Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to say thank you and Happy Holidays to my readers.  I have really enjoyed writing this blog the past few months.  I love being part of this area and enjoy the commuity that residents and local businesses have built together.

Happy Holidays

Tavolino Video

A short update today.  I was involved this past week creating a video to promote the Taste of the Boroughs event and one of the first confirmed participants: Tavolino.  I wanted to share the end results.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Thank you for the comments and encouragement with this blog.  I love being a part of the Boroughs and sharing my experiences.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Sledding in the Boroughs

As an adult, a snow storm usually just means shoveling and snow blowing.  Long gone are the days when I would tunnel into the snowbank and build elaborate forts with my friends.  But now that my boys are old enough to go out and have fun in the snow I have been looking for the best locations for them (and me) to go sledding.

Of course I could always just go to a ski mountain...there are many around.  If you are willing to spend a money you could stay local and go to Ski Ward in Shrewsbury.  I have not personally tried this mountain yet, but I know one friend who took his 5 year old for ski lessons last winter and he was really pleased.

Still, for sledding or tubing you shouldn't have to pay for a lift ticket.  Old school fun in the snow was my objective.  After Sunday's storm, I found what I was looking for at the Westborough Country Club on Rt 30.  I tried the same hill last year but my oldest was only 3 1/2.   At the time he was not really ready for the hill, but this year it was a different story.  I have to say thank you to Westborough.  This is a great hill.  Growing up in rural NY, there were lots of hills but most of the good one had signs saying keep out or they were directly in someone's backyard.  Here, pretty much in the center of town, is a public hill, parking, and a local community having fun.

I expected most of Westborough knew about this spot, but as I recounted the weekend activity to some friends I realized not everyone is aware.  For those who have not tried sledding at the Westborough Country Club, here are my thoughts on this location.
  1. Most of the kids there are around 8 - 12.  There are a couple that are older, and several parents with younger ones like mine...3 and 5, but the majority are in that bracket.
  2. The collective group of parents is great, they are looking out for each others kids, they remind kids to get out of the way when sledders are coming down.  It was nice to feel that community involvement.
  3. There are limited "punks".  I feel old saying it, but the punk kids are a pain.  The three times I spent sledding in Westborough I didn't find any punk kids.
  4. The hill is fun.  I hated when I was younger, after finding a hill that looked fun, discovering that after two runs it held no excitement.
  5. Maybe most importantly, parents can have fun too.  Some places seem to frown on parents enjoying the same things are our kids.  I for one am trying hard to never give up the simple enjoyments in life...sledding is one of the basics.
Click on the photos for larger images.

View of the whole hill

From the bottom of the run

Midway launch in the foreground, top of hill in the background

A fun run

I loved sledding with my boys at the Westborough Country Club.  I would have loved sledding alone, it is a fun hill.  I also realize not everyone is in Westborough so I took some time to talk to some other parents over the last two days and find other places I should check out.  Here is a collection of what I have found so far.  Please feel free to comment with additional hills that I missed.
  1. Northborough - The hill behind Proctor elementary school has been a long time favorite of many people. I haven't checked this one out yet.
  2. Northborough - There is a big hill in the back of the Rt. 135 Soccer fields.  There is a great playground there I tried in the summer, I think the Westborough hill is better then this one.
  3. Northborough - Bearfoot Rd at the National Grid building.  I tried to find this one today and failed.  Just a reference from a Northborough resident, but he claims that this one is the "best".
  4. Marlborough - Jericho Hill on Brigham St.  Every person I have talked to has described this hill as intense.  I know my boys are too young for an ex-ski slope.  I am saving this for a couple of years.
  5. Marlborough - Ward Park is said to have sledding but I don't see that hill being that exciting.  I am sure for little kids it works though.
  6. Westborough - Obviously I like the Westborough Country Club, but I am told there is also sledding at Chauncey Lake.  I am not sure where to be honest.
  7. Southborough - I asked a couple of my friends who are Southborough residents to help me with hills in Southborough.  The only two they knew of are the Fay School and St. Mark's Golf Club.  I tried to do a little research on both but didn't come up with much.
One last thing I want to point out...I in no way endorse trespassing onto private property to go sledding.  Maybe when I was a kid, but not now.  And I don't manage any of these locations so if they don't want sledding please follow their rules.  I know the Westborough Country Club and Jericho Hill are public sled areas, but I recommend you check first with the town or whoever owns the property in case I am mistaken.  Also, please be safe.

I am going to be checking out a few of these locations this winter...mostly because I love to go sledding too.  I'll add some comments to this post on any hills I really enjoy.  And I promise to not just take my boys word on it, I will try it out myself.  :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Back to (Grad) School

This week marks an exciting milestone for me.  I am down to one single class next spring standing between me and a masters degree.  For over two years I have been spending at least 2 nights a week attending classes at Clark University's COPACE.  My degree with be a masters of science in information technology (MSIT).  I noticed several billboards announcing the creation of the Clark University Southborough campus, and their MBA program.  I felt it was timely to share my experiences with Clark and their satellite campus as others may be interested in going back to school.

I spent a lot of time in 2007 looking for the best options for a degree program.  I was concerned about cost, reputation of the school, and actually learning something from the program.  Since I work in Cambridge I had two options; grad school in the city or a satellite school in or around the Boroughs.  After lots of evaluations, which would take at least three blogs worth of babble, I decided Clark was the best option for me.

When I began classes the Clark extension campus was located next to the Sheraton Framingham at the junction of I90 and RT9.  I spent a lot of time talking with people trying to determine the right degree for me.  Most managers automatically get an MBA.  I didn't think it fit what I did.  I manage some of the sharpest technical people around, I just didn't think refining my skills in finance and marketing would directly translate to work imporvments.  I wanted to stay focused on technology and I was lucky that Clark has a great program for this.  I restarted my education in the Clark Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program.  The focus of this degree is to further develop leadership skills while maintaining some depth of understanding in technology.

I can't lie and say every class taught me something earth-shatteringly new.  After 13 plus years managing technical engineers I have come across a lot of things and learned a ton, but the program at Clark did enhance what I knew.  It built on my experiences and at times reminded me of some things I had long since forgotten.  For example one class was Systems Analysis and Design.  At this point in my career I often assign that task out, but the class forced me to go back and remember all the best practices I used to use.  Now certain things are fresher in my head and I know this has helped professionally.  This class was taught by the Director of the MSIT program Dennis Wadsworth.  Getting to know him and see his passion for technology and the multiple generations of leaders in technology has been a great experience.

Another more transparent example is my recent New Media Technologies class.  Under the direction of Charles Kronauer, Senior Offerings Manager at EMC, I decided to start a blog...any here you are reading it.  I know a blog is not difficult technology, but combining it with twitter, Facebook, and other media sites, as helped me build an audience and allowed me to promote and review something I am passionate about, local businesses.  As I am emceeing the Taste of the Boroughs event in March, I have been using a lot of this newly acquired knowledge to create videos and other media for the event.  I am even working on a video right now for Tavolino based on my experiences and their involvement in the 2010 event.  I will link to it from the blog once I am done.  Overall I am impressed with the Clark program and I am proud to have been able to continue my education this many years after the partying and fun I remember from CMU.

Unfortunately the satellite campus in Framingham is now closed but the new campus in Southborough is about to open.  The building has a lot to offer that originally wasn't available in Framingham and better yet it is right here in the Boroughs.  Now this campus is going to offer the MBA program.  I don't have as much personal experience with the MBA program or their professors, but I know the university is committed to maintaining the same standard of education Clark is known for.

For those worried that they have the time...the Clark programs are easier to fit into a schedule then you would think.  I would leave work from Cambridge right at 5 on class days, and arrive in the Boroughs by 6:10  Classes started at 6:15.  Not much extra time, but like most professional programs Clark understands that many of us have full time jobs, and an occasional late is tolerated.  It meant that I didn't tuck my kids into bed one or two nights a week for a semester.  My kids are still young, I doubt they will even remember, but more then that I want them to always want to learn and have the desire to continue their education even after they are working professionally and become somewhat stable.  If I want them to have that drive, I better have it myself.

And just because the MBA wasn't right for me doesn't mean it isn't a great program.   Based on all I have learned I know it is a great program.  In fact I have actually be considering getting my MBA as well, those three letters mean a lot to many companies.  We'll see how that works out.  I wish MSIT or some sort of MTA (MTA is kinda my term, Masters of Technology Administration, at least I think it is my term, I haven't found it elsewhere yet) becomes a standard going forward.  Technical managers are more and more prevalent in the interconnected world we all live in.

MSIT program is not being offer in Southborough at this time, you have to drive to Worcester.  I do have some inside information that Clark is working on some new options for the MSIT program and ways that it would be offered but if that all comes to fruition it won't be until mid 2010.  I'll keep everyone posted.  Till then I am excited to have Clark in the Boroughs and I encourage anyone considering going back to school to look into Clark for this option.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lobster Anyone?

I know summertime is usually the most common time for lobster specials but over the past couple of weeks I have been seeing lobster specials at several local restaurants and I found two dishes that I really enjoyed.

Sans kids
Grandma was in town a couple of weeks ago and my wife and I took advantage of the free babysitting to use an old gift card to one of the restaurants run by the Worcester restaurant group.  We have visited the Sole Proprietor and 111 Chop House many times in the past so we decided to try Via.Italian Table.  Overall the meal was good and as expected a bit pricey, but the one thing that really stood out was the appetizer.

Via was offering lobster garlic bread as a special appetizer offered that evening.  This appetizer is amazing.  A large slice of Italian bread brushed with garlic and butter, topped with large chunks of lobster and several kinds of cheese.  It was then baked and served with marinara sauce.  My original though for tonight's blog was another lobster dish, but since I am still thinking of the lobster garlic bread at Via and it may have influenced my decision elsewhere I decided I had to give it the credit it deserved.

With the kids
Now onto my original thoughts for tonight.  Last week I went to dinner at the Chateau in Westborough.  as I think about it now I don't think I ever appreciated the Chateau in Waltham when I lived there...or the one in Westborough is just better.  Maybe "family dining" doesn't really make sense until you have a family.  Whatever the reason I do enjoy the Chateau in Westborough.  I have a few standards that I order, but nothing really exciting just a standard good meal..  My kids stick to the pizza and the chicken fingers, as many kids do, and recently mine have added mozzarella sticks.  The meal at the Chateau is always good, the service is fast, and the prices are reasonable.  I also like the that atmosphere is slightly noisy.  I know my kids have not mastered the volume control on their voices yet and I hate to bother others with a 4 year old's over exuberance for chocolate milk.

Last week on my visit to the Chateau I was in the mood for something different.  As I was looking at the specials menu I noticed a special that included mini lobster casserole, with the choice of either broiled scallops, baked stuffed shrimp, marinated sirloin tips, or grilled turkey tips.  This is served with rice Florentine and a vegetable for $19.99.  I must have still had lobster on the brain from the garlic bread so lobster sounded really good.  I ordered the lobster casserole with the steak tips.

I was actually amazed at how good this entree was.  Please don't misunderstand I know the Chateau has good food and the general manager, Michelle Sweet, runs a great restaurant, but this was far better then I expected.  I think the biggest win was the size of the lobster in the mini casserole.  There were huge chucks of lobster.  I tried to take a photo with my poor excuse for a phone camera to give readers an idea of the size of this dish.  This was the best I could do as I started getting weird stares from the table next to me.  Unfortunately the image doesn't really do it justice.  

The meal was so good last week, I took the kids out to dinner again tonight...mostly so I could have the same dish again.  I am happy to report the second consumption of this special mostly held up to my inflated memory of the first time.  I say mostly only because the tips were a done a little too much for me this time.  I like to hear the faint moo coming from my steak and these were a little over medium.  The first time they were perfect still tonight they were tasty, and the lobster was, once again, the star of the show.

If you think a good lobster dish is only avaible in the summer, I say think again.  The Chateau has twice proven to me that they know how to please a lobster lovers palete with potions that will definately fill you up.  I may have to take the kids again with grandma when she visits later this month.  Lobster love runs in our family, she would be upset if I don't include her in this find.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beer Cookies at Vin Bin

I mentioned on Sunday that I wanted to try the beer cookie...but ended up at a wine tasting, not a bad night but I still wanted to try the beer cookie.  This all began when I was logged into my twitter account Friday night and I noticed a retweet from Taste of the Boroughs about Beer Cookies being sold at the Vin Bin in Marlborough starting today.  Now I enjoy a quality brew as much as anyone, but in my years of running up bar tabs I have yet to encounter a "beer cookie".  I was intrigued and attempted an early evaluation on Sunday but it took till today to actually get my hands on the snack.

Rick Lombardi, Vin Bin owner, was kind enough to share some of his beer cookie samples so I could write today's blog.  I decided the best way to experience the beer cookie was to of course enjoy a beer as well.  One of my favorite brews Dogfish is carried at Vin Bin so I grabbed a couple of bottles and headed home to evaluate my new find.

At first I tried the beer cookie alone and the flavor was a bit overwhelmed with fennel.  But when I opened a Dogfish I really enjoyed the beer cookie.  The powerful fennel works better as a compliment to the hops in the beer.  The cookie is somewhat like a crisp bagel but not as crunchy as a pretzel with fennel flavor.  I only tried the original, but I believe there is a pepper flavor. 

After a little research I found out that Matt Virzi is the owner of Bokos bakery in Shrewsbury and the creator of the beer cookie.  Matt created the beer cookie by modifying his grandmothers recipe for taralli to, among other things, include beer in the ingredients.  For the Italian cooks out there taralli is pretty well known but this was my first experience.

As I said, I enjoyed the beer cookie, especially with the beer. :-)  And it does seem to enhance the flavor of the brew.  If you don't like beer or if you hate fennel I am not sure the beer cookie will please your palette but as I tell my 5 year old, you can't be sure until you try it.  Currently the Vin Bin is one of a select few Boroughs location where you can find the beer cookie.  Congrats to the Vin Bin for supporting local business by carrying this item.  We'll see who else in the Boroughs picks up this unique item.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Packed into the Vin Bin

I may be in the minority here, but I am happy to greet winter and our first lasting snow.  After lots of running around today I stopped in Marlborough to visit Rick at the Vin Bin.  I wanted to try one of the Beer Cookies that he will begin carrying this week.  Unfortunately Rick was out of samples and I'll have to wait till Tuesday for my first taste of the beer cookie.  I may have failed in my quest for a beer cookie but I succeeded in walking into a wine tasting.
The Vin Bin, a long time supporter of many community events and activities was running a wine tasting to help raise funding for the Marlborough High School 2010 Seniors All-nighter.  The All-nighter is an alcohol- and drug-free event following the Senior Prom. Funding for this event comes entirely from the community, the school district does not provide monetary support for this event.  I love the irony ...holding a wine tasting to support an alcohol free event.  But it is a great event and the tasting was a lot of fun as well.

I really enjoyed talking to a fellow residents sampling the wine that Rick had on special.  The Vin Bin was packed with people as you can see by the photos I snapped with the blackberry.  Rick, as usual, did a great job of pulling out all the stops for the event.  There were several great wines to taste, with special prices for tonight ranging from under $15 to around $50.  

The Vin Bin also had a great cheese and cracker assortment for everyone to enjoy.  And, one of my personal favorites, dark chocolate covered pretzels.  Rick mentioned that he had several events planned for the upcoming weeks, too many to mention here, but I am happy to pass on the link to the Vin Bin event calendar. I have been to several Vin Bin tastings over the past 5 years.  Rick really does a nice job with the tastings and consistently supports the organizations in this area.  .

I enjoyed the MHS event and I am proud to have stumbled upon a way to support them.  Thank you Vin Bin.  And Congrats to the organizers of the All-nighter for getting the word out.  I'll even help, the next opportunity that I know of to help support the All-nighter is:

Tuesday December 15th
Bertucci's of Marlborough

The Vin Bin had a flyer on the counter advertising the next MHS All-nighter events at Bertucci's of Marlborough..  If you present this half sheet of paper on any purchases at Bertucci's in Marlborough on 12/15 10% of your bill will be given to the MHS Senior All-nighter.  This is valid for carry-in or take out.  Reading this online makes it hard to have the flyer, so I scanned mine to make it as easy as possible to support these efforts.  If anyone from MHS reads this, please feel free to comment with a link to other events.  Hopefully Bertucci's will be happy with the printed I did a little searching on-line but failed to find a listing of the fundraising activities for this event.

I just opened the bottle of Riesling I picked up at the Vin Bin tonight, time to sit back and relax.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is there a key lime yogurt shortage?

I know this is a slight diversion to my usual blog but after talking about Roche Bros catering, the events this evening fit the theme of local supermarkets.  My wife stopped on the way home from work at Stop and Shop to pick up a couple of items.  One item we hoped to pick up was key lime pie yogurt, but there was no key lime pie yogurt for us this evening.

Let me explain some background first...I have mentioned in past blogs that my kids are extremely picky about what they will eat.  Breakfast is no exception.  A typical breakfast includes a bagel or toast, yogurt, and/or Cheerios...simple/basic/reasonably nutritious.  We used to have different kinds of yogurt when the kids were infants, all flavors of yo-baby were acceptable.  As we shifted to regular Yoplait yogurt, we tried to include several flavors to maintain the variety the kids were used to.

At some point my oldest tried key lime pie Yoplait yogurt and decided all other flavors were inferior.  Although it is quite sweet, there are far worse things to be a breakfast standard so we didn't fight when he stopped wanting any other flavor.

Now to my question and the topic of this blog...are all the kids in Westborough focused on key lime pie yogurt.  I consistently can't find key lime pie flavor original Yoplait.  Consistently to the point where I have been keeping track.  In the past 4 months 18 of our 24 visits to the three Westborough grocery stores resulted in failure to find the key lime pie flavor.  There are great sales rotating through Roche Bros and Stop and Shop every couple of weeks, 20 yogurts for $10.  Every time I catch this sale and a store stocked with key lime flavor, I buy the entire shelf because all too often I can't find this flavor.  I am sure that contributes to the shortage, but is everyone out there on the same quest?  Most other flavors always seem to be available.

Tonight was another instance when we came up empty handed in our search for key lime pie.  A note to the stores in the area, it may be time to order more.  :-)

Roche Bros Catering

I love to cook, and I love to entertain.  A great combination but over the past couple of years I have started using Roche Bros for almost all of the events where I am providing the food.  I like to show off and I pride myself on being a good cook, but Roche Bros provides better food at a reasonable price through their catering department.  It makes more sense for me to focus on other aspects of my parties and with Roche Bros catering I am confident that the food I ordered will impress my guests and enhance the event.

I will admit that so far my experiences have been focused on cheese platters or hot and cold appetizers.  I haven't tried the entrees, salads, or desserts but based on my experience I would be willing to try any of them.  I am 100% satisfied with what Roche Bros catering in Westborough has provided so far.  Here are some specifics as to why:

  • Quality - The food is great.  At one annual party I order honey stung drummies, bacon wrapped scallops, sesame chicken, fried mozzarella and ravioli, coconut shrimp, and beef teriyaki skewers.  Every item was delivered hot, fresh and was very tasty.  At several other events I have ordered the European cheese classic which includes Camembert, plain, pepper and herb Brie, Danish Havarti and Fontina.  This platter is amazing.  Everyone loved it so much at one party, attendees asked if I had found a gourmet cheese shop.  I was happy to direct them to Roche Bros. 
  • Selection - There is an almost overwhelming number of options from Roche Bros catering. They also just redesigned their catering menu, Roche Bros Catering, to highlight all of the options.  I had trouble choosing what was right for my first event but I talked to Denise, the catering manager, and she took the time to cover options the would fit my event.
  • Service - I have mentioned many times, that service is often the most important aspect to anything I do.  Denise is obviously committed to serving her customers.  Denise and I have talked several times while I plan my parties.  Each time she find new ways to be helpful.  One party I even asked her deliver the food in two batches to help manage the event.  She was more the willing to accommodate the request.  The delivery drivers are also courteous and efficient.  When they arrived they even took a moment to help get things set up.  They even took away the boxes for me as I set up the displays.  Obviously this is more then the standard drop off services.  It shows that customer service and repeat business is critical to their management and employees. 
For my grocery needs I am not exclusively a Roche Bros shopper, but I frequent the store.  For my catering needs, Roche Bros has become my go to location.  The Roche Bros in Westborough, and the corporate Roche Bros organization, strive to be more customer service focused then others.  And I am proud to say I feel they are committed to the community.  There have been several articles and blogs about the community support Roche Bros offers and my experiences are no different. 

Through some of the community organizations I participate in, I have gotten to know Kevin Fry, the manager at the Westborough Roche Bros.  Kevin consistantly deminstrates support for the area.  He seems proud to contribute to community events and support the Boroughs.  This is exactly the type of business and manager the Boroughs deserves.  And these interactions that make me proud to patronize the store in Westborough.