Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Your Own Backyard

Nowhere do the lyrics to this song ring more true than here in Buffalo.

"Oh you can go to the East
Go to the West
Someday you'll come
Weary at heart
Back where you started from
You'll find your happiness lies
Right under your eyes
Back in your own backyard"

Friday, January 14, 2011

These Are a Few of my Favorite Things: A Little Corner of Heaven

If I could somehow combine wine, chocolate, yoga, and ice cream into one divine creation, I would never be unhappy again. They're some of my favorite things, and are probably the favorite things of most sane people. I haven't yet invented such a combination, but one intersection in Buffalo is the next best thing. This corner just so happens to be down the block from where I grew up. When I first read this article on Buffalo Rising about what was happening on Hertel and Parker, I flipped my lid. If these businesses had existed on my corner two years ago, I might never have moved to California!

On Wednesday, I took a little walk in the snow. My first stop was Eaton Chocolate. Owner Ingeri Eaton is a warm friendly woman who really really loves chocolate. Her creations are more than just typical truffles. She makes maple bacon chocolate bars, and cayenne cashew clumps (if they sound delicious, they are) and she continues to experiment with mouth-watering combinations.

So many delicious choices!

 When I got home I took a look at the Eaton Chocolate facebook page. Ingeri's daily updates let fans know what her latest creations are going to be. When she posted an offer of $10 worth of chocolate to anyone who would provide her with some new music to listen to, I started working on a playlist.  returned today with a CD of some of my favorite tunes, and my mother (who bought some toffee almond chocolate breakables - also yummy.) Ingeri and I chatted about music for a while before our conversation turned back to chocolate. A recent experiment of chocolate-covered bacon was such a hit that she's thinking about trying a new creation every Thursday. She's open to suggestions and requests so jump on the Facebook page to offer yours. I'm thinking chocolate covered goat cheese would be amazing. If you're wonder if Eaton's has the Buffalo favorite - sponge candy - they do. Apparently it goes really fast when Ingeri makes it, so I've asked her to let me know as soon as the next batch is ready (which, she tells me will definitely be in time for Valentine's day.)

Next door to Eaton's is a yoga studio. Originally Vega Yoga Space when it opened last year, the studio is now Blue Sky Yoga Therapy. The doors were locked when I walked by, but I was able to talk to Stephanie on the phone about Blue Sky. The schedule isn't like most yoga studios; there are no open "walk-in" classes. Instead, there are 8-week class sessions. At first I was disappointed that I couldn't just pop into any classes I wanted to try, but I'm warming up to the session concept. It would be nice to attend regular classes that progress as students progress. I can also see how it benefits the studio to have classes paid for in advance and less of a risk of no-shows. Stephanie was great about suggesting which class would be better for me, and also mentioned that I would be welcome to come for the last few classes of a session if I didn't want to wait for the next one to start. I'm planning to sign up for the next "Yoga for Runners" session, as I just signed up to run the Buffalo half-marathon (I must be crazy.) Stephanie is currently studying to be a licensed massage therapist. In the mean time, Blue Sky offers yoga therapy, which is more like guided stretching for relaxation.

My last stop today was the Parker Hertel Sweet Shop. Little did I know when I ventured down the block on Wednesday was that this ice cream and candy shop is operating under their winter hours and are only open Friday-Sunday until spring. I visited a few times over the summer for some ice cream, which they still sell during winter months. Today, Mom and I got some hot chocolate. We were surprised how inexpensive our drinks were, especially considering they were made with milk (instead of water) and Ghiardelli chocolate. Growing up, there was a large pharmacy on the corner where these businesses are now. The neighborhood kids used to walk to the corner to spend our allowance on the variety of candy available there. I'm happy to report that the Sweet Shop carries a lot of the candy that used to be sold at the pharmacy.


I was hoping to nab a few bagels at the Sweet Shop from the Bagel Man, a whole sale baker that is ALSO located on the same glorious corner. I was told that they don't usually carry the bagels in the winter, but that one can order bagels from Bagel Man for pickup at the Sweet Shop. I'll definitely be doing that.

Also on this same corner is Checkers Tavern. This place is a real Buffalo institution, and though some people love it in spite of (or even because of) the divey feel of the place, most people will be happy to hear about the recent renovations. I was given the "VIP tour" when I popped my head in for a peak on Wednesday. Dont worry, its still the Checkers you know and love, but the walls have been painted and revarnished. The floors look good and (gasp) the bathrooms are clean!

Across the street from all of these wonderful places is Hertel-Parker Liquor. In addition to liquors, the store also has a pretty excellent selection of wine, including quite a few tasty and inexpensive choices. The friendly staff may or may not be on a first name basis with my mother, and the store has probably been one of the things that has kept my parents in the neighborhood all these years.

So to sum up, the Hertel-Parker corner has a chocolate shop, ice cream; candy; and hot cocoa, a yoga studio, a bar where everyone knows your name, bagels, and a good wine selection (and liquor.) I'm pretty sure that's the closest thing to Heaven on Earth we're ever going to get.

note: Yes, this corner is also home to The Lone Star Fajita Grill, and C-Me Marine Sales. These are also great Buffalo businesses, I just don't often fantasize about fajitas or lifejackets.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie!

Non-locals seem to agree - Buffalo is awesome. Just take a gander at this article from Amtrak's on-board magazine Arrive. 

"...this four-season city on the shores of Lake Erie is a 25-minute drive from Niagara Falls in one direction and some of the best skiing east of the Rockies in nearby Ellicottville. The arts scene is stoked by 22 professional theater groups, world-class architecture, two major art museums, dozens of galleries, and music venues pulsing to the beat of the good life."

28 29
BUFFALO: City of Light

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Putting my Money Where my Mouth is (and Where the Books are)

As an elementary school teacher, my mother is the recipient of countless giftcards during the holidays. This past weekend, my whole family piled into the car and drove out to Barnes & Noble to help her spend a few of them. The four of us wandered around for an hour, trying to dodge the crowd and the disturbingly large "Teenage Paranormal Romance" section. While we were digging through the bargain-priced classics, my father said something that put a halt to my savings-spree. "We really should have gone to a local book store."

I suddenly realized that as an advocate for bettering Buffalo, I had no business shopping in a national super chain. Immediately, I tucked my page-long book list back into my pocket, unpacked most of the pile from my shopping basket, and headed for the door. The very next day, I took my list to Talking Leaves on Elmwood.

I've always loved Talking Leaves. It's a tiny place, sure, but it's not hard to spend hours flipping through pages there anyway; they fit a huge amount of books into the place. The selection is great (they had way more gardening books than B&N,) the staff is super helpful, and it really is a Buffalo institution. If you're looking for a book they don't carry, they'll gladly order it for you. I bought two books from my list while I was there, and ordered another two. When I went back yesterday to pick those up, I ordered yet another. I also purchased a membership for $10 which entitles me to 10% off all my purchases for a year. Hell, I bought enough books this week alone to be worth the membership.

I have a lot of reading to do.

Will I still order the occasional book from amazon? Of course I will. But most of the time, I'd rather spend a few extra shekels and know that I'm helping to keep an amazing local store in business. I'm really looking forward to when they open the patio in the spring. I can't imagine a better way to spend an afternoon than sitting out there with a good book, drinking a cup of something delicious from nextdoor, and people-watching on Elmwood.

The Talking Leaves Main St. location is bigger than Elmwood, enabling them to host the occasional event or book signing. They have the same great selection and friendly staff. Talking Leaves isn't the only local book store; there are great shops all over Buffalo. The Second Reader Book Shop on Hertel has a great selection of used and out-of-print books. There's also Old Editions Book Shop & Cafe downtown, and Rust Belt Books in Allentown, among many others.

With the rising popularity of digital readers like the Kindle, and nook, small book stores need more support than ever. I'm happy knowing that Buffalonians appreciate what these shops add to the community and continue to patronize them.