Escape from the Cold

This time of the year I start to long for an escape from the winter in New York City; especially with the mixed bag of weather we have been having.  Should it really go from 20 degrees to 50 degrees in less than 24 hours and then right back down again? And how about that snow/sleet/rain we had this week?  That is enough to make anyone want to catch the next flight out of town (that is once the airports are back on schedule).  My first instinct is to head somewhere warm and sunny but I also think about going somewhere with lots of white snow (more on that next week). 

One of my favorite warm weather destinations this time of the year is Florida.  I know it doesn’t sound exotic but it is called the sunshine state for a reason.  Florida is actually very big from top to bottom so you really have your choice of environments when you visit.  Back in my grade school days, my dad loved taking us to a destination and then piling everyone in the car and exploring what it had to offer.  I remember taking a trip to Florida one spring break.  We must have started in Orlando because I remember spending a few days enjoying Mickey Mouse and all that the parks had to offer.  Then we piled in the car and headed south.  We stopped in the Everglades leaving me with memories of the great outdoors. I vividly remember staying in some sort of cabin with lots of Mosquitos outside and the urgency to close the screen door quickly so they would remain outside.  From there we continued south to the Florida Keys.  We all got outfitted with snorkeling gear and used it to look at fish and shipwrecks in the ocean as well as the bottom of the pool.  Swimming is one of those activities that can be entertaining forever, huh?  I still love to hang out in a pool for hours on end.  We finished our trip with a visit to Key West. It isn’t the same when you’re under 21 but still pretty cool. Frozen drinks are fun at any age even without the alcohol. Then we had a long drive back up to Orlando before heading back to the cold in Indiana.

Another one of my favorite memories of Florida is visiting my grandparents at their condo in Naples.  My sisters and I would fly down without our parents and spend a long weekend just with our grandparents. Talk about getting spoiled. Beyond all of the excitement in their retirement community of golf, swimming pools and tennis we would venture to the beach and of course go on shopping trip.  I remember eating at a place called The Dock and Michelbob’s was the place for ribs either before or after mini golf.  The best part about Naples is that my dad now has a condo there.  I hope my children will get to create the same memories with their grandparents that I was able to.

So whether you are off to a sunny destination this holiday weekend or already live in one(Lucky You), soak up some sunshine for me. I’ll be here in NYC enjoying whatever mother nature throws our way.

Happy Friday,

Julie

A dreamy trip to California

As many of you know, I worked at Bouchon Bakery in The Time Warner Building in New York City for over three years. It wasn’t always easy working for Thomas Keller but I did learn a lot about food, service and hospitality.  Chef Keller is obviously very talented with food and also in the industry of making the guest’s needs come first.  To this day, when I am cleaning I often think if he would approve of the appearance of my shop.  Some days, I would love for him to walk in and see what I am doing and on other days, I might hide behind the table stacked high with boxes of chocolate.  The Thomas Keller ‘Empire’ is based in Yountville, California and during my three years at Bouchon Bakery I tried and tried to get sent out to California to work, but to my disappointment, never got on that plane out west.

This past weekend, my husband surprised me with an early birthday present… a trip to Napa Valley with three friends.  This was my opportunity to recharge, drink some wine and eat some amazing food.  There was definitely talk of going to The French Laundry for dinner but I decided that is a once in a lifetime meal and I want to experience it with my husband.  We did have an amazing meal at Single Thread Farms but I’ll save that for another time.  We made a reservation for Sunday Brunch at Ad Hoc.  Ad Hoc is likely the most casual of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, serving a single meal, family style for weekend brunch and nightly dinners.  I started brunch with a Bloody Mary(a true sign of a vacation without kids!) and it only got better from there.  Our meal consisted of a simple spinach salad filled with pickled red onions & grapes and topped with a creamy avocado dressing.  The main course was Chicken Fried Steak topped with gravy along with roasted potatoes.  We added a Spanglish Sandwich which was the best combination of  a fried egg, toasted bread, cheese, tomato and lettuce I’ve had in a long time.    Feeling very satisfied, we were presented with a Red Velvet Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting for dessert.  It was rich, tangy and sinfully sweet.

After brunch I wanted to explore the rest of Yountville and check out the rest of Thomas Keller’s restaurants.   A walk down Washington Street took us past Bouchon Bakery with a line winding down the block for their fresh baked goods and coffee.  Next was Bouchon  the bistro famous for classic French dishes and finally we stumbled into the garden at The French Laundry.  I’m not sure we went in the proper entrance to the property as I never saw the famed Blue Door but the garden was amazing.  We passed diners in a small dining room which opened out into the garden and the beautiful fall afternoon.  The setting was magical and I look forward to returning one day to experience it for myself.  We meandered back down the street to where we started our walk and got in the car to drive back to the airport.

The trip to California was exactly what I needed. It was a chance to catch up with old friends, catch up on my sleep and catch up with dreams of the past. I am so glad I was able to play ‘hooky’ from my life for a few days. I have returned refreshed and ready to take on the busy season ahead.

Happy Friday,

Julie

Road trip time!

Last Friday, I loaded up our minivan with all the supplies my family and I would need for our ‘vacation’ to Rhode Island. (My four-year-old thinks any night away from home is a vacation.)  We were headed to our friend’s house for their annual Lambaste. The trip did not get off to a good start. I woke up that morning with a stiff neck that got worse over the course of the day. Driving for 3 plus hours didn’t sound like fun to begin with and add in the traffic getting out of New York City on a Friday evening and our trip seemed doomed.  In the first hour we drove less than 20 miles, took three wrong turns because our navigation wasn’t working, stopped to use the bathroom and my son threw up his dinner.  At that point I asked my husband if we should just go home.  He convinced me otherwise and I’m glad he did as the trip got easier once we were out of the traffic and on the ‘open road’.

Our friends hold their Lambaste annually and it is something we look forward to attending. Not entirely for the lamb, but for the amazing afternoon that surrounds the lamb.  The lamb is slowly roasted over an open fire with someone holding the responsibility of constantly turning a crank to rotate the lamb to roasted perfection.  The party has changed over the years as we have gotten older.  What used to be a bunch of twenty-somethings drinking all afternoon and eating lamb has now turned into a family affair.  There are lawn games, non-alcoholic beverages, an amazing array of pot-luck sides and even a band.  This year the lamb was perfectly roasted, tender with just a hint of garlic.  In years past there have been large quantities of lamb remaining to be turned into breakfast the next morning.  This year, there wasn’t a piece that didn’t get gobbled up.

With our bellies full of lamb, and maybe a few brownies and cookies for dessert, we packed into the minivan for our trip back to New York City.  With the excitement of the day behind us, the drive home seemed like a nice way to wind down.  Everyone in the car was asleep within the first 30 minutes (except me, the driver!).  Almost a week later, the kids are still talking about our vacation to Rhode Island and looking forward to when we’ll return. I hope you have a chance to getaway and enjoy all that fall has to offer.

Happy Friday,

Julie

All-you-can-eat… Resort Style

I am a firm believer that staying at an all-inclusive resort is one of the best ways to vacation… because everything is included. Food, drinks, hotel amenities, all included in one package price, which in return affords you the luxury of a more relaxing vacation. When I vacation, I really enjoy doing nothing but taking in the moment in a peace-induced manner. I don’t want to have an agenda, I don’t want to be on the go, I only want to allow my body the rest and rejuvenation that it deserves. So for me, all-inclusive translates to stress free and hassle free, and is the only way to go. 

This past winter, in an attempt to escape the cold New York winter and rid my body of its winter blues, I took a trip to Cabo. The resort, all-inclusive of course, was beautiful and loaded with amenities. With a dozen different restaurants and pool side bars, finding food and drinks throughout the day was quite easy… and easy always equals relaxing. The resort boasted cuisine from across the globe, so there was really something for everyone, served at all hours of the day and night, both indoors and outdoors. With no need to search for restaurants or plan meals, choosing an all-inclusive vacation really heightened my stress-free holiday. 

Outside of stress-free dining, choosing an all-inclusive package also takes the stress out of finding activities to do while on vacation… if you’re in to that sort of thing… but I however, as mentioned above, am not. Most resorts offer a plethora of activities to keep you occupied throughout the day and night. The resort that I stayed at had 10 pools, a bowing alley, two spas, a shopping center, a sports club, two night clubs, water aerobics, pool side entertainment with a fabulous entertainment staff, and nightly shows. For people like me, the resort also had beautiful beach cabanas for endless hours of lounging by the water. 

With airfare, hotel, and food all bundled together in one package, all-inclusive travel really does make for the most stress-free vacation. 

Happy travels!

Payton