2016: My Year in Travel

I try not to make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of every year. I don’t enjoy putting pressure on myself to lose X amount of weight or eat less of this or that. I try to live my life day to day and while I do make conscious efforts to go to the gym, maintain a healthy weight and cook (mostly) balanced food, I do my best not to wait until January 1st rolls around to do so.

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New Years Eve 2015!

BUT, I knew 2016 was going to be a big year for me. Even before it started, I had quite a few travel plans lined up both work and wedding-related. So I made a secret resolution to try to escape from normalcy just once a month during 2016, whether it was by plane or car, just going somewhere different. Even if it was in my New Hampshire backyard or my home state of Massachusetts.

I’m happy to say I kicked that resolution’s butt.

I’m not a “travel blogger” by any means. In fact, I haven’t written much about my travel experiences, but I consider myself a traveler through and through. I love seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, foods, people. And if I’m being completely honest, I love the touristy crap as much as the next person (give me ALL the museums!)

I was very lucky growing up because my family traveled a lot. My dad worked for two international airlines during his life, benefiting my mom, sister and myself with European adventures most kids don’t get to have. I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences would instill in me a travel bug that would only get stronger as I got older. And while it’s true that I would almost always rather fly than drive (and lots of whining ensues if we do drive), I’ve never turned down an opportunity to travel.

Back to 2016. It brought with it new a country, a few new states, and a vast amount of cities I had never seen before. While I could write a post that goes on forever about every single thing I did and probably bore you to tears, here are the highlights over the course of the year.

January. 2016 started with my first ever trip to California. I knew I’d be hooked the moment I got there. My husband, who was my fiance at the time, joked that we’d probably not get married because I’d fall in love with Cali and never come back. (Spoiler alert: I did come back.) I headed to LA just after the new year for a business trip to the Golden Globes where my company took on the title of Official Confection for the awards show/ (I know, I know… my job sucks.) Though we did work almost the entire time we were there, we did have 1 extra day after the awards before flying home to do some site-seeing (and eating…)

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    Breakfast at the Wanderlust Cafe in Los Angeles. It’s kind of out of the way, but trust me, it’s worth it.
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The Weinstein-Netflix Golden Globes After Party 2016

February. A low-key month. I surprised Sean with a quick trip down to Boston to have dinner at the Top of the Hub to celebrate his 30th birthday. It wasn’t exactly “jet-setting” off to a new place but later that month we also went back to Boston to attend the Boston Wine Expo, which many of you know, is one of my favorite local events of the entire year. We stayed at Aloft Boston, which was new last year (and has since gotten pricier) but it has a super modern vibe and comfy accommodations. Be sure to stay tuned next month here on the blog, as well as my Twitter and Instagram for chances to win tickets to the 2017 Boston Wine Expo February 18-19!

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The Top of the Hub is a great place for a special occasion, but if you’ve never been there, keep in mind it’s definitely high-end and on the expensive side.
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A snapshot of the 2016 Boston Wine Expo!

March. I boarded a flight for another first: Nashville. My boss (who also happens to be one of my closest friends) has family there so we spent a long weekend at her dad’s house and hit all of the typical Lower Broadway bars and hot spots during the trip. We also had breakfast at the famous Loveless Cafe which was every bit worth the 2 hour wait. They have super cute shops to pass the time and I brought home Tennessee-made products as souvenirs which is always something I strive to do when I’m in a new place. No offense to those “Made in Taiwan” trinkets, but those are less my style. Her dad even got us tickets to the Grand Ole Opry where we sang along to Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Rock Me.”

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April. Yet another first: Salt Lake City. This was a work trip but work trips when you do social media and event planning for a chocolate company are never boring. We sponsored a lounge at a blogger conference and also hosted a special dinner for local influencers. It was a hit! I love planning these types of events because it brings so many cool people together and not only are we able to bond over the world of social media but also chocolate. Always a win-win situation.

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Highly recommend Bambara if you find yourself in SLC. Fantastic food and a wonderful staff. Our Lindt Influencer Dinner could not have been better.

May. Two words: Bachelorette Party. Two more words: Portland, Maine. And not just any bachelorette party, MY bachelorette party. My sister (who was my Maid of Honor) and my bridesmaids threw me an EPIC weekend in Portland complete with a low-key sleepover night in with pizza and games, a full day of beer tasting and touring and other special things at Allagash Brewing Company, an amazing dinner at The Old Port Sea Grille and night out where I danced my shoes off at probably the diveiest but most fun bar we could find , and then even more amazing food the next day at DuckFat (get the poutine!!) before rounding out the weekend getting coffee and The Holy Donut for the ride home. Brides, if you are looking for a destination for your bachelorette party, Portland is a must!

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Myself and my beer-loving, bachelorette-partying friends at Allagash Brewing Company at the end of our tour.
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Half a dozen donuts = #WeddingDiet

June. Then I got married. Yup, crazy. They tell you it’s the best day of your life and also the fastest and it couldn’t have been more true. Our wedding took place in my hometown church where I grew up and then our reception was at a country club in a quaint Massachusetts north shore town. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

© Jillian Knight Photography 2016 www.jillianknight.com
Wedding Photography by Jillian Knight Photography

We chased the wedding with 11 days and 10 nights at the all-inclusive Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica. The smaller of the two Couples Negril resorts, it was intimate without being too small or cramped and we had a ridiculous amount of fun. We splurged on a suite which I highly recommend for a honeymoon in paradise. It opened right out to the gardens, was just a short walk to the beach and had a deck complete with a hammock that we laid in to relax and read during a few afternoon rain showers.

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Hammock time!
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Stick your flag in the sand, get a drink. I could get used to this.

In between laying on the beach every morning (bottomless mimosas in hand) and sailing every afternoon, Sean and I also got to explore some of the beautiful island of Jamaica. We spent one morning ziplining and visiting a local mineral spring and another entire day on a special excursion:the Black River safari, rope swinging into the stunning YS Falls and touring the famous Appleton Estate Rum Factory. I couldn’t recommend that all day excursion enough if you ever find yourself in Jamaica. It was quite a drive from our resort but our driver was not only super friendly but pointed out lots of interesting things during the day.

sailing

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July. We headed down to Connecticut for a good friend’s wedding. I don’t get to Connecticut much even though it’s only a few hours and 1 state away, but we had a really fun time at the wedding and got to spend it with all of my wonderful dance friends, who by now, are more like family. Plus, we figured out that all of our dress colors made a rainbow. (Just missing the bride who would’ve been the perfect white cloud at the end of this rainbow!)

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August. Another trip, another first. Our good friends invited us to stay with them for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard and Sean and I jumped on the chance right away. Neither of us had ever been to the Vineyard before but after spending a few days there, I couldn’t believe I waited 28 years of my life to visit. We spent a day at Long Point beach, visited local brewery Bad Martha (which I loved), and enjoyed dinner at The Port Hunter, where the host came over and de-boned my friend’s whole fish dinner in 10 seconds flat. We had snacks and beers at Offshore Ale, late-night drinks at 20byNine, and visited the lighthouse at Gay Head. All recommended for a wonderful weekend away.

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The most perfect day on the Vineyard.

September. This was a crazy month, but not in the travel sense. I took on TWO new dance jobs and got promoted at Lindt. My life went from full time wedding planning to somewhat on the quiet side during the 2 months following and then ramped right back up again into the high gear, fast-paced life that I’m much more used to. But before all of that craziness kicked in, Sean and I got the chance to go down to the Newburyport/Salisbury area of Massachusetts, which is just south of the New Hampshire border, to visit one of our favorite summer spots, The Deck, which also happens to belong to an old friend of mine. They’ve recently expanded their main deck overlooking the ocean and we enjoyed beers, calamari and homemade guac during one of the last really nice days of the season.

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Not a bad place to spend the last of summer.

October. Back to Salt Lake City for work yet again, this time to sponsor the Better Blog Retreat with some of the most influential bloggers in the food and lifestyle space. This conference is much smaller than the one we did earlier in the year in SLC and we hosted a LINDOR Hot Chocolate Bar. It was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up and it was fun to see everyone’s chocolate concoctions. Pro tip: the best hot cocoa is hot milk and 2-3 LINDOR truffles melted and mixed in. Bonus points if you splash in some whipped cream vodka, because why the hell not?

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Just another day at the office.

November. Once a year, Sean and I drive north to spend a few hours in Ogunquit, Maine. It’s a really special place to us for a number of reasons: it’s the spot Sean took me on our first date back in August 2012. The following summer we went back just to walk around and enjoy the ocean and the town. No surprise by now, but it’s where Sean got down on one knee in 2014 and asked me to marry him and where we took our engagement photos in 2015. 4 years later, we took our 5th trip to the Marginal Way walk in Perkins Cove and while it was way colder than year than the 68 degree day when he proposed, it was every bit as special.

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Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine
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The same walk we took on our first date, the day Sean proposed, and for our engagement photos.

This year was also the first time that I did not spend Thanksgiving in Maine with my family. Instead, we took a road trip down to Maryland with Sean’s parents to visit my sister-in-law and her husband. I’m not really a car person and  dreaded the 8-10 hour drive the week leading up to it but thanks to downloaded movies, a few books, and my friend Dramamine, the drives down and back weren’t bad at all!

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Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania and I didn’t even have to wear a winter coat!

We toured Washington D.C. two of the days were there, and had Thanksgiving itself in Pennsylvania with my brother-in-law’s family. We also stopped in PA on the way home to pick up my in-laws’ new Yorkie puppy, Tucker, so it was a multi-state trip and so much fun.

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The whole fam in the Library of Congress.

I got particularly excited about the Julia Child exhibit in the American History Museum. While the rest of my family explored the FOOD section, I hovered around the kitchen and all of the things that went along with it. Safe to say I was fangirling hardcore.

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Julia Child’s Kitchen!!!

December. Maine & Rhode Island both for friend/family/Christmas-related things. Quick ttips in both directions, and nothing particularly huge to write home about, but still a fun few weekends to round out what was probably the busiest (and best!) year of my life so far.

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Our 1st Christmas (Eve) as Mr. & Mrs!

The big question is… how do I top this in 2017? Well, I may not have as many trips on the calendar (yet) but I have a few ideas up my sleeve. I think it’s high time I make my way back to Europe; 5 years is too long to be away. So far, here’s the line-up:

January. California!! Back to the Golden Globes for the 2nd year (we leave this coming Wednesday!) for more fun in the celebrity backstage lounge, throwing an influencer event in West Hollywood, and ending the night at the Weinstein-Netflix after party. Then, when my team flies home the following Monday, Sean is flying in to spend the rest of the week exploring LA, Anaheim (including a Ducks game and DISNEY LAND!), and San Diego with me.

February. No major traveling, but we are spending a weekend in Boston for the 2017 Boston Wine Expo (more details to come!) Be sure to check back in January for a chance to win tickets to this year’s event – it’s going to be another awesome year. And if you just can’t wait for a chance to win tickets, use code BLOGGERTASTE17 at your ticket check out for a special discount.

March. 2 confirmed trips this month! Going back to Nashville for the second year in a row and taking my college dance team to nationals in Anaheim at the end of the month. (GO SNHU!)

April. A trip to Texas for work that may or may not include a quick stint in Waco to visit my favorite HGTV couple, but we’ll see…

May. Down to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding!

June. One weekend we’ll spend in the seaside town of Gloucester, Mass. for a childhood friend’s wedding and then another weekend down in Providence, Rhode Island for a fraternity friend’s wedding. All the love!

Summer. Potential trip to Kansas to see Sean’s grandparents for a long weekend. Maybe a road trip to Burlington, Vermont to celebrate my 29th birthday and our 1-year anniversary?? TBD.

Fall. England?? Paris?? Buy a house in New Hampshire?? I guess we’ll see what happens!

At this point, I think I’ll make another not-so-secret resolution for 2017 to once again escape the everyday once a month. Even if it’s just to another corner of New Hampshire, I don’t foresee this travel bug going away any time soon.

2016, you were amazing. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

If you have LA, Anaheim or San Diego recommendations for things to see, do, eat, please send them my way!

Follow my adventures on Twitter, Instagram, and of course, Snapchat (@marietorto)!

Life Lately

Once again, it’s been over a month since my last post. I feel like 2013 is flying and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to slow it down. And since my last post, lots of things have been happening.

The DanceWorks Boston Season 6 show was a huge success and I got amazing feedback on my piece, “World Spins Madly On.

My beautiful dancers. Couldn't have asked for a more incredible group!
My beautiful dancers. Couldn’t have asked for a more incredible group!

I got a job (insert a million exclamation points and a massive sigh of relief here.)  More details to come (and maybe a giveaway..?) but I am loving my new career as a Social Specialist at Lindt & Sprungli Chocolate USA. And despite my commute that is roughly an hour each way, I have plans on moving up to New Hampshire, just over the Massachusetts border to make it a little easier. Additional details on that will also be coming shortly.

I work at a chocolate factory... I really can't complain.
I work at a chocolate factory… I really can’t complain.

I’ve known this guy for over a year. It’s crazy to think how fast a year has gone by. I feel like it was yesterday that we met at our friends’ wedding and three short days later I was boarding a plane for 7 weeks in London. I wouldn’t change anything about this past year with him.

<3

I shot my first gun. A semi-automatic shotgun to be precise. I had so much adrenaline pumping through me, I was shaking after I shot it. I didn’t actually hit anything, but that just means there’s lots of room for improvement. And it seems that Sean has also caught the shooting bug so I foresee some shooting ranges and target practice  in our future.

And yes, those things do kick you in the shoulder when you fire them. In case you were wondering.
And yes, those things do kick you in the shoulder when you fire them. In case you were wondering.

My 4th of July looked like this:

Amazing right? Here's where I found the tutorial. Totally worth the extra effort. http://www.glorioustreats.com/2011/06/4th-of-july-flag-cake.html
Amazing right? Here’s where I found the tutorial. Totally worth the extra effort.
How awesome are our shirts though?
How awesome are our shirts though?
Love me some Picstich.
Love me some Pic Stitch.

I played laser tag, bought a bridesmaid dress, and had all sorts of fun bonding with my friend Sam’s bridal party. June 7, 2014 is going to be insane.

I can't wait for next June.
I can’t wait for next June.

My 25th birthday is in less than 2 weeks.  Um, what? Wasn’t I just in Paris turning 24?

My 24th Birthday in Paris... #takemeback
My 24th Birthday in Paris… #takemeback

So that’s a quick look of what’s going on around here. What big plans do you have this summer? Have you ever made that flag cake before? I’d love to know your feedback.

Recapping 2012… A Year I Never Expected

I had much of this post written before December 17th. I am going to leave what was written originally as is but add a little something up here first to give a little more context to my 2012…. I feel this post is better late than never.

On December 17th, my grandmother passed away. It was sudden, unexpected, and devastating. Mere days before Christmas, a fatal heart attack that no one saw coming was ultimately to blame. Surprisingly, I managed to keep myself together for most of what followed, only breaking down in the hardest moments, trying with everything I had in me to keep my tears hidden.

My Nuna was the most generous person I’ve ever known. Anything I ever wanted, she was willing to supply. She was the reason our Christmas tree had unnecessary but always welcome mounds of presents under it on Christmas Day, why I always had an “emergency $20” in my wallet (that was almost ALWAYS spent on non-emergent things) and why I had a life-size princess Barbie doll (remember those things?!)

She was also stubborn, but in the kind of way that made you thankful for traditional things, like the exact right way to make a turkey on Thanksgiving and why, to this day, I sit closer to my steering wheel in the car than is really necessary because “it’ll protect me.” No, it will probably make things worse, but things stick when you’re a little kid.

I miss my Nuna more than I can possibly say. I am thankful that I had her for almost all of 2012, but 2013 and on will not be the same without her.

My little sister, Nuna and me... Little kid fro and all.
My little sister, Nuna and me… Little kid fro and all.

Now, onto what I had written before. Happy New Years everyone!

Remember when I wrote the post, “2012 Will be Great?”  Well, it was.

But not before it was absolutely horrible.

2012 became a year that I never expected. Last December, I had my whole life planned out. A special relationship to me ended and I thought things would never be the same.  They aren’t – they’re better. Things change, people change, and everything happens for a reason. I think I’ve finally grasped that concept.

But 2012 had many great things. Many amazing things. Allow me to tell you about them.

– I ran my first 5-miler.

First 5-miler on New Years Day 2012.
First 5-miler on New Years Day 2012.

– I ran my first 10K.

First 10K, March 2012.
First 10K, March 2012.

– I spent my summer at the London Olympics.

London2012... The best summer of my whole life.
London2012… The best summer of my whole life.

– I turned 24 on the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Happy 24th Birthday to me!
Happy 24th Birthday to me!

– I watched two of my childhood friends get married.

Photo courtesy of the Groom's Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of the Groom’s Facebook page.

– I met a guy I would get to know while I was away for 7 weeks… and fall for him… hard.

This is my boyfriend, Sean. I suppose its time for all of you to be introduced.
This is my boyfriend, Sean. I suppose its time for all of you to be introduced.

– I was in 2 DanceWorks Boston shows and choreographed 2 routines for it.

My routine, "Deadly", featuring the 7 Deadly Sins.
My routine, “Deadly”, featuring the 7 Deadly Sins.

– I finished my Master’s Degree. (FINALLY!!!!!! Master Torto has a great ring to it.)

The face of a Master.
The face of a Master. You know you’re impressed.

– I got a part-time, paid internship as a Sports Web Producer at Boston.com.

I changed in a lot of ways.

When I look back on 2012, I realized how much my life has changed and I honestly don’t think I’d change a single second of it. Even though parts of it were incredibly difficult and there were times when I wanted to give everything up and just live in my own misery, I pulled through it. I am happier than I have been in a long time.

Here’s to 2013 and everything it brings. I haven’t really made any New Year’s resolutions but here’s one: blog more. Good plan.

It’s been three months?!

Hello again!!

Apparently I took a completely unscheduled hiatus from blogging and now all of a sudden, it’s November.

I never really meant to stop blogging for all this time.  Life just got away from me there for a while.  If you’re just dying for a not-so-short-but-still-sweet recap of what’s been going on with me for the last 3 months, buckle up… you’re in for a bumpy ride.

I last left off leaving for Paris.  It was incredible.  I spent the first few minutes of my 24th birthday on the top of the lit up Eiffel Tower and it was nothing short of spectacular.  Keesa, Matt, Justin and I spent the rest of the day lounging out front of the Eiffel tower with two bottles of wine before getting on a plane back to London.

Happy 24th Birthday to me! The Eiffel Tower was my present but I couldn’t fit it on the plane home. Darn.

Fast forward a few days…the London2012 Olympics were beginning, I was knee deep in school and internship work and life was surreal.  Though stressed, I was happiest than I had been in months, partly due to completely unrelated circumstances that I will get to in a bit.

So the Olympics… yes, well, let’s just say I’ll never be able to watch them from my couch again.  Yes, I will be finding a way to get to Rio in 2016, hopefully by then I’ll be an Olympic correspondent for… something… anything.  Just get me to Rio.

Yes, that is Ryan Lochte and yes, I was that close to him. We chatted… Let’s just say its a good thing he’s an Olympic athlete cause the kid’s got rocks in his head.

So let’s back up a bit… before leaving for London I was pretty much a miserable wreck.  Long story short, my boyfriend of a very long time broke up with me.  I was blindsided, devastated and, in the midst of the worst and hardest semester of my entire life, fell completely apart.  I considered dropping out of school, I considered giving up London, I considered being a moping, miserable person for the rest of my life.  And for a few months, I was.  But I stayed in school and committed to London because let’s be real here… what was the point of throwing away the $60,000 I had already spent on my grad program and the trip of a lifetime?  There wasn’t.

I buried myself in my school work, dance and being with people who really did love me.  I cried every day, multiple times a day for weeks.  I listened to sad music, ran a lot of lonely miles and talked to anyone who would listen.  I didn’t believe it when people told me that life would get better, that there was someone out there who would love me unconditionally, someone who I was supposed to be with.  This was in March.

Dance (and dance friends make everything better.)
Best Friends. No shame.

My BU friends took the brunt of the emotional roller coaster simply because I saw them every. single. day.

This dinner was for cheering me up. I also carbo-loaded for my 10K the next day. It was awesome.

A few months went by and soon, I wasn’t crying anymore… or at least not as much.  I finished my semester with one of the highest GPAs of my entire academic career and was now looking ahead to the summer.  London: getting away, doing everything for myself, letting nothing hold me back.  And I was scared as all hell to go away for 2 months so that pretty much trumped all other emotions at the time.

This is how I get good grades. No, but really.
And Keesa was one of my roommates in London. Best matchup ever.

June rolled around and soon, I was mere days from leaving.  But before I hopped on a plane to Europe for the summer, my family and I went to the wedding of two of my very good childhood friends.  Together for 7 years, throughout high school and college, they got married in our church and had a beautiful reception on the water in Nahant.  Though slightly emotional, it was one of the best nights I had in a very long time.

Aren’t they the cutest?
Photo courtesy of Sarah’s Facebook….

I even met someone… but more about him another time.

Spoiler alert: This is where the previously mentioned “happy, unrelated circumstances” comes into play.

He seems nice…

Three days later, I boarded my plane, took off to London and went to the Olympics.

The End..

Kidding.

Is that the end of the story?  Hardly.  Let’s just say I not only got to go to the Olympics this summer, but I also got to know someone very special from 3,000 miles away.  But I’ll leave it there for now.

2012 will be BIG.

2012 promises to be a huge year for me.  I have big ideas, big dreams and big goals.

This year will include a lot of milestones.  I’ll turn 24, study abroad in London covering the Summer Olympics, create and present a media thesis project, choreograph for DanceWorks Boston and Kinetic Synergy, work my 4th summer with the National Dance Alliance, finish my last 2 semesters of grad school, run a bazillion more races… the list is endless.

Goals-wise, I am all about the resolutions. I love ’em.  Not the kinds that say “I’m going to drop such-and-such amount of weight” but the ones that make you feel good when you accomplish them and make you want to work harder if they slip away from you.

I feel like this can be referred to in all aspects of life...

2012 Goals

Run 10 5K races.  I know this is attainable.  I just need to buckle down and register.

To go along with my 5K race goal, I want to run the 2012 Marblehead Beach to Beach 5K again this year.  It was my first ever race and I’d love to keep running it every year.

Run a sub 27:00 5K.  That’s about a 9:00 min/mile.  I can do it.

Run 5 longer races this year, 5-milers, 10Ks and one half marathon.  Holy crap, I can’t believe I’m writing that, but there it is, out there for the world to see.

Choreograph 3 more dance pieces.  It took me until 2011 to realize how much I love choreographing and I don’t want to stop!

Try out and review 1 new restaurant a month.  I want to expand my food horizons and experience as much of it as possible… on a budget.

Work 3 NDA camps.  This one might be tough because of London, but I think three is a good compromise since I usually work 9.

Ace my study abroad.  6 weeks, 1 class, 1 internship, 1 chance.  An internship with a huge news networks could lead to a possible job.  I want to kick ass during my time in London; it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and could set me apart from a million other applicants in the real world.

Rock my media thesis.  No specifics just yet but it will include a website where I am happy to say I just buy the domain.  It will come with a lot of physical and mental changes and challenges.  Stay tuned.

Finish graduate school successfully.  Without too many meltdowns would be ideal.

Save money.  This year will be especially difficult since London alone is very expensive, but I have a number in mind and achieving it at least once this year would be great.

Love others more.  Personal goal.  Be nicer also ties in here.

Overall, I hope 2012 will be as successful, productive and eye-opening as 2011 as been.  Thank you to all of you who read Chocolate & Wine and support me through everything I do.

I raise my glass (of Asti) to you.

Last question of 2011: What are your biggest goals for the new year?

 

A Life Update

Okay, it’s been approximately 3 or so weeks since I panicked about school and I haven’t written since.  I hope you are still out there listening to me ramble in my now dust-covered corner of the Internet.

So it’s time to tidy up a bit.

In the past three weeks, I’ve calmed down and gotten through my first few projects for my grad classes.  I survived.  And did pretty well.  Maybe I overreacted a bit at the beginning.  Maybe.

A lot has been going on here at Chocolate & Wine.  Here are some highlights:

2 weekends ago, I attended 2 weddings: my cousin George married his beautiful fiancé (of 4 years!) Julie, and my friend Raechel married the love of her life, Steve.  Both weddings were gorgeous and I cried a lot. Of course I did.  I realized how much I can’t wait to plan a wedding of my own!

George & Julie's Wedding with the family

And wedding #2..

Raechel and Steve

This past weekend, I spent Friday in the North End with Stephen and we FINALLY got to go out for his birthday surprise.  I took him to Riccardo’s Ristorante where they put on a “Mystery Cafe” show every Friday night and serve a three-course meal.  The show was hilarious, if not a bit cheesy, and the food was as genuinely Italian as you’d expect from the North End.  Highly recommended for good food and a good time.

We capped our night with beers at a bar called The Point and goodies from my favorite North End bakery.

Heart You.

Saturday was party marathon day.  Together, my two best friends and I tackled a “I’m Pretty Good at Drinking Beer” party (where we consumed no beer or any beverage other than iced coffee), taco night hosted by Alyse (which were de-lish!), a Halloween party and finally, my sister’s 21st birthday celebration at Tequila Rain in Boston.

Swy, Jeff, Alyse... That's nice.

Did you know Halloween is one of my favorite holidays? 

So freaky, so cool, so legit. Cat costumes are the way to go.

And it wouldn’t be a 21st birthday without a 16-ounce beer in each hand.

Happy 21st! Here's 2 Coors Lights.

Sunday brought another 3 events: the Boston Bruncher’s 1st Birthday Brunch at the Island Creek Oyster Bar on Comm Ave. in Boston, my good friend Miriah’s daughter’s Christening (that little baby is nothing short of an angel) and a 4-hour dance rehearsal with DanceWorks Boston (always a fun time!)

A sneak peak into Birthday Brunch!

Then on to the Christening…

You can't tell me she isn't the cutest baby in the world..

I made favors… Oreo ball truffles with a piped pink A on each one, individually wrapped with a pink ribbon and a tag.

Not bad considering I usually stink at piping.

They came out pretty freakin’ cute.

Everybody loved them. Makes me happy when people like what I make!

Along with my jam-packed weekends and filming/editing-laden school schedule, I managed to get in a couple of quick training runs for my 3rd 5K coming up this weekend!  I, along with my friend Kim, will run the Witch City 5K in Salem, maybe even dressed up a bit.

This upcoming weekend also brings pumpkin carving with my BU friends and a huge DanceWorks Boston Halloween costume party on Saturday night.  I will, unfortunately, have to keep my drinking to a minimum because of the race on Sunday morning, but that won’t stop me from wearing those cat eyes!

I promise not to wait another 3 weeks to post.  I have finally pulled myself out of a slight rut I had fallen into, but I’m back and excited.

And I had delicious Bon Me truck food for dinner the other night: a brown rice bowl with tofu, shitaki mushrooms, cilantro, pickled veggies, bean sprouts and mesclun greens.  YUM.

Healthy and filling.

I wanna know: What’s new in your life?  What would your dream wedding consist of?  And what are you being for Halloween this year?

End of summer, beginning of fall

I categorize the sad ending of summer in two different ways.  The first – when I officially finish my last NDA camp.  This happened on Saturday when I ended 2 back-to-back camps: Shen in New York and Bryant University in Rhode Island.

We work really hard at camp... That would be me as a dead staffer.

The second time I say goodbye to the summer is the first day of September (aka tomorrow.)  After Irene, there is an autumn chill in the air up here in Boston.  As much as I love the hot days of summer, I also bask in the cooler breeze of fall.

One of the best parts living up here in the fall is watching the leaves change colors.  Another is carving pumpkins, apple picking, then cooking with said pumpkins and apples.  I also love when I have lots of things to look forward to and this is definitely the time of year when it happens on a regular basis.

Monkey Trunks.  Has anyone ever heard of this place?  It’s in NH on Weirs Beach.  Apparently, it’s like a jungle gym for adults.  With harnesses.  And heights.  And nets in case you fall.  And medical waivers.  Clearly, this was not my idea.  I’m just being dragged along for the ride.  Could be fun.

School starts.  Hello Boston University COM.  You are a lovely building.  I think we’ll be great friends.  Conveniently located only .87 miles from the beautiful BU gym?  That was really nice of you to consider me like that.  Side note: When my mom asked me the other day “What types of notebooks do you want?” it brought me back to 4th grade when Anne Frank was popular.  Good ‘ol nostalgia..

10K Training.  6 weeks, 6.2 miles.  And I plan on crushing every.single.one.  (I’ll try not to throw up the process… No guarentees though.)  Follow my progress on my new 10K Training page!

Dance.  3 nights a week and I could not be happier.  Choreographing “Hello World” is both wonderful and heartbreaking.  “Sideways” hits home in more ways than one.  “Suckerpunch” and “Superbass” are high energy and just fun.  And “Crazy Crazy Insane” will be sexy as hell.  Keep an eye out of video updates.

Sweaty and happy

Boston Brunchers dinner at Lil Vinny’s Ristorante.  Good thing I check my e-mail 4543 times a day or I might have missed Renee’s invite for a free, family-style dinner at Lil Vinny’s in Somerville with the Boston Brunchers on Thursday night.  Lots of pics and a review will be coming your way!

Boston Brunchers brunch at Local 149 .  Once again, my OCD-like behavior of checking my e-mail wins.  I originally didn’t get the opportunity to be apart of this brunch but since Irene caused an uproar, they moved it and I snagged a seat!

Chocolate & Wine’s 1st Blogiversary.  I started my little blog on September 7, 2010 never knowing that people would want to read it and that I’d get so much support for it.  I am so grateful for all of the friends I’ve made and the different events I get to go to through my blog.  Thank you to everyone for making Chocolate & Wine a success.

Stephen’s 24th Birthday.  Man, he’s getting old.  I like to remind him of it everyday.  He doesn’t mind (much).  However, he is probably one of the most difficult people on the planet to buy a present for so this year, we are doing something a little different.  It includes dinner and Boston.  Hopefully it’s a success.

Yeah, we're cute like that.

Raechel’s Bacheloretty Party.  I mean, who doesn’t love dinner, drinks and dancing with a good friend who’s about to tie the knot?  I’m a big fan.

Turn that martini into a shot and we have Raechel's Bacheloretty Party.

Races.  Run for Ryan 5K on September 17th. Tufts Women’s 10K on October 19th. Witch City 5K on October 23rd.  I’m going to make it rain PRs all over those 5Ks.  And in Salem, I’m gunna do it in costume.  Watch out now.  PS – if you want to run one with me, let me know and I’ll send you the info! (Head’s up – I run slow.)

George & Julie’s Wedding.  After a long 2-year engagement, my cousin George is marrying his fiance, Julie.  Seriously, she could not be more right for him.  And of course, we can expect lots of crying from this girl right here.  Damn emotions.

My Sister’s 21st Birthday.  Finally.  She’s kept me waiting long enough.  Now we can have some real big kid fun.

Halloween.  Candy, costumes, parties… enough said.

That takes us through October.  I also plan on having my first giveaway for my blog’s 1st anniversary.  Lots of people right now are doing “Favorite Things” giveaways and I’m jumping right on that bandwagon.  If you want in, check back around the 7th!   Until then, follow me on Twitter for updates – @ChocoAndWine.

I wanna know… What are you looking forward to most this fall?  Any suggestions for what to put in my “Favorites” giveaway?

Weekend Recap

Yes, I know it’s Wednesday.

But after I threw a blogging curveball and had a guest-post-filled Monday, I want to tell you about my amazing weekend, which started last Thursday night.

Earlier last week, boyfriend asked me if I would be interested in going to the Patriots game on Thursday night.  Wait, the opening Pats game at Gillette, aka the start of football season?  Of course I want to go.  Duh.  Oh, and the seats are 24 rows up from the field?  Can I take my best friend too?

Sweet.

When Thursday night rolled around, three of us (myself, boyfriend and Alyse) headed to Foxboro for the game.  After getting beer (our number 1 priority the second we got through security), we found out seats.

Check out those Pats shirts.

Many beers later, the Pats dominated the Jaguars 47-12 and we left the game very happy (and maybe even a little buzzed.)

Check out those seats!

For my first ever Pats game, I would say it was wildly successful.

The next night, Friday night, meant one thing: Cooking.

As my good friend and fellow blogger, Megan, quotes “So you know how some people say they need retail therapy? I often need cooking therapy.”  That pretty much hits the nail on the head.

I knew I wanted to try a recipe I haven’t tackled yet.  I also wanted something I have been craving for a while.  A few months ago, I went to a restaurant in Boston called Cafeteria and ordered their veggie burger.  Ever since then, I have been determined to recreate it.  On Friday night, I got pretty close.

Black Bean Burgers with Goat Cheese, Arugula & Chipolte Mayo

Chipolte Mayo
(Adapted from Bobby Flay)

1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 TB adobo sauce (from the can)
Squeeze of lime juice
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Black Bean Burgers
(Adapted from Sandra Lee)

1/2 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/3 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained, divided
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
4-6 hamburger rolls, if desired
4-6 TB goat cheese
Arugula

Heat a skillet on the stove to medium-low.

In a food processor, combine onion, garlic and bell pepper until finely chopped.  Add 1 can of black beans, egg, parsley, basil and red pepper and pulse to combine.  (The mixture will be slightly liquid-y.)

Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.  Add the remaining can of black beans and the breadcrumbs.  Season with salt and pepper and mix well until thoroughly combined.

Divide into 4-6 portions, depending on how big you want your burgers to be.  Place in the warmed skillet coated with a thin layer of oil and cook about 4-6 minutes per side or until heated through.

Place burger on toasted hamburger half.  Spread chipotle mayo (as much as you like, but be careful – there’s a definite kick to it!) on the top half and place arugula leaves on top.  Spread about a tablespoon of goat cheese directly on the bean burger.  Place mayo/arugula-ed half on cheesy burger and enjoy!

Is it weird to crave veggie burgers? Maybe...

 The next item on the cooking agenda?  Meringue cookies.  Simple, melt-in-your-mouth, I could eat 50 in one sitting, meringue cookies.  They took a little longer than I expected, but were delicious, airy and the perfect thing to bring to my aunt’s drinking party casual get-together later that night.

Meringue Cookies

3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (I accidently put in 3/4 tsp.  They came out good anyway, but I don’t advice doing this.)
3/4 cup gradulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat eggs on high speed until you can no longer see the bottom of the bowl, about 6 minutes or until the foam can hold soft peaks.

With the speed still on high, gradually add the sugar until the egg whites hold stiff peaks.  Then, beat in the vanilla extract.

Transfer egg white mixture to a piping back or a plastic storage bag with the tip snipped off.  Pipe swirled kisses on prepared baking sheet and place in oven.  Bake for an hour and ten minutes with the oven door completely shut.  Seriously, don’t open it.  Not even to peek.  Even the slightest change in temperature while baking meringues can cause them to break.  After an hour and ten minutes, the cookies should be slightly browned and dry.  If you pick one up and the middle is still wet, continue to bake in 5 minute intervals until done.

Shiny pillows of sugary goodness

After my cooking and baking excursion on Friday afternoon, I rounded the night off with some quality time at my aunt’s house and drank copious amounts of red wine.  Solid Friday overall.

Saturday marked a very special occasion:  the day the first of my best friends got married.

I met Amy in college and we became close friends while being involved in school musicals together.  On Saturday, in a beautiful Catholic church in Nashua, NH, she said “I Do” to the love of her life in a gorgeous white dress.  The second my friends and I saw her, we all started crying.  It was a beautiful ceremony.

Saying "I Do"

And then, we partied.

College friends at the wedding reception
Maid of Honor, Groom and Bride

 She and her new husband are now honeymooning in the White Mountains and I hope they are having a fabulous time.  Congrats Amy & Alex!

On Sunday morning, after a late night and many glasses of wine, Stephen and I headed back to Massachusetts so he could go to work and I could go to the mall with my parents, during tax-free weekend, to buy my first Mac laptop.  Even though I’m not computer savvy at all, it has rapidly become my favorite new toy.  It needs a name… suggestions?

Sunday night, I cooked again.  I know, I was on a cooking roll this weekend.  And a roll was exactly what I made.  Craving more of my Friday night goat cheese and arugula combo, I sliced a large eggplant, grilled it, spread goat cheese on it, pressed on some arugula leaves, rolled them up and together, my father and I devoured each one. 

Mmm... eggplant

After a wonderful weekend, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.  And then I took a kickass muscle class at the gym and the new season of DanceWorks Boston started on Monday night. 

Win.

How was your weekend?  Are any of your best friends getting married?  And what do you think of veggie burgers?