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J and I will be heading down to Florida until next week!  Althuogh it saddens me to take a break from blogging so soon after we started, we’ll be back with updates and tips on Wednesday, May 6th.

Have a great week!!!

I realize summer-fication is not a word, but it was more appropriate than renovation.  Since we rent our house in Somerset County, we’re not really at liberty to do too much with the appearance of the outside porch or yard.  In fact, our landlord specifically made a request that we not do any gardening on the actual lawn.  There are designated areas where we can plant, but we’re pretty limited in our use of the space.

With that in mind, we still wanted a space where we could enjoy the lovely weather and occasionally eat outside, a luxury we haven’t enjoyed at our previous, small, no balcony apartments.  Also, J has quite the green thumb, so he needed a space to try to make things grow!

Last week, J picked up a few beds of plants and planted them under our front windows in four rows.  This allowed us to not only spruce up the front of the house, but also to plant the same amount of flowers in one space instead of having to find other places around the yard to put them.  Front window flowers

Note:  each day and night, about 10-20 deer pass through our yard.  J employed the help of Home Depot associates as well as this list to determine which plants would be safe from theirr scavenging!  However, we’re still skeptical they’ll leave everything alone….

Our sometimes not-so-friendly visitors

Next came the porch itself.  In its current state, it was housing a barbecue grill as well as our recycling containers and a few other unsightly buckets that J uses for things around the house.  Pretty terrible looking, and certainly not conducive for outdoor eating!  Our first order of business was taking all of the excess off the porch and storing it in a more convenient location.  We put the recycling bins by the garbage, and moved some of the other buckets to the barn, where they can easily be found if needed.  Our second task:  finding an outdoor table and chair set that wasn’t too expensive and wouldn’t overwhelm the porch.  Our porch is pretty small, so we needed to ensure we were using every inch of space to the best of our ability.  J had found a great set at Home Depot, however, due to the great deal offered, all of the stores sold out of it almost immediately (and trust me, we asked them to check other stores!).  After searching Target, Lowes and Wal-Mart, we finally settled on a five piece set from Wal-Mart for only $120.  This set works great for us for a few reasons:  it’s not too overwhelming in size, it did not come with an umbrella that we would have had to store, and the chairs easily fold, allowing us to store the ones we are not using on a daily basis.

Our new table

 

Once we had the table assembled, we decided to position it in a corner that allowed us to only use two of the chairs.  Since most of the time, it’s just the two of us, this freed up a lot of space on the porch and allows for a much cleaner look overall.  Never forget to make good use of your corners!

Given our limited yard space, the porch has also become a hub for all of the plants we wanted to grow this year.  We planted three things in terra cotta pots that J had.  J bought a strawberry planter on Saturday, where he planted snap dragons as well as some other pretty smaller plants.  The cute little spaces on the sides of the strawberry planter add so much color to the porch and allowed us to plant a greater variety without taking up too much yard space.   We put three of these pots on the porch stairs, freeing up space on the actual porch while still adding to the overall feel.  We planted 3 gerbera daisy pots into a larger blue ceramic pot and placed this in another corner to add color to all sides of the porch.  Finally, our porch had two hooks that were ideal for hanging plants.  We bought two hanging baskets and used these hooks to multiply our space!

Our stair pots

Awhile back, we bought 4 outdoor candle lanterns from Pier One in the hopes that our table would be large enough to host them.  Since we soon realized the limitations of a small table, J hung the lanterns from small cable clips he fastened into the roof ledge of the porch.  They look really cute there, and I can’t wait to see them lit!

I hope everyone is able to take advantage of the great weather we’re bound to have soon!  Just a few degrees cooler….

Somerville isn’t too far from our house, and we’ve found a lot of great restaurants there off Main Street:  Tapastre, Il Pomodora, and Origin Thai.  This time, we decided to stick to Main Street and check out a Lebanese restaurant.

Cedars Authentic Lebanese Cuisine is by far one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in awhile. J’s step mom is Lebanese, so he certainly knows what authentic Lebanese food tastes like.  Any time you’re used to the real deal, going to a restaurant that promises “authentic cuisine” is always touch and go.  Cedars definitely met our expectations.

We started out with Falafel, which I actually had never had before.  It was excellent.  Also, because we both ordered meat entrees, they brought out three small bowls with hummus, baba ghannouge, and tabouleh along with large soft pitas.  J makes his own hummus, so we’ve got standards on that too….this one was a great mix of flavor!

As an entree, I had the Kafta Kabobs with couscous.  I have seriously never had such a flavorful meat dish.  The kabobs were juicy, soft and full of flavor, while the couscous paired nicely with onions and tomatoes and some of the other flavors on the plate.  The portion size was large, even for me, and I’m definitely looking forward to eating it again tomorrow!  J had Chicken Shawarma, another excellently marinated choice.

We’re big on dessert and after dinner drinks, as most of you know!  I had the Lebanese mint tea, which was very well flavored with mint (unlike other teas I’ve had that have promised a mint flavor) and J had Lebanese coffee.  For dessert, I had some sort of cake topped with shredded phylo dough and rose water that was good, but just a little too sweet, even for me.  J had Meghly, a cinnamon pudding topped with pine nuts and walnuts, that was also a little too heavily flavored with cinnamon.

All in all, I’m pretty much in love with this place.  I’m looking forward to going back and trying everything on the menu!  It’s BYOB, and the atmosphere is very familial.  The owner was going from table to table, sitting and chatting with different people who were obviously regulars.  The service was also excellent for a small restaurant, with the proper amount of attention given with a decent time between courses.

Our rating:

J:  8/10

V:  9/10

Cedars Authentic Lebanese Cuisine
45 W Main St.
Somerville, NJ 08876
908-722-8686

P.S. No reservations needed for this place!  We went around 6/7 p.m. on a Friday and the crowd never got to be too much.  Also a great take-out option!

I’ve been meaning to write about this since we visited the Trap Rock Restaurant on Tuesday, but my work travel schedule got the best of me!

J found the Trap Rock when he was taking a look at one of his favorite sites that lists all the restaurants that brew their own beers.  Located in Berkeley Heights, the Trap Rock is a pretty fancy version of a brew pub.  Parking was an issue, even on a Tuesday night, but they do post signs listing other options for those not as fortunate as us to snag the last parking lot spot!

J got the beer sampler, his usual at a brewery, and felt that the variety and quality/flavor of the beer was very high.  He took home a growler of the Red Lager and has since been enjoying it quickly in an effort to add it to his growler collection.  I’m not as much a beer afficianado as J is, but their beer was definitely full of flavor and high in quality.

From a food perspective, this is another one of those restaurants where I would have liked to see more variety.  I’m not a huge seafood fan, and a lot of the dishes came with some sort of fish component that turned me off to them.  Although, I will say, their bread basket was a definite perk.  They had the usual bread along with soft pretzel sticks and cornbread.  I appreciate nice touches like that!

We shared the Moraccan Spiced Beef Kabobs as an appetizer, which came on skewers along with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, served over a bed of greens.  The flavor of the meat was excellent!  We’re big fans of kabobs, especially ones where the beef is marinated to include a lot of different flavors.  Very good.

I’m revisiting the menu to see what I had, and am drawing a complete blank, lol.  I had some sort of pork dish with mashed potatoes.  The pork was fatty, but otherwise pretty good.  J had the gnocchi with shrimp.  The gnocchi and shrimp were both well-sized, however, I wasn’t a huge fan of the tomato sauce the dish came in.  I’m more of a cream-sauce based person if I even use it, and this sauce was just too strong on the tomato for me!

I do have to give high reviews to the dessert menu.  I am biased here, however, because they happened to have my favorite dessert wine (Pacific Rin Reisling) which always puts a restaurant at the top for me.  We shared the cookie plate and a chocolate mousse cake.  The cookie plate has small, bite sized cookies in the following flavors:  red velvet, chocolate chip, a biscotti, double chocolate, and another shortbread with fruit cookie.  Definitely recommend the red velvet, it was like a mini cupcake!  The chocolate mousse cake was not quite what we were expecting.  It was served hot and was more like a hot devil’s food cake than anything else.

Overall, I would have liked to see some different options on the entree menu.  Otherwise, this restaurant was a big hit in the beverage department!  As a note, it was a little more upscale than most brewery-type restaurants we’ve been to, so dress neat.

Our rating:

J:  7/10

V:  6/10

Trap Rock Restaurant
279 Springfield Ave.
Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
908-665-16755

P.S.  This restaurant is part of a larger group of restaurants under the Harvest Restaurant Group.  We haven’t been to any of them, but I’ve heard 3West is very good!

Well, the folks at Kraft/Nabisco have done it again.  J first found these in the store and promptly decided to bring the Golden Oreo-flavored version home.  I’m always skeptical of funstixproducts like this for one reason:  they’re usually very, very delicious, but extremely bad for you.  For instance, the Oreo Cakesters, the last Oreo-themed dessert we both loved, was just teeming with fat and calories, so we stopped buying them.

The Oreo Fun Stix are 90 calories of tubed Oreo goodness.  The commercial features a little kid using the tube as a straw, however, for someone that doesn’t even like milk in their cereal, that wasn’t happening for me.  😉  I prefer to eat them straight up!  The flavor tastes just like an Oreo, only in rolled form, adding a different layer of texture and size that makes you feel like you’re eating about 3 or 4 oreos for the price of one.  My usual complaint with lower calorie options is that they take out most of the flavor in order to save on calories.  This really is not the case with these:  unlike the 100-calorie pack oreos that are flat and dry, these maintain a great texture and flavor.  As mentioned, they come in the Golden and Traditional Oreo flavor, which is good for us since J is not a huge chocolate fan and I am!

My only complaint about this:  they are messy as anything!  It’s definitely not a snack you can walk around the house with, as they tend to crumble very easily, leaving pieces all over the place.  Otherwise, for a 90 calorie snack, you really can’t go wrong!

-V

On Saturday, April 18th, J and I headed to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) to celebrate the New Jersey Ballet’s 50th Anniversary.  I’m a huge fan of ballet (blame it on my Kennedy Center days!) so I was looking forward to this event since we bought the tickets!

For those of you that haven’t been to the NJPAC, it really is a beautiful venue.  To be honest, I wasn’t expecting great things from it, given its Newark location, but the people that maintain this venue really have a lot to be proud of.  It’s a beautiful resource for NJ residents and beyond!

Carolyn Clark, the Artistic/Executive Director for the ballet gave the introductions.  And here comes my plug for the arts:  as Ms. Clark said, just because the NJ Ballet has a past doesn’t mean it has a future.  The state budget currently calls for MAJOR cuts in funding for arts organizations like the New Jersey Ballet.  I understand that times are tough, but cutting funding for organizations that provide opportunities for children and adults alike is NOT the answer.  I encourage everyone to write to their representative and implore them not to allow for this disgusting cut in funding to occur. 

Ok, I’m off the soapbox.  I get passionate about my arts funding.  The New Jersey Ballet really is an outstanding troupe.  I’ve seen some great performances, and the repertory the NJB performed was among my favorites.  They started out with some traditional pieces from their repertory, then moved on to some newer ones, my favorite of which was “Ballet with a Latin Beat”.  I didn’t think I would like this since I’m definitely more of a fan of the traditional dance, but the movement was incredible.  

One of my favorite ballets is Giselle, which the NJB is performing the weekend J and I will be away for my birthday. 😦  We got to see a snippet from the second half, and it certainly made me want to see the full length performance.  

The New Jersey Ballet performs at venues all over the state. If you haven’t seen them yet, i would encourage you to see them at some point this year.  They perform the Nutcracker every year, and I’m sure it’s a performance worth seeing.

To support the New Jersey Ballet and make sure our children’s children have the same honor of seeing them perform, visit the ballet’s Web site.  

-V

On Friday night, Jared and I tried a new restaurant based on a recommendation from The Star Ledger.  The Harvest Moon Inn is right off Route 202 in Ringoes, NJ, not too far from the PA border.  

As we were heading down Old York Road, things didn’t look promising. However, right next to a half-demolished, half-standing house was a beautiful brick house that had been transformed into The Harvest Moon Inn.  Although the hostess told J on the phone the dress was casual, we followed the Ledger’s recommendations and went business casual.  For the dining room, I definitely recommend business casual, as most of the patrons were dressed in this fashion.

The dining room sits off from the tavern and is a smallish room with tables that used an old sewing machine base as their legs.  The tavern was a more casual,louder atmosphere, with a piano player.

The wine list at the Harvest Moon Inn did not disappoint.  J was also pleased with a import beer he had, something pretty unusual for a smaller NJ restaurant.  I started with the soup of the day, a Tomato Roasted Garlic puree.  It was AWESOME.  I’m typically not a fan of tomato based soups, but this one really was a delicious blend of tomato and garlic.  J started with a salmon dish accompanied by black barley and a cranberry vinaigrette.  For an entree, I had the grilled beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and crispy onions.  I’m typically not a huge fan of red meat in that fashion, but this dish was pretty good.  I ordered it well-done, and it was a bit dry, but I would rather that than having my meat bleed all over the plate :).  J had the roasted chicken with an asparagus risotto.  Not a usual choice for him, but the chicken was well-marinated, and the risotto didn’t disappoint.

The dessert menu was larger than I expected.  I had the peanut butter brownie, which was wonderful, along with a cup of the Oregon Chai.  I’m a fan of sweeter teas, however, this tea is certainly not for fans of the traditional-style chai!  J had the hazelnut-crusted cappuccino mousse, which also seemed popular among the other diners.  

Overall, this restaurant definitely didn’t disappoint.  In my opinion, the entrees could have been more varied, however, I think it depends on the night you go and the specials they present.

Our rating:

J:  8/10

V:  7/10

The Harvest Moon Inn
1039 Old York Road
Ringoes, NJ 
908-806-6020 

P.S.: The Web site is really terrible for this restaurant, but don’t let it turn you off to the actual quality of the food and presentation!

Well, J and I are both sick.  An unusual occurrence, but I guess it’s bound to happen every now and then.theraflu

A few months back, my mom received the Theraflu Flowing Vapors Portable Vapor Fan from a friend who worked in the pharma industry.  I put it in my bedside table to use in an emergency.  Given the fact that we only had one dose of our Tylenol Allergy Nightime Medicine, the past two nights have fallen into the emergency category!

Basically, the fan works as follows:  it comes with a little pad that is scented with menthol and camphor.  Once inserted into the fan, these vapors are supposed to be released throughout the night.  Basically, the fan flow for one hour with an automatic five minutes off, and lasts eight hours.

To be honest, I was not expecting great things from this product.  It’s so small that I highly doubted the scent would fill our relatively spacious room.  I will admit, however, that I was pleasantly surprised that the vapors did in fact permeate the entire room.  The fan does make a light buzzing noise throughout the night, so if this kind of noise bothers you, I would advise you to stay away from this product.

I’m not really certain it helped me breathe or sleep any better, but to be honest, I’m pretty congested to the point where I couldn’t even smell the brownies we were baking last night.  J agrees that it didn’t help him sleep any better, but he did like the smell.  He compared it to throat lozenges, in that they are certainly not going to cure you, but it also doesn’t hurt to use them.

I can see this product becoming very expensive, as the menthol pads are only good for one use.  Hopefully, though, you’re only sick a few times a year like us and won’t need to restock very often!

Anyone else tried this out?  What did you think?

-V

Thanks for visiting our blog!  This has been a long time coming, but I finally decided to slap a page up so we could get started.

I spend a lot of time reading blogs.  In fact, it’s part of my job!  I guess you can say it inspired us to start recording some of our own adventures.

For those that know us, you know some of our passions:  food, drink and being outdoors!  For that reason, the purpose of our blog is to focus on bringing attention to the things we love, whether it’s a new restaurant, hiking trail, or park we discovered.

We welcome any comments and feedback you may have!  Thanks for reading!

-V

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