Amazing Food at A Mano

It’s just been a consistent fact of my life that I am powerless under the magic of Italian food. Few things make me feel quite as happy as a steaming plate of pasta being placed in front of me. Looking for a little bit of that serotonin boost during the dreary winter months, I booked a Valentine’s Day reservation for me and Nick at A Mano Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria here in Salem, MA.

A Mano is located in the same spot as the former 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar, and is owned by Executive Chef Antonio Bettencourt, who also owned 62. While I’d heard wonderful things about 62, I’d never gotten the chance to try it during my college years in Salem because, well, my college kid budget didn’t get me much more than Wendy’s. 62 closed and A Mano was born in its place in October 2015. The new restaurant still takes immense pride in crafting its from-scratch Italian dishes (“a mano” literally means “by hand”) but has a slightly more downhome, “approachable” feel, as was the goal of the rebrand.  Now that I moved back to Salem with a little more in my pockets than college funds had allowed, I was excited to try this new venture from Chef Bettencourt.

Ahh wine...the perfect compliment to any meal.

Ahh wine…the perfect compliment to any meal.

After taking an Uber not even five minutes down the road (hey, it was like -20 degrees out Valentine’s night), Nick and I walked into A Mano and, thanks to our reservations, were seated right away after hanging our coats. The interior of A Mano featured dim lights which are great for sipping your wine and feeling relaxed (not great for me taking photos with my phone, SORRY!). The atmosphere is cozy, with a bar and lounge tables on one side, and on the other, intimate tables and an area set up as one long booth style seat with tables for two placed intermittently, each offering a singular seat on the other side. We were seated in this area, and at first I thought we would be so focused on hearing other guests’ conversations, but that wasn’t the case and all went smoothly.

“Antipasti”…the meatballs!

We “went big” for Valentine’s Day and ordered a bottle of Riesling, my favorite type of wine. We also started out with an “Antipasti” (which I’ve looked up means “before the meal”), the meatballs which were comprised of beef, pork and ricotta with pomodoro over polenta.  The appetizer came out with three good-sized meatballs and they were perfectly tender and flavorful. I don’t think I’d ever had polenta before, because I’d never tasted anything quite like it and I think I’m now obsessed. I asked our knowledgeable waitress just what it was, and it’s like a cornmeal paste, kind of like an Italian version of grits. I probably could have been happy with just polenta as a side!

On the A Mano menu, pastas and entrees are separate sections (there’s also pizza and salad). The menu explains that pastas are mid-sized to be a second course before the entree, but you can get an entree-sized portion of any pasta. I decided to go with the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese in the mid-sized plate after seeing what still looked like a filling portion on the table of the person next to me and finding out it was the mid-size. Nick ordered one of the night’s specials, the lasagna (his favorite meal).

The photo doesn’t do the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese justice – this was seriously satisfying.

The Tagliatelle alla Bolognese was cooked to perfection and I couldn’t get enough of the Bolognese, which included veal, something else I’d actually never had before! I was just being a regular old daredevil with my food that night. The sauce had just the right amount of meat and the homemade aspect of the pasta really enhanced the dish. Nick was very happy with his lasagna, and I tried a bite; it did taste exactly as if an Italian grandma had cooked it up in her own kitchen.

Nick patiently waited, with hands crossed, for me to take this so he could dig in.

Nick patiently waited, with hands crossed, for me to take a picture so he could dig in.

I can’t end a nice dinner without something sweet, so we ordered the Warm Toffee Pudding on a recommendation from our waitress. It was delightful, and sweet it certainly was with a toffee sauce sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. Toffee is one of those flavors I find to be more exciting than always getting a dessert focused on the regular old chocolate or vanilla, so I thoroughly enjoyed this ending to our meal.

Warm Toffee Pudding hit the spot!

Warm Toffee Pudding hit the spot!

Chef Bettencourt gets two thumbs up from me for A Mano, and I’m thrilled to have another date night option in our area to visit with Nick or to bring other couples we are friends with to. A Mano allows you to make reservations through OpenTable right on the homepage of their website, (I jump for joy when I can make reservations without calling) so go make one for your next night out and thank me later! 🙂

Featured: A Mano Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria – 62 Wharf Street, Salem, MA, 978.744.0062

Advertisements

Diner Dreams Come True at The Ugly Mug

Oh, Mr. Groundhog. You’ve angered a lot of people with what seems like a false prediction of early spring. Many of us here in the Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire region are currently having another snow day, after just having one on Friday. Because I think Salem is gorgeous in the snow, despite the hassle of bringing the car to a packed parking garage during a snow emergency parking ban, I wanted to make the best of the morning. I thought, what better way to kick off a snow day than trying a breakfast spot we hadn’t been to before? Enter: The Ugly Mug Diner!

A well-lit, inviting atmosphere adds to the ambiance at The Ugly Mug Diner.

The Ugly Mug Diner opened in 2014 while I was living in New Hampshire, or I would have tried it back then. I’m thrilled that this snow day allowed me the opportunity to check it out because this is definitely going to be my new breakfast spot. This diner, while cozy, is definitely not what I like to call a “dive bar diner”. You won’t find a dark, outdated environment or outdated menu items here!

The interior is very clean with a creative, quirky style of decor. If you look close enough in the photo above you can see that the lights over the counter are actually coffee pots! There were also cheese grater lights above our table. I absolutely loved this – what an excellent and unique idea. While not what I would call a rustic place, the multiple chalkboard menus added a touch of a homestyle feel. Near our seat I was delighted to see “pigography” by super talented and super sweet local photographer, Joey Phoenix. Retro 80s tunes played over the sound system, and the vibe in the diner was upbeat and friendly, yet relaxing.

You can’t help but smile at the adorable guinea pigs photographed by the talented Joey Phoenix. You can purchase these sweet scenes as well!

Now, for the best part: the eats. The Ugly Mug Diner is a far step ahead in my eyes in inspired diner food and beverage offerings. Sure, you could get plain pancakes and regular coffee here if you preferred, but with so many other standout menu options, I’m not certain you’d want to! It’s obvious that all involved in running this diner take pride in the food they serve. Their website describes it perfectly on the welcome page when it says, “We are a foodie haven, not a greasy spoon”.

One of the Ugly Mug menu pages, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch on the Benedict section!

An example of items on the sweeter side would be “The Elvis Waffle”, which includes peanut butter cup chunks, banana, bacon and whipped cream. Looking for something eggy? Perhaps try the Vegiluxe off of their “Deluxe Egg Sammiches” menu, which includes a fried egg, caramelized onions, Portobello, roasted tomato and roasted garlic goat cheese. If Benedict is your style, there are several options (hello Joe’s Fishprints Dueling Crustaceans benedict, I imagined to be named after the shop on Pickering Wharf). This section of the menu is complete with a photo of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch at the top.

There are also “Sammiches” and burger options sure to please the palate. Meat lovers will drool over The P.E.L.T., which includes  “bacon and pork belly confit in a double decker BLT with sriracha aioli on sourdough bread”. I could go on and on about the different mouthwatering combinations of food at The Ugly Mug Diner, but you can just check it all out yourself here.

Which winter drink special sounds most appealing to you?

We can’t forget about drinks, and drinks there certainly are here! I have never seen such a wide variety of drinks at a diner, and I think I’m in love. They even serve adult beverages, people! You want beer? Order it up! Even try a beer cocktail while you’re at it! (The High Life Lime Rickey sounds good to me.) Don’t whine about no wine here, because it’s on the menu. Mimosas? Of course!

If the morning isn’t quite your happy hour, perk up with one of the many caffeinated options. I’ll admit, I played the safe route because I was strongly craving a Chai Latte so that’s what I got, but it was very hard to pass up ordering something like their Salted Caramel Mocha or Nutella Latte. The Toasted Marshmallow Hot Chocolate was also in the running for me. I didn’t regret the Chai Latte though, because it was actually a combo of their own Chai made in-house with tea from MEM tea in Watertown, MA.

The vast collection of ugly mugs at the aptly named diner is a delightful part of visiting!

Drinks are served to customers in random “ugly” mugs, of which I’ve heard come from a huge collection within the diner. One of my favorite parts of the experience was looking around to see all the crazy awesome mugs other patrons were sipping out of.  I definitely got an ugly mug as you can see – it has the name of a water treatment company from South Carolina on it. Nick’s mug is actually really cute, though. Who doesn’t love cartoon penguins in winter hats? Around the room, I also saw a mug with an image of the Beatles, and a funny-shaped one with the face of what seemed like a troll or a giant of some sort. I can’t wait for my next trip back to the diner just to see which mug I get next!

As for the meal, I couldn’t resist the sound of the Carrot Cake pancakes, which were written on the Specials chalkboard, complete with little carrot drawings next to it. I’m a sucker for anything adorable like that, so the deal was sealed for me.  I also got a scrambled egg on the side. Nick ordered the Western Omelet (sans avocado, which it usually comes with) and a Banana Nut muffin, which was also on the chalkboard, grilled up for warmth with butter on the side.

No words for the deliciousness of these Carrot Cake pancakes.

I don’t think I’ve ever had more enjoyable pancakes. The thought of Carrot Cake pancakes never even occurred to me. These were SO delicious, warm and soft with the scrumptious taste of carrot cake as if it was fresh from grandma’s kitchen. Sweet but not too much so, as the melty, sweet-tooth satisfying frosting provided that extra shot of sugary delight. There were actually carrot shavings on the side, so I tricked my mind into thinking, oh look! We’re even getting our vitamins today! I hope this is one special that returns again and again on the chalkboard.

Nick likes to put ketchup on everything…I’m not such a fan, but to each their own!

I know, I know, this is a horrible shot of Nick’s plate, but that’s because I was in a rush to take the first bite of those Carrot Cake pancakes 😉 As a side to his Western Omelet, Nick got a homefries mix, half regular and half sweet potato. I just had to try the sweet potato (love everything s.p.) and they were outstanding. I would take those over regular homefries any day, any time.

All too soon, it seemed like we had devoured our plates and our time at The Ugly Mug Diner came to a close as we geared up to head back out into the bitterly cold wind and snow. At least we would walk home (actually, to the bank first) full and satisfied! I’m already thinking ahead to my next visit to this delicious diner, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. After all, Ugly Mug won Editors’ Choice for Best Breakfast and Readers’ Choice for Best Brunch in Northshore Magazine’s Best of the North Shore 2015.

If you’re in the Salem, Massachusetts area, take some time to start your day out at The Ugly Mug Diner! Or, check it out for lunch. It’s open 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM every day. When you do go, let me know what mug you get in the comments 🙂

Featured: The Ugly Mug Diner – 122 Washington Street, Salem, MA, 978.745.MUGG (6844)

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Most of my life, and especially after the driving years began, I held a disdain for the snow. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking how a diehard New Englander could possibly be unappreciative of what usually feels like the longest season of the year in these parts. But, I know I’m not the only one here who felt this way. That all changed when I saw the Salem, Massachusetts area in the snow. Salem is the most magical, most beautiful city to live in scenic-wise in the winter, in my humble opinion. This historic place takes on an otherworldly snowglobe-like feeling once those flakes start sticking to the scenery.

One of my photos of the Salem Common, quiet, serene, and otherworldly in the snow.

One of my photos of the Salem Common, quiet, serene, and otherworldly in the snow.

These days, no longer in college, I’m lucky enough to live close to downtown and the snow does not stop us from being able to walk around in this winter wonderland in close proximity to our favorite bars, restaurants and shops. It’s fun to sit inside a cozy spot, imbibing in a few drinks, maybe playing some darts, as the snow falls outside. However, the real fun lies in walking around the Salem Common. The Common is beautiful no matter what time of year, but it is absolutely heavenly on days when the snow is coming down. On these days, I will just run around it with the excitement of a child, observing the beauty and trying to unsuccessfully capture it in a photo, because no picture really does it justice. It is one of those scenes where you just have to stare long enough so you can remember it in your mind’s eye rather than on your phone.

The trees on the side of the Common closest to downtown have beautiful white lights that add to the ambiance. Combined with the lights coming off of the wreaths on the windows of the historic Hawthorne Hotel, a prettier picture can’t be found. Last night, Nick and I just walked and stared in wonder. Nick took a couple pictures, which with an older phone and low light aren’t the greatest, but at least they are something! They are a memory of the happiness we felt last night, being with each other and feeling lucky enough to live in such a place.

Nick and I, happy to be walking in a winter wonderland!

Nick and I, happy to be walking in a winter wonderland!

Just posing!

If you ever get the chance to spend time in Salem, Massachusetts in the winter, I highly recommend it. There are still lots of fun activities going on; this weekend is Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival, and during Christmas there is Holiday Happenings, although I can’t always guarantee snow will be here during the holidays (but it’s still gorgeous around the area). Even last year, when New England had the snowiest winter on record and everyone was sick of it, Nick and I stayed at a hotel in Salem on Valentine’s Day (we hadn’t moved to our apartment yet) and it was still  breathtaking, with feet on feet of snow! This winter, I really don’t want that much snow again, but I don’t regret what we do have. Each season is a God-given gift, and I don’t want to take any of them for granted!

Want to see more pictures of my adventures around New England? Follow along on Instagram at newenglandstateofmind!

Saturday Scenes Around Salem

How lucky have we in New England (or at least the southern parts of the region) been getting with this December warm streak? Yes, I’m a lifelong New Englander, but it doesn’t make me any more a fan of winter. I merely tolerate it 🙂 Today has a high of nearly 60 degrees, so after getting breakfast at the always amazing Red’s, Nick and I walked around our city of Salem.

I took a few pictures to capture some fun and pretty sights of today. Enjoy!

A festive wreath stands out amongst the very classic New England look of this old building, which is located next to Salem’s oldest graveyard, The Burying Point.

Another wreath welcomes the season and matches this pretty evergreen door perfectly. Something about doors, especially when decorated, are so eye-catching and entrancing!

I cannot help but take a stroll along the water every time it’s nice out. We in New England need to make the most of these days, because we do know what furious winter weather the following months will bring! This photo looks out along Collins Cove, under a pretty blue sky.

A pretty view can be found looking out amongst the reeds. These forms of plant life themselves add a nice beachy touch to the landscape. I absolutely love this neighborhood. Thanks, Mother Nature, for being especially nice to us this week!

Hamlet Comes to Salem Theatre

Artwork - Salem Theatre - HamletIn high school, as a lover of all things Lit, I took an Honors Shakespeare class. I looked forward to the class  every other day, and especially when we would get a chance to read the lines aloud. I loved imagining I was a character in one of these most famous plays. While I never actually got to grace the stage as a Shakespearean beauty, I did receive the invaluable pleasure of being in the audience the Salem Theatre production of Hamlet on Sunday afternoon.

From the heavy beat of solemn and foreboding drums marking the beginning of the very first act, and which repeat at significant scenes throughout the performance, the audience was alert to the dark tragedy and drama that lay ahead of us. Throughout the show, even though it’s most likely possible that we had all read Hamlet in our lives, it was as if we were anticipating every line, every moment, every dramatic episode as if what we were witnessing was something brand new. And in several ways, it was; Salem Theatre Company is breathing new life into one of Shakespeare’s most renowned and timeless plays.

Modern, darkly colored dress (with the exception of a few royal and theatre troupe characters) and a simple set allow the acting to really speak for itself without distraction of any sort.

Photo courtesy Salem Theatre

Photo courtesy Salem Theatre

Ariel Zuckerman gave a stellar performance as a more determined, confident, yet cautious Hamlet who does not have so much of internal struggle with the question of whether to avenge his father’s death, but how to ensure that yes, this is the right thing to do and what might be the best way to go about it. The emotions – rage, heartache, grief, wit – which Zuckerman portrays in the climactic scenes, as well as the advantageous bouts of madness which his character Hamlet uses to manipulate those he is interacting with t is utterly believable and captivating.

Other standouts include Dave Rich, who plays both an eerie ghost of King Hamlet as well as his murderous, conniving brother Claudius, and Linda Goetz as the naive Queen Gertrude holds reign over the audience each time she speaks. Polonius (the father of Laertes, played with conviction by Tom Rash and Ophelia, played by Elena Faverio) is reimagined here as Polonia; a cunning, meddling mother whose intrusiveness causes her to meet her fate. Giving a female role to this character is a welcome twist on this classic play, and Polonia is played brilliantly by Karen Trachtenberg.

Elena Faverio gives  an enthralling performance as Ophelia, winning the audience over with her sweetness and adoration of Hamlet’s affections, and bringing sorrow to the stage as Ophelia, all too really, descends into madness and eventual death. Kyle Gregory (who I saw and loved as Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart) is another Salem Theatre standout as Horatio, Hamlet’s dutiful best friend who serves as his confidante throughout.

Hamlet is wonderfully directed by the exceptional Caroline Watson-Felt, who truly knows how to make a Shakespeare play appear larger than life in a small space.

Hamlet is the last play that is being performed in the “black box” theatre on Lafayette Street, and while the new theatre at Shetland Park will be larger to accommodate more guests, the finale of the black box era is one you don’t want to miss. The upcoming showings of Hamlet are as follows; November 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, & 21 at 7:30 p.m., as well as another Sunday showing, November 15 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $12-$25 online and $15-$30 at the door. Visit http://www.salemtheatre.com to purchase yours!

Salem Theatre Company – 90 Lafayette Street (soon to move to Shetland Park), Salem, MA, www.salemtheatre.com, 978.790.8546

Salem Fall Restaurant Week is Almost Here!

restaurant week logo

(Logo via Salem Restaurant Week Facebook page)

One of my favorite parts of living in Salem, Massachusetts is the abundance of culinary delights the city has to offer, and the roster is growing all the time. Although I dine out a lot, there are still many area restaurants that I have yet to try out. What better way to check some off of my list than during Salem Restaurant Week?

From Sunday, November 8th through Thursday, November 12 and Sunday, November 15 through Thursday, November 19, twenty-two of Salem’s restaurants will participate in the Fall Restaurant Week, giving customers the opportunity for a two-course prix-fixe dinner menu for $18, or a three-course prix-fixe dinner menu for $28 (not including drinks, taxes, or tips).

This is a can’t-miss chance to savor a variety of different cuisines at an affordable price. Also, talk about a fabulous date night plan! You are sure to leave stuffed. If there are restaurants you’ve been meaning to try but haven’t, this would be a perfect way to taste test the menu, and you might just come across a new place to frequent! I know that this is my goal for Restaurant Week, for sure. I find myself often drawn to the same spots, and I know that there are so many more I would love.

The list of participating restaurants is as follows:
A MANO Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria, Adriatic Restaurant & Bar, Aurora Vietnamese Cuisine & Wine Bar, Bambolina, Bella Verona, Black Lobster at Stromberg’s Cove, Brother’s Taverna, Finz Seafood & Grill, Firenze Trattoria, In a Pig’s Eye, Koto Grill, Life Alive Urban Oasis, Nathaniel’s at the Hawthorne Hotel, Naumkeag Ordinary, Opus, Regatta Pub, Sea Level Oyster Bar, Thai Place, Turner’s Seafood at Lyceum Hall, Victoria Station & Vic’s Boathouse, Village Tavern Grill & Oyster Bar

Reservations are suggested; mention “Restaurant Week” when you make them. For more information, as well as to see the special menus for these restaurants as they are added, visit the Salem Chamber of Commerce website. See you out and about!

Revisiting the Past at the Ropes Mansion

I’ve had quite a large fascination with history since childhood. I would say it started around the age of six when good old Santa Claus brought me what I thought of as the be-all, end-all of Christmas presents, an American Girl Doll. For those of you who may remember ’90s girlhood, American Girl Dolls were a coveted item for us back then. Each doll represented a different era in history and came complete with outfits designed in the styles of that period, along with chapter books of their stories about living in their specific time.

The doll I got was named Felicity Merriman, and she was supposed to be a girl living in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1774 when the Revolutionary War was brewing. I started playing as if I lived in the 18th century as well, and slowly became fascinated with the other dolls and the whole panorama of American history, from the 1700s to just before modern day. I outgrew the dolls, but never outgrew the zeal for learning about the bygone years of our country. Moving to Salem, Massachusetts was really like heaven on earth for someone like me. There is literally a gorgeous old house around every corner, all with unique stories to tell.

Old (in this case, really old!) houses are everywhere you look in Salem.

Old (in this case, really old!) houses are everywhere you look in Salem.

One home that I’d always been fascinated with, probably because of my original love for the 1700s, was the Ropes Mansion on Essex Street. Again, for other ’90s kids, you probably remember how much we loved the Halloween movie Hocus Pocus, which took place (and was partly filmed) in Salem. Well, remember Alison’s house? Yup, you got it – that is the Ropes Mansion!

The Ropes Mansion stands proudly in its spot at 318 Essex Street in Salem, MA.

The Ropes Mansion stands proudly in its spot at 318 Essex Street in Salem, MA.

Unfortunately for me, shortly after I had moved to Salem for college, a fire at the mansion caused it to be closed for tours for six years. The only way I was ever able to see the mansion was from its beautiful outdoor gardens, where we would often stop when I went on ghost tours. Legend had it that the ghost of one of the Ropes women still haunted the house after dying from burns sustained when her dress caught fire in one of the fireplaces. Tragic, right?

Since my early days in Salem I’d been eager to see the inside of this historic house, and recently my dream finally came true. In May of this year, the Ropes Mansion once again opened its doors to visitors, offering them a blast from the past upon stepping inside. The mansion holds original furnishings and items owned by the Ropes family and lots of informational plaques, as well as knowledgeable guides throughout each room. The other weekend, my sister, her boyfriend and I decided to pay a visit to this renowned estate, but happily didn’t actually have to pay anything, as tours are free! Visitors guide themselves throughout the home, but as mentioned above, docents are available to start your tour out with a history of the family and homestead, and answer any questions you may have along the way.

ropes family history

Sorry about the blurry image…the Ropes family lineage is shown on a wall in the entryway.

It was incredible to actually feel as if I was living in an 18th century home, something I’d been imagining for years since my doll was in my hands. Seeing all the antique furnishings and home goods and learning about all of it was a perfect activity, one that really got us thinking about what life must have been like back then.

The most intriguing aspect, to me, was hearing and reading about the different family members who once dwelled in the home. I was particularly moved by the story of Elizabeth Ropes Orne, who lived in the home with her mother after her father died when she was a baby. Elizabeth herself died in one of the rooms of the mansion at the age of 24 from tuberculosis. We actually stood right in the room where she passed away, and I felt pretty moved by it. There was a painting of her, with brown hair and brown eyes looking back at me. I have brown hair and brown eyes and am 24 years old, and I thought about the sadness of the whole scenario. I couldn’t imagine what she went through at my age, and subsequently, the pain of her mother upon losing her daughter at a young age, and with her husband gone as well.

But, it’s just a fact that old homes that hold generations of family members must experience death within the walls. Not to be macabre, but it’s true. One of the stranger things we discovered about the home, and death in the 18th and 19th centuries, is that relatives of the deceased would often keep locks of hair as a keepsake. On display in one of the rooms were framed lockets that held the braided hair of Abigail Ropes, the women mentioned earlier who died from burns via a fireplace in the house. There was also a necklace worn by one of the Ropes women in later years made of human hair (whose hair, I’m not sure), and a lock of hair from Elizabeth Ropes Orne, cut from her head during her toddler years as an affectionate gesture of her mother. I would have taken photos of these remembrances, but it honestly kind of creeped me out so I didn’t! I was surprised that all the hair looked to be in such mint condition for being hundreds of years old. I’m not very science savvy, so I’m sure there is some kind of explanation behind this.

If you’re looking for spooky, that was definitely the area of the mansion museum for you. If you’re into the paranormal, nope, I have no personal ghostly encounters to report, although my sister did start to feel very uneasy in the room that Elizabeth died in. I was there for the history side of things.

Outside of this, we explored a leisure room where a piano played by Elizabeth with her self-labeled music book sat on display and beautiful antique furniture was set up as it might have been in its hey day.

piano

Isn’t this piano gorgeous?

leisure room

My sister reads an informational board describing what the room she is in was used for…leisurely activities!

We walked into an exquisite side room filled from top to bottom with the family’s ornate china and glassware collections.

china cabinet

We got to touch antique kitchen tools and try to guess what they may have been used for (I was only right on one thing!) and see how the kitchen closet was stocked.

old kitchen tools

We were able to view multiple dining room sets, one set for Christmas dinner as it was in the 1840s and one set with plates each stamped with a rule of etiquette for dining in the 19th century. I definitely would have been thought of as a poor guest, I’m sure! I only ever eat with my elbows on the table, after all.

christmas dining table

One dining room table set for a Christmas feast in 1847.

 

A second dining room table, because when you live in a mansion, why not have two?

A second dining room table, because why not?

Upstairs were the bedrooms with plush beds that I think would be a nice cure for my insomnia if I were to have one in those styles!

bed

We also perused the bookshelves with many historic tomes, and I felt a bookworm jealousy at the large collection.

ropes book shelf

This is just one out of several book shelves in the mansion!

Outside, we and other visitors admired the renowned gardens – this is certainly the best time of the year to stroll around them, with flowers of every color imaginable in bloom. It was a breathtaking end to a tour I had been waiting years to take, and one that endlessly satisfied my thirst to learn more about the 18th and 19th centuries and those who lived through them.

black eyed susans

Black-Eyed Susans stand proudly in the Ropes Garden.

If you’re just as engrossed with history as I am, I highly recommend checking out the Ropes Mansion. Visiting is free, and is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays (seasonally) from 12-4 P.M. If you go, let me know about your experience traveling back in time!

Featured:

The Ropes Mansion – 318 Essex Street, Salem, MA, 01970

An Evening Party at the PEM

Last night, Nick and I had the pleasure of attending our first Peabody Essex Museum event since moving to Salem. On the third Thursday of each month, the PEM stays open late for a PM Evening Party. Not only do all of the galleries and exhibits remain open, but the museum also features a wide variety of activities, entertainment, food, drinks and more that involves the whole community. July’s event was called Taking Back Summer, and certainly provided a lot of fun for many on that evening.

There was already a good-sized crowd when we arrived around 6:30, made up of literally all ages. We saw groups of people clustered around tables working on something, and when we walked up to a table we saw coloring pages and colored pencils. I love coloring (although I’ve never been very good at staying in the lines…like I’ve said before, I stick to writing for a reason!) so we started with this relaxing activity. I started coloring a Parisian scene and Nick did the same.

Don't judge me by my coloring skills!

Don’t judge me by my coloring skills!

I had heard that besides the cash bar, there would also be adult milkshakes served up by Sea Level Oyster Bar. Sure enough, I spotted a table full of them. There were two kinds available: a Key Lime Pie Margarita Shake and a Mocha Beer Shake. I was feeling the citrus and tequila more so than the porter in the mocha shake, so I went with the Key Lime Pie shake. I was happy I did – so delicious. This is certainly a type of drink I would love to make at home for a summer gathering among friends.

adult milkshakes

Because we arrived at the event after work when we normally would have dinner, we couldn’t really focus on anything else before grabbing something to munch on. There was a variety of small meals available, along with snacks like chips, brownies and granola bars. We decided to split a plate of barbecue pork ribs with sides of cornbread, broccoli salad and red beans and rice.

meal

It was hard to find a seat in the museum’s Atrium because there were so many people, but we finally did and were able to eat and enjoy the sounds of The Void Union playing ska and reggae. They were excellent and really got the place grooving.

After eating, we ventured outside to the Asian Garden where there were classic games on a BIG level – a giant Jenga set and Ker-Plunk. In this area, there was also a beer garden with Narragansett brews. Their Del’s Shandy has been my go-to beverage this summer, bringing a lemonade-like flavor to this refreshing beer!

Narragansett Del’s Shandy, on the right, has been my summer favorite this year.

Back inside, we briefly stopped by the Bartlett Gallery for a presentation on one of event goers’ most anticipated aspects of the Take Back Summer evening, a chance to meet hitchBOT. hitchBOT is a very unique robot hailing from Ontario, Canada. hitchBOT hitchhikes across various places around the world thanks to the kindness of strangers willing to take him to new destinations. So far, he has traveled across Canada and Germany and was starting his U.S. journey right here in Salem, Massachusetts! hitchBOT’s goal is to get all the way to San Francisco, with opportunities to see some of our country’s most famous landmarks along the way. I shamefully was unable to take a photo of hitchBOT with the crowd surrounding him when I first spotted him, and then he must have disappeared into the presentation! However, if you’re as curious as I was, you can read all about him and his travels on his website. This is also a great news article that explains the science and idea behind hitchBOT. If you see him on the streets, make sure to give him a ride!

After the hitchBOT sighting, we ventured over to the Create Space. In this section, there were art making activities where participants could craft “summer camp classics” such as tie-dye and gimp pieces. There was also a friendship bracelet making activity being offered by Boston Bead Company. These appeared to be highly popular activities, because the tables were at capacity. Seeing this, we headed into the Maker Lounge instead where a “toy hacking” activity was going on. We were pretty fascinated by this one, which provided people with a variety of tools and toys that they could completely take apart and rebuild into something entirely new.

There were many toys to choose from when gathering ideas!

There were many toys to choose from when gathering ideas.

Many of these participants were kids, and they were coming up with some awesome ideas on new toys. I love to see imaginations at work! Nick and I decided to have some fun with this as well. I am not very mechanically inclined, so my toy was pretty simple – a wind-up creature that walks a stuffed dog on a leash. Nick put together a horse/car contraption with a spotlight on the front to guide its way in the dark. We definitely felt like kids again!

Nick working on his rebuilt toy

Nick working on the beginning stages of his rebuilt toy

After messing around with toy creations, we headed out to Armory Park across the street where The Massacre, a Boston-based Quidditch league for adults, showed people moves that Harry Potter would be proud of. They allowed others to learn how to play this fictional game, which seems to actually be a reality now, albeit without broomsticks!

?

Players get into the Hogwarts spirit with a game of Quidditch

Our last stop of this eventful Take Back Summer evening was at the Salem Public Library’s mobile library. Two librarians had a table full of books and CDs that could be rented right there. As a lifelong reading fanatic, it made my night when I found out that I could sign up for a library card on the spot with verification of  my new address. Now I can finally check out anything my heart desires. I totally bookwormed out about this, and to say I’m excited would be an understatement!

mobile library

After an extremely enjoyable night (and free for Salem residents!), Nick and I walked out into the cool night air. It felt like a fall night, which are generally my favorites. Don’t get me wrong though! I’m not ready in the slightest for beach days, barbecues and boating weekends to be over. Summer has really just gotten started for me, and the PEM’s Take Back Summer event was the perfect way to celebrate this season among my fellow community members. We are very lucky to have a renowned museum in our city that still feels like such a part of the local scene. It just won Northshore Magazine’s Best Museum and Boston Magazine’s Best Museum North of Boston, in fact!

The next PEM/PM Evening Party takes place on Thursday, August 20th from 6:00-9:00 p.m. with the theme “’30s on Film”. Admission is free for members and Salem residents, and $10 for non-members. Check out the event’s Facebook page for more details, and I’ll see you there!

Featured: The Peabody Essex Museum, East India Square (161 Essex Street), Salem, MA, 978.745.9500

 

A Good Morning is Guaranteed at Jaho Coffee & Tea

How can I choose between all these delicious featured drinks?!

How can I choose between all these delicious featured drinks?!

Although I have Mondays “off” from my day job, I still consider them “work” days as I like to take the time to write. I could technically sleep in, but I prefer to wake up at a decent hour and get the day started. Today, on my first official Monday living in Salem, Massachusetts, I was moping around after getting out of bed and really needed a coffee. I decided to take a walk to Jaho Coffee & Tea on Derby Street to wake myself up. It was (still is, if you consider when I’m typing this) a gorgeous morning in my coastal city, sure to be a hot summer day. I was sweating even as I walked at 8:30am.

Approaching Jaho on my walk

Approaching Jaho on my walk

I arrived at Jaho, and upon opening the door, was greeted by a front counter with adorable handwritten signs detailing the featured drinks. There were many, and they all sounded like absolutely mouthwatering combinations – I couldn’t decide! However, as a lover of anything minty, I decided to go for the Thin Mint Latte (iced, the only way to go on a day like today).

The front counter at Jaho

The front counter at Jaho

There was a wide variety of tasty pastries to choose from as well, taking up two different glass cases next to and on top of the counter. I’m obsessed with anything blueberry, so I ordered a slice of the blueberry bread to go with my coffee. I got my order and took a seat in a comfy chair near the window.

My sweet tooth is in heaven here!

My sweet tooth is in heaven here!

I cooled down with my Thin Mint Latte, which came in the cutest plastic cup I’ve ever seen. In fact, I have plans to wash it out and just keep it in my cabinet for future use! The latte was delightful, with just enough mint and mocha to satisfy my sweet tooth while still allowing the natural coffee flavor to come through.

Is that not one of the cutest plastic cups you've ever seen?

Is that not one of the cutest plastic cups you’ve ever seen?

The blueberry bread was delicious as well, and tasted just like something Mom would make. The blueberries added a natural sweetness and the bread made for a perfect breakfast snack when you just want a little something to eat.

A piece of blueberry bread is just what was needed on this morning.

A piece of blueberry bread is just what was needed on this morning.

If you’re looking for heartier fare, Jaho also offers yummy breakfast sandwiches, and soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch as well. Besides the featured drinks, Jaho offers many other coffee beverages made with their unique machines from their own roasted coffee beans, as well as lots of tea flavors (it’s in their name, after all). Most of the seating is indoors, but there are a couple of outdoor tables if you get lucky enough to grab one on a nice day.

If you’re in Salem and need a morning boost, look no further than Jaho to meet all of your “get me caffeinated” or “get food in my belly” needs! They have a second location in Boston’s South End as well, so if you live or work in the area, you can get your fix too!

Featured:

Jaho Coffee & Tea, 197 Derby Street, Salem, MA, 978.744.4300 (other location in Boston at 1651 Washington Street in the South End)

 

“The Normal Heart”: An Outstanding Production by Salem Theatre Co.

This Saturday, my first official weekend back in Salem, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend the final performance of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” by the Salem Theatre Company (STC). Directed by Catherine Bertrand for the STC, “The Normal Heart” is an emotionally charged and thought-provoking story about a group of gay activists living, and sadly dying, during the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York City. They put up a years-long, tragic fight to bring this deadly virus to the consciousness of a society seemingly turning a blind eye.

When I took my place in the theater on Lafayette Street, I was surrounded by black walls filled with names written in chalk – names of those whose lives had been claimed by AIDS, including the name of lead actor Kyle Gregory’s father, Kenneth Gregory, who passed away in 1992. The mood of the crowd before the performance even began already felt anxious and somewhat somber. Once the lights dimmed a bit more and the actors and actresses took the stage, I began to understand why other reviewers had written such heartfelt responses to the production.

Kyle Gregory, a Salem State graduate and first-time STC actor, starred as the eccentric, bluntly speaking, ultra-passionate writer Ned Weeks, a character based on Kramer’s own experience as an activist during this time. Gregory’s portrayal of Ned truly had me, as well as the other audience members, absolutely captivated.

After first learning about the AIDS virus and seeing it claim the lives of many of his friends and acquaintances in a very short amount of time, Ned began to work tirelessly with a group of friends to make the danger of the disease known to all it could affect, and all who he believed could help in doing something about it. Ned’s in-your-face, brazen tactics rub lots of folks the wrong way, including those he is closest to, bringing setbacks upon him. Things only continue to flare when his lover, Felix Turner, a New York Times reporter played by Sam Lewis, becomes diagnosed.

As an audience member, I felt true pity for Ned, someone so desperate to stop something so terrible that blatant honesty seemed the only path to take even if no one wanted to hear it that way. On an infinitely smaller scale I, and I’m sure many others, can relate to the feeling of hopelessness that not getting your point across incurs, and how it makes you just want to scream. One can only imagine how Ned would feel with an issue so grave continuing to fall on deaf ears. The anxiety only rises between each scene when dates and numbers flash upon a screen indicating the death toll from the disease at that time, with audio news clips in the background. The numbers increase at an alarming rate in a small timespan.

Gregory did a terrific job portraying the deep-seated frustrations, loss of control and melancholy that seeped into Weeks as his organization, which was created to help spread the word and obtain funding to fight the disease, spirals.

Outside of Gregory, “The Normal Heart” featured an outstanding cast well-deserving of their standing ovation. Caroline Watson-Felt brought murmurs of “incredible performance!” through the audience as Dr. Emma Brookner, the doctor who sees the most AIDS patients in New York and desperately fights tooth and nail to learn more about the disease and gain support from an apathetic medical community. Dr. Brookner is bound to a wheelchair, but that does not stop her in any way from being a powerful presence. A scene where her anger boils over after funding for research continues to be denied earned a round of applause, usually reserved for the end of the production. 

As mentioned before, Sam Lewis brings a touching performance to the play as Felix Turner, Ned’s boyfriend who is the calm to his storm and shows him how to truly love and be loved until death does them part. Alex Portenko plays the closeted former Green Beret Bruce Niles who battles with wanting to make an impact on the crisis while not wanting to stir up any controversy. Portenko’s talent is really showcased in a heartwrenching scene where Bruce finally breaks down in the face of another tragic death from AIDS. CJ DiOrio brings a more tranquil presence to the stage as the level-headed Southerner Tommy Boatwright who tries to keep the other men from their bitter fights. Andy LeBlanc passionately plays Mickey Marcus, an employee of the city Health Department worrying about the safety of his job while being involved in spreading the word about AIDS. 

Robert Cope is perfect in the role of Ben Weeks, Ned’s older brother who is a millionaire lawyer and whose persistent way of seeing Ned differently has been a point of contention between the two for years. Colin Colford as Hiram, the exasperating representative of the mayor, and Francis Norton as Craig (the first character to die of AIDS) and Grady, another activist, bring stellar performances to the production as well. 

The time in which I saw “The Normal Heart” happened to be during Pride Month, and the day after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all fifty states. This allowed me to see that in the 30+ years since the era of the play, our country has come a long way towards compassion, tolerance and love for all – although in my eyes, it shouldn’t have taken three decades and we have a ways to go, but we should celebrate the victories along the way. However, the frightening numbers of those dying from AIDS in 2015 in our country and around the world show that 30 years later, we still have so much more to do in finding a cure for this devastating virus. Hopefully influential plays like “The Normal Heart” will continue to bring this issue to light in the public eye, and one day I hope to see the numbers diminishing as fast as they increase.

Featured: 

Salem Theatre Company, 90 Lafayette Street, Salem, MA, 978.790.8546.