Summer School (at the Grape Escape in Dayton)

Snack time at winemaking school.

This week brought me back to school for workshops, and getting organized and prepared for school to start up again in September.  But that’s it.  Everything is finished and now, my vacation can really begin.

Though the school year has ended, I won’t be entirely without some kind of school this summer.  I’m attending Winemaking School at the Grape Escape in Dayton with friends from work.  We’re learning how to make a Syrah from Chile, but there is actually a whole lot more “friends” to this experience than there is “school.”  The guides are a ton of fun and full of great information, but when we’re not working with them on the wine we get to hang out and socialize a bit.  There are tables and couches set up for groups to bring their own snacks and drinks.  In between the “lessons” this is a great place to catch up with friends – or to come on your own to make some new ones.


Stirring the mixture after the grapes were first crushed.

Checking the sugar content.

We’ve had two classes so far.  The first day, we crushed the grapes.  The tiny, dark grapes were dumped – stems and all – into a machine that separated them, began to crush them, and got rid of any material we didn’t need.  Our wine was pumped into the storage vat, and we checked the sugar levels.

Everything checked out nicely and our wine was left to begin fermenting.  I was surprised to learn that the wine is drinkable at every stage of the process – I’m not sure why I didn’t think that would be the case, but it is.  We got to taste our wine that we had just crushed, and it was a sweet, fresh juice.  We were told that from the taste of this initial juice, we would get a good sense of what the final wine will taste like.  We’ll see!

And Pressed

It's a group effort!

On our second day of class, a few weeks after the crushing – when most of the fermentation that will happen has already taken place – we pressed the grapes.  This process promised to be just as messy, if not messier, than the first day so I came prepared in dark colors.  We pressed the wine – extracting the juice from the “must” and sent it into the oak barrels for another few weeks or so.  The remaining solid parts of the grapes were collected to be used for agricultural purposes – nothing was wasted.

Our freshly pressed wine on its way to the oak barrel.

We have two more sessions of Winemaking School to go: racking and bottling.  This is a really fun process and definitely something I would consider doing again in the future.  It makes for a great family activity – the kids can come and be a part of the entire process – and gives everyone a fun reason to get together.

I’m thinking I might even try to persuade some family members in the area to go in on a barrel with me.  Maybe I can get a few family stories out of them for the genealogy project while we’re there…

The Jersey Girl

Spring Lake Five (May 2011)

And they're off...

For many New Jerseyans, summer begins with the Spring Lake Five, a five-mile run held in Spring Lake, NJ on Memorial Day weekend.  This race is over thirty years old, but still maintains a non-commercial and community feel.

About 500 runners participated in the first race in 1977, and then just a few years later, over 1000 runners were participating.  Those numbers continued to grow over the years, and this year, there were over 8,000 people – of various running abilities – running in the race.

My sister was one of them.

The first to cross the finish line.

Though she’s been running for a few years now, this was her first race.  She was a little nervous at the start, but she had been training, and I knew she would be great.  She was going to be running with friends and knew that by being there, she was helping to support a good cause.  Several good causes, actually.

The first woman to cross the finish line.

Proceeds from the race fees go to support Spring Lake recreation and local charitable organizations.  Since 2002, over $500,000 has been raised for recreation programs and charitable projects.

With my sister right before she ran the Spring Lake Five.

This year’s charity partners included The Sharing Network Foundation, The Wellness Community, Arthritis Foundation, Holiday Express, Charity House Foundation, The Front and Center Fund, Ocean of Love, Team in Training, The JT Foundation 4 Autism Awareness, Covenant House, and Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign.

My sister did do really well, just as I expected.  And though my role at this year’s race was simply as a spectator, a photographer, and a supporter, I could feel the contagious excitement of those who participated, and perhaps next year I’ll run in the race too.

But I’ll have a lot of training to do before I’m ready!

The Jersey Girl

Rutgers Day is almost here!

Spring break is over.  We’re back to school.  But this time, we’re revived and refreshed, and now the light at the end of the tunnel, the countdown to the summer, has officially begun.  (There are 39 days for me.)

Warmer weather events are in full swing, like this weekend’s Rutgers Day.  On Saturday, on three RU campuses (Busch, College Ave, and Cook/Douglass) there will be hundreds of different things to do and see: we’ll be able to see solar power displays, learn about faith traditions from around the world, build and fly kites, and make liquid nitrogen ice cream.  (You know that last one definitely caught my attention!)

I'm going to check out how to make liquid nitrogen ice cream at Rutgers Day this year! (photo from the Rutgers Day blog)

There is literally something for every age and every interest at Rutgers Day.  Check out the main Rutgers Day website and the special Rutgers Day blog for more information.

My RU t-shirt, comfy sneakers, and sunscreen are all ready to go for Saturday.  Hope to see you there!

The Jersey Girl

Picture Perfect: Cherry Blossoms in NJ

In all my years of living in New Jersey, I’ve never been to Branch Brook Park in Newark – that is, until today.

Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark NJ (photo taken on my cell phone)

I visited the crowded Essex County park today, on the last day of Blossomfest.  I was among hundreds and hundreds of people in Cherry Blossom Land, capturing signs of spring.  It truly was a gorgeous sight.

Hope your Sunday is Picture Perfect as well…

The Jersey Girl

The Jersey Shore Restaurant Week Wrap-Up

Delicious BBQ served by Prime in Point Pleasant.



Good News and Bad News
The good news is that the last couple of days have been packed with really good NJ events.  The bad news, is that (sadly) Jersey Shore Restaurant Week has come to a close.

The fun entertainment for the day was just getting warmed up.



A BBQ at the end of the event, but at the start of the season…
Saturday, The Elks lodge in Point Pleasant served beer and BBQ when they hosted the event “Get to the Point.”   Guests got to sample a variety of beers (admittedly not something I know very much about).  I can tell you some beers were dark and others light.  (But I really don’t know what any of that really means.)  What I do know a little about is food, and the food served that day was simply amazing!  Prime, the official caterer of the Point Pleasant Elks, served ribs, corn, macaroni salad, chicken chili, and the most amazing pulled pork spring roll!  From the outside, this spring roll looked like it might contain some vegetables or other expected ingredients, but it was like an afternoon BBQ rolled up into a tidy, fried package and placed on our plates.  So delicious!

My parents, enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon at Avenue in Long Branch.

An elegant day at the beach…
Sunday brought a completely different venue and completely different food.  The Avenue, in Long Branch’s Pier Village hosted the final event of the week.  There, wines were paired with a variety of their own menu items.  There were salads, main courses, and desserts to try.  A favorite dish from this event for me was the stuffed zucchini.  The same stuffing was also served in tomatoes, and eggplant, but I think I got the best option!  Wrapping up the event (and the week), I sampled all the desserts that were offered; chocolate crepes with orange and pistachio, creme brulee, and a chocolate cream with fresh whipped cream were all absolutely delicious.

Healthy habits on the horizon…
I can’t use Jersey Shore Restaurant Week as an excuse for not sticking to my diet any more!  (Although it was fun and delicious and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year!)

Just one more, delicious, plate-full of desserts. I promise!

The warm weather is inspiring me to get back on a stricter summer diet and better exercise routine.  Like a lot of people, I can’t do this alone, but it doesn’t look like I will have to.  I found a fabulous, healthy, Jersey blogger and will be checking in on her blog periodically to find some inspiration and motivation to get back into a “healthier habit.”

Check out Erica’s Healthy Habit along with me, and let’s get ready for some warmer weather here in New Jersey!

The Jersey Girl

Rutgers Gardens Spring Flower Fair

Yesterday afternoon, the weather was just perfect for outdoor activities!  Today, I’m  hoping it will be again because I’m taking the students in my Environmental Club at school outside to do a little “Spring Clean Up” around the school grounds.  Soon, we’ll be planting in our school gardens and in the recycled herb garden projects we’ve been making.

If the breaking weather isn’t enough to inspire you to work on your own garden, maybe this notice from Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick will give you the nudge you need.

Check it out!

The Jersey Girl

Shaken, Not Stirred – Great Jersey Shore Martini Contest!


The voters' choice!

Jersey Shore Restaurant Week is now in full swing, and I attended a special event (The Great Jersey Shore Martini Contest) at The Mill in Spring Lake Heights.  There, nine bartenders from a variety of fabulous Jersey shore restaurants mixed their signature martinis, all competing for the title of Greatest Jersey Shore Martini.

Guests and invited judges had the opportunity to sample all the drinks and vote for their favorites.  As I walked around and spoke with other guests, it was clear that deciding on a winner would not be easy.  Each bartender had fans in his or her corner, boasting about the different concoctions.

The judges' choice! (photo by Christina Rudczynksi)

However, at the end of the afternoon, winners had to be selected.  Ryan Russell of Shipwreck Grill won the voters’ choice with his Black Pearl, a drink inspired by the women in his family!  The judges’ choice was Chris Asay from Remington’s, and his drink was called Brent’s Blueberry Bomber.  This is definitely a drink to check out, whether you like martini’s or not, because there is a lot of interesting science going on!  Asay injects blueberry puree into locally made honey to create droplets that look like blueberries.  It is really a fun (and tasty) drink!

Chatting with Alison Manser Ertl from The Coast Star. (photo by Christina Rudczynski)

In addition to the talented bartenders, I also met other really fabulous, New Jersey folks including a group of women from a Meetup group called Monmouth Rocks II. They had a great time at the event, and some of them even came dressed to drink in martini t-shirts!  Alison Manser Ertl, from The Coast Star was one of the contest judges, and we got to talk for a bit about how much we both love Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, and so many of the other great things to do in the area.  It was a tightly packed event, so it was easy to (literally) bump into someone new and start a conversation.  Everyone was in “good spirits” though, and so it was a fun time.

There’s still time to check out what other fun events are planned for Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, and partake in the specially priced menus at many Jersey shore restaurants this week.  Make sure to visit their website if you haven’t already!

A sampling of tasty snacks or "martini food." (photo by Christina Rudczynski)


This Monday evening, I’ll be heading to 4Sixty6 (also known as NJ’s Vegas) in West Orange for an event sponsored by Palermo’s Bakery and Cake Gallery.  My sweet tooth is ready to try some cake, cupcakes, and pastries!


I’m not doing anything.  Well, that’s the plan, at least.  I am going to work, but then coming home and resting!

(We’ll see if that actually happens…)

The Jersey Girl

Jen Flynn, of Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, and I try a martini from Langosta Lounge! (photo by Christina Rudcznski)

With the ladies of the Monmouth Rocks II Meetup group! (photo by Christina Rudczynski)

Kickin’ Off Jersey Shore Restaurant Week

Here's what I wish I was having for lunch today!

For a lot of people, yesterday marked the beginning of baseball season.  For me, it also marked the beginning of Jersey Shore Restaurant Week!  Mom’s birthday celebration continued at the beautiful Dauphin Grill as we sampled amazing appetizers from many of Jersey shore’s most fabulous restaurants.  My favorite dish of the night, by far, was a crab cake sandwich from Klein’s Waterside Cafe in Belmar.  The crab cake absolutely melted in my mouth and was served on a sweet and savory roll.  I could have gone back up to their table for seconds…and thirds.

Other favorite dishes of the night came from a restaurant I’ve been meaning to visit since it opened last year, Trinity and the Pope in Asbury Park.  Their cajun-creole inspired dishes, like Shrimp and Grits, were spicy and convinced me that I really do need to get over there soon for a full dinner!

With Mom, just before we discovered how great those crab cakes were!

I bumped into some old friends at the event and made some new ones as well, like Random Cravings blogger, Holly Burchaell of Monmouth County and Russ Bey of Ocean. Conversation at our table was as great as the food, and we all enjoyed trying some “new” things.  For me, the Rabbit Stuffed Pasta with Marscapone and Truffle Oil (yes, rabbit!) was my something new from Tre Amici.  I was surprised at how delicious it tasted.

And there was more, so much more!  Harpoon Willy’s in Manasquan, Shipwreck Point in Pt. Pleasant, Bay Head Cheese Shop, Matisse in Blemar, Spicy Cantina in Seaside Heights, and Brando’s in Asbury Park all brought scrumptious appetizers that have made their restaurants move up to the top of my “to do” list for this summer.

Beautifully presented (and tasty) dish from Brando's.

Believe it or not, but at the end of the night, I still managed to find room for dessert.  (I admit that I’m usually pretty good at doing this!)  Cookies with creamy fudge bottoms from Sweet Bottom Cookies and mini cupcakes from Sweet Tease topped off a fun food experience.

As I mentioned, this was just the first day the event!  My next stop during Jersey Shore Restaurant Week will be at The Mill in Spring Lake Heights this Sunday for the Great Jersey Shore Martini Contest. Hope to see you there!

The Jersey Girl

December 29, 2010 ~ O Princeton Tree, O Princeton Tree

Melissa Morris Palmer Square Tree

The tree at Palmer Square, Princeton. Look at all those lights (and snow)!

Mimi Omiecinski of the Princeton Tour Company does a really good job keeping me up to date on all the cool things about, and happening in, Princeton.  For example, through her I learned that the Palmer Square Christmas Tree has more lights on it than the one in Rockefeller Center!  Of course, I had to go check it out before the season was over…

While I was in the area last night, I stopped by Mediterra for a bite to eat.  Their calamari (and slivers of fried vegetables) and humus flatbreads (served with a kalamatta almond spread) were just wonderful. It was my first time at Mediterra, and I can’t wait to go back to try their Pumkin Ravioli or Paella Clasica!

Melissa Morris Mediterra, Princeton

Mediterra in Princeton, all decked out for the holidays.

Hope you are having fun playing in all that snow out there!

The Jersey Girl

Fall Foliage at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival

Melissa Morris Sugarloaf Festival 2010

A painting? A drawing? A photograph? No, this is hand-embroidered art by Nguyen's Chi Art at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival.

Right now in New Jersey, though plenty of leaves have fallen to blanket the ground, you can still see leaves of bright orange, deep amber and rust colors on many of our trees.  Walking through my neighborhood, or driving around, (or exploring parks while Geocaching), I’ve been compelled to stop and take pictures in order to capture some of these vibrant colors before the season changes.

Recently, when the Sugarloaf Craft Festival was back in Somerset, NJ, I also found plenty of beautiful fall foliage in the hand-crafted artwork on display.

Lee and Christina Nguyen, from Northwales, PA, brought their hand stitched artwork to the festival.  The texture and vibrant colors of the embroidery work drew me in to each scene. You can visit their website for an online gallery of their work.

Melissa Morris Sugarloaf Craft Festival 2010

Framed, hand stitched art by Lee & Christina Nguyen, of Nguyen's Chi Art, at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in Somerset, NJ

Other artists at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival not only brought leaves into their art, but brought the art to actual leaves.  Mary Anna Barratt and Dennis Ray, of Nature’s Creations, displayed natural leaves and blossoms that had been covered in copper and finished with patina or precious metals for a variety of finishes and effects.  Just like when the leaves were once found in nature, no two pieces from Nature’s Creations are the same. For orders, or information on custom pieces, you can visit their website.

Melissa Morris Sugarloaf Craft Festival Leaves

A few of Nature's Creations leaves that had "fallen" onto their display table at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in Somerset, NJ

Plenty of my other favorite artists and vendors from the last festival returned for this show, including Terry Lo with her beautiful, hand-made scarves.

The Sugarloaf Craft Festival will be back again in March of 2011.  Visit their website or check back to for more information.  You won’t want to miss it!

The Jersey Girl