Month: April 2014

Long Island Restaurant Week – Part One

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I look forward to Long Island Restaurant Week all year long – and fortunately, it happens twice a year, in the fall and spring. For one week (April 27 – May 4, 2014), participating restaurants offer a three-course menu for $27.95. It is an enticing way for Long Islanders to get out and try new restaurants, and for restaurants to showcase their latest menus.

My love of Restaurant Week actually began when I was in college, where it afforded the opportunity to eat at some of the finest restaurants in D.C. on a college students’ budget. When I returned to Long Island, the event had graduated to somewhat of a bi-annual tradition, and involves anxious anticipation for the dates to be announced and countless hours of scouring over the menus of listed restaurants. Each year I do my best to add some variety to my exclusive “Where to Dine During Restaurant Week” list.

First up on my list of restaurants to try was Ristegios Restaurant Lounge in North Patchogue, NY. Listed online as “new american” cuisine, I liked the menu at this restaurant immediately. The restaurant itself was new and had a relaxed vibe with a nice-sized bar area greeting you upon arrival.

Once seated, I had no need to inspect the prix-fixed menu in person as I had already done so online. For an appetizer, I ordered a Caeser salad and had the lobster Mac and Cheese as my entrée. Both dishes were very good and the portions were quite substantial. By the time dessert arrived, a chocolate mousse cake with berry mousse and garnish, I could hardly muster the enthusiasm it deserved. Overall, I would say this was a pretty satisfying meal.

More to come from Restaurant Week…

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Be Stil-a My Heart

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It’s no secret that my favorite beauty product is Stila’s Stay All Day liquid foundation. I have been using it for a few months now, and I am just as happy with it as the day I first applied it. That initial 1-ounce bottle lasted through countless days of coverage, but finally needed to be replaced last month. Since I am now a loyal Stila user, I decided to make my purchase online through the company and take advantage of the “ample samples” they provide on orders more than $50. Knowing how well the foundation has worked for me, I wanted to experiment with the 5-piece skincare try-me set they were sending with my purchase.

After a few days of anxious waiting, my order arrived. That night I tried the Stila skincare line. First up – the Coming Clean revitalizing cleanser. The silky gel had a botanical, minty aroma. It left my skin tingling and feeling soft and clean. Next was the Undercover, a conditioning toner and moisture prep. My skin tends to become dry, but I have been using the Undercover every night after the cleanser and so far, so good. Finally, the Light Source. This serum is great for discoloration and acne scars and the perfect finish to my skincare routine. The sample pack also includes Glowing Reviews, a skin renewing scrub, and Face the Day, a multi-use moisturizer. I have used the scrub a few times after the Coming Clean cleanser; it has a nice texture, and it does not irritate my skin like some scrubs have in the past.

My favorite of the products is the Coming Clean cleanser. It’s gentle enough for sensitive skin and smells so good that I actually look forward to washing my face!

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Recently, I decided to expand my Stila family of make-up products. I purchased sample sizes containing three of Stila’s Stay All Day 10-in-1 HD beauty balms. I have never been a big fan of BB or CC creams, but something about a lightweight, water-resistant balm with SPF 30 made me want to give it a try for the warmer months ahead. So far, the HD beauty balm is my must-have on days when I don’t want to apply a lot of make-up. It offers just the right amount of color and coverage to get away with wearing it alone, or pairing it under your foundation for a flawless finish. The Illuminating Balm was a close second, although I found the coverage and color too light to wear alone for my skin tone. Initially, I thought the Bronzing Balm would be my preferred choice and give me a nice summer glow, but it is too dark for my skin. Overall, Stila is my go-to for make-up products… and skincare.

Note: To read more about Stila’s Stay All Day liquid foundation, check out my post from February 14, 2014!

*Stay tuned for upcoming posts from my adventures at Long Island Restaurant Week (April 27 – May 4, 2014).

The Sweet Life

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Every now and then I need a pick-me-up. Sometimes this comes in the form of a day at the spa, or a walk on the beach, but more often than not, lately it has been the crêpe cafe in Port Jefferson, New York. Making matters worse, this charming establishment is mere minutes from my office, posing as a tempting alternative to the healthier options I try to surround myself with.

Sweet ‘n’ Savory almost has too much character and personality for one space. If the creative crêpe menu doesn’t blow you away, then the black walls with vintage one-liner signs and leopard decor might do it. For the intrepid diner, go ahead and read the menu – but be warned, each tasty treat will sound better than the last. As the name implies, this place is not just for the sinful, breakfast-all-day kind of eater, there are healthier options on the menu (although trust me, if you read the menu, the healthier options just aren’t as much fun and kind of defeat the purpose of the visit).

I have been here many times – reading the menu over and over, trying to convince myself to try some of the savory crêpes (which I have broken down and done, and they are good), but somehow the sweet side of my brain always gets its way. During my most recent visit for brunch, I brought along a friend who had never been before. Just when I thought I had it down pat, they go ahead and change up their menu, and have the audacity to add a breakfast menu to further confuse us! The two of us stood there for what felt like an eternity trying to just choose one item off the even more decadent menu.

Finally – a decision, but is it the right one? Oh well, there is always another order next time. I was torn between the cannoli crêpe with cannoli creme, chocolate chips, and whipped cream and the broken Oreos crêpe, with white and milk chocolate, ice cream, and whipped creme. The former won out by a narrow margin. Now the hard part – waiting for my food. I can see it being made. I see all the lovely, yummy ingredients going inside. It is being folded and prepped for its arrival on the table. It has arrived!

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It is just as delicious and decadent as it looks. The cannoli creme melted perfectly inside the crêpe and the chocolate chips added the right amount sweetness. If you manage to finish your crêpe and still have room left for some more treats, try the rice pudding that they feature in some pretty elaborate flavors.

Overall, this kitschy place will leave you wanting to come back again – even if only to read all the signs on the walls! One word of warning – it can get crowded at lunch time, so make sure you have ample time to wait as your creation is being made, or call ahead to order if you are the decisive kind and want to skip the drama of endlessly perusing the menu and second-guessing your decision.

Editor’s note – The broken Oreos crêpe is a force to be reckoned with. Only incredibly daring choc-o-holic’s should attempt.

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Happy Financial Literacy Month

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I am a huge fan of Suze Orman. So much so that, every Saturday at 9 p.m. I can be found in the same spot: watching Ms. Orman’s show on CNBC. Since April is financial literacy month, I thought I would share some of what I think is Suze’s most valuable advice.

I was first introduced to Ms. Orman’s books as a recent college graduate, pondering the next phase of my life. A colleague suggested reading Suze’s book Women and Money. The next day, the book arrived on my desk and to my surprise, it was a page-turner. To be honest, I had given little thought, at the tender age of 22, to things such as life insurance, retirement, and long term care insurance. By the time I finished the book, not only did I learn more than I ever thought I would need to know about how to live a financially stable life, but I was hooked on Suze Orman.

Since watching her shows, I have learned even more. Some of the advice that I really have taken to heart and have applied in my own life is as follows:

1. Stand in your truth. Be honest with yourself as to your financial reality and what you can and cannot afford.

2. Have at least an eight-month emergency fund. I know it can seem daunting after paying your expenses, but trying to put a little money away at the end of each pay period or month is a great start to savings. You never know when you might need to access that money, and knowing that it is available affords you peace of mind.

3. Invest up to the point of your company’s match. If you are fortunate enough to have a job that will contribute money to your retirement based on your contributions, then contributing just makes sense. By ignoring this option, you are passing up free money!

4. Before you purchase anything, ask yourself: Is this a want or a need? This is something I actually find myself doing more and more. Buying items just for the sake of purchasing something has never really resonated with me, but there are occasions when I like to splurge. As I have gotten older, however, it has become easier to pass on things that I don’t really need or may never use.

5. Know your credit score and what’s on your credit report. Paying your bills on time is a great way to keep your credit score high, but knowing your number and what’s in your report is also important.

These are just a few of Suze’s tips. Tune in to CNBC each week to watch Suze dole out her epic “Suze smack-downs.”

A Vacation to Remember

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Since my next vacation isn’t scheduled for a few more months, I thought reminiscing over photos from one of my favorite destinations to date would be a good sanity break.

I have traveled extensively over the last five years, but my most memorable time away has been in Portugal. I visited in August 2011, and had beautiful weather almost every day during my two week stay. I cannot say enough positive things about this country – the people were warm and inviting, the food was excellent (I had the best calamari of my life and Pastéis de Nata’s as my daily dessert), and it was a beautiful place to explore.

For me, a vacation calls for warm weather and access to a beach, or at the very least water views. Portugal definitely delivered both. While the majority of my time was spent in Lisbon, Cascais and Estoril were my two favorite stops. I would highly recommend renting a car and driving from Lisbon to Porto. It’s a scenic drive with plenty to see along the way.

And if you find yourself in Cascais, stop in at Santini’s for some amazing gelato!

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Saturday’s Find

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During one of the rare Saturdays that turned out to be relatively uneventful, I had the luxury of catching up on some reading. Naturally, needing to feel inspired and like an under-achiever at the same time, I picked up my American University Alumni Magazine. There, I came across a piece featuring a New York City alumna who worked for Kate Spade Saturday, a division of the luxury brand, which capitalized on its storefront locations and revolutionary idea of showcasing their products using touch screens and window displays. The article ended with a prompt to “design your bag at Saturday.com,” which moments later I did.

After entering the site and adding my email address to the mailing list, I found my first reward in my in-box – a 15% off coupon. Before being able to browse the site sufficiently, I was quickly summoned by the tab reading ‘Design a Weekender Bag.’ As someone who can never have enough bags, I knew this was right up my fashionable alley. The bag, which comes in two sizes, The Custom Small Weekender Bag and The Custom Weekender Bag, can be personalized in your favorite colors and patterns. For the monogramed look, which is a great option when using a bag for travel, you can also add your initials for a truly one-of-a-kind custom creation.

You can guess what will be arriving on my doorstep in the near future!

Happy shopping!

Waiting for the Weekend

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While waiting for the weekend to finally arrive, here’s what I thought about this week:

Coming to the realization that I can no longer sleep in on weekends because I have too much to do makes me feel like an actual adult.

Finally having spring arrive in my neck-of-the-woods, only to be able to feel sun on my face when I leave the office makes me long for my childhood days when I got summers off.

Going to Trader Joe’s under the pretense of getting healthier snacks only to find mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups found their way into my basket is both depressing and thrilling at the same time (What can I say – old habits die hard).

Rationalizing eating said peanut butter cups in the span of two nights with the “I go to the gym every day” speech works in my book!

Being happy to see Wednesday before realizing that I still have two more days to go before having any chance of relaxing doesn’t make the fact that it is mid-week seem so liberating. However, the rare Starbucks treat on the way to work makes it all better (and again on Thursday afternoon).

And finally, after waiting all week for the weekend, I know I will cram as much into two days as possible, and will be even more exhausted come Monday.

Until next weekend…

Living Lighter

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Over the weekend, I decided it was time for a new look. After hemming and hawing about needing an edgier style, I finally worked up the courage to take about 10 inches off of my hair. I have wanted to donate my hair to Locks of Love for a while, and what better time than after the one year anniversary of my thyroid cancer diagnosis to do so.

I have had straight locks that fell well below my shoulders for as long as I can remember. I met my best friend, the flat iron, when I was in 9th grade and it has been a staple in my daily routine ever since. Maybe it’s the fact that my 10 year high school reunion is fast approaching, or perhaps it’s these chic, short bobs that I have been seeing, but this spring I was ready to try a shorter ‘do. I will admit that the sound of the first cut, preceded by 10 inches being dangled in front of my face, was a bit jarring, but I love the end result. My hair is not only more manageable and stylish now, but it went to a great cause!

Coming to Grips with Thyroid Cancer

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On April 2, 2013 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. According to the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association and the American Cancer Society, approximately 60,220 people in the United States were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2013. I never expected to be part of that statistic at age 26. One month earlier, during my annual visit to my gynecologist, the doctor performed a complete physical as part of the routine visit. During a neck exam, he felt a lump on my thyroid. That discovery caught me off-guard; I had no particular symptoms and had been healthy. Nonetheless, my doctor recommended that I have blood taken, a neck ultrasound, and he referred me to an endocrinologist.

I told myself the lump was nothing more than a benign nodule and I tried to put the findings out of my mind, but I could not. The next day, I scheduled a neck ultrasound preceded by blood work. Something during the ultrasound troubled me, so I was not surprised when I received a call from my gynecologist, a week later with the results. My blood work showed I had subclinical hypothyroidism; I had an under-active thyroid gland, which without medication would eventually cause me to feel tired and sluggish.

A week after receiving my blood results, I had a consultation with an endocrinologist. He told me that the nodule was more than 1.8 cm and would require a fine needle aspiration biopsy to rule out the suspicion of cancer. Six days later I had the nodule biopsied. The endocrinologist compassionately called me and requested that I come in so that he could deliver the news in person. Not only did the biopsy reveal my biggest fear, a diagnosis of papillary thyroid carcinoma, requiring a total thyroidectomy, but it forced me to come to terms with having to take Synthroid, a daily synthetic thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of my life. Before I left his office, the doctor advised me that I “should not make a research project out of the diagnosis” and recommended I find a surgeon and schedule a thyroidectomy.

A few days passed as I digested the news. I had good days where I felt positive about my future, and days that were more difficult to endure. I began taking a low dose of Synthroid daily to treat my hypothyroidism, and each pill was a constant reminder of my present and what would become my future. With all of this new information, I felt confused and overwhelmed. I knew I needed surgery, but should I get a second opinion? How do I find a good surgeon? Should I have a second biopsy? It was then that I began to understand the endocrinologist’s warning.

My first step in finding answers to my questions was the Internet. There I found one of my most invaluable resources, ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc. (www.thyca.org). ThyCa had a wealth of helpful information for newly diagnosed patients, along with questions to ask your surgeon, what to expect during and after surgery, and support groups.

As I began gathering names of surgeons, another question arose. Did I want to have surgery near home on Long Island, or did I want to see a doctor in New York City? After meeting with a surgeon on Long Island, I decided to get a second opinion from a doctor who came highly recommended at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. During my consultation he reviewed my results and told me something new. I had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid gland that diminishes its ability to function properly. He recommended removing the entire thyroid and any surrounding lymph nodes to reduce the risk of recurrence. I felt confident with the surgeon and his proposed treatment and scheduled my surgery for May 3, 2013.

However, when I returned home and thought it over, I realized that I needed more time to process everything; I wasn’t ready to have surgery the following month. Again, the endocrinologist’s words haunted me. By this time I was torn, and allowed myself to indulge in the “what ifs.” What if the biopsy were wrong and it was nothing more serious than an under-active, enlarged thyroid? What if I underwent a thyroidectomy for nothing and had a scar on my neck as a permanent reminder? I needed more answers before I could feel certain that surgery was my only option. As a last resort, I sought the advice of a third surgeon, who was referred by my Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist. The surgeon, after reviewing my extensive test results, came to the same conclusion as the surgeons before him had: I had thyroid cancer and needed a total thyroidectomy. He was so sure of the results, and his confidence finally forced me to face the reality I had been so desperate to avoid.

On June 17, 2013 I underwent a total thyroidectomy with central neck dissection and lymph node removal. I was no longer someone with a diagnosis of thyroid cancer, but rather a cancer survivor. After I spent a night in the hospital and had symptoms no worse than a sore throat, I deemed my surgery a success and I was ready to start the next chapter — recovery.

I saw my surgeon for a post-operative appointment about a week later. The pathology results had come back. Of the six lymph nodes that were removed, one showed signs that the cancer had spread. I had done little reading about radioactive iodine as a cumulative follow-up procedure during my research phase, but I was sure that was going to be the next step. To my great surprise, my surgeon had a different plan. Since my most recent blood work indicated that my anti-thyroglobulin level was trending downwards, he felt comfortable in adopting a wait-and-see protocol. Should my levels plateau or increase, we would do a course of radioactive iodine. I left his office that day elated, and it marked the first time that I was able to think of something other than cancer.

It is now ten months after my surgery. In March 2014 I met with my surgeon, who requested another visit — but not until June 2015. I will continue to be under the care of an endocrinologist and have blood work done regularly to ensure that my Synthroid dose remains at an effective level. My scar is virtually undetectable now, but its remnants serve as an important reminder of how fragile life can be. I was blessed to have the support of family, good friends, and an amazing team of doctors at Weill Cornell. The thorough examination conducted by my gynecologist is what led to early detection and my diagnosis. To him, I am forever indebted.

If I could offer one piece of advice, no matter your age, it would be this: have your doctor perform a thyroid exam at your next appointment and learn how to properly do the exam yourself. I urge everyone to visit the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association’s website where you can receive free information on thyroid cancer, neck exams, radioactive iodine treatment, and so much more.

*Photo by Paul Guetter