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Farm Fresh Mexican for Cinco De Mayo at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, NH

Farm Fresh Mexican for Cinco De Mayo at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, NH 1833 2091 Jason Stadtlander

The key difference that you will notice in any farm to table restaurant when compared to more traditional restaurant fare is the freshness. I never would have imagined that I could actually tell the difference between fresh food from a farm and food from a distributor — at least not until I began seeking out dining locations for my Farm to Table series.


Driving down from Kittery, ME where I frequent the outlet malls, I often prefer to take the more scenic Route 1, which wiggles its way down through Maine, New Hampshire and eventually leads down to the North Shore of Boston where I live. One evening not long ago, on one of my drives down I was looking for a margarita to end my weekend with and stumbled upon Vida Cantina on the right hand side of the southbound road. Pulling in and walking through the door, I was immediately enraptured with warm pleasant aromas of the tacos, enchiladas and fresh meat that was grilling. Despite these amazing aromas, I was on a mission to find a good margarita, and a good margarita I did find. With the freshest squeezed key limes and splash of tequila and a tinge of salt, the drink was nothing short of amazing. It was at that point that I actually took a moment to take in my surroundings.

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to sit down in the home of a Mexican family, then Vida Cantina on is definitely the place to go. Chef David Vargas explains that “…its those traditional flavors and the fresh ingredients combined in a modern technique that continues to drive Vida Cantina.” He went on to explain that traditional Mexican food gets its authentic taste from the freshest ingredients which is what really inspired the Farm to Table concept within the establishment. No one knows authentic Mexican food like Vargas, who grew up in an American-Mexican home with parents from the Guadalajara and Jalisco area. Cooking was a passion in the home as was the ‘family’ element to the meal. He further went on to receive professional culinary education from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

Vargas explains that “Vida Cantina tries to step away from the norm that many Americans might perceive as Mexican food…” something that I feel provides a more authentic and vibrant Mexican experience. You won’t find the traditional burritos and quesadillas that you might see at other ‘Mexican’ restaurants. Instead you will find mouthwatering dishes such as the NH Mushroom “Chorizo” Tacos, grounded in fresh ingredients from start to finish. Vida Cantina has even made arrangements with local Tuckaway Farm in Lee, NH to provide them with fresh Indian corn. “I decided last year that this year we would start making our tortillas for our tacos completely from scratch. I showed my staff how to hand mill the corn into flour to make all homemade ingredients for our tortillas that we use for our tacos.” Vargas states. “I will admit that I got an interesting look from my staff when I proposed that we would be hand grinding 60 pounds of corn.”


Owner and Chef: David Vargas

Not only has Vida Cantina made a strong effort to mold their growers and suppliers to provide the perfect ingredients, they put the same effort into their staff training. “We do get some pushback here and there, when people come into a Mexican restaurant and they expect a more traditional style, what they come to expect with burritos and such. Our servers are very well educated and they basically tell the story of what we’re doing here and why do it on a daily basis.” says Vargas. “We intentionally don’t offer burritos so that we can change their perception – steer people away from that image when they sit down at a Mexican restaurant and see at the same time all the farms that we are promoting and what we are doing with the fresh ingredients.”

Here are some of the other farms they work with:
Breezy Hill Farm – South Berwick, Maine – providing meat
PT Farm – North Haverhill, NH – providing meat

One other benefit that Vargas enjoys implementing into his seacoast restaurant, is the proximity to fresh fish. Vida Cantina belongs to a local fish cooperative that they pay into and then every Friday local fisherman provide whatever fresh catch they happen to get that day.

You can’t get fresher ingredients in your food than a farm to table restaurant like Vida Cantina and the effort and dedication that not only their owners, but their staff as well – put into the establishment truly is exemplified in their dishes, their atmosphere and their quality of service. I would highly recommend stopping by and tasting Vida Cantina for yourself this Cinco De Mayo (or any other day of the year). When you do stop in, don’t forget to try one of their margaritas with a choice of over forty different tequilas!

You can find them at:
Vida Cantina
2456 Lafayette Road
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 501-0648

How to Handle Your Child’s Social Media Disaster

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In my last article, “Your Child: A Sheep Among the Wolves,” I discussed the dangers today’s parents are facing with the Internet and child predators. Today, I would like to focus on some of the more daunting questions dealing with what a parent can do when preventive measures are too late.

The case with Hannah Anderson and the Irish 17-year-old that was cyber-bullied after an Eminem concert are prime examples of children and social media run amuck. Anderson should never have had access to electronic devices until she and her family had time to grieve together and the Irish teen… well, I don’t even know where to start there.

So, let’s look at a few scenarios. I’ll tell you what my experience has shown, and I’ll interject some statements from law enforcement and professionals that have dealt with similar situations.

What happens when your child has been abducted by a predator and you don’t know who the predator is or where to look?

It is critical that you do not shut down or touch your child’s electronics (assuming they are still at the house). The first thing to do is contact local law enforcement. If you are talking about an abduction, dial 911 (or 999 for you UK readers). Time is critical when it comes to abduction by a predator. Local law enforcement has the ability to seize your children’s electronics in a way that allows them to capture the resident memory, active files and programs. That way they can do a forensic analysis and find out exactly who the child was talking to. Even if children have deleted their internet history, it will still be available for law enforcement.

Other than contacting law enforcement, what can parents do if their child has been cyber-bullied by classmates?

Discussion and education are important, and I have found that it can help children who have been cyber-bullied to discuss it with their peers in a controlled and supervised discussion so that it doesn’t happen to them. It helps them realize that they are not alone and that it should not occur. Lanae Holmes, Senior Family Advocacy Specialist for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), states that the healthiest thing to do is use the experience of cyber-bullying to raise awareness in the community. Holmes goes on to say, “It’s a good idea to host round table discussions in communities, schools and churches and ensure that something like that doesn’t occur in the future. Cyber-bullying should be used as a teaching tool. Children fit into different cliques in real life, so they tend to do the same thing online. This is what can lead to cyber-bullying and with technology it almost instantly goes viral.”

Holmes also states that one very good resource for parents needing quick answers to difficult cyber-related questions is You can ask questions in real format and get good results on both preventive and reactive methodologies.

The viral aspect of cyber-bullying is what makes it that much more damaging psychologically. We aren’t talking about one or two people seeing a negative or defamatory comment about someone or something — we are talking about everyone who is “friends” with one another seeing it. Let’s face it, one way or another, nearly every child will be connected with everyone else in the school through social media.

“Kids are getting the same feelings, love, adoration, etc. that we get offline. The relationships might not be real, but the feelings are,” says Holmes.

A cyber-bullying incident is also a good chance for you to find out how your children operate on the internet. Rather than asking them questions outright, take advantage of your children’s desire to prove they know more than you. Have them show you how their favorite social media websites work and sit down with them to become educated. It’s a chance for you to interact, to learn and also show that you are interested in your children’s “virtual lives” as well as their real lives.

How should children be handled after a traumatic event (in terms of allowing them to be online, electronics, etc.)?

This is where the Hannah Anderson case comes into question. Privacy for a family is very important, even more so after a traumatic event. “Internet is part of their daily life and social outlet. She may have been reaching out for support and community validation,” states Holmes. “She really should have been connected to professional crisis counselors beforehand. Being on the internet opens her up to scrutiny from the rest of the world and many children in today’s society live out on the internet.”

After a traumatic event such as abduction, loss of a loved one, natural disaster, etc., children should be isolated from all electronics, at least until they have had time to grieve in real life with family. It would be no different than a family not wanting to take phone calls or talk to anyone until they really had time to absorb what happened. Reasonably, this would be a week or two, but the time determinant should really fall under the better judgment of a professional grief counselor.

“She [Anderson] should have consulted with the adults in her life before going online at all,” states Holmes. The first priorities should be to:

  • Encourage families to connect with local professionals
  • Engage with church communities and school communities to help deal with the trauma

If someone has e-personated you or your child, how can you clean up the mess?

“If they haven’t already been contacted, [local] law enforcement should be contacted first. Especially if it’s dealing with possible identity theft. People may be inclined to contact the FBI, but the first step should be to call local law enforcement. Local law enforcement generally has better tools to handle internet impersonation and identity theft. If it looks like it will be a much bigger case then the local authorities will contact us. The most critical part of cyber-crime is the element of time. The quicker that action can be taken the sooner the clean-up can begin,” states Supervisor Special Agent Kevin Swindon of the Boston FBI Cyber Crimes Division.

When you have found out someone has either stolen your identity or is e-personating, both the FBI and NCMEC recommend you contact the administrator of the website to request removal. “Any reputable social website will have an abuse page or a reporting page that you can get in touch with the administrators,” says Swindon.

I have contacted Facebook, Twitter and a few other sites personally to request removal of some e-personators as well as to deal with issues regarding cyber-bullying and identity theft. I have yet to find a website that doesn’t respond within 24 hours (if not sooner). It is, after all, their business, and ultimately their reputation on the line.

How can you tell if someone is e-personating someone you know?

Most people will find out they are being e-personated from a friend who is upset — who couldn’t believe you said something (that you didn’t say) or from a sudden influx of email and contact from people they don’t know. My best advice is this. Search for yourself online regularly. Run a Google search on yourself at least once a month to see what pops up and deal with it immediately. It’s much better to be proactive than reactive.

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Your Child: A Sheep Among the Wolves

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Walking into the small room at the Massachusetts Foster Parent program, I saw several faces I recognized and several I didn’t — all of them eager to hear some information on how they could wrap their minds around the technological mystery that today’s youth have grown up in. According to the most recent report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 676,569 children were the victims of child abuse and neglect in 2011. And of that number, more than 24 percent of victims were younger than 3 years old, so the need to educate ourselves and prevent predators from reaching out to our children has never been stronger. Although most modern parents have been exposed to the Internet, there are still many who have barely touched a computer. To complicate things further, the technological and social networking elements change as fast as the weather.

Sitting down at the makeshift conference table, I gave my regular introduction but kept my presentation short. I have learned in these groups that rather than lecturing to participants, it is better to open up a Q&A session. Parents (especially foster parents) have questions — tons of questions — about safety, about what their children are facing, about bullying and how to prevent access to their children’s information. Many children are taught that Internet dangers exist, but the risk is that they might encounter someone who knows how to manipulate them by taking advantage of their natural innocence and need to reach out. If parents really knew the extent of the dangers out there, they might take their computers and bury them in a six-foot hole in the backyard. This of course is ridiculous and not an option, but the repulsion over what lies waiting for our children is a call to action.

I’m not talking about drugs, porn, sex or anything of the sort — this can all be discussed and handled. The greatest dangers lurk in the idle activities children engage in while reaching out to peers stemming from the need to connect: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Digger, Instagram, etc. The list of social networking and feed-related organizations out there is a mile long.

During this particular discussion, a mother sat across the table from me, nicely dressed, her left arm tattooed with an elegant Celtic design. She stared at me, and there was a moment of silence followed by, “I have a 13-year-old girl at home who was e-personated on Facebook and was badly bullied by friends at school because of it.”

My heart sank. It is something I have seen dozens of times and sadly, something that is difficult to prevent up front and to clean up afterward. Basically, what the mother told me was that her foster child was a victim of online impersonation. A predator created a Facebook account and acted as if he were this girl, using stolen pictures of her — no doubt from her own Facebook account. The person went on to friend all of her friends and began spreading rumors and lies about the girl and her drug-addicted birth mother. Just wait — the story gets worse. The person doing this “e-personation” was a male in his forties who was infatuated with the girl but someone she had never even met.

This is exactly the kind of situation I see all the time when trying to protect children online. In 2010, one in five adolescents said they had been cyberbullied at some point in their lives, and about that same number admit to having been a cyberbully. So one in 10 adolescents had been both a cyberbully and a victim.

Another parent in the room asked how that predator could e-personate someone, especially a child. So I provided an example. Let’s flip things around and look at this from the child-predator perspective. First, he (or she) chooses a community, most likely one far from his own so he is not easily discovered. He identifies the schools in the town, then visits the schools’ websites to check out what various children have posted about sports, games, theater — until locating the perfect little girl or boy who fits his “taste.” He spots the child of interest and reads the caption with the child’s name.

Let’s say the school is at least being a little protective and doesn’t use the child’s first name but rather the first initial followed by her last name as in “J. Doe.” Well, the person sees the little girl on a soccer team. So chances are that the little girl has other interests in soccer or has been involved in some other activity. The predator does a search on the web for “J. Doe” and adds in the keyword “soccer,” along with other keywords like the town or the name of the school. In the results, the predator then sees “Jane Smith” who is part of a group on Facebook that has several other students in the same group because whoever created that group didn’t take the time to lock down the group’s visibility on search engines.

Clicking the link, the predator can confirm that the girl is who he thinks she is because her face matches the one on the school website. Now he can see her Facebook profile. Because she isn’t privacy-savvy, she also has “Dad,” “Mom” and a few other people labeled in her friends’ list — so the predator now has additional names to use for his search, helping him acquire an address.

Within 30 minutes the predator now has:

  • Identity: Jane Doe, age 9
  • Parents: John and Betty Doe
  • Address: 123 Some Street
  • School: Town Memorial School
  • Communication: established with Jane via Messenger

What can you do to prevent this?

In my recent book, The Steel Van Man, a serial killer hunts down and kills people who abuse children — vigilante justice, and not something I recommend. But as a parent, there are several real precautions you can take to prevent such actions on the part of the predator. Be forewarned, your children may not be happy with your attempt to protect. These efforts are in every child’s best interest, however, and I advise you to initiate these protections, explaining why they are important to your child.

  1. Most important? Talk to your children, maintaining an open dialogue at all times. This way, they know to be on the alert — even with people who seem to be their friends — and hopefully, they will let you know if something doesn’t feel right.
  2. Install monitoring/blocking software such as K9 or System Surveillance Pro. Learn how to use it and check it regularly. This software is only as good as the parent who monitors it.
  3. Record passwords for all your children’s social networking accounts. If, heaven forbid, something should happen to your child, you need to know where to investigate.
  4. Disable “Location Services” on the camera of your child’s iPod, mobile phone or any other device that can take pictures. This prevents the GPS coordinates from being embedded in the photos.

I always encourage parents to ask me if they have questions or concerns. Communication and information are the keys to protecting our children, and when it comes to our kids, there are no stupid questions.

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