Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving in the Dominican Republic (oh, and I turned 30 - NBD)

After a whirlwind trip to the Dominican with 12 besties (and my mom - my #1 bestie), a rocking 30th birthday (complete with new J. Crew boots - thanks Drew, I'm obsessed) and recovering from island time (and devilish mosquito bites that are STILL itchy) I finally feel back to normal. And ready to get some serious bloggin' on! 

If you follow this little corner of the Internet, and are my friend or family member, you know I turned 30 this week (and was a little apprehensive about it). To ease my apprehension, my thoughtful and hilarious husband Stu (aka Mr. Fo) planned a surprise birthday trip over Thanksgiving to the Dominican Republic with 12 of my favorite people! Isn't he the sweetest? And the coolest, I might add.

So instead of chowing down on turkey and watching football, we were celebrating in the sunshine this Turkey Day. Note: This is our 2nd time away for Thanksgiving, and we just may head out of town for each Thanksgiving that follows - I highly recommend it. You won't miss the parade or the turkey at all, you have my word! 

We stayed at Excellence Resort in Punta Cana and it was muy excelente. It was beautiful and the people were the drinks flowed like whoa, so what more can you ask for? As hard as it is for me to relax (READ: VERY HARD), I managed to relax for the most part. I had a wonderful massage, copious cocktails and variety of naps soaking in the sun. Plus lots and lots of heart warming, soul enriching, belly laughter. Without further ado, here are some (READ: A LOT) of photos from our trip! Also, note that the crappy pictures were taken with my point and shoot and the good pics were taken by my friend Michael Flanagan, who photographs some of my weddings. There's no way I am responsible enough to take my good camera to the Dominican Republic. Not even at 30. Ha. 

Courtesy of Mr. Fo's expert coordination with our travel agent, he had the hotel decorate my room with some birthday balloons, which was a lovely welcome after a fairly long travel day.


When we got in it was already dark (after a slightly sketchy yet hilarious shuttle ride), so we headed to dinner and had some celebratory "Mamajuana" shots, a Dominican specialty. Mamajuana is made with red wine, rum, honey and it soaks for a long time with tree bark and herbs. It's ... interesting....but we had to try the local culture. It's what you do. 


Our days started with room service breakfast outside of our swim-up suite room, complete with a hammock and delectable french toast. French toast is so good, and I feel like I only eat it on vacation. I need to change this STAT. 



We would then move the beach. We used these same beach chairs each every day; I guess we marked our territory? Or no one wanted to be near the loud people who started drinking at 10 a.m. Their loss.


Suffice it to say, thanks to Omar, our awesome beach "attendant" we were served tropical drinks galore and even got lunch brought out to us upon request. We didn't leave the beach for a solid few hours. Why would you? A popular lunch item was the Hawaiian pizza, which tastes delectable on the beach.


Our next big decision of the day was when we would make the inevitable move to one of several pools.   Sometimes you need a change of scenery, right? At the pool we drank mudslides and el Presidente beers served right at the swim up bar - Holla! Man, the Dominicans know how to live. Side note, I don't even know if I've ever had a mudslide before, but they are simply delicious. I will be making the mudslide a vacation treat from now on.

We did a lot of horsing around in the pool.... 

Note, I do have a bathing suit on in the photo below. I promise. It just looks like I'm nekkid. 

Speaking of horsing around, one our friends did a cannon ball in 3 feet of water which resulted in the photo below. (Side note, 30 year olds get lots of ailments on vacation - we had rashes, bug bites, random swelling of body parts, and several people limping around with sprained feet. These types of things did not happen when we were in our prime during college spring break.)


After a long hard day of lounging by the beach and pool, we washed up and made ourselves presentable for dinner. I should note that my island hair is less than desirable, so I basically would do my hair to put it up 5 seconds after I walked outside. Damn humidity.

Here's my beautiful cousin Theresa and I at dinner one night! (Missed you Laur!)

Natalie and I... Nat is a recent 30-er as well! 

My mom and I....(who was a total trooper ignoring all foul language and excessive drinking. She just laughed the whole time.)

We all hit up the discoteca and danced the night away...dancing is also good for the soul.

Now let's talk about how awesome my friends are. They created these hilarious t-shirts for my birthday and surprised me with them on the beach! 

The t-shirt was complete with a photo of me giving a thumbs down. Caption reads: "Jackie is 30 and not happy about it!" Lets just say that was a hit with the peeps on the resort. They called me "La hefa (the boss - I LOVED that) and also remarked about how I wasn't "happy about it." The "it" being turning 30. Hee! I can't tell a lie, I loved the attention.

Everyone got into the "thumbs down" thing. 

My friends even brought my favorite treat from the U.S. - Trader Joe's chocolate covered almonds!

And the folks at the resort were so sweet. Roberto (the dude in charge!) had them make me a special cake :) 

Totally random, but definitely worth noting were the cute little turtles in the open air lobby. 

Here are some more random but awesome photos... 

Here's Flanagan and I hanging on the beach with our rose colored glasses from the Pinkful Wedding.

And a beach parting shot... I hope to see you soon, beautiful ocean! 

On a sappy note (because I'm getting sappy in my old age) I'm so happy that so many important people in my life could get together and celebrate birthdays and long friendships. I don't always sit back and take the time to reflect on my blessings and good fortune, but I'm really a lucky, lucky girl. Thanks to Mr. Fo for knowing what the perfect birthday gift would be! 

Now that I'm back in action, I've got TONS to blog about including:
1) A list of 30 things I've learned in my 30 years.
2) Fabulous wedding photos
3) Fun showers coming up to blog about
4) and much, much more... 

In the meantime, check out my two latest Tablespoon articles for delicious dessert ideas for the holidays! 

Happy Eating and Happy Weekend! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beautiful Wedding and a trip to the DR! It's going to be the best Turkey Day ever!

I don't know about you, but I'm so on island time right now... even though I'm not technically in the islands. But tomorrow morning we leave the "real world" to head to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with 12 friends to celebrate a bunch of 30th birthdays ... including mine! I can't think of a better way to celebrate a special occasion (and the last days of my twenties boo hoo) than on a beach, with my husband, good friends, my MOM!, and a multitude of umbrella drinks.  Before I make my way to the Caribbean, I want to share a wedding I helped with this past weekend. Diana (the beautiful  and sweet bride!) needed help coordinating her rehearsal dinner and setting up decorations for her wedding day and I was happy to oblige!

The wedding ceremony and reception were held at a super cool venue called Alexander Homestead. 
The venue grounds include beautiful Victorian homes, trees and a bubbling brook complete with a quaint walking bridge! 
The ceremony was held outdoors in a beautiful gazebo with a backdrop of lit trees. 



The rows for family were reserved by moss balls created by one of Diana's very talented friends! The grounds of Alexander Homestead are gorgeous at sunset.


The gazebo was perfectly lit with twinkle lights and we hung flowers attached to twine from the top of the gazebo.


The reception was held in a newly designed barn on the property with high beams and wooden walls.  Guests were greeted by moss initial letters hung on the barn front doors.



The table centerpieces were a combination of florals and these creative wine bottle arrangements. Glass wine bottles were used as dramatic candle centerpieces tied together with twine. Chalkboard table numbers added to the rustic theme! I love these wine bottle centerpieces!


Wasn't this wedding gorge? I loved being a part of it! Congrats to Diana and Kevin! 

I hope you have a wonderful Turkey Day filled with yummy side dishes (I always vote mac and cheese), football and naps and tons of laughs with family and friends. 

I'll be here having food and laughs of my very own:


I want to give a shout out to Mr. Fo who seriously surprised the crap out of me with the best 30th birthday gift ever - a trip like this! I love you for always celebrating special occasions with something extra special! 

Happy Thanksgiving and I'll be back next week with a fun recap of our trip!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hard Cider Cocktail

Hard cider is up there with one of my most favorite foodie/beverage-y discoveries of 2012. 
You all know that honesty is my jam, so here's a confession: Before I tried this hard cider,  I thought cider was limited to a lukewarm, apple-flavored concoction simply made to help the house smell like the holidays. An afterthought, if you will. 

I hate to admit it, but I was dead wrong. Simply put, Hard Cider is da If you want to hop on the cider train this holiday season, and believe me, you freaking DO, you've got to try Angry Orchard's cider by the fine folks at Sam Adams. My husband's job with Sam (as the in crowd calls it) has brought me new perspective and insight into the world of beers, ciders and everything that goes into making these complex brews every bit as delicious as they truly are. Believe me, these brews are a labor of love, and Angry Orchard cider is worth falling in love with for the fall and winter. It's as cozy as your favorite sweater and a fire roaring in the fireplace.  

With 3 flavors of cider: Crisp Apple, Ginger and Traditional Dry, these ciders are delicious on their own. And side note - they are all gluten free. Holla! The apple and ginger ciders have the perfect flavors for your fall table, and I promise you they are not too sweet. You can read more about the world of Angry Orchard Cider HERE. Side note - didn't they nail the packaging, too? Packaging gets me every time....

If you follow my blog, and really, who doesn't, you know I recently made a Sam Adams Beer Dinner for my husband's birthday. Check out the full  menu line up HERE.  

One of my favorite recipes was the simplest, the Angry Captain cocktail. Simply combine Crisp Apple Cider with a shot of good ole' Captain Morgan's Rum for a spicy, apple-rific cocktail that goes down easy and would be a perfect accompaniment for Turkey Day and all it's splendorous sides. 

For more Angry Orchard cocktails, see the full list HERE. Now do you see why this cider is my jam? Serve up any of these cocktails at your Thanksgiving table to create an instant phenomenon of awesomeness. Now that's something to be thankful for! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lemme Lemme Upgrade you

Happy Monday...Can you believe it's already Monday? I'm going to be totally blunt with my peeps this morning before I move forward with my post.  I'm burnt out. Seriously, just burnt out. Between marathon weddings, work events, freelance article deadlines and a never ending stream of emails, I'm in serious need of a vacation. In fact it's currently Monday and I've been trying to write this post since last Thursday. Don't get me wrong, I'm REALLY pleased with how everything is going and I don't want to sound complain-y. I've got great things going on, received some really good news last week and am working on some fun events for the end of the year and next year. But I'm tired. And my house is a disaster zone and I can't catch up. But blah-blah I have the world's smallest violin. Just wanted you to know where I'm at and why I haven't been blogging as regularly as I would like.

I've been trying to post about our fun anniversary weekend for a few weeks now, so here goes...better late than never! Mr. Fo and I had a beautiful wedding reception at Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge 4 years ago and this is now the 2nd time we've gone back to celebrate our anniversary. This place is seriously beautiful and they treat you like a king (and queen)! The fabulous Kelly (formerly the event guru at the hotel before she had her adorable baby) caught wind that we were coming and upgraded us to the Presidential Suite. (Side note let's comment on how Kelly can still pull strings even though she doesn't work there anymore - she's that awesome - thanks Kelly!) The presidential suite was amazing because a) it's where we stayed the night of our wedding and b) it's bigger than our condo. (And most definitely cleaner.)

If you don't believe me that the place is seriously gorge, here's a view from our balcony :)

We spent the afternoon watching golfers and eating cheese. It was really strenuous. In the effort of full disclosure, I must admit that in order to "save money" and avoid purchasing an overly expensive room service cheese plate, I brought our own with delicious cheeses from Trader Joes. Imagine our reaction when we realize we'd been upgraded to the Presidential Suite but had brought our own cheese from home. #cheapskates #irony

Let's get to the main event of the evening, which is most certainly the delicious meal we had at the Gallery Restaurant. I know that hotel restaurants have a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason. The Gallery Restaurant is amazing and worth going to even if you're not staying in the hotel. The service was excellent and the menu and food were spectacular. And I'm a food snob. So let's review this mouth watering meal, shall we?

First off, points to Ballantyne for giving us a specialized menu. I like feeling special.

Another thing I loved about Ballantyne is that they didn't give me weird looks when I took pictures of all my food. Or maybe they did, but the food was so good that I didn't notice. The waiter brought us a popover to start. I love popovers because they are delicious and cute. In fact, I want to try to make them myself but I'm positive I wouldn't be able to make it "pop" correctly.

For appetizers and salads, we got the following:

Oysters (which Mr. Fo has hated for years but all of a sudden wanted to get? Weirdo. I found out that the culprit is his coworker who is quite the foodie himself...apparently he turned Mr. Fo onto the deliciousness that is raw oysters.)

Shrimp and grits with pink peppercorns.

Caesar Salad with a Parmesan Crisp. If you want me to order your salad, put a Parmesan crisp on it.

For entrees, I got scallops and grits (a Southern twist on the scallops/risotto combo that's oh so popular). Man I love me some scallops. Confession - I've never made them myself. I think I'm afraid for some weird reason.

Mr. Fo got a steak of some sort... (no photo, whoops). Seen one steak you've seen them all, right?

For dessert the fine folks at Gallery Restaurant continued to spoil us with a special anniversary trio of desserts including a pumpkin cheesecake to die for, poached pair and banana creme brulee. Plus some chocolate writing which I'm always impressed with. So if you're counting, I've now felt special twice in one meal. Score.

When we got back to our room, we had raspberry chocolates on our pillow. Le sigh. Can I arrange for someone to do that at my own house?!

I've learned that life gets so incredibly busy that if you don't celebrate things like anniversaries, birthday, good news, etc, you can drift apart quickly. In my 4 years of marriage, I've learned you need to TALK TALK TALK and celebrate all things, no matter how small. So if your anniversary is coming up, don't hesitate to celebrate, even it's not a milestone anniversary and even if all you have time for is a simple breakfast together. So enough lecturing from me :) 

I'm planning various posts for this week and counting down the days (only 10!) until our sunny stay in the Dominican Republic over Thanksgiving. 

I hope everyone has a productive and happy day!