Locally sourced ingredients make for delicious meals at Home grown GA

Garden

By Susan Baldani

If you’re looking for fresh, cooked-to-order Southern comfort food, Home grown GA has a table waiting for you. Cozy and comfortable, it’s designed to make diners feel like they’re eating at grandma’s house.

“Our goal in opening Home grown GA was to create a place where everyone feels welcome. Our staff is friendly and you feel like you belong from the minute you walk in,” said Lisa Spooner, the owner.

Since they didn’t know what to put on the walls, they invited local artists to display and sell their work. Now their walls are lined with amazing pieces. There’s also an area in the back of the restaurant called the Thrifty 5 & Dime. Here, patrons can view handmade art, vintage finds and clothing while waiting for a table.

Kevin Clark, the chef, graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta but also credits his mother, Phyllis Clark, for teaching him the true meaning and methods of home cooking. A stay-at-home mom, she cooked all the meals.

Kevin and Lisa previously worked at Paul’s in Peachtree Hills and Rolling Bones BBQ. When they first opened Home grown in 2010, they had a small menu with breakfast and lunch items. When customers started making personal requests, they honored them and expanded the menu.

Some of the favorite dishes are the Comfy Chicken Biscuit, an open-faced biscuit made from scratch with fried chicken and sausage gravy, the Grant Stack, consisting of fried green tomatoes, bacon, and house-made pimento cheese on grilled Texas toast, and the Lynne Stack, which was created by a customer and features fried green tomatoes, salmon patties on a bed of sautéed spinach and roasted tomatoes covered in pimento cheese. The specials are also always a hit and include meatloaf on Wednesdays, chicken ‘n’ dumplings on Thursdays and pot roast on Fridays.

The food is so delicious that they were the winners of the 2018 Experts’ Choice Awards. Fewer than 2% of restaurants worldwide receive this award.

Home grown GA used the freshest ingredients, like local trout, pork and shrimp from southern Savannah. They get many of their vegetables such as mushrooms, greens, radishes, and okra from local farmers’ markets, and continuously change their menu so they can have the best seasonal ingredients.

“There’s a pride in using local as it supports the local economy,” said Lisa.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta, GA
http://www.midtownlifestylepubs.com/

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Spotlight on Arthur Murray

Dance

By Susan Baldani

Arthur Murray Franchised Dance Centers, with nearly 300 locations around the world, have been in business for 107 years. They have a proven method and highly trained instructors to prepare their students for social or competitive dancing.

Michelle and Emilio Garced are the co-owners of the centers located in Green Brook, Highland Park, and Manalapan, NJ. They themselves started as customers over 40 years ago and acquired their first center shortly thereafter.

Dances and the reasons for learning to dance have changed over time, but some things have stayed the same. There are certain dances that have never gone out of style, such as the waltz, polka, tango and fox trot. Swing and Latin dances are also very popular, as are country dances.

Learning to dance has become a common date night for couples. Instead of dinner and a movie, they prefer to do something fun and lively. Other couples may be preparing for their weddings or vacations. However, students don’t need to come in with a partner; the dance instructors can be their partners. And though many people come in to learn one or a few dances for a special occasion, once they discover how much they enjoy it, it often becomes a new hobby.

“That’s why Arthur Murray has been around for so long. We have figured out a system whereby we are able to personalize the lessons to each student’s individual needs,” said Michelle.

They welcome students of every age – from young children to those who are young at heart. Michelle related a story about an 84-year-old student. She’s very active, has two new hips and loves to dance. She wrote a letter about the merits of dancing and how it helps her balance and mental acuity and enables her to stay socially connected. The letter was actually published in the New York Times.

Dancing also helps increase energy levels, flexibility and stamina, and makes people happy. It also has other positive health effects such as weight loss and lower blood pressure.

Arthur Murray has cushioned hardwood floors, which have a lot of give and are easier on the joints. Their state-of the art facilities are not only safe for their students, but warm and friendly as well.

“It’s very much a family atmosphere. Everyone who comes through our doors feels that they mean something to us, that they’re not just a number or an account. It’s a very caring, enthusiastic and encouraging atmosphere,” said Michelle.

Most of the instructors regularly win awards within the organization for their achievements in dance instruction and many others are champions on both national and international levels. A good percentage of the dance students also participate with their instructors at various competitive events.

Based on a three-point system of teaching, it usually takes a couple of months to lay the groundwork in order to competently use the dancing skills learned. Progress depends on how often they come, their ability to retain what they learned, and the complexity of the dance.

To celebrate their 20th anniversary in Green Brook, a $39 sample program is being offered that includes two personal training sessions and a dance evaluation. Students can pick any dance they want or choose to brush up on their skills. It gives everyone a chance to try something new.

To contact them, please call 732-968-7600 for Green Brook, 732-851-7452 for Manalapan, or 732-246-0550 for Highland Park.

Written for The Showcase Magazine in Warren, NJ
http://theshowcasemagazine.net/

Spotlight on Anew Kitchen and Bath Design

Showroom pic 1

By Susan Baldani

Anew Kitchen and Bath Design, located in North Plainfield, NJ, can create the perfect look for your kitchen and bath. The owner and senior project designer, Vicki Sarracino, has a background in interior design and has been in the industry for 34 years.

A remodel or redesign is something you and your family will enjoy for years to come and is a smart investment in your home. To get started, bring in your plans from an architect (if you have them), pictures of the room you want to renovate, or drawings which include the dimensions.

The first thing Vicki or one of her other five designers will do is get your wish list and figure out what type of style you prefer. They will also ask a lot of questions about what kind of lifestyle you lead, determine if you want something comfortable and casual or something more formal. You and the designer can look through picture and idea books and walk through their state-of-the-art showroom to try to narrow down the exact look you’re going for. They will then put everything together to find the style that would work best for you and your family.

“What we try to do is completely different from big box stores. We’re more specialized, more design based. We can help pull the whole room together,” said Vicki.

The showroom, built nine years ago, uses all the latest LEED certifications and is considered a “green building.” According to Vicki, it was the first one of its kind in the country. To go along with this idea, they sell a lot of energy-efficient products and all their cabinetry is formaldehyde free. Their merchandise is also made in the USA as well as in Europe.

Anew Kitchen and Bath Design has one of the largest selections of state-of-the-art merchandise in the area. Some of the items clients can see and touch in the showroom are shower doors, shower fittings, countertops, backsplashes, sinks, faucets, hardware and filtration systems. To round out the room design, they can help with paint colors and flooring and recommend contractors, whom they have known and worked with for many years, to handle the installation.

The products themselves are all high quality and have manufacturer’s warranties, and if something needs to be fixed and replaced, Vicki and her staff will assist with getting that done.

Anew Kitchen and Bath Design also offers an additional design service, where they will go to clients’ homes, measure the rooms, do the drawings, and then come up with ideas. All of the designers have backgrounds in the industry; one has 25 years and another about 15. Vicki specifically looks for people who have a lot of experience.

They have designed homes all over New Jersey and New York, as well as many vacation homes for existing clients. Vicki prides herself and her staff on the personal service they give to each of their clients and they are always striving to be even better.

“I really feel that we give great service and try to do a personalized service,” said Vicki. “We’re very good at what we do and try to give you something better.”

Visit their showroom at 993 US Highway 22 West, North Plainfield, NJ 07060, check out their website http://www.anewkb.com/, or call 908-753-8181.

Written for The Showcase Magazine in Warren, NJ

http://theshowcasemagazine.net/

 

Exploring the historic island of Venice

Venice

By Susan Baldani

Looking for a unique place to vacation, where you can leave your car behind and just walk (or boat) to your next destination? Then Venice is the perfect destination. With its museums, restaurants, shops and famous bridges, you can spend days wandering around and never tire of the wonders around every corner.

St. Mark’s Square
Choose a hotel near St. Mark’s Square, and you will be perfectly positioned to explore the island. Sitting at the mouth of the Grand Canal, it is in itself a prime stopping place and is the city’s largest square. Here, not only will you be surrounded by museums, cafes and shops, but you will also be at the home of Saint Mark’s Basilica.

Basilica Saint Mark
Right next door is the Basilica, dedicated to Venice’s patron, the apostle Saint Mark. Admire the classic Byzantine architecture and multi-domed roofs, and go inside to attend a Catholic mass. Or, simply book a tour to view the beautiful Byzantine mosaics and famous paintings done by Venetian masters.

Doge’s Palace
The former headquarters of the Republic of Venice, which reigned for 1000 years, and residence of the Duke (Doge), it is now a museum where visitors can see torture chambers and prisons. Attached to it is the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners were said to sigh knowing that this was their last glimpse of freedom.

Rialto Bridge
The most famous bridge in Venice, it spans the Grand Canal. This spectacular ornamental bridge leads right to the Rialto Market, where shoppers can find a variety of fragrant spices, fresh produce, and locally caught fish. Mix with the locals and soak up the culture while exploring all that the market has to offer.

Galleria del’Accademia
Called one of the best museums of Venetian art from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the museum houses over 800 works by Carpaccio, Veronese, Bellini and more. Founded in 1750, the Academy was the place to be for painters and sculptors.

Need a break from walking? Then hop on a motorboat and relax while heading for the islands on the Venetian Lagoon.

Murano
While here, watch master glassmakers craft hand-blown glass into chandeliers, colorful vases and sparkling statues. There’s also the Museum of Glass where visitors can learn about the history of glass making.

Burano
On this island famous for lace making, you can visit the Lace Museum to see historic and rare lace made throughout the years. Afterwards, stroll down streets lined with colorful, brightly painted homes.

Torcello
This is one of Venice’s most visited islands, where you can admire the Byzantine mosaics showcased at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta. You can also walk the paths of a nature preserve to enjoy some peace and solitude before heading back to the motorboat for the next adventure – in this case, shopping!

Louis Vuitton, Versace, Prada and more
Besides the local shops where you can find locally-made items and souvenirs, visitors can find purses, clothing and accessories from high-end designers like Gucci and Valentino near St. Mark’s Square.

Osteria al Portego
After a day of sightseeing and shopping, get ready to eat. Visit a bàcaro, an informal wine bar, to order small plates of delicious food called cicchetti. Located near the Rialto Bridge, this one serves reasonably priced, authentic foods.

Gondola Rides
Of course, no visit to Venice would be complete without a gondola ride. Glide along the canals while a gondolier points out the many bridges and buildings along the network of waterways.

So, ready to explore? Then contact a local travel agent to book your trip. According to Jean Peyton, an agent with Fun Time Travel in Brentwood, there are many advantages to using an agent over doing it yourself online. Agents have access to places and deals that cannot be found elsewhere. Also, your flights, transfers, hotels and tours can all be booked at once. They can also give you advice when it comes to traveling, such as the best time to visit (late spring for Venice), buying euros, obtaining travel insurance, and having the proper paperwork. In addition, if you run into a problem while traveling, your agent will be able to assist you. Best of all, you can get all this for no extra cost, since most travel agents do not charge for their services.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle in Brentwood, TN

Easter basket surprises for the special adults in your life

basket-1162972_960_720

Easter is a time of deep meaning for Christians all over the world. It is, of course, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

However, as children, our focus was probably more on the Easter Bunny and what he would leave in our baskets come Easter morning. Spotting those baskets full of goodies would make our faces light up with joy.

So why can’t we celebrate both the true meaning of the day and still have some of the fun we remember as kids? After all, adults appreciate surprises as well.
Once my stepchildren grew out of the whole Easter Bunny and basket tradition, I still found myself filling one every year for my husband. I enjoy finding unique and exciting foods and other items for him to wake up to on Easter. Instead of candies and toys as I used to buy for the kids, in his basket are bags of trail mix and protein bars, flavored popcorn, maybe a book or movie, and possibly even some clothes. Of course, I still get him a chocolate Easter bunny since it wouldn’t be a true and complete Easter basket without one.

How about doing an Easter basket for a special adult in your life? If you have a best friend or partner who loves to knit or crochet, fill it with yarn, needles, and some patterns. Or, if there is a music lover in your life, put in some CD’s or a gift card to download some songs from the internet. If you really want to go upscale, include a couple of tickets to a concert or a nice pair of headphones.

If your favorite someone likes wine, fill up that basket with a couple of bottles and maybe some gourmet cheese and crackers, a whimsical wine stopper and a bottle opener. If there’s room for more, include a couple of festive wine glasses and candles.

For those who like to read, books, magazines, colorful bookmarks, and a book light can easily fill a basket. Have a sports nut in the house? How about some beer and delicious snacks for that upcoming game on ESPN, or an autographed picture or jersey of their favorite player? Tea lovers would appreciate an oversized colorful mug, a tin of fresh tea leaves and a tea strainer. If you want to go fancier, there are a ton of pretty tea pots and cozies. Many of these items can be found right in your local stores.

Give the adults in your life a wonderful surprise to wake up to on Easter morning. However, they may love the basket so much that you’ll have to do one for them every year. But that’s okay; they’re worth it. And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll wake up to your own basket of specialties next year.

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada

The Big Roy Band

Big Roy

By Susan Baldani

The Big Roy Band, based in Warren, NJ, has gone through some changes in the last 10 years, but a few things have stayed the same. Alan Kaufman is the lead guitarist, his wife Bonnie is the lead vocalist, and the band’s namesake, Big Roy, a 17.5 pound Shih-poo, is still in charge.

Alan, originally from Long Island, NY, always loved music. But it wasn’t until the age of eight when he visited a cousin who owned a guitar that he found his true passion.

“I walked into his room, picked up the guitar and never put it down,” he said.

Alan played in his first band in 5th grade, and continued to study music on and off over his lifetime, attending both Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, and The Hartt College of Music in West Hartford, CT.

“I’ve met and had the opportunity to play with amazing talent along the journey,” said Alan.

However, since Alan craved stability and wanted to be home with his wife and children, he decided to move into the business world instead of making music his career. The music was in his blood though, and he continued to play in bands along the way.

When forming The Big Roy Band, he didn’t have to go far to find his lead vocalist. Now married for 33 years with two grown daughters, Samantha and Alixandra, Alan knew Bonnie was the one.

“Bonnie has a special voice; I could listen to her sing all day long,” said Alan.

It was during a recording session that Bonnie really showed what she was capable of doing. Everyone around her was so impressed with not only her tone and pitch, but her interpretation of music, and knew she was the one to front the band.

As a young lady, Bonnie, from Rockland County, NY, always loved singing. She performed in a band in high school, but never considered it as a career. Alan asking her to perform with The Big Roy Band reignited her passion for music and singing.

The Big Roy Band is also composed of Chuck Burke on bass, Ken Koenig on keyboard, Rich Tepper on drums, and Phil Tullman on vocals and harmonica. Roy doesn’t play anything, except his family and friends’ heartstrings. And apparently, he has made a lot of friends over the years as the leader of the band.

They play mostly classic rock, but mix in some contemporary and country music as well. Since they have such accomplished musicians in the band, they prefer to play well-known but challenging music.

The band plays vineyards, private events, and clubs throughout New Jersey. According to Alan, they will also be regulars at Forest Lodge in Warren, where they will be available for private and corporate events.

“It’s a blessing to have this in our lives. We’ve had an awful lot of fun times, met wonderful people, made a lot of friends, and have a nice following,” said Alan.

To find our more and/or have them perform at your event, call 908-405-1020.

Written for The Showcase Magazine in Warren, NJ.

http://thedesignhornet.com/books/madx/

 

Get your child ready for adventure and fun at summer camp

Camp

By Susan Baldani

Summer is a great time for kids to take a break from routine and have some fun. However, too much time off can leave children bored and frustrated. Today, most parents have to work and cannot spend as much time as they would like doing activities with their children.

This is why sending your kids to camp can be a life saver. Days spent canoeing, fishing, swimming, and hiking are much better than those spent playing video games and watching television.

Being at camp also gives kids a chance to be a little more independent and self-sufficient. If they are going to a sleep-away camp, cell phones are often not allowed, but children can write home (the old-fashioned way with paper and pencil) to keep their parents up to date about what they’re doing. Some camps even have cameras so parents can follow their children’s adventures.

Of course, for some kids, being away from home can be somewhat intimating and scary. This might be the first time they are away from their family, and homesickness can set in fast. If the camp allows, send them with their favorite stuffed animal, or their pillow, and send pictures so they can see familiar faces.

Children are not the only ones who have to prepare themselves for being away for many nights in a row. Some parents also have a hard time letting go.
As cited by the American Psychological Association, “children may observe and mimic parents’ discussion of worries. And when parents frequently provide verbal warnings, for example ‘be careful,’ children may anticipate danger and fear certain situations.”

Helping your child look forward to and enjoy camp will help them not just that summer, but for years to come. They will learn new skills, make new friends, and become more self-reliant.

In the article Why Summer Camp is Important for Your Kids on urbanpro.com, it states that “summer camp is one place to enrich kid’s psychological aspects such as improve self- confidence, self-determination, thinking process, problem-solving skills and decisions making process (with an absence of their parents) and so on. It builds up the curiosity of self-definition in order to bring out the potential, creativeness, and capabilities of a kid. It also boosts leadership qualities.”

For children whose lives are constantly managed during the year, from their schedules and clothes to the foods they eat, being on their own can be freeing. Psychologist Michael Thompson, in his book Summer Camp: Great for Kids, Even Better for Parents, writes about the benefits for kids. “The number one issue for children is ownership. The thing I heard the most in interviewing hundreds of children is you can really be yourself at camp. When you are in your parent’s presence, there is always shared ownership of your life.”

Many parents often wonder how old a child should be to go away to camp. There is no one answer to this question since every child is different. However, there are a few guidelines you can use to determine if sleep away camp is the right decision.

In her Summer Camp Guide for Parents, author Pam Myers, BS. Ed, has some useful guidelines:

• If they’re interested, it’s a good chance they’re ready.
• Has your child spent the night with a friend or relative before? Children who are able to be away from parents before are more likely to be good candidates for an overnight camp experience.
• How responsible is your child? Can they keep track of their own things and wash their clothes if they’re going to be gone for several weeks? Are they responsible enough to use camp money to purchase things they need rather than candy or other junk food?
• Is your child comfortable seeking help from other adults or authority figures if you’re not around?
• Picky eaters may also have difficulty at overnight summer camps. The staff may prepare special meals for a child with allergies or religious beliefs that limit what they can eat.
• Consider sending your child for a shorter session for their first time at overnight camp.

With the right preparations for the child and parents, summer camp can be the perfect answer to the dilemma of what to do with the kids all summer. Parents can enjoy some freedom from the everyday pressures of child rearing, and children can have experiences that they wouldn’t find at home. It’s a win-win situation.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine in VA.