Saturday, July 2, 2016

Letchworth State Park

My boyfriend and I recently took a day trip to Letchworth State Park in Upstate New York. Characterized by its expansive cliffs, Letchworth is often called the "Grand Canyon of the East" because of its beautiful scenery.

The Genesse River runs through the park, and three waterfalls cascade between the gorges. About 66 miles of hiking trails stretch throughout the 14,000 acres of land. People also visit Letchworth to bike, fish, hunt, and ride snowmobiles in the winter. 

The three hours that Jake and I spent in the park wasn't nearly enough time to see everything, but I still managed to take some beautiful pictures. Here are my favorites:

Some of  the cliffs reach heights of 600 feet

 Middle Falls is the largest of the three waterfalls in Letchworth

We discovered a full rainbow over the river

A working railroad bridge runs over Upper Falls

This carving, which we found on stone steps, was etched in 1930

The Lower Falls were smaller, but accompanied by a scenic gorge background

Water trickles over stones and rocks

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Life Update: College Graduation and the Job Hunt

Summer 2016 is the season of change. 

Since my last Life Update post in February, I've been knee-deep in the job hunt with plans to move to New York City. My brother got accepted into a university in Florida, and he starts summer semester classes next week. My sister decided to relocate to the West Coast, my parents are swapping my childhood home in Ohio for a beach house in Florida, and my boyfriend is pursuing his Master's degree. Pretty soon my family, who have lived in the Midwest our whole lives, will be scattered across the country. 

Even though I'll miss my family like crazy, I'm ready to embrace the change in my life. In the words of Many Hale: "Change can be scary, but you know what's scarier? Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving, and progressing." 

On that note, here's what I've been up to in the last few months:

I graduated from Syracuse University with a magazine journalism degree!

My younger brother graduated from high school.

My sister and I took a day trip to Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, where we suffered through many hour-long waits to ride some of the biggest roller coasters in the world.

My boyfriend and I took a day trip to Letchworth State Park in Upstate New York. Expect a blog post soon! 

I learned that New York City is beautiful even in the rain.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Syracuse Dining: Empire Brewing Company

Sometimes life calls for a cold beer and a juicy burger.  Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, NY, is the perfect place for both.

Nestled in the basement floor of a building in Armory Square, Empire Brewing Company serves snazzy bar food and homemade brews. The restaurant is insanely popular among Syracuse locals, and the wait time often stretches past one hour on the weekends (thanks to a no-reservations policy). Guy Fieri visited the place in an episode of Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

I've been to Empire Brewing Company on multiple occasions with friends and family. The interior looks industrial with brick walls and dim lighting. As soon as you walk in the door, you're greeted by a huge bar that offers several locally brewed craft beers. I've tried several types while waiting to be seated. Some, like the Cream Ale and Empire State Pale Ale, are absolutely delicious. I'm not a big fans of the overly hoppy options, like the Lost Dog Pale Ale, but to each his own.

The food at Empire Brewing Company never disappoints. Most people order one of the many burgers listed on the menu, which have gained lots of hype in the Syracuse community. The burgers always come perfectly cooked and insanely juicy.

Here are other items that my friends and family have tried at Empire Brewing Company:

Sweet Fire: andouille sausage marinated with brown sugar and molasses, with a side of spicy mustard. Guy Fieri recommended this dish on his show. I wasn't sure if I'd like the mix of spicy sausage and brown sugar, but the flavors meshed together perfectly. I could've eaten this entire appetizer myself!

Mediterranean Platter: chipotle hummus, pickled green beans, falafel, feta cheese, olive, tzatziki, and flatbread. I'm a fan of Mediterranean food, so I enjoyed this appetizer platter. The falafel and feta cheese were especially delicious.

Dixie Cheese Steak Po'Boy: a cheesesteak sandwich with onions, peppers, mushrooms, and chipotle mayo. Although the steak was a bit fatty for my taste, the meal was full of flavor.

Beer Battered Haddock: My boyfriend ordered this fried fish meal, which was coated in a tasty, crunchy batter. I would order this myself in the future!

Feta Chicken Flatbread: When my dad ordered the flatbread, he thought it would be more like a pizza than a wrap. He still enjoyed the meal though.

The prices at Empire Brewing Company are reasonable, considering that the restaurant is trendy and the ingredients are high-quality. As long as you're willing to wait an hour or more for a table, I highly recommend Empire Brewing Company for its craft beers and upscale bar food!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Book Review: Confessions of a Murder Suspect

Today I'll be reviewing the Confessions series by James Patterson by Maxine Paetro, which includes four novels:
  • Confessions of a Murder Suspect
  • Confessions: The Private School Murders
  • Confessions: The Paris Mysteries
  • Confessions: The Murder of an Angel 
The series is aimed at young adults. Like many of James Patterson's novels, it can be classified as a mystery thriller. 


The Confessions series centers around the wealthy and secretive Angel family.

Malcolm and Maud Angel own a pharmaceutical company in New York City. Their four children boast unnatural abilities: Tandoori (Tandy), the 16-year-old narrator, has an off-the-charts IQ. Her twin brother, Harry, is a musical prodigy. Ten-year-old Hugo harbors the strength of a grown man, while Matthew is a star football player for the New York Giants. The Angel children are unemotional and extremely damaged, which they attribute to their parent's emphasis on perfection.

But soon Tandy learns that Malcolm and Maud are dead of an apparent murder. She and her three brothers are the prime suspects. As Tandy works to solve the crime,  many dark and dangerous family secrets begin to unravel. She suddenly questions everything she knows  – including her own innocence.

The four books in the Confessions series follow Tandy and her brothers as they dig deep into their family's past, discovering corruption, love, and betrayal along the way. 


Although I'm an avid reader, Confessions of a Murder Suspect is my first James Patterson novel. I really enjoyed the entire Confessions series.

First of all, I love the eccentric characters. I've never encountered a protagonist quite like Tandy. She's clever and strange, and she experiences immense character development throughout the series. Tandy talks directly to the reader at many points in the novels. I've read several reviews that criticize this literary device because it "interrupts the flow" of the plot, but I didn't mind it. I actually think it allowed me to better connect to Tandy. The other Angel children (Harry, Hugo, and Matthew), as well as the other characters introduced throughout the series, are equally as quirky and intriguing.

I also enjoyed how Patterson and Paetro interwove the plot throughout the novels in the series. Something mentioned in the first novel could come back in the third or fourth book without feeling too forced. The plot kept me on my toes, although the ending of the books was a bit too predictable for my taste. I feel like the mysteries fell into two categories: ones that were too easy to figure out, and ones that readers could never figure out given a lack of clues. But although some of the mysteries ended in an anti-climatic way,  I'm happy with the conclusion of the series overall.

Another perk of these novels were the short chapters. Since each one was merely four or five pages, I constantly told myself, "Just one more chapter!" as an excuse to keep reading.

Rating: 5/5

I loved the quirky characters and unique storyline. I deducted one-half point for some predictable plot points and anticlimactic mysteries. Here is my rating of the four novels, from favorite to least favorite:

1. Confessions: The Paris Mysteries (Book 3)
2. Confessions of a Murder Suspect (Book 1)
3. Confessions: The Private School Murders (Book 2)
4. Confessions: The Murder of an Angel (Book 4)

This series is best for young adults (ages 15-25) who enjoy quick and easy mystery novels. I highly recommend it!

Photos from 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Day Trip to Skaneateles

Sometimes life calls for a day trip.

On a warm day in May, my boyfriend Jake and I hopped in my car and drove 30 minutes from Syracuse to Skaneateles Lake.  The body of water, which is one of Central New York's Finger Lakes, is characterized by its beautiful scenery, high altitude, and clear water. We drove around the 16-mile lake and grabbed lunch in the neighboring village of Skaneateles. In the midst of Jake's final exams and my job hunting, a relaxing day trip is just what we needed.

A quick Google search referred us to Doug's Fish Fry

We stuffed our faces with perfectly cooked fish and chips

We also made an unexpected pit stop at Anyela's Vineyards for a wine tasting

The water was unbelievably clear

Houses tucked near the lake had spectacular views

Country roads stretched for miles 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Food Diaries

My name is Nicole, and I'm addicted to taking pictures of my food.

I whip out my phone as soon as my meal arrives in a restaurant, moving the plate around in front of me until I find the best angle for a snapshot. Nearly 200 food-related images fill the storage capacity of my phone. "I'll find a use for these one day," I think. But I never actually do.

That's where Food Diaries comes in. I wanted a way to share my foodie pictures without writing a full-length restaurant review for each dish. I hope these images don't make you too hungry!

Beef hot pot from Sushi Asia Gourmet in Akron, OH

Sushi shots (Ahi tuna sashimi, wonton cups, avocado salsa, wasabi, soy sauce) from Rosewood Grill in Hudson, OH

Cheeseburger from Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, NY

Breakfast burritos from Spoons in Baltimore, MD

Sushi platter (salmon, tuna, yellowtail) from Sushi Asia Gourmein Akron, OH

Friday, April 15, 2016

Brunch in Syracuse: Modern Malt vs. Stella's Diner

When it comes to brunch in Syracuse, New York, two places immediately come to mind: Stella's Diner and Modern Malt. Hungry college students flock to these restaurants every Saturday and Sunday morning to get their fix of greasy bacon and scrambled eggs. Today I'll be comparing the two brunch hot spots to see which comes out on top.

Modern Malt

Modern Malt, located in downtown Syracuse's Armory Square, resembles a 50's era diner. The cute decor manages to look modern and retro at the same time. I've only visited Modern Malt once, on a Sunday morning, and had to wait about 25 minutes for a table.

One glance at the menu told me I'd have a hard time picking a meal. Everything looked delicious! Modern Malt offered some of the most unique and creative breakfast options I've ever seen. 

Those with a sweet tooth can order cannoli pancakes, Barney Rubble French toast (encrusted in Fruity Pebbles!), s'mores stuffed French toast, or carrot cake waffles. Savory options included pig Benedict (which is basically eggs Benedict with pork belly), a gyro omelette, a Mexican-inspired West Buena omelette, and lobster Benedict. Modern Malt even has General Tso's chicken and waffles (!!!), a tuna poke, a pulled pork breakfast sandwich, and an extensive poutine menu. Gotta love French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy! 

I was extremely tempted to order the breakfast poutine made with tater tots, cheese curds, and poached egg. But instead I decided on the breakfast taco: scrambled egg, chorizo, pico, cheese, jalepeno, and guacamole stuffed in two flour tortillas. The $12 tacos tasted delicious! The peppers and chorizo added the perfect amount of spice, while the cheese and guacamole gave the dish a smooth texture. The only downside of the meal was the toast. The bread choices were either wheat or rye, neither of which is my favorite. I also ordered a few cups of the tasty bold coffee. 

Jake, my boyfriend, ordered three scrambled eggs with bacon, toast, herb-roasted potatoes, and a short stack of pancakes (pictured at top of post). He ate everything on his plate and was highly satisfied with his meal, which cost $11. 

Modern Malt is pretty expensive; I actually thought the meals were overpriced. However, the creativity of the menu made up for the cost. Modern Malt also serves lunch and dinner. In fact, it's open until 4 AM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I guess people crave some hearty breakfast food after a night of bar crawling.

Stella's Diner 

Walking into Stella's Diner is also like taking a time machine back to 1950. Inside the metallic silver building you'll find cozy booths, Betty Boop decor, and a breakfast bar. I've never had brunch at Stella's without waiting at least 20 minutes for a table, but the food is absolutely worth the wait. 

Stella's serves up traditional diner breakfast fare like scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, and omelettes. I give a five-star rating to every item that I've tried. The eggs Benedict are my go-to; they're creamy, flavorful, and indulgent. I'm also obsessed with the buttery grits and fluffy pancakes. 

When I took my mom to Stella's, she ordered an omelette with onion, spinach, and Swiss cheese. She still talks about her omelette five months later, saying it was the best she's ever had. 

There is one downside to the food: everything is loaded with butter. I guess the extra butter gives the food its five-star flavor rating, but I always leave Stella's feeling bloated and gross. 

I always judge a restaurant by its coffee, and Stella's passes the test. The coffee is bold but not bitter and goes down smoothly, which is why I'll drink five cups without realizing it. The waitresses constantly stop by your table to fill your cup with fresh hot jo. 
Another benefit of Stella's is the price. A large platter with scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, and pancakes will only set you back about $7. The diner also serves lunch and dinner. 


Go to Stella's Diner if you're looking for traditional breakfast fare at a cheap price. Go to Modern Malt if you're seeking a fancier brunch with unique and delicious food. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Today I'm reviewing Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I listened to the audiobook version of this satirical fiction novel.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette? focuses on Bernadette Fox, a once-renowned architect who suffers from extreme anxiety and agoraphobia. She hired a virtual assistant from India to complete her basic chores to avoid communicating with others. Bernadette's 15-year-old daughter, Bee, excels in school. Her husband, Elgie, works as a top Microsoft executive, and he's practically married to his job.

After Bee finishes the school year with perfect grades, Bernadette and Elgie promise to take her on a family vacation to Antarctica. But the upcoming trip makes Bernadette's anxiety worse and, following a series of events, she disappears. But where did she go?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is told through a series of letters, emails,  FBI documents, and memos pieced together to form a story. Some narration by Bee is woven through the documents in order to clarify the storyline.


I didn't know what to expect when I started listening to Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I bought the audiobook on a whim because I remembered seeing the eye-catching cover everywhere a few years back. I was excited to learn that the author, Maria Semple, wrote the popular TV show Arrested Development. 

At first, I didn't like the epistolary format of the book The array of documents confused me, and I had a hard time figuring out the plot. I think listening to the audiobook made the confusion worse, since I couldn't go back to reference previous emails and memos. Once I figured out the system, though, I started to really enjoy the unique set-up. I've never read in a novel in an epistolary format before. I bet writing this way is extremely tough,  but Maria Semple pulled it off flawlessly.

As for the characters, they were so strange that you couldn't help but love them. Bernadette is hilarious, troubled, mysterious, and eccentric all at once.  Elgie's character is delightfully odd as well – imagine a tech whiz with an off-the-charts IQ and a wildly popular TED Talk who walks around the office with no shoes. Bee is a mix of both her parents. She's clever and sassy, but also incredibly smart.

At its core, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is supposed to be a humorous satire about Seattle and its wealthy elite. Semple pokes fun at everything from private school parents to five-way intersections. But, honestly, I didn't laugh out loud while reading this book. Maybe I didn't understand the humor because I never visited Seattle, or maybe I don't connect to satire as well as other people.

Nevertheless I enjoyed the novel for what its worth. I especially couldn't get enough of the Antartica plot line – I mean, what other book takes place partly in Antarctica?

The Audiobook Experience:

The narrator of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Kathleen Wilhoite, nailed the gig. She switched between character voices flawlessly, and her voice held the perfect amount of emotional infliction. I would've enjoyed the book less with another narrator.

Rating: 4/5

I recommend this book for an easy, entertaining read – as long as you don't pick it up solely for the satire. I'd say the target audience is women in their 20s and older.

Photo from Amazon 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What I'm Loving: My Currently List

Here is what I'm currently...

Watching: My boyfriend, Jake, and I have been binge-watching the first season of "The 100" on Netflix. It's a science fiction/drama TV show set in a post-apocalyptic world. Life on earth has been destroyed by nuclear war, and the last remaining humans live on the international space station. After life-sustaining supplies on the space station start to run out, one hundred juvenile prisoners are sent to the ground to test whether earth is survivable. I love "The 100" because it has a bit of everything – romance, action, drama, and suspense. 

Reading: I just finished reading "Hush, Hush" by Becca Fitzpatrick (read my review here), and I started the sequel, "Crescendo." I'm enjoying the YA fantasy novel so far. I'm also listening to the audiobook version of "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" by Maria Semple during long car rides. Expect reviews on my blog soon!  

Listening: I find all of Rachel Platten's songs extremely catchy, so they've been my go-to tunes when I want something upbeat. My favorite is "Stand By You," which plays on the radio every five minutes but I'm not complaining.

Drinking: Lately I've been craving bubble tea, a Taiwanese drink. I order a cold black tea mixed with milk and chewy tapioca balls. It's a delicious and refreshing treat. My favorite place to order bubble tea is Unique Tea House in Syracuse, although the best bubble tea I've ever had came from a street vendor in New York City's Chinatown. 

Eating: Jake and I have been trying new restaurants around Syracuse lately. We ate at an Irish pub called Kitty Hoynes last week, and we're heading to Byblos Mediterranean Cafe tomorrow night. Both of these places were featured on one of our favorite TV shows: Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri. 

Enjoying: I'm grateful that I get to visit Jake during his spring break. We've been apart for much of our relationship, thanks to internships and study abroad, so I value the all of the time we spend together. 

Wearing: For my 22nd birthday, Jake bought me a gold Pisces necklace from Anna Saccone's Zodiac Collection on Stilnest. I've been dropping hints about the necklace for a while, so I was ecstatic to receive it as a gift. The necklace is adorable and matches most of my clothes, so I've been wearing it nearly every day.  

Top photo taken in Prague, Czechoslovakia 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Gramma Dots on Sanibel Island

I absolutely love food, so it's nearly impossible for me to choose a favorite dish. But if I were ever placed in a scenario where I had to pick my number one meal, the fried oyster Caesar salad from Gramma Dot's might be the winner.

Gramma Dot's is a quaint restaurant located on the Sanibel Island seaside. My family has a house across the water in Ft. Myers Beach, so we often take our boat to Gramma Dot's for lunch. The menu contains typical beach-y fare: fresh fish, shrimp, and sandwiches. You can also order a "Your Choice" Caesar salad with chicken, shrimp, grouper, or fried oysters.

Let me tell you, nothing beats the fried oyster Caesar salad. The oysters are cooked to perfection – crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. They pare exceptionally well with the creamy Caesar dressing and crisp lettuce. I ordered this meal during my first visit at Gramma Dot's, and I've never strayed from it during subsequent visits. Then again, when you combine two of my favorite things (fried food and seafood) and place the result on a bed of lettuce, I'm pretty much guaranteed to fall in love.

The other food as Gramma Dot's doesn't disappoint, either. I especially enjoy the crab leg appetizer and homemade potato chips. My mom sticks with the fried grouper Casear salad, while my boyfriend usually order the Cajun grouper. Both options are extremely tasty, but I'm too devoted to my fried oyster salad to order anything new.

I highly recommend Gramma Dot's, if you're ever in Sanibel Island. I guarantee that my family will return to this gem over and over again.

Tell me: what's your favorite seafood dish?