I've been MIA but this time it's been for a really good reason...
This guy. (Isn't he the cutest?!)
Next week David will graduate from Harvard Law School. I am proud of him beyond words. He works SOOOO hard and I wanted to do something special for him to commemorate such a huge accomplishment. He finished classes a little over a week ago and we had some time between classes ending and next week's graduation festivities so I booked a super secret getaway, telling him only the dates that we were going to be away and that he should bring clothes for warm weather and swim trunks.
Last Wednesday we headed to the Boston airport in the wee hours of the morning. He still had no idea where we were going. As we approached the ticket counter and I reached in my bag and tossed him his passport. "What the.....???" he said. "You'll see!" I replied. Standing at the ticket counter he was still so surprised that our destination requires a passport (David and I both LOVE getting stamps in our passports!) but watched the kiosk screen intently as the ticket agent pulled up our itinerary. As soon as PROVIDENCIALES popped up on the screen, he yelped, "we're going to the Turks & Caicos?!" He still hasn't stopped smiling!
View from our balcony.
The trip was fabulous and I can't say enough great things about the island, our resort, the people and the food! It was gorgeous, relaxing, friendly and delicious! We happened to book our trip during the off-season (high season is January through April) and given the chance to schedule it again that way, we definitely would. Our resort was beautiful, quiet and relaxing (we even had a washer & dryer in our suite!), we had no problems getting seated at any of the restaurants we visited or getting taxis around the island. Best of all, we got a steal of a deal via Expedia.com!
Yes, the water really is that blue.
Our resort (Royal West Indies) had bicycles available for check out, and we rode them each day we were there. We were minutes away from a fabulous grocery store where we stocked up on munchies and snacks. Really, the grocery store blew us away. Check it out:
We went on a snorkeling day trip on a glass bottom boat that stopped by Iguana Island where we saw this guy and lots and lots of his friends.
Fun fact: The population of Turks & Caicos Islands is 35,000. The iguana population of the islands totals 50,000!
Snorkeling on the reef.
Collecting shells on a deserted island.
We had some incredible meals on our vacation. One of the things I loved most about TCI is that you're not hemmed in at your resort. Meaning, you can feel free to wander the island and explore everything from haute cuisine to the local dives. We did some research on Chowhound (highly recommend any time you travel and want real, authentic bang for your buck) and each night picked a new place to try. Here's where we went:
Coyaba Restaurant - Described as "divine dining in the Turks & Caicos," it was exactly that and only five minute walk from our resort! We had a truly memorable and fabulous meal and we certainly paid a pretty penny for it (food on the island is expensive, there's just no way around it). This was definitely the most expensive place we went but the food is beyond fabulous as is the setting, as is the service. If I could build my own dream home on the beach in TCI, the outside and patios would look exactly like those at Coyaba. My only regret is that I didn't take any pictures!
Smokey's - On our flight from Miami to the island, we were seated next to a sweet girl from Grand Turk who loved to dish on where and what to eat during our stay. She recommended Smokey's as they host a big fish fry with live music once a week. We went on Thursday thinking that was the night of the big event. Sadly, we missed the fish fry by a day (it's always on Wednesdays) but we did enjoy a down-home, local meal of rice and peas, whole roasted snapper and cole slaw. Again, I goofed and forgot the camera. The food was good but the interior of the restaurant was nothing to write home about. We took a taxi here.
Caicos Cafe - This Mediterranean-influenced restaurant (the proprietor is from Italy) was a real treat. Very laid-back dining on a large, beautifully-lit deck. We enjoyed lots of cracked conch, fresh-caught grilled fish and veggies and a yummy strawberry almond mille feuille. Again, this was a short walk from our resort.
Da Conch Shack - This was far and away our favorite place. How can you not love a restaurant right on the beach with gorgeous sunsets and great food? You can sit with your feet in the sand while watching the waves roll in and the local guys pulling the conch critter out of the shells and listening to Caribbean tunes. If Gilligan had the chance to build a dive-y restaurant on the beach, this would be it. My dream is to have a big party here at sunset with all of our friends and family - wanna come? Da Conch Shack was about a 20 minute taxi away from us and is situated in a part of the island called Blue Hill. Driving out there I kept thinking, where are we going?! But in the end, it was totally worth it and we will definitely be back. Oh, and the food was fabulous!
You can see the conch shells on display in the right side of the picture.
Spicy grouper fish tacos.
Rum punch, the house specialty.
The happy couple.
Aside from the eating, swimming, biking and eating some more, we made a lot of time for sitting and sunning...
At the end of the trip, we were sad to say goodbye to the island, but we hope to return again soon! Happy graduation, Bubby! I love you madly!
David completed his last final of law school last week and we were eager to celebrate as graduation doesn't happen for a few more weeks. As luck would have it, this past weekend was a blur of parties all centered around food, so we were both stuffed and happy by the end of the weekend.
Saturday morning started off sunny before shifting to rain in the afternoon, but that didn't dampen the spirits at the Kentucky Derby party we attended. I whipped up a super-huge batch of homemade pimento cheese and we donned hats and seersucker and set off for the races.
Kaki, the hostess with the most-ess, was celebrating her 11th year of hosting her annual Run for the Roses Party and boy, does she put on the dog! I've never seen anything like this party north of the Mason-Dixon line: Island Creek oysters for shucking and slurping, pulled pork, tamales, all kinds of grilled goodies, and the desserts! The desserts were out of control: Derby pie (my favorite), red velvet cake, chocolate cream meringue pie, strawberry-rhubarb crisp, and on and on.
The piece de resistance were the mint juleps. Kaki has absolutely perfected everything about the traditional derby drink:
She collects Derby glasses from each year's race which reside in a frosty freezer, specifically for the annual bash. She keeps a bucket of hand-crushed ice available since the best juleps are made using crushed ice, as well as tons and tons of fresh mint. She also makes her own julep mix- her secret recipe - that can be mixed with Maker's Mark bourbon to create your own julep. Wrap the glass in soft linen, stick in a straw and you're good to go! I was completely blown away by her set-up! Sweet Kaki also made sure that I was set with a pregnancy-friendly, non-alcoholic beverage of my own in a frosty derby glass complete with crushed ice and soft linen "coozy."
Aside from the food, my favorite things were the hats - all shapes and sizes! Even the guys got into the spirit.
And yes, we did watch the actual race. Our horse, Shackleford, was in the lead until the last 200 yards! So close!
We left the derby bash and headed over to another friend's house for a Mediterranean feast. Shadia and Priti completely outdid themselves making Shadia's family's traditional recipes (Shadia is Palestinian): falafel, hummus, kebabs, couscous, stuffed tomatoes and peppers and on and on! Everything was so fresh and delicious and gorgeously presented.
There was even entertainment! We managed to talk sweet Shadia into doing some traditional dancing for us! The pic is blurry, but it's because she was shaking her hips so fast! :)
These fabulous girls even made us Arabic tea and stuffed us with baklava after dinner. They totally outdid themselves and I bow to their cooking and entertaining skills. We went home with full bellies and hearts. Thanks for an unforgettable dinner, girls!
No favorites today. The images coming out of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia are beyond comprehension but in the midst of all of the tragedy, people are pulling together in the most touching and wonderful ways.
Through the wonders of Facebook, websites such as Animals Lost and Found in Alabama Tornadoes have emerged to help with reuniting people with their lost and found pets. The stories are heartbreaking, but at the same time, it's heartwarming to see people reaching out to help even the littlest souls.
Another site, Pictures and Documents Found After the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes is seeking to reunite people with beloved photos and important paperwork that was blown, in some cases, more than a hundred miles away. It's incredible to witness the efforts these people are going to to help complete strangers in whatever ways they can.
While bitter college football rivals in ordinary time, my beloved alma mater, Auburn University is digging deep to help our sibling rival the University of Alabama's town of Tuscaloosa, one of the most devastated areas. From clothing and cash to ice machines and fuel, Toomer's for Tuscaloosa is rallying the Auburn family in mighty ways to channel help to those who need it most.
I spoke with my brother in Tuscaloosa this afternoon and he says people are still trapped in rubble and that many roads are simply impassable and the death toll continues to rise. Please continue to pray for those affected. My heart aches for my home state.
If you'd like to help out from afar, every little bit helps. Here's a link to Good's roundup of ways to help. Good is a very legitimate site with loads of fabulous info. All charities listed are 100% credible.
Many of you have probably already heard the news reports about the monstrous tornadoes that swept throughout the southeast yesterday. This year's tornado season has been particularly devastating and it's not over yet.
Thankfully, my family is safe and sound. My brother, who lives in Tuscaloosa, one of the areas hardest hit, is safe and his home is intact, however he is quite shaken. He texted me late last night saying, "I'm fine. My town is gone." He has friends of friends missing and the general feeling around town is one of chaos and helplessness.
Please keep those affected by these storms in your thoughts and prayers. My heart is with everyone in Dixie.
I've missed doing these!
Apartment Gardening by Amy Pennington
Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I referenced my friend Amy's first book - Urban Pantry - a while back. Amy is back with another book that has everything you'd ever want or need to know about growing anything green, from herbs and veggies to fruit and flowers, in a small space. Amy is a rockstar and I recently had the pleasure of spending time with her on a recent trip to Seattle--she never ceases to amaze me with how good she is at so many things! Check out her website (and of course her book!) at Gogogreengarden and tell her "hi!" for me!
In the spirit of spring plantings, I thought to share these beautifully packaged heirloom seeds by Harts that are sold at a funky online general store of sorts, Hickoree's. Alas, my little fire escape doesn't quite get the full sun required by the poppies, otherwise, I'd fill all of my pots and trays with these fiery seeds!
In my internet wanderings this week I stumbled across this work of art on a British site called Pimp That Snack. Click on the link above to see how a very intrepid group of folks created a gigantic version of the famed Easter treats using ingredients anyone can purchase at the supermarket. Very impressive! Also, I have a terrible weakness for Cadbury Creme Eggs and David and I have scoured all of our neighborhood sources looking for them this year but to no avail. We did manage to find the miniature version, but those just don't make your teeth hurt so good like the full size version. I know, I know, they're terrible for you, but I promise I only eat them once a year!
My mother-in-law is a cookie baking and icing machine. Every year around Christmastime, she has a gaggle of kids from the neighborhood and from their church come to her house to bake and decorate holiday cookies. Imagine ten 4 to 12 year olds hopped up on sugar taking over your kitchen. It's an icing and sprinkles bonanza! She travels a lot to take care of family and grandkids and this Easter she's with our nieces and nephews who cranked out some pretty gorgeous Easter cookies. I think the Easter Bunny will be very proud of these beautiful treats!
Blogs to check out:
101 Cookbooks by Heidi Swanson - Heidi is EVERYWHERE! Her fresh and simple take on food is both beautiful and inspiring and will make you want to get in the kitchen NOW!
Pasta Porn: 101 of the America's Most Delicious Noodle Dishes by New York Magazine/Grub Street - Check out the slide show. If that doesn't get your mouth watering for a big bowl of noodles, nothing will!
Blackberry and Coconut Macaroon Tart by Smitten Kitchen - I'll have a whole one of those, please!
It's rhubarb season! From the bright, happy pink color to the tangy flavor, I love rhubarb and how versatile it is. I picked some up last week and made it into some quick refrigerator pickles and have been munching on them ever since.
The recipe is dead easy and took me less than 10 minutes to make. Here's what I did:
-Wash and trim 4 rhubarb stalks. To trim, cut about 1 inch off of the ends. Cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch pieces.
-In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over chopped rhubarb.
-Refrigerate at least 3 hours and enjoy. Pickles should keep refrigerated approximately 2 weeks.
A few notes:
The pickles are sweet and sour and perfect to add to salads or to serve on a cheese tray. They're also great on their own and I'm guilty of making multiple trips to the fridge to munch on them. Then again, I'm a true pickle lover.
If your spouse/roommate/family are not the biggest pickle fans, make sure you apologize profusely for the strong smell of boiling vinegar that will consume your kitchen and beyond. You might not want to make these just before having house guests as it takes a few hours for the smell to dissipate.
The next time I make these I think I'll add a few aromatics just to spice things up: a bayleaf, some peppercorns, a few sliced cloves of garlic. However, they're fabulous plain and simple!