Bachelorette Weekend, Thirties Edition

There are many things that change between one’s twenties and one’s thirties. Energy levels, gray hairs, relationships and priorities. Bachelorette parties. In fact, there are many ways I imagine the average twenty-something bachelorette party is different from the average thirty-something bachelorette party.

The Food May Be Better: For real. No broke-post-college-student-cheap meals here. From the moment my friend and matron of honor extraordinaire Kacy picked me up on a Friday evening, one thing we certainly did well was eat delicious food in fancy restaurants. We started the weekend with a multi course feast at The Parrott House in Roseburg. Located in a restored historic home, this spot is as beautiful as the food is good.

We enjoyed craft cocktails and shared all the delicious dishes.

These fried green beans with jalapeño honey are basically the best thing ever
Wood-fired pizza with fennel sausage
Mushroom risotto
Roasted brussels sprouts
And, because there had not been enough food, steamed mussels

For the actual bachelorette dinner, my friend Chelsea picked out a spot that was new to all of us – Novo Modern Latin Table. It was perfect! The staff was fantastic and the food and drinks were even better.

There were, like, lots of different kinds of sangria. It only made sense to (make an effort to) try them all.
I also tried all the tacos
I am so thankful for these friends and for the fun memories

The Accommodations Are Fancier: For our first night, Kacy rented a quaint Airbnb. It was the perfect spot to crash after a late arrival.

But the real star of the show was the next night, which was spent at the boutique Inn at 5th. This hotel had every thing I love in an accommodation – style, comfort, and thoughtful amenities.

There’s even this little side door where room service delivers things so that you DON’T EVEN HAVE TO PUT ON PANTS for any late night snacks you might order. We didn’t order room service, but we did ask for some spoons for the dessert we picked up at the bakery, spoons which were promptly and privately delivered.

The Wine Tour Turns Into a Therapy Session: Of course this could have more to do with having two psychologists in the vehicle, but we learned A LOT about our wine tour driver. Honestly, he should have paid us for the free therapy session. At least we did it in style.

It’s Less About the Scene: We initially had three vineyards on the itinerary, but we were having such a relaxed time, that we didn’t make it to the third. Our first stop was the iconic King Estate. It was, of course, incredible to see the hundreds of acres of vineyards and to taste the fantastic wines. The style and scale exuded class.

And let’s not forget the view

But it was the second stop, the gathering place called Sarver Vineyard, that was our favorite.

It was clearly a place where people came to spend time together. The wine was simply a bonus.

It was mostly Sarver’s fault that we did not make it to a third spot. The wine, the cheese, the company – it was all meant to be unhurried, savored.

There Are Not Bachelorette Banners (but there are Bride flannels and paper crowns): When I saw the cute Bride flannel at a local bridal show earlier in the year, I could not resist.

And to be fair, there was supposed to be a Bachelorette Banner, but in true thirties fashion, my friend Kacy has two little ones who were playing with them beforehand and they got lost somewhere along the way. So instead I had a gold paper crown that we picked up at the bakery.

There Are Naps. And Tums. And Coffee: A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do. Enough said.

The Phallic Symbols are Somewhat Classier: Although perhaps they should have been absent… We decided that penis shaped things are fine for bachelorette parties in your twenties and probably cool again in your fifties and beyond. Even so, it was hilarious when the chef at Novo joined in on the fun and sent penis shaped appetizers to our table.

Thankfully, my friends forewent the penis cake in favor of something a bit tamer. And really, really yummy.

The Morning After Is More Brutal: I settled for salmon hash when the waiter at Marche bravely told me it was too early for a burger.

But really, I think this picture says it all.

Twenties or thirties (or beyond) a bachelorette party (or weekend, in this case) is a great opportunity to spend time with dear friends and celebrate a beautiful moment tin life. But some things really do get better with time – like fine wine and friendships.

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Abacela Guest Chef Dinner

In case you have somehow missed these two facts, Oregon has amazing wineries and LeChon is our favorite restaurant. Combine the two and you basically have the most perfect date night. Since moving to Oregon, I have been interested in attending one of the various Guest Chef or Wine Dinners that bring the state’s best chefs to local wineries. However, when a friend shared an upcoming Guest Chef Dinner at Abacela with me on Facebook, I quickly dismissed it because, you know, wedding stuff. When I took a second look, though, it was a matter of seconds before I was telling Brandon that we were going. As in, he did not have a choice. I sort of justified it by saying it could be a belated birthday dinner. The reason we could not possibly miss the dinner? That was because the chef from our favorite restaurant was coming to little ole’ Roseburg (well, technically to Winston, or somewhere outside of Winston). It was just meant to be.

We were greeted with a glass of Albarino and burrata on toast. Oh, and we took an Uber in Roseburg for the first time (which has sadly been stopped). And we got carded. I think we may have been the youngest folks at the dinner.

It was difficult to be polite and eat just one. Or maybe two.

After a bit of mingling, we were seated for dinner. Over the course of the next couple of hours, we were served a five course feast created by Chef Jaco Smith from LeChon. Each delicious course was paired with one of Abacela’s fantastic wines.

We first enjoyed tapas of shrimp ceviche and avocado and smoked trout toast (one of my favorite dishes from the last time I had been at the restaurant) paired with Tinta Amarela.

Our next course was an out of this world salad with quinoa, goat cheese (yum!!), and pumpkin seeds with coal roasted kabocha squash (which was perfectly sweet and nutty) all covered in a light coating of a miso-honey dressing. It was paired with a 50/50 Tempranillo-Malbec.

Our third course was a sort of pork kebab in a soy sesame BBQ sauce with a sweet potato puree on the side. It was perfectly accompanied by Abacela’s amazing barrel select Tempranillo.

There had been so much delicious food by the time we got to the entree that it may be difficult to imagine that we still wanted to eat food. But that would be false. This course included beef short ribs and smoked chorizo paired with an equally amazing Reserve Malbec, which was probably my favorite wine of the entire evening.

The meal ended with lemon cheesecake with a caramel and gingersnap topping served with a sweet blanco dulce that balanced the tart taste of lemon.

We enjoyed every single bite. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. But my favorite part was not even the food. It was Brandon geeking out at meeting the Chef.

Of course, he creates amazing food that we love. But we were both impressed by his passion for what he does so well. Over the course of the evening, he shared more about his history as a chef and how a life lived all over the world has impacted his cooking. Originally from South Africa, he even provided restaurant recommendations for our upcoming honeymoon to SA, which was the icing the cake of a perfect date night.

I’ll be honest, at $95 per person, this evening was a splurge. But it was one we do not regret as we savored a delectable meal prepared by the chef from our favorite restaurant, sipped wine, belatedly celebrated another year of my favorite person’s life, and took time out of the craziness of wedding planning to simply be. That, my friends, is priceless.

Cape Perpetua and the End of a Year

I do this thing, this thing where I get restless if I go too long without some type of adventure, whether it be a weekend getaway or a day trip to a new place or, if I’m lucky, a vacation to somewhere interesting and beautiful. Since returning from Jamaica in September, with time and finances rather tied up with wedding planning, the opportunities to get away, although not quite nonexistent, had been few and far between. As the end of the year approached I could feel myself getting antsy. The feeling built until the last weekend of the year when I had an extra long weekend thanks to the New Year.

I woke up Saturday morning not having any plans, but really, really, really wanting to have plans. So, like a normal person, I suggested that we go camping. In a tent. The obvious choice for a weekend in December. One spot I had been wanting to explore since moving to Oregon was Cape Perpetua along the coast. Shockingly, we had no difficulty making last minute campgroup reservations at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. Less than 2 hours after I initially suggested camping and Brandon agreed (after spending a few minutes reconsidering my sanity), we were packed up and ready to go.

His willingness to go along with my crazy plans and impulsive adventures is one of the many reasons I love him.

Heading toward the coast seemed like the perfect excuse to stop by the Lighthouse Cafe. Not that I need an excuse. 

I struggle to choose a favorite, but this particular day I went with the (vegetarian) reuben and a California salad with the amazing dill dressing. Sooooo yummy!
This seemed appropriate for our day. And our life.

After lunch, we enjoyed the scenic route to the coast and then arrived and settled into our campsite. I’m fairly certain that we were the only people in the entire park crazy enough to tent camp in the middle of winter, but we ensured we got a site with electricity in order to make a few, ummm, adjustments to our typical camping arrangement.

This space heater made the difference between a somewhat manageable night and an entirely miserable one. We also had an electric blanket.

This lovely picture does not capture the chill in the air

After setting up our campsite, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing the best kinds of things – walking along the beach holding hands, watching Sydney play tag with the waves, finding whole sand dollars (not easy to do), and enjoying the beauty that is the Oregon coast.

They are best buddies

The real Brandon

I love my Enso ring – perfect for all of our adventures

After a long walk on the beach and taking approximately 1 million pictures, give or take, we had worked up an appetite. We decided to return to Homegrown Public House, a spot we had especially liked during a previous trip to Florence.

It was just as great as we remembered. The literary themed seasonal cocktails were a fun touch. With options such as A Walk in the Woods, My Precious, Lizzie Bennet, and A Song of Ice & Fire it was hard to decide.

My choice – Always Winter and Never Christmas: Crater Lake Vodka, Crater Lake Hazelnut Expresso Vodka, Kahlua, Bailey’s, and cream
Brandon bravely tried Polyjuice Potion: Vodka, homemade berry syrup, and fresh squeezed lemon. I got the sense that it tasted better than its namesake.

The real highlight continued to be the locally sourced, made from scratch food.

Clam chowder
Fried cheese curds
And Brandon approved fish and chips made with locally caught cod

Bellies full, we soaked in the warmth of the restaurant before heading back to camp for what we correctly anticipated would be a chilly night.

Although the space heater and many blankets kept us reasonably warm, there is only so much you can do to make camping in a tent, an activity that is not particularly comfortable under ideal conditions, cozy in the middle of winter. Needless to say, we got an early start the next morning, desperately needing another campfire, lots of hot coffee, and the chance to move and stretch our aching backs.

How pathetic is this “please give me some bacon” face?

Despite a mediocre night of sleep, we were excited to begin our day at Cape Perpetua. This was another spot on my Oregon bucket list, Thor’s Well and the tide pools both being among the spots I wanted to see.

Oregon is gorgeous

With no real plan in mind, we walked the trails, explored the tide pools, and marveled at the incredible ways water and rock and wind and time have shaped the coast.

My love

These two are my favorites

And just when we thought the views couldn’t get any more amazing, we headed to the top. From the highest point on the coast, we could see miles down the coast and out to sea. There is an immensity that overwhelms in places such as this one, an immensity that washes over and through and leaves a feeling that is simultaneously humbling and expansive.

To finish up our quick weekend away, we enjoyed a late lunch at 1285 Restobar, a favorite because of the pistachio drink, the ingredients of which we have repeatedly tried to determine. Well, it must have been our lucky day because with minimal prompting our waitress revealed the unexpected secret ingredients. I won’t reveal them (mostly because if I did you probably would not try it), but I’ll make you one of these cocktails anytime!

“Always get the steamer clams” seems like a generally good rule for life

This seafood ravioli is all of the delicious things

We savored our lunch and began the drive home, reviewing the year, both the wonderful and difficult parts. It had been a year full of amazing things, but also a year that presented some challenges. As we reflected on this year, our thoughts turned to the next year with anticipation. The next year, the one where we would get married and start our life together. As we looked backward and looked forward, I felt grateful for the man beside me with whom I made so many of the wonderful memories of the past year and with whom I would soon be starting the next chapter. Whether we spend the weekend having adventures, recovering from a crazy week, or simply moving through the mundane tasks of life, I am thankful that he is the one by my side. Later that night, exhausted, we sat around the fire pit in the backyard and toasted the new year with friends, welcoming and wondering what 2018 will bring.

 

Wedding Dress Weekend

One bride, two days, three friends, four bridal boutiques, and (at least) five glasses of champagne. Add in some fancy restaurants and a chic hotel and you’ve got everything you need for the perfect weekend spent searching for the perfect dress.

It all started when my friend Kacy informed me that there was a BHLDN (pronounced beholden – Dutch for “to keep”) wedding shop in Portland. BHLDN is Anthropologie’s wedding collection and after spending approximately 2 minutes looking at the collection online, I knew I had to try on the dresses. All the dresses. And thus, the plans began to fall into place. When it was all said and done, we had a packed itinerary for a weekend of wedding dress shopping and some much needed friend time.

To be honest, I was not necessarily hopeful that I would find “the” dress, but I was confident I would find something beautiful and flattering and enough to make me happy. Really, the search to find a dress was mostly an excuse to get away to the city for a night and have some fun with friends. Oh, and to drink champagne. Finding a dress would just be a bonus. I had asked my groom if he had any preferences for the dress. His only request was a white dress. The italics might be foreshadowing.

Anyway, my friends – Kacy (also my matron of honor), Chelsea, and Dani – and I set out on a Saturday morning from Roseburg and headed toward Eugene. And although my friends Jessi and Shannon could not be there in person, they spent their entire weekends texting with Kacy about every single dress. Our first appointment was at Blush Bridal. I had been told by multiple people that this was the place to shop for a dress. I could immediately see why. From the moment we walked in, every one was friendly and the consultant I worked with was excited to help me find the perfect dress. It was a little overwhelming first, but this first stop helped me settle into narrowing down what I wanted, beginning to learn what looked best on me, and just generally getting used to having all the attention focused on me.

Don’t worry. None of the dresses pictured in this post are the actual dress I will be wearing on my wedding day.

I actually found two dresses that I loved, but did not feel quite ready to commit at the first boutique, so I made an appointment for the next day, expecting to return and finalize a dress purchase in Eugene before returning to Roseburg.

All that dress trying had worked up an appetite, so we made a quick stop for lunch at Mucho Gusto before beginning the drive to Portland.

Once in Portland we made a quick detour to check out Brides for a Cause.

This is a second hand bridal shop where proceeds go to charity. I think the experience there is likely to be a little hit or miss and for me it was a miss. But I did get a good laugh out of trying on a couple dresses that ended up looking unpredictably terrible on me. I love the concept and I am sure if I lived closer I would have given it another visit or two. No appointment was required, so it was easy to fit around the other activities of the weekend.

Next, it was off to check into the hotel before the final appointment of the day. I particularly love Kimpton Hotels, so when there was a suite sale, I jumped on the chance to book a suite at the Portland Hotel Monaco.

The quirky and stylish hotel did not disappoint. The suite was spacious and just perfect for a girl’s weekend.

We took a few minutes to settle in and kick up our feet before walking to the nearby Ania Bridal.

Ania Bridal was another fun experience, complete with the requisite champagne. It was here where I really narrowed down the style of dress I wanted, noting the similarities between what I liked best at Blush and what I like best here.

To be honest, when you’re the one trying on the dresses, you’re not really the one drinking the champagne.

More dresses, more champagne, more decisions to make. I was feeling good about being able to find a dress I loved this weekend, but was still pondering the options as we headed back to the hotel for the complimentary happy hour.

Every evening, there is a social hour featuring local wines and brews. And because Kimpton is pet friendly, there are always a few cute pups hanging out, too. We didn’t want to ruin our appetites, though. We had plans.

Because it was my wedding dress weekend, we went to my favorite restaurant, Lechon. I have extolled the delicious virtues of this place many times and this evening with friends was no exception.

I could leave it at that, but the food is too beautiful not to share, dish by dish. We shared a number of incredible dishes, enjoyed craft cocktails, and ended the meal with a bit of sweetness.

My favorite cocktail was not currently on the menu, so I branched out to the marecuzco – pisco, allspice dram, demerara, lime, and passionfruit
Avocado and smoked trout toast – it was even more yummy than it looks
Chickpea quinoa fritters
One of the two dishes I think should always be ordered at Lechon – the burrata. The accompaniments change seasonally. This evening it was poached apricots, prosciutto, lemon confit, and herbed toast. Simple perfection on a plate.
A salad so that we did not feel too bad about ourselves. And also because it was an ideal combo of goat cheese, cranberries, spiced pine nuts, and champagne vinaigrette.
The empanadas are my second “must order” dish. This evening, there was a spicy fried piquiollo pepper empanada and a milder but no less flavorful pork empanada.
And finally, another favorite, the grilled octopus.

With all of this, we even managed to save a little room for dessert.

I don’t even remember what this was or what was in it. But it was good.

We walked back to the hotel. I felt happy in a way that only the combination of a fancy meal and the energy of walking in a city after dark provide. We opened the bottle of champagne that had been cooling in the fridge (at the expense of the mini bottles now scattered across the floor to make room for the champagne) and pondered the pros and cons of the various dresses I had tried on that day.

We reviewed the texted feedback from Jessi and Shannon. We discussed our plans for the next day. And then things got a little, well, goofy… Because I like these people and want them to still be my friends, I will refrain from sharing the evidence. Other than this. Because the cool hotel robes must be modeled.

I’ll just leave it at that.

The next morning, my final bridal appointment was not until 11 am. That + being in Portland = brunch. Chelsea had recommended Mother’s Bistro and I am so glad she did.

It was classy and cozy. Most important of all, the food was incredible.

Chelsea and I shared a pot of gourmet french press coffee. We chose the one whose flavor description included “chocolate.”
Sharing a cinnamon roll the size of my head is generally a good way to start a meal
Bacon and gorgonzola frittata
Eggs Benedict
Salmon hash
And a scramble

Being friends means sharing each others’ food. At least in my book.

After a great brunch, we were ready for the last bridal appointment, the one that had prompted the whole trip – BHLDN. At this point, my plan was still to try on the pretty dresses just for fun and then exhaustively discuss which of the Blush dresses I wanted to purchase on the drive back to Eugene.

Located in a corner of the second floor of Anthropologie, BHLDN just felt right. I wanted to touch all of the dresses, not just look at them, as I sipped champagne out of bright pink can. And then I met my consultant, her Southern accent sounding so familiar that I couldn’t help but ask where she was from. Something about learning that she was also from Arkansas set me at ease and made the dress shopping experience even more fun.

The place had some seriously gorgeous gowns. I had one dress left to try on and felt like I had a sense of what I liked. Sure, I had not had that moment you see on TV shows and movies, but I was feeling good about what I had mostly decided to buy. Yes, there was one more dress to try, but I had chosen it solely because it was remarkably beautiful and I simply wanted to try it on because I could. It was obviously not going to be an option because it was decidedly not white and, after all, that had been Brandon’s single request. But how many times do you have an excuse to try on as many pretty dresses as you want? I was not considering in a million years that I would buy this dress. I just wanted to wear it for five minutes.

And then I tried it on and had that moment. I walked out and everyone’s face lit up. I stood in front of the mirror and started crying, choking out the words, “I want this dress” as my friends texted Brandon to reassure him that a not white dress would be okay when it was a dress as breathtaking as this one. My mom called the second she got the pictures of the dress to insist that I buy it. And Shannon and Jessi, who had been bombarded with pictures all weekend, texted this:

This dress was, unquestionably, the one. Sometimes I put it on and just stare at it in the mirror and I absolutely can’t wait to wear it next month. It is stunning. I blew my wedding dress budget without a second thought.

A successful weekend of wedding dress shopping called for celebratory sushi burritos. If you find yourself in the Eugene area, you will not regret stopping by this little drive through sushi stand.

Sushi burritos may sound strange, but they are legit tummy goodness.

I ordered the Black Widow – cajun sesame seared albacore tuna sashimi, crispy shrimp, crab, spicy cream cheese, cucumber, carrots, and seaweed salad served with a cajun sweet soy sauce. And I added avocado. I recommend everything about this.

We savored our meal, discussing our favorite parts of the weekend and continuing to marvel over the dress, the not white wedding dress that was meant to be. I am always amazed how a single night away can make a difference – getting out of the usual routine, enjoying delicious meals, and most of all spending time in the company of friends. I think I should do this more often, although perhaps without spending more than $1000 on a dress. That would buy a lot of sushi burritos.

On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: The Perfect Proposal

When I was in college there was this show, I think it was on TLC, called The Perfect Proposal. The premise of the show was helping someone, usually a man, plan an elaborate marriage proposal for the person he loved. Sure, it was a little over the top, but it was fun to watch. There were hot air balloons and sky writers, surprise visits from far away family members, and I even recall a marching band or two. But beyond all of the cute animals and spa days and bespoke productions, beyond the scenic locations and giant diamond rings, there was always this moment. This moment of fear and hope, of expectation. In that beautiful, vulnerable moment, one person asked a question full of hope and promises, a question that imagined a future and nervously took the first steps toward it. And then the next moment when another person joyfully said yes to a life full of unknowns, to both the sorrow and happiness of all the years to come. That moment is the magic of life. It’s terrifying and brilliant to have so much wrapped up into one tiny, humongous question and an even tinier, momentous answer to that question. It was that moment that would be the sweetest, most wonderful memory I would take from Jamaica.

I’ll be honest, the morning before the proposal I was kind of pouting. I suspected and hoped that Brandon was going to propose sometime during the trip because, really, how could there be a better place to propose than Jamaica? But we were nearing the end of our weeklong trip and it had not happened. So, like I said, I may have spent portions of Thursday pouting and pretending not to. However, like an adult I reminded myself that I was in a gorgeous place having a fantastic time with my favorite person. I was not going to let the lack of a piece of jewelry take away from that. We had a fun day snorkeling, relaxing at our hotel, and swimming in the pool. We had decided that we would go out that night for a fancy dinner at Ivan’s, which was just down the road from our hotel. We got dressed up, which meant that Brandon actually put on pants instead of the shorts he had been wearing the rest of the week. He suggested that before going to dinner we stop by the bar and get a couple drinks and then find a spot to watch the sunset. He did not exactly have to twist my arm.

There was this little cabana right on the edge of the cliff that was just the spot. We sat and I sipped my drink, choosing to simply enjoy the moment. I did notice that Brandon seemed a little nervous and distracted. Despite this, we soaked in the moment and savored the beauty and the company. We took a few pictures and then right at sunset (6:15 on Thursday September 14 to be exact), he suggested we get up and take some pictures together. He maneuvered us to the edge of the cabana and then dropped down on one knee. He had something in his hand, but I could only look at his face as he asked “Will you be my Mrs. Hart?” I could not speak. I could not even say yes, so I just nodded my head and leaned over to kiss him. I eventually looked at the ring. He had even found a ring box that was shaped like a shell. After a few blissful moments of cherishing the newness of being engaged, of privately celebrating suddenly being more than boyfriend and girlfriend, Brandon set off to find a random person to come take pictures. We recreated the sweet moments of our engagement for the patient man behind the camera.

I feel like this accurately captures how we look at each other in real life – I look (and was probably being) bossy and Brandon just looks like he wants to kiss me.

It was sincere. It was joyful. It was perfect.

That evening, we had a celebratory dinner at Ivan’s.

Yes, there was champagne

The restaurant is known for their jerk chicken pasta – a unique and quite delicious take on the classic dish

The food may have been delicious, but even more amazing was sharing my first meal with my fiancé.

This man. I love him beyond words and cannot imagine someone loving me better than he does. This sunset proposal in Jamaica will be a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. On the days when life is hard or when love is hard, I will recall the love that came easily and the happy tears shed in one of life’s perfect moments and remind myself of the all the many reasons I said yes to the unknowns of forever.

And, if you are wondering, I spent the rest of our vacation telling every.single.person. who we met that we had just gotten engaged.

On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: The Food

So I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve talked all about the gorgeous beaches, the stunning sunsets, the adventures, the chill vibe. But what I haven’t mentioned, at least not in much detail, is the marvelous food – spicy and flavorful, the food we had in Jamaica was a true highlight of the week. And did I mention there was lobster? Lobster for days.

Rockhouse has three restaurants. The Rockhouse Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers room service for the resort. This is also where the Juice Bar is located. The Pool Bar & Grill is all about the tropical poolside drinks and small, casual meals. And finally, there is Pushcart, an upscale interpretation of local Jamaican jerk centres. We had the chance to enjoy all of these options during our week in Jamaica.

Slightly jet lagged, desiring a tropical beverage and our first Jamaican meal, we made our way to Pushcart after settling into our room and briefly exploring the property. As we looked out over the ocean, the salty breeze mingling with the scent of rum and grilling meats, it was impossible not to feel happy.

My handsome date

But enough about that. What did we actually eat?

Well, we of course had to start with a cocktail or two. We were in Jamaica, after all.

If you can get a drink made inside of a coconut, you probably should. Many coconuts were harmed in the making of this vacation.
And something fruity for me
These seafood fritters had an excellent seafood to batter ratio – substantial bites of seafood in a savory batter were a delicious beginning
And jerk chicken skewers that were sweet and spicy deliciousness

We really struggled to narrow down what to order and eventually settled on a platter that included curried goat, braised oxtail, curried chicken, and bushman stew – a hearty and flavorful stew of lentils, red peas, black beans, and vegetables, this vegetarian dish was a take on Rasta fare. These were served with variations of rice, including callaloo rice, which is made with a leafy green such as amaranth.

We tried each dish and tried them again, doing our best to decide on a favorite. I think we eventually decided that the bushman stew was the best, but just barely. By the end of the meal, our mouths were on fire and our bellies were full.

We would return to Pushcart a couple more times that week for dinner and we did our best to try every dish on the menu.

The view from the restaurant was as fabulous as the food
Regardless of what we ate, we paired it with this scotch bonnet pepper sauce that was oh-so-spicy while still managing to add flavor.
Fried calamari served with a sweet tomato relish
Peppa shrimp that was equal parts messy and tasty
Fried chicken and the classic Jamaican side dish, rice and peas

We would find ourselves at Pushcart one last time the night before going home. It was a bittersweet night, as we listened to live Reggae music and reminisced over the loveliness of the previous week, while the sadness of leaving began to sink in. Thankfully we could take comfort in more amazing Jamaican food.

Unable to decide and feeling the pressure of this being our last island dinner, we again chose a combination platter. This one included jerk pork and jerk chicken and jerk sausage (all delicious) with traditional sides including roasted yam, plantain, and festival (sort of a fried dumpling). Every bite was amazing.

As I mentioned above, the main restaurant at the resort, Rockhouse Restaurant, was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dinner at Rockhouse was more of a fine dining affair than at Pushcart. This was also the restaurant that provided room service, which we ordered for breakfast once or twice. Like Pushcart, there was an emphasis on local foods with much of the produce sourced directly from the Rockhouse’s organic garden. And like Pushcart, all the food was delicious. Seriously, I don’t think I had a bad dish the entire week.

When you have a headache, breakfast on your balcony overlooking the ocean with a giant pot of coffee is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Jamaican rancheros made with plantains rather than tortillas, stew peas rather than refried or black beans, with the spice of scotch bonnet peppers. It was a cast iron skillet of deliciousness.
Can’t hate this breakfast view. Like literally. Hating this view would be impossible.

Other mornings, we chose to have breakfast in the restaurant. It was wonderful to wake up and drink coffee overlooking the stunning blue ocean, enjoying the still cool air as the day began to warm. We would make our plans for the day while we marveled at the beauty and perfection of it all.

One of the most unique breakfasts I tried was the Jamaican Special. Included with the breakfast was the iconic Blue Mountain Coffee, which some consider to be the best coffee in the world. Served alongside the coffee was the national dish of Ackee and Saltfish. Ackee is a much-loved fruit that, to me, seemed somewhat similar in taste and texture to an avocado. Salt cod and ackee are sautéed with spices to create this iconic dish. The Rockhouse breakfast also included other Jamaican foods, such as callaloo, fried dumplings, plantains, and, because that was not enough, even banana bread.

I enjoyed trying the different traditional foods, although I think ackee and saltfish may be a bit of an acquired taste.

Lunch at the Rockhouse Restaurant was also good. We were typically out and about during lunch, but on the day I went to the spa, we decided to check it out. Maybe because we had the coconut chicken at a pool party the day before and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Coconut shrimp, which might be one of my all time favorite foods
Crab quesadilla
And some of that coconut chicken, just for starters
Brandon ordered Jamaican jerk chicken fajitas
And I ordered a grilled fish sandwich
I now realize just how ridiculous this amount of food was. My only defense is that it was a gorgeous afternoon and a long lunch with my love was just perfect.

We also had dinner at Rockhouse once during our stay.

Plantain chips with ackee dip
We also shared an incredible seafood stew, simple perfection in a coconut shell bowl

The food may have been amazing, but the real highlight of the evening was this:

There are no words.

I think it is pretty obvious that the food at Rockhouse was stellar. But our favorite restaurant was just down the road, within a short walk of the resort. We first ended up at 3 Dives Jerk Centre after a somewhat disappointing experience at Rick’s. I am so glad we did.

This place was a quintessential dive, in the best way possible. At first I was a little leery. We arrived as very last of the sun set, walking up to the dimly lit building. After a moment, we realized that we would place our order at the counter. We perused the daily chalkboard menu, getting a glimpse of the large stew pots bubbling in the small kitchen. We initially ordered jerk chicken. When we expressed some uncertainty about the lobster, we were pointed toward a table located by the water. It was laden with the freshly caught crustaceans. After that, how could we not order lobster?

We found a table and drank Red Stripe as we waited for our food. The smells, man, they were incredible. The scents wafting from the kitchen made us more and more hungry. This is not a place where food was hurried. The jerk chicken and lobster were prepared after we ordered it, which meant plenty of time to take in the scene. Someone by the water was playing reggae music, which drifted underneath the conversations of locals and tourists alike.

Every bite was worth the wait.

The sides that night were rice and peas and callaloo. We also ordered some plantains because obviously this was not enough food. The immensity of the portions did nothing to diminish our determination to eat every single bite. It was one of the best meals of my life. No exaggeration.

This place was so good we had to go back again before we left. It was just was good the second time. This time we ordered curry goat. And more lobster.

The sides this time were rice and peas and some type of slaw. The curry was so good. So, so good.
And then there was the lobster
If you’re wondering how jerk anything is made, this is how – in grills made out of repurposed barrels, the sweet and savory spices blended into an ideal combination of charred flavors as they’re slowly cooked over smoky wood.

I actually feel sad as I write this because I’m not there right now eating this food. Just looking at the pictures makes me want to hop on a plane to Jamaica just for dinner. But since I can’t do that, I will content myself with staring at this rather attractive picture of my man.

If you’ve somehow missed this point, Jamaican food is kind of awesome. I think you should go to Negril and eat jerk chicken and grilled lobster and curry and plantains. I promise your life will be better for it.

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Booby Cay

As they say, all good things must come to an end. Apparently this includes Jamaican vacations. It was Saturday morning, the day that would be the last of a series of sunshine and fun-filled days that had been spent relaxing in paradise. The week had been everything and more than everything and I, for one, was not ready for it to end. As our final day began, we decided to return to the beach one last time. We had no real plan in mind, but asked Nelson to again take us to Seven Mile Beach. We found a spot for a quick breakfast while we pondered our options. Afterward, we stopped by a nearby watersports shop and asked about trips to Booby Cay.

Located within view of the beach, Booby Cay is a small island off the coast of Negril. We were able to arrange a day trip to the island and then waited on ocean front loungers for our glass bottom boat to arrive. I imagine that in busier times, the boat is closer to full and it could be more difficult to just walk up and book a tour, but on this particular day, we had the boat all to ourselves.

Even after days in Jamaica, the clear blue water was still a stunning sight.

Although Booby Cay was our ultimate destination, Brandon could not resist another opportunity to snorkel on the reef. We had as much time as we wanted to snorkel and explore, with freedom to branch out while still having a guide to show us around.

But snorkeling was only the beginning. After one last chance to take in the colorful sight of the reef, we hopped back on the boat (I mean that literally), and headed toward the island.

We dropped an anchor near the island and jumped into the warm, shallow water to walk to shore. Salty and barefoot, we walked through the sand toward the scent of smoke and garlic.

You see, this small, uninhabited island is also known as the place to get lobster. We made our selections out of a faded orange drink dispenser and waited with anticipation while our lobster was grilled.

As we waited, we wandered down the beach, buying a couple of overpriced Red Stripes from a lady selling them out of a cooler.

And then, the lobster was ready. Grilled over charcoal, topped with a garlic butter sauce, and served alongside grilled toast, this was the best lobster I have ever had.

I am not exaggerating when I say that we had lobster pretty much every day while in Jamaica (tough life, I know). And it is also no exaggeration to say this was the absolute best. It was perfectly grilled, the sweetness of the lobster wonderfully balanced by the richness of the garlic and butter. I used the grilled toast to soak up every last drop of the sauce. Food doesn’t get better than this. I was glad we had each had our own lobster, rather than sharing one as we initially discussed. I wanted every last bite. And more.

After a lovely day, we reluctantly made our way back to the boat and back to Negril.

The day may have been simple, but it was the perfect way to end our week. But just because Booby Cay was the last place we went while in Jamaica, doesn’t mean I’m done writing about Jamaica. After all, I have yet to really talk about all of the delicious food we ate. Which was, almost, the best part of the vacation.

 

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Zimbali Retreat

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you will know that our trip to Jamaica was amazing. It was a week full of adventure and love in a spectacularly beautiful place. Amid all of this though, one day manages to stand out. Of course, it could have been because it was the first day I was in Jamaica with my fiancé (I promise to share more), but I think our visit to Zimbali Retreats would have been incredible under any circumstances.

A labor of love where life is lived in harmony with nature, Zimbali is a one of a kind place. We were not quite sure what to expect, but had heard that we should go there if we could. So we did. We booked the lunch culinary tour, so our driver picked us up from the Rockhouse around 9 am. After picking up one other couple, we made our way toward the retreat. I may have gotten a little carried away with letting everyone know that Brandon was my fiancé and that he had proposed only the evening before. Maybe. At a certain point, the road became rather bumpy. Honestly, being from Oregon and having a fiancé who likes “exploring” it was nothing worse than we have experienced on a logging road here and there, but it certainly felt like we were heading into the Jamaican wilderness. At times, sugarcane towered over the car, our driver noting that it would grow much taller before it would be harvested later in the year.

And then we arrived at Zimbali.

We were greeted at the gates and led through a lush paradise to a deck overlooking some of the gardens. As we waited, we were given fresh juice (starfruit and guava, maybe, I don’t really remember but whatever it was, it was delicious) to enjoy as we marveled at the tranquility surrounding us. Zimbali is a retreat from the world among the mountains. With lodging, gardens, and all organic meals, it is a place to escape and relax. If we ever make it back to Jamaica, we want to spend more time here. This time, though, we contented ourselves with the farm tour and freshly prepared lunch.

Brandon couldn’t resist the cute puppy

These avocados were HUGE. We would get a chance to try them with our lunch.

 

After a few more minutes of relaxation, we began our tour of the organic farm. There was so much to see. We hardly noticed the heat of the day as we were led throughout the farm, marveling at the variety of the produce being grown.

Our tour guide, Clifford, also works at the farm

Tropical paradise
Brandon ate this hot pepper. Because he’s weird.

A baby pineapple
The farm had many different varieties of bananas. We got to try several kinds, although I stopped after one because I don’t really like bananas, which happens to be one of the few food things I’m picky about. Brandon shared that each variety had a noticeably distinct taste from the others.

The scent of the lemongrass was amazing
The is called a peanut fruit. It tastes exactly like peanut butter. Brandon may or may not be growing one in the living room now, although the details of that should probably remain fuzzy.
Bamboo forest
Serenity and beauty were found in each moment and around every bend in the path

This is a lemon…

After the farm tour was the highlight of the day, lunch. We made our way back to the kitchen where we would enjoy lunch created with fresh ingredients straight from the farm. Everything served was either sourced directly from Zimbali or from a nearby farm. Or the ocean. Yay seafood. We had made our selections for the main course prior to beginning the farm tour.

All of this, even the honey, is grown or made at Zimbali

We had a choice of wine with our meal as we watched the first course being prepared.

The first course was a refreshing and tart salad with those giant avocados and a citrusy dressing.

The second course was an Indian inspired samosa. Only my impeccable, raised in the South manners kept me from licking that sauce off the plate. And asking for seconds.

And then came the main course. I had chosen jerk shrimp, which was served alongside a green plantain fritter. The shrimp was flavorful and perfectly spicy. My only regret was not being there long enough to try some of the other dishes that were offered.

And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. We were served rum cake with a banana and honey sauce. It was so good not even the bananas could bring me down.

Our day at Zimbali was incredible. Despite the rain that began to pour as we left, I wished we could have stayed longer. I already want to go back and spend a few days further exploring the mountain, relaxing in a hammock on a patio amid the lush gardens, eating more delicious food, and taking the Rasta culture and food tour offered at the retreat. If you are planning a trip to Negril, I highly recommend that you make Zimbali a part of it, preferably for more than a meal. I know we will be staying a few nights next time we are in Jamaica.

We ended our first day as an engaged couple back at the Rockhouse, relaxing by the pool (well, Brandon snorkeled) and counting our blessings. As we watched another dazzling sunset, we reflected on what had been a day of happiness – the joy of being engaged combined with a truly lovely day at Zimbali wrapped up in the felt gratitude of being in one of the most beautiful places.

This day was one of the perfect ones.

 

 

 

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Snorkeling

When we began packing for this trip to Jamaica, pretty much the first thing Brandon thought of bringing was snorkeling gear. For real, the guy could have forgotten everything except his passport, a swimsuit, and his snorkeling gear and been perfectly happy. He spent much of the week exploring the ocean around Rockhouse, but eventually he wanted to make it out to the coral reef, which was far enough out to only be reached by boat.

Each morning “Famous Vincent” pulls his boat up to one of Rockhouse’s red ladders to take guests of the resort out to the reef.

We arranged our trip with Vincent with the front desk the day prior and I believe we were able to add the payment for this to our account (rather than bringing cash with us to pay), although I may be misremembering this. That’s how we found ourselves sitting next to the stunningly blue Jamaican ocean waiting for our ride. Well, I was sitting, Brandon was already snorkeling.

One other couple joined us this particular morning. I was glad there were no more witnesses than that to watch me awkwardly getting in and out of the boat. Grace is my middle name. Literally. It is. I just don’t happen to exhibit gracefulness as I move about this world. But at least my awkwardness is entertaining. For Brandon, at least.

Before heading out to the reef, we pulled into a cave that used to be a bar. It was cool.

Just a quick be-a-responsible-traveler moment. You will notice that we were both wearing sun shirts. That was so we could reduce our use of sunscreen – one of the things responsible for the destruction of coral reefs. Wearing the shirts meant that for the hour or so we were snorkeling, we only needed sunscreen coverage on the back of our necks and legs. And we made sure to use a reef safe sunscreen that we had purchased prior to the trip. Eco safe sunscreen + using as little as possible = happy reefs. I hope. Okay, sermon over.

We made our way along the coast, getting a glimpse of a now deserted property and it’s once sought after stage where legends like Bob Marley performed, back when Negril was a sleepy fishing village.

The boat ride was lovely, but we really couldn’t wait for the highlight of the trip – snorkeling on the reef.

You will just have to imagine how amazing it was because we did not have an underwater camera for this trip. It was incredible! For an hour that seemed to pass in minutes, Vincent led us around the reef through the crystal clear water, pointing out some of the more unique and interesting features. It was vibrant and abundant and breathtaking. We were surrounded by fish and coral of all shapes and sizes. Brandon was disappointed that we could not explore “on our own,” but we had a wonderful morning, nonetheless, another sunshiny day in beautiful Jamaica.

 

On a Rock, In a Bay, On and Island, In Jamaica: Rockhouse Spa

Something to know about me when I travel: me + jet lag = a headache. Almost inevitably. Unfortunately my time in the paradise that is Jamaica was no exception. I struggled with a splitting headache through the first two days of vacation, choosing to have fun despite the pain, hoping a bit of relaxation would eventually help my head catch up to the fact that we were on vacation. But by day three, I needed more than a bit of hope and the regular administration of Excedrin Migraine.

Enter the Rockhouse Spa.

The award winning spa was just what I needed to finally kick the headache.

This place was incredible. From the moment I walked into the open air building, I felt a sense of calm. The space struck the perfect balance between “Jamaica” and “spa” – light rock and dark wood, sunshine and the sound of trickling water, brightly colored and relaxing spaces set amid green tropical plants.

For my treatment, I chose the signature bath house bathing ritual, which was said to release tension, boost immunity, and reduce pain. It sounded like exactly what I needed.

After checking in and changing into the provided robe, I was led to a cozy chair where I got to soak my feet in a copper tub of flower petal laced hot water. I allowed my body to sink into the chair as I took some deep breaths and settled into a sense of calm.

After a few minutes, I was given a lovely foot scrub with the spa’s signature island mint tea scrub to welcome me to the spa.

Despite not feeling quite ready to move from the comfortable chair, I was led away to a treatment room for a much needed 60-minute aromatherapy massage.  It was wonderful. As each moment passed, I could feel the pain in my head begin to ease.

And then, the best part, my own private bath with an unmatched view of the ocean.

The sunlit bathhouse was beautiful and quiet, the sound of the ocean gentle and soothing. The deep soaking tub was full of steaming water infused with a combination of Jamaican botanicals designed to help me relax and recover. Dandelion, cerassie, green tea, green rooibos, lemongrass, lime leaf and spearmint floated in the the water, pleasantly scenting the room in combination with the salty ocean air. The Epsom salts, sea salts, and baking powder also mixed into the water added to the detoxifying powers of the bath.

After ensuring I was comfortable in the bathtub, my spa therapist brought me a tray of fresh island fruit for me to eat during the bath. I consumed the energizing and healing ginger shot (it burns in a good way) followed by a bite of banana and a sip of water, before being left alone to enjoy.

There are some moments in life that seem almost too wonderful to be real, even as you’re living them. For me, this was one of them. I soaked in the infused water, the heat settling deep into my body. I ate the cold tropical fruits, enjoying the contrast of the warmth of the water and the coolness of the fruit. I gazed out at an unbelievably blue ocean, simply being in the moment, taking in every second before I woke up from what was surely a dream. I could not imagine how this moment could be any better, any more beautiful.

And then, there were dolphins. At first, I almost did not believe my eyes, certain that my entranced gaze had led me to misperceive the movements of the ocean. And yet, there were more. As I sat there, ensconced in the bath, I watched as a pod of dolphins made its way down the coast, smoothly breaking the surface of the water one at a time. It was all too much and I did that weird thing that I do and cried at the beauty of it all. This spa experience redefined bliss.

At the end of it all, when my spa therapist gently suggested that perhaps it was time to get out of the bath, I reluctantly left the warmth of the water. The ocean breeze was pleasantly cool on my skin as I dried off and took one last look around the bath house. And then I noticed it. For the first time in days, I did not have a headache. And I was genuinely relaxed, perhaps more so than I had been in months. The aromatherapy massage, the therapeutic bath, the tranquil place – all had worked together to heal me.

And there was still more. Thankfully, I did not have to jump right back into reality (although, to be fair, being in Jamaica hardly qualified as reality). I was able to sit in the garden, an ice cold towel on my neck, for the last bit of my spa experience – a tea ceremony.

I sipped my tea and savored the moment.

You may be wondering what Brandon was doing during all of this. I believe he was snorkeling and jumping off of things. As I was finishing my tea and debating the merits of never leaving the spa, the peace and quiet was interrupted by someone “whispering” my name rather loudly. After rather disturbing the spa vibe, Brandon found me sitting in the garden. He filled me in on the excitement of his morning and I shared the relaxation of mine. And I believe we both felt perfectly happy in our individual choices and somewhat sorry that the other had chosen to spend the morning in such a manner, each certain that our choice of activity was the best one. But because this is my blog, I get the last word. My morning at Rockhouse Spa was one of my favorite mornings and my spa day was obviously far superior to any morning spent snorkeling and jumping off of things. Plus, I finally got rid of that darn headache. That, my friends, was worth every penny.

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Learning to fully experience life through travel

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