Vibram Five Fingers at Zumba

So I’ve been taking Zumba classes for about 3 months now and I’m pretty much addicted to it. I started out with one or two classes a week and have now escalated to 5 or 6 classes a week. It is so much fun and crazy good exercise. Zumba has its own clothing line and branded merchandise, which I am not embarrassed to say that I have purchased quite a lot of… but not nearly as much as others. I am surprised that they have not created specific footwear for it. There is one pair, but they are nothing special. In fact, most of the frequent Zumba’ers wear Nike Shox, I would assume due to the high impact cardio involved. I’ve been wearing my Adidas cross trainers and just yesterday decided to try out my Vibrams. I figured they would help with my balance on some of the moves and have a more natural feel for some of the dance moves. They were definitely a different experience. I had a much better grip on the floor which was great for keeping my balance and doing squats but this was also detrimental when I needed to twist my feet and glide across the floor. Overall the Vibrams are much lighter than my Adidas sneakers and they give me a better grip on the floor while also still be comfortable when jumping and hoping. As far as having elegant dance moves, sneakers are better. I will probably keep wearing my Vibrams to see if they get better as I get used to doing Zumba with them.

UPDATE: So I ended up trying out the Five Fingers for a regular Zumba class, well actually a double header. The first hour was fine except for the toe tapping bits. Halfway through the second hour my legs were starting to give out and both of my big toes were hurting. Either I wasn’t doing it right, or dancing is not a good idea with these shoes. I’ll probably just stick to the Zumba Tone classes for now.

Casa Molina Lynn, MA

My new favorite (and frequent) go-to place for a delicious, inexpensive dinner is Casa Molina on Lewis Street. I started going there a few months ago and have recently been getting dinner there at least twice a week. I was referred there by the same co-worker who told me to check out Jamaica’s Flavor, so I knew he wouldn’t steer me wrong. My first order was for delivery and I noticed right off the bat the friendliness of the staff. The person I spoke to on the phone was genuinely nice and pleasant, he repeated my order to me, gave me the total and a time estimate, all without having to ask. The food arrived to my door in the same time frame as any other delivery in the area but what surprised me the most was the freshness of the food. My tacos were made, including the crispy shells, right when I ordered them. They give you the option of American (lettuce, tomato, cheese) or Mexican (onion and cilantro) style with the tacos. So far, I have tried the chicken burrito, chorizo and chicken crispy tacos and the al pastor enchiladas.

I have become addicted to the chorizo crispy tacos, Mexican style with chicken being a very close second. You can get an order of 3 tacos for $4 or a 3 taco plate (with rice and beans) for $6. The enchiladas are my back-up for when I need a break from tacos. There are 4 enchiladas in an order for about $4 and even though they are listed under the appetizer section, they are definitely a meal on their own. You can get any of their menu items with any of the meats they offer.

I also finally tried the banana chimichanga. I may be biased because I would eat any kind of dessert just as long as it had a high sugar content, but this dish was delicious. It’s a whole banana wrapped in a sweet tortilla and deep fried. Of course anything deep fried is just plain awesome, but add ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and cinnamon to it and you’ve got a meal! Definitely a must try. I wanted to add pictures to this post but I seem to eat my food in its entirety before I even have a chance to whip out my camera.

I had the pleasure of meeting Douglas Molina on one of my many visits to pick up my order. As the owner he is always there, making the food, putting together the orders, serving people who are eating in all while genuinely hoping that you are enjoying your meal. He is extremely friendly to everyone I have seen him speak to and is an overall hard working and dedicated business owner.

If you in or around Lynn, definitely make your way over to Lewis street and check out Casa Molina. I found out today that Douglas will have a website up soon and I will update this post with pictures and a link to the site.

Jamaica’s Flavor Lynn, MA

I figured it was about time that some of the less publicized places in Lynn get some recognition. One of my favorites is Jamaica’s Flavor on Pleasant Street. Before coming to Jamaica’s Flavor, I had never tried Jamaican food. A co-worker told me they had the best curry chicken, so I had to give it a try. I stopped by on my way home from work and when you step inside, you get hit in the face with the wonderful smells of spices and meat. I came in at around 6:00pm and there wasn’t much food left. Tina, who owns the place with her husband, said that they make their food fresh and usually sell out by the end of the day. I was able to get a medium order of curry chicken with rice and the veggies of the day, and I also picked up one beef and one chicken patty. All of my food came out to less than $10 which is just great. The curry chicken was so moist and juicy and the spices were not too hot but very flavorful. I’m glad that Tina poured some of the curry over the rice because it seemed a bit bland without it. I had also tried the jerk chicken which was more of a dry rub and was definitely very spicy. But by far the best part of my meal was the beef patty. The chicken was ok, but the beef was just phenomenal. The beef is ground and cooked with Jamaican spices. I am so addicted to them that I stop by at least 3 times a week on my way home from work for 2 beef patties. But its best to call ahead to see if they have any since they usually sell out by early evening.

Blue Ox in Lynn, MA

If you’ve never been to Lynn, MA it’s quite an interesting place. Like most urban cities, it has its good sections and its bad, but downtown Lynn seems to be a mix. We are starting to see a change for the better with old factory buildings being converted into large lofts, young professionals moving to the area and the city offering perks for people to start businesses in the city. To that effect a new restaurant has opened up recently called The Blue Ox, located on Oxford Street. The Blue Ox sticks out like a sore thumb in downtown among the hole-in-the-wall eateries that surround it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking these other establishments as some of them are fantastic (see more on Jamaica’s Flavor and Casa Molina in upcoming posts). But if you have ever walked by The Blue Ox, you’ll notice its clean exterior, wood finishes in the entryway and trendy ambiance just from peeking through the window.

Since its opening, I’ve had dinner there twice. On both occasions I had a great meal. My first meal included New England clam chowder, grilled hanger steak with fries, and a chocolate cake for dessert. For my second meal, I had the clam chowder again, the gnocchi bolognese and a few bites of the cheesecake. In addition, I had bites of the filet mignon and the pork tenderloin. The crispy calamari is probably the best I have ever tasted. It is not overly fried, doesn’t taste oily and the batter is has light flavor. The portions were definitely larger than you would see at a similar restaurant in Boston and the prices are comparable. The clam chowder had applewood smoked bacon and touch of tobasco which I thought was a nice variation on a classic. The pork was cooked perfectly and was juicy and soft. I felt that the gnocchi had a bit too much rosemary in it, but I don’t particularly like rosemary so it could have just been me. The cheesecake was delicious and I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to dessert. The cocktails and beer are very reasonably priced and the selection is surprisingly diverse.

If you find yourself on the Northshore, check out The Blue Ox. The weekends seem to be busy but if you make a reservation in advance, getting a table is no problem. From time to time the restaurant hold cooking demos for approximately $35 where the chef will show you how to cook a meal and afterward you get to enjoy a three course meal with the demoed meal as the entree. I have yet to attend a demo, but will soon.

Cupcake Tea at the Ritz-Carlton

I read a lot of cupcake related blogs but I hadn’t been keeping up with them over the holidays. So when I got back to them in mid-January I noticed an old post from November about the Ritz-Carlton doing their Cupcake Tea for the holidays. I had never heard of it but since it involved cupcakes I had to investigate. I thought it had ended in December, but it turns out their website shows it as ongoing with the cupcake selections varying. So I immediately made a reservation, which are recommended and sometimes required if it’s a busy time. Cupcake Tea is simply five mini cupcakes served with a variety of tea selections. The cupcake flavors are chosen by the Ritz, so you can’t substitute any if you don’t like the flavor.

It is set in the lobby of the hotel, which seems a little weird at first but the set up is so nice that you feel like you are sitting in a living room. Our table was set up before we arrived with everything minus the tea and cupcakes.

All the utensils were made of silver and made especially for the hotel.

I’ve never seen a lemon squeezer before, but then again it is the Ritz.

My tea was delicious and the pot was on a silver stand with a tea light in it to keep it warm. The only issue was that the tea leaves stayed in the pot, so with each cup the tea got stronger and eventually over-brewed. Fortunately, the tea is unlimited.

The cupcakes were small, but after five of them I was stuffed. They were so delicious. I’m sure they are one-biters but a frosting-on-the-face situation would have occurred if I attempted that. The flavors from left to right: Raspberry Ginger, Apple Pie, Peppermint Patty, Boston Cream, and Eggnog.

I ate them in reverse order starting with the Eggnog which I thought I would like the least next to the Ginger one. Surprisingly it was delicious. The frosting was light and fluffy and had a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. Boston Cream was as expected, same for the Peppermint Patty which I did eat in one bite just to see if I could…

The Apple Pie one was probably my favorite even though it didn’t have any actual frosting on it. The apples on top were like pie filling, so good. The Raspberry Ginger one I think I liked the least probably because I am not a fan of ginger, but the cake was a spice cake and there was a small center of raspberry filling which was a nice surprise.

Needless to say, I did finish them all. I will definitely be going back to try out the other flavors.

Hair/Make-up by jcLuu Makeup Artisan

For my recent wedding I was referred to jcLuu Makeup Artisan for my hair and make-up. Now, I rarely wear make-up or spend more than 10 minutes doing my hair on a normal day, unless of course my mother is yelling at me that I look “so plain”. So when it came time to planning the details of the wedding, hair and make-up never really crossed my mind, but alas, it had to be done. I was referred to jcLuu (aka Jenny) and I made an appointment for a trial. From the moment we began communication she was extremely professional and knowledgeable in her field, and since I knew nothing on the topic she had her work cut out for her. We chose a date for the trial and Jenny directed me to a very handy checklist on her website for me to review before the trial.

On the day of the trial, I had my dress with me so that Jenny could get an idea of the colors I was looking for. My dress was not a traditional white wedding dress, it was a colorful Indian two piece outfit. 4255614562_667f18de5e_b For my hair, I didn’t want a traditional updo, I wanted a more playful and comfortable look. I also didn’t want to have a thousand bobby pins digging into my brain. First, we did a half-up style with long curls for the rest of the hair, but after moving my head around in my top I realized that my hair was getting caught in the beading of my top and pulling the neat curls apart. p1010672

As an alternative, Jenny suggested a side-swept style that still allowed my hair to be down but didn’t get caught on my top. It was perfect! p1010948

Since I don’t normally wear make-up, I wanted to be ambitious and wear a bold pink and blue on my eyes, something out of a magazine, to match my outfit. Jenny did one eye with this bold look before I realized that, although it looked great, it was not for a wedding. She then gave me two looks to choose from, more neutral earthy colors and a light pink and silver.
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Both looked great and were definitely more my style. I decided to go with the light pink so I can still get that “stand-out” affect I wanted. The colors matched my dress perfectly and the make-up didn’t feel heavy or overdone. My skin looked even and all the dark spots on my forehead and chin had disappeared. It was like magic. Jenny used a light pink gloss on my lips which I absolutely loved, maybe more so because it tasted like cake :)

During the trial, Jenny was very organized and she even had a timer to make sure she stayed on track while still allowing me to change my mind every 5 seconds. She was adamant about making sure I absolutely loved my look and kept encouraging me to speak up when I wanted to change something. I felt very comfortable with her as she took the time to talk to me and explain all of her steps and color choices. She took note of all the products and colors we used as well as the time it took such that on the day of the wedding everything would be perfect.

On the day of the wedding, Jenny arrived promptly at 4:30 a.m. as I needed to be ready by 8:30 a.m. for the formal pictures. She arrived with her make-up assistant since they were doing hair and make-up for me as well as my two sister-in-laws. They were not only on time, organized and ready to go, but they were wide awake, something I definitely was not. It took them not more than 10 minutes to set up their equipment and rearrange the chairs and tables in the hotel room for us to get started. Jenny did the hair and make-up for me and the hair for my two sister-in-laws while her assistant did the make-up for my sister-in-laws. Even with a very strict time schedule, Jenny was patient with with the other two ladies on their suggestions for their own hair and was able to craft updos that looked fantastic. My sister-in-laws were very impressed and extremely happy with the way they looked. 4255642422_5c12af2fbc_b

I ended up loving my hair and make-up more so than at the trial. I was making changes to my hair at the last minute and Jenny was so accommodating, she truly meant it when she said “I just want you to be absolutely happy with it”. And I was.

It truly was a pleasure working with Jenny from trial to wedding day. From the first email I could tell she was professional, knowledgeable and genuinely cared about how I looked on my day and that carried through until the moment she left my hotel room on the day of the wedding. I think the best part of the entire day was having people come up to me, or tell my husband, that they literally didn’t even recognize me. People would just stare at me in shock. I loved it! Thanks Jenny!

I’m throwing in a picture of all the lovely ladies!

Wedding at Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, MA

On November 21st, Alex and I had wedding #3 at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, MA. We are finally done getting married! It may seem unnecessary, but it had to be done for various reasons. I felt the need to blog about this particular experience because I found the entire process with the staff at Hawthorne to be absolutely exceptional. For my experience, I have been a guest at several weddings, 3 of them just last year, and have had 3 of my own (to the same person!)

From the first meeting, almost a year ago, I knew that Hawthorne was very experienced as a wedding venue. My correspondence was primarily with Christine Turner who is the Assistant Director of Catering. After securing our date, Christine suggested I read Hawthorne’s Wedding Blog to get ideas and read about other wedding experiences. Even though we had already had two weddings, neither of them were as organized and structured as this one and I could use all the help I could get. The weddings on the blog were so creative and they all looked beautiful. I knew Hawthorne was a great choice. Over the course of the year, we had a total of 4 meetings with them, the initial meeting to set a date, the tasting, the initial details meeting, and the final meeting before the wedding.

In early August we had our dinner tasting and I was told to bring an empty stomach, that couldn’t have been more true. The tasting was essentially a mock wedding where the guests were couples like us who had upcoming weddings. They had several stationed and passed hors d’oeuvres along with a few upgraded items such as warm apple cider, which I ended up getting for my wedding. Also around the room were sample center pieces and napkin folds and each table was set up differently to display different chairs, tablecloths, napkins and centerpieces. Seated at each table with us was a member of the event staff to answer any questions that may come up during the tasting. They offered two samples each of the appetizer, salad, and dessert and the entree had 5 samples along with several sides served buffet style. There was so much food, I could barely try a bite of everything. They were so accommodating with Alex’s lactose intolerance, they gave him a salad without cheese, and a raspberry sorbet for dessert instead of the ice cream they had on the menu. The food was delicious, although I think I enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour more than the actual dinner. I was completely sold on the crab cakes as soon as I tried the first one. After the tasting, we knew exactly how we wanted our reception set up down to the napkin folds, and we were able to confidently choose our meal options.

The next meeting was for the initial preparations. We made our food and drink selections, gave an approximate head count, discussed any personal details we wanted to include and we received our “homework packet” as they called it, which we had to fill out and bring to our last meeting. Christine was very organized and thorough and was able to answer any and all questions we threw at her. She was very patient with our indecisiveness and our lack of knowledge of the process. She also informed us that she would be going on maternity leave a few weeks prior to our wedding and that we would see no interruption in the excellent service we had been given thus far and the transition to her replacement would be seamless. And indeed it was.

At our last meeting, I brought the somewhat completed homework packet along with all of our wedding favors and other items that would be included in the ceremony and reception. We were greeted by Lindsay Otis and Liz Dube who would be taking over the rest of the planning. They knew exactly what we had discussed with Christine and walked through the timeline of the entire day of the wedding with us. Literally, starting from 9 a.m. when our photographer was to arrive straight to 5 p.m. when the reception ended. Every detail of every event (lining up the bridal party, when to walk, where to stand, when to leave, where to go, first dance, cake cutting, bouquet toss) was reviewed, and it only took an hour! Liz continued to tell me that she would be the single point of contact for Alex and I during the entire event. If we needed anything at all we would just need to tell her and she would work with the appropriate people to make it happen. Seriously, Liz should be working for the secret service. Going into this meeting I was extremely stressed out and nervous about the details of the day, after leaving the meeting I was so relaxed I wasn’t worried about a thing. I was amazed.

On the morning of the wedding, Liz gave me a brief rundown for the ceremony and let me know that everything was ready and on schedule. She was smiling, confident and genuinely happy to be helping me on my day and I have to admit, seeing her made me instantly less nervous.

After the bridal party photos were done, we had a half an hour to go before the ceremony started and no guest had arrived. Like none. 11:00 rolled around and still we had maybe 10 of the 90 guests. Liz was still calm and said it was no problem we could just push back the ceremony. It’s almost like she’s done this before. Finally after 20 minutes of Liz reassuring us that everything will be fine, we were able to start the ceremony. She gathered the bridal party and gave them their instructions, lined everyone up and orchestrated a great beginning to the ceremony. Luckily, our ceremony was super quick (considering that we were already married, we could skip most of the details) so starting 20 minutes late didn’t have much of an effect on cocktail hour.

After the ceremony, Liz instructed the guests to enjoy cocktail hour while the bridal party took some final group photos in a room off to the side which had its own table of hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Meanwhile, the waitstaff brought in trays of the passed hors d’oeuvres and my beloved warm apple cider. The treatment that the bridal party received was fantastic, the waitstaff was extremely accommodating and friendly and would go out of their way to bring us any specific item that we were waiting for (for me it was the apple cider).

After mingling with our guests, pushing the crab cakes on everyone I saw and enjoying 3 glasses of cider, Liz brought the bridal party back to the photo room and instructed the guests to make their way back to the ballroom for the reception.

We had our introductions, began our first dance and had everyone join in. While most guests opted for the open bar instead, we had a good group out on the dance floor. The reception carried on with Liz always around when we needed her, yet somehow invisible. She’s like a ninja. Dinner was absolutely delicious; better than the tasting. Again, the waitstaff was amazing. They introduced themselves to each table and made sure that everyone was getting what they ordered and even made sure to point out specific ingredients in the food for anyone with allergies.

When I was finally able to relax, mingle, eat, drink and enjoy a cupcake, the dance floor was my new home.

The reception was everything I could have imagined and we had an absolute blast. I actually, didn’t want it to end. But alas, 5 p.m. rolled around and it was time to clear out. Hawthorne did an amazing job clearing out the ballroom quickly and efficiently since there was another wedding right after mine. They saved the leftover cupcakes, favors and centerpieces and everything was delivered to our suite for us to take home the next day. The suite was beautify set up with chilled champagne and two of our cupcakes for us to enjoy.

Overall, my experience with the Hawthorne Hotel from beginning to end was exceptional. The attention to detail and professionalism was above and beyond what I expected. Christine, Liz and Lindsay did a fantastic job of preparing us, answering our questions, holding our hand when needed and guiding us through the entire process. My brother, who was my default “wedding coordinator” for wedding #2, had such high praise for Liz, we couldn’t have pulled it off without her. So, I just wanted to say thank you to Christine, Liz, Lindsay and the entire staff at Hawthorne for giving us a truly memorable day!