5 Albums to Listen to on Snowy Days

We’re now about a week into winter and soon the weatherman (hopefully) will be predicting some snow days. Along with a healthy stockpile of wine, cheese, and chocolate, a good music library is essential to a successful winter’s day. Below I’ve listed 5 of my favorite albums to listen to when Old Man Winter visits.

Blue by Joni Mitchell

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If the melancholy lyrics of “River” do not force you to slip into a wintery daze, Mitchell’s haunting voice in “A Case of You” will. I am of the opinion that Blue is not only one of the greatest and most important albums ever written, but the quintessential album for a maturing woman.

Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan

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The lyrics of songs such “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” helps one understand why Dylan is a Nobel Laureate. I must admit that it was difficult to decide which Dylan album to include on this list. If you have time, I also recommend The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

Careless Love by Madeleine Peyroux

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I remember the first time I ever heard this album. My father came home, put it on, and I immediately fell in love. Careless Love is smooth, haunting, delicate at times, and hip. Listen to it and close your eyes. You may actually think you’re in Manhattan or Paris.

The Velvet Underground & Nico by The Velvet Underground

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OK, if you have never listened to The Velvet Underground before, get through the first few songs before you decide it’s too strange. Do yourself a favor and really listen to and analyze the words Reed is singing. One of my favorite things about this album is that it came out in 1967. That’s only one year after The Beatles were crying for Eleanor Rigby on Revolver. It’s amazing to realize that the raw sound of “Venus in Furs” came out the same year as Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” I can go on for hours about the brilliance of this album.

Moondance by Van Morrison

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…speaking of Van Morrison! Moondance is an absolutely beautiful album and definitely one to wind down to on cold days. The rich sounds of “And It Stoned Me” pairs well with a good glass of wine. I genuinely think Morrison has one of the greatest male voices in rock.

Pro tip: listen to these albums on vinyl. I do not know why, but everything just sounds better on vinyl. I recommend visiting Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank, NJ, or Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, for all your vinyl needs! In regards to turntables, I listen on a VPI. That’s pretty awesome, too, because VPI is right in Cliffwood, NJ!

As always, please email me at antoinette@yoururbansuburban.com with any questions, comments, or concerns. Please email me, also, with any recommendations!

Reindeer Food Recipe

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Christmastime is busy. Between shopping, cooking, wrapping presents and attending parties, baking and coming up with creative desserts can become an added stressor. When you’re running out of ideas (and time) for a party treat, having a quick backup plan may seem impossible. But never fear! Reindeer food is quick, cheap, pretty, and darn tasty. My mom has been making it since I was little, and I decided to share the recipe.

Ingredients for reindeer food:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup of peanut butter
  • 1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 box of rice Chex cereal
  • 1 pound of powdered sugar

That’s it!

First, melt the stick of butter on low. Make sure the flame is low, because butter burns very quickly. Next, add the cup of peanut butter and the entire bag of chocolate chips. (Tip: spray the measuring cup with cooking spray and the peanut butter will come out of the cup easier!) Mix the butter, peanut butter, and chocolate chips until completely melted together. Once melted, add the entire box of rice Chex cereal and mix. Be gentle because rice cereal is super delicate and will break easily.

Once the cereal is completely coated, add the mixture to a large brown paper bag. You can get the bag at any local grocery store. Just ask the cashier as you’re leaving. Once the cereal is in the bag, add the pound of powdered sugar. Roll the top of the bag, and shake away! Just keep going.

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Once the cereal is coated in the powdered sugar, empty the bag into whatever container you’re using. For garnish, add red and green peanut M&M’s to the mix.

I also like to give little jars of it along with Christmas presents. I add the reindeer food to a mason jar and leave about an inch free on top. Then I fill it to the top with the peanut M&M’s. I put the lid on, and tie a bow around. Cute. Easy. Done.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. As always, feel free to email me at antoinette@yoururbansuburban.com with questions, comments, or recommendations.

Merry Christmas!

Little Italy During Christmastime

welcome to little italy

Distance from Monmouth County, NJ: 1 hour, 10 minutes

There is absolutely nothing like New York City during the Christmas season. Between the glowing shop windows at Lord & Taylor on 5th, the Christmas Tree and ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and horse-drawn carriage rides through Central Park, the city is magical.

For many people living in New Jersey, visiting New York City during the Christmas season is pretty much a requirement. And although Midtown is certainly fun and worth seeing, my favorite hangout is Downtown in Little Italy. The shops are great, the food is phenomenal, and the atmosphere is beautiful.

Taking the train is always easy, but this time we drove into the city. The drive is not bad, but there is the hassle of finding parking. Once we found parking, we headed to Lombardi’s at 32 Spring St.

lombardis, welcome

Not only is the food amazing, but it’s technically America’s first pizzeria. One of my favorite things about Lombardi’s is the ambiance. It’s not fancy. The hostess seats you at a table covered with a red-checkered table cloth, and immediately throws down paper plates, napkins, and silverware. The server comes by, asks you what you’d like, brings you a pitcher of Coke or a cocktail, and then delivers your pizza to the table.

The menu is small. But that’s OK because it can be. It’s that good.

Before the pizza, do your self, and your soul, a favor and order the wedge salad with blue  cheese.

wedge salad

After our salads, we ordered plain and white-ricotta pies.

Once lunch was finished, we walked to Caffe Roma at 176 Mulberry St. Definitely walk there. It’s really exciting to see Little Italy in all of its red-and-green glory decorated for Christmas. There are wreaths in every window and lights on every pole.

caffe romas

I ordered a double espresso and a few pignoli cookies, Danny ordered a hot chocolate and a slice of cheese cake, my sister ordered a cannoli pastry, my mother ordered tea and pignoli cookies, and my father ordered a baba.

After lunch and dessert, we went on home.

I love New York City, especially during Christmastime. I definitely think everyone should see the grand Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and the beautiful shop windows. However, I also think everyone should visit Downtown. Although this post was primarily dedicated to my love of food, I urge everyone visiting to stop into the shops. There are dress shops, cigar shops, specialty shaving shops, leather shops… there’s even a store that just sells lampshades. It’s a seasonal delight everyone should experience.

As always, feel free to contact me at antoinette@yoururbansuburban.com with questions, recommendations, etc. Ciao!

5 Things to Do in DC (That Aren’t Monument Hopping)

Distance from Monmouth County NJ: 4 hours

DC is a great city to escape to for a quick weekend destination. It’s not too far, the monuments are free, and most of the museums are free. Below I listed a few things I enjoy doing in DC that I think would make your experience in the city even more memorable.

See a play at Ford’s Theatre

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Not only is the theater, itself, absolutely beautiful, but the shows are great. Last year we got tickets to see A Christmas Carol and it was honestly one of the best nights out in DC we’ve had. Further, it’s home to one of the most important events in American History. Enjoy a show in the historic theater while sitting across from Lincoln’s booth. It’s an experience you will not forget.

Visit downtown Georgetown 

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Georgetown is one of my favorite areas to visit in DC because there is so much to do. The restaurants are fabulous, the shopping is phenomenal, and it is a pop culture heaven. Martin’s Tavern is a great place to eat, and definitely one to visit if you want to see where JFK proposed to Jackie. Ladurée is also amazing, especially if you’re a Francophile. Who doesn’t love visiting Kate Spade, or Lilly Pulitzer? Oh, and if you love horror movies, make sure to visit the end of M Street and see the famous Exorcist steps from the 1973 film.

Visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception 

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I’m a graduate of CUA, so the Basilica holds a special place in my heart. However, it’s an amazing and beautiful display of architecture that even non-Catholics would enjoy visiting. It’s the largest Catholic church in the United States, one of the top ten largest churches in the world, and has hosted three popes. It’s very beautiful, and definitely worth a visit if you’re in DC.

Take a wine tasting class

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While I was a student at CUA, I had the fortune of watching Brookland’s Monroe Street flourish into a pretty cool little area. Chic apartment buildings were built, lined by small urban boutiques. Wardman Wines was a new shop on the block, and it was one of my favorites. Not only is their selection impressive, but the staff is helpful and friendly. The shop also hosts wine tasting classes for about $20. They’re really informative, fun, and you definitely get your money’s worth.

Have a Walrus Platter at the Old Ebbitt Grill

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The Old Ebbitt Grill is a DC classic, and definitely a restaurant you want to try if you’re in the city. The Walrus Platter is their raw bar selection, and it is phenomenal. Be sure to hit it up during happy hour, for it’s half price. Nothing is better than enjoying oysters on the half shell accompanied by a Hendrick’s gin martini. Stay for dinner while you’re there. I recommend the crab cakes because they are the best you’ll ever have. Pro tip: get the peach or apple cobbler for dessert. OMG.

Bonus tourist tip: stay at the Hotel Lombardy

The Hotel Lombardy is beautiful, elegant, not too expensive, and right in the heart of DC. Make sure to stay for the breakfast, too. The breakfast may be a little expensive, but it’s definitely worth it. I recommend the spinach and egg-white omelette, and a fresh squeezed orange juice.

 

My Homemade Hot Cocoa Recipe

hot cocoa

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I make a mean homemade hot cocoa. I developed the recipe during college for a project on French cuisine. After changing around some recipes I found online to my liking, I perfected a hot cocoa that I think is quite delightful. Plus, it’s super easy to make. If you enjoy chocolat chaud, try my recipe!

Ingredients for hot cocoa:

  • 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of water

Ingredients for whipped cream:

  • 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Directions:

Bring the milk and water to a low boil. Be sure not to keep the flame too high, because milk burns very easily and develops a bitter taste. Once boiling, whisk in the cocoa. I highly recommend sifting the cocoa before adding it to the milk. It does not have to be sifted, but it dissolves easier and will not clump. Once the cocoa is dissolved, continue whisking and add the sugar. Bring the hot chocolate to a low boil. That’s it. 

For the whipped cream, I use a whisk. Of course one can use a Kitchen Aid or hand mixer, but frankly sometimes I’m too lazy to pull them out of the cabinet. Anyway, pour the heavy whipping cream into a large round bowl and whisk away! Just keep going. Once the cream becomes thick and peaks form, add the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix thoroughly.

Pour the hot cocoa into your favorite mug, top it off with some whipped cream, and enjoy! Sometimes I like to sprinkle a little unsweetened cocoa or chocolate shaves on top of the cream for garnish.

As always, email me any questions or suggestions at antoinette@yoururbansuburban.com.

Ciao!