Jen and Joe

Jen and Joe

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An update and a yoga adventure!

Curious as to what we've been up to? Well, mostly, we've been busy. We had a couple of reviews from months ago that just haven't made it this way yet, so we hope you'll forgive us!

We have had one recent adventure, though. I (Jen, that is--hi!) have been very serious about my yoga practice lately, so I started a blog dedicated to all things yoga. After over a year of practicing, I finally got Joe to accompany me this weekend to a class at breathe, my favorite studio in the Rochester area!

You can read all about it here! Be sure to keep checking my new blog for updates, if you're interested in the Rochester yoga scene, and eventually I promise we will have more reviews for you guys. With the warm weather coming back, we should have more regularly scheduled adventures in and around Rochester. (Though how about this mild winter, huh?)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving!

We hope you all had a great Thanksgiving celebration yesterday. Joe and I hosted our families at our place for the celebration, and everyone had a great time. (Living in an apartment makes this a bit of a challenge, but we've managed to pull it off for three years now!)

Once you're out of your food coma, you may want to begin your Christmas shopping. You may have begun earlier today--or even last night--so if malls and big box stores are your thing, you'll probably skip over this entry. If you're sane, like me and Joe, and you don't want to get into a fight over a waffle iron, you're probably staying in today or at least staying as far away from anything retail-related as possible. Today is Buy Nothing Day, after all! (As another alternative, if you're unlucky, you were working today. I hope that you were treated nicely and that you're getting some rest now!)

Tomorrow is the continuation of Buy Nothing Day, but it's also a day when some plan to support small and local businesses. Rochester has so many great local businesses that it's hard to list them all, but they are definitely deserving of your hard-earned dough. Here is a list of some of our favorites. Think of it as our Rochester Gift Guide!

Parkleigh is on the corner of Park and Goodman in the city, and they're known for some of their high-end gifts and jewelry. They also carry Vera Bradley purses and accessories (great for moms and grandmoms!), luxury cosmetics and bath supplies, and delicious gourmet coffees, teas, and chocolates. They even have cute toys and gifts for the kid or inner child in your life!

Record Archive
If you're in your twenties or thirties, you probably remember seeing this store advertised on TV during Saturday morning cartoons; it's kind of hard to forget a guy dressed as a giant record! Even if you're not into collecting records (although I am), the Record Archive has all kinds of kitschy gifts, t-shirts, and even art. They have plenty of DVDs and (yes) CDs and records for the film buff or music fan in your life! Check them out at 33 1/3 Rockwood St. (how cool is that address?).

Lift Bridge Book Shop
Not only does this great little store in Brockport carry plenty of books--they also have games for all ages along the back of the store. Lift Bridge is the perfect place to find something for any kids you may have in your family (especially if you're in the market for something educational or interactive). (While you're visiting Lift Bridge on Brockport's Main Street, be sure to check out the other shops in the area. You can find antiques, clothing, comics, and more!)

Artisan Works doesn't just host great events and have a gallery that's unparalleled in the Rochester area, but they also sell gifts and original art pieces. Resident artist Mark Groaning has a studio inside the gallery where he sells jewelry and stained-glass housewares in addition to his paintings and sculptures. If buying art isn't your thing, or it's out of your price range, consider a membership for you or a loved one as a gift this holiday season to support this wonderful organization! You can find them at 565 Blossom Rd.

Village Gate Square
Want to do your shopping all under one roof without going to the mall? Check out Village Gate Square at 274 N. Goodman St. for vintage clothing, books, records, and collectibles, or pick up a gift certificate to one of their fabulous restaurants (Salena's, Lento, Gate House, and California Rollin')--a great couple's gift!

Beers of the World
Beer! Need we say more? With this store, you get exactly what's on the label: beer from countries all over the world as well as those from microbreweries around the US. You can create a custom six-pack or pick up a gift card. You can even get home brew supplies there! From experience, I can tell you that this place has plenty of great gifts for boyfriends, husbands, and dads (but the female beer drinkers and amateurs brewers in your life may like the place, too).

We hope you find what you want to give for the holidays with our guide! Have a great holiday season! Be sure to tell us what your favorite Rochester area business are in the comments or on Facebook!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: The Old Toad - 9/4/11

Has it been a while since we’ve had a review on here? Sadly, it has. Life gets in the way sometimes. How about this warm November weather we’ve been having, though, right? Who can think of sitting at the computer when we have such surprisingly great weather for this time of the year?

We hope you enjoyed our last list, which was a unique guide to dating (or just hanging out) in Rochester. If you have any extra ideas, send them our way, and we can always put together a Volume 2 for the Date Guide. With the holidays coming up, we're bound to have more suggestions for you!

The outside of The Old Toad

Back in September, Joe and I went to a place I’d been wanting to try for a long while, but I had put it off thinking that they wouldn’t have much in the way of vegetarian fare. Being a bit of an Anglophile (that is, somebody who loves all things British), I was intrigued by The Old Toad for quite some time. Much of their restaurant either comes from Britain (like the bar) or is heavily influenced by the classic English pub. They bill themselves as “a pub from over there, over here.” Even their staff members hail from across the pond!

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes

Joe and I went on a somewhat gray Sunday afternoon for a late lunch (or perhaps early dinner?). This place was on our “to try” list for a while, and after viewing the menu on the pub’s website, we ventured out that day. I loved the charm—and I don’t use that word often—of the place as soon as I set foot in the door. From the Penny Lane sign near the entrance (Beatles fan here!) to the homey feel of the cute cushioned benches, the atmosphere immediately makes you feel at ease. Since we were there early, we probably didn’t get the full effect of the place on its busier evenings (when they host pub trivia games and sometimes even a Beatles tribute band). Something I also found refreshing was the lack of big flat TVs (or tellys here) all over the place blasting sports or news (or both) at you while you’re trying to have a relaxing meal or a night on the town. Could every place just do away with those? Our experience at The Old Toad certainly didn't suffer from having no screens around.

Awesome bar!

Since we were there fairly early, we got right in, but we noticed that several tables had cards on them showing that they were reserved for dinner (many for 8:00, likely for pub trivia shortly after that!). Our booth was a small corner near the bar, which I thought was sort of cute. Our waitress was British, likely a student (since The Old Toad recruits them to work there). The bar must have been freshly waxed because Joe and I could smell it when we arrived. We ordered our food and drinks shortly after while some Brit rock-sounding bands played quietly overhead.

Joe ordered a Brooklyn Brown Ale to drink while I had a Fuller’s London Pride. Joe didn’t really like the Brooklyn Brown much and described it as skunky, so he ordered a Guinness afterwards. This, he said, was much better, even if a bit warm like the Brits prefer it. My beer, actually British, was delicious; after all, why order domestic in a place like this?

For dinner each of us ordered Shepherd’s Pie, but with one obvious difference if you’ve been keeping up with this blog. Joe had a traditional Shepherd’s Pie; mine was an Old Toad specialty of vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (something I didn’t think existed). Joe’s dish, as he said, was well-executed. The mashed potatoes in both of ours were definitely homemade—none of that packaged stuff. However, Joe said the bottom of his dish lacked the gravy it was supposed to come with. Perhaps it was too early in their service to make a fresh gravy? (Vegetarian here, so I could be totally off base.) He also said there was some oregano in it, which might be okay for most people, but Joe is adamantly opposed to using oregano in his cooking. He added Worcestershire sauce in order to add a bit of saltiness to the dish.

Joe's Shepherd's Pie

My Shepherd's Pie

For me, this was the first time I had never eaten a dish like this before, even back when I ate meat a decade ago. It was a definitely a sort of comfort food. The mashed potatoes were delicious and the meatless crumbles were cooked perfectly. My dish actually seemed to have more cheese than Joe’s did, which was a bit too much, but not bad. My dish also plenty of spice to it, and unlike Joe’s, I thought it had enough salt (not too much but not too little either). Maybe the meatless crumbles, as they were referred to on the menu, added those flavors, or perhaps Joe has a more sensitive palate than me (okay, he definitely does when it comes to spices, but in a good way). Overall, I thought the meal was delicious, and our server was quick and attentive.

As for our review, it’s tough to come up with a number here. Since I don’t really want to give out half stars (it’s all or nothing), I almost feel that this place would get a 4.5 overall. Joe gave a 3.5 (3 or so for the meal and a bit extra for the atmosphere). Since I, however, am a biased anglophile and a vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie first-timer, I would give it a 4.5. For now, though, we’ll go with a tentative 4 stars since we were there at a more relaxed time. If we go back sometime for a pub trivia night, I have a feeling that rating will go up!

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Your Unique Rochester Date Guide

When you’re in an established relationship, things can get dull. I know sometimes, when Joe and I get home from work, all we want to do is park ourselves in front of the TV and watch something horrible on Netflix. However, this is no way to go through life! The trick to our success has been keeping things new. We may not have the time and the means to go out like we used to (work, school, and being a responsible adult paying the rent will do that to you!), but every now and then we go on what our friend Marie once referred to as Cool Adventures with Jen and Joe.

Best picture ever!

The same thing—that sense of dullness—can happen with your love for your city, too. After a while, your familiar haunts feel too familiar, and you feel the spark has gone out of them. Everything is boring and bleak (and hey, the rain around here doesn’t help sometimes). However, the Rochester area has much to offer—as long as you’re looking in the right places and open to a bit of creativity.

So here is Jen and Joe’s Guide to Unique Dates in the Rochester Area!

Pretend to be Tourists
Go around and take pictures of all of Rochester’s landmarks—High Falls, Highland Park, the downtown skyline, Highland Diner, Mt. Hope Cemetery, the pier at Ontario Beach Park, the George Eastman House, the Blue Cross Arena, and others (try searching Roc Wiki). Bonus points if you dress up in Rochester T-shirts, sunglasses with a cord attached, fanny packs, or other equally silly apparel. (Not that I advocate wearing a fanny pack ever, but, you know, if that’s your thing, go for it.) If anything, maybe you’ll see a sight that you hadn’t even noticed before!

Random Restaurant via Yelp
Search Yelp for some place new to have lunch or dinner. If you’re feeling really adventurous, don’t read the reviews before you go there; just pick a random restaurant and head out. Who knows? You could have a horror story to tell your friends or you could find a new favorite! In fact, Yelp in general is a great way to find out about more of our local businesses. I’ve been addicted to it for a few months now, even though I’d seen it earlier than that. It definitely helps out the material for this blog (and hello iPhone app! How helpful if you’re on the go!). Happy hunting!

Sample Some International Cuisine
Rochester is host to so many diverse ethnic groups; in most cases, their foods have made it to our city as well! If you’ve never had Japanese food, why not give it a go? Maybe you’ve never tried Indian or Thai because you’re wary of spicy foods, but the good news is that most, if not all, places around here will cook dishes mild if you ask. Want to know what Ethiopian food is like? We’ve got it (and it’s good and vegetarian-friendly). We even have foods that are closer to home or from the Americas (Mexican, Caribbean, and Cajun, for instance). Many places in the area offer bits of ethnic cuisine, such as British, Polish, German, or Greek, interspersed with American fare. Throughout the year, the city hosts a variety of food-related festivals, so keep an eye out for those as well. As your mother may have said to you when you were young, “How do you know you don’t like it if you won’t try it?”

Take The McGregor’s Challenge
(This one involves drinking beer, so if you’re not interested in that, skip this one. Also, please bring a designated driver should you indulge.)

Joe and I completed this a couple of summers ago. McGregor’s is a local franchise of pub/restaurant, and their claim to fame is their wide selection of beers on tap. Their Rochester locations are in Canandaigua (near Canandaigua Lake), Penfield, Gates, and Henrietta (which, out of these four, has the most beers on tap). They used to have one in Perinton, near Lollypop Farm, but it recently closed. The chain did open one in Amherst, so if you’re willing to make the trip out that way, you can say you’ve done all five! The idea behind this is to go to all five McGregor’s (or four in Rochester) in one day and sample a different beer at each. Certainly, if you have a DD, you can choose your limit; I recommend spreading your trip out so you’re able to wait between visits.

Oh, and a word of advice: avoid ordering anything greasy at the bar. It might be tempting, but it doesn’t mix well with five-plus types of beer swishing around in your gut.

This activity would make an excellent group date! Have fun and be safe!

A Museum Weekend
Here in Rochester, we have no shortage of museums and similar attractions. For your inner inquisitive child, you can visit the Rochester Museum & Science Center, the Strong National Museum of Play, and the Strasenburgh Planetarium. If you’re more of an art lover, check out the Memorial Art Gallery, the George Eastman House, the Center at High Falls, and our personal favorite, Artisan Works. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy the Seneca Park Zoo, the Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park, or the Wild Wings Sanctuary in Mendon Ponds Park for birds of prey. Finally, history buffs will no doubt like the Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford (a short trip west of the city) or the Susan B. Anthony House. All of these places encompass the Rochester area’s rich history, patronage of the arts, and commitment to education. Be sure to support their causes (and donate if you can!).

Scavenger Hunt
This one is a bit tricky, since I’m not really giving you anything definite here, but this gives you and your partner (or even your group of friends) a chance for two dates: one to brainstorm, and one to actually go on the hunt. You can do something themed or you can just look for things you’ve always wanted to find. Get a list of some thrift stores in the area, head to a busy section of the city, or even head to a nearby mall, if you’re not feeling up to driving much. Joe and I did one once. We found a talking Freddie Mercury doll, a Darkwing Duck t-shirt, a copy of the Satanic Bible, and “dirty” candy hearts, but unfortunately not much else. You don’t have to buy any of these things, by the way. Just snap a picture or take a video on your phone and keep going! The warmer (or less snowy/slushy) the weather, the better! It’s no fun to drive around when there’s bad traffic and piles of slush for your car to slide through.

Do Something Seasonal
It’s autumn! Go check out the amazing foliage in the area while you can! If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of hayrides, haunted houses, and other spooky places to go before Halloween arrives! The wine trail around Seneca Lake is especially amazing this time of year! In winter, head to Black Creek Park in Chili to sled or snowboard down the big hill there (or, if you prefer, head down to Bristol Mountain in Canandaigua for some skiing). Spring is a great time to check out the Lilac Festival and the blooms in and around Rochester. Summer, of course, is beach and/or pool time, and another great time of the year to explore the county’s parks and nature trails.

Have any other ideas? Want to tell us your Rochester dream date? Leave it in the comments!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

ARTISANworks Reception – 7/23/11


I admit it: I’ve been sitting on this entry for a while because it’s hard to do it justice. However, I’ve wanted to include it here; ARTISANworks is definitely worth bragging about as one of Rochester’s finest both as a cultural establishment and as a business!

As some of you may know, Joe and I went to Las Vegas this past June to get married. We had a small “elopement” ceremony with just us there (yet everyone in our families knew where we were headed—and what we were doing!). We had so much fun in Vegas, since it also served as our honeymoon, though it was a bit weird having just us there. Our ceremony was so speedy we hardly remember our vows! We knew it would be strange getting married on our own; after all, most people enjoy having their friends and families there with them on that day. One thing that Joe and I avoided, however, was the awkwardness of choosing a wedding party; someone’s feelings would have been hurt from either not being chosen to be best man/maid of honor or not being chosen at all. I also didn’t have to deal with being fussed over by our female relatives; I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have gone “Bridezilla” with everyone trying to touch up my makeup or fix my hair!

Joe and me at the Little Church of the West, Las Vegas.
Instead, we worked with our families to coordinate a reception for the following month. The idea was to have a big party without having to worry about tuxedo rentals, ugly bridesmaids’ dresses, limousines, lame wedding DJs, and that weird tradition where the bride and groom smash cake into each others’ faces (ugh!). After all, we were already married at that point. Why draw out the ceremony of it when we can just have fun with those closest to us?

When choosing a venue, my mom and I came up with a list of the typical party houses and restaurants that would cater to such an event. Boring! However, that’s all that we thought would be available. Then I thought of ARTISANworks after a bit of brainstorming. Joe and I both loved the idea of having our reception there; we had previously visited the gallery, and it instantly became a Rochester favorite for us! For those of you who haven’t heard of it, ARTISANworks is a non-profit gallery, set in an old factory, that displays the works of many local artists and sells and promotes their artwork. They also host events—anything from corporate fundraisers to proms to (you guessed it) weddings and receptions! The setting is one-of-a-kind: art doesn’t just hang on the walls; it leaps from them in intricate displays interspersed with antiques, furniture, and found objects. Each space has a different theme, and they can hold anywhere from three people to 300. It truly is one of Rochester’s most unique spots, and a trip there during gallery hours (Friday-Sunday) is guaranteed to amaze even the least artistic person you know.
This way to the reception!
The mermaid welcomes you!
I covet this shelf!
Who can't like a giant pin cushion?
They have many wooden sculptures like this at ARTISANworks. More awesome work by a local artist!
Hot stuff coming through!
My mom submitted an inquiry to them online with a rough guest count and our budget. I honestly didn’t think we would hear back from them; our budget was fairly modest, and I believed that a place as interesting as ARTISANworks wouldn’t be available for the price we needed. Thankfully, we did hear back from Victoria, the Event Coordinator, and my mom and I met with her on Good Friday. (Joe was at work that day. And yes, we planned in advance, but not years in advance like some people feel they have to!)

In short, Victoria was excellent and incredibly helpful. She answered all of our questions and explained that ARTISANworks will work with you to meet your budget. She was a pleasure to work with and made everything so simple for our event. For our location within ARTISANworks, we chose the Boulevard Garibaldi & Courtyard based on our projected guest count. Not only do you get the actual Boulevard, but there are a couple of smaller rooms to the side that come with it (the Vintage French Dining Room and the “Retro Room” as I call it, not pictured on the site, sadly, but pictured below). I found this area of ARTISANworks most fascinating on my and Joe’s previous visit, so we were thrilled to have booked this section. Also, lucky for us, they had our ideal date available (a Saturday toward the end of July).

When couches fly...
Inside the retro room!
Another nearby area. FYI: They really like taxidermy at ARTISANworks!

Joe and I kept our guest list fairly small. We invited around 60, and we had just about 45 show up—not bad! About one-third of our attendees were family. Certainly, we would have liked to have a bigger celebration, but we felt the more people we invited, the more out of control things would have become for us (plus, you know—money!). Luckily, Joe and I are so compatible in our views when it comes to things like guest lists; we had no interest in inviting those distant relatives we never see. I mean, why invite Great Aunt Mabel from Utah who hasn’t seen you since you were three? Or cousin Ted (twice removed) who no one talks to anymore? (These are totally fictional relatives, by the way, but you get my point.)

Some of our "swanky" guests (I don't know, I just really like that word!):

Lex and Ben! You might remember them from a Double Date Night with Jen and Joe!
Marie and Scott, looking especially swanky!
Me with Marie and Robin--two good friends of mine from SUNY Fredonia.
My "Satellite Sister" Amanda and her brother Philip made an appearance!

Andy and Melanie hold up our friend's surrogate, Creepy Baby (a Boobah!).
Chris (a.k.a. Lunchbox) and his wife Joie: another cutesy couple from Fredonia!
Ian and Jenn: starting to feel like this wedding is just over-run with cutesy couples yet?
Lunchbox with the photobomb!
Brian has a great appreciation for fine art!
An assortment of our guests--the zebra kind of just showed up!
Here comes the bride with her glass of wine!
Joe looks so triumphant here!

ARTISANworks has in-house caterers, so we didn’t even have to look for outside catering. The food was excellent, and the menus, which you can customize to your heart’s desire, are varied enough to keep everyone happy. We had our cake delivered from Savoia Pastry Shoppe in Rochester, another excellent business that boasts delicious cake, helpful employees, and free samples (always a plus) without the need for an appointment. (We would have gone with Gruttadauria in Greece, but they were rude and unhelpful when we went to make an appointment. Too bad for them!)

Mmm... cake! Look at that detail! It was almost too pretty to eat!

We also had a great amount of DIY in our celebration to add a personal touch. Joe’s mom made the centerpieces for the tables. Joe’s aunt made our card and camera boxes. We didn’t have an interest in having a lot of dancing or in listening to some middle-aged wedding DJ play the same crap he probably plays at every wedding ("The Electric Slide"? No thanks!), so I created a playlist for my iPod and hooked that up to the PA system for our reception. I kept it diverse enough so that Joe would approve, of course, and so the older relatives wouldn’t complain. Besides, at what other wedding can you listen to everything from Django Reinhardt to Benny Benassi or Bootsy’s Rubber Band to The Cramps? I made “kissy bird” favors (little handmade googly-eyed birds with Hershey’s kisses in their “mouths”). With the help of my mom and my brother’s girlfriend, Lynn, I put together the little boxes on the tables and filled them with personalized pink and black M&M’s. Instead of having a photographer, we had disposable cameras on the tables for our guests to take pictures. (I have to say, though, that I don’t recommend doing this in a place as large and not as brightly lit like ARTISANworks; many of our pictures turned out dark or not at all.) The typical wedding in American can cost close to $30,000; I won’t tell you how much we spent (how uncouth!), but it was nowhere near that amount! Our reception was definitely proof that you don’t need to go into debt to have the perfect day!

A close-up shot of a few "kissy birds." Easy and fun to make!
The card box and the guestbook that most people didn't sign. :(

Victoria was handling a simultaneous event in the building that day, so we had April as our Event Coordinator that afternoon. April not only ensured that our reception went smoothly (did it ever!), but she had also painted us a beautiful picture of a bride and groom that now hangs in our living room. This is a lovely little tradition they have at ARTISANworks, where they give the gift of artwork to their guests of honor. I don’t think anyone has ever given Joe or me original artwork like this, and it’s a great way to start our art collection together. (Seriously, when we have tenure and a larger home to fill with works of art? We are so there!)
April's painting for us! How cute!

We couldn’t have asked for a better celebration, and all of our guests there had such a great time. Plus, there certainly couldn’t be a lull in conversation with so many wonderful things to see. We loved having our friends and family there to celebrate our day with us, and we feel so fortunate that a place like ARTISANworks is practically in our backyard for us to visit and revisit for years to come.

Kissing under a zebra head... How romantic! We wouldn't have wanted it any other way!