Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Rest of Costa Rica

After waffles, Sunday was a lazy day spent by the pool, enjoying the animals around the property and a massage at the on-site spa.
Our second meal at Ostra (I spared Brian one meal without picture taking) was just as delicious as I remembered from last year. The chef's signature tuna ceviche was impeccable, the cucumber/tofu gazpacho refreshing, the salmon delightful and the 60/80 chocolate dessert with orange sorbet amazing.
Of course, the highlight of Sunday was watching the Kansas City Royals clinch the World Series!! We did our best to celebrate from afar.
On Monday we rented a car and drove down to Tamarindo (which is where I first visited in Costa Rica for a surf camp with my friend Stef) for some shopping and beach-going (middle photos). It was as beautiful as I remembered but has developed a lot since I'd last visited. We also went to Playa Avellana (pictured top and bottom), which was an interesting dirt-road drive and great for surfer watching.
Tuesday was our last full day and we spent it by the pool - swimming, reading, beer drinking perfection. We had the adults-only pool to ourselves all day and then walked down to the beach for a little while. After showers, we went to our one scheduled activity for the day - an arepas cooking class. Just corn flour, water and salt, we made a bunch and the cook fried them up and served them with fresh guacamole and pico. The chef was impressed with Brian's perfectionist technique and asked if he cooked at home. They weren't too bad but we made enough for a small army.
It was a wonderful trip, full of lots of relaxing. Pura Vida! Thanks for stopping by and hope you find yourself relaxing somewhere soon.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Chilling in Costa Rica

If you know me, you'd know that I rarely visit the same place more than once, unless the place contains people I love. While Costa Rica lacks any people I know personally, it is full of wonderful people, food, scenery, and animals with an undercurrent of calm. Nothing is hurried, you just let go and see where each day takes you. My last trip a year ago was solo, but this time around Brian Beard came along, so we stayed at the same resort so he could see it too. Since I have been too busy relaxing, I bring you half the week in review today.

Sights from around the resort: a coati on our balcony (who we've also observed stealing sugar packets from the breakfast tables in the morning), Brian in the pool, Costa Rican sashimi - tuna and fresh mango, and a plumeria bush.
On Friday morning we waited a while for our ATV tour guide to pick us up at the hotel. Then they told us that the tour had been booked for a different day but that they were on their way and we'd still go, 90 minutes later than planned. As an apology, they offered to buy us lunch after our tour at a 'soda'.

Our tour was a lot of fun, we rode through villages, rivers and back alleys. While we didn't get as dirty as the brochure indicated, I still had a smudged face when we were done. We headed to lunch after two hours of riding, and had a delicious meal of local fare. It started pouring on the little tin shack when we were about halfway through our meal. During a small break in the rain, we made a mad dash to the car and were driven back to the hotel.
That evening, we took a mixology class. The bartender explained all elements of making drinks and each person presented a cocktail selection of their choice and he showed them how they could change some of the main ingredients to make something else they might like. Shockingly, I made my own suggestion to make a blackberry/basil/black pepper mojito and he went along with it. Brian made a variation of a Manhattan.
Saturday was wide open for fun and relaxation. We played in the pool and lounged on the beach, took pictures of hermit crabs, and ate yummy tomato/cucumber salads.

Saturday was also Halloween, which isn't really celebrated here but they make an effort for the tourists. I enjoyed the pine-o-lantern (one of many cute decorations at the bar) and the custom cocktail menu, featuring libations that had dry ice in the bottom. As we walked to dinner, we watched the monkeys swinging in the shadows overhead, which is what I am pointing to in the upper right-hand corner.
Watching the sun set over the cove - the colors are unreal.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Eatin Dallas

We went to Dallas last weekend for our annual Labor Day weekend visit-the-nephews trip. They are three and almost-two years old. Both of them are blond and spirited. We like seeing them regularly so we can have a good aunt and uncle bond with them - not having to be reminded who we are at each visit. It's also nice to spend time with their parents too, Brian's middle brother and his wife - the whole family pictured above.
After a morning visit, we headed to Whiskey Cake in Plano for lunch. Our youngest nephew fell asleep in the car and slept through most of the meal - he's nice and snuggley when he's sleeping. We had delicious cocktails - my Texas Bluebonnet is in front of me (blueberry infused veev acai spirit, lemon, egg white, prosecco). Sarah, my sister-in-law, and I shared the citrus & watermelon salad and the Texas gulf shrimp grain bowl - both were incredible.
We all shared this giant piece of signature whiskey cake for dessert (this photo does not accurately represent size) and rolled out of there.
I swear we did more than eat all weekend, but playing Legos, reading books and playing in the park is a little more hands-on and a little less snapping photos every two seconds, like I am conditioned to do at mealtimes.

For Sunday brunch, we met Andrew, Brian's brother, and the boys at Buzzbrews (the original location). I had the veggie veggie (two wheat tortillas filled with crumbled veggie sausage, tossed with scrambled eggs, melted cheddar and mozzarella; served with garlic marbles, pico and a whole jalapeno) and a delicious vanilla latte with cinnamon on top.

After church and a drive to Fort Worth, we hit an outdoor food truck court (not pictured) and Melt Ice Creams for a tasty treat. I had the boozy buccaneer ice cream (pineapple cinnamon rum caramel).
Our last night in Dallas, Brian and I went out for a date at Blue Sushi Sake Grill. It was SO good! Clockwise from top left we had the: yellowtail serrano sashimi, Pacific rim martini, chocolate springroll with raspberry ice cream, and the crunchy L.A. roll, toro salmon, the roja roll and tuna nigiri. If you are ever in Dallas, you need to check this place out. Great happy hour specials, friendly staff and yummy food - a great combo!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Finding What You Need

In a recent issue of GOOD magazine, I poured over an entrancing photo essay by a photographer who took pictures of the way his hotel rooms looked when he checked in and the view outside his window. While I can't locate my copy (yes, I love old school paper versions of magazines), I did copy his style of my recent hotel room in St. Louis at the Hyatt by the Arch. Especially since it was a good one and I remembered before messing up the bed.
The weather was perfect the full four days I was in town - like in the 70's perfect. I had to find a couple of patios to enjoy the sunshine and the temperature. My first find was Three Sixty at the top of the Hilton at the Ballpark. The views were incredible, although the safety glass made it difficult to capture anything worth sharing here. I had a cocktail (a Been There Done That) and the crispy fish tacos - both were delicious!
My second patio find also came a couple of days later with a side of nostalgia. Peacemaker Restaurant was like walking down the sidewalk in my hometown, except for the chives in the lobster roll. I even had a blueberry wheat Sea Dog Brewing Co. beer in a can! The albacore crudo, while not something I remember from my childhood in Maine, was to die for -- the odd combination of jalapenos and smashed Corn Nuts on top just right.

The lobster roll, while flecked with a cousin of an onion (I HATE onions), had the most delicious housed-baked hot dog bun than more than made up for it. I somehow found room for a tart slice of lemon meringue pie that had a creamy, almost marhmallow-y, meringue on top, because there's always room for dessert. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Napa - Day 3

Okay, technically this was the end of Day 2, but I was saving this for today's post. On my birthday eve, we ate at Morimoto - Napa. If you are a scholar of my blog (which I realize is probably just me), you may remember another post about the original Iron Chef's restaurant in Mumbai a year and a half ago, you can read it here. I love Japanese food, so when I saw that he had a new restaurant in Napa, I had to try it and share it with Brian, who wasn't there the first time.

This meal, although very different from my first experience, was very good and laid back. We had delicious cocktails (I traded Brian for his - I like whiskey, what can I say?), yummy himachi tacos, a tempura calamari and quinoa salad, amazing sashimi - yellowtail, o-toro tuna, and salmon, and a trio of light sorbets - lavender peach, plum, and raspberry basil.
For my birthday breakfast, we headed back downtown to Model Bakery, which has the cutest sign of succulents (don't you think?). My veggie breakfast sandwich was to die for, as was my Blue Bottle Coffee latte and a shared cinnamon twist. Definitely a "must visit" if you're in Napa.
The last stop on our Napa adventure was the organic, dry vineyard, Frog's Leap Winery. I wanted to move into the house that was built for tastings, offices and retail - it was like walking into a Restoration Hardware, only a house version. We had a lovely tour guide who told us about all the thoughtful ways the owner takes care of and celebrates the staff. The owner's dog walked the tour route with us as we tasted five wines along the way.

Since they don't water the grapes, they are smaller and the wine produced is very drinkable. The best part about this place is that they distribute to all 50 states in the U.S., so we can all buy a bottle, or two. They have a lovely chardonnay, which is only aged in oak barrels for 7-10 days and has a very light oak flavor. Thanks for checking out my latest adventure!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Napa - Day 2

The owners of the loft we're staying in recommended Ritual Coffee Roasters for breakfast, but they didn't mention that it was inside the Oxbow Public Market which is chock full of gourmet food and shops. In addition to a delicious latte from Ritual, I also enjoyed a strawberry almond waffle from Five Dot Ranch and Cookhouse, amazing!
Next up was the rose tasting at Domaine Chandon, if only every morning could start this way. The property was beautiful, the tour guide knowledgeable, and the sparkling wine delicious.
We then headed to Chef Thomas Keller's original Bouchon Bakery for some yummy macarons - mocha, chocolate and pina colada. Probably not the best lunch, but we were celebrating my birthday eve!
After some amazing nachos from La Luna (not pictured), we headed to the Francis Ford Coppola-owned winery, Inglenook. The history of this property is quite fascinating - you can read about it on their website - and the scenery is beautiful. We enjoyed a guided tour and an estate tasting of four wines paired with cheeses. There is also a museum onsite which houses many of Coppola's cameras and other artifacts from the last 135 years of the winery.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Napa - Day 1

We turned my cousin Mike's wedding weekend into a anniversary/birthday trip and headed to Napa after the nuptials in Sacramento. We headed to Reynolds Family Winery first. It was a quiet and beautiful setting for a private tasting. We sat with a guy who explained all the wines and the sourcing of the grapes.
After a quick lunch, we headed to the Regusci Winery, a fourth-generation family ranch and winery. Our favorite wine here was the Patriarch, but there were so many other beautiful things about the property, that I didn't get a picture of that. Greeting you was a sun-dappled, self-service farm stand and a golden retriever lounged on the stairs up to the main tasting room. Out on the veranda, the view of the vines and the hills was peaceful. The centerpiece of flowers attracted bees and butterflies as we sipped wine and nibbled chocolate truffles.

The property is the third oldest in the region and we were allowed to peek inside the cellar. It was refreshing and cold inside. If you're ever in Napa, this place should definitely be on your list!
As with most spa experiences, it's hard to take pictures without risking the safety of my phone and/or people's privacy. After our second winery, we headed north to the Golden Haven Hot Springs in Calistoga for a mud bath and massage. Warning that this might gross you out, the mud bath experience was like climbing into a concrete bathtub full of 103 degree cow manure. It smelled slightly better than that, and was actually a mud, peat moss and mineral water mixture, but it was bizarre. We cracked up laughing as we tried to sink ourselves in the porridge.

After we rinsed off with a garden hose shower, we had a jacuzzi in the mineral water, a hot towel-induced nap in a dark room and a half-hour massage. It was worth the trip but we agree that we probably wouldn't do it again.
We finished off our day with a delicious meal at Mustards Grill. Although everything was delicious, as the menu warned it would be, the calamari and the heirloom tomato starters stole the show. I also had the halibut special and finished the meal off with a double butterscotch pot de creme. We rolled out of there tired and happy to our Airbnb loft.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

500th Blog Post - Kidnapped

Last weekend I kidnapped four of my girlfriends and took them on a surprise vacation to a house on Table Rock Lake. Prior to the weekend, they had been told what time they'd be picked up, dropped off, what to pack and to find childcare for their collective 11 kiddos. It had been awhile since we'd all hung out and we needed a good excuse to reconnect. This was my idea for my 500th blog post - a kidnapping instead of a contest (sorry if you were hanging around for that one!). I think it worked out well.

I bought a weekend's worth of groceries, rented a giant lake-worthy SUV, picked up all the girls (blindfolding one as a prank) and headed south three hours to the lake. I found the perfect place on Airbnb that was comfortable and right on the lake. We stopped in Springfield on the way through both times, for lunch at Aviary Cafe and Creperie (we all had the blackberry thyme mimosa - to die for!) and for coffees on the way home at Mudhouse Coffee.

During the long, holiday weekend we enjoyed hikes at the State Park, walking to see sunsets, swims off the dock, fireworks over the dam, sleeping in, board games, junk food and long conversations. The weather ended up being perfect despite a thunderstorm-a-day forecast and made it a weekend not soon forgotten.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sedona Reunion - Day 5

Our breakfast basket was delivered with a special message this morning (top photo).

The Butterfly Garden Inn has a gate full of Lovelocks. Brian's mom and an aunt thought it would be fun to leave one behind to mark the reunion. Before taking off for a hike, we gathered to add our key-less lock. Cousin Pearl did the honors (bottom left).
Before everyone departed, we organized a hike on the West Fork Trail for the family who didn't have early flights. The hike was beautiful and captured perfectly in this photo Brian took.
After camp was empty, which was bittersweet, we drove south to Phoenix. We celebrated the end of a successful family reunion with dinner at Citizen Public House in Scottsdale. So delicious!

Counterclockwise from top right: Members Only (Nolet's gin, Pêche de Vigne, ruby red grapefruit, simple syrup, Peychaud's bitters, bitter lemon soda, rosemary, rocks), cubed melon salad (watermelon, yellow beets, cucumber and ricotta cheese), truffle grilled cheese (white truffle scented mashed potato, Emmental, melted onion, French bread, simple field greens), and the blueberry cobbler (sweet corn ice cream, brown sugar cone and streusel).

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sedona Reunion - Day 3 & 4

After breakfast on Friday, we headed to Crescent Moon Picnic Site for some hiking, swimming and quality time (or a little longer nap, in the case of my youngest nephew, fast asleep in the middle right photo). My in-laws brought a package of squirt guns which proved to be the highlight of the day for the younger members of the group, including my oldest nephew (pictured at the bottom) who grinned as he chased people down. That was until a tarantula was discovered in the parking lot next to the picnic area (pictured middle left).

We brought all the fixings for sandwiches and had a great afternoon. We headed back to the cabins and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the common area, playing games, eating dinner from the cafe on the property and catching up.
On Saturday, after some swinging on the playground with the nephews, we drove into downtown Sedona (about 20 minutes from where we are staying) and hopped onto two trolleys to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross (pictured upper left). After picking which fruit you liked most, apples or bananas, the family quickly divided itself between the two trolleys, which were labeled for our reunion (middle top photo).

Although the ride only lasted an hour, a million photos were snapped as the scenery around the church, up on a hill, provide some amazing views. Of the ones I took, the photo of Brian's grandparents talking inside the church (top, right) was my favorite. The middle bottom photo is Brian's youngest brother, Thomas, and grandpa, and the picture above me at the bottom right is my mother-in-law, Anne, with my youngest nephew.
After the trolley and lunch at the Cowboy Cafe, I headed back with some of the family to the cabins for a swim (bottom photos). Saturday was also my oldest nephew's third birthday, so we picked up the dinosaur cake we ordered (top photo) and added it to the lovely decor in the banquet hall on the property (middle photos). Our traditional end-of-the-reunion dinner is always a highlight of our weekends together every three years.

As is custom, we enjoy a lovely meal together (in this case: salad, chicken parmesan, turtle sundaes and birthday cake) and we have a recap of the weekend in prose from Grandpa McGoldrick, pass the torch on to the next hosts (Brian's cousins, Ryan and Erin) and learn where the next reunion will be (Asheville, NC - 2018). In addition to grandpa's recap, he also included his three principles for life, which I thought were too good not to include here:
1) Always have something to do.
2) Always have someone to love.
3) Always have something to look forward to.
 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sedona Reunion - Day 2

Today was the official start of the reunion. With no cell reception, I've mostly been leaving my phone behind but I did manage to capture a few shots from the day. The early birds to the reunion gathered together with their picnic baskets to have breakfast. The rest of the day was full of arrivals from Montana, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin. The best part of the day was hanging out with our nephews (bottom right and left), swimming with them in the creek and our end of day "t-shirt happy hour".

In preparation for the happy hour, my brother-in-law and I made up a batch of mint, citrus sangria in a Mr. Clean bucket that I got at the grocery store. You have to improvise sometimes when at camp. It turned out tasty and went well with the elote (Mexican Street corn dip), chips, salsa and the reunion t-shirt reveal. We're off to a great start!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sedona Reunion - Day 1

After a 3:30am alarm, and a direct flight to Phoenix, we arrived at Lux Central for breakfast. Housed in a rather nondescript building, from the outside, the place was teeming with people and delicious food and coffee. I somehow managed to get past the pastry display and placed an order for two eggs, hash and fresh tomatoes, along with a latte. Everything was superb.
A quick two and a half hour drive later, we were in Sedona. We scouted out a few things for the reunion (and place an order for one dinosaur cake for our nephew's birthday who will turn 3 on Saturday) and had lunch (salads, fried cactus and margaritas) at the Cowboy Club. We then headed up to The Butterfly Garden Inn where we are renting 13 cabins for the reunion.

I think the best part of trips like this is waiting for everyone to arrive. Brian's grandparents, parents and one aunt showed up tonight and we all headed to the Elote Cafe, which you might recognize if you've read any of my past Sedona blog posts. Brian is posing with his reposado tequila and my ahi tacos are to his right. Despite an hour wait, it was worth it, as always, and everyone enjoyed the food and the company. The rest of the family, minus two cousins arriving on Friday, will be here soon and we're excited to see them!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Downtown Springfield

We spent 24 hours in Springfield, MO this weekend, celebrating my father-in-law's ordination (the last step in a long process of becoming a Methodist minister). Although we weren't there long, we managed to hit up a few great places that I thought I would share here, in case you find yourself down there soon. Only a 2-ish hour drive from KC, this college town has a great, walkable downtown to explore.

We ate lunch at a place called Bambino's Cafe, voted best Italian food in Springfield. (Full disclosure, I stole this photo from their website.) It's set back in a neighborhood, so it's a little hard to find. Although I didn't take any photos, I had a delicious antipasto salad with shrimp.
After lunch, we were feeling a little sluggish, so we headed to Mudhouse Coffee for a pick-me-up. I had a peanut butter mud puddle (frozen mocha with real PB) with an extra shot - amazingly delicious! Afterwards, we spent some time with the family in a park and at Bass Pro before the evening's ceremony.
In the morning, we stopped by Hurts Donut (because you have to love the whimsy, if not the donuts). I went with a Andes mint chocolate donut (bottom right), although there were plenty of others to choose from including a bacon longjohn. We stayed with Brian's brother (pictured far right) and drove Brian's granny down from KC (pictured middle). The donut was good but probably not the most balanced breakfast.
Our final stop, before we headed home, was The Coffee Ethic. I had a delicious latte that tempered the sweetness of my donut a bit. In all it was a great trip full of family and I look forward to returning and exploring further. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dine Around: St. Louis

Since January, I've traveled to St. Louis once a month for work. Although I've lived only four hours away by car for thirteen years, I had only been across the state three or four times to visit the Gateway to the West. Of course, my first concern with getting to know this city, where I work half my job in, was finding the best places to eat. While I still have a lot more research to do, poor me, I did find a few noteworthy places that you might want to check out if you ever find yourself in the Lou. (I know, that nickname is awful but I've heard it said!)
Baileys' Range: In addition to their proper use of punctuation, this burger and shake spot was a great find for dinner. Although my meal was intended for one, I could've easily fed three. Starting off with the smoked onion rings and a Rosemary Paloma cocktail (bottom left), I should have stopped while I was ahead. Instead, I piled in a whiskey BBQ style veggie burger and a hot fudge, homemade peanut butter ice cream sundae. Everything was so good but I was literally in pain when I left. Next time I am in town, I am planning on revisiting and going easier on the menu.
Sauce on the Side: I love pizza, so naturally, I am also a fan of its eat-on-the-go cousin, the calzone. At Sauce on the Side you can choose from a variety of pre-decided combinations or make your own 'zone. I chose the latter and had a artichoke heart, pineapple combo with garlic and marinara sauces on the side. As someone who often thinks there is too much sauce on things, I found this to be a great compromise. Casual with a local beer on the side, this was a great place to dine alone.
Mango Peruvian Cuisine: Home to the best pisco sour I've ever had, I enjoyed this restaurant immensely, if only because I wasn't eating alone as my boss shared this spot with me, one of her favorites. I ordered the sea bass ceviche (left) which was perfectly spicy without numbing my mouth and the Ensalada de Palta which had a generous amount of fresh avocado and a dreamy citrus dressing. It was all so healthy and fresh, I topped off my meal with a delicious slice of chocolate layer cake. I will definitely be back!
Copia Restaurant & Wine Garden: The last dinner of my past trip was at this Italian wine garden. With the exception of the ballgown-festooned mannequins standing around the dining room, this place was great. You can't really go wrong with arancini (flash-fried garlic, herb, parmesan risotto balls, tossed in grated parmesan cheese over tomato cream sauce) and a French 75 cocktail (which the bartender had to look up, but he followed the recipe perfectly). After my appetizer, I tried king crab legs for the first time. Although the photo doesn't really do them justice, they were very good (a close second to lobster for me) and were served with steamed asparagus and whipped potatoes. Yum!
If you live in St. Louis or have been enough to have some recommendations, I'm all ears and will be back to try them out in May. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Missing in Action

Happy Spring! I've missed blogging my last few trips - partially because two were work-related and the other because South by Southwest can be tiring enough without adding things to it. Don't get me wrong, I love cataloging my adventures, even if only for myself to remember what I did in a year, but I am trying to be kinder to myself these days. You know, not just doing something because it's on my to-do list. In the meantime, I still snapped a few shots if you want to check out my Instagram feed - instagr.am/jenntbeard. The highlights of two trips to St. Louis and one to Austin included:

A behind-the-scenes tour of the St. Louis Art Museum and the George Caleb Bingham exhibit. Learning about the process of making steel plates for prints over a several year span of time and seeing original proofs as the artist made corrections - quite fascinating.
All of South by Southwest but especially spending time with my amazing and inspiring friend, Jessica, who expertly spotted free cupcakes after I'd been looking for one all week.
Stopping by to see our two nephews in Dallas. (They were busy munching on fresh pineapple to pose.) We also had lunch with Brian's brother and sister-in-law.