Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

Mac and Cheese fans in New York City have another reason to rejoice as a location for Beecher’s Handmade Cheese has opened in the Flatiron district.  Not just a cheese shop, you can walk in to the cafe and get your very own freshly made “World Famous Mac and Cheese” to devour.  The only other store location is still the original in Seattle, WA, so New Yorkers are very lucky. I can say from my personal experience that if you try a sample of this savory pasta dish, you will want to order a whole serving for yourself.   The cafe also offers a variety of sandwiches, soups and other goodies.

While you are enjoying your meal on the main level, you can sit and watch the cheese being made right in the store.  The picture above is a view from the upper dining area.  There is also a more upscale restaurant and wine bar located downstairs.  I have heard that there are happy hour specials offered in the restaurant from 5-7pm and that they will serve you a grilled cheese martini if you know to ask for one.  I cannot wait to check it out!

Here is a close up of all the cheesy goodness that is a serving of Beecher’s World Famous Mac and Cheese.  Yummy!

OK to Go Solo or Better with Friends?

There are definitely some companies that are better for you to bring a few friends along with you to events and then there are some that can be really fun even if you go without knowing anyone.  Of course each event and how fun and social it is will always be determined by the people going on that particular trip.  From my personal experience, I thought I would share what I have discovered over the years with regards to signing up solo vs. with friends. 

Better with Friends

Living Social Adventures (www.livingsocial.com/adventures)

They offer some great trips with events such as wine tasting and pub parties to follow the activity of the day but based on the past two trips I went on, definitely bring your friends with you. 

Zogsports Day Trips (www.Zogsports.org)

I think these have a good chance of being more social and depending on the activity you can certainly meet some fun people during your trip.  But I also have been on day trips where people mainly stayed within the groups of people they came with so just to be safe I recommend coming with friends.

It’s OK to Go Solo

Sometimes, I have had the best time ever on trips I have gone solo to.  I have made many new friends that way.  I have found that there are many people out there who really want to do things but it is sometimes hard to get friends to go with them, coordinate a date that works for everyone or even sign up before the event sells out.  Below are companies that I can say would be great ways to get out and do what you love without having to worry about going it alone.

Meetup (www.meetup.com)

If you are already a member of meetup.com you will notice that there are a lot of people who want to get out there and make new friends while doing activities that they love to do.  This site is excellent for uniting people with common interests and if for some reason there is no group for what you are looking for, then you can start one of your own.

Random Events (www.randomeventsny.com)

This group prides itself on doing fun events of all different types and connecting the people who attend them.  You will get to know people by the end of the event without a doubt.  Very welcoming and inclusive, this group is the perfect way to branch out and find yourself some new experiences and make friends along the way.

MeetMarketAdventures (www.meetmarketadventures.com)

This is a singles company which also makes an extra effort to include everyone and have people interact so that they get to know each other during events.  The whole point is to meet new people, so you are good to go alone to any of the events this company offers.

NY Social Network  (www.newyorksocialnetwork.com)

Similarly, the New York Social Network says it all with its name.  It is a great way to explore the city while expanding your network.

Outdoor Bound (www.outdoorbound.com) and Dynamic Outdoors (www.dynamicoutdoors.com)

I have found that on trips with Outdoor Bound and Dynamic Outdoors, the common activities brings people together.  For example, on my most recent event with Dynamic Outdoors (a Yoga Hike), most everyone had come by themselves and during lunch there was a friendly discussion of how hard it is to round people up to do events and that none of us were willing to sit out because of that.  So all of us were there having a great time in the outdoors together even though we arrived on our own.

Zogsports Sports Leagues (www.zogsports.org) and NY Social Sports Club (www.nycsocialsportsclub.com)

Having finally joined in a few sports leagues with Zog, this is a great way to get to know people.  Signing up single only means you will be matched with a team and will get to know everyone you are playing with.  After each game there is usually a social gathering and there are end of season parties as well.  If you love sports – get out there and play!

Biking and Wine Tasting with Outdoor Connections

I recently went on my first event with Outdoor Connections for a day of biking and wine tasting.  I had such a wonderful experience and couldn’t wait to write about it.  Anytime you try a new company, you know anything is possible.  Luckily, Outdoor Connections is well organized and ready to get city dwellers out of the concrete jungle to enjoy some fun adventures.

Once everyone had gathered near Port Authority, our group was divided into two vans.  A benefit of going with Outdoor Connections is that they provide a wide assortment of breakfast goodies for everyone.  The options included chilled juices and an assortment of fresh muffins and pastries.  What a great way to start the day.  Approximately 2 hours later, when we got to our starting point on the Delaware Canal Bike Path, all our bike rentals and helmets were ready for us.  It was time to start biking! Our organizer, Jim, made the trip both informational and fun.  He shared some history of the canal at a few of the stops and made sure everyone was comfortable with the pace and that no one was left behind.  Lunch is also provided with this trip which was another nice touch. 

Biking down the Delaware Canal is something I would definitely do again.  The canal path was flat and well groomed so I never felt overwhelmed and there is so much to see along the way.  We biked a total of 15 miles and then some of us did an additional 3 mile loop before it was time to drive to our next stop – Sand Castle Winery.  A well organized and thorough tasting (which included chocolate pairing for some of the wines) followed by some cheese to snack on and our day was almost done.  It was time to head back to NYC.

Outdoor Connections does a variety of trips and would be a great way to get out and enjoy the lovely fall weather.   You can also find out what they are up to at meetup.com by clicking here.  I look forward to joining them on another trip sometime soon.

Bareburger

With a second location soon opening in Astoria, two Manhattan locations and a new Park Slope spot in the works, Bareburger continues to grow.  Since I do not eat meat, it took me a while to check the place out.  However, I have now had a couple visits to Bareburger and am happy to say that they have delicious offerings for everyone, including some for those who eat gluten free and for those who don’t eat meat.

Since I go into the category of those who do not eat meat, I was excited to try their veggie burger.  Bareburger‘s menu is such that you pick your desired burger first and then you decide which bun and toppings you would like to go with it.  I opted for the Avocado California Burger, whole grain bun, veggie burger combination.  This included fresh avocado, raw milk cheddar, tomato, lettuce, onion, and cilantro lime dressing.  We also ordered a combined french fry and onion ring basket for the table.  The fries come with a variety of dipping sauces which are sure to please everyone and they are irresistible as our basket was completely empty by the end of the meal.  The veggie burger was delicious and very filling.  This was not just a small patty on a bun.  It was hearty and went perfectly with the California Avocado option (which is their recommended match).  I might not eat meat, but I do know many Bareburger fans who rave about their Ostrich burgers and Lamb burgers.  Their original Astoria location is also completely packed most of the times I walk by so they must be doing a lot of things right.  If you have enough room after your burger, then their milk shakes are also quite good.  With real peanut butter and chocolate mixed in if you choose those flavors and with interesting options such as pistachio flavor, you cannot go wrong.

Bareburger uses organic and all natural ingredients.  Their free range meats are from animals that are pasture raised and grass fed.  They also use mainly sustainable and reclaimed material when building their restaurants.  It is great to know that when you eat there you are also supporting the environment at the same time.  The location on 31st Avenue in Astoria also has a lovely outdoor seating area that is perfect for some al fresco dining this summer.

Sac’s Place in Astoria

 

We are lucky to live in an area where there are so many places where you can get a delicious slice of pizza.  I finally had a chance to stop in at Sac’s Place located at 25-41 Broadway in Astoria and am happy to report that they serve an excellent slice.  The slice pictured on the right is from their regular cheese pie, although if you compare it with most other place’s cheese slices you can see the difference upon first sight.  Sac’s uses homemade mozzarella on their slices and applies the sauce (made with San Marzano tomatoes from Italy) in circular swirls so that the proportion between the sauce and cheese is just right.  Pictured on the left is the Sicilian slice where the quality of the cheese is also distinctive.  I enjoyed both immensely.  If you like beer with your pizza, you will be happy to know that imported beer bottles such as Birra Moretti are an affordable $4.

These are two of the carry out slices offered at Sac’s so you can only imagine a piping hot pizza pie coming out of their coal oven and then being brought straight to your table while dining in the restaurant.  After going on Scott’s Pizza Tour, I really love trying different pizza places and am so happy to have found Sac’s Place.  I’ve already visited them twice this week and expect there will be quite a few more visits in the future.

 

 

Random Events Goes to Iceland

It was by luck that I was able to join Random Events on their first International Excursion to Reykjavik, Iceland. A spot opened up at the last minute and I was very excited to go.  You would never know that it was the first International trip that Random Events had organized.  Everything ran smoothly from beginning to end.  It was an amazing experience that I won’t soon forget.

Everyone met up at JFK airport for some time to mix and mingle at the bar before we made our conga line entry onto our direct flight to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital.  With the time difference, our flight landed at approximately 6:30am.  From there we had a few hours to get breakfast and take a power nap before a full day of touring began.

Day 1:

The first full day tour was to explore the city of Reykjavik.  I loved the colorful houses and majestic mountainside that could be seen towering behind them in the distance. We got a fantastic view of the entire city when we went to the top of Hallgrim’s Church, which is the tallest building in Iceland.  After the city tour ended, we got to further familiarize ourselves with Reykjavik during a group dinner later that evening.  Icelandic nightlife is very active and the party goes on until dawn breaks or maybe until all the glasses are broken since there is lots of broken glass found on the street after nights of partying.  This evening we went on our first Northern Lights tour but sadly we did not see anything that night.

Day 2:

One of our most adventurous days was the second day of the trip.  Our group was driven in super jeeps to a scenic overview, where we got to walk around through tall cavernous rocks before driving to view the magnificent Gullfoss (Golden Falls).  Next it was time to drive to the Langjokull Glacier. As we got closer and closer to the glacier it almost looked as if we were on another planet since there was so many lava rocks and open space between mountains. Once dressed in the helmets and snow suits provided, we got the chance to jump on some snow mobiles and ride further out onto the glacier.  After a playful snowball fight and some group photos it was time to ride back to the jeeps.  Our last stop of the day was a visit to the Strokkur geyser that still actively erupts with frequency.  What an amazing day of adventure, sightseeing and fun!

Day 3:

For those not returning on the shorter trip that was offered, day three was a tour of West Iceland.  As was our routine by now, we all piled into a van and began a full day of sightseeing.  On this day we started with the Whale Bay Fjord.  From there we went up into the mountains on an unpaved mountain road into the Skorradalur Valley.  I loved seeing all the Icelandic horses as we drove by surrounding farms.  One of the stops on our tour was a visit to Iceland‘s largest natural hot spring, called Dieldartunghuver.  You can smell the sulfur in the steam that rises from the extremely hot water.  (You can also smell the sulfur when you wash your hands or take a shower in Iceland, something I never quite got used to when I was there).  Next we arrived at what is known as the Children‘s Falls, as it was named for the three children that perished there while trying to cross a slippery bridge. I could not imagine someone trying to walk across these falls as they looked very treacherous and I am relieved they tore down the faulty crossing.  Not far from the Children’s Falls is Iceland‘s most mysterious waterfall where the water comes from under the ground and the source of it is actually melt off from a glacier. On our way back from these waterfalls we paid a visit to Snorri’s historical home and took a look at the geothermal outdoor hot tub which is rumored to be the world‘s first.  Then it was time to enjoy the scenery on our drive back to Reykjavik for another delicious meal and night out.

Day 4:

On our forth day we made our journey to the southernmost tip of Iceland before returning to Reykjavik.  On the way we were able to see two beautiful waterfalls – one where you could climb on an icy path to go around behind it (Seljalandsfoss) and another where you were able to climb up the hillside to view it from above if you wished (Skogarfoss).  The lava ash was visible in the mud along the water from the recent eruption of the nearby Eyjafallajoekull volcano.  We had a lovely lunch stop in the town of Vik (pictured above) and then we traveled to the other side of the view pictured above to explore Reynisfjara beach.  There we were able to walk over for a closer look at the immense basalt columns and the three rock formations in the water (these are rumored in Icelandic folklore to be frozen trolls).  The sand on this beach was made up of tiny round black pebbles and there were many larger lava rocks along the way.  Our last stop of the day was a visit to the Solheimurjokull glacier.  We walked right up to the many ice formations and could even sit right on the tip of the glacier.  Later that evening, we had our last chance to see the Northern Lights before our return to New York.  Sadly it was a really foggy night so we did not get to seen them on this night either.  We still made the night a fun one anyway though.

 

Day 5

The last day of the trip ended in the best possible way – with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. With the soothing geothermal blue water and the mineral clay that you can put on your face to make a mud mask, I loved the Blue Lagoon.  One thing I highly recommend is getting one of the floating massages that are offered – what a relaxing experience! After a tranquil afternoon, it was time to head to the airport. I will admit that it was so hard to leave though!  I wouldn’t get out of the water until the last possible moment knowing that I could get lunch at the airport later.

During each day of the trip we had wonderful tour guides who really helped to liven up the long drives with information and stories of Icelandic folklore.  I really enjoyed hearing tales of trolls, elves and hidden people.  Once we learned of the 13 Christmas lads on one of our tours, we started noticing little figurines of them placed everywhere in shops and windows – there was even a large display of them at the Reykjavik airport.  The drives to some of our destinations may have been long but there was so much to look at in the surrounding scenery that I did not notice the time and each destination made any effort to get there worth it.  Our days and nights were jam packed with activities but I wouldn’t have it any other way because we got to see so much.  I would consider another visit to Iceland to see what other seasons have to offer as I know there is still so much to experience there.

As I have said, Iceland couldn’t be more breathtaking, but what really made the trip fantastic was how well organized it was, our Random Events hosts Will and Cecilia, and the other wonderful people who signed up to go on this journey along with me. What a phenomenal trip!!! As I’ve said before, I highly recommend doing anything with Random Events and now I can say, based on this experience, that their international trips are just as well done as their local ones.  I hope to travel with them again soon.  You can visit www.randomeventsny.com to see their upcoming events schedule.

Intro to Pottery

I have always wanted to try working with clay on a potter’s wheel, so when Random Events scheduled a pottery class, I was one of the first to sign up!  We went to Choplet Ceramics Studio which is located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a three hour pottery class.  Our group was divided in half so that some could learn to make something on the potter’s wheel while at the same time others could work on hand building.  After an hour and a half we would then switch activities.

I was at the potter’s wheel first learning how to throw clay.  It was more difficult than it looked but our instructor helped us out with each step as we went along.  Having long nails proved to be a bit of a handicap but my piece still turned out pretty well as I tried to be extra careful. 

Once we were done with throwing, it was then time to build something by hand directly with slabs of clay.  There were different objects we could use to add textured patterns to our pieces and we were taught how to mold and connect the separate clay slabs to create an object of our choosing. 

It was a lot of fun learning these two different methods to make a clay object. I am very happy with the bowl I made on the potter’s wheel and the mug I built by hand.  After completing the class, there is approximately a two week period before you can come back to pick up your finished masterpieces.  During this time the pieces are placed in the kiln and glazed in the color that you choose at the end of the class.  Below you will see my finishes pottery pieces.

Choplet Studios provides an excellent way to learn pottery making.  They offer a variety of different classes and workshops in their well equipped studio.  You can read all about their studio and how to get started at www.choplet.com.