Friday, July 12, 2013

Taste Of Buffalo 2013: Healthy Option Preview

Don't call me a kill joy. I love the Taste of Buffalo. A lot. It's the first event I put into my calendar when the new year hits and I countdown to all the deliciousness in one place. Besides sampling a bunch of new items each year, I always have a sample of Fat Bob's mac & cheese, used to love getting a Polish Villa pierogi (they are no longer a part of the event) and finding some ice cream from Nick Charlaps (Side note - This is my personal attempt to request the guys at Lake Effect Ice Cream join the fun next year. I'll work your booth, for free if you do!). 

This year though, for the first time, I'm going to attempt to do the Taste of Buffalo a little healthier. I have been doing a great job losing weight over the past month and a half (15 lbs. down and still going), and summer is always tough in Buffalo (or anywhere for that matter) because of festivals, summer picnics, and ice cream. 

It's not going to be easy. I'm not even entirely sure it's doable, but I'm going to try my best. Thanks to Independent Health and their mandatory, "healthy option" for each restaurant, I spent a lot of time investigating the choices and narrowing down some options for the health conscious Buffalonian who wants to enjoy all the fun without feeling left out. Fun fact: Special props to The Taste of Buffalo, as they are the ONLY food festival in the country that has the healthy option requirement! 

PLEASE NOTE: I don't know the fat or calorie content for most of these items. The Taste of Buffalo lists that to qualify as a "healthy option" it needs to have a lower fat, sodium and cholesterol count. I'm not sure how liberal they are with this, or the specific requirements. You can find out more information on the Healthy Options Buffalo website. 

Krystal's Top Five Healthy Finds:

Alex's Place Restaurant: Garlic Grilled Shrimp Skewers (7 tickets). 
*If you are a seafood lover, the shrimp skewers sound like a great pick for a low calorie option with a lot of flavor. 

Anderson's Frozen Custard: Loganberry Ice (3 tickets)
*According to the Anderson's website, 4.5 ounces of flavored ice is only 92 calories with no fat. Skip the ice cream and try a local flavor instead!

Go Veggies Cafe: Spinach Burger (8 or 4 tickets)
*I haven't checked out this cafe yet, but I'm excited there is another vegetarian option in Buffalo. The spinach burger sounds intriguing, and I'm looking forward to checking it out at the slider size (with only half the bun!)

Lloyd's Taco Truck: Krazy Korn (6 or 4 tickets)
*Vegetable topped with all sorts of yummy deliciousness = yes! (Even if what it's topped in isn't really "healthy", it will be among your favorite items of the day - I guarantee it!)

Manhattans: Purple Popeye Sandwich (7 tickets)
*Their website lists the item as a "crispy breaded eggplant topped with spinach, roasted red peppers, provolone and asiago cheese drizzed with honey dijon mustard." Everything about that sounds delicious, and while probably not the healthiest of the "healthy" items on the list, it's worth a shot! 

Each restaurant has a healthy option and has a heart next to its description. You can find the full restaurant menu list, HERE

Remember - you can get "taste" portions of most menu items for 2 tickets - so you can always go a little healthier by getting the smaller sample size of items you really want to try. 

As they say, "everything in moderation". I'm going to do my best and will report back and update this post after the Taste with my reviews on these and other items. 

If weight loss or eating healthy isn't an issue for you this weekend, you need to try the bacon wrapped ribs from R & R Barbecue. They sound, look and smell incredible. 

Cheers, Buffalo! To great food and 30 years strong as one of the nation's largest food festivals!!

Lloyd's Taco Truck - Krazy Korn

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Being A Docent in Buffalo

Krystal outside the Richardson
Olmsted Complex
This year, I've taken my Buffalove to another level by training to be a docent (tour guide) in Buffalo. I went through the training program with Buffalo Tours over the winter months, and then a training with the Richardson Olmsted Complex in early spring. In late spring, I was also offered a job with Buffalo Bites Food Tours as a tour guide.  

A question I always get on my tours is "How did you get involved?". For me, The Richardson Olmsted Complex had always been a mystery. Going to college at Buffalo State, I always drove past it, heard stories about the Complex, and wondered what was going to happen to such a vast land of buildings. Last summer, they offered a short tour season, and I was lucky enough to get a spot on one of the in depth tours. From the moment I walked inside the Complex, I was in love. It may seem like an odd reaction for a mental health facility, but hearing about the history of the Complex and seeing the simple beauty in the architecture, I saw firsthand this true "gem". 

Towards the end of the tour, our tour guide mentioned they would be looking for volunteers to help at events throughout the year. I quickly grabbed a card and think I sent an e-mail before that weekend was over. I volunteered at the Museums by Moonlight event held in the Fall and then learned they would be adding a group of docents for the 2013 season. It was a no brainer. 

As for Buffalo Bites Food Tours, my boyfriend and I took a tour with the owner, Laura Reed, last summer. We had an absolute blast, and Laura and I kept in touch after the tour. Early this year, she approached me to see if I would be interested in joining her team, and I couldn't say no. The Buffalo Bites Food Tours explore the Elmwood Village of Buffalo. Throughout the three hour tour you walk to six food stops and learn about the history of Buffalo and the Elmwood Village along the way. What could possibly be better?

Since my training has been completed for both, I've had the opportunity to lead, co-lead and chaperone various tours this summer. The response has been outstanding. People are genuinely interested in Buffalo, have a passion and excitement for the way things are going in our City, and always leave the tours with a good impression. It's an incredible feeling sharing my passion for Buffalo with those around me, and I can tell they all appreciate the small additional tidbits we throw in!

Here is my "insider" perspective on tours:

Richardson Olmsted Complex - The Richardson Center Corporation, the non-profit Board that is overseeing the redevelopment efforts of the Complex, is offering over 30 public tours this summer from one hour basic tours ($15), two hour in depth tours ($30), plus photography tours, family tours and more. All tours take you through the first floor of the Towers Administration building and ward buildings, and the specialty ones add additional floors. Throughout the tours the docents discuss the history of the Complex, its key players (H.H. Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted/Calvert Vaux and Dr. Thomas Kirkbride), the present state of the Complex and the future. 

If you don't know what's happening at the Complex, rehabilitation efforts are underway, and the Complex currently boasts a gorgeous showcase space that shows off the potential of the Complex. 

Whether you are an architectural nerd, a Buffalo history buff, or have driven past the Complex a million times but never really knew what went on there, this is a tour for you. This summer is the perfect time to get on a tour; come fall, redevelopment efforts will begin to kick into full swing and getting the before and after perspective will be an added bonus! 

If you are planning on taking a tour, my suggestion - ask questions! I always tell my tour goers that my goal is to have them learn something new about Buffalo, one of the key players of the Complex and have fun. If you are taking a tour, remember you MUST wear closed toe shoes (no flip flops or sandals). 

If you can't make a tour, get down to the Complex in August anyway. The newly redone 9 acre South Lawn will be open as a public park for all to enjoy. I've had the pleasure of watching it all come together each time I have been at the Complex this summer. The project should be completed by the end of the month and it already looks gorgeous. 

The new location of Firefly Cupcakes
is just one stop!
Buffalo Bites Food Tours - Three hours of sampling some of the best food Buffalo has to offer? If that isn't motivation enough, add the backdrop of the eclectic Elmwood Village and some Buffalo history to the mix and you have the perfect afternoon in Buffalo. Worried about eating all that food and ruining your summer diet? Don't worry, we walk almost 2 miles over the 3 hours and I've been told there are actually no calories on food tour food (actual results may vary)! 

The tour costs $42/person, although Laura posts $10 off coupon codes - check her Facebook/Twitter pages for discounts. You receive enough food to be comfortably full, with time in between food tastings to walk it off. 

Owner Laura Reed was inspired after taking a food tour with some girlfriends in New York City. Her dream was to bring that concept to Buffalo, and last summer her dream became a reality. In its 2nd year, Buffalo Bites Food Tours are gaining popularity and there have been talks of adding a second food tour in a different neighborhood in Buffalo. 

Whether you are a lifelong Buffalonian or visiting from out of town, there is really something for everyone on a Buffalo Bites Food Tour. While I've spent many days and late nights on the Elmwood Strip, and frequented many of the restaurants on the tour, Laura gives you some history on the businesses and the foods you sample, and business owners have been known to chat with patrons during the tours. 

If you are planning on taking a tour, my suggestion - try everything! Unless you have a dietary restriction (which you can let the team know about beforehand and they can accommodate you with another food selection), give everything a try. In some tasting locations you have a choice on which item you get, so pick one you never have tried before. It will make the tour that much more enjoyable. 

Be a tourist in your own City this summer, Buffalo! Make sure you bring all your out of town guests with you too! 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ride For Roswell 2013: Post Ride Thoughts

Starting line - 30 mile early route
I crossed the finish line just shy of 10:00am. 
I biked 30 miles in memory of my Grandma Carol Sondel. 
Lovin' On Buffalo fundraised over $800 to help fight cancer. 

I know none of these things are particularly extraordinary; many were done quicker, rode further and raised more, but I helped let cancer know its days are numbered. 

I was one of 8,000. Our $800 was part of 3.8 million that was raised. 
Those things ARE extraordinary. 

Saturday, June 22nd was a gorgeous day in Buffalo to bike! The 30 mile river route was filled with gorgeous scenery and many excited route guides who cheered us along as we rode past them. Our rest stops had great food (special shout out to the Praxair rest stop) and the company along the way helped make the 30 miles go by fast! 

It was an emotional day. As we lined up to start and the Emcee asked cancer survivors to raise their hands, the tears started flowing. They started flowing for my Grandma, who lost her battle so quickly, for the survivors who have gone through so much and are on a bike ready to ride 30+ miles, and for their family and friends who have been along with them on the journey. 

In the weeks leading up to the Ride For Roswell, their social media feeds were asking for help to fill a "critical" volunteer need, so I offered to serve as a Ride Marshal for my route. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I ended up finding it very rewarding. My boyfriend and I pulled over about 6 times to check on people who were either injured or had bike problems. We did what we could and off we went. Everyone was so appreciative and thankful for helping. 

My boyfriend, who can ride much faster than me, often jumped ahead. I knew he would finish before me, and as I came across the finish line he was there cheering me on. My name was said over the loud speaker as I crossed and it was such an incredible feeling. I am so proud of myself for taking on a longer route, on very little training, and getting across that finish line in a respectable time. 

Everyone at the Ride was great. Volunteers, staff members, sponsors, and riders were filled with pride and happiness. Though a sad day for many who were riding in memory of those they lost, it was also a day of hope. Hope that Roswell Park is closer to a cure. Hope that cancer won't mean a death sentence in the years to come. 

Congratulations to everyone on each and every single route. From 104 miles down to the 3 mile family ride, you all took time out of your weekend to be healthy and active for a good cause. 

Thanks to my family and friends who make donations, and to my boyfriend who was there to cheer me on and motivate me to finish. 

Together Buffalo, we can truly make a difference for Western New Yorkers and the world!

The countdown to the 2014 Ride for Roswell is on! Hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ride For Roswell 2013: Pre-Ride Thoughts

Almost twelve years ago, I watched cancer take my Grandma from me. I’ll never forget the moment I found out about her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer as my Dad fought back tears telling me, “3 months to live.” This vibrant woman who cheered on the Bills at every home game, polkaed away at parties, and found time to be at all our soccer games and dance recitals, was quickly slipping away from me. 

No one in our family would ever be the same. She was the glue that kept us all together. After the night we learned of her diagnosis, it only took a few weeks before she was gone.

This is just one story, and I’m just one person, but this morning I’m riding 30 miles in memory of Carol Sondel and all the other Grandmas out there who have missed out on watching their grandchildren grow up because of cancer.

7,999 others are biking with me this morning on various routes, all with stories of loss, love and overcoming the odds.

While there will surely be tears shed as I ride through those 30 miles, there will also be a happiness I can’t quite explain. A pure joy knowing others out there want to take a stand against cancer and raised millions of dollars to help find the cure. A pride in knowing Roswell Park is in Buffalo, NY, making a difference for people all over the world.

Thank you to everyone who donated to my Ride (Dick Sondel, Bernie Youra, Debbi Testa, Sharon DeFelice, Matt Testa, Aaron Mason, Alyson O'Connor, Angela Keppel, Suzanne Kashuba, Elizabeth Kresge, Jill McAnaney, Julie Tobin, Lisa Yuhnke, Laura Reed, Steve Foster, Catherine Janese, Casey Herko & Cindy Wagner).

Thank you to all the volunteers that will cheer me on throughout the 30 miles this morning. 

A special thanks to my boyfriend, Geoffrey, who will be biking beside me through it all. 

And thanks Grandma, from wherever you are watching me. I’m so proud to be your Granddaughter, and so lucky to be a Sondel.

Follow along with me on Twitter throughout the day. Don't worry, I won't be riding and tweeting, but will post before, at rest stops and after. I'm looking forward to also serving as a Ride Marshal for the 30 mile route. To everyone participating, stay safe! Ride right, pass left!

See you at the finish line! 

#Ridespiration #RFR13

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CALL FOR ACTION: Ride For Roswell 2013

This Saturday, June 22nd, Roswell Park will host their largest fundraiser of the year, The Ride For Roswell.

Last year, I participated in the event for the first time. I biked 20 miles in memory of my Grandma, Carol Sondel, who died of pancreatic cancer back in 2001. You can check out my recap of last year's day, HERE. It was quite inspirational. 

Roswell Park is a huge part of the Western New York community, helping thousands of people from all around the world battle cancer and find treatments and cures.

I don't know a single person who hasn't been touched by cancer in some way. Whether it's a family member who lost their life to cancer, a personal battle with it or a friend or colleague you've seen go through it, we can all benefit by the work Roswell Park is doing. 

So, how can you get involved? I have three great ways:

1.) Donate today! This year, I will be riding 30 miles in memory of my Grandma, and all those who have lost their lives to cancer. I lost my Grandma way too early in my life, and if my riding can keep some other girl's Grandma around longer, I have made a difference. You can find my personal page, HERE. Thank you for your donation!

2.) Volunteer! The Ride For Roswell is still looking for volunteers to help out during the day. As they say, "It takes a village", and if you have ever been to The Ride For Roswell you can see why volunteers are so critical to the success of the day. You can check out all the open volunteer opportunities for the opening ceremony on Friday night and all day on Saturday, HERE. Around 100 volunteers are still needed! If you are already signed up to ride, they are also looking for riding marshals for many routes. 

3.) Share this post! If you are already booked this weekend or don't have extra money to donate, please share this post. Post it on Facebook, Twitter e-mail it to friends/family who may be interested, or mention it in passing when you are out. 

I'll be thinking about all my generous readers as I cross the finish line on Saturday morning. Thank you for making a difference in Buffalo! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Omakase Buffalo - "Acadiana"

Cooking up the crawfish
I'm going to let you all in on a secret. Well, a part of the secret anyway. 

Buffalo has an underground dining club. Omakase Buffalo was started about a year and a half ago by a group of local chefs and foodies who wanted to bring amazing cuisine to diners willing to try something new and different. 

I learned about Omakase Buffalo towards the end of 2012 and quickly applied to be on the waiting list. About a week ago, I received an invitation to attend an event entitled, "Acadiana" after the French Louisiana region.  

The premise for the group is based on trust. Very little information is given about the events in order to keep anonymity. Guests are not allowed to share information about who the chefs were, who they dined with or where they dined before or after the events. The only thing you can share, are photos of what you ate/drank.

Omakase Buffalo certainly isn't for everyone. A big part of why they do what they do, is to get people to expand their palate and think outside the box when it comes to food. You are asked to try everything, enjoy the company of people you probably have never met, and retain the level of anonymity. 
Time to dig in!

For me, the event proved to be an incredible day. Our meal included a Southern Louisiana tradition, the crawfish boil, which was something I'd never experienced before. In addition, we sampled the New Orleans hurricane and sweet tea drinks, an amazing jambalaya with outstanding andouille sausage, slow cooked jumbo shrimp, a delicious sweet potato pecan pie, and even a little moonshine! 

You can get the answers to some "frequently asked questions" on their website, and if you are interested in being added to the waiting list, can apply here

If I can think of one word to describe Buffalo right now, it's creative. I'm continually amazed at the amount of creative minds in Western New York working together with one goal: to help reinvent Buffalo. Omakase Buffalo is another prime example of this creativity. 

Start eating outside the box, Buffalo. You will be amazed by what you find!

Jumbo shrimp
Jambalaya with chicken and andouille sausage

Thursday, June 6, 2013

REVIEW: 710 Main Theatre: 50 Shades! The Musical

Last night I had the chance to combine two of my favorite things; live theatre and social media! I was one of a handful of people selected to live tweet during 50 Shades! The Musical at 710 Main Theatre (you can check my live feed out from last night by following me on Twitter @lovinonbuffalo).

Typically, being on your phone during a musical is a big no no, but in recent years theatres have been embracing Twitter and social media to engage their audience before, during and after the show! It's actually quite genius, if you ask me. Who doesn't appreciate a personal mention or retweet from the cast/Twitter handle for the show? 

I'm thrilled that organizations like Shea's are beginning to explore these options and thinking more "outside the box" when it comes to promotion and reach! If your company isn't invested in social media on some level, you really need to consider it. Fast. 

The theatre itself holds 625 seats and offers an intimate setting with really no bad seat. The stage is small and front row is up close and personal with the actors. The lobby area has a small bar. The theatre was formerly Studio Arena, but they have been closed since 2008 due to financial problems. 710 Main Theatre opened its doors in fall 2012 and has hosted a number of great shows in its first year. They just announced the lineup for the 2013-2014 season. Check it out HERE.

50 Shades! The Musical is a parody musical based on the book 50 Shades of Grey by E L James. The musical opens with a book club meeting where they decide to read the book. What follows is the book club's journey through the book and all the hilarious and dirty fun that ensues. 

From the moment the show started, to the very last note, I was laughing, sometimes to the point of tears. While I was a little worried I'd be lost since I never read the books, I never felt  that way during the show. The show offers around 10 original musical numbers, some that parody other musicals, and contain amazing one liners. 

Almost as good as the performance was watching the reaction of the audience throughout the show. It was clear I wasn't the only one enjoying it! 

The cast even tailored the performance to the Western New York audience, mentioning Buffalo, Mighty Taco, Medina and more. 

All eight cast members had moments of brilliance, but standouts for me were Jose, played by Nick Semar and Carol played by Jessica Kemock. 

The show is perfect for a girls night out, and by the second song I was wishing my entire group of girlfriends were with me to laugh along. It's a must see for the women of Buffalo, and men will get a kick out of it too. It does offer a very "risque" dialogue that is not suitable for those under 18, but doesn't take anything too far! It's the perfect balance of flirty and naughty. 

Performances run through the weekend and tickets are a reasonable $37.50/$47.50. There are even some discount coupon codes out there if you look hard enough! 

Last night was another reminder for me that we are so lucky to have amazing theatre options in Buffalo. There is so much diversity - small intimate theatres, college campus productions, Shea's mainstage with internationally known productions and everything in between. 

710 Main Theatre should be added to your Buffalo bucket list over the next year. I know I'll be back!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Senase Project

Back in 2011, after a group of students from Semester At Sea had the chance to visit Senase in Ghana, Africa, they came back to Buffalo with a mission. While they visited a small village named Akatim, they found out there were hundreds of kids there with no access to education. Though they spent a short time with the community in Akatim, they were changed by what they saw, and shortly after began The Senase Project.

Since the trip in 2011, volunteers from The Senase Project have made additional trips to Africa to meet with local leaders and educators and find out what they could do to help. The result, a plan to build a new school and provide the resources educators need to help the children of the village. 

The enthusiasm and clear passion for the mission gained them a big name supporter, Desmond Tutu, who has worked with the Senase Project to obtain grants and other funding to begin the work. The Buffalo community has also been extremely supportive of the organization as well as family and friends of the founder/Board members. 

Currently, three functioning classrooms are up and running at the current school location while work finishes up on the new school. When completed, the new school will help facilitate educational programming for over 120 students from Kindergarten to 11th grade. They hope to have work on the new school completed by the end of September 2013.

The Senase Project volunteers don’t have plans of stopping once the school is finished. They have already outlined their second project, a new medical clinic. The medical clinic will be a much larger undertaking with a considerably bigger budget than the school. They already have a plot of land where the clinic will go, but are taking the planning stages slowly so they make sure they get it right. 

The clinic will be a major improvement for the village. The current medical clinic serves about 10,000 residents and is a considerable distance away from the village center, making it difficult to get to, especially for those very ill. Medical resources are very limited and while they currently do the best with what they have, there is great need for improvement. 

“Our mission is to empower a community and provide them with the resources to help improve the quality of life.” Sophie Herrman, Marketing Director for The Senase Project told me. 

What impresses me most about this small, grassroots organization, is that the majority of the founders and Board members are still in school. They are an extremely passionate and young team with a lot of ideas and a great set of goals and plans to improve life in Senase.

"Our immediate goal is to improve the quality of life in Senase and provide them with the resources they need, but we hope in 5-10 years that we can say we have helped additional villages in Africa." 

The organization relies on private donations and they are currently running a "UFunded" campaign to raise money for the school in Akatim. Check out their fundraising page, HERE, and if you can, support the drive! 

You can stay in the loop on the progress for the school and other upcoming projects and fundraisers by checking out The Senase Project on Facebook and Twitter too. 

Education has been a hot topic in Buffalo and throughout New York State for the past few years with budget cuts, state testing and limited government funding. While these challenges are incredibly hard to work with here, there are millions of children who don't know what the inside of a classroom is like and have never been to "school".  

I'm looking forward to seeing where The Senase Project goes next and am so proud of the students who have been working to "Pay It Forward" and make a difference in the lives of others! 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Krystal's Buffalo Summer To Do List - 2013

Summer comes and goes entirely too fast in Buffalo. There are hundreds of events to choose from to fill up my schedule, but there just never seems to be enough time to do everything I want. Come September, I find myself saying, "I wish I did that!" 

To help focus my summer plans, I've created my own "MUST DO" Buffalo Summer 2013 To-Do List. Some are obvious staples I do every summer, and some are random personal summer goals. I plan on updating this blog post throughout the summer as I check things off.

Feel free to join in, or, even better - create your own Buffalo To Do List and send it my way!!! I'll pick out some of my favorites and post them! 

Krystal's Buffalo Summer 2013 To Do List:

1.) Get to every Buffalo food truck at some point this summer!
2.) Throw a wine party featuring all "local" wines and food!
3.) Take at least 5 tours offered by Buffalo Tours
4.) Try all the fitness classes offered at Canalside this summer (Zumba starts June 4th)
5.) Take a hard hat tour of The Central Terminal! - Sunday, June 9th
6.) Tour at The Darwin Martin House
7.) Take a Lockport Locks cruise
8.) Enjoy a bottle of local wine outside around our patio/fire pit (we are putting one in soon!)
9.) Buy a new piece of artwork at the Allentown Art Festival - Sunday, June 9th
10.) Tour at Graycliff Estate in Derby, NY
11.) Take a tour at Forest Lawn Cemetary
12.) Cross the Ride For Roswell finish line after biking 30 miles
13.) Tour the Teddy Roosevelet Site
14.) Cheer on the Bisons at Coca Cola Field and get cotton candy with Jacob
15.) Take a Whirlpool Jet Boat tour
16.) Take a hot air balloon ride over Letchworth State Park (thanks Dad for the best Christmas gift ever!)
17.) Take Jacob on a nature hike around Tifft Nature Preserve
18.) Sample something I've never tried before at The Taste of Buffalo
19.) Water bikes at Canalside
20.) Strawberry picking - and hopefully the crop is better than last year
21.) Cherry picking (we didn't get to go last year because the crop was so poor)
22.) Visit the Niagara wineries - Saturday, June 1st
23.) Visit the Burchfield Penney Arts Center (preferably on a rainy summer day)
24.) Spend an afternoon at the Griffis Sculpture Park (West Valley, NY - close enough!)
25.) Lead a great tour for Buffalo Bites Food Tours
26.) Beach day
27.) Rock climbing at Silo City Rocks
28.) Visit the new location for Lake Effect Ice cream and sample something new - Thursday, June 6th
29.) Get to Artpark and Canalside for a few concerts
30.) Throw a party at Shakespeare in the Park - you are all invited (bring a dish to pass)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

New Directions Youth & Family Services

Respect. Responsibility. Safety. Goals. Those are the "norms" at New Directions Youth and Family Services.  Their mission, according to their website, is to "foster resilient, self-reliant families and permanence for at-risk children in the shortest time possible, by promoting safe, respectful, responsible and goal-directed behavior".

The agency dates back to the late 1800's when they first opened a group home for children in need. What started as one small house nestled in the woods in Randolph, NY has grown into an additional five homes that all have a slightly different focus to treating at-risk children. 

Take for instance The Randolph House. It  focuses on getting its residents outside and participating in a variety of recreational activities including hiking, kayaking, skiing, and horseback riding.  

The Zafron Home houses teen parents, provides a safe and encouraging haven for new moms to continue their education and receive the support they need. 

An additional four houses throughout Western New York in Lockport, Falconer and Westons Mills all take a slightly different approach to treatment and house a variety of at-risk children. Two of the homes also house state-approved schools for students with special needs.

In addition to the residential locations, New Directions also offers foster care and adoption services throughout Western New York. Couples interested are screened, go through a training program and receive ongoing training on how to best serve the children they foster, and in some cases, adopt. 

Preventative services are the "newest" addition to the 23 different services they provide for Western New York. Family support, crisis intervention, Intensive Case Management and more all take a very family centered approach.

"The old model of treatment was that if a child wasn't making it at home, they went to an institution. The relationship with the family was never the same. Nowadays, we put a large value on the influence of family. Families are forever, and the more you can do to make the family stronger, and include the family in aspects of treatment, the stronger the family will be in the end." Brad Sande, Development Director for the organization told me. 

When speaking with Brad, he truly emphasized their family approach and how they are all about strengthening the family, because it will be in turn strengthen the child. I couldn't agree more. Many times, families can feel helpless, or don't have the resources to make things better on their own. That is exactly what New Directions is here for. 

Staff are experts in their field and programs are accredited by The Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services and additional agencies. The organization partners with over a dozen additional groups and is a member of many top agencies. They are the leader in services for at-risk children in Western New York. 

Services reach over 1,000 families every year with close to 250 families placed in their residential homes. Preventive services reach the most families, providing an incredible resource for families in need. 

While most of the funding for programming comes from county contracts and funding, the reimbursement rate doesn't support the many special services (including recreational activities) that they believe are very important to the well being of the children they serve. 

In order to raise the funds to support recreation programs, the organization is hosting its 4th Annual "Wines of Distinction" event tomorrow (Friday, May 3rd) at the Lockport Town & County Club located at 717 East Avenue in Lockport, NY. The event starts at 7:00pm and will feature wine samples from around the world, including The Niagara Wine Trail. Tickets to the event are $35 each, or $60 for two and can be purchased at the door tomorrow night. In addition to wine samples, appetizers, cheeses, desserts and coffee/teas will be served. For beer lovers, micro brew beer samples will also be available. 

Prize raffles and basket raffles will be available to event goers, with the chance to win an IPad, flat screen television, luxury box at a Buffalo Bisons game, sports memorabilia, golf outings and more! 

It is a fun opportunity to learn more about New Directions and enjoy a night out! I'll be attending with my Mom, and hope you will join us and the rest of the guests in attendance to help raise money for this important organization in Western New York. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Restaurant Week Recap #4: Cecelia's Ristorante in Buffalo

To wrap up my Restaurant Week adventures, I planned a girls night with some of my best friends from high school. I'm fortunate that so many of my close girlfriends growing up still live around me! 

We chose Cecelia's Ristorante, located on Elmwood Avenue. As with most places on Elmwood, they don't have a parking lot, but I was able to score a great spot just outside the restaurant on the street. 

The Italian restaurant is a trendy spot in Buffalo with a great outdoor patio. The inside boasts a large bar, and plenty of seating, but can get crowded quickly - especially during happy hour. The atmosphere is laid back, fun and flirty. It is a great spot to bring a date in Buffalo. Come summertime, the patio is hopping and it's a wonderful place to people watch. 

The Restaurant Week special included an appetizer, entree and cannoli for dessert. But before I get to the food, let's talk about the martinis. They boast a long martini list to choose from. I opted for the Bellini and it was tasty and not overpowering. Other good choices are the Lemon Drop, Pomegranate and Berry Snapple. If you are looking for a great deal, they offer 1/2 priced martinis Tuesday - Friday from 4:00 - 6:00pm (only available at the bar).  

For my appetizer, I chose the margherita pizza, which was honestly a meal in itself (see picture on the right). It was tasty, and while I couldn't finish it all, it was great for sharing with the table. They offer it under their regular pizza menu, and while I wouldn't necessarily go to this restaurant for pizza (try Siena, Rocco's or 800 Maple), it was a good starter. 

One of my friends chose the Caprese salad (also on their regular menu) and it was a gorgeous presentation, generous portion and delicious. To be honest, all of our appetizers were great. Others at my table chose the stuffed banana peppers (which were on the spicy side but had good flavor) and a Caesar salad (tasty). Our meal was certainly off to a good start. 

Before I get to our entrees, I want to point out how much I enjoyed the fact that the Restaurant Week specials were actual normal menu items for the restaurant. Many times, Restaurant Week specials include dishes you can't normally get at the restaurant, and while it is usually something delicious, I'd rather have a regular menu item so I know if I should come back or not. 

For my entree I, and a few others at my table. chose the Chicken Brushetta (cutlet floured & sauteed with grape tomatoes, basil, goat cheese in a lemon white wine sauce served over whipped potatoes). The dish had me at "goat cheese" but honestly everything about it was delicious. The chicken was breaded perfectly and cooked well and the lemon white wine sauce complemented everything on the plate. The whipped potatoes has so much flavor and all together it was a perfect dish. I would go back for this dish alone. 

Everything else my friends had (penne broccoli, chicken parm) looked great too and everyone enjoyed their meals. The portion sizes were good, there were not really any leftovers, but you definitely felt full and satisfied. 

Girls nights out are so important and Restaurant Week gives you a great opportunity to get together with friends, family and co-workers (although who really needs a "reason"?). I'm already counting down to the Fall Restaurant Week!

Thanks for the memories, Restaurant Week!

Caprese Salad (so pretty)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

30 Wishes For Buffalo

I turned the big 30 this April!!!  All month I've been blowing out candles on cakes and making wishes. I started writing this list of my "Buffalo wishes" on my birthday, when I woke up early and couldn't fall back asleep. 

I can’t tell you what I wished for when I blew out my birthday candles (because then it won’t come true), but here are thirty wishes I have for this great city. I get some are far fetched, I know many may take another 30 years to happen, but some are already in the works and I can’t wait to see those wishes come true! 

Some of the wishes I have absolutely no control over, but in other cases I can do something, and I will. I hope you will too. 

So, in no particular order, here is the list...

Krystal's Wishes For Buffalo, NY

1. The obvious – The Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl (I’ll actually take a playoff home game, preferably in the next few years).

2. The other obvious – The Buffalo Sabres win a Stanley Cup.

3. They tear down the skyway and create a version of NYC’s High Line.

4. The Trico building is reused and filled with new business in Buffalo.

5. The Richardson Center Corporation finds additional tenants to fill all the remaining ward buildings!

6. The Buffalo Bills Stadium moves downtown. Make. It. Happen.  

7. All the grain elevators are reused and filled with great new Buffalo ventures (it starts with Silo City Rocks…who will be next?)

8. More breweries in Buffalo.

9. More bike lanes on the streets of Buffalo.

10. New business booms on Main Street.

11.Kenmore/Tonawanda change the no parking on the street rule. I grew up there and it always seemed like too long of a time period to me. I don't live there anymore, so it wouldn't apply to me, but still want to see it changed. 

12. Continued development at Canalside and seeing the old site of the Memorial Auditorium filled with new business. 

13. Buffalo’s Roswell Park finds THE cure for all cancers.

14. The full dream of restoration at The Central Terminal is completed and we have a high speed rail in the area.

15. I’m all about shopping local, but if there is one chain store I love, it’s Ikea. I want an Ikea in Buffalo.

16. The unemployment rate reaches an all-time low.

17. The population of Buffalo trends upward instead of down (but, you know, not so much to where my 20 minute drive to anywhere is compromised…haha, okay, I’ll accept a longer commute if it means more bodies in Buffalo). 

18. A TV show, based in Buffalo, NY airs and is a huge hit shining a lot of positive light on The Queen City!

19. A handful of big name celebrities buy condos/apartments/houses in Buffalo because it becomes "the city" to live in. 

20. New leadership in Buffalo creates positive change for a city ready for greatness again.

21. The Buffalo Police Department receives additional support which in turn reduces the homicide rate in Buffalo.

22. The Buffalo Public Schools find a way to enact big changes to make it a desirable school district for families.

23. The issue of segregation in Buffalo is properly addressed and not kept a secret anymore. I’ve seen a lot of talk about this in recent months, now we need to start changing the dynamic here. 

24. I have touched on this already, but more college graduates choose to stay in Buffalo because the jobs they want are here.

25. A personal wish for me is that someday I can move into downtown Buffalo. It is a dream I’ve had for many years, but hasn’t worked out for one reason or another – not that I am complaining, the path I’m on right now is right where I want to be.  

26. More school districts in WNY add or add more Buffalo history into their social studies classes.

27. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus & UB School of Medicine work is completed bringing thousands more to downtown Buffalo on a regular basis.

28. Whatever needs to happen with the Peace Bridge Project happens (this is one project I haven't followed closely, but have been hearing about for years). 

29. Buffalo winters remain mild finally changing the national attitude that all it does in Buffalo is snow. A lot. 

30. For all of NYS - Government takes a hard look at air pollution and enacts stricter regulations for businesses. I'd like to see Erie County get an A in the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" report. 

What are your wishes for Buffalo?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Restaurant Week Recap #3: Butterwood Sweet & Savory in Buffalo

Cheers to good food, Buffalo and new friends. In January, I started up the Lovin' On Buffalo book club. On Friday night, we hosted our second meeting to discuss "Buffalo Memories, Gone But Not Forgotten" at Butterwood Sweet & Savory. The restaurant is located inside the recently restored Hotel Lafayette. It is located on the lower level in what I'm told used to be the "speakeasy" of the hotel. To put it simply, the restaurant is gorgeous. It boasts gorgeous architectural elements, has plush seating for diners and has a gorgeous bar and display area for baked goods they sell. 

The restaurant is considered a "full service fusion restaurant that focuses on modern cuisine." They offer fun appetizer selections, small plates that feature foods from around the world, inventive entrees, handmade pizzas, and more!  The Restaurant Week special included either soup or salad, an entree and a chocolate lava cake for $20.13. 

I started with their "Sweey & Savory" mini salad which was incredible. A bed of lettuce came wrapped inside cucumber with candied beets, avocado, a tomato relish and a citrus vinaigrette. It was topped with truffle frites. and served with a small puff pastry. The flavors were incredible. It was a gorgeous presentation and left me wanting more. Others in my party ordered the Caesar salad and the soup of the evening which was a surf & turf soup and everyone was very impressed.

My entree (pictured right) was a braised short rib that sat in a french onion broth and was topped with a crouton and cheese. It came served with a side of vegetables. The short rib was executed perfectly and was breaking apart and filled with incredible flavor as I ate it.

As someone who gets French Onion soup almost everywhere I go, I was extremely pleased with this version. The broth was flavorful and the cheese and crouton topped it off perfectly. The presentation was nice and I quickly had nothing left on my plate. 

Other entrees at our table included duck, strip steak and salmon.  Everything came out looking beautiful and there were numerous ooh's and ahh's as people ate. The group, most of who had never been to the restaurant before (myself included), were just in awe of such a wonderful evening of food and friends. 

To finish up our meal, we were given a chocolate lava cake. It would not have been my first choice, since I'm not a big fan of chocolate, but it was the only option for Restaurant Week. If you are a chocolate lover, it was a perfect dish. It was extremely rich and gooey. It was a little too chocolaty for me, but I enjoyed the little I did eat. It sat over a fruit puree and some fruit and that was absolutely delicious. 

Within the restaurant, they have the Butterwood Retail Bakery outlet that has delectable pastries, pies and new artisan breads. Everything in the case looked great. 

The Hotel Lafayette has knocked it out of the park with their restaurant choices. Between the Pan Am Grill & Brewery, Butterwood Sweet & Savory and the upscale Mike A's, there is really something for every budget and palate. As for Butterwood Sweet & Savory, the food presentation and taste makes it very "upscale", but it is not priced as high as many upscale restaurants. 

I left there knowing for certain I'd be back with my boyfriend, and am excited to hear they are offering great nightly specials including Bring Your Own Wine (no corkage fees) on Mondays & 1/2 priced bottles of wine on Wednesdays. They are open daily at 11:00am and open at 10:00am on the weekends. They also offer a weekend brunch that I've heard great things about. If you are looking for somewhere to take Mom for Mother's Day, this would be my recommendation. 

The vision and dedication Rocco Termini had for The Hotel Lafayette, and his hard work on new ventures he is undertaking in the City are helping to reshape Buffalo as an incredible destination and place to live. After our meal we had the chance to tour around The Hotel Lafayette, and hearing stories of how rundown this place was years ago, I'm just so thrilled to see the turnaround and look forward to seeing what's next for Buffalo!

Casear salad (left) and Sweet & Savory mini salad (right)

Chocolate lava cake

For more reviews on Butterwood Sweet & Savory check out:   Butterwood Sweet & Savory on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 26, 2013

Restaurant Week Recap #2: Coco in Buffalo

If you haven't been down on Main Street near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus recently, there is a lot of work going on to create a new transit station along with new buildings that will house the University at Buffalo's School of Medicine. The plans look gorgeous, and they will bring a couple thousand students and staff into downtown Buffalo on a daily basis once they are completed.

Nestled on Main Street across from the Medical Campus is a cute little French bistro, Coco. Coco opened back in May 2012 under the ownership that ran Le Metro (now closed) in the Tony Walker Plaza in Williamsville. 

If you are driving down Main Street, you may miss it unless you are looking closely. The restaurant doesn't have a large sign. Coco has a blue painted exterior with black awning and lights hanging from it. Once inside, though the space is small, it is very inviting and comfortable. The atmosphere is casual and the wait staff was friendly.

We arrived about 20 minutes before our reservation, so we grabbed a seat at the bar and enjoyed a bottle of wine (the Zum Riesling - only Riesling on their menu, and it was delicious). The bar area is trendy and they offer a fun cocktail menu as well as a wine list and good beer on tap (including Flying Bison Rusty Chain).

Once the rest of our group arrived, we sat down for our 6:00pm reservation. Sometimes, with big groups, and especially during Restaurant Week, you can feel crowded in your seat. I really appreciated the open feel to this restaurant. The arrangement of tables is well laid out and the dining area is gorgeous. 

The menu for Restaurant Week included a starter, entree and dessert. Between the six of us in my party, we tried each of the starters and they were all delicious. I chose the pea & carrot aranchini with arborio rice and mozzarella (pictured, left). I've tried aranchini at a few restaurants before, but this one was seasoned and cooked perfectly. The crispy exterior gave way to a flavorful mix of cheese, rice and vegetable. It sat on a bed of lettuce that was the perfect compliment to it. My boyfriend ordered the roasted red pepper bisque, and while it did have a bold spice to it, it was tasty too. 

For the entree course I went back and forth all day on what to order, everything looked great. I ended up going with the "Bagels & Lox" dish (pictured below) which was an incredibly creative and inventive dish. Playing off the traditional bagel and lox, the entree was a piece of pan seared salmon in an "everything bagel vinaigrette", with a cream cheese and chive risotto. It was topped with a beet marscarpone and had a chopped egg garnish. All I can say is, WOW! The entire dish came together beautifully, and getting a little piece of everything made the flavors burst. My salmon was cooked perfectly, and the risotto was outstanding. As I finished up my last bite (debating on whether or not to lick the plate clean), my boyfriend commented, "You clearly didn't like your dinner."

My boyfriend and one other guest in our party ordered the Moroccan chicken on the menu that came paired with a couscous with dried fruit and nuts. They both enjoyed it a lot, but said it needed a little more seasoning.

The other two Restaurant Week entree dishes were also ordered at our table: Porcini & Marscarpone Pierogi and the Steak Frites. Everyone enjoyed their meals, and there was very little left on plates. I had a chance to try some of the rosemary frites and they were amazing. Among some of my favorite french fries! One of the guests in our party commented that this Restaurant Week adventure was up there as her favorite. 

Our meals closed out with our choice of either a chocolate brownie with ice cream, a rhubarb shortcake (what I chose), or a unique avocado mousse. All the desserts were great!

We looked at the regular menu at Coco and it includes pizzas, entrees, and a handful of different types of mussels. While we were at the bar, another patron ordered mussels and they looked and smelled incredible. We all agreed we needed to come back for another meal and get them. 

With Restaurant Week wrapping up in a few days, I'd say that Coco should be a "must squeeze in" if you can fit it into your schedule this weekend. Call for reservations ahead of time. 

I love Restaurant Week in Buffalo for so many reasons, but the number one reason is because it opens my eyes to restaurants I hadn't heard about before. I didn't know Coco existed prior to looking at the participating restaurants, and I'm glad that the group I was going out with was looking to try something new. There are so many "hidden gems" throughout Buffalo and Western New York, and Restaurant Week gives local restaurants the chance to shine. Coco certainly did for us! 

Moroccan Chicken

Rhubarb Shortcake...a sweet ending to a perfect meal!

For more reviews on Coco check out Urbanspoon: CoCo on Urbanspoon