate for a manicure and facial at a local salon.  I am not a winner, but Jill's win was good enough for the both of us.  On the way out, Jill and I managed to some how decide to host a Stella and Dot Truck show fundraiser - the things I will agree to for a great necklace....  a fitting ending to a lovely evening.

It seemed like the fundraiser was a great success and all of the ladies had a blast. Well done, Worcester, but a word of advice - file the Suitini next to the Cosmo on the shelf of bad cocktail trends ;-)

Until next time....
<3 K

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Never thought I'd pick up decorating tips in a liquor store...

What is this? Two posts in one week?! Amazing! Honestly, this was supposed to be last week's post, but I chose to procrastinate. So here we go.

My very pregnant cousin, Jennifer, tipped me off about a Grand Tasting at KJ Baaron's on Saturday evening, April 16. Since she couldn't join me, for obvious reasons, I recruited my friend Sydney and her boyfriend, Jay to tag along.

I had never be to KJ Baaron's, but I've driven by it almost twice a day since I've moved back from Worcester.  It is right across the rotary from Union Station, an unbelievably central location in Worcester.  When we pulled in they offered free valet, but we chose to drive across the field that doubled as a parking lot and make a short trek back to the store.

Before we begin, I have to say, that KJ Baaron's has always caught my attention because of it's name.  I had a beloved cat, called KJ, for 17 years that I think of every time I drive by the sign.  I have to take this moment in honor of the late, great KJ (KJ =Kaithlyn and Joseph, since my mother was fed up after 20 minutes of my brother and me fighting over names for MY cat, but I digress).  KJ was a testament to her species.  She was an avid hunter (caught a cardinal on Christmas -still not sure how she managed that) and a skilled manipulator (she made a Bull Mastiff her bitch [heh heh... the dog was female, so this isn't entirely inappropriate] and convinced my father to share his ice cream sundaes with her). She is missed.  Anyway, this might be my longest tangent in this blog to date. Moving right along...

Upon entering the store, we were met my 2 greeters who handed out tasting glasses, a booklet of the available wines and instructions about the event.  There were over 20 tasting stations with an average of 5 wines a piece set-up throughout the store.  This place has tasting down to a science.  You are given a number on the top of your booklet - I was 67.  At each station, if you wanted to purchase one of the wines, you could just tell the rep your number and they would tag a bottle for you.  Magically, when you ended your evening at the register, all of the bottles you had tagged arrived waiting for you to purchase them without having to carry the bottles around.  Brilliant and very, very dangerous.

The three of us decided on a plan.  We were only tasting reds, since as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I'm not a big fan of white wine. We would work our way around in a specific order (which ended up being numerical, due to the flow of traffic) and we'd ask each wine rep to suggest a tasting order. Before reaching each table, we read all of the descriptions, so we could veto a wine beforehand if we knew we wouldn't be interested. Now, here's the kicker, there was a discount based on the number of bottles you purchased.  You maxed out at 20% from 12 bottles, so I knew going in I was leaving with 12... the question was, which were the lucky 12. (Jackson would have been a little upset if I went with my original goal of 24 bottles.  They tell me marriage is about compromise, so I decided 12 was fair.)

Two hours later, innumerable sips of wine, and some cheese and crackers later, I had my 12 bottles and a new favorite liquor store - called a package store or "packy" in Massachusetts. The tasting itself was a little overwhelming, with over 100 wines to choose from.  I found most of the reps to be helpful and personable.  I only encountered 2 reps that gave me the "wine snob" attitude.  Unfortunately, the first one I encountered was at the first station we stopped at (we started out of order, so I can't remember the station number). I really have a hard time dealing with these individuals. First of all, these people are salesmen, not enologists, not sommeliers, but salesmen. In fairness, I'm sure they have a pretty extensive background in wine, but for the life of me I can't understand how the intend to increase sales by 1) insulting, 2) demeaning, 3) ignoring their potential customers. Eye rolls do not sell wine, just saying.  I really enjoyed one of the wines, but based on this man's attitude, I decided not to buy a bottle.

On the flip side, there were some amazing reps.  A few told me the history of the vineyards, talked about decent pairings, and suggested other wines that were similar to those I was tasting.  Overall, I was really impressed by the service.  I was able to get some more information on Grenache wines, some insight into wines from Rioja, and learn a little more about how to determine decent blends. I really took a lot away from this tasting ... and not just bottles of wine.

My companions were particularly interested in the dessert wines.  While I enjoy dessert wines, I tend not to taste them and rarely ever buy them, but since they were interested, I decided to try a few.  I ended up buying this delicious dessert red (Syd and Jay bought 3 bottles) that I'm planning to serve with some dark chocolate at my next dinner party or to myself to brighten up a bad day.

What I enjoyed the most about KJ Baaron's was their decor. Hanging from the ceiling of the main room is a wine bottle chandelier.  It's awesome!  I grabbed the photo from their website.
I want one... which means I need to buy a condo so I can have one. This will have to be filed under "long-term goals" for now.

Their tasting room is stunning. It was packed when I was there, but from the website it looks like an elegant, calming space.  I've learned that it can be reserved for functions.  They have these great wine bottle lamps and a modern design that elevates KJ Baaron's from your average package store to a more professional and trendy environment. I copied this picture from their website as well.
Side Note: While I'm sharing long term goals, a friend recently sent me an email with these photos attached.  I'll definitely need one if I keep shopping at KJ Baaron's. (I can't credit the original owner of these photos, but I will if someone knows the owner.)



Amazing, right? I know.

Just one more fun fact about KJ Baaron's before I end.  During the tasting, I noticed they design custom wine gift baskets.  I happened to be in the market for a gift basket to donate to my family's fundraiser The Odgren's Kayer to Find a Cure 3rd Annual Dance! KJ Baaron's is arranging a beautiful basket for us to raffle off tomorrow night and is working on donating a gift certificate for us to raffle as well. Their staff has been unbelievably accommodating and I am very appreciative.

So, I'm now heavy 12 bottles of wine - at 20% off, a gift basket, and the need to purchase property.

Congrats KJ Baaron's you've tipped the scales in Worcester's favor.  Cheers!

Until next week!
<3 K

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You Can Dance If You Want To....

This blog will be one of the rare instances where I promote, rather than review, an event. Why? Well, it would be just plain rude of me to keep this Worcester gem a secret and cruel if I were to blog about it next week when you'd have to wait a whole year to experience this party. Since I would like to think that I am neither rude, nor cruel, I'm taking off my critic cap and trying my hand at advertising.

[Take this moment to envision me joining the cast of Mad Men: my Manhattan office decked out with Bauhaus inspired furniture and a fully stocked bar, I'm clad in Dior that would make Jackie O jealous, and I have Don Draper at my beck and call... okay, good, you've to the picture.]

Here are the specs:
The Odgren's Kayer to Find a Cure 3rd Annual Fundraising Dance
Friday, April 29
7pm EST
Pine Ridge Country Club
28 Pleasant St Oxford, MA
$10 - All proceeds go to Relay for Life

Now, it's no secret that my family (yes, I am promoting my family's fundraising event) knows how to throw a party.  The last year alone boasts three epic events - a Halloween Bash [costumes required], a New Year's Eve Extravaganza [buffet included], and to be completely shameless - one gorgeous wedding. When we throw a party, we go all out.  Here's what to expect on Friday night -in no particular order:
  • Music provided by Champagne Toast Entertainment - They'll have you dancing all night long! Find them on Facebook
  • Raffles that include:
    •  Red Sox tickets!!!!!!
    • Autographed Sports memorabilia 
    • Wine Baskets 
    • Electronics 
    • Quilts
    • Gift Certificates
  • Snacks on us! Chips, pretzels, etc.... snack donations from Walmart
  • Jen's Legen-wait for it- dary! Confetti Cake
  • A large and decently priced cash bar 
  • Dance offs
  • Photo ops
  • and much more
 The best thing is that this event is for a great cause.  Unfortunately, everyone has a loved one who has battled cancer.  Relay for Life is fighting to end that battle and find a cure for cancer. So, please join us for dancing and drinking in honor of kicking cancer's ass!  

Here's some photographic proof that this is a great party! (Photo's courtesy of my cousin's facebook page)





Be there!  

But if you can't, you can still make an online donation to our team at The Odgren's Kayer to Find A Cure
Until next week - when we'll be back to business as normal!
<3 K

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sunday Morning at the Boulevard - The Worcester Diner Series

A week or so ago, my very dear friend, Maria suggested that I do series on the diners of Worcester. Well Maria, this one's for you, kid...

On Sunday, I found myself up bright and early with not much going on.  Jackson had a fantasy baseball draft (this from the guy who just passed up tickets to opening day at Fenway...) and I didn't have plans until the afternoon.  I busied myself cleaning my apartment, which is honestly a constant item on my to-do list. When I'd made a significant dent in the project, I decided to scavenge for some breakfast food.  Talk about a wasted effort. We didn't have anything that even resembled breakfast food... okay a slight lie, but if I eat any more oatmeal, I might turn into the Quaker Oats guy. Anyway, I found myself without an appealing breakfast option and decided I needed to remedy the situation. Instead of being a responsible adult and using my free time to grocery shop, I determine the much better plan was to call Maria, pull her away from her Graduate thesis work and entice her to meet me at the Boulevard for chocolate chip pancakes.  Let's just say, I really had to twist her arm to get her to agree.

The Boulevard Diner is located on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester was established in 1936 - so bonus points for being historic.  The exterior is an old club car design, with a red and white awning and neon lights for the late-night crowd.  I have to admit that this is the first time I've been to the Boulevard in the daylight.  My normal Sunday morning at the Boulevard is normal in the wee hours of the morning, after frequenting some of the other establishments on Shrewsbury Street.  The place is hopping late at night, I've often had to wait in line for seating at 2 a.m. and there is rarely parking without a bit of a walk after midnight on any weekend. It's also a great place to meet really interesting (ie. drunk) individuals who are just as enthusiastic as I am about food ... heh. But, no matter what the hour, the cheery staff of the Boulevard welcome patrons with a hello and a cup of coffee.  (God bless their smiles at 3 a.m., I always leave a big tip, because they put up with a lot.) Inside you have the choice of a booth or the "bar" which is right at the grill with those twisty stools that can keep kids (or me) occupied for hours. Maria and I opted for a booth this time.

 Photo Credit: Elizabeth Thomsen - Panoramio

At the Boulevard, you don't get a personal menu, you read the sprawling list of possible options above the grill. However, you don't necessarily have to order for the menu, just ask what you are considering and it's possible they'll have it or be able to make it - which also gets bonus point because this makes me feel like a celebrity or VIP.  They're pretty fantastic in that regard.  Being a greasy spoon diner, you'd think that you ought to stick to the breakfast items, but the food is solid across the board.  It's all artery-clogging good (no weight watchers friendly options and Vegans should just keep walking [I'll review EVO soon for that crowd]) and the portions are heaping.  A local favorite is their Italian toast, which I would equate more to a loaf of bread, grilled in what seems like pure butter. The chocolate chip pancakes are my go-to selection, but this time I ordered a breakfast sandwich - bacon, egg and cheese on a grilled bagel..  So delicious. Maria ordered the 3-egg breakfast.  It comes with toast (she opted for the italian) and home-fries and to drink - a hot chocolate topped with a mountain of whipped cream, delightful!  You can't beat the prices.  The facebook page says it all.  Entrees range from $0-$10, accessible to any budget.

While there, I overheard a family who were connoisseurs of diners. They'd traveled from Pennsylvania and just had to stop at "the Famous Boulevard." It's no surprise that the Boulevard is a prominent stop on "diner's of the North East" tours.  It's got quiet a reputation for excellence.  Just from a quick Google search it turns out my humble (hehe) blog will now join the ranks of some extremely popular food blogs that have reviewed the Boulevard.

The Boulevard is a Worcester treasure and is definitely tipping the scales in the city's favor.  It's part one in my series of competing Worcester diners and I am totally up for the challenge! Any one want to join me for breakfast?

<3 K