Just Say Please

A brief note, perhaps a rant, on etiquette, specifically in regards to those serving our coffees, crafting our burritos, driving our busses, carefully bagging our groceries…all the people who turn our day from bad to great with a caffeinated beverage, a friendly smile, a simple hello. The people we encounter daily, and often never see again. The people who stand in front of us, behind counters and cashiers and who are people. Just like me and just like you. With lives to live and stories to share and good days and bad days and boyfriends and children and school work and second jobs and hobbies and interests and passions.

Be nice to those people (and all people). Be kind to them. Don’t order your coffee, ask for your coffee. Say thank you. Smile. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Slow down. Smile. Look up from your phone. Hang up your phone. In 3 minutes, you can make a friend, learn something, restart your day, or theirs. Don’t underestimate the power of 3 minutes. Or the power of 1 person. And if all of this is too difficult for you, at the very least, just say please. Please.

That’s all.

Thanks for reading.

Eating Well in Bos…I mean, Newton Centre

Eating well in Boston has proven quite difficult (hence the disappearing act of this blog). For starters, I should say I’m not actually IN Boston, more like outside of Boston, but not even in one of Boston’s quaint neighborhoods like Brookline or Cambridge or Somerville, way outside in a little suburban town called Newton. Newton Center (where my apartment is) is home to a handful of local shops and restaurants, glamorous fashion boutiques, a very convenient T stop with it’s very own diner, one Starbucks, across from one Dunkin’, one very bad Mexican restaurant, one very good Thai restaurant, a few banks, a lot of hair and nail salons and tons of people running, there are always people running. There’s a small park filled with pretty flowers and birds that whistle while I read and just beyond the traffic lights and impossible-to-navigate 5.5-way intersection in the center of town there are beautiful houses that remind me of my other home, my original home, in Simsbury, CT. Houses with big porches and gardens filled with the brightest greens, yellows and pinks, and lawns made of grass that never seems to grow yet never seems to be mowed, either.

My apartment is…a first apartment. It has 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 kitchen and 1 living room with a very comfortable sofa, but no television. There is no kitchen table and the living room has 1 desk with no accompanying chair. Windows are scarce everywhere except for my bedroom, which is lined wall-to-wall with 7 large windows. On Mondays and Tuesdays between 1 and 2:30AM, some kind of large, ridiculously loud truck comes around to empty a dumpster or tow a car from the public lot or collect quarters and dimes from the parking meters, always waking me up with a jolt. The kitchen is currently occupied by fruit flies and there’s a stench from who knows where that seems to linger in everything that comes out of the kitchen, from the salads I make for lunch to the quinoa creations I attempt to make for dinner.

This is where the eating well, or lack there of, comes into play. When I first arrived in Newton, I was very excited about sharing 1 refrigerator with 2 girls rather than 4 and I was even more excited about having a grocery store (Wegman’s nonetheless), within .5 miles from my workplace and home. I had big plans to buy fresh fruits and vegetables every other week, never letting them go bad. I would keep them on shelves or in the fridge, never worrying who might eat them or how I would use them before it was too late. But then the bugs came, and the smell quickly followed and the beauty and excitement of my very first apartment started to wear off. My bananas were enjoyed by flies and my avocados just didn’t quite ripen the way I wanted them to. In an attempt to save much of the sweet, sweet paychecks I’ve begun to receive (as well as an attempt to shed some of those college lbs brought on by Margarita Monday, late night cheesesteaks and well, everything else…) I’ve been trying to avoid eating out. But for the last few weeks that I’m here in Newton, I think I’m giving that up.

Eating out however, can be tricky when you have few friends to accompany you and no kitchen table to bring your food home to. So for now, from Monday to Thursday, before I jet set to Eastham for the weekends, I’ll dine in the park, or at the bar, or on the big red sofa in my TV-less living room. Maybe my roommates will join me, maybe my brother will offer to pay. However it happens, for the remainder of the month I’ll be eating well in sort-of Boston.

Disclaimer: it hasn’t all been bad. Since arriving here, I’ve devoured mini lobster rolls and salmon skewers overlooking Boston’s Back Bay during Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston Party, I’ve had authentic burritos with my brother and have shared hummus platters with new friends, Ahi Tuna salads from Del Frisco’s Grille and incredible pizza at Otto in Brookline with my dad. Of course there’s J.P Licks, and Pinkberry and Treat Cupcake Bar, and a Dunkin’ Donuts on every block…so really, no complaining to be had here.

A Sushi Story

Tonight we’re celebrating the long anticipated start date of my first job with dinner at Mac’s Shack. Located just down the road from the Welfleet Town Pier, this old 19th century house that was once a nautical shop, has since been transformed into one of our favorite restaurants on Cape Cod.

It’s just my parents and me tonight, the original summertime trio. We know we’ll have to wait for a table so we skip the post-beach happy hour that usually occurs on the porch around 5:00.

Mac’s Shack is alive with a sweet summertime beat. The outside bar is packed with raw oyster-slurping ‘locals’ and vacationers alike, tapping their sandal-clad feet against the broken seashell-covered ground. A cool breeze soothes our cheecks, where the daytime sun has kissed our skin.

Dad orders our drinks, pino grigio for me and mom, and a Whales Tale Pale Ale for himself. After a blissful 20 minutes or so, our pager buzzes against the white-washed, wooden bench.

We open our menus. I quickly scan the variety of familiar appetizers and entres, knowing I won’t order any of them. We’ve come for sushi…at least I have anyway. I flip to the sushi menu and skim the long list of special ‘maki’ rolls, in search of any new additions. Before making any final decisions I re-read the descriptions of my favorites, just to make sure they’re still my favorites.

Deciding how many rolls to order depends entirely on who else is at the table; this is phase 1. So I sit quietly waiting for mom and dad to decide. If the whole family where here… Andrew wouldn’t eat a piece of fish if you paid him (really, my dad used to offer him $50), so he’d be out. Pete will eat just about anything so you know he’d be willing to split a few rolls and mom always claims to “only want a few pieces”.  It all comes down to dad. He could go either way; a few sushi rolls or a traditional entre. Tonight he chooses sushi. I think mostly because he knows it makes me happy.

Wave Roll

Wave Roll

We know from experience that we’ll need about 4 maki (sushi rolls). Deciding which rolls to order is phase 2. A well-balanced variety is key.  We try to avoid ordering two rolls with cream cheese inside, like the Philadelphia roll, or multiple rolls with the same piece of raw fish, like tuna or salmon. At least one roll with a little kick to it is always good, too. Of course, at Macs we have our long list of go-to favorites, making this phase a little easier. Dad and I decide on…

  • Gan Jah Mon: Tuna, mango, cream cheese, avocado, black tobiko (always a no brainer)
  • Wave Roll: Spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber, wrapped in soy
    paper (here’s the one with the “kick”)
  • Crabby Crunch Roll: California roll topped w/ tempura flakes & sweet soy sauce & a drop of sriracha (nothing too crazy, mom will like this one)
  • Rainbow Roll: California roll layered with tuna, yellowtail, salmon & white fish (another classic staple)

For only wanting a few pieces, mom still has quite a bit to say about our selection (Is that one spicy? I don’t think I like that one. Ooh ya, let’s get that!).

Enough time passes to devour a small side of seaweed salad, when 4 rolls are presented at our table. 4 rolls to be split, as evenly as possible, among 2.5 people. Now comes the trickiest part, just how many pieces of each sushi roll are mine, dads and now officially added to the equation, moms. I try to follow a system, one Gan Jah Mon, one Wave, one Crabby Crunch, one Rainbow, repeat. I try to keep that going for as long as possible. Dad has a similar technique.

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Which one will it be?

After trading a few pieces here and there (“I’ll give you one of my Rainbows, for your last Crabby Crunch), and sorting out the uneven distribution that moms random sampling has caused, it comes down to the final round and the toughest question of all: which piece will be your last? The one you can still taste as you exit the restaurant and in the car on the ride home. Will it be a piece with a kick to it? Or one that’s savory and sweet, like the Gan Jah Mon? To each their own.

Rarely are we disappointed with our choices, the many, many choices that are required when we all sit down for sushi. At the very least, if we didn’t order enough or mom sneaks in a few extra pieces than she had originally planned, there’s always room for ice cream.

Visit the photo gallery for more pictures of tonight’s meal at Mac’s!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

On any given rainy day you have two options: 1. Transition from your bed to your couch around lunch time, stay in your pajamas and watch outdated DVD’s borrowed from the town library all day, or 2. Spend a few hours flipping through whatever cook book your mom has laying around the house, decide on a recipe or two, gather the ingredients and start cookin’. Well, those are my options anyway…

Rainy days on Cape Cod in May and June are much more frequent than I’d like. I typically spend as much time as possible on the deserted beaches with my book and a sweatshirt, shivering only for a moment when the sun hides behind the fleeting clouds. But when those clouds are too stubborn to quickly pass by and they spread themselves low and thick above Nauset Light Beach all the way across town to First Encounter Beach, I’m left with 2 options, movie marathon or new recipe. Luckily for me (or not, depending on how you look at it), there are usually enough rainy days in the week for me to do a little bit of both.

Today’s cloudy day, culinary challenge: Chicken Tortilla soup, one of my all time favorites. My mom makes a delicious (and healthy!) homemade tortilla soup but she’s the kind of chef who doesn’t necessarily need cook books or measuring cups. She’ll take a look in the cabinet, grab a few cans or a couple of boxes, open the fridge, take what ever is left over from last night’s dinner, mix it all together on the stove and just like that, a few seemingly random ingredients become dinner. For these reasons, recreating mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup was a little bit of a challenge. Taking a variety of instructions from a few different Pinterest recipes (and of course a few phone calls), I came up with a concoction of my own that sounded like it would turn out tasting pretty similar to moms.

Here’s what I came up with…

  • 1.5 chicken breast, diced
  • 1 green  pepper
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 japeleno pepper
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 cup of frozen corn
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 of a jar of leftover salsa from the fridge
  • 1 can of chicken brother
  • 1 cup of water
  • a few shakes of cumin
  • a dash of chili powder
  • salt and pepper

In a large pot on the stove I drizzled some olive oil and let the garlic, onion, peppers, chicken and seasonings blend together. After a short time, I added the corn, still frozen, the black beans and the diced tomatoes. I let that sit on low heat for about 30 minutes.

Before adding the chicken broth and water, I took a little bike ride. The sun had made an unexpected appearance and looked like it may only be sticking around for a short while so I wanted to soak up as much as possible while I had the chance. This step of course is optional, just don’t forget to switch the burner off!

Upon my return, I reheated the mixture of vegetables and added the chicken broth and water. I let simmer for the remainder of the afternoon, about 5 hours and soon enough, I had homemade chicken tortilla soup for dinner!

With a handful of multigrain corn chips and a sprinkle of reduced fat pepper jack cheese, it didn’t look or taste exactly like my moms but every bite was loaded with vegetables, chicken and a unique flavor of my own. As my great grandmother Nonny would say, it certainly did “come good! “.

Chicken tortilla soup

Dinner is served!

 

 

 

 

 

Dine (and of course, shop!) The Street

GraduationThe month of May has been quite a ride, filled with celebration, teary goodbyes, new beginnings and very little time for blogging. It wasn’t easy to leave Hawk Hill, the beautiful campus I’ve called home for the last 4 years, or The City of Brotherly Love where I fell in love with soft pretzels and cheesesteaks, ‘wiz witout’. After 4 years of learning everything there is to know about communications and marketing (ok maybe not everything) and a semester filled with final projects, Skype interviews and post-grad panic, I’m very proud to announce that I am now an alumna of Saint Joseph’s University. I’m even more proud to announce that I have accepted a full-time job offer from W/S Development to become the Marketing and Operations Coordinator at The Street in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. This of course means that I will no longer be spending my summers babysitting, serving tables and making sure that the license plate number on every Town of Eastham beach parking sticker matches that of the vehicle it’s attached to…a reality I am slowly beginning to come to terms with. Despite my few apprehensions, I am overjoyed to make this transition from Hawk Hill to Chestnut Hill and to begin writing this next chapter of my life.

As Mareting and Operations Coordinator at The Street I’ll be joining a team of 2 and working on a little bit of everything, from developing social media content to developing contract agreements and relationships with potential tenants and current merchants on The Street. In addition to the incredible shopping destinations found at The Street, like Portobello Road, Pottery Barn, Lululemon, Intermix and Bluemercury, The Street, of course, offers a variety of exquisite restaurants, that quite frankly, I can’t wait to try. Among them Legal Seafoods, The Cottage, Del Frisco’s Grille, Davio’s Cucina, Bernard’s and my favorite (by default) Shake Shack. It was at The
Cottage that I met with my future boss for the first time and talked Boston and business over a California Caesar salad, grilled chicken sandwich and warm ciabatta rolls. Its fresh menu and bright, inviting decor was a great escape from city life to seaside, a place I will certainly be revisiting! Knowing there’s a Shake Shake, Pinkberry, and Treat Cupcake Bar just steps away from my office, might make dieting a little more challenging this summer but I’m certainly not complaining.

While I know it’s not exactly included in my job description to shop and dine at The Street, it’s certainly important that I’m knowledgable about all that is has it offer. Whether with new friends or old, my parents or brothers, coworkers or roommates, I look forward to eating my way down The Street, menu to menu, fro-yo to milkshake, surf to turf.

I’m staring to think every new beginning has a new menu to take a look at as well, which is fine by me.

The Dandelion

On the corner of 18th and Sansom, along the outskirts of Rittenhouse Square, Ryan and I approached the Dandelion Pub, hand in hand. We had spent the previous night reading countless reviews and drooling over the menus of every Stephen Starr restaurant in Philadelphia. Personally, I could have closed my eyes, pinned my finger on any restaurant on the list and been on my way. Unfortunately for me, Ryan isn’t as adventurous when it comes to his next meal. “London’s culinary revolution comes to Philadelphia with this unique gastropub…” the Dandelion’s website began. We knew nothing about London’s culinary revolution and had never before heard the word “gastropub” but there were steak and chips on the menu and with that, Ryan was sold.

I recognized the building from the Instagram research I had conducted the night before. Vibrant red, yellow, orange and purple pansies sat in high window boxes against the tall brick building, intricately outlined with charcoal and off-white designs. Beneath the blooming flower boxes, large open windows gave us a glimpse of the inside; older couples sharing dinner, younger couples sharing drinks. I imagined there were friends meeting up after a long work week, co-workers celebrating the completion of a big project, or the addition of a new client, two strangers on their first date.

Beneath the windows sat large black picnic tables, each with four table settings and a small candle. Some were occupied by brave souls, unconcerned about the low gray clouds above, some were left vacant. Along the opposite side, the restaurant was lined with fat, wooden barrels each filled with a cluster of different colored pansies with leaves spilling over the sides.

Ryan and I stepped into a small doorway, above it hung an even smaller lantern indicating we had reached our destination. There was no sign on the building, just a faded number “124” and the lantern. A small image of a lion in a top hat, fully dressed with a monocle and cane was etched into the face of the lantern. Inside the pub was dark, but far from gloomy. It was as alive as I had imagined it be while peering into the windows just minutes before. The cozy, old-timey bar was filled with people and with laughter. Ryan and I were lead up a carpeted stair case to the second floor. Exactly where I had hoped we’d be sitting. The dining room upstairs was empty and much better lit than the downstairs bar. It was early, just 5:35. We sat to the left of a beautiful 3 fold window looking out over Rittenhouse Square, at a small, intimate table next to a beautiful fireplace. Our chairs looked like antiques, the same red and yellow pansies were peaking out from inside their boxes beneath the windows.

Menu“Would you like flat or fizzy?” the waitress asked. We looked at her in confusion. “Flat is fine,” I replied sheepishly, unsure if adding fizz to our water would result in an additional charge. We were out of our element, for sure. Standing on Passyunk Ave. in front of a Pat’s cheesesteak window, impatient chef waiting for our order, ‘wiz wit’ or ‘wiz wit out’? Not a problem. Flat a fizzy? A whole new world.

We ordered drinks, a red sangria for me, a Brooklyn Lager for Ryan and house-made ricotta cheese served with toasted sourdough bread. I’ve eaten my fair share of bread and cheese, but I can tell you confidently, this was the best cheese, topped with extra virgin olive oil and dried herbs, I have ever tasted.

There was plenty to celebrate, but not a lot we wanted to talk about. Two and a half years together. Four years of college complete. A future filled with opportunity, uncertainty, excitement and apprehension. Ryan is moving to Arizona to spend the next six months working for the Irish Dairy Board,  far away from the only home he’s ever known, Philadelphia. My next move after graduation has yet to be determined. A new job in Boston, another summer baby-sitting on Cape Cod? I wasn’t quite sure. What we both knew, and what neither of us wanted to admit, was that our lives were changing quickly, faster than we had ever thought possible.  And so we raised our glasses in a toast to ‘life’, a broad topic that seemed to sum up everything we couldn’t quite put into words. A toast to love and happiness and new beginnings.

After looking over Salmon and Steakthe menu for what seemed like the 100th time since the previous night, Ryan ordered the steak and chips, as expected, and I opted for the herb crusted salmon served with lemon pure, olive tapenade and haricot verts. Both entrees highly recommended. Ryan had no interest in the watercress salad served along side his steak and triple-cooked french fries, as it wasn’t a pile of romaine with creamy caesar dressing, so I helped him finish it up. With a little (ok, a lot) of convincing, he even tried a bite of my salmon.

The sun set behind the tall buildings of Center City as we finished our meals and headed back downstairs with full stomachs and happy hearts. Downstairs was even more alive than it had been when we first arrived. By candle light, through crowds of people I noticed a cluster of words displayed boldly above another fireplace. “Fear knocked at the door, Faith answered and no one was there.”

It was a beautiful reminder of the next chapter to come. To be strong and fearless and confident and brave. I smiled, reached for Ryan’s hand and headed back out into the big city towards a bright, bright future.

*A special thank you to my number one guy, Ryan for putting up with me as I photographed every morsel of food placed on our table. To see all of our plates from the Dandelion Pub, head over to the photo gallery.

Cinco Margaritas Mejores

Lately I’ve been celebrating most, if not all, Mondays in “Cinco de Mayo” style. By this of course I mean with a margarita. On St. Patrick’s Day (Monday, March 17th), it wasn’t Guinness or green beer that I was after, it was a lime green margarita with salt on the rim. Whether there’s something to celebrate, like a graduate school acceptance or a successful job interview, or something to forget, like a less than perfect exam grade or a less than perfect boy, a margarita seems to always do the trick. And since Monday is the only day of the week starting with the letter “M”, it’s only right that the start of every week or the end of every weekend (depending on how you look at it) should be deemed “Marg Monday”.

While there may be one exam and one presentation standing in my way this afternoon, this evening I’ll be celebrating the 5th of May (and ringing in a birthday!) with good friends and a big pitcher of that salty-sweet tequila goodness! If you’re a tequila lover like myself (or even if you’re not) give these margs a try…because the only thing better than one margarita…is two margaritas.

Margs

Photo cred. to Victoria Brandimarte, one of my Marg-Monday-loving friends.

1. El Vez: This original Stephen Starr restaurant located on South 13th Street in the City of Brotherly Love offers a fun atmosphere, excellent guacamole and the best margaritas in Philadelphia. Made with hand-squeezed lime juice, lime puree and your choice of additional flavors (all fresh, never syrup), these margaritas will have you falling head over heels in love with Jose…Cuervo, that is. El Vez certainly a little pricey so save this hot-spot for an extra-special celebration like a birthday or graduation. Enjoy outdoor seating but don’t miss the photo booth inside!

2. Taqueria Feliz: One of my favorite new restaurants and frequently featured on Once Upon a Plate, if you haven’t taken my advice yet, now’s the perfect time to check it out. As I’ve said before, these margaritas are truly some of the best.

3. Cactus: It’s hard to find a deal better than $10 pitchers of margarita, and it’s even harder to pass on such a deal. Cactus, another Main Street Mexican go-to, is great for a low key meal, or birthday celebration that all of your friends can not only enjoy but also afford. Regardless of what you’re coming in for, make sure you ask for Tony, there may be a free t-shirt laying around or even a round of shots on the house.

4. Chili’s: A few friends, a nice big bowl of bottomless chips and salsa, a couple frozen margaritas is just about all you need. No explanation necessary, these frozen treats are like sherbet with a shot of tequila.

5. Landmark Americana: Last but certainly not least, if your bank account is a little low and no one is particularly interested in taking on the role of designated driver, there’s always Landmark! The $2 margarita special on Monday nights is well worth every penny but you might want to order two at a time; the service is often far from speedy.

 

 

@Yuengling_Beer: A Social Media Audit

This semester I was given the opportunity to combine my passion for social media with my love for one of Philadelphia’s Phinest, Yuengling Lager. The assignment was to choose an industry, choose a brand and identify it’s top two competitors. For four months, my teammates and I tracked the social activity of the Beer industry. We looked at Budweiser and Corona but focused mainly on D.G Yuengling and Son’s; America’s oldest brewery.

Yuengling

Here’ to you, Philly!

I had never heard of Yuengling before coming to Philadelphia (I mean, before my 21st birthday…). In fact, I couldn’t even get the spelling right until just a few days ago upon completion of this assignment. Since becoming ‘of-age’ last August, I’ve found that I don’t particularly care for beer…unless it’s Yuengling. Brewed and bottled in Potsville, PA since 1829, there’s just something about Yuengling that my taste-buds crave. Perhaps it’s the flavor of home in every sip, or the historic story behind every label. Or maybe it’s because at 6:30 on a Friday night in September, I raised my green bottle in a poorly lit tavern on Samson St. for the 2nd annual “Philadelphia PhillyWide Lager Toast”. Joined by hundreds of Philadelphians, in over 250 bars across the city and suburbs on National Drink Beer Day, I tuned into Comcast SportsNet to watch a special ‘thank you’ from 5th generation president, Dick Yuengling, as he himself raised his Lager in a toast to Philly.

“Ever since my great-great grandfather brewed our first bottle of beer in 1829, Philadelphians have been supporting us and pushing us to grow,” said Yuengling. “The truth is, without Philadelphia, we simply would not be where we are today. The city has truly shown our family business brotherly love, and we’d like to raise a glass to that. Now that we’re the largest American-owned brewery, it’s time we say thanks in the most appropriate way – with a Lager on us.”

These words sum up my love for Yuengling (and Philly) pretty well. And now that I can drink Yuengling Traditional Lager in Boston? All the more reason to make my big move!

Blogger with Lager

Blogger w/ a Lager

In addition to bottling some of the best Lager on the East coast, Yuengling’s social media activity is pretty phenomenal as well. They’re active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTubeInstagram and Google+. Most impressive? Their incorporation of user-generated content on their Facebook and Instagram accounts. By reposting images and quotes from their fans, Yuengling is establishing a community of beer-lovers as well as providing a space for conversation and interaction. They do a great job of responding to questions and tweets (they even responded to my tweet earlier today!) and advertising their products in a way that’s personal, tasteful and captivating. Posting behind-the-scenes images from inside the brewery on Instagram or uploading videos to YouTube of the bottling process of Yuengling’s seasonal Summer Wheat Lager, Yuengling provides an exclusive view of their product which provokes excitement and enhances engagement. Using social media, Yuengling tells a story. One filled with pride, tradition and good taste. Yuengling is very much a humanized brand, which is great quality to have in today’s digital world.

Take a look at our final presentation below. (Lacking our notes of course, but you’ll get the idea.)

Yuengling Social Media Audit

Cheers! (and TGIF!)

Anne, Party of 1 (or more)

I could eat every meal by myself and be happy as a clam – as long as it’s a good meal. In the morning when my roommates are asleep, working out or already in class I enjoy my coffee and egg and cheese sandwich at the kitchen table or on the sun porch, solo. I catch up on the news, watch the viral videos everyone has been talking about, plan my dinner (and usually my lunch), or sometimes I just do nothing, in silence. During May and June, when my mom is still making up for snow days in her Kindergarten classroom, and I’m alone on Cape Cod, I live well and I eat well. I experiment with new recipes, create my own personal pizzas, grill portobello mushrooms and turkey burgers, all with a serving size of one. Cooking (and eating) is time I enjoy spending in the company of me, myself and I, but certainly not all the time.

Food has the power to bring people together. Aside from taste and smell, that may very well be one of my favorite things about it.

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My grandfather celebrating his 90th birthday at Sunday Dinner with all nine (and one more on the way!) great-grandchildren!

On Sunday nights in CT, my entire family comes together for Sunday Dinner. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, their husbands and wives and children (lots of small children), everyone, shares dinner around a big dining room table, or wherever they can find a seat. Held at a different house each week, sometimes its a few large pizzas, other times it’s a home cooked meal. Whoever can come, comes. Most weeks, it’s a full house. There’s always something to talk about, something to celebrate or big news to share and there’s always plenty of food.

Back at school in Philadelphia, a similar tradition happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays. From 10:45 to 12:30 the university recognizes something called Free Period, a time when no classes are held and students are encouraged  to meet with professors, work on group projects, and catch up on school work. But for most, Free Period is a time to eat lunch and catch up with friends, for me in particular, with my sisters in Alpha Gamma Delta. At a big long table in the Campion Student Center 40 of my closest friends happily squish side-by-side , sharing seats and french fries. Some stay at the table for 2 hours, others for 20 minutes, some just stop by to say hello. It’s not the food in particular that draws us all to the table (trust me, I don’t think I’m speaking for myself when I say I can live without SJU’s infamous Hawk Wrap twice a week) but it’s the necessity of lunch time. We all need lunch before 12:30 classes begin again, so why not eat your mediocre wrap while surrounded by great company?

In keeping with the theme of meals shared by many, I recently crossed another restaurant off my Manayunk Bucket List, Hikaru. One step closer to eating my way down Main Street. While enjoying a glass of wine and sitting around a sizzling hibachi table, I caught up with my Alpha Gamma Delta ‘family’, my Little, Little Little and Little Little Little (for those unfamiliar with Greek Life families, save yourself the headache. It’s just a group of ‘sisters’). We try to get together a few times each semester for something we call ‘Family Dinner’. Sometimes there’s just three of us that can make it, and sometimes we make a reservation for 12. Regardless of how many of us can make it or where we decide to go, whether it’s a restaurant on campus, on Main Street or in the city, it’s something we do to catch up with each other, check in, and simply enjoy each other’s company, all while sharing a plate of nachos or catching a piece of shrimp from the Hibachi chef.

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Good food, great margs and an even better friend

I have my friends to thank for much of my progress on the Manayunk Bucket List. With my friend Kate, I weaved through crowds of people waiting in lines behind food trucks during last weekend’s 4th annual Manayunk StrEAT Festival. Together we checked out menus from Mama’s Meatballs, Mac Mart Cart, Vernalicious and Oink and Moo BBQ. We walked up and down, up and down Main Street struggling to make a decision. As our stomachs grumbled louder and louder, it was a time to make a decision. Not interested (and now too hungry) to wait in any line, and considering our love for margaritas we decided on Taqueria Feliz, a new restaurant on Main Street with an awesome authentic-mexican menu (and a phenomenal Feliz Margarita!). Sitting by large window we watched the crowds of people pass by, carrying babies and walking dogs, munching on tater tots or cupcakes. We sat inside looking out onto Main Street, Margaritas in hand, devouring chips and salsa, enjoying each other’s company.

(Side note: I later ventured back out onto Main Street with my boyfriend to wait in endless lines and eat pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches and loaded mac and cheese from various food trucks.)

So while I certainly enjoy spending a little quality time with myself while eating breakfast or whipping something up for dinner, I’m also very thankful to have such wonderful friends, a family who likes to eat just as much as I do, and a boyfriend who (although sometimes reluctantly) agrees to try new restaurants just for the sake of the Manayunk Bucket List. Not every meal should be eaten alone, not every meal should be crowded and hectic. It’s a healthy balance that keeps us sane, independence and codependence, being okay with being alone, and having great friends to join you when the meal is just too big for one.