Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wonders Will Unfold

Today, I had to see an orthopedist to finally get my left knee checked out and I've been a little nervous all week. I did something to it in my last qualifying 15K race back in December and it's been causing me pain since. My most recent run was only two miles before I couldn't stand the pain anymore. I've never ever had issues anywhere while running so I made the appointment to finally get it looked at. Eyes and knees are two things that I won't ever mess around with and, since we're approaching April, I thought it was high time to see the doctor. On an ironic side note, I sent in my guaranteed marathon registration today which is kinda funny timing.

At any rate, I was referred to the doctor through a friend and he's actually a doctor for the NYC ballet which right away is a big plus. He was fantastic. He took x-rays and thankfully there is no bone damage but, from the area where there's the most tenderness and pain, he thinks it might be either a meniscal tear or stress fracture. There's a considerable difference between how tight my left and right IT bands are as well which isn't helping. Boo on that. I'm scheduled for an MRI this Friday and I go back to the doctor in two weeks to see how some anti-inflammatory medication I have to take is doing.

I'm explaining all of this because I have a huge tendency to work myself up before I have concrete answers to something. I haven't felt this way in a while but there are two things that mean the world to me - cooking and running. I've worked so hard to qualify for the marathon this year and, if anything were to hinder my running it, I would be devastated. So, I had to exercise some patience today in reminding myself not to freak out. Instead, I must be so glad there isn't bone damage and look on the bright side of finding out what's wrong. I got back to the office and read the following devotion and I just thought it was awesome. Maybe someone else will, too:

Wonders Will Unfold

I am with you. Do not fear. Never doubt my love and power. Your heights of success will be won by the daily persistent doing of what I have said.

Daily, steady persistence. Like the wearing away of a stone by steady drops of water, so will your daily persistence wear away all the difficulties and gain success for you, and secure your help for others.

Never falter, go forward so boldly, so unafraid. I am beside you to help and strengthen you. Wonders have unfolded. More still will unfold, beyond your dreams, beyond your hopes. Say 'all is well' to everything. All is well.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Holy Moly, I'm 31?!

Did anyone see where 2010 went? I can't seem to grasp that a year, specifically related to my birthday, has passed by so fast. I feel like I literally just turned 30 but nope, it's time for me to embrace 31.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly or who is very close to me knows that this past year has been full of unbelievable experiences. It seems clear that I'm well on my way down the career path I've chosen but I've also been on a personal journey of 'self-discovery' that's been amazing, as well. I've really grown (and continue to grow!) into the woman I want to be and god has been ever so faithful in refining who I am as a person. Sometimes it's hard for me to relate to who I was even a few years ago and I take that as the strongest sign of progress in my life. I don't even feel the need to explain that anymore because my heart has simply changed and that's that. I don't need to qualify it. I can just say that it's a glorious thing to see life through a different lens and I wonder how I could ever have lived differently before.

Turning 31 excites me. I don't fear getting older in the slightest because I'm leaving behind an immaturity element in my life that feels great. I really look so forward to seeing how the next two years unfolds for me because they're going to be pretty defining in a bunch of ways. So, while I couldn't re-live the incredible celebration I had for my 30th, I had a fabulous time with a very small group of close friends. It was just what I wanted; intimate, meaningful and relaxed.

We all met at Spitzers for a few beers before which was, um, interesting. It's completely turned into a frat house there and not the cool, unassuming local spot I remember it being. Ohhh, lower east side, how you continue morphing into such a trust fund hipster community. I kept giggling thinking that there I was to celebrate turning 31 and I was easily 8 years old than the clientele. Who cares, we still completely enjoyed ourselves:
I have to note that this was sort of a joint celebration with Ben as he ran his very first half marathon that morning and rocked it coming in at 2:13. GO BEN! He's genuinely very happy here to have some beers, heehee:
After Spitzers, we headed over to Rockwood to see Robbie Gil which was really the true celebration. Yep, pretty sure you all feel like you know ol' Robbie personally after the amount of times I've written about him. He just gets better and better with each show and it was the perfect way to celebrate:
Best part of the show? Robbie wishing me a happy birthday on stage. That totally made my night and was just awesome. I love this photo and it'll be special to me for a long time:
We stuck around after Robbie's show to check out the tremendous Martin Rivas who wished me several more happy birthdays, as well! What a sweet guy he seems to be and I cannot wait to see more of him. Shameer had surprised me with a delicious chocolate mousse birthday cake which we totally shared with Martin on stage. :) Yum:
Martin doing his thing:
It was an unforgettable night shared with some of the people I love most. Yes, that includes you, Robbie. :P My parting gift was hanging onto Robbie's setlist for the night where, when he's one day famous, I can look back on it and remember my special birthday wish:
Somehow, he knew 'Big Picture' is one of my favorite songs too so a big happy 31st birthday to me! :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy 30th Birthday, Colleen!

I tell you what, I'm still smiling thinking back on my 30th birthday celebration last year. That will continue to be one of my favorite memories forever as it was such a special weekend for me. We all know I'm a huge birthday person so I jump at any chance to celebrate someone I love on their special day. This past Saturday, a fabulous group of women got together to celebrate our sweet friend, Colleen, as she turned the big 3-0.

I was already on a huge high coming off of my day at Hearth so I was totally excited and ready for an awesome night. I met everyone at Colleen's apartment for drinks as soon as I could get home and change out of kitchen gear. Let me just say that might have been the best cocktail I've ever had when I was finally able to sit down and relax after such an adrenaline filled afternoon. Thanks for that, Suzanne! At any rate, we hung out for a bit before heading down to Freemans for what would be a truly amazing dinner. Colleen has a fun chalk wall in her apartment too that I love for nights like this:
Yay! :)

I completely love Freemans so I kinda felt like this dinner was as much a treat for me as it was Colleen. It's funky, a bit eccentric and totally delicious. She had reserved the wine room which is just so cozy and warm. You actually dine amongst their wine collection and it's candlelit and lovely. Colleen got to "design" the menu and pick some of her favorite things and then we chose between three entrees:
Giving up bread and pasta for lent did not stop me from eating that artichoke dip with a fork, either. It is so rich and delectable and it's making me drool thinking about it right now. I'd been looking forward to that part the most, heehee.

It wasn't just the food that was tremendous; it was the group. Over the years, I've gotten to know a great deal of Colleen's friends and several of these women have become my friends, too. I think it's a complete testament to a person when they're able to mix a group of strangers together knowing all the while that everyone will get along. I'm fortunate to have come so far in my relationship with Colleen and it's been a joy to meet and get to know some of the other terrific women in her life. This especially includes her sister, Christina, who came in from Denver to join us. Dinner was full of laughter and true deserved happiness to celebrate Colleen:
Truly intimate and special evening:
Happy 30th, sweet friend! Yippee:
We went for drinks at Macondo afterward which was just as great. I tried a Brazilian black beer which I still cannot seem to pronounce:
Spectacular evening, truly. Here's hoping that your 30's start off as amazing as mine have, Colleen. Love to you!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day One In The Hearth Kitchen

This is going to be a very tough post to write because I don't really know how to capture everything I feel in words. First off, I'd written about my tremendous dinner at Hearth a couple of weeks ago and how I had the sincere pleasure of meeting Chef Marco Canora. In my post, I outline the fact that he offered the unique and priceless opportunity of trailing or "interning", for lack of a better word, in the Hearth kitchen. I must admit, I didn't think he was serious. I'd gotten the proper contact information for George Kaden, chef de cuisine, before I left that night and had every intention of calling, I just kept thinking there's no way this guy is for real. I called a few days after to schedule the trail but ended up leaving a message for George. I didn't want to be obtrusive so I decided to wait a couple of more days to follow up.

In the interim, I'd gone on to that post mentioned above with the intention of sending it to my brother and sister-in-law since I hadn't yet told them about meeting Chef Marco. I noticed there were comments left and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this very kind post:

Hi Valerie,

Great post--I just posted it to Chef Marco's facebook page! Thanks again for your visit, and we can't wait for you to join our family for a few days.

Hearth and Terroir

Um, WHAT?! Of course I dropped what I was doing and looked up his Facebook page and there it was, my blog entry posted to his wall with this lovely added note: Check out Valerie's great blog post about her recent visit to Hearth--we look forward to her next visit and Marco's challenge. People, I'm still pretty sure I had a mild heart attack right then. I felt so humbly thrilled that Suzanne would a) re-post my entry to Chef Marco's page and b) that she thought highly enough of what I wrote to do so. That is such an honor. I reached out to her to thank her and felt truly elated by that.

As if that wasn't enough, that same day (last Monday in fact), I called to follow up with George but guess who wanted to speak with me instead? Yep, Chef Marco. Um, WHAT again?!? Let me be clear too when I speak about how excited I am to have met him, etc. Yes, he is now a tv celeb and yes, he is a very big deal but I deeply respect him for his food and hard work, not because I got to watch him on Next Iron Chef or anything related. Don't get me wrong, it's a huge thrill to meet and talk with a man who is as well known as he is but I admire who he is as a chef far above his fame or noteriety. I admire him for the things I can learn from him. I admire him because he's real, genuine and completely dedicated. So, you can imagine my excitement when he remembered exactly who I was on the phone and when he confirmed me joining them in the kitchen on Saturday. Holy crapola. Definitely didn't cry when I got off the phone nor did I freak out. Nope, not me...

Come Saturday, I couldn't wait to get there. It was so cute because I got "walked to school" and Allison took this photo, heehee: 
I was so thrilled for this gracious opportunity and, when I stepped foot in the Hearth kitchen, my nerves immediately vanished. The familiarity of a restaurant family came back to me in a blink and I felt at home. My years of waiting tables were really combined with a lot of kitchen stuff because I was very good friends with our executive chef, John, during my five years at Houston's. I was constantly back in the kitchen watching him, asking questions, helping him - I mean, it's nuts to me that it didn't click before now that I want to be a chef. While I have never cooked on the line myself, I've been fully exposed to each aspect of it and I'm quite familar with what goes into it. I've always loved the restaurant world and the adrenaline that comes with it. You can't really explain it to anyone if they haven't experienced it much like I can't understand what it's like to be an ER doctor or the like. I can only say there's nothing like it and experiencing it from the kitchen side vs. serving was thrilling. I worked hard during the day and did my best to be efficient and truly helpful to everyone. Here's a quick glance into the kitchen starting with George:
Adam, who was very helpful and nice to me:
 Yoshi working hard:
Meeting George and the rest of the Hearth team was fantastic and those guys just know what they're doing, period. Chef Marco came in as well and talking with him again was terrific, of course. I worked from 2:00pm til a little after 7:00pm and I loved every second. The best part is that George has graciously extended the offer to return and I plan on it just as soon as I can clear my schedule for another day. I can't thank everyone at Hearth enough for warmly welcoming me into the kitchen and I am ecstatic to go back and work even harder.

One of the best parts of the day was meeting Suzanne and giving her a hug, simply thanking her for being so kind to a stranger. She enhanced this experience for me because of how nice she was before I even went in there and that seems to be so rare (sadly!) these days. I look forward to seeing her again in addition to the kitchen team.

I'm still on a high today from my experience. This is a huge and very serious deal to me and I intend on working hard to where I can become a true asset to the Hearth family. What a fabulous and invaluable experience even one day was so I cannot wait to spend more time there. Thank you Suzanne, Yoshi, Adam, Fisher, Mike, Chef George and of course, Chef Marco. You are all simply great and I look forward to seeing you again, soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Love St. Patrick's Day!

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in feeling like St. Patrick's Day is just so much fun. I don't know why but I've loved and celebrated it to the fullest as far back as I can remember. I gave myself a good giggle posting some old photos like this below on friends' Facebook walls yesterday:
Man, we look like babies! That was six years ago in Atlanta and, as a side note, I love that all of us in that photo are even closer now than we were then. :) 

Anyway, I've always had such fun celebrating St. Patty's and I laugh out loud thinking of certain memories in the past. This year, I decided to take a slightly different and more "adult" approach to celebrating by having a casual Irish dinner party at my apartment. I invited my ladies over last night for some homemade shepherds pie and cabbage with white beans. Irish food isn't exactly the most elegant in nature but I don't care, I completely love rustic 'earthen' food like that. I originally planned to make corned beef and cabbage but Allison told me she doesn't like corned beef, boo! I make a really great quick shepherds pie though so I decided on that only I did the "long" version with homemade mashed potatoes and all. When the girls arrived, I greeted them with prosecco that I'd dyed green which might have been my favorite part of the meal, heehee:
I'm not patting myself on the back but dinner was delicious. For as much as I love food of vastly different variety, sometimes I think I was meant to be a traditional 'meat and potatoes' gal. There's just something about that combo that is so simple, honest and soulful. For an Italian, I think I did a nice job of being Irish for a day:
For dessert, I baked homemade Baileys sugar cookies. Um, they were freaking delicious. As usual, however, my lack of baking skills came into play when I tried to dye the dough green only to have it come out an oddly greenish brown color, hahaha. They may not be attractive but they were so delicious:
I used this recipe on and took the advice of the reviewers in doubling the amount of Baileys. I also cut the recipe in half since I surely didn't need to bake freaking 48 cookies and it worked like a charm. I very highly recommend this recipe which is awesome since so often you don't really know how certain baked goods will turn out the first time around (or if someone named Valerie Albanese is baking them).

It was such a fun night with my very favorite women. We laughed so hard and talked about everything under the sun. Next thing we knew, it was after midnight and I'm pretty sure we were buzzed off the cookies alone. :-o I hope everyone else had as great of a St. Patty's celebration as we did!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'm Becoming One Of "Those" Brunchers

I've never been a big brunch person aside from when I lived with my best friend, Erica. She and I honestly morphed into the same person while living together, I'm convinced. My favorite thing about her is that she loves food every bit as much as me and our thoughts on how much happiness food provides are identical. Let's just say that this made for a lot of eating and drinking during our time as roommates.

Whenever I think of brunch, I think of her and I love those memories. One of our very favorite places back in Atlanta is the oh so simple yet fabulous Goldberg's. It's nothing fancy but they have killer food and do the most amazing homemade granola (even if it may or may not have an odd hint of garlic...). Goldberg's turned me into a brunch person mainly because the food you get is something you wouldn't do at home and it's delicious unlike so many weak places I've gone, even in this city, that serve me eggs for $20 that I could do far better myself. At any rate, there's been a huge rise here with restaurants doing these "unlimited mimosa/bloody mary" brunches with the purchase of an entree so going to brunch has suddenly become a bit more intriguing to me. This month alone, I got three consecutive Sunday brunch dates on the calendar and I've been loving it. Ever since having Bar Boulud's ridiculous croque monsieur, I suddenly have this urge to try as many new places as I can, ha!

I was at Locanda Verde a couple of weekends ago which was just delicious. I had the soft scrambled eggs over crostini with prosciutto and we got fresh squeezed blood/naval orange-pomegranate mimosas:
Gosh, I take terrible pictures. Good thing eating this stuff doesn't rely on that. :P My only complaint is that the portion was just so small. I have a huge appetite and, for what we paid, I feel I should've gotten much more than that. They don't even do a bread basket or anything which is rather disappointing. However, again, the food was fabulous and to have the only complaint be that I wanted more of it seems pretty darn good to me.

Brunch this past weekend was at a new joint that opened up in my neighborhood called MXco. I'd been once prior but only for drinks (watermelon margaritas!) which were fantastic. I've gotten so pissed off about so many places here where the service and management is just flat out rude and acts as though you're an inconvenience. After waiting tables for 8 years and doing my best to make people feel welcome, I can tell you that it infuriates me to deal with snotty service staff. At MXco, they honestly could not be nicer. The greeter, the server, the manager, the bartender...every single person we encountered was wonderful and the food totally exceeded my expectations. I got the breakfast burrito which seemed so simple comprised of eggs, black beans, cheese, tomato, and bacon but it was perfectly balanced and well done. There were five of us dining and all of us truly enjoyed the experience, enough to move to the bar after for a couple of more cocktails. ;) For $10 (with drinks only at $5!), you can bet I'll be frequenting this spot especially with it being so close to my apartment. 

Yep, I've officially become one of "those" brunch people and I'm slowly getting addicted. Next up this weekend is Gusto and I'm SO excited for it. I've only had lunch there but it was to die for so we'll see how brunch measures up! All I can say is cinnamon-ricotta fritelle. Yep, I'll be going to town on that I can guarantee.

Friday, March 11, 2011

SIG Training Begins!

I think I'll take a break from talking about chefs, food and restaurants for a bit and turn instead to another passion of mine - cycling! Back in 2009, I got a fabulous road bike complete with clipless pedals and the whole nine. At that point, I'd never been on a road bike, much less while being clipped in, so my first few rides were most certainly very rocky. I may or may not have fallen down within the first 5 minutes of being on. I'm really lucky to live just a few blocks from Central Park so I can easily get up there to ride but it's honestly become so annoying. There are so many people in the park these days and now it's a law in NYC that all cyclists must stop at red lights. There are probably 10 or so lights around the 6 mile circumference of the park so that gets incredibly annoying to stop, clip out, wait and resume. The fine is something like $275 though so I would just be pissed off if I had to pay this city another dime than I already do. Sooo, needless to say, riding in the city has become extra aggravating but I'm just not advanced enough quite yet to go out of the city on my own.

I've written about NY Cycle Club before but I'll just mention again what a tremendous group of people lead it. I've been to a couple of meetings and met some really wonderful folks who are so welcoming and sweet. Last year, I had read about their SIG program, short for Special Interest Group, and it's basically like a cycling college, if you will. There are three levels and it's designed to take a solo rider from the ground up and train them in group riding along with all the tiny details of bike maintenance and the like. I'm solid on the bike now and my fitness level is high but I know nothing about changing a flat, fixing a dropped chain, riding in a group; any of the nitty gritty stuff that makes up the cycling world. While I'm a runner at heart, I absolutely love being on the bike and I've conquered some personal hurdles because of it. There's a different relationship you have with the road when you're a runner vs. cyclist and I feel pretty lucky to see both worlds. Anyway, I'd missed the deadline to sign up for the SIG last year but I was sure to be one of the first to do so this year.

I decided to do the lowest level so I could be a part of learning all the small details of what I mentioned above. It's a rather large committment of 8 straight weeks every Saturday but I'm very excited to do this! Last Saturday morning was the classification ride for our group which was really so fun. It was just three laps of Central Park (a little over 18 miles) and then you wait a couple of weeks to hear which group you'll be in. I appreciate that they do this even amongst the lowest level because there are a fair amount of people who have a great fitness level but feel the same as I do. Basically, it'll be nice to ride with people at the same pace as you even in a lower level group. I got my bike all tuned up and was so excited to get back out on the road:
I had a fantastic ride and I definitely think my training sessions with Jimmy the past few months have boosted my endurance level big time. I'd been sick last week and that, coupled with not having been on the bike since last fall, I thought for sure I'd do some major huffing and puffing (especially up Harlem Hill!). That actually wasn't the case and I had a really strong ride. I surprised myself! Thanks for kicking my behind each and every week, Jimmy. ;)

I haven't heard what group I'm in yet but I look forward to getting that info soon. We officially start on Saturday, 3/26. Woooo! Hopefully, I'll have some fun adventures to share as we finally ride out of this crazy damn city. I can't wait to ride into some beautiful areas of Jersey and upstate NY, soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Path Is Being Carved

In the past few months, I've been seriously making my way through some incredible restaurants. I've been rather dedicated to trying as many new places as I can before life might lead me away from this amazing city. Around every turn, there is something new to eat or drink and I don't know why it's taken me so long to throw myself into experiencing as much as I can. In February alone, I tried over ten new places and each experience was just awesome.

Last week, I had the pleasure of being treated to dinner at Hearth, Marco Canora's incredible restaurant on 12th and 1st. Chef Canora has been very well established for a number of years but he most recently rose to the rank of "celebrity chef" as he competed on the 'Next Iron Chef' show. He lost by a very thin margin to Marc Forgione (whose restaurant I tried a week prior, in fact) but he's become even more well known now due to his television debut. I'd wanted to go to Hearth for a while so the evening was really exciting for me already but Chef Canora is known to be in his restaurant regularly. I was hoping so much that I might have a chance to meet him, especially since our reservation was on the early side.

First of all, the restaurant is so pretty. It's so much of what I'm drawn to with the dim lighting, dark wood, dramatic red wall. It was inviting and cozy while being romantic and a little seductive. I felt really at home there which I happen to think is deeply important for a restaurant. We'd asked the server if Canora was there and he was in fact with his family in the back room so already I was thrilled. There were six of us dining so we decided to try a bunch of different appetizers which were all fabulous, namely the octopus and the quail with farro. I'm telling you, never would I use the word 'tender' to describe octopus but that's exactly what it was and it was divine. The quail was perfectly cooked as well and so delicious. They do half portions of their pastas also (only two on the menu) as an appetizer if you choose so we had the bolognese. Homemade pappardelle, a touch of ricotta, and a sprinkling of fried rosemary which was just heavenly. I swear, I'm not even sure how I had room for dinner. As we finished up the appetizers, I was wondering if I really would get to speak with Canora and, next thing you know, he's right next to me saying a big hello to all of us. I almost died and, like a five year old child, looked at him and said oh my gosh, can I give you a hug?!?. Yes, I said that. Yes, I gave him a hug, too. I was totally embarrassed but that awesome red wall cast just the right amount of color to hide how much I was blushing. He stayed and talked with us for some time, particularly about my chef aspirations, and then proceeds to say well, I think you need to come spend a couple of nights cooking with us in the kitchen here. Holy. Crap. I'm pretty sure my heart stopped for a minute. He was dead serious and I just don't even really have words for something like this. He told me to get ready to be crushed which turned on my competative switch instantly. ;) I like that kind of challenge and I'd welcome the chance to get beaten up by Chef Canora. We all know I usually learn best the hard way, ha. We talked for a few minutes more and, as soon as he walked away, I cried.

How often do we 'wander around the desert', so to speak, looking and searching for answers in life? I mean, I've spent a decade trying to find meaning and purpose and focus yet I feel like I've done that from a place that has been so wrong and confusing. It's only been in this last year and a half that I have gained new ground in terms of who I am as a woman, as a christian, and as a person. My life stems from the very lifeline of who god is and my focus is on listening out to hear where he is calling me to go. I'm not concerned anymore with the anxieties I once had and what used to be self-doubt and fear in my life is now hopeful anticipation, joy, and excitement. It's been one long road but my life is no longer about what I can't do and fully about what I can. Having this talk with a master of Italian cuisine is yet another step forward. I can hardly believe the things that have happened to me in just this past year be it Jewels and Jill, the wonderful Cesare Casella, or now with Marco Canora. This path of mine is being carved before my very eyes and I'm being shown where to go, one step at a time. My passions are being affirmed and I feel that god is totally directing my steps. I trust so whole-heartedly in his perfect timing and, for the first time in my life, so many things are just easy. I used to think I'd always have to encounter something terribly difficult in order for me to learn a lesson yet my heart has always been in such a tumultuous state. I've never been at ease or at peace with who I am or what I believe yet, now that I AM, I feel like life is really happening just as it should. I'm in awe of the experiences I've had and of what's happened to me recently. It is divine and magical and it's like a dream in some ways.

I called Hearth today to set something up and the smile on my face couldn't be bigger. Am I freaked out about getting my behind handed to me? Of course I am but you know what I'm not? Scared. That is exactly how I know I am meant for this.

PS - I have to note that we had the apple cider donuts, warm chocolate pudding cake, and mascarpone cheesecake for dessert and I did everything but lick all of the plates.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Inoteca Organic Wine Tasting

I'd written about Twitter not too long ago and how I'd finally succumbed to the conformity. I'd also mentioned how awesome it's turned out to be in terms of following chefs and restaurants all over that I love. Well, it's proven yet again to be tremendous because I found out about an organic wine tasting at Inoteca happening on the 1st and I got all excited! It was taking place at their 24th Street location too which I was looking forward to checking out for the first time.

Sadly, I'd come down with a nasty cold and I was feeling pretty crappy but we still went. I was told I looked high since my eyes were half shut and glassy but hey, come hell or high water, I was going to that tasting. :P First off, the setup was so lovely! We'd gotten there a little early so we got some lambrusco at the bar before everything started but we watched as the folks set everything up. Normally at a wine tasting, you get a cheese and possibly a meat plate but Inoteca went well beyond. They had beautiful platters with their delicious paninis cut up, breadsticks, olives, cheese, was so nice! The tasting was being put on by people from Organic Wine Journal and they were great. It was an interesting look into the organic wine world overall though it wasn't really as in depth as I would've liked. The people came around after each pour to answer any questions and to explain more of what their mission is. Organic wine is pretty tough to sell and to get people excited about. The reputation just isn't the best so the guy who spoke was trying to go more into the fact that these winemakers simply make good wine, period. It isn't about the organic craze but more about how simple wines can be full of flavor. These were our selections for the evening:
Aside from the fact that at one point I rudely got pushed out of the way by none other than the journal's publisher, we had such a great time. I wasn't blown away by any of the wines we tasted but it was worth going for Inoteca's snacks at the very least. I must add that they even did little nutella paninis and coffee 'floats' for dessert. Very nice touch!

I'm definitely having fun seeking out new and fun experiences through this Twitter phenomenon so I guess I'm not a hater anymore. :-o Come follow along with me as I find and share new things like this as they come my way: @ValerieAlbanese.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ladies Who Brunch

Holy moly, what a beautiful weekend we had a few days ago. After coming off such a fabulous anniversary celebration, it made me even happier to have a long awaited brunch date at Bar Boulud with my ladies. The best part is that Amanda was able to join us since she wasn't leaving town until Monday. That made all of us ecstatic since Amanda is really the missing link in our dinner crew. Myself, Allison, Abbey, Kristine and Amanda are the original five who used to plan dinners together as often as possible so, with Amanda having moved to Atlanta two years ago, we've missed her very often when we've gotten together.

I'd been drooling for a while over how good the croque monsiuers look at Bar Boulud so the girls indulged my request to finally go there and try them! Um, I don't really need to say more than this:
They do everything homemade from the bechamel sauce to even curing the ham. It is so delicious, I can't even say. We had terrific mimosas while catching up, we laughed just like we always used to, and we reflected on how incredibly lucky we all are to have one another. It's pretty awesome where our conversations find themselves these days vs. in the past. We've all grown so much and we've shared in some really significant changes over the past few years. I constantly say this when I talk about friendship but I simply love what years do to build relationships. It's all of the ups and downs, good and bad, laughter and tears. It's the humanity that you see in its raw and real form when someone you love goes through something heartbreaking or when they're celebrating their best and happiest moment. I love that the five of us share all of those things together and my life in New York would never be what it is today without those girls. It was such a wonderful meal and yet another memory made.

After we ate, we all decided to walk through the park back to the east side:
There is something so special about being able to enjoy the simplest of pleasures with someone such as a casual walk on a sunny day. I feel so blessed because of who I get to share my life and these joys with. I can't wait to continue walking through life with these ladies and see where the years bring us from here:

Five Years in the Big Apple

This is an extra special post I write today and I'm so excited about it! Last Saturday, Allison and I celebrated five years to the day of living in New York. Being the sappy folks we both are, we decided that we must celebrate at the places we've loved with the people we've loved over each of those years. That said, we planned a pub crawl in our neighborhood and man oh man, did we have an absolute blast.

We started the day out at Cilantro which most would say is a horrible idea (until I reminded them that ending there would be even worse). Cilantro has been a staple in our lives almost monthly since we moved here (no lie) and I honestly think I've consumed my weight in margaritas there over and over. We discovered Cilantro only a couple of short weeks after moving here and it became "the" place to bring anyone we know be it visitors from out of town, new friends we've made in the city, or 'regulars' that have made a million Cilantro memories alongside us. The trick is that their margaritas are insanely strong and, while we've warned many many people about that who haven't heeded said warnings (hello Brant!), you have to be super careful how many you have since they taste so good. This is precisely the reason that ending a pub crawl there is a terrible idea but we were oh so happy to begin there, tee hee:
Throughout the day, we had the sincere pleasure of celebrating our anniversary with everyone from our closest friends to our newest friends. I got so emotional at one point looking around at the huge group of people that came out to celebrate not only us but what it's meant to us to be here for so long. I felt humbled by the people joining in our fun and it really touched my heart. I know something like this might not mean anything at all to some people but, for me and honestly the people who I'm closest to, they just 'get it' and it's why they came to celebrate:
Last but not least, the photo that is priceless and will remain a classic til the end of time:
Overall, we did five bars for five years and they were all bars that we've made the most memories at. I could go on and on gushing about each person and how they've affected me and so on. But, I won't and I'll just say that we had one heck of a time and I'm a very lucky lady. Here's to the next five years and to wherever this crazy journey called life will take us all!