Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Welcome to Miami

Hello friends! I know I'm seriously overdue for a post, and I have a lot to share with you. Last Thursday I came home from a work day in the city and started furiously packing for my girls weekend in Miami for Nicole's bachelorette party. I thought about bringing my laptop and blogging throughout the trip like I did for Lindsay's bachelorette in New Orleans, but at the last minute I decided against it. In New Orleans I sometimes felt like I was missing out on fun times while sitting in the hotel lobby cursing at the spotty WiFi trying to blog about the trip rather than just enjoying the trip. So this time, I ditched the computer and decided to just live in the moment. It was a great decision, but now you'll be getting the trip update in a few doses over the next several days. :)

I left my house at 3:45 am on Friday morning, met up with a few of my best girlfriends, hopped a plane in Atlantic City and found myself in sunny Florida by 9:30 AM. Palm trees!

Talk about a great view. Heather, Cathleen, Lindsay, Abby and I all landed a bit earlier than the rest of the group (there were 13 of us total), so we took a cab to our hotel in South Beach, dropped off our luggage and snagged an outdoor table at the hotel restaurant overlooking the pool and beach.

First things first, fruity cocktails!

We stayed at the South Beach Marriott, and the service, food and drinks were all amazing. We wanted for nothing the entire time, and enjoyed pretty much every fun beachy drink they had to offer. The "Pineapple Smash" pina colada was one of my absolute favorites. Perfect for a welcome drink after a flight from cold New Jersey.

They were still serving breakfast when we arrived, but after being up since 3 am we all wanted lunch, so sat and sipped our drinks in the warm breeze until the lunch menu came out. I ordered the Miami Cobb salad with seared Ahi tuna, and it was delicious. I loved how light and refreshing it was.

The rest of the afternoon was spent laying by the pool enjoying the gorgeous weather, and then eventually we all meandered up to our rooms to get ready for dinner and a night out. The view from our room didn't disappoint either.

The Marriott is a little further down from all the action of South Beach, which I actually loved. We were within walking distance of a bunch of stores and restaurants, only a 10 minute cab ride from the nightlife and city lights, but right on the beautiful beach. So perfect.

We had 7:30 dinner reservations at a local Cuban restaurant, Havana 1957. Most of the restaurant is outdoors on a cute little cobblestone street with tons of shops and cafes, and they play Cuban music and have super friendly waitstaff.

They also serve a killer mojito. We all chewed on our sugarcane sticks like they were candy.

A few of us girls decided to order a couple appetizers and one entree to share, which ended up being a great idea since we could try a few different things but not get too full. 

First up was a shrimp dish with tomatoes, peppers and onions served with rice and sweet plantains. We also tried crispy plantains with a cilantro garlic sauce, which was SO good. We could've eaten the cilantro sauce plain. And we pretty much did, finding anything to spread it on until the dish was empty.

We also ordered tostones, which I've had in Puerto Rico and absolutely loved. They're plantains pounded out thin, then baked (fried?) into cups, and these ones were stuffed with shrimp and vegetables. Everything was tasty.

After dinner we hopped in and out of a few different places enjoying the Friday Ladies' Nights around South Beach, including a typical pub scene and then a "clubby" ping pong bar. Weird, right?

We had so much fun. How could you not with a group like that?

Our last stop of the night was The Clevelander rooftop bar for dancing. I am not a good dancer, but I love it anyway, and I spent hours out on the dance floor with my girls checking out the great view of Miami.

My friend Abby and I found a sweet spot to take pictures near a rooftop fountain, and were obsessing over the backdrop. Love those colors!

It was one great girls night out. 

And thus concludes Miami Day #1. More to come, but this chick is off to bed to get some much needed rest. Night!

Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Throw a Great Cocktail Party

On Saturday night Matt and I attended a mini reception in honor of two friends who just got married, and it was quite the party. Our friends Dan & Jen have been together a long time, and when they got engaged they decided to do a quiet, intimate wedding in Jamaica rather than a big affair at home. The bride's good friend Janet wanted to give them a chance to celebrate with all their friends and family though, so she sent out invitations for a surprise cocktail party shortly after they returned home.

I thought I was a decent party-thrower until we showed up at Janet's around 7:00 on Saturday - man, can that girl put an event together.

Janet really made the evening special and we had a great time. I also came away with a bunch of tips in my pocket for the next party I throw, and thought I'd share them with all of you too. So here we go! Tips to throwing a great cocktail party - without losing your mind - in no particular order:

1. Ask people to dress up.

It seems simple, but if you don't ask guests to dress up, chances are people won't. At least not in a beach town. The invitation specified "Adults only, and cocktail casual attire requested." For me, "cocktail casual" means skinny black pants, a cute top and heels. No little black dress required, but everyone showed up looking festive and feeling the cocktail party vibe.

And boys look so cute with their shirts tucked in. ;-)

2. Serve fun cocktails, duh.

I'm not a cocktail person per se. I like my wine and my craft beer. But when there are fun cocktails being served and I'm dressed up in heels, I like the idea of sipping on something a little classy, if you will. Janet printed out a sign listing Dan and Jen's favorite beverages, with a festive sparkling cocktail to top it off. She also had a bunch of other liquors, beers and wines on hand in case the signature cocktails weren't your thing.

Oh, and she got her dad to play bartender all night. Adore! He was loving serving up all the guests and was so sweet. He refused to let anyone wait on themselves.

3. Move out the couches and bring in the high tops.

Janet moved all the couches and chairs off to the sides of the rooms, and replaced them with high top tables covered in matching tablecloths. I loved this because it screamed "cocktail party" when you walked in the front door, and it also encouraged guests to mingle around rather than sit.

I moved to different tables throughout the night chatting with different friends and nibbling on different snacks wherever I went.

4. Decorate!

Okay, decorating is totally not my thing. I just never know what kind of decorations to get. Jen started by picking a color theme (green, blue and white with black accents), and then went around that. She picked up colorful candle lanterns, plastic tablecloths and big paper hanging poofs, all at Christmas Tree Shop and other craft stores where you can get things at a bargain.

She also ordered banners and large prints of Jen and Dan's wedding day and placed them around the house, which I loved.

She ordered the screen prints at Staples and then pinned them to large pieces of foam board, creating the illusion of canvas paintings. She said all four of these big photos only cost $40 total. I couldn't believe that, since photos tend to be really expensive. Definitely an idea to keep on hand for anniversary parties.

She also borrowed DJ equipment from a friend so we had tunes going all night. You better believe there was some dancing going on.

5. Cook a few things, and buy the rest.

I'm always tempted to cook a million things for parties, but it becomes overwhelming and stressful pretty quickly, especially if you have a large crowd.

There were finger foods aplenty at the party, but Jen made a few choice items and then took help from BJ's for the rest. One of the cutest hors d'ouvres was the mini grilled cheese sandwiches in cups of creamy tomato soup. Straight outta Pinterest.

Jen made the grilled cheese / tomato soup cups, along with stuffed clams, mini crab cakes and "caprese salad on a stick", which were all delish. She took help with things like pesto (side note, that Kirkland brand pesto was some of the best I've ever had), mini rice balls, puff pastry bites, shrimp cocktail, and antipasto platters with cheeses, olives, veggies and fruits.

6. Offer a small parting gift.

And last but not least, who doesn't love a little favor to take home?

Jen and Dan's wedding album was sitting out for us all to look at, and scattered around were cut outs of some of their favorite photos for us to take home. I picked a pretty beach one and it's currently hanging on our fridge.

It really was a great night and so fun to hang out with good friends all night. And now I'm inspired to throw another party soon, it's been a while.


Well, we're into another work week, but it's a 4 day one for me. In just a few short days I'll be jetting off to Miami with the girls for Nicole's bachelorette. Here's hoping these next few days fly by!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

ReDux Fail

Today was a typical Sunday around here, but it started more leisurely than usual. Riker spent the night at his grandparents' last night and Matt left the house at 5:30 this morning for a mountain biking race he competed in with his friend Chris, which meant the house was more still and quiet than it's been in a while. I took advantage and slept in until 8:30 before going over to my in-laws' to pick up the kiddo. I was greeted with hot coffee and a stack of pancakes when I arrived, and joined the family for a nice Sunday breakfast.

The rest of the day was spent doing rather uneventful things - cleaning, doing laundry, picking up groceries, the typical weekend stuff. A mid-afternoon break was had to taste Matt's new homebrew, which was delicious. I can't say I don't love a surprise pint with the boys on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Baratta Bar.

 I realized late in the day that I totally forgot today is Recipe ReDux day, and tried my best to whip up something for the post. Unfortunately this month's theme called for dessert makeovers, and since I'm trying not to eat too many sweet or keep baked goods in the house, this one was a toughie for me.

I tried to make a healthy almond cookie with almond butter, hazelnut flour, stevia and a few other ingredients, but it failed miserably. It wasn't sweet at all and the texture wasn't very pleasant. Definitely not blog-worthy and my first ReDux fail. :/ Oh well, can't win em all!

Dinner, however, was a winner.

Earlier in the day I caught part of a new Barefoot Contessa episode on Food Network, and my girl Ina Garten made these amazing looking salmon & avocado sandwiches. Matt had already taken salmon out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, so I knew the sandwiches had to be made in some form.

I ditched the ciabatta rolls and bacon that Ina used, and subbed in a huge juicy, red tomato. I layered arugula dressed with lemon juice on the bottom, followed by slices of tomato and seared salmon, topped with chopped avocado I tossed in lemon, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

So, so good.

I have a huge mountain of clean laundry staring me down in the living room, so (nerd alert) I'm about to get busy with the Indiana Jones marathon on TV and start folding. Looks like these two are too comfy to pitch in.

On a side note, Riker just figured out to smile when we say "smile" for a picture, and it's awesome. Love that face.

Have a good night!

Makin' Cakes

Yesterday I left the house mid-morning to do a frantic rush for vacation supplies. After four hours of running around, my toes & nails were polished pink and I had found a bunch of cute dresses and beach clothes for our girls weekend in Miami. I'm still missing a few things, but all in all, vacay shopping success!

I got home earlier than expected, so after a salad lunch at home Matt, Riker and I went out to meet up with Matt's parents at Blackbeard's Cave, a local recreation center.

His aunt, uncle and cousin were visiting from North Carolina so it was fun to catch up with them. I wasn't really dressed for hitting baseballs, but the rest of the gang had fun in the batting cages.

We also had another reason for meeting up with the fam. I needed to drop off a cake.

A cake I actually made at a work event on Thursday. Pretty right? Every couple of months my office plans an outing for our team. Sometimes we just go out and have a fun dinner and other times we go to events or take a class together. This week our outing was to Make  Meaning to learn about cake decorating.

I have to admit, I thought it was a cute idea but I wasn't sure how I'd feel about cake decorating. I have a cake decorating set from my wedding gift registry five years ago, and honestly it has really never been used; it just sits in the way back of a cupboard getting dusty. Cake baking just isn't my forte (remember how ugly Matt's birthday cake was last year?). But it turned out to be really fun.

We arrived around 5:00 and were served wine and snacks, and then got a quick tutorial on fondant decorating. Then the "creative team" brought us each a small white cake along with piles and piles of decorating tools, fondants, frostings and candies for us to use. I felt like a little kid playing with edible playdough.

I decided to try my hand at fondant flowers, and picked out light yellows and blues for the palate. We used mini rolling pins to roll the fondant and then mold it into various shapes.

I didn't have much of a plan, but it all started to come together after a while.

I found some butterflies to stick on the side to go with the spring flower theme.

Final product!

Not too shabby if I don't say so myself. My coworkers had some really cute designs from polka dots to basket weaves to trees, Hawaiian flowers and dinosaurs.

Matt and I aren't really fans of fondant icing unfortunately, so while the cake was fun to make, I didn't care to eat it. MomMom, however, loves sugary baked goods so I gave the cake to her to enjoy.

I would definitely go back to Make Meaning, especially with kids for a fun kids party or family event. In addition to cakes, they do ceramics, jewelry and all kinds of other crafts. I think I just might have to try my hand at pottery soon!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Frittata is the New Black

I'm on a frittata kick.

In the midst of being glued to CNN last night watching the developments up in Boston, I stared into my fridge with no real inspiration to make anything. And then I saw a jar of tomato jam just begging to be dipped into, and dinner was born.

I started by tossing onions, garlic, chopped zucchini and sliced mushrooms into a cast iron skillet, and caramelizing everything in some olive oil. Beside salt and pepper, the key flavoring I added was herbs d provence. Love that stuff. It has such a unique earthy flavor and goes really well with mushrooms.

Once the veggies were cooked, I tossed them into a bowl with 5 beaten eggs, and then added about 5 ounces of freshly shredded mozzarella cheese.

I poured everything back in the skillet, cooked it on the stovetop for a few minutes, and then transferred it to a 350 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. Done and done!

Once it was cooked, I turned it over onto my wooden board and slathered it with warmed up tomato jam. So simple and so good. I think frittata is taking over for Friday Night Pizza.

Matt and I just split the leftovers for breakfast and it was just as good the next day.

Riker is apparently sleeping in this morning (8:30, what?) so we're enjoying a quiet, relaxing cup of coffee in the living room before getting going on the day. I have plans for a "me day" today to get a bunch of errands done for Miami next weekend - mani/pedi, some shopping - and then we're off to a little cocktail party later this evening. Ah, Saturday. :)