Monday, December 20, 2010

Wedding affairs and other adventures...

When it's 102 degrees in July and the elbow sweat situation is at a breaking point, an escape from the asphalt jungle is mandatory. However, living in NYC, it's not as easy as it would seem - or is it? For my 31st birthday I was determined to do something that wouldn't involve sweat dribbling down my back and frizzy hair plastered to my head....I mean, it's my birthday! So, I found a fix for escaping the city (without the need for excessive travel), smell of sea salt, beauty of the water, magnificent front row seat to the sunset, picnic snacks with adult beverages, and the company of my friends. We took a two hour sunset sailboat cruise down the Hudson from Chelsea Piers, past the Statue of Liberty and Governor's Island and around Lower Manhattan. The crew served us wine and beer and we brought our own picnic and it was fabulous. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to enjoy the city sights from outside and in need of a little retreat from the persistent hum (and humidity) of the city. Oh, and I'm not putting the link to the sailboat company on here because I don't want it to get too popular (and pricey) so it becomes cost prohibitive. Sorry....I'm selfish!

New Jersey Shore
Labor Day weekend necessitated a trip to the Jersey Shore. Being still a relative newcomer to the mid-Atlantic states, my only association with the Jersey Shore at the time was of course Snooki and fist pump related. While we did walk on the boardwalk in Seaside (and it IS as garish as it looks on TV), our shore experience was much more civilized and fun. My friend's have a house in Chadwick Beach where we cooked, walked on the beach, went crabbing, bike riding, played games and just hung out enjoying one another.

I'd never been crabbing before and we rose early Saturday morning to sidle up to the dock with our bait (frozen fish), lines, cage and nets and set up a few lines along the shore. Coffee in one hand, line in the other we waited for the little suckers to nibble on the scrumptious bait and then slowly reeled them in. We measured our catch to ensure they were big enough (it's illegal to keep the wee ones) and then tossed them in our bucket. It was quite fun! Once the tide changed they stopped nibbling so we packed up our lines and went home to steam the crabs; the meat was destined for a nice crab sauce our friend's dad was going to prepare. It was a phenomenal experience and I'm looking forward to tasting the results of our efforts!

Marital Affairs
October brought back to back wedding adventures - the first was my oldest niece's wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota, which was an awesome family affair. Several brothers, nieces and nephews, uncles, cousins, and family friends were in attendance. My niece looked stunning and everyone had a great time catching up. Since the wedding was in my Dad's hometown, it was a great opportunity for him to show me around his old haunts including my grandfather's original restaurants and bars, my dad's childhood home, his grade school and college and just show me around St. Paul a bit. I grew up in the Twin Cities but spent most of my time in Minneapolis (& suburbs) so St. Paul has always been rather vague in my recollection. It was nice to get the opportunity to experience it through my dad's eyes. The trip was short (due to an unfortunate inability to reach the airport in time for my original fight - I blame NY cab drivers and rain) but sweet and spending time with my parents was fantastic. My mom and I also fit in a lunch with my aunt and one of my closest college girlfriends and that was an extra special trip.

Five days later I was off to Cancun, Mexico for another wedding! This time it was for a friend from college. Another college friend, Brandie, and I met in Ft. Lauderdale and flew the second leg of our trip together. A not so pleasant side note...Spirit Airlines is by FAR the most ghetto airlines I have EVER flown. They charge for carry on luggage, display paid for advertising on the overhead compartments (classy), the seats are dirty and dingy and everything appears in a state of disrepair. As they are as low class as they appear, the airlines is relegated to the bowels of all airport terminals (the Ft. Lauderdale terminal was no exception). Needless to say, we were both relieved once we finally touched down in Cancun and equally as elated when we walked out into the warm sun! Still chilled from the crisp fall weather of DC and NYC left behind, we were quick to join our already arrived friends, throw on our suits and lounge poolside at the resort with a margarita in hand. 48 hours in Cancun certainly is a whirlwind trip but when your only priorities are relaxing, walking on the beach, partaking in wedding festivities and catching up with friends, it was relatively low stress. Our huge room at the resort was fabulous and the pools were all beautifully positioned with a view of the ocean in front. And despite a downpour during the outdoor reception, the guests made the best of it and shuttled off to a hotel ballroom for dancing and partying until the wee hours of the morning. The trip back was slightly rough - again having to endure the Spirit Airlines adventure (with a 5 hour layover to boot) and minor "fatigue" from the wedding festivities, but the Vitamin D and fun with friends justified the experience.

To cap off the 2010 wedding festivities, we had a BachWer escape to Southampton in October. The tourists were gone for the season but the stores were still open and the weather was still nice enough to eat outside at a main street cafe. Three of us went to celebrate a mini bachelorette-wedding shower party for a very close friend that is getting married in April (click here to see her fabulous blog). We took the train from the city and made it just in time for lunch outside and some vino to celebrate the occasion. Lunch was followed by shopping in the darling (albeit exorbitant) stores of Southampton and a quick stop at Southampton Publick House for a pre-train brew. Our next stop was dinner and an evening of fun with great friends who live in Central Moriches. It was an evening of great friends, laughing, debating (maybe a little bi-partisan "disagreement"), amazing food and overall tons of fun. A warm up for the real event in April!

The rest of 2010 has been spent mostly locally with a variety of adventures (as per usual) including an afternoon at Radegast Hall & Biergarten in November, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with my brother and his family, engagement parties, volunteer opportunities and just general merriment. Yes, merriment - it's 3 days before Christmas and after 2 weeks of listening to Christmas Carols "merriment" is in the general lexicon. I'm off to California tomorrow for Christmas with my family and so excited for a short reprieve from the cold of the city. Until 2011 and the adventures that await! (Currently they include NYE in Vermont, Machu Picchu & Lima, weddings in San Diego & Vermont and who knows what else!).

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Christmas and fabulous New Years! xoxoxo

Friday, December 17, 2010

One tip of the coast to another....2010 continued

Newport, RI
Despite my mother's love for the city and having spent 4 years of college in close proximity, I had never visited Newport, Rhode Island until Memorial Day 2010. It wouldn't be a trip to Newport without a stroll down Bellevue Avenue to visit the Mansions and walk along the famed Cliff Walk. We arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday and found a passable hotel (I won't name it because you might think me a snot but it was legitimately just OK). Regardless, it was centrally located and afforded us the ability to walk down Thames street to peruse the stores and eat dinner at Smoke House BBQ, which offered a great outdoor venue and fabulous local people watching.

Early the next morning, I took a beautiful early run down Bellevue Avenue and then along Ocean Avenue. The morning was beautiful and the run along the coast was magnificent - outrageously sized ocean front "second homes" spotted the horizon...I thought, "I could live do I make that happen!?". No big deal. We later toured the Breakers Mansion and Marble House, two former Vanderbilt mansions that were brilliant to see. Our afternoon was topped off with a late lunch on the marina at The Mooring with stuffed clams, a great Sauvignon Blanc and steamers. A front row shore side view of the gorgeous sunset sealed a perfect Newport weekend escape!

North Fork
For the 4th of July an escape from the overbearing heat of the city was a must do. Greenport, New York, a city near the far eastern tip of the north fork of Long Island the desired destination. I'd been to the Hamptons (South Fork of Long Island) the year before but wasn't familiar with its distinction from the towns of Greenport, Orient, Cuthchogue, Mattituck, etc. In retrospect, I'd say the North Fork shares some of the nuances of the South Fork (upscale boutiques, culinary power houses, beautiful homes) but it isn't overrun by those elements as can be the case in the Hamptons.

We stayed at the Harbor Knoll Inn in Greenport, a charming B&B run by a former Irish diplomat and located right on the bay. From my window I could watch the sun rise and the ferry shuttle back and forth to Shelter Island. Each evening our host put out wine and cheese, which we enjoyed before heading to Claudio's on the marina for a pre-dinner cocktail and then dinner at Claudio's main restaurant. Dinner was good but the people watching at Claudio's dock bar was fantastic and the atmosphere entertaining. Speckled along the streets of Greenport are singular antique shops, upscale boutiques, wine stores (featuring North Fork vineyards), a lone movie theater and of course the Greenport Brewing Company.

One day during our visit we rented bikes and took a day trip to Shelter Island, tooling around the island and stopping at Sunset Beach for an enjoyable lunch. In the afternoon we visited a few of the vineyards - my favorite for ambiance and wine selection was Croteaux Vineyards, which focuses only on rose wines. The tasting "room" was a combination of old barns and outdoor seating fantastically decorated with curtains of hanging wine bottles and Sanskrit draperies. It is the perfect venue for a girls afternoon of chit chatting, sipping bubbly and munching on cheese and crackers!

The North Fork roads are full of bikers heading towards Orient Point, the eastern tip of Long Island (not quite as far east as Montauk on the South Fork) and the ride is a beautiful one through charming towns with weekend street fairs, roadside fruit and flower stands, locals oyster hunting, clam digging and crabbing, abundant vineyards, and lavender fields that burst forth with color and fragrance.

As no trip is complete without a comment on the culinary adventures, there were two standouts. One was a relatively new arrival - Noah's - opened in the winter and slammed almost from day one. The food was creative, thoughtful, local and so fresh. Loved it. The other (and more obvious) culinary delight was The North Fork Table & Inn, which offers a 3-course Pre Fixe menu and a Chef's tasting menu. The food was superb and the wine selection was dynamic as well; we enjoyed a bottle of Charles Smith's Boom Boom! Syrah and Kung Fu Girl Reisling - both excellent. I have to say that, compared to Southern California, the Eastern seaboard has a deep appreciation for food - it's origin, quality, composition, etc. Eating is so fun here! (If only it was free and not caloric....)

The week following the 4th of July I was off to Oregon for my college roommate's wedding. Capitalizing on the cross country venture (and my first trip to Oregon), I took a few extra days to explore the coast, stroll through Portland, wine taste in Willamette and join wedding festivities in the Deschutes National Forest.

Upon arrival late Wednesday night, we drove straight to Cannon Beach. The drive is along a rather desolate county road that becomes quite hilly and dark after 10 PM. Along the route there were signs for Elk Crossings so I slowed down, which was fortunate as several minutes later my headlights caught sight of an Elk staring me down on the side of the road. If it could have, my heart would have leaped from my chest! The beauty of arriving somewhere at night, particularly a place like Cannon Beach, is you're totally unprepared for the scenery when you awake. We'd picked a small B&B fronting the beach just south of Cannon Beach proper - it was spectacular. An early morning run on the beach followed by breakfast on the deck was an amazing start to a fabulous trip. Our hosts were so gracious and great cooks! And we were even more fortunate with the weather. While summers are typically cool (50-60 degrees on average), we were blessed with 70-80 degree days on the coast. We spent the day visiting Astoria including a stop at the Rogue Ale Brewery and the Astoria column where the views of the snow capped mountains in the distance and ocean in the forefront was absolutely breathtaking. Sunset Beach and Seaside were also stops on our drive, which culminated with a walk along Cannon Beach and pool games and dinner at a local watering hole. The views of Haystack Rock and The Needles coupled with the natural ambiance of the ocean and river inlet couldn't be captured in photos - it has to be seen in person. All in all a fantastic day with great weather and absolutely breathtaking scenery.

The next day we met up with friends in the Willamette Valley for a day of wine tasting! We dropped our stuff off at the spectacular Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast, which was such a great find (if I don't say so myself). Our host was amazing, the location perched on the hill overlooking the valley was spectacular and our rooms were perfectly appointed. We had pre-arranged private tours of three wineries so we were set for the day. Our driver collected us and took us to Sokol Blosser, Four Graces (a friend from San Diego's family winery), and Chehalem. Each one was better than the next and our vineyard guides hung out with us like we were old friends, sharing stories about the vineyard and letting us taste practically everything. While a little overwhelming by the end, it was one day and so worth it. Dinner was at Jory at the Allison Resort and Spa, a delectable meal with of course more wine. By the end of dinner we were all desperately ready for some rest.

We departed the Willamette Valley in the morning for the Deschutes National Forest and specifically the Black Butte Ranch in Sisters, Oregon. After a pit stop in Salem for lunch (so we could say we'd been there mostly), we drove the beautiful route through the mountains to Sisters. The scenery was breathtaking and the weather perfect. We had a great time enjoying the outdoors, reconnecting with college friends, swimming, fly fishing, and exploring the town of Sisters. The wedding was picture perfect and the natural backdrop of the lake and snow capped mountains was priceless. The days we spent there were so relaxing and reminded me of adventures in Mammoth and how much I love the mountains....and the west coast. I have to admit the mountains are the one thing (besides my family) that I miss the most living in New York. Hopping in the car at the beach and skiing in the mountains several hours later is hard to beat. Our trip ended with a few hours to wander around in Portland and a stop at Deschutes Brewery, which makes one of my favorite all time brews, Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Deschutes doesn't yet export east of Minnesota so it was an even more exciting visit for me and one I shared vicariously with my favorite beer cohort JWL! We also visited the rose garden in Portland, which overlooks the city. The aroma and color collage of flowers was succulent...I'm sure if I lived in Portland I'd be doing happy hour picnics up there with some wine and cheese. That evening we flew back on the red eye to NYC...another fabulous 2010 trip had come to an end.