Biking to Beat MS

(via the warden ettinger group)

While I am always hesitant to share the same information on the majority of my social media sites, when it comes to spreading awareness about, and demonstrating support of, life-altering causes, such as multiple sclerosis, I feel compelled to reach out to as many audiences as possible. I hope that you will find this Bike MS: City to Shore spotlight informative and inspiring, and that you too, will help spread the word. I dedicate this effort to all of your friends living with MS, as well as one of my own. To quote Ian Harris, interviewed in the story, “Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating disease.”

Rockport, MA: Worth the Visit

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I’ve always found that the best cure for the end of summer blues is to plan a fall getaway. Living on the East Coast provides ample options in every direction, but year after year, my mind wanders toward New England where ever-changing seascapes, vibrant foliage, and soothing eats deliver unrivaled comfort. (Hudson Valley’s Mohonk Mountain House also fills my fall-getaway fantasies, however it’s a bit less budget friendly than cozying up in an off-season, off the beaten path bed and breakfast.) And now that I’ve discovered Rockport, Massachusetts, I have a new destination to add to my great escape daydreaming.

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Those familiar with Rockport, Maine, might attest to this renown spot as being more noteworthy than its southern counterpart, but take away Andre the Seal, and Rockport, MA stands tall as an equally charming harbor town. (It’s also closer to Philly; just an hour north of Boston.)

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Along with numerous art galleries, there’s a vibrant music and arts scene. Motif No. 1, pictured above, is apparently the most-painted and photographed building in the world, and the Shalin Liu Performance Center delivers a diverse soundtrack of jazz, folk, chamber, pop and world music to locals and tourists all summer long. The image below a hard image to capture, but hopefully you can get a feel for how pretty this seaside music venue is. 2013’s lineup included Judy Collins, Suzanne Vega, Branford Marsalis, Paula Cole (born and bred) and several other contemporary and legendary artists.

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On a trivia note, Rockport is the site of several feature films, including Mermaids (1990) and The Proposal (2009). One of the town’s kitschy shops, R3 Sons Fun Emporium, proudly sports an autographed photo of Sandra Bullock among its eclectic inventory (including this life-size Gumby).

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Visiting this picturesque coastal town with my 14-year-old son made for a different experience than I might have had with my husband or girlfriends, but we still managed to cover the most important details: seafood, candy, coffee, hot cocoa and a sweatshirt. The weather was perfect for indulging in comfort food (65 degrees and rainy), and because it was a weekday, parking near, and strolling along, the main drag was stress-free. Had we not been staying nearby at my niece’s seaside cottage—and her daughter not shown up with a bagful of candy from the Bearskin Neck Country Store—we might not have made the trek. This legendary tourist attraction gives new meaning to the expression, “Like a kid in the candy store.” Side note: The store also sells just about every kind of cookie cutter imaginable.

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A progressive aroma of handmade chocolate, strudel, and fresh, steamed and fried fish, trailed down Bearskin Neck (the main shopping area), setting our appetites on fire. My son wanted Italian, but the only acceptable meal to me was going to come from a fryer or a steamer. Luckily, the place he’d read about was no longer in business, so swaying him to my side of New England eats was only a half-battle.

Hitting the candy store beforehand also helped. If you’re traveling with kids and not against a little candy consumption, you’ll realize there’s no getting out of this place empty-handed.

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We’d luxuriously dined on local lobster (at a paltry $5.99/pound) the night before, so despite the display of crustaceans and other fish at The Roy Moore Lobster Company—the house special is just-plucked lobster cooked in seawater—I kept walking.

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As soon as we stepped inside Top Dog, recommended to us by one of the shopkeepers, my heart skipped a beat. The tiny eatery pleasantly reeked of taboo foods—French fries, onion rings, mac & cheese, chili, hot dogs and fried fish—a devilish fragrance only made possible by good quality frying oil, a light coating of corn meal or seasoned flour, and a perfectly calibrated temperature somewhere between 350 and 375.

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I didn’t waste any time ordering the most expensive item on the menu—the day’s catch of whole-belly longneck clams. Plumper and full of ocean flavor, these decadent morsels had a juicy pop that when mingled with the crunchy coating and creamy tartar sauce, sent my taste buds into sensory overload.

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Leaving any of these tasty tidbits in the cardboard container was out of the question (especially at $16.99), but my belly was no match for these bellies. If you do one thing in Rockport, stuffing yourself with full-belly clams at Top Dog is it.

Had I done more research about the town’s sightseeing offerings, I would have detoured into The Paper House (a house and furnishings made completely out of paper), but there’s enough to see without doing (or spending) too much. In our rainy day laze, we were happy as clams meandering up and down Bearskin Neck and Main Street, ducking down random stairways, sneaking peeks at hidden gardens, winding up and down the spiral staircase at Toad Hall Book Store, and ogling over the gourmet food items and cooking/entertaining gear at Lulu’s Pantry. (Don’t be fooled; my son only cared about the dried pasta selection.)

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Though we were just biding time till the clouds broke and we could get out onto the beach, our ill-researched, touristy adventure proved to be very satisfying. Now that I know more about Rockport, I have a hankering to go back for a few days and explore not just more of the main town, but also Halibut State Park, Thatcher’s Island and the many other attractions. More than anything, though, I’d love to take in a concert at Shalin Liu. What could be better than a live music performance set against the sea? (Well, maybe an opera at San Galgano, but that’s a whole other blog…)

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tweeting for a good cause

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Tomorrow is the final leg of United Way Bucks County’s “Buck’s Knocks Out Hunger” campaign. Between 10AM – 1:30PM, volunteers will be packing meals at Ann’s Choice Community Room. The goal is to pack at least 64,000 meals (a meal for every person in Bucks County who is currently “food insecure”) during those hours.

Last Friday, this post went up on the organization’s blog. At this point, I do not have a current tally of funds raised, but based on the nation’s hunger statistics and recent SNAP cuts, this is surely going to be an ongoing effort.

You can help tomorrow in one very simple way: tomorrow, between 10AM – 1:30PM, retweet the #BKOHunger tag when you see it pop up in your feed. Certainly, if you support any local pantry or hunger advocacy group, you’re encouraged to tag them as well. Fighting hunger is a global effort, and every voice (and RT) helps.

I’ll be tweeting remotely about the packing, so if you see something you like, please take a second to hit that retweet tab on your computer or mobile device. The organization has done a great job creating buzz and arranging positive PR opportunities, such as getting legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins to come by on Friday. If you want to stay on top of this creative and ambitious campaign, Facebook is another good resource.

family-friendly grilled pizza five ways

Realized that I was sitting on some pretty tasty recipes over here on the day gig’s blog, so I decided to share the deliciousness. As you’ll read, this post was originally part of a virtual dinner party experiment by a group of Philly Social Media Moms bloggers. There are a number of interesting, easy-to-prepare and family-friendly recipes to click through, so enjoy. And, if you’re up for a virtual dinner party and have room at the “table,” I would be thrilled to join in the fun.

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This “special feature” post is part of a unique blog collaboration celebrating a passion for breaking bread &, uh, Internet speed (affectionately dubbed, a “perfectly progressive virtual dinner party”). Ready, set, go… start your appetites for family-friendly grilled pizza—five ways. (Photo courtesy of MarthaStewart.com)

Looking for something simple to prepare the next time you’re entertaining your tots to teens-toting friends or family? Grilled pizzas are the way to go. Relatively inexpensive (well, unless you’re into artisan or organic ingredients, which if you’re a Philly foodie is very likely), healthy and easy to prepare (we won’t tell if you use store-bought dough!), it’s a safe bet everyone in the house—or backyard—will be fighting over that last slice.

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Making the dough is the toughest part of the prep, but it is a worthy endeavor. Plus, the whole family can get involved. (Just don’t forget to make two days ahead.) There are a…

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philARThropy – artists take social action in philly

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Generally speaking, I have a lot of positive things to say about Philadelphia, especially regarding social action. Though many of us are still cringing over recent budget cuts to city schools, organizations such as First Person Arts are giving us reason to keep the faith. Which is a good thing, because you can’t legitimately call yourself The City of Brotherly Love if you’re not actually promoting community advocacy.

Later today, Philadelphians will have a chance to witness real-time social change at Philly reACTS’ debut event, “The Heart Beneath The Hood.” A collaborative, creative approach to addressing major current events, Philly reACTS is a new initiative by First Person Arts, a non-profit arts organization that transforms the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art experiences.

Driven by newsworthy events, such as the Trayvon Martin case, which is the focus of tonight’s kickoff event and premiere program, Philly reACTS combines live performance art, personal storytelling and interactive audience activities with a collaborative art project (in this case, crafting a flag out of donated hoodies, a symbol of a community united for peace and forward momentum) to keep important causes and issues front-and-center. And, to do it in a safe, unprejudiced environment.

It’s not just about Trayvon Martin, but also about what we should do now, in Philadelphia and beyond.

Organizers also hope to send a message to participants, as they move through each stage of Philly reACTS programs, that there is enormous power in speaking up, and out, in a unified voice.

“The Trayvon Martin verdict stung the Black community with a sadly familiar venom. It also strengthened and unified a multi-cultural, multi-generational group of Americans who share the same vision of justice, value all human life regardless of color or creed and who want to look beyond the hoodie. Through our first Philly reACTs, First Person Arts seeks to bring together a group of artists and community members to lend its unique voice to this dialogue.”

—First Person Arts’ Executive Director, Jamie J. Brunson

I don’t know the status the hoodie collection, as it’s just been a few days since the program was launched, but as hoodies are also being requested to share with partnering organizations, it’s unlikely your contribution will be turned away.

Tonight’s event takes place at 5:30pm in the courtyard of City Hall.

Click here to learn more about both Philly ReACTS and First Person Arts. And, since community involvement is so critical to the success of initiatives such as this one, please share related information on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and anywhere else you think fellow Philadelphians will take interest. Don’t forget to use #PHILLYreACTS. I won’t be able to make it out, but I expect to see coverage on the local news (hint, hint media outlets).

new blogging creds

ShopMoxie:

I was thrilled to receive a very supportive and enthusiastic email from ShopMoxie founder Tom Tovar regarding the site’s Bloggers Get Local Program and (cartwheels) my joining on as a blogger. I was particularly excited because he said some very nice things about my writing, my past experience, and was surprisingly kind about my just starting a new blog (this one!) and not having all the appropriate rankings.

Probably what impressed me the most, was that he took the time to review the writing samples that I’d sent, and my social media sites for background information. Another fellow blogger received a similarly thoughtful email, and expressed sentiments much like mine. When you’re sending things out into cyberspace, it’s very hard to know if and how they’re being received when there’s no reply. The time I spent compiling information was well worth the effort, and I may be one of the lead-off guest bloggers on top of the shop local component.

Small stuff to some, but since I recently decided to see what I could make happen in the blogging universe, this is a great start.

No Kid Hungry:

I also recently became part of the No Kid Hungry/Share our Strength blogger team, and this is equally exciting. I am very serious about my commitment to helping end hunger locally and globally, and it is an honor to be associated with a renown and hardworking organization that is hell-bent on making change happen around the world. So far, I have been a better tweeter than a blogger for the cause, but I’ve only just gotten started. Stay tuned. Oh, and check out my cool badge on the sidebar menu—proudly displayed.

welcome to my latest project

tomato lust—and lament

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So after running up and down the East Coast three times over the course of two weeks, I finally returned home to seven not-so-thriving tomato plants. Now, I didn’t have high hopes, because here in my neck of the Philly woods, the weather during the spring and early summer was not the most favorable. We had lots of rain, which I actually appreciated and even lamented not bucking up and outfitting my yard with some of the shrubs and trees on my wish list. But, temperatures fluctuated from super cold, to super hot, to super wet, then super hot and finally super cold before getting, you guessed it… super hot.

Without me being home to supplement my tomatoes—this year planted in pots, a practice that has rewarded me with wonderfully flavorful, and abundant crops for the past couple of years—I lost an opportunity to give them a much-need nutrient boost to spur those promising yellow blossoms.

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Now that August is here, reality is setting in: My tomatoes are a flop.

At least I can shrug it off as not putting enough time and energy into caring for my dear plants, rather than bumming out about how hard I worked for the same result. And, the truth is, there are plenty of resources for yummy tomatoes wherever I turn.

Just the other day, I purchased two large green quart containers of locally grown heirloom tomatoes. All week, we’ve been slicing, chopping, halving and forking into our mouths, a colorful and juicy array of odd-shaped tomatoes, all perfectly ripe and worth the mere $3.99/quart I paid for them. (Thank you, Wegman’s.) The photo above is an oldie but goodie from Jack’s Farm.

Hopefully, you’ve had better luck than me this season, and are proudly displaying your daily harvest to dinner guests, dressed up in basil chiffonade, balsamic and EVO, slivers of garlic, chunks of feta or thickly-sliced buffalo mozzarella. I am envious, but I am far from deprived. And, I am already refreshing my head with different recipes that will showcase this coveted, seasonal fruit from now through mid-September.

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My favorite way to eat tomatoes are chunky, in wide bowl, with fresh, ripe avocado pieces, sweet summer corn off the cob, red onion, buffalo mozz, also chunky, accented with salt, pepper, minced garlic, fresh basil, EVO and lemon juice. Second favorite, is as bruschetta, with LOTS of finely minced garlic, salt, pepper, basil, EVO and just a wee bit of balsamic—served on crusty, grilled sourdough bread that’s been brushed with additional EVO and rubbed with garlic cloves after being grilled. Any leftovers, goes right into a bowl of linguine the next day.

Then of course there’s fried tomatoes… green being the best, of course, but if you choose underripe tomatoes, cut your slices thick enough, and drain them on a paper towel for a bit, you can make some very tasty tomato slices to go with a side of scrambled eggs with chives and crumbled goat cheese. (That grilled bread goes down quite well with this combination.)

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Stuffed tomatoes are surprisingly a hit with my kids. Just cut the top of, scoop out the insides (save for that bruschetta), and fill with a mixture of sautéed baby kale and spinach, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, sautéed onions and garlic, chopped kalamata olives (these, the kids do NOT like) and a few coarsely cut pieces of artichokes—all tossed together with good quality EVO and topped with breadcrumbs that have first been mixed with a little Kerrygold herb butter. This dish makes a fantastic accompaniment to butterflied leg of lamb (drooling just thinking about that beautiful pink on the inside, charred on the outside, sweet and juicy meat) or a whole roasted (or grilled) bronzino, red snapper, or butterflied whole grilled chicken seasoned with Greek spices. (I have an amazing recipe for this that I promise to dig up and post.) The preparation is called “spatchcock” and is one of those superb entertaining recipes that leaves your guests feeling like you put in a lot more effort than how it actually went down.

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At this point, you probably have gathered that I am not a cook bound by recipes. In fact, I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook, who luckily, gets away with it more times than not. So if you’ll bear with me, I will dig up some delicious recipes for you to test out over this final month of summer, and I hope that you will share a few with me in return. For now, here’s a stash of tomato recipes that I borrowed from one of my favorite resources, Huffington Post (@HuffPostTaste).

I hope that you enjoy, and more so, that you’ll come back and see what else is cooking. Oh and by the way, I just made a kicka*@ dinner in about 35 minutes just by going shopping in my fridge, freezer and pantry.

Not the best photo, but extra delicious with oven-roasted asparagus on top.

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tagliatelle with pan-grilled chicken, shrimp and red onion; tossed with browned garlic chunks, fresh basil, lemon juice, Poggio Etrusco olive oil (from last year’s honeymoon!) homemade crushed red pepper flakes (my friend makes the best) and shaved manchego cheese.

If you want to learn how to cook “by the seat of your pants,” I can help you out. Though I can handle the more formal techniques and preparations, with five kids and a job, it’s often a last-minute dash to the dinner finish line. My secret: a well-stocked pantry. We’ll talk about that someday too. Thanks for tuning in.

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