Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Through the lens

Photographers inspire me - in college, I had Ansel Adams posters on my walls and I always wanted to be able to capture an image like he did.  Since then, I have learned a few things along the way, and while I am no professional, I really enjoy it and I have captured some beautiful places.  I prefer photographs to paintings; a beautifully composed photo is a work of art in itself. 

I have been fortunate to travel to many places to see the gorgeousness the world has to offer.  I hope you enjoy this first post of my images!

Nice, France
Grand Canyon, AZ, USA
Athens, Greece

Laguna Madre, TX, USA

Le Metro, Paris, France

Times Square, NY NY, USA

La tour Eiffel, Paris, France

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Amazing Superdad

Everything I learned about perseverance and adaptability, I learned from my dad. 

Dad grew up on a farm, and he had his wild moments as a teenager. At 16, a joy ride with a friend cost him his right arm in a crash at speeds of over 110 mph, smashing into telephone poles a football field apart.  His friend, the driver, walked away unscathed.  My dad had to learn to use his left arm for everything, and I'm sure it wasn’t an easy road, as he is naturally right-handed (and left-brained). 

As a kid, my sister and I were endlessly fascinated by Dad’s artificial arm and by his supplementary hook for work around the house.  We would sit on his lap and put a finger between his plastic ones, and he would pretend to “snap” his fingers together, causing us to squeal with delight.  When he would take the arm off at night, Tracey and I would sit on the bed and try it on and attempt to make it move by touching the sensor.  Later, his grandchildren got the same lesson about people with disabilities – they’re just the same as everyone else. 

I remember when my very first date, Simeon Lanier Archer III (who could forget that name?) picked me up at the house, and Dad reached out with his left hand to shake Lanier’s hand.  I was so nervous I didn’t notice the handshake.  In the car, Lanier asked me about my Dad’s hand and I told him about the accident.  Most people didn’t know someone with an artificial arm or leg, and everyone has questions.

When my dad flies commercially, he has always had to endure a more thorough pat-down and check because of his arm.  Since 9/11, it's even more thorough, and I think my dad opts to drive more often than fly, especially now that he has a knee replacement.   As much as I hear people in my industry complain about the pat-downs, I have never heard my dad say a word about it.  He knows how it works and he takes it stoically and without complaint.

Dad has never defined himself by his missing arm.  I have never heard him say "I can't" or feel sorry for himself.  Not ever.  There are a few things my moms helps him with, like buttoning the sleeve on his left arm, or tying his shoes, but other than that he can do it all. 

Dad’s may only have one and a half arms, but he has more love and strength in those limbs than many people do in two whole ones. Happy birthday, Dad.  I love you more than ever. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Favorite restaurants in North America

Eddie V's Austin
 I've been to a few places... well, maybe more than a few... and I tend to remember cities by the food they serve.  What can I say?  I love to eat.

These are my 10 favorites as of this moment, in no particular order.  Share yours with me so when I visit my next new city, I can try it out and recommend it in turn.

1)  Tarbell's, Phoenix, AZ -  Last time I was at Tarbell's, I started with the golden beet salad with a balsamic eduction and goat cheese, shared the beef sliders with my dining partners, pan-seared halibut for the main course, and vanilla profiteroles for dessert.  Every single person in a party of 15 loved their meals, and the service is impeccable.  I have great memories of this place as well: it's the first restaurant Will took me to the first time I went to visit him in Phoenix when we were dating. Lucky me -  I fell in love with both Will and Tarbell's.

2)  The Five Fishermen, Halifax, NS, Canada - For me, Halifax is a magical place.  Many Americans can't point to Nova Scotia on a map, let alone consider visiting it, but they are missing out on a fantastic place.  If you're like me and you love seafood, brilliant fall colors, hockey, and friendly locals with wonderful Scottish-Canadian accents, this is for you.  Take a drive out to craggy Peggy's Cove and the Swissair flight 111 memorial in the fall for mystical beauty.  The Five Fisherman embodies the spirit of Nova Scotia, and it you really can't go wrong ordering any kind of lobster dish on special that night.  Start with the mussels and salad bar, and go from there.  After dinner, go see a Halifax Mooseheads hockey game, with 16- and 17-year-old players on their way to the NHL.  Pure hockey at its best.

3)  Redamak's, New Buffalo, MI - Six words is all I need: cheeseburger, fried zucchini, and apple fritters.  Trust me - best cheeseburger in the U.S., if not the world.

4)  Eiffel Tower restaurant, Paris hotel, Las Vegas, NV - I don't like anything about Vegas except for the food.  Honestly, the restaurants in Vegas rival any place in the world if you know where to go.  I don't care about any of the other dishes at Eiffel Tower, but the souffle is worth taking a side trip for dessert.  It absolutely melts in your mouth.

5)  Masa, Time Warner Building, New York, NY - If you love sushi and haven't been to Masa yet, your nirvana awaits.  Imagine yourself sitting at a bar with three of your best friends, and you have your own personal sushi chef, serving gourmet rolls and sashimi to you one unbelievable piece at a time.  Shredded white truffles fluffily surrounding a simple roll of rice and seaweed was, surprisingly, my favorite.  I told the chef that I didn't really want any of the oily fishes, and he sternly said, "You try."  So I did.  He rewarded me with another perfectly seared tuna roll after I tried the mackerel.   Take out a second mortgage on your house before you eat here.  I'm not kidding.

6)  Mistral, Boston, MA - My sweet cousin Kelley took me to Mistral the first time, while she still lived in Boston.  We started with pumpkin martinis (oh, Bols, why did you have to stop making pumpkin liqueur?) and salmon tartare that still evokes a memory of silky, salty perfection.  Their menu changes regularly, as it should, but their seafood is very well done, and they do client events with class.

7)  Eddie V's, Austin, TX -  There are two Eddie V's in town - downtown and near the Arboretum, which means that my house is almost exactly in the middle.  The first time we tried Eddie V's was the week before my son was born, and we enjoyed a fantastic meal even with my belly sticking way out toward the table.  Service is divine, the ambiance is comfortable and not too stuffy, and the food is - ah - I'm salivating just thinking about it, and I just had dinner.  The salads are decent, but don't miss the truffled mac and cheese, the sea bass, and the sugary, rich bananas foster cake.  THE BANANAS FOSTER CAKE - now I'm craving a piece.

8)  Maximo's, New Orleans, LA - As luck would have it, I was upgraded on a flight to New Orleans in May a few years ago and ended up chatting with the gentleman next to me.  He was a partner for a restaurant called Maximo's, and handed me his card, recommending I give it a try.  That evening, I was on my own for dinner, as my colleagues hadn't arrived yet for the trade show for which we were in town, and I walked up Decatur Street past Cafe du Monde.  There was the sign for Maximo's, and I decided to give it a try.  I started the meal with a perfectly assembled chopped salad with fresh gorgonzola cheese, and followed up with the pan-seared redfish and grilled prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.   Here's the clue that I loved it:  I went back the next night, brought two colleagues, and had EXACTLY the same meal.  It was even better the second time.

9)  Restaurant August, New Orleans, LA - It says a lot that two of my favorite restaurants are in New Orleans, because I haven't spent that much time there. During the same week I discovered Maximo's, I had booked a large client dinner at Restaurant August, based on the reputation and private dinner space.  John Besh's menu changes frequently, and it's geared toward foodies with an adventurous palate, but their more "tame" dishes are also stellar.  And the wine list is fantastic!  For someone who doesn't drink wine all the time, I know what I like, and this restaurant has it.

10)  Seagar's, Destin, FL - Yes, I am truly going to recommend a hotel restaurant on this list.  Destin is one of my favorite beach towns, and my girlfriends and I have spent several long weekends having a fantastic time tearing up the town.  Every single time, we have started at Seagar's, and mostly for two reasons: the tuna tartare and the tableside Caesar.  After dinner, go dance it off until 4 AM at A.J.s.

Outside the U.S. -
City center, Brussels, Belgium - Make a meal out of moules et frites (mussels and fries) if you like bivalves, because they're the national dish.  As for me, the next time I'm in Brussels I'm going to head toward the most touristy area of Brussels - near the Grand-Place - and start with an order of frites avec andalouse in a paper cone and a frothy mug of Ouane Kriek (cherry beer), devour it all, and top it off with a gaufre avec sucre (waffle with sugar) from a street vendor.  That's all I need.

* Rome, Italy - Here's the thing: I can't remember the name of one restaurant in Rome, because I wandered so much all over the city and tried so many things.   I can tell you for sure that it is almost impossible to get a bad dish of pasta all'amatriciana.  I had it at least 4 times.  Blue Ice gelato is the best, and if you try the one near piazza novona, you can eat as you watch the street artists at work.  Try any pizza that looks good.  I love Rome so much that all of the food tastes good, even closest to the most touristy area, near the Spanish Steps.

Honorable mention:  the best crumbcake in the world is at B&W Bakery in Hackensack, NJ (incidentally, the town where I was born).  Huge sugary crumbs sit atop a light, flaky base and it melts in your mouth.  Eat it fresh, because it doesn't taste quite as perfect frozen or after sitting a couple of days.  Bar none, THE best.  They're so old school that they don't have a web site, but if you're anywhere near Hackensack, look them up.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ravioli in Rome

One of the fantastic perks I have had in my career is travel.  Now that I have my son, I'm a lot less excited about being away from him on business trips, but as long as he's with me I'd love to go, go, go.  Luckily, he's a pretty good little traveler.

Rome was one of my favorites.  In 2007, I went for a week with my regional marketing team for meetings and team building.  How lucky is that?  We stayed at a fantastic little hotel with a gorgeous pool within walking distance to Vatican City (  At the end of the week, I had a whole day all by myself after my colleagues had left, and I spent the morning at the pool, and the rest of the day exploring tiny cathedrals with priceless Raphaels inside.  It felt like home to me; I could go to Rome without a map and just wander.  It's a fantastic, mysterious, friendly, colorful, gorgeous city.

Our team-building activity was mid-week during our stay; all 20 of us from Beirut, Singapore, Rio, Geneva, Johannesburg, Paris, Rome, Atlanta, and London jumped on a charter bus and headed about 20 minutes outside of Rome to an adorable B&B (bed and breakfast) run by American transplant Wendy Holloway (  Everyone was issued an apron and assigned stations, and we learned how to make authentic Italian dishes from scratch.

My team's station was the lemon ravioli.  We learned how to firmly knead the dough until it was pliable and smooth, and took turns hand-cranking it through the pasta roller piece by piece, zesting the lemons into a creamy ricotta filling, and ladling warm lemon cream sauce over the top, and then sprinkling with fresh parsley.  Mamma mia, it was incredibly light and luscious, and I think I had three helpings when we sat down to eat it all.  This is what it looked like when it was assembled  (yes, red checkered tablecloth and all):

I'd love to make this again, but with a toddler at home, I'd have to take a day off work while the nanny is here to do it.  I'm not saying it's not worth it, but it sure is a lot of work.  Are you game to try it?  Let me know and I'll send you the recipe.  Straight from Rome.  Buon appetito. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Nanny envy

I am envious of our nanny.  Not for the obvious reasons; of course she is adorable, and sweet, and my son asks for her every day, even on the weekends.  No, for that I am grateful.  It's the part where she gets to teach him, and hold him, and play with him for more hours in the day than I do.

This is where I start to feel like a spoiled brat.  I have a job that I really like, in an industry I love, with a good paycheck and great friends.  I get to work from home, and T is always close by, unless I'm traveling.  There are plenty of moms (and dads) out there who have to find child care that is close to work or home and affordable, and may not be their first choice.  I'm extremely fortunate to be able to support a household and pay an employee to watch my son where he's in earshot.  And sometimes, bring him on business trips with me.

The payoffs for having him close by are irreplaceable:  I can hear him learning how to count, and his ABCs, and laughing as he and Brittney play "chase" all over the house.  "Chase" is T's favorite word, by the way.  This is why we hired a young and enthusiastic nanny...

My friends who are SAHMs (Stay-at-home-moms) have guilt as well, for different reasons.  They might feel guilty when they turn on a TV show just so they can have 30 minutes of peace, or to make dinner.  They might feel guilty that they are not bringing in a paycheck.  Being a SAHM or a working-outside-the-home mom is a complex tangle of emotions, all of them combining to make an incredible life experience.

And so every night, when T and I say our prayers before bed, we pray for each person in our family (including his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins), my Goddaughter and her family, and for Brittney.  Because we're thankful for her too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Contrary Mother

Mom (L) in Atlantic City in the 50s

Last night, I went to see The Help.  I read the book several months ago and then borrowed it from the library for our sitter, who devoured it while Torin was napping over the course of a week or so.  Excellent book; amazing movie.  I'm a little disturbed that the author's brother's longtime family maid is claiming in court that Aibileen Clark is based on her life (the real maid's name is Ableen Cooper), but it doesn't ruin the vivid storytelling of this era in Mississippi in the '60s.  Read the story here.

My family is not from the Deep South, and we never had a family maid.  My parents both grew up in the urban setting of northern New Jersey, and living so close to the great metropolis of New York, I think they pretty much saw the world move a lot faster than it did anywhere else.  As I watched The Help, I thought about the time I almost took a job in Jackson, Mississippi, when I worked for SkyTel.  I interviewed with several nice people in the Jackson office, had fried chicken and collard greens for dinner, and watched as the city shut down at 5 PM.  I even looked at an apartment complex in Jackson and I said to myself, "I can't live here."  It just wasn't me.

The second story I thought about as I sat in the theater last night was one my mom told me years ago.  She was working as a secretary in a small company in New Jersey, and was friends with a young black man named Leonard.  She drove him home from work once or twice, literally on the other side of the tracks, and had lunch with him often.  One day, on their way back to the office from lunch, on the streets of East Orange, they decided to hold hands.  Just because it was 1960-something and they felt like causing a stir.  The reaction was "mostly stares and whispers".  They got a kick out of it.

Is there any wonder where I inherited my tendency to push the envelope a little?   
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