Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 by Sherry Friel
Nathaniel is a big believer in presentation.....not only does the recipe need to TASTE good, it should look good too!
I’m not sure when it all started, but it’s safe to say at this point that my 11-year-old son Nathaniel loves food. I know, most people find great pleasure in enjoying a good meal, but believe me, my son’s love of cuisine goes beyond a few favorite dishes. This is something different. This kid was just 5 years old when, to my amazement, he perfectly cracked an egg into a bowl for a recipe-no shell fragments, just a clean break along the center and an intact egg white and yolk in the bowl. How does he do that? To this day, he still cracks eggs for me because I have yet to prepare a dish without having to fish eggshell remnants from the batter.
Indeed, Nathaniel is passionate about food and obsessed with the spices, herbs and preparation of just about any dish you can imagine. His grocery store lists have included cilantro, red curry powder, chili powder, onion, and more. In the kitchen, he flies from counter to counter, chopping this, blending that, and tasting it all. In advance of planning a dish, he’ll declare he wants to create the most “legendary sandwich ever” or a sauce that is “epic.” It is no exaggeration when I tell friends he’d be just as happy with a new KitchenAid stand mixer or Cuisinart panini press as he would with the latest Apple product.
I’ve learned from him too. Did you know that if you press a divot in the center of a thick burger, it cooks more evenly? And never, ever pierce the burger while it is cooking, because you will lose the juice that makes it extra tasty. Another tip from Nathaniel is to only flip the burger once if you can help it. It’s just better that way. And perfect popcorn? Not a problem. To get his secret mixture of butter and seasonings evenly distributed, he uses a large container with a lid so he can shake it all together. I enjoy his popcorn so much I’m afraid to ask just how much butter is involved.
His specialties, to date, are guacamole dip, hot sandwiches, and breakfast food. He’s still working on the perfect soup, and has recently developed an interest in making spicy sauces, calamari, and soda. He has tried recipes for all of the aforementioned except calamari, but I have a feeling we will be visiting one of Virginia Beach’s many seafood markets in search of fresh squid really soon.
I wish I could say I have been a good influence on his eating habits, but I take absolutely no credit. Perhaps he was inspired by movies such as Ratatouille, or watching his uncle Randy prepare one of his many sumptuous meals in our kitchen. Or it could have been that everywhere in Virginia Beach, and I do mean everywhere, the aromas of a variety of foods waft through the air starting at lunchtime and into the evening. Shopping at Hilltop or strolling the sidewalks of Town Center can certainly be a sensory feast. Many a time Nathaniel has exclaimed how his mouth simply drooled as we inhaled the scent of hickory-smoked air infused with notes of Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mediterranean, or Mexican cuisine. Just try shopping for office supplies anywhere in the city without stopping somewhere to eat. It’s practically impossible and we have yet to try it all! So it came as no surprise when Virginia Beach’s foodie focus got a nod from Huffington Post’s Andrea Poe. According to the article, the region boasts an abundance of locally-sourced food and a thriving culinary scene. We know, we know!
We are fortunate to live near Hilltop and La Promenade, home to two highly-rated kitchen supply stores. I have no doubt the time we spent exploring these stores played a role in inspiring my son’s interests. We’ve spent many an afternoon perusing kitchen tools, dreaming of new recipes to try, or talking about cooking classes to take. Additionally, we recently found an extensive selection of cookbooks at the Virginia Beach Public Library and that has inspired even more ideas for fun in the kitchen.
One can only imagine where Nathaniel’s interests will be as he matures and enters adulthood, but it’s a pretty sure bet his passion for good food is here to stay. With the start of school, he hasn’t had much time for cooking. Homework takes priority and it’s driving him crazy. Just the other day as he worked through math problems, I chopped the ingredients for the tacos he wanted to make. Ordinarily, he prefers to prepare the ingredients himself, but he reluctantly allowed me back into the kitchen. I was given very specific instructions too: “Chop the lettuce really fine, okay? Just make it lots of little strips” and “You can keep the onions and tomatoes a little chunky. You don’t have to chop those as small.” I felt as if the roles had reversed! For the first time, he was telling me how to prepare a meal. And that is just fine by me. I gratefully hand over the spatula and cutting board. Bon appetite!
Photo credits: Sherry Friel
Friday, September 5th, 2014 by Sherry Friel
This week in The Beach Report we’re treated to the fruits of others getting up with the sun – amazing dawn sunrise shots! Thank you, Sherry & Nathaniel, for the pics and the post. Have a great weekend, everyone!
Good morning sunshine!
And when the morning light comes streaming in, I’ll get up and do it again. Amen.
-Jackson Browne, The Pretender
Okay, I should admit this right off the bat: I like to sleep in. Late. The idea of venturing out to watch the sun rise has never been at the top of my list of fun things to do in Virginia Beach, but somehow, by some divine miracle, I found myself awake before dawn a couple weeks ago. After gazing up at the starry sky and noting the time, I realized if I woke up my 11-year-old son Nathaniel (who also enjoys sleeping in), we’d have just enough time to walk the beach and see the day’s first rays of sunlight. Nathaniel was happily snoozing away when I whispered in his ear, “if we go right now, we can see the sun rise.” And guess what? He rose immediately! After hastily dressing and grabbing my camera and some coffee, we headed out, arriving at the oceanfront beneath a dark and hazy sky. We could still see stars.
After slipping off my sandals, and walking the path to the water, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to juggle both camera and coffee. So I stowed my cup behind a bench and wandered out into the darkness. We were completely alone. Just my son, my camera, and the sky. Within minutes, the sky started lightening up, and a pink/orange haze emerged. Those same colors reflected in the rippling water and waves. And then slowly, ever so slowly, the pink turned more orange and deepened. The clouds took on an other-worldly quality with vibrant colors, layers, depths and surreal dimensions that had me hypnotized. So I started snapping photo after photo after photo. After 1,000 shots (yes, 1,000) I decided it was time to head back home.
As I hesitantly took the path toward home, I looked over my shoulder, hoping for one more glimpse of that luminous sky. But the sun wasn’t finished with its show. It had more beauty to reveal, more magic to share with me, so I heeded its call. I am so happy I did not give up and go home too soon, because what happened next was amazing. The sun, partially obscured by clouds, peeked out and shone like a brilliant orange globe onto the water below.
Some days, when life feels especially chaotic, I pull up my sunset photos and remember how it felt to be powerfully compelled, called, and drawn to the water and sky in a way that suspended every single fear, every single worry, and every single anxious thought. And now I am pleased to have some sun rise portraits to reflect on. I think if I could head to the beach every morning, and meditate on the beauty of this extraordinary gift lapping at my feet over and over and over and refusing to let me go, then perhaps it would be easier to let go of the things that worry me. I continue to believe living the life truly does mean basking in its beauty in a way that inspires inner reflection and a deeper peace. In Virginia Beach, it’s waiting for you every morning. Sometimes you just have to set down the coffee and let the sunlight do it’s magic.
Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 by Sherry Friel
It has certainly been a fast-paced, fun-filled summer! It’s hard to believe Fall is almost upon us. Where did the time go? Those who live the life in Virginia Beach tend to deny summer is over well into November because the Virginia Beach weather is so mild. With school having officially started, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the season and recap a few of its highlights:
The Adventure Park. I cannot rave enough about this newest attraction in Virginia Beach. It’s an aerial park in the forest custom-built for tree-climbing, adventure-seeking adults and children. This unique park features 170 tree platforms, ziplines, and 13 different color-coded aerial trails for novice as well as advanced climbers. It was such a hit with my 11-year-old son Nathaniel that we’ve already made plans to return.
Sublime Relaxation. When I reflect on the moments that gave me the most pleasure over the summer, my mind always goes back to that 86-degree day I spent in a beach chair, finishing up the mystery novel Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. It was the most relaxed I had been in quite some time and I allowed myself to sink heavy in the chair and alternate between reading, sleeping, and enjoying the sights, sounds, and relaxed rhythm at the shoreline.
Surfing. We’ve maintained a hectic pace this summer, and while it wasn’t easy getting up early for swim team practice or martial arts classes, I have to appreciate the muscles and increased strength my son gained through his commitment to these activities. He is now able to keep paddle out and surf right alongside his Dad, and I even witnessed them catching the same wave together! It warms my heart to see them bond this way. When a father and son share a passion, it’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
Now that he is officially a pre-teen, (or is he a tween?), it’s obvious Nathaniel will continue seeking greater challenges. Watching him swim with ease, scale tall trees, and surf bigger and bigger waves has been a huge leap of faith for me as a parent. Of course I worry, but I can’t help but feel grateful we live in Virginia Beach, a city that seems to continuously grow and change in ways that excite his spirit and make family life all the more fun. It’s a wonderful place to live the life, a fabulous place to call home.
Photo credits: Sherry Friel
Friday, July 18th, 2014 by Sherry Friel
Local blogger and mom Sherry Friel is definitely in tune with all the latest outdoor fun in Virginia Beach. She and son Nathaniel took on our newest attraction and her post gives us all the details – enjoy this fun read!
Virginia Beach gives “adventure” two snaps, a twist and a ZIP!
We did it ! My 11-year-old son Nathaniel and I spent an afternoon and evening at Virginia Beach’s newest attraction-The Adventure Park. There’s been a great deal written in local newspapers and on the city’s tourism web site about this aerial tree park at Virginia Aquarium. I even wrote a column myself in anticipation of what we were about to experience. But truth be told, the park exceeded any expectations I had by such a long shot that I am hesitant to even attempt to describe the fun we had. You just have to go there. I can say that the park was much larger than I expected. It also was more challenging for the mind, body and spirit than I imagined. In addition, experiencing it when the sun was low in the sky until after sunset made the time even more special. The park is open until 11 p.m during the summer so we timed it just right to enjoy the unique appeal of it at night.
When I say The Adventure Park was larger than I expected, I am not only referring to scale, but the varying levels of difficulty it offers to kids and adults. The 170 tree platforms, ziplines, and 13 different color-coded aerial trails were challenging enough for novice as well as advanced climbers. When I first entered the park, I felt a bit overwhelmed as I tried to take in all the options. Fortunately, the staff does a fantastic job at gauging your level and leading you through the courses accordingly.
To say the Adventure Park is a challenging experience for the mind and body is an understatement. After observing people of all ages for several hours, I now believe it to be a phenomenal growth experience for anyone. I watched my son and his friend, in the course of just three hours, go from being timid and unsure about navigating their way through the trails to wanting to tackle harder courses. Their words as we exited the park, “We will be back.” As a parent I am always searching for ways my son can grow and build confidence. Our climbing adventure was definitely time well spent and we look forward to returning really soon.
Summer is a crazy busy time for active families, and there never seems to be enough time during the day to do everything. When I started planning this special birthday outing for my son, I had to work around not only his summer schedule, but his friend’s plans as well. When I realized the park was open until 11 p.m., I was so relieved. Yes, I thought, we will be able to proceed with any plans we had during the day and do the Adventure Park too. But I worried that the kids wouldn’t be able to see the trails very well in the dark. I also was concerned they would be too tired. Of course I worried needlessly. They were able to work through the trails just fine at around 7 p.m., and after it got dark, the entire forest is beautifully illuminated with twinkling lights strung through the trees. It took on a truly magical quality after dark, and only enhanced what was already a wonderful experience. We stayed until 10 p.m. and practically had to drag them out. The boys were just getting started!
I wholeheartedly recommend The Adventure Park for active, outdoors-loving kids and adults. In fact, when a 20-something neighbor asked my advice on an interesting place to take his girlfriend, I told him about this amazing aerial park. After they went, he was excited to tell me it was PERFECT and they had the best time! Do I foresee an Adventure Park wedding theme in their future? Why not!? I can’t think of a more exciting way to start Living the Life together!
Photo credits: Sherry Friel
Friday, June 27th, 2014 by Sherry Friel
We shoot, we score! Yesterday, reporter Jillian Beck of the The Virginian-Pilot wrote an article that included the following information: “The Natural Resources Defense Council’s report, “Testing the Waters 2014: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” named Virginia Beach’s Little Island Beach North and Back Bay Beach, and the areas around testing sites at 28th and 45th streets in the resort area, in the nation’s top 35 beaches, based on the seashores meeting water-quality standards for the past five years. The Natural Resources Defense Council is an international nonprofit environmental organization.” So it’s very fitting that today in The Beach Report, blogger Sherry Friel shares a post about our three different beaches and their unique vibes. Thank you, Natural Resource Defense Council and great timing, Sherry! Have a great weekend, everyone.
Living the balanced life in Virginia Beach, where families enjoy three different beaches, each with a unique vibe
I consider myself an avid listener. Whether talking intimately with a friend at a restaurant, or gleaning fragments of others’ conversations around me at the beach, I enjoy hearing what people care about, what they worry about, and what makes them happy. I spend a lot of time around families with small children, and one refrain I hear from parents over and over is the fact that everyone seems to worry-a lot-about scheduling just the right mixture and intensity of summertime activities for their children. How much time at the beach is too much? And which beach is best? Should we skip the beach and head for the pool or Ocean Breeze Water Park?
Answers to those questions most certainly vary, as every child is different, but some of the best decisions I’ve made regarding my 11-year-old son Nathaniel have come from intuition rather than the advice of friends. My better decisions come when I actively listen to my son and get a feel for what he wants rather than what I would have wanted to do at his age. This seems like such an easy thing, but for me it’s not, because often what I enjoy is so different from my son’s ideas about which activities and destinations are fun and rewarding.
I’m getting better at anticipating what Nathaniel enjoys though. After reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, I realized that while my son is a true extravert, I am his polar opposite: an introvert. He thrives on the energy of crowds, people, and conversation. I, on the other hand, feel drained by the buzz of too much stimulation and activity. I crave quiet conversation with a friend, solitude, and pastimes such as reading. The sort of dizzying pace he seeks out drains me. Our differences, now that I understand them better, complement rather than conflict with one another. Nathaniel’s influence has me getting out and socializing more, and my influence encourages him to settle down and focus on calming activities. It’s a good balance.
Friday, June 20th, 2014 by Sherry Friel
Editor’s Note; This week in The Beach Report, blogger Sherry Friel shares her take on just one of the joys of being a local. Don’t forget that Sandstock – A Tribute to Rock and Roll – begins tonight at the Oceanfront and the bi-weekly firework shows start next weekend (weather permitting). After a long, hard winter, summer’s here, people………woooooooo hooooooooo!!
Recently I’ve found myself dining in new places, meeting new people, and enjoying more time at the Oceanfront than ever before. The weather in Virginia Beach has been glorious, and this precious time out and about has given me new energy. I am excited about what’s to come in the summer months ahead, and if the past couple weeks are any indication, Living the Life in this unique oceanfront city keeps getting better each season.
If you haven’t visited the resort area lately, one thing you’ll notice is more and more restaurants along Laskin Road now offer patio dining. This makes perfect sense in a beach town such as ours, where no one really wants to go indoors, not even to eat. My family always seeks out restaurants with patios and lately I’ve found myself falling a little in love with more than a few. While I am not a food or restaurant critic by any means, I’d like to offer the top destinations where my family has enjoyed the service, food and atmosphere in equal measures. It was so hard to pick just four because honestly, there are so many wonderful restaurants in our city. You really can’t go wrong, but we’ve found the following offer something special:
Catch 31 Fish House & Bar - Located adjacent to our incredible Boardwalk, my family thinks Catch 31 is the place to enjoy the very best of the beach. Situated on a gorgeous, expansive terrace, the restaurant specializes in offering guests panoramic views of the Boardwalk, the Atlantic Ocean and evening entertainment at Neptune’s Park. My 10-year-old son and I ate lunch there after enjoying the recent Boardwalk Art Show and it was pure bliss. Service was fast and we ate a simple meal of burgers and fries that was tasty and cooked to perfection. Entertainment starts daily at 7 p.m. Check out the 31st Street Stage Schedule and plan a trip soon to this very special restaurant. The highlight for me was the gentleman passing by on bicycle with a small, white terrier in the basket. The dog sported a pair of sunglasses and appeared to be smiling as he breezed by. I attempted to snap a photo of the bicycling duo, but by the time I got the camera out, they were long gone.
Chops - This patio is a people-watcher’s paradise. I took my Dad, a friend, and my son here for dinner and we were delighted at every turn. Chops offers a fabulous bar and patio menu with selections such as burgers, crab cakes, and fish tacos. We enjoyed light acoustic guitar music while marveling at the number of vintage cars passing by. It was the perfect spot to watch visitors and locals enjoying the shops along the newly-developed 31 Ocean complex. And, as a side note, the gentleman with the sunglass-sporting dog in his bike basket made an appearance here too! This time, I had the camera ready and snapped this pretty neat photo.
El Taco Loco - If you’re looking for a quieter patio dining experience, right off the bat I’d recommend El Taco Loco. This Mexican restaurant is just two miles from the resort area and nestled among the Shops at Hilltop-Hilltop East to be precise. My family has eaten here a number of times and the food, service, and atmosphere have been consistently good.
Aldo’s Ristorante - Gorgeous, gorgeous fine Italian dining at Aldo’s Ristorante is a sweet indulgence we reserve for special occasions. This is one restaurant where we are just as happy eating indoors as out on the patio because it is just so beautiful! Just a few miles from the resort area, this local’s favorite is in La Promenade Shoppes at 1860 Laskin Rd.
I could honestly write pages regarding my favorite patio restaurants in Virginia Beach. They are becoming more commonplace and that is a good thing. I have yet to try them all, but next on my growing list of restaurants offering waterfront/patio dining is Buoy 44. I recently saw an article about it that described a laid back, casual atmosphere catering to families and many locals. I can’t wait to give it a try. Its precise location is 4536 Ocean View Ave. That’s just off of Shore Drive, where the beach on the gorgeous Chesapeake Bay also has a laid back vibe. Sounds like the perfect place for our family, or one of them anyway! It’s going to be a long summer but I suspect we will not run out of fun places to eat, especially outdoors or along the water.
Photo credits: Sherry Friel
Friday, June 13th, 2014 by Sherry Friel
Nathaniel manning his lemonade stand
As far as timeless childhood pastimes go, hosting a lemonade stand is probably right up there with learning to ride a bike without training wheels. It’s an unwritten rule that every kid must, at some point prior to the age of 10, run a lemonade stand featuring the ice-cold beverage and a few snacks for sale.
Now, I don’t know if it was the particularly wet, dreary weather we had this winter, but my 10-year-old son Nathaniel and his 9-year-old buddy had lots of indoor time on their hands to plan the most elaborate lemonade stand in the history of lemonade stands in our neighborhood. After witnessing the level of detail these two went into prior to having their first sale last weekend, I have no doubt these kids are going to move mountains in their future. And I don’t even want to hear my son complain about his homework because nothing he’s even done in school could rival the work he put into this stand.
Here’s a rundown of the steps leading up to the big day, based on the mountain of lists, construction paper, and posterboard I finally rifled through out of curiosity. Well, truth be told, I had to finally remove these items from my table in order to make sure the table was indeed still there.