Category Archives: Recommendations

Bravo, Brava

img_0864On a mellow Sunday evening, I was fortunate enough to revisit Brava Wine Bar in Lenox. It’s hard to say exactly what made it the perfect evening, but the scenery, complete with a dusting of fresh snow, certainly contributed. Seriously, with the holiday lights still on display Lennox looked absolutely magical! What a beautiful little town that is…

We pulled up to Brava early, probably at about 6:00, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The only other time I was there was Labor Day Weekend and the place was humming. This night, though, things were quiet. We selected a spot at the bar, as far from the door as possible on a cold evening, and joined two other parties in the small space.

After ordering a couple of red sangrias (they offer white as well) , we decided to make a meal from a kale salad, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, and a pizza with Italian sausage, onions and mushrooms. Noticing the charcuterie options, we quickly added two meats (a mousse/pate and prosciutto) and a Spanish goat’s milk cheese with a paprika rind to our order. Then we sat back and let the refreshingly professional and competent staff take care of us.  What a treat.

The food, like my last visit, was right on. The salad was adorned with a light, creamy dressing and was perfect for sharing. The Brussels sprout were cut in half prior to roasting and they were tender and coupled with crispy bacon. The add-on charcuterie plate was delightful with plenty of pâté for me and some of the most buttery prosciutto I’ve ever had, while the cheese had a not unpleasant funk to balance both of the meats. The accompaniments, including dried apricots reminiscent of my childhood, made for the perfect foil. And that pizza? Blistery on the bottom and topped with simple, but delicious flavors. I’d go back just for that again.img_0865

img_0867 img_0866The atmosphere was relaxed and cozy and the company was perfect. We extended our meal with a moist, delicious bread pudding, a tawny port and a fantastic “bowl” of coffee. Two leisurely hours after we arrived, we departed Brava and headed back to Albany. That, my friends, is how I do Sunday. How about you?

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Filed under Dinner, Eating, favorites, Food, friends, love, pizza, Recommendations, road trips, snow, sunday, Wine, winter

Brooks Brothers suits

b683bae9-f62b-4ceb-96e3-a47c320e332f-10839-0000071941aafe77_tmp… my taste for customer service, that is. I don’t often shop at Brooks Brothers (their clothes are well tailored but a bit conservative for my lifestyle), but after visiting their Lee, MA outlet location twice in the last few months, they just may have made a customer out of me. Here’s why…

I dropped into their store at the end of summer to pick up a few dress shirts for a friend as a gift. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping track of measurements and sizes and that trip to Lee was no different. I had no idea where to start with sleeve length and neck size for this guy, but I did know that he has a history of shopping BB and I hoped that perhaps there was a database of customers that could be accessed. I stepped up to the counter and inquired and within minutes I knew the necessary shirt size. Easy.

What I didn’t know was that there was a preference (or even a difference) in collar style. Seems that my birthday guy prefers a close collar rather than the wider one I had randomly selected. So, for the last few months three (almost) perfectly new shirts have hung unworn in a closet. Last weekend we took a drive over to rectify the situation and that’s when the customer service took an additional, even more tremendous, leap forward.

Retaining a sales receipt for months is not necessarily my strength and we found ourselves in Lee without evidence of the purchase. I’ve been in this situation in the past and was successful in obtaining a credit by presenting the credit card originally used for payment, but, naturally, I recently switched American Express cards, so that wasn’t an option. As I prepared to log on to my Amex account to recover evidence of the transaction, the clerk asked me if I knew the date of the transaction and, miraculously, I did. Within 2 minutes the transaction was located and an exchange receipt printed. Simple.

A short time later we left the store, new purchases in hand, and headed to a place more my speed – UnderArmour. I had asked at Brooks Brothers for directions to the UA outlet since it was frigidly cold and we weren’t feeling up to wandering around the outdoor mall. As we were browsing the running gear an employee approached me to inform me that I had forgotten my phone at the Brooks Brothers store. Apparently, one of the employees there had made the effort to track us down to notify us of our oversight. Wow. Thoughtful initiative? Yes, please and thank you. Well done.

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Filed under birthdays, Recommendations, road trips, Uncategorized, writing

Coming clean

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I’ve got a thing about soap. Growing up, it was all about Ivory and sometimes, if I could get my hands on my mother’s, Dove. To this day, the scent of either can bring me right back to childhood. Not a bad thing at all, unlike that time when I washed my face with the new soap I found next to the bathroom sink. That one experience with Lava convinced me to never use anything that wasn’t described as “mild” or gentle. Lesson learned.

For the last 20 years or so my favorite soaps are from a company called Pre de Provence. They’re gentle and come in a great variety of different scents, my favorites being the hard to find eucalyptus, sage and, in summer, cocoa butter or verbena. They’re obviously more expensive than what I grew up using, but the bars last a really long time making them a modest indulgence.

A couple of winters ago I discovered the Bliss Mammoth Minty Bar – a huge slab of soap with bumps on one side for massage and gentle exfoliation. Amazing! This soap is as close to a life changer as I have ever experienced in the shower and when I received a surprise bar for Christmas, I couldn’t have been happier.

Speaking of gifts, I was lucky enough to be given a few bars of soap last fall for my birthday that I’m still working my way through. They’re from Chasworth Farm Soaps, a company in Saint Albans, VT and the fragrance these babies emit is heady! I’ve got the egg yolk and honey bar, as well as a lavender thyme one still to go.

Despite my extensive soap experiences I still haven’t explored the local market as I should. I hear really great things about Rad and their new space in Stuyvesant Plaza looks fantastic. Have you checked them out yet? How do you wash your daily grime away?

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Filed under beauty, favorites, Local, Recommendations

Albany – it’s the most wonderful time of the year

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As I close in on 30 years as a resident, I still find myself charmed by Albany. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that make me insane (folks who double park when there is an available space, I’m talking to you!), but I continue to fall in love with my adopted city. Yeah, that’s right. I love Albany.

Last Saturday was one of those days that could have been stress filled and hectic, yet somehow instead managed to be a wonderful welcome to the holiday season. The guys and I went across the river and in a remarkably fast time, located, agreed upon and cut down a(nother) perfect Christmas tree – defined, for me, as tall and thin with long, soft needles. It fits perfectly in our family room.

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Traditional pre-tree killing selfie

We followed our outdoor activities with a fantastic lunch at our favorite Chinese spot – Ocean Palace on Central Avenue. This was the first time we actually ate in rather than taking our order to go, and we were all really happy to sit down and enjoy lunch with a couple of pots of hot tea. We’ll do this again!

Our next stop was Winter WonderLark, aka my favorite Lark Street event. Holidayimg_0678 festivities abounded and we kept ourselves warm browsing the pop up Half Moon Market and chatting with friends as we waited for the start of the Santa Speedo Sprint. There were no Lillys racing, but we provided enthusiastic support to the stalwart runners. What a fun way to do good work – I’m proud of you, Albany!

As fireworks lit up the sky, I found my way to the Lunar B*tches and the starting line for the Last Run. I love this race – the crowd, the course and the enthusiastic spectators combine to make this my favorite 5K. Even when I fall, rip my outer layer tights and skin my knee! The Capitol, City Hall and Washington Park looked absolutely magical.

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By 6:00 p.m. I was changed and ready to go at Lark + Lily, which was a good thing because we had a busy night. I was thrilled to welcome friends, regulars, and runners fresh from the race to my cozy wine bar. img_0707

My day wrapped up with a little music and a bite to eat with a friend. The cover band rocked (their take on Eruption was epic!) and my grilled cheese at the Gateway Diner satisfied my hunger  as a long and lovely day came to an end. I went to sleep full in every way.  Thanks, Albany.

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Filed under Albany, Boys, Christmas, Events, favorites, friends, holidays, Lark Street, Local, Music, Recommendations, running

Peace, love and cupcakes – Woodstock, N.Y.

How festive is this?

How festive is this place? Not the cupcake place, by the way.

Yesterday I headed down to Woodstock to meet the girls for a little shopping and some catch up time. Although I had been down that way just a couple of weeks ago for a show in Bearsville, it felt like far too long since I’ve simply walked around town and checked out the shops. If you’re in a similar situation, I highly recommend December as the ideal time to wander around Woodstock. It is the absolute antithesis of mall shopping.

The first order of business (ok, the second) when meeting friends midday is usually coffee. The café nearest Tinker Square was jammed so we decided to take our chances down the street a little bit and found ourselves at the adorable Peace, Love and Cupcakes. It’s a tiny little space, adorably decorated in just the right shade of pink, towards the south side of town.

Their coffee game was mediocre with the only brew coming from a Keurig, but my need for coffee was quickly overshadowed by my need for a cupcake. The display case was chock full of the prettiest little cupcakes, cheekily named for musicians, that I’ve ever seen. I only hesitated a moment before rationalizing that when your day begins with a very circuitous 15K, a cupcake prior to linner seems more than reasonable. They don’t call it Sunday Funday for nothing, friends!

Although I’ve never been all that enthusiastic about cupcakes before (I think the frosting is usually too damn sweet), I decided that the Chocolate Snowball was calling my name – and I don’t even particularly like chocolate cake. It must have been a combination of nostalgia for those Hostess snowballs from my childhood and the appeal of a thick layer of cream cheese frosting liberally dusted with coconut.

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My cupcake. Sorry the photo isn’t better – I couldn’t wait to eat it!

I sat down outside to savor my sweet treat. The frosting was perfect, retaining a bit of the tartness of the cream cheese with coconut that resisted mushiness. The chocolate cake was moist and delicious. Together, they elevated my coffee to palatable and made me one happy girl. I’ll definitely go back again for more peace, love and cupcakes. The Ginger Baker has my name all over it.

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Filed under Eating, Food, friends, Recommendations, road trips, sunday, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Whole hog at The Purple Pig

img_0489One of the best parts of being a runner is the license it gives one to eat. Believe me, pushing through a ten mile run is a lot easier when you know that the evening’s meal is a reward worth working towards. My second Chicago run led me along the lake, north of the Navy Pier and then back down Michigan Avenue and finally, to my hotel. I was in no rush and genuinely enjoyed the experience, wrapping things up with some time in the sauna and a relaxing shower.

Ready to eat, I headed up town to The Purple Pig, planning to make my way to the bar in a restaurant that I imagined would be busy during prime time on a Saturday night. Once again, I got lucky and scored a prime spot (at the far left of the bar – a lefty’s dream) within minutes. The interior was a bit more casual than The Girl and the Goat and the style of ordering was also different. My server suggested ordering a single course at a time, which offered more flexibility to change my mind as I caught glimpses of dishes being served around me. Menu in hand, I consulted with the bartender about how hungry I was and for what I had a hankering.

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fullsizerender-2Breaking with expectations, I ordered a bottle of Clos Normand Brut cider from Normandy rather than wine. It was the perfect accompaniment to my meal and gave me a pleasant buzz without the fogginess that I get when I drink more than two glasses of wine. It was particularly tasty with my first course – a liver pate served with crostini and a small mound of greens on the side. The cider cut through the creamy and delicious fat and danced on my tongue with happiness as the flavors reminded me of my time in France last year. It was the ideal way to start my meal.

fullsizerender-3I followed the pate with Patatas Bravas, the Pig’s take on tater tots. These were really good, but didn’t give me the same level of joy that the potatoes at Brava in Lenox had provided a couple of months ago. I think I’d try a different veggie next time, especially if I was going to revisit the octopus which is served with fingerling potatoes and green beans. The octopus was beautifully charred, smoky and tender and matched with a salsa verde that radiated freshness. It was a stellar preparation and I absolutely housed that plate. Fantastic.

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fullsizerenderBecause a meal out is incomplete without dessert, I indulged myself with their version of a lemon bar and was thrilled with my plate. Tart and refreshing with a wonderful texture, it was truly memorable and went surprisingly well with the last of my cider. Dinner, including tip, was a $100, which I found reasonable for the quality of the meal and service. If I lived in Chicago I could see myself becoming a regular at this spot, like the man who sat next to me at the bar. Just like the city itself, there were lots of things on that menu left to explore. I can’t wait to go back.

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Filed under Chicago, Dinner, drinking, Eating, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel

Finding my rhythm in Chicago

img_0798I started this post the day I returned from a quick weekend away at the beginning of a week that ended up feeling really long. I’ve got a folder full of these aborted writings, but I decided to revisit this one after catching up on last Sunday’s New York Times. The featured magazine was about travel and the editor’s letter grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, something that doesn’t happen often enough. Her words kept kicking around in my head and joined my own thoughts with a serendipity I couldn’t ignore.

Deborah Needleman said:

“Why is it that we can’t just do nothing anymore? Somehow “nothing” equals guilt….”

“I slept as late as I wanted, exercised when I felt like it, ate alone at restaurants…”

“It certainly was a journey, in the personal sense of the word, not just to another part of the world, but to another part of my psyche.”

Now, my own words…

My body aches and I’m about as tired as I recall ever being, but it is a sweet exhaustion. It was a great weekend. I highly recommend 72 hours of alone time in a new city as a means of recharging and getting back to a rhythm that is solely your own.

Traveling solo is both an exercise in self-improvement and an acknowledgement that you’re ok. From the reaction I received each time I explained that I was going to Chicago, alone, and my plans were basically to eat, run, nap and see some new things, I don’t think enough people are comfortable, much less excited by, the prospect of a loosely defined personal escape. Not being dependent upon any one but yourself is a condition that can be interpreted as freedom or a burden and I guess it depends upon perspective. I suspect you know how I perceive it.

We have lives that are busier than ever, connected to multiple platforms and constantly within touch. Taking some time for our own pursuits shouldn’t be a luxury that is too often perceived as foreign. While this trip had originally been conceived as a trip to celebrate a number of my friends and I achieving a milestone birthday, when schedules and commitments didn’t allow that to materialize, I continued to approach the weekend with excitement. I felt remarkably fortunate* to be able to spend three days exploring a new city, but even just two hours at the mall, or in a museum or outdoors can seem like a getaway. It isn’t about how far you go, it’s more about how close you get to yourself and your personal pace. Do it.

*I can’t tell you how many times I wondered to myself how I ever got to be so lucky.

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Filed under aging, Chicago, ideas, musings, Observations, Recommendations, travel