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.
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.
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.
Heading toward the coast seemed like the perfect excuse to stop by the Lighthouse Cafe. Not that I need an excuse.
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.
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.
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.
The real highlight continued to be the locally sourced, made from scratch food.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With all of this, we even managed to save a little room for dessert.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We also had dinner at Rockhouse once during our stay.
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.
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.
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.