Cheers to Ceia!

Cheers to Ceia - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

It’s not often that you land a seat at the bar at a place like Cheers. A seat that welcomes you back time after time, with that cozy feeling of home. Here in Newburyport, Ceia Kitchen + Bar is our Cheers.

With restaurants coming and going, not much stays the same long enough to become part of you. We’ve tried most of the 80 restaurants in Newburyport during the 6 years that we’ve lived here. In fact, we’ve lived in Newburyport longer than any other city since Don and I got married almost 15 years ago.

It’s almost momentous, realizing that you’ve found that perfect spot. Many heated discussions have taken place in Ceia’s leather barstools. Don and I chose to celebrate buying our home there. We’ve shared drinks with friends, celebrated birthdays, enjoyed family meals, and slipped away for date nights.

When we got back from our trip to Paris and Madrid a few years ago, Ceia was where we wanted to be. The restaurant always magically transports me to Europe, even if it’s only for a few hours. The brick walls and copper bar create that old world feel with a modern edge. There’s bistro style seating on the sidewalk for people watching in the warmer weather. House made charcuterie plates are presented artfully on slate. Incredible smells drift through the restaurant from the open 2nd floor kitchen. And all those European wines!

JeremyGlover, Executive Chef at Ceia Kitchen and Bar in Newburyport - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I recently had the chance to chat with Ceia’s Executive Chef, Jeremy Glover. He chooses to drive 45 minutes from Maine to Newburyport because he totally loves his job at Ceia, mostly because he has an amazing boss in Nancy Batista-Caswell, proprietor and wine director.

Chef Jeremy runs a scratch kitchen, which means everything is made fresh at the restaurant. This is super important to me as a food allergy mom because less suppliers means more control in the kitchen. I was really impressed with Jeremy’s philosophy on food allergies. Here’s how he handles food allergies in the kitchen at Ceia:

I try to not put allergens on the menu. 80% of our entrees and apps are gluten free. I don’t have pine nuts or peanuts, and no soy products. If we do get a food allergy customer, we take precautionary steps. Wash your hands. Wash all utensils. Put on gloves. If someone has been using nuts all night, and we get a nut allergy order, I’ll have another chef make it. I try to minimize it rather than having allergens everywhere and trying to control a chaotic event.

A food allergy Mom’s dream! There aren’t many restaurants that I trust to feed my monkeys because of their severe food allergies (peanut and Celiac). We feel safe at Ceia, and a lot of that has to do with the tone the chef sets in the kitchen. Here are some snippets from our chat:

UTMB :: Menu inspiration?
JG :: Usually what’s coming into season and what I want to eat.
UTMB :: Favorite kitchen gadget?
JG :: Blazen knives from Epic Edge.
UTMB :: Best olive oil?
JG :: Frantoia Barbera Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (#shoplocal at Grand Trunk!)
UTMB :: Advice for home chefs?
JG :: Use salt! Don’t be afraid of real butter.
UTMB :: Make at home?
JG :: Comfort food like roast chickens with root vegetables.

Check the blog next week for a recipe from Jeremy Glover’s kitchen. I’ll be telling more Food Stories from different areas of the industry in 2016. Until next time, friends!

Hot Off The Press!

Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club Member Spotlight - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I still can’t believe it. The Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club (GNMFC) interviewed me for their Member Spotlight. I’m so honored and excited to share my first interview with you! It’s hot off the press…

Member Spotlight: Christine Westermann
Author of Under the Monkey Bars Blog
Interviewed by Candice O’Neil, GNFC Board member

For this issue’s member spotlight, we reached out to the author of the popular local blog Under the Monkey Bars. In addition to being a mom of her two girls, Christine Westermann has created a successful blog that now receives approximately 2500-3900 hits per month. Christine was kind enough to share a little about how she got started, her passion for blogging, and tips for other members who might be thinking about starting their own blog. We encourage you to check it out!

How did you get started blogging?
My husband suggested that I start a blog three years ago. And then friends started saying I should blog. My excuses were endless. I didn’t have time. I don’t have a real camera. I’d run out of things to say. But really, I was afraid. I was scared of putting myself out there. Finally, it was my doctor (Dr. Mark Su) who said the final, “You should start a blog.” That was last August. And here I am one year later…

What inspired you to start a blog?
My family, friends, and this club. I really love helping people. I love making connections. I love telling stories. My husband and I have come across so many challenges in our ten years of parenting that it just made sense to share “lessons learned” and things to make life easier. It just made sense.

Can you give us a history of how your blog has gone from creation to where it is today?
Last September when the girls went back to school, I started carving out time in my schedule to write and work on the blog. I wanted to see if I could fit it into my schedule. I used to work in marketing and public relations and enjoyed writing the most. My brain was a little rusty, but writing came back easily.

Then I needed a name for the blog. I wanted something different with a personal connection. I brainstormed with friends and family for what seemed like forever at the time. One morning I was walking down State Street on the phone with a friend from college. She asked me, “What do you call the girls?” I said, “Monkeys.” Two minutes later, we came up with Under the Monkey Bars. And I knew right away that it was the perfect name for my blog.

The next step was a little more technical than my skill level. After five minutes of looking at WordPress, I realized I need professional help. I didn’t want the blog to look like something I did myself on a template. I’m a “go big or go home” kind of girl. After convincing my husband that it would be worth it, I connected with Bobbi from Ready to Blog Designs over in London. It took us a few months of going back and forth on layout, branding, logo, colors, and design to finally launch the blog in late January. From conception to launch, Under the Monkey Bars came to fruition in five months.

Do you have any advice for other moms who are thinking about starting a blog?
Have your support network in place and make sure your family is on board. My husband helps a ton with editing posts and putting up with me taking pictures all the time. He has really been amazing.

Figure out your goals. Do you want to do it as a hobby or actually make money? Have a plan in place before you put the blog out there.

Make sure you have enough to say! Supposedly most blogs reach their peak after three months. Get as much planning and writing done before you go live. I wish I had a bit more content ready – at least in draft form – but I was so anxious to get it out there. It was almost like having a baby. Everyone kept asking, “Is the blog ready yet?”

Has being a member of the GNFC impacted your blog?  If so, in what ways?
Absolutely. I read the forums daily and love to reply to posts. I remember being a first time Mom with so many questions, so many concerns, so many things going on in my head. GNFC is such a resource for anyone raising children because there’s no manual for these little ones. It takes a village. And I’m so happy that we chose to live here and raise our family here in Newburyport.

How do you balance blogging with your other responsibilities?
This is my first time “working” since I had my first daughter ten years ago. It’s taken me a while to figure out when to work, how to ignore the laundry and dishes, as well as be there for my girls. I started the blog thinking I would post four times a week. I wanted to be consistent and give myself deadlines. It’s been a challenge to be easy on myself. It’s okay if I only get two posts up a week. I’m not going to get fired! It’s really hard not to put that pressure on yourself. I want the blog to succeed, but my family comes first.

What do you love most about blogging?
I’ve been a stay at home mom since my oldest was born, and I missed having that something. Not necessarily working. Desks and offices are just not my thing. But rather something to call my own. I love that the blog is all mine. My girls have both told me that they are proud of me, which makes me completely melt. I truly want to be an example for them as a Mom and as a person.

I also love the feedback I’ve received from friends and subscribers. I’ve really been blown away a few times – hearing people say that they are cooking more or that they gave up soda or sugar, cutting out processed foods. That’s really why I write. Through Under the Monkey Bars, I hope to inspire people and help them live happier, healthier lives.

Tell us about some of the successes/positive outcomes that have come from your blog.
Three months after I started the blog, asked me to be their Parents Corner columnist. I’m beyond thrilled to be getting a paycheck! The best part is that I wasn’t expecting anything like this to happen when I started the blog.

I’ve been approached by a few companies to help promote their products. This is one of the really fun parts for me since I used to work in marketing and public relations. I love being on the other side!

How do you come up with topics for your posts?
I have a list of over 100 topics that I put together before I started the blog, but I’ve only looked at it twice since! My post topics usually come from day to day life or requests from my readers. I originally planned to focus on health topics, but quickly realized I would run out of things to write about. Being a lifestyle blogger allows me to write about anything – travel, fashion, beauty, health, kids. Anything goes. People relate to different topics. It’s interesting to see how many people view each post. I’m always wrong when I guess which posts will get the most hits.

What is involved with running/maintaining a blog of your size?
To be honest, it takes a lot more time than I anticipated. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so after I write something I continue to edit it until the post goes out, changing one word here or there. Not the best use of time. I’m working on that! The process of adding the post and photos to WordPress takes me much longer than I expected. And then I create a mini social media plan for each post. Over time, I’ve picked up a few tricks but it’s still a learning process.

What do you envision for the future in terms of your blog, writing career, etc.?
Short term, I’d like to grow my subscribers and readers. That will open up more opportunities to cover on the blog. I’d also love for the blog to be profitable…and so would my husband! It’s hard to find the extra time to sit down and work on growth while continuing to write and create posts. Anyone else want an extra hour in the day?

Long term, I don’t want to be famous or anything. I plan to continue writing and growing Under the Monkey Bars. I’d love for it to be a recognizable name in our community and beyond.

How does the blog impact your family life?
My girls love to be part of the blog, but I’m very careful about their privacy. On the blog, I call them Bean and Sweet Pea, nicknames we’ve used around the house for years. I never include photographs of their faces. I’m careful not to expose embarrassing information. It’s really important to me. Don and I are both very private people so sharing our lives has been a bit of an adjustment.

I try to get most of my work done during the week so that I can take the weekends off. I occasionally need to get a photo of something or go somewhere to finish a post. At this point, my family is used to it and really flexible about it. Once I got the hang of actually getting posts up and had a system in place, it really hasn’t impacted us much day to day. My husband might disagree as he proofs my posts at 9pm though! Kidding aside, I know he’s really proud of me, and that makes my heart smile.

This interview appeared on page 21 of the Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club July/August 2015 Newsletter. Thanks for reading and supporting Under the Monkey Bars!