Category Archives: reviews/giveaways

Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” Review and Giveaway

It’s December, which means downtowns are getting decked out with wreaths, lights, and bows. Christmas music becomes unavoidable. Also, it’s the season for The Nutcracker.

[UPDATE: Thank you all so much for reading and entering. I loved your entries and wish I had tickets to give each and every one of you. I randomly selected a winner, Rica, and if she doesn’t respond by noon on Wednesday, I will pick another winner. Wishing you all the best holiday season and New Year!! —OH, and here’s another giveaway for Nutcracker tickets on my friend Gilda’s blog! http://evan-and-lauren-a.blogspot.com/2014/12/12714-boston-ballets-nutcracker-and.html ]

We brought the boys to see a performance of it last year, put on by their cousin’s dance school. They were enthralled.

This year, we were offered the chance to see the Boston Ballet perform The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. In a word: Fantastic.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

First, though, we went to one of the many Story Hours, hosted by Boston Ballet in and around Boston. Our story hour took place at the Boston Ballet School itself.

A young dancer told the children the story of The Nutcracker. She showed us a pancake tutu and explained how it sticks out and stays flat. She explained about pointe shoes (they’re so hard at first that dancers must beat them on the floor, pound them with a hammer, and pour hot water on them to make them malleable enough to wear!). We got to touch tiaras and pointe shoes, and then she got the children up to practice some ballet moves.

For more information about the story hours and where/when to find them, click here.

And then, after lunch, we were off to the Opera House! We opted to walk the mile from the studio to the Opera House, which got us there in the very nick of time. We didn’t get to see the orchestra warming up. Don’t be us. Get there early.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

Here are some fun facts about The Nutcracker that intrigued me before we even got to the show:

Nutcracker Facts:

–        More than 300 dancers will perform in the new production.

–        Each performance has approximately 150 dancers involved.

–        There are 250 children in the performance, making up three or four casts (classical ballet students from the Boston, Newton and North Shore studios)

Sets and Costumes:

–        All of the sets and costumes are new, by award winning designer Robert Perdziola

–        The inspiration for the costumes in the production references the early 19th century Regency style also identified with the “Jane Austen period”.

–        Over 2,000 yards of net and tulle were used for the costumes

–        Over 200,000 jewels were used in the costumes, from 3mm diameter to 18mm long

  • Sugar Plums and Dew Drops have over 3,600 jewels on their tutus and bodices
  • Approximately 1/3 of the jewels are hand sewn

–        The Christmas tree is 42 feet 6 inches tall and there are 766 fiber optic points embedded in the big Christmas tree and there are 600 ornaments.-        The set changes include a series of reveals where scenes appear to iris out of one another.

–        To make three pieces of scenery move at once, the ballet’s technical staff built rigging and tracking systems on monstrous steel cages (in the show these systems are manipulated by one stagehand pulling a rope). [HOW COOL IS THAT??]

–        All of the sets were painted by hand and domestically made.

The sets were unbelievable—so ornate, so beautiful (and moved by one person, pulling a rope—I still can’t get over that part). So were the costumes. And of course, the dancers themselves were perfect, strong and skilled. The boys watched, totally mesmerized. Remember, they are four and six years old and not into ballet. We were all surprised when intermission came and we realized so much time had passed.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

After intermission is less story, more pure dancing. Even if you, like me, are not a big fan of ballet itself, there’s the Arabian dance, Mother Ginger (with all her little polichinelles [which basically means “open secrets”]), and (our favorite) the Russian dance, performed by three very acrobatic men.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

My boys’ favorites were (of course!) the battle scene between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker and his soldiers, though we somehow all missed the flinging of the slipper. I also was transfixed by the lovely snow scene. The boys also greatly liked the Nutcracker Prince’s soloing in the second act, as well as the acrobatic dancers in the Russian dance.

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

For a quick video of some of our favorite scenes, click here: Nutcracker Highlights.

This morning my little one wore his paper Nutcracker crown into school and proudly showed all his teachers and friends.

The Boston Opera House is gorgeous.

And Now, The Giveaway! 

I’m giving away four tickets to The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. Tickets are valid for winner’s choice of the following performances:

  • Wed, Dec 10 @ 7:30pm
  • Tue, Dec 16 @ 7:30pm
  • Wed, Dec 17 @ 7:30pm
  • Thu, Dec 18 @ 1pm
  • Thu, Dec  18 @ 7:30pm

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me why you want to see The Nutcracker. Make sure I have your email address!! LIMITED TO ONE ENTRY PER PERSON.

Note: This is a quick-turnaround giveaway! Winner will be RANDOMLY selected at noon EST Tuesday, December 9, using random.org. Winner will be notified by email. If winner does not respond within 24 hours to claim prize, another winner will be selected. 

UPDATE: Thank you all so much for reading and entering. I loved your entries and wished I had tickets to give each and every one of you. I randomly selected a winner, Rica, and if she doesn’t respond by noon on Wednesday, I will pick another winner. Wishing you all the best holiday season and New Year!! 

More Information about Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker:

         About Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker: http://bit.ly/1v9TMQn

–        Runs November 28 –December 31, 2014

–        All performances are at the Boston Opera House

–        Tickets start at $29

–        Tickets can be purchased online at www.bostonballet.org or over the phone at 617.695.6955

–        There are 44 performances

–        Show times: Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 5:30pm, all matinees are at 1:00pm

[Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary tickets and lunch. All opinions are my own.]

Menotomy Grill and Tavern: Restaurant Review

I don’t go out to lunch. If I do, it’s because I’m working at a cafe with wifi and need to grab something to eat. But recently the Menotomy Grill and Tavern in East Arlington hosted a small group of bloggers for lunch (including me, hooray!). Menotomy Grill is a cozy restaurant with a Colonial tavern feel.

Menotomy Grill fills a niche for Arlington: a restaurant where you can get a good lunch or relaxing dinner or go for drinks and watch the game (what game? I don’t know these sports-games-things–but you know, the game) on the big screen at the bar. I’ve previously been there to meet friends for drinks. It’s a place in Arlington to meet friends for drinks! I’ve been there for dinner with my husband and, another time, with my mother–and another time, with a friend–for dinner. It’s fine for dinner.

This was my first time having lunch there.

OK, so maybe the ductwork undoes the cozy feel of this particular chandelier, but trust me, this place is cozy. #blamethephotographer

The place is called Menotomy Grill because it harkens back to when Arlington was called Menotomy [I can also tell you why the Jason Russell House is famous and what East Arlington used to be famous for (answer: lettuce); I know my Arlington history]. The American Revolution hit this town hard, and like the Warren Tavern in Charlestown (but with a more spacious feel), Menotomy Grill has some features that bring you back to colonial days: the stone fireplace, the wood tables and floors, and the iron/candle replica light fixtures. I’ll admit it: I am very partial to the light fixtures.

The place has a lot of nice historical touches. You could spend a lot of time near the bathroom, studying the old maps of the town.

It also has a decidedly modern feel and upscale vibe.

Menotomy Grill has a decent wine list and a very good beer list, plus ciders and cocktails. I failed to take note of their current list at this lunch, as I had seltzer, but I’ve had wine and beer there at dinner and have enjoyed my selections.

Let’s talk about food, right? That’s what we’re here for. I think among the six of us we ordered most of the appetizers. I would not have selected the Fried Dill Pickles ($7), since I don’t like fried food, and I’m a pickles purist, but they turned out to be mightily addictive, even if you didn’t bother dipping them into the spicy remoulade they were served with (also kind of addictive). They didn’t need it. They were like the seared tuna of fried pickles: hot and tender on the outside, cooler and with more substance in the middle. The perfect meld of temperature and texture. I want to go back there right now, just thinking of those pickles.

We also tried the Chipotle Citrus Wings (served with peppercorn ranch, $11), which sounded good and looked pretty.

The wings had a nice kick to them but failed to deliver in other ways: they were almost soggy, and the meat wasn’t falling off the bone the way I like it to be.

We also tried the flatbread as an appetizer. Menotomy Grill usually has two flatbreads on the menu (Margherita ($10) as well as Grilled Steak and Caramelized Onion ($12). The day’s special flatbread was smoked salmon on cream cheese on an everything dough. The special sounded like a creative combo, but we decided to try the Margherita, which was fairly crispy and very tasty. The sauce was perfect.

The House Smoked St. Louis Ribs (with guava BBQ sauce and Napa cabbage/pickled jalapeno slaw, $11) was tasty. If you’re hoping for saucy ribs, these are not them, but they were perfectly cooked and nicely porky. The Napa cabbage slaw underneath the ribs was fantastic, and I could easily envision this dish as a salad tipped with some meat cut off the ribs.

It’s hard to see the lovely salad under all the ribs.

Another blogger ordered the Wedge Salad ($9). It was everything you wanted in an wedge salad: crisp fresh iceberg lettuce, heirloom cherry tomatoes, a generous sprinkling of bacon cubes (I’d call them lardons), a confident splash of buttermilk bleu cheese dressing. Oh, and avocado. I don’t think it needs the avocado. It’s heaven on a plate, crunchy/creamy/crisp/fatty/fresh/salty/startling. I would go there just for that.

We tried a bunch of sides (each $6). The House Baked Beans are good, the Edna’s Potato Sausage Stuffing thick and meaty and delicious. The Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Mustard are tender and tasty, though a touch more watery than I prefer (I like them simple, just roasted with garlic). We also tried the various fries: Sweet Potato, Herbed Parmesan, and regular. They’re all crispy and good.

I’ve had the Grilled Vegetable Panini before, at dinner (lots of grilled vegetables and cheese). This day, we all tried the Menotomy Cheeseburger ($13), topped with cheddar, lettuce, red onion, and a smoked tomato jam (add a fried egg or bacon for an additional charge). It was a good burger: slightly but not overly fatty, off-set by the crisped grilled bun and the startling sweet touch of the tomato jam. I’d go back there for that (and the Wedge Salad!).

The Greek Salad ($9) has a nice dressing and is big. Others ordered the Herb Roasted Chicken, the Grilled Hanger Steak, the Grilled Chicken BLT, and the day’s special sandwich (a grilled ham and cheese club with house-made chips) and reported back very positively.

We didn’t try the desserts. We had no room.

But I’ll be back, to the cozy Colonial-tavern space.

[Disclosure: We were hosted for lunch. All opinions are my own.] 

Meal Planning? eMeals Saved the Day!

It is 5:30 p.m. You’ve just walked in the door with four grocery bags and two hungry children…at dinnertime. You hand each child a tiny snack, look at tonight’s menu, realize it’s not possible…and yet less than half an hour later you have a tasty meal on the table that your children actually eat and like.

That was me, tonight, thanks to eMeals. I’ve attempted (and failed at) meal planning in the past, having an approach much like the spontaneous Melanie in the Middle. Unfortunately, the pour-a-glass-of-wine-and-wing-it approach doesn’t work when my small children need dinner around 5:30 p.m. and I get home with them at 5:15.

Despite some posts that indicate the contrary, I don’t just throw frozen stuff into the microwave for them. First of all, they generally hate that stuff, even if it is organic and such. Second, I like to cook and want to make them (and us!) tasty meals.

Here’s a problem: I live in a wonderful neighborhood full of small children just the same ages as my children, and sometimes late in the afternoon, I’d rather my kids be outside playing with friends than indoors while I’m making dinner. Or we get home and see all their friends outside, across the street, and go over to play instead of going inside so I can cook dinner. It’s a trade-off, for sure, but I’d really rather they be outside, even if we end up in nightly dinner hell.

Anyway, I recently signed onto eMeals. eMeals is a meal-planning service that sends you a weekly menu, with recipes and shopping lists. The great thing about eMeals is they have several different meal plans: Classic, Clean Eating (what we do), Natural and Organic, Gluten Free, Paleo, Mediterranean, Simple Gourmet, Low Fat, and so on. You can also plug in the grocery store you normally shop at, and they can match a meal plan to the store. In addition, you can indicate whether you want meals for 1-2 people or 3-6 people. Our first week, I’d signed us up for 3-6 people. Way too much food for us (2 adults, 2 kids). This week, I’m shifting to the 1-2 person plan.

We get the Clean Eating meal plan. It’s sent to me on Wednesday, but I didn’t manage to print out the most recent one until the weekend. I spent a little time going over it. The plan includes seven meals plus side dishes. I knew we’d have leftovers one night and might want to use up a freezer meal another night. So I crossed off two meals that I thought my family would be less interested in.

Then I went through the included grocery list, crossing off any items that we already had or that we wouldn’t need (items for the meals I’d crossed off). The list and a pen went into some reusable grocery bags.

Could this get much easier?

However, being our spontaneous selves, we ended up going apple-picking instead of grocery shopping. You know how it goes!

Tuesday I picked up Max from school, zoomed over to the grocery store, got everything on the list, wove through traffic to go get Ben, and got home. Naturally, all the neighbor kids were outside, so outstayed we…until 5:30, when we finally got in the door.

5:30, remember, is dinnertime.

Did I panic? Actually, for a second I did. Then I went to my menu. Tonight was supposed to be Juicy Chicken Sliders, with a side of Parmesan Oven Fries. “Kid-Friendly,” it was noted. But the total time: 50 minutes. Too long! Pot roast? Nope — that’s a slow-cooker meal. Roasted Chicken: a 50-minute cook time. Penne? I’m sick of pasta — last week we went off our plan a little, in an attempt to clean out the cupboards, and ate a lot of pasta.

Taco Salad: “Super Fast,” it said. OK!

One problem: It called for ground round. Our ground beef was all frozen. But I had just brought home chicken breasts for the sliders that we wouldn’t be having tonight! I scanned the recipe and decided to go for it.

Taco Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (I completely forgot to add the garlic!)
3/4 lb ground round (or sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast; fish or tofu would also be good!)
½ teaspoon chili powder
1/4  teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper
4 cups whole-grain tortilla chips
5 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic, ground round (or chicken), chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook 8 minutes or until beef (or chicken) is browned, stirring occasionally. Divide tortilla chips evenly among 2 plates; top with lettuce, ground beef mixture, Corn Salsa (see below) and yogurt.

Corn Salsa

3/4 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
2 plum tomatoes, chopped (I used grape tomatoes instead)
1 small jalapeño, minced (I omitted this on purpose)
1 clove garlic, minced (forgot again! sprinkled garlic powder [not garlic salt] on instead]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine corn, tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl; chill until ready to serve. (I also threw some leftover edamame into the corn salsa, because why not?)

To serve it, I put things in separate piles on the kids’ plates, because they are ages three and five, and sometimes it is best if things don’t touch each other. They ate the chicken and asked for more. Then Max noticed how my plate was one big mixed-up salad, and he wanted his that way. So of course then Ben wanted his that way, too. So we all ended up with these big mixed-up taco salads on our plates, and Max loved it. Ben preferred to fly his alien spaceship tomato-and-cucumber combo. But he did eat all his chicken and some of the corn salsa.

Remember those grocery bags at 5:30? Yeah. I could have been done with dinner even sooner, but I decided to slice up some cucumbers and tomatoes, too. And clear the breakfast dishes off the table because….you know.

Who feels like a rock star? I do.

My plate. Blurry but tasty.

What’s awesome is that we had a great new meal (I never make taco salad!!) on the table fast, and we all enjoyed it. Plus, thanks to the grocery list and the quick shopping trip, I now have the ingredients in my fridge for the rest of this week’s meals, and now I know how long the others will take, so I can plan those nights.

Want to try it? Here’s a discount code for 15% off DINNER15. Considering that the plan is pretty inexpensive even without the code, and the grocery savings are nice, and the knowing what’s for dinner is priceless, the extra 15% off is icing on the cake! Click the link (image) below to sign up!

Disclosure: I am a member of the eMeals blogger network program and am also in the eMeals affiliate program. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions are mine.