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.
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All the utensils were made of silver and made especially for the hotel.
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I’ve never seen a lemon squeezer before, but then again it is the Ritz.
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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.
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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.
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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…
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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.
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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 :)
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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
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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.

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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!
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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I Don’t Understand People

I had a strange and aggravating email exchange this morning and I’ve come out of it annoyed and confused. I entered a road race a few weeks ago for this upcoming Sunday so I went to the race website to make sure my name was listed under the “registered runners” list. I did find my name along with an image that I did not upload. The image was of a painting of a traditional Indian woman complete with tikka (aka, red dot). Some of the other registered runners had images next to their names and some didn’t. None of the other images were race specific so I was a little confused as to who put up the image for me and why.

So I emailed the event info email in a nutshell:

I noticed that we both have pictures next to our names. I just wanted to know who put those up and why?

This is the response I got back:

Anita this is a fun event..I have pictures similar to yours for many-there is no why other than fun..perhaps this event is not for you..I will refund your money today. thanks

I was a bit taken aback by such a harsh repsonse. I definitely did not intend to drop out of the event, I simply just wanted to know the reasoning for that specific image. So I responded with:

I wasn’t trying to be rude at all, and I apologize if you feel that I was. I understand that this is a fun event which is why I signed up for it. I was just wondering, since the image above my name was so specific to my race it caught my attention, I didn’t notice other pictures like that.

If you feel that a simple inquiry indicates that this race is not for me, please do refund my money.

I was hoping this would be the end of the conversation. But I received this:

Bob Vines – a vine crawling up a house? Eve Seigal -a picture of Eve and the snake on a apple tree…Herbert Boge – pic of Humphrey Bogart..should I go on??

same on volunteer page….again Anita …..fun and nothing more.

Now for the record, none of these pictures refer to the specific race of the person they are representing. And I must state, that I was not offended by the image at all, just curious as to why the “fun” image for me was a traditional Indian woman. This question, the organizer never answered. Or as to how he assumed what my race was in the first place. At this point, I just wanted to end this since somehow I let this person get to me and make me feel like the unreasonable one.

I really didn’t mean to make this into the big deal it has become, nor take the apparent fun out of it. It was just a question, and I’m sorry that I offended you. Please refund my money.

His final response was uncalled for and so aggravating that I just couldn’t respond.

I will do this Anita….you asked a question and made a statement also..I answered the question and pointed out that you were wrong in your statement..I will put a check in the mail today

So in the end I am wrong for questioning something that appears near my name on a public facing website that I did not put there. The saddest part of this whole story is that I was really looking forward to running the race, and I never asked to drop out of it. But I guess for some people the easiest way to avoid confrontation is to play the blame game.


What does ‘Going Green’ really mean?

This made my day…

Me: I got a coupon via email, but I couldn’t print it out, can I just show you the code on my phone?

Aldo shoe lady: I’m sorry, you need to print out the coupon to use it.

Me: But it doesn’t have a bar code, you would just enter the coupon code in anyway so there is nothing to scan. (I show her the email on my phone)

Aldo shoe lady: I don’t think we can, but let me look. (Takes my phone and scrolls up and down for about 45 seconds. Then goes to her terminal and starts typing.)

Aldo shoe lady: Ok, I can do it this time, but next time please bring in the printed coupon.

Me: Ok, thank you. (She prints out my receipt and puts it in the shoe box.)

Aldo shoe lady: Aldo is going green, so I’m turning your box into a bag! (She slides a shoe string into two holes in the side of the box to make a handle and tapes the box shut.)

Me: (Now, I’m thinking to myself, do I want to be an a**hole and state the obvious? I decided to go for it… with a smile) I don’t want to be a jerk, but wouldn’t it be green if you could take my coupon code from my phone and you wouldn’t have to use a whole sheet of paper for it?

Aldo shoe lady: Uhh… well that wouldn’t work because then people could use the same coupon over and over again.

Me: And they can’t print out the same coupon several times?

Aldo shoe lady: … well, we have to send the paper coupons to the main office.

Me: (I decided to end the conversation there, mostly because I didn’t have the time to explain technology and the 21st century to her.) Ok, I understand. Have a great day!

Do companies like Aldo just say they are ‘going green’ so they can look like they are doing something for the environment? I would think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to go paperless, I mean Apple gives you the option to email your receipt instead of printing it out. Express has a code for every coupon they give out, so if you don’t have the physical coupon, they can enter the code in instead. I know it’s possible for Aldo to do a better job of ‘going green’.

And that’s what grinds my gears… back to you, Tom.


Dry Spell

I had some great momentum at the end of the summer, I had a plan. A new cupcake recipe a week, even dedicated Wednesday evenings to baking them. Now I seem to have run out of steam. Could be that school started, work is busy, still planning a never-ending wedding… maybe those are just excuses. In any case, I need some help. Please send me recipes that you come across and find interesting or ideas that you have for what will make a yummy cupcake… get me out of my rut!

Also, I am working with a group of people to bring Cupcake Camp to Boston. So if you think you’re interested, join the Google Group and throw out your ideas! Hopefully, I’ll get to showcase some of my creations and organize a fun weekend of cupcakeyness.


Beet Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Butter Cream Frosting

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These will definitely have a Take 2. First off, the recipe called for one beet. WTF is that? Since when do beets all grow the same size? So it’s safe to say I got a beet that was too big so the cupcake tastes more like beet bread and it didn’t rise like a cupcake should.

As for the butter cream, I think I still screwed up with it, but it didn’t taste too bad. I got a tip from a co-worker to make the dulce de leche at home putting an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk, submerged in water, into a pressure cooker for 45 minutes. Although, I was afraid of it exploding, it didn’t and almost like magic I had a can of what looked and tasted like thick caramel. Next time, though, I will put it in for 30 minutes instead of 45 since the longer it is in there the thicker it becomes.

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Problem with the butter cream was that the sugar-water reduction didn’t incorporate properly with the egg whites for some reason and I ended up having a cooled solid clump of sugar stuck to the bottom of the mixer bowl. I decided to forge ahead anyway and mix in the dulce de leche and it actually ended up tasting pretty good. Since my dulce de leche was a bit thicker you can see small dark dots since it couldn’t incorporate completely.

You can find the recipe here. I will definitely be making these again very soon and using what I learned this time, I think I can make them much better. Stay tuned….


Issues with Snow Leopard

I installed Snow Leopard today without regard to potential incompatibilities. I should also say that my Macbook Pro is about 3 years old and the battery is about to completely die on me. It holds a charge for about 45 minutes. After I installed Snow Leopard, I noticed a “Service Battery” message when I clicked the Battery menu sending me to a Mac Help window.

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I need to do further testing but I noticed that my battery seems to be lasting a bit longer on charge then it used to. But again, I need to verify this. Expose seems to be a bit smoother in transition and I gained about 10 gigs of space on my hard drive. I think Spotlight needs to reindex since it can’t seem to find any of my applications. I read that the Time Machine backup is 80% faster, which I will believe when I see… tomorrow night.

Here are some of the issues that I have come across thus far:

– had to reinstall Aptana Studio to 1.5.1
– need to reinstall XCode from Snow Leopard disk
– needed to reinstall Sqlite3 gem
– issues with Mongrel 1.1.5, after much debugging and reinstalling ended up using WebBrick for now
– need to install the 3.3+ version of Cyberduck, older versions are not compatible

Apple says the sleep is 1.8 times faster and wake-up is 2 times faster. I can agree with the wake-up but would have to say in the few times I tested sleep is much slower for me.

Here is a good wiki that lists applications, their versions and their compatibility status with Snow Leopard.