Month: August 2015

Filipino cuisine fuses with American in Colonia

Those looking for a taste of the Philippines with a twist used to head to La Parrilla de Manila in New Brunswick, where they had to fight for one of the two parking spaces and a spot at one of the two tables at the small restaurant.

But now, they can enjoy their favorite Filipino-American fusion spot with room to bring their friends, family and favorite wine or beer at the BYOB restaurant’s new location at 1159 St. Georges Ave. in Colonia.

The eatery, which operated in New Brunswick for five years under the ownership of Francis and Marie Grace Ponce, now has 84 seats and receives about 100 daily visitors following its official opening on Aug. 3, although many locals were trickling in from July 30 to get an early sampling of the new La Parrilla de Manila.

Pork barbeque combo by chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

Pork barbeque combo by chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

“Our food is for everyone,” said head chef Homer Reyes. “It isn’t expensive and people can bring the kids or come right from work. We are trying to make it possible to cater to people from all walks of life and nationalities with a little bit of everything.”

La Parrilla de Manila’s menu has expanded with about new 35 dishes to add to its Filipino-American fusion target with entrees such as the lamb shank kare-kare style for $21.99, one of the most popular meals that features slowly braised lamb and risotto alongside eggplant and string beans and accompanied by bok choi with peanut sauce.

Other new dishes include the lengua, or ox tongue, for $19.99, braised with herb and spices in a mushroom red wine demi sauce alongside risotto, baby carrots and green beans, as well as the grilled salmon teriyaki for $19.99 cooked on a cedar flank and topped with wasabi pea dust among stir fry vegetable and edamame puree potatoes.

Lamb shank kare kare by chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

Lamb shank kare kare by chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the restaurant’s fusion entrees.

“Some local Filipinos are unhappy because this is not traditional Filipino food, but it’s not supposed to be,” said Reyes. “I’m not trying to offend anyone with our dishes, but this is a fusion and we are trying to mix it up. I want to gradually introduce Filipinos to other nationalities with our food.”

Reyes said that some local Filipinos also aren’t happy with the entrée prices ranging from $7.99 to $10.99 for lunch and $19.99 to $23.99 for dinner, which is higher than what is charged at other Middlesex County Filipino restaurants. However, Reyes said that La Parrilla de Manila, unlike its Filipino eatery competitors, is geared toward those looking for an upscale meal with a finer ambiance and high-quality meats rather than take-out, which is why there is an upcharge.

Chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

Chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

One of the traditional Filipino aspects of the Colonia restaurant is that four family members work at La Parrilla de Manila, including Marie Grace Ponce’s brother, Jaime Caballes, who is a cook, Tess Lazaro, Francis Ponce’s sister, who is the accountant, Gerdrudes Ponce, Francis Ponce’s mother, who is a cook, and Faye San Augustin, Francis Ponce’s cousin, who is the floor manager, among the other 17 employees.

Reyes, as well, has been a personal friend of Francis and Marie Grace Ponce for five years and joined the restaurant team for its Colonia opening. Although this is the first Filipino restaurant that he has co-opened, he has also co-opened restaurants in Rhode Island, Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois after moving from the Philippines in 2006.

Under his leadership, Reyes said, he is trying to train many of his hard-working young employees, who come from all nationalities, to work in a fine dining restaurant, many of whom are coming from fast-food backgrounds.

Chef Homer Reyes works in the kitchen at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

Chef Homer Reyes works in the kitchen at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

“I am also hiring people from all countries so that there is no bias here,” he said.

The owners’ history is rooted in traditional Filipino culture, however, as the Ponces used to have a small cafeteria in their college medical school in the Philippines where they would cater to students, drivers and locals. Although today they are practicing doctors in Monmouth County, they still have the passion to cook.

“They like to eat and they like to cook,” said Reyes. “They want to share that passion for what they enjoy making with the community.”

Lamb shank kare kare by chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

Lamb shank kare kare by chef Homer Reyes at La Parilla de Manila, Wednesday, August 19, 2015, in Colonia, NJ.

Jenna Intersimone’s “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” column appears Tuesdays. Her “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” blog is at LifeAboardTheTravelingCircus.com. Tweet her at @JIntersimone or email her at JIntersimone@GannettNJ.com.

LA PARRILLA DE MANILA

Where: 1159 St. Georges Ave. in Colonia

Hours: Lunch served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Entree Price Range: Lunch from $7.99 to $10.99 and dinner from $19.99 to $23.99

Contact: 732-510-7033 or laparillademanila.com

Meet misunderstood sky monsters at Raptor Trust

When Chris Soucy, director of the Raptor Trust, brings Vilma the barred owl out of her cage for an impromptu visit, lucky Trust guests come out of every edge of the Millington property to take a look at the permanent resident.

Jack, an 8-year-old bird-of-prey fan, bounds up to Soucy and two gathered children and their parents to share with him the raptor facts that he knows. A husband-and-wife pair soon join the growing group, as well the plumber who is there on a job. He tells Soucy that the songbirds are his favorite.

Regardless of age, gender or hometown, it seems like everyone can find a reason to be enamored with birds of prey at the Raptor Trust, whether it’s for one hour, once a year or even once a week, the frequency in which some regulars visit.

About 10,000 people visit the Raptor Trust annually, which Soucy said is important because if you find an injured bird, you should know where to bring it, whether it is to the Raptor Trust or to one of the other bird rehabilitation facilities in the state.

It also provides the chance to see almost all of the New Jersey native raptor species on display in one place.

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“Most people never see an owl in their whole life. You can see seven or eight from only a few feet away or an eagle or a falcon up close,” said Soucy. “It’s a good educational opportunity, good for all ages and we are within the confines of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, an 8,000-acre wildlife reserve with trails and an education center.”

Open to the public seven days a week and 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., there is no charge to visit the 130,000-foot space, but a $2 donation is encouraged because the Raptor Trust is a nonprofit corporation that receives no government support but relies completely on private contributions.

The 600 birds currently recuperating are housed in secluded spaces and are not accessible to visitors, but 50 resident birds are housed permanently at the Raptor Trust because of their inability to be released back into the wild following physical or mental issues. Many of these birds are used for public education, foster parenting and captive breeding.

Because predatory birds need to be able to hunt to live, Soucy explained that there is a fine line between survival and starvation. However, the Trust tries to err on giving birds a chance in the wild if they think survival is possible.

About half of the 100,000 birds that the Raptor Trust has rehabilitated since the mid-1970s are able to be released back into the wild, while the remaining birds become permanent residents at a wildlife facility, or they die. Most injured or orphaned birds taken to the Trust are babies that fell out of a nest or their mother was killed.

The Raptor Trust provides the chance to see almost all of the New Jersey native raptor species on display in one place. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

The Raptor Trust provides the chance to see almost all of the New Jersey native raptor species on display in one place. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

So how are these birds getting to the Raptor Trust?

“Most of them come in a shoebox,” said Soucy. “Many injured birds have had some sort of human activity injury such as being hit by a car, they flew into a window, got an impact injury, flew into telephone wires or got electrocuted, poisoned, shot or any other imaginable horrible thing.”

However, not all birds brought to the Raptor Trust need medical care. Some just need to be fed until they are able to be released. Regardless of whether it’s 12 p.m. or 12 a.m., found birds can be brought to the facility for care. If you find an injured bird, visittheraptortrust.org to learn how you can safely bring a bird to the facility.

Nowadays, people are very receptive to helping injured raptors, but it wasn’t always this way. Until the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1972, there was a bounty on them as they were considered vermin.

“I think that over the decades, the perception has changed from them being horrible, mean killers into being very important parts of the ecosystem,” said Soucy.

Not all birds brought to the Raptor Trust need medical care – some just need to be fed until they are able to be released. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Not all birds brought to the Raptor Trust need medical care – some just need to be fed until they are able to be released. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Len Soucy, Chris’s father and the Raptor Trust founder, was an integral part of this change in dynamic following his interest in hawks after a visit to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania, in 1964. In 1968, he bought a home with his wife, Diane, on 14 acres of property in Millington where he began to care for injured raptors part time in the backyard.

“I grew up with owls in the bathroom and hawks on the curtain rod,” said Soucy. “My father saw some injustice in the way people perceived these birds and he made it his one-man mission to change that.”

As the Raptor Trust’s work became more well-known, more injured birds were brought to the Millington site. By the end of the 1970s, hundreds of birds were being admitted annually. In 1982, the operation was named the Raptor Trust and established as a nonprofit corporation. Today, Chris continues to run the facility.

“I continue to do this because if most of the planet is gone, it’s not going to be very beautiful,” said Soucy. “There won’t be beauty to my life to not hear a cricket chirping or see an eagle flying. These are the things that make our world work.”

Regardless of age, gender or hometown, it seems like everyone can find a reason to be enamored with birds of prey at the Raptor Trust. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Regardless of age, gender or hometown, it seems like everyone can find a reason to be enamored with birds of prey at the Raptor Trust. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

THE RAPTOR TRUST

Where: 1390 Whitebridge Rd, Millington

Cost: Free, but a $2 donation is encouraged

Contact: 908-647-2353 or theraptortrust.org

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Labor Day, at which time visiting hours end at 5 p.m.

What to do if you find an injured bird: Click here

Exploring Central Jersey on foot by hiking

There are very few activities that you can do anywhere in the world that will take you to beautiful, natural destinations for free — and luckily, one of them flourishes right here in Central Jersey.

Hiking, a bare-bones activity that requires only a love of the earth and a pair of sneakers, may not offer the same excitement that comes with visiting a new city, but it does give families the chance to get outside and explore the scenery outside of their homes.

“New Jersey hiking is beautiful and very accessible with lots of friendly people to interact with along the way,” said Paul Mandala, REI outdoor equipment store employee and avid hiker from Fort Lee. “It doesn’t have the remoteness or solidarity of other areas I have hiked through, but it’s a great place to get out for the day or weekend trips.”

Although out-of-staters don’t particularly know New Jersey for its hiking prowess, the state offers a diverse range of hiking trails and parks that are fitting for those looking for a rocky mountain hike, a beachy shore run or a stroll through flat meadows, which Dawn L. McClennen, co-founder of njHiking.com, is well aware of.

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“We don’t have the elevation of something out West but it’s actually quite diverse,” said McClennen, who is from Middlesex County and has been hiking the state for about 20 years. “North Jersey is rugged and then Central is more mild and a little more farmlands. The Pine Barrens are flat and sandy with a lot of diverse trails that butt up against the beach. When you hike up a mountain here, you might see a city skyline.”

Some of the more popular hiking destinations in New Jersey include Northern Green State Forest in Ringwood, Sourland Mountain Preserve in Hillsborough, Cheesequake State Park in Matawan, Wharton State Forest of Hammonton and Belleplain State Forest of Woodbine. You can also check out njHiking.com’s picks for best hikes in Central Jersey by clicking here.

David Dendler, park ranger manager at the Somerset County Park Commission (SCPC), said that the Sourland Mountain Preserve maintains its popularity because of its rugged terrain and accompanying uniqueness as well as its size, with 14 miles of trails over 4,000 acres.

Since the SCPC has diverse parks throughout the county and over 1 million people visit them annually, Dendler said that there is something for everyone right in their backyards.

The Lord Stirling Park. ~Courtesy of Somerset County Park Commission

The Lord Stirling Park. ~Courtesy of Somerset County Park Commission

“It’s free recreation for people to use, plus it’s very close to their homes,” he said. “Also, there are tons of health benefits, plus, of course, with physical health comes mental health.”

Mandala, who has hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and has spent a lot of time leading group hikes and hiking alone as the founder of the Monmouth University Outdoors Club, said that hiking makes him feel more alive and connected to nature.

“I love to hike because it gets me away from our busy everyday economy-driven world we live in and connects me to the truth and beauty of the natural world,” he said. “Hiking brings me places that feel far away.”

Although hiking in itself can be relaxing and rejuvenating, preparation is involved, which is where sites such as njHiking.com, which launched in 2009, come in. The site features photos and over 100 videos so that prospective hikers can check out a trail before they head out.

The Cheesequake State Park. ~Courtesy of njHiking.com

The Cheesequake State Park. ~Courtesy of njHiking.com

McClennen said that she organizes the site in this visual manner, alongside her own opinions on trails, so that hikers don’t end up wasting their time.

“With our site, you can figure out if a trail is something you’re interested in or if you can even do it,” she said. “I wanted to build a site that we wished existed when we were researching hikes.”

To find further resources on prospective hikes, Dendler said that hikers should check out county park websites, where they can print out maps, look at biking and hiking trails and see the elevation of trails to give them an idea of a trail’s difficulty or if they can bring along a four-legged friend.

In order to stay safe during a hike, Dendler recommended that people be prepared for all weather, bring insect repellant, epi-pens, snacks, sunscreen, hats, water, a cellphone, a small first-aid kit and a map from a park kiosk or website.

Mt. Tammany. (Photo: ~Courtesy of njhiking.com)

Mt. Tammany.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of njhiking.com)

Within the past two months, Dendler said that the SCPC has received a half-dozen phone calls from lost or injured hikers, a number that usually increases in the fall.

McClennen said that people tend to rely on their phones for trail mapping, but it’s also advantageous to have a paper map in case of loss of phone service.

In New Jersey, Mandala stressed that hikers should be cautious about running into bears, coyotes and snakes.

“Run-ins with wildlife are rare and your chances of having trouble with vehicles is higher, but use caution around animals,” he said. “The key is to stay calm and give wild animals space.”

Obviously, though, hiking has a lot less risk than other outdoor sports, plus it’s easier and cheaper. For the travel-hungry yet homebound, the Garden State offers a wealth of parks and trails that make it so those headed for the outdoors never run out of new backyard destinations to visit.

The Washington Resevoir Park. ~Courtesy of Somerset County Park Commission

The Washington Resevoir Park. ~Courtesy of Somerset County Park Commission

Hiking Central Jersey

A tour back in time at Sterling Hill Mine

Travelers often head to the tristate area to get a taste of Manhattan, but Bill Kroth, president of Sterling Hill Mining Museum, knows that Sussex County has its own tourism gem hidden in the caverns of Ogdensburg.

“When you get up here, it’s like taking a step back in time,” said Kroth. “Where else can you walk into a real mine and learn about earth science and see fluorescing minerals?”

Many New Jerseyans are unaware of the fame that surrounds the now-inactive mine, which closed in 1986 because of the low price of zinc and a property tax dispute with Ogdensburg after 138 years of mining of zinc, iron and manganese. Together with the Franklin Mine, it was one of the top five in the world for having the most fluorescent minerals with 80 documented species.

In the Rainbow Tunnel, brightly fluorescent zinc ore is exposed in the mine walls. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Sterling Hill Mining Museum)

In the Rainbow Tunnel, brightly fluorescent zinc ore is exposed in the mine walls.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Sterling Hill Mining Museum)

“I tell visitors, ‘Can you name one thing that came out of a factory that didn’t need a mine to make it?’ ” said Kroth. “Everything started underground. Everything we need came from mining, even our iPads, tires and makeup.”

Kroth said that those who are the slightest bit interested in rocks and minerals or earth science and chemistry should visit the mining museum and take the tour.

From start to finish, the tour takes two hours and includes the main museum Zobel Exhibit Hall, which provides educational exhibits and an introduction to the Sterling Hill Mine, as well as the hourlong mine tour, which includes the lamp room, shaft station, mine galleries, a sight-and-sound blasting demonstration and the favorite “Rainbow Tunnel,” where brightly fluorescent zinc ore is exposed in the mine walls.

Inside the 1,300-foot, well-lit underground mine, the air is a cool 56 degrees, making it a fitting pseudo-outdoor activity for a hot summer day. (Photo: ~File photo)

Inside the 1,300-foot, well-lit underground mine, the air is a cool 56 degrees, making it a fitting pseudo-outdoor activity for a hot summer day. (Photo: ~File photo)

Numerous pieces of mining equipment are scattered throughout the nine passages within tour exhibits for visitors to learn about the mining process such as sinking buckets, stamp mills, sheave wheels, crushers, ball mills, drum hoists and compressors.

Inside the 1300-foot, well-lit underground mine, the air is a cool 56 degrees, making it a fitting pseudo-outdoor activity for a hot summer day. No climbing is involved on the wheelchair-accessible tour — visitors walk on gravel throughout the mine.

To those who haven’t been on the tour, two hours sounds like a long time to be wandering around a mine, but Kroth said that many people come to him afterward and tell him that they can’t believe it went by so quickly.

About 45,000 people visit the Sterling Hill Mining Museum every year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum)

About 45,000 people visit the Sterling Hill Mining Museum every year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum)

“People don’t understand the process of mining, so when they learn about it, they’re mesmerized,” he said.

About 45,000 people visit the Sterling Hill Mining Museum every year, a number that has doubled over the past three years because of an increase in staff and the ability for the museum to accommodate more tours and visitors. Zobel Exhibit Hall also has more pieces, and the actual mine has been expanded with more stations, plus a new pavilion was recently built to accommodate large groups of schoolchildren for lunch.

The Sterling Hill Mining Museum isn’t done yet with its expansion. It is polishing its current exhibits, as well as exploring the possibility of incorporating the mining crushing plant on to the tour.

The Sterling Hill mine was in operation until 1986. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum)

The Sterling Hill mine was in operation until 1986. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum)

The Sussex County mine is lucky. Throughout the years, many former mine sites have been torn down, but the Sterling Hill mine was purchased three years after its closing and made accessible to the public as a museum only about a year later.

One of the oldest mines in the United States, the area was first worked before 1739, more than 265 years ago. Together with the Franklin Mine, 350 different mineral species have been found in the vicinity — a world record for such a small area. More than two-dozen of these have been found nowhere else on Earth.

STERLING HILL MINING MUSEUM

Where: 30 Plant St., Ogdensburg

Cost: $11 for adults, $8 for children 4 to 12, children 3 and under are free

Hours: Public tours are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., seven days a week until after Labor Day

Contact: 973-209-7212 or sterlinghillminingmuseum.org