Friday, July 18, 2014

trip report: blackberry farm

Blackberry's barn, where we had dinner every night.
Well top 'o the morning to you!

I have been too busy to post much because of all the eating I've been doing. Oops. But I'm beginning to make amends now, starting with this review of our recent trip to Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee.

You may be asking: why would you go all the way to Applachia (that's appaLAHchia, naturally) for your birthday, Juliet? Well, a few reasons, but one in particular: Blackberry got voted the #1 resort for food lovers. I may love a lot of things (Mike, American Ninja Warrior, world peace), but those of you who know me well know that I love food -- cooking, eating, speaking of -- more than anything else. We're also big fans of Relais & Chateaux properties; you can read write ups of our vacations at other affiliated spots here and here. And no, Relais doesn't pay me or pay for my trips, but sweet Jesus I WISH THEY WOULD.

The view from our room.
Since my birthday is July 3rd, making a long weekend out of the 4th of July has become a bit of a tradition. So, we woke up bright and early that Thursday and hopped on a very reasonable 1.5 hour flight to Knoxville. From there, the drive to Blackberry is only about 25 minutes and you pass interesting things along the way like the world headquarters of Ruby Tuesday.

The boathouse on the lake.
Once you're on property though, you pretty much feel like you're in Narnia. Blackberry owns about 4,200 acres of land, part of which is devoted to a real working farm with sheep, pigs, turkeys, a dairy, a brewery and truffle-hunting dogs (!).

Hi, friends.
We stayed in the Main House, which is very conveniently where both breakfast and lunch are served. A word of advice: come hungry. All of your meals are included in the room rate and Blackberry brings new meaning to the phrase Southern portions. Lunch every day was three courses and dinner was four. And that's not even counting all of the amuses and pre-desserts (that's a thing) and cookies left by your bedside. We woke up early to eat breakfast just so we'd be hungry by lunchtime. Dedication and courage, folks, that's what I live for. [ALTHOUGH, I will have you know that we did go for a three-mile run every morning. Mostly this was because I wanted to spy on all of the different guest houses on property and play with the horses, but whatever gets you moving, right?]

Mike's eggs benedict during Sunday brunch.
But there is much more to do there than just eat (although there's nothing wrong with that): Mike and I decided to get in touch with our (non-existent) Southern roots and try both fly-fishing and shotgunning. Not beer. I mean real guns. Although the former has its value as well, of course.

My trout!
Fly-fishing was sweet for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, our guide, Dusty (pictured above) is the coolest man on the planet. Second: I actually caught a fish! And while it may look small in the picture, I can assure you it's actually quite large for a river trout. So there. Third: my waders. Rather than fish on property (they have their own Orvis fly-fishing school and stream), we opted for a slightly longer trip out to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was definitely worth it.

Don't mess.
Our shotgun lesson was also off site at a shooting-specific property that Blackberry owns a few miles up from the property. It turns out my aim isn't quite as bad as I thought, so, Mike, behave. I have to admit, this was way more fun than I thought it would be and even worth the bruising to my cheek and collarbone from the kickback.

Since we were there for 4th of July, we were also treated to a BBQ cookoff between all the various chefs. Heaven.

Yum.
Beans, slaw, chicken, beef, pork...
Was the food as good as the hype? Yes. Every meal we had seemed to be better than the last. I also really enjoyed getting dressed up for dinner: jackets were actually required for men. And since the property is so large, they come pick you up at your room and drive you up to the barn for dinner. The hotel has a partnership with Lexus, so there's a whole fleet that you can borrow to drive around the Smokies if you so desire.

Birthday night!
Other than Tented Camp, I'd say this is the best experience we've had at a hotel, ever. I hope we'll be back soon, if only to see how these gorgeous Lagotto Romagnolo pups grow up!

Squee.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

the vacation chronicles: newport

The view from our room at Castle Hill Inn
In my previous life as a roving gossip reporter, "long weekends" was quite the foreign phrase. If you work for a weekly magazine, there is no such thing as Memorial Day. The printing press doesn't care that you want to eat lobster rolls and grilled corn while listening to Young Turks by Rod Stewart. The printing press only wants you to deliver your pages. Meanwhile, you weep silently in your New Jersey cubicle, scrolling through Instagrams of your friends wearing white and clinking glasses filled with rose.

Thankfully, for my emotional well-being, that chapter in my life is now closed. And the next -- much more humane chapter -- opens with me working for a company that cares deeply about the amount of hotdogs I consume from late May until early September. To celebrate this, Mike and I headed up to Newport, Rhode Island, which, admittedly, isn't known for their hot dogs, but DOES have more than its fair share of Gilded Age mansions, so it's essentially the same thing.

We decided to stay at Castle Hill Inn, which is located about 10 minutes outside of town on a stunning peninsula with sweeping views of Narragansett Bay. The property is made up of the Victorian Agassiz mansion, plus many small cottages scattered about the 40-acre parcel of land. It is certainly one of the most beautiful places we've stayed on the East Coast and being outside of town afforded us some much-needed quiet.

The mansion, where your complimentary breakfast is served every morning.
Our cottage, Harbor House #1!
Newport is most known for having killer seafood and some of the most epic real estate porn outside of Monaco. During the heyday of the Gilded Age, Vanderbilts, Astors and other members of the so-called "400" built legitimate palaces on the waterfront. Many of them are now open to the public and -- astoundingly, in my opinion -- many are still maintained as private homes. Mike: just so you know, this one is on the market.

Two of the most famous are Vanderbilt properties: The Breakers and Marble House. Both use a very handy self-guided audio tour. If you are a history, architecture or rich people buff, stopping in to the mansions is an absolute must.

Marble House
The Breakers
Viking Tours also runs an hour and half narrated trolley ride that covers the history of the town as well as details about the mansions on Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive. We saw many of these properties on our drive from Castle Hill to downtown every day, but had no idea of the history behind them. To wit: we drove by Jackie O's house about a dozen times without realizing it!

Trolley time.
Dreaming of what I would do with $500 million dollars often makes me hungry and luckily Newport has quite the bustling food scene. And, as I am wont to do, lunch and dinner reservations were made well in advance of even booking a hotel. A girl must have her priorities straight, no?

Some of our favorite Newport restaurants include:

The Black Pearl - Famous for its chowder (we bought two cans to bring home with us), I also had some of the best crab cakes of my life here.
Brick Alley Pub - The vintage posters and photos are worth a trip here alone, but I recommend staying for the lobster macaroni and cheese.

The lobster mac at Brick Alley.

The Mooring - Located in a beautiful building on the dock, this was our favorite higher-end seafood meal of the trip.
Clark Cooke House - A Newport institution that serves a mind-boggling array of takes on eggs benedict during Sunday brunch. My personal favorite includes crab cakes, tasso ham and scrambled eggs.
Tallulah on Thames - A prix-fixe farm-to-table spot that with dishes as good as what you'd find at ABC Kitchen.
My lamb dish at Tallulah
There are also a lot of active pursuits in town (Newport IS the yacht capital of the world, my friends). While we didn't try our hand at sailing, Castle Hill does provide free bikes and the ride along the coast on Ocean Drive gives you many opportunities to ogle the huge properties along the water. Also, it is much easier to sneak into private homes on a bike than with a car. Not that we did that.

Sweet rides.
Till next time, Newport!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

date night: thai edition

*for our previous HowAboutWe for Couples date, click here.

Best seats in the house at Ngam.
Ever since returning from our honeymoon, Mike and I have been on a very, very serious mission to find Thai food that isn't gloppy, overly sweet and -- in short -- Americanized. #sorryimnotsorry

Being a food snob is hard, but being a Thai food snob in Manhattan is especially hard. Once you have khao soi in Chiang Mai, it's kind of hard to go back to chicken skewers with sad peanut sauce (divaaaa). But! You guys! There is hope (apart from trekking out to Jackson Heights, which for the record, does have ridiculously authentic Thai). Ngam in the East Village may not be traditional Thai (there is a burger on the menu), but the flavors are as legit as what we got in Bangkok. Also, much closer than Queens.

Thanks to HowAboutWe, we snagged a tasting menu for two at the bar (which I actually kept a secret from Mike until we got there because I'm sneaky like that). I'm pretty sure the chefs got tired of me pointing at every vegetable they were sauteing, but to their credit, they tolerated me.

After sipping on Thai iced teas and fresh coconut water, we started with appetizers:

Pomelos! Squash fries!
I didn't know squash fries were a thing, but they are and I'm glad that they are. This was also the first time we'd had pomelo since getting back from our trip and it was just as tasty as I remembered it.

For mains, we split two:

This, my dears, is pad thai made with PAPAYA NOODLES. OK, you might be thinking, ew? But it's young papaya, meaning they're not sweet and just pliant enough that they work very well in a dish that normally calls for pasta. For someone who is trying to watch her carbs, this was kind of a revelation. You can also order this dish with zucchini noodles (!) and, of course, actual normal noodles as well.

We also opted for the lamb massaman "shephard's pie" which came enveloped with a Malaysian-style roti (please disregard earlier statement re: carbs). If you have never had this type of roti: it's not the same as Indian. Malaysian roti is like if Indian roti was all, "I'm spending the summer before high school getting really hot and you won't even recognize me on the first day of high school." It's buttery, flaky, tender ... SO GOOD.

Finally, as any proper date night should include, we ate melted chocolate with our hands.


I guess there were some strawberries too.

And, in case you needed more evidence of romance, check out this sign on the wall:

Aw.

If you want to create your own tasty date night, you can! Click here to use my referral link to get $50 off your first date through HowAboutWe. In case you're bad at math, that means you can have a feast at Ngam for $10 after your $50 voucher. I mean, no brainer.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 21, 2014

recipe: cauliflower pizza crust

Filters make everything prettier.
Happy Friday, friends. Growing up in my house, Friday night meant one thing: pizza. Well, two things, pizza and X-FILES. Since my ardent desire to see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson make out in real life is as yet unfulfilled, I present to you instead a pizza recipe.

But not just any pizza recipe! This one has a crust made of cauliflower! "What?!" you might say. "You are Italian, is this not blasphemous?" Well, in short, yes. But a girlfriend has got to cut carbs somehow, amirite?

I came across this recipe thanks to my lovely, blogging friend Jenny. You can find the original recipe for the crust here, also.

cauliflower pizza crust (and pizza toppings)

ingredients
1 head of cauliflower
1/2 cup of grated parm (note, shredded won't work as well)
1/2 cup of freshly grated mozzarella (I recommend full fat because, obviously)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of seasonings (I  used my personal favorite mix: Awesome WOW! I swear that is the real name)
3 cloves minced garlic (or more, we like our garlic)
1/2 teaspoon of salt (optional)

directions

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Chop the cauliflower in small bits and blitz in the food processor. It should look like rice when you're through.

"Riced" cauliflower
Zap the cauliflower in the microwave for about 5-8 minutes, until cooked. If there is any liquid, drain it using either a cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve. Mine didn't have any water, which was weird, but whatever.

Take 1 cup of your cooked, riced cauliflower and add to a bowl with all of your other ingredients. Stir well. (Save the rest of your cauliflower to make more pizzas or make into a mash or fritters ... the possibilities are endless!)

Mix mix mix. What a bad picture this is.
Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray and then pat down your crust mix onto the pan. Make sure it is even and not too thin.

Cook your crust for 15 minutes. It should look kind of like matzoh (according to Mike) when it's done. Let sit for a minute or two, make sure it isn't sticking to the cookie sheet, and then add your toppings.

Cooked crust eager for toppings.
On our pizza, we used tomato sauce, mozz, sausage, caramelized onion, and basil. Mostly everything came from the Union Square farmer's market, so yay for supporting local people.

Ready to be baked.
Depending on what you put on top, it should only need about 3-5 minutes in the oven. Try not to overload it too much because the crust won't be as sturdy as one made of bread.

Now please note that this won't taste like pizza crust, but it is delicious. You can't really go wrong with cauliflower and cheese and seasonings, no?

Let cool for a minute or two and then dig in! Let me know what you think.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

the honeymoon part 5: koh samui

*for part 4, chiang mai, click here.

Whee!
Our last stop of #honeymoon2k14 was the beach. We'd been quite busy sightseeing for the rest of the trip, so we figured ending on a peaceful note was the way to go. Not quite as advised: gorging yourself on pastries and noodles for two weeks straight before hanging out in a bikini for five days. HIYO.

Anyway.

If you've ever done any research into Thai vacations you'll find that you have literally hundreds of different island locales to choose from, on both coasts of the country. We decided on Koh Samui, which is an island on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand (off the eastern coast of Thailand). We'd been told by a few other returning honeymooners that it was little less developed than Phuket, plus you could still fly there directly from Bangkok.

Our own plunge pool!
Samui itself isn't huge, but it seems like most travelers opting to stay in a resort pretty much reside on premises, except for field trips to the marine park or maybe out to "town" for dinner. While Mike and I are not normally the homebound types, by this point in our trip we were more than happy to hang out in our own little villa and soak up some last minute rays before heading back to the polar vortex that is New York in this year's winter.

Our bedroom at FS KS.
After having great experiences at FS properties in the north of Thailand, we chose the Four Seasons Koh Samui for the final leg of our trip. We liked that the beach was essentially private due to the cliffs on either side of it, plus each room is actually its own little house, complete with a private pool and deck. The best part? Tropical fruit plates that were refreshed every morning. God, I miss that mango.

Can you name everything?
Since the resort is rather isolated at the northwest corner of the island, they make sure that you have every amenity on site, including a spa, lounge areas, multiple bars and two restaurants. Breakfast is included in the room rate, and good Lord was it an awesome spread.

House made compotes, yogurts, juices, all for free!

One of my favorites. Chocolate and lemongrass latte.
Apart from a selection of tropical fruits that would make any elephant squeal, there were the above-pictured treats, homemade pastries, plus a full menu of pancakes, eggs, and rice dishes. All. for. free.

Luckily for our waistlines, there was also a full gym, yoga lessons (for free!), and thai kickboxing. Mike and I took a private lesson, in which it became apparent that I may be small, but I am mighty.

BAMF.
Action shot!
The resort is also built onto a cliffside, meaning it's a pretty active hike up from the beach to the top of the hotel, where our villa was. While they do offer buggys to drive you around, we pretty much walked everywhere, even if that did elicit a few odd looks from the staff. Then we would shoot them a look that said, "We're NEW YORKERS."

I kid, of course, since the Thai are the nicest people you will ever meet. To wit: our first night on Samui, the general manager of the hotel organized a cocktail reception at one of the private homes on the property (yup, here too you can actually buy a house and LIVE THERE ALL THE TIME). It was a great way to meet the staff (and many other honeymooners). There were many other activities organized every day we were there, including cooking lessons, flower arranging and live music on the beach.

And this being the last stop on the honeymoon, we had to arrange for one last romantic dinner, this one on the beach:

Our private table on the water.
We had live music, rose petals and a bonfire. I definitely recommend this for anyone visiting; it was spectacular.

Most nights we also ate dinner on property, specifically at KOH. They had just revamped the restaurant  a few weeks before we came and the food was some of the best we had in Thailand. I've already tried to make my favorite dish, the crab curry, with less than spectacular results. Fish sauce is a tricky mistress, what can I say? Here is a picture of the real deal, though.

Epic.
Pad thai with all the fixin's.
Since the hotel caters to a lot of honeymooners, there are also many romantical type activities, many of them free. One of my favorites was the coconut milk bath: you call housekeeping a couple hours before and when you get back to your room, there are candles, roses and the most delicious smelling bath drawn for you and your significant other.

This was not THE bath, but a different pretty one they drew for us.
Our last day we were lucky enough to fly out in the evening, which meant we had a full beach day before we had to pack up. Since the resort wasn't at full capacity, they also let us stay in our room until we had to leave around 5, which was truly excellent.

Through the hotel, we joined a tour group and headed out to the Ang Thong Marine Park, which is about an hour away by boat. It's a collection of gorgeous rocky outcrops, tropical fish and secluded beaches. We snorkeled, lay on the beach, and hiked up a few lookout points before heading back home.

The cliffs!
And that's a wrap! It was our first vacation for longer than about a week and a half and it truly did feel different than just a regular trip. Word of advice: tell everyone it's your honeymoon! Most places will absolutely go out of their way to make your vacation that much more special, whether that's a bouquet of flowers on arrival or a complimentary spa service.

If anyone needs advice on planning on a Thailand trip, give me a holler! I'd also be happy to share contact details of our BADASS travel agent Josh at ProTravel, without whom this trip would not have been possible. Thank you, thank you, J!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

the honeymoon part 4: chiang mai

*for part 3, chiang rai, click here.

Girls in Hill Tribe outfits at Doi Suthep
As sad as it was to say goodbye to our dear elephant friends, after three days in Chiang Rai, it was time to head to the "big city" of Chiang Mai.

During our drive south, we made a stop at the White Temple, which is definitely one of the crazier-looking structures I've seen in my life.

Yep.
Unlike many of the other wats we saw in Bangkok and Chiang Rai, this temple is only a few years old. From what we could gather from the limited English signs at the property, there is just some rich dude that wanted to build a temple for everyone.

Another view.
It's definitely worth a stop from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai. Once you get a little closer to the structure, you can see all of the insane details, like these creepy undead people.

Don't mind us.
A few hours later we arrived at Four Seasons Chiang Mai. While the property is a solid 40 minutes outside of the city center, the grounds (an actual working rice paddy) are gorgeous and it feels much more like a retreat than some of the more urban hotels. This being a honeymoon and all, we felt like it was a fair trade off.

If I haven't mentioned it before, Thailand LOVES honeymooners. At every hotel we checked into, I was greeted with a big bouquet and there was a bottle of champagne waiting in the room.

Our necklaces and flowers upon arrival.
The views here truly do not disappoint. Everything is so lush and so green; we spent many hours just wandering the property checking out the various buildings (there are private homes as well as the hotel on the grounds (cough) first anniversary present (cough)).

The view from the lobby.
Our room was pretty awesome, but the MOST awesome part was definitely our bathroom. I have never been in a bathtub with nicer wall art.

Bigger than our apartment.
We also had a very lovely deck that overlooked the paddies.


The next morning we hired a guide for a half day tour. Our first stop was to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai. It stands on the top of the Doi Suthep mountain and has great views of the city below when it's not cloudy.

Wat's up?
After climbing many stairs and wandering the complex, we worked up quite the appetite (although, let's be honest, I'm hungry all the time). We'd heard from many people to check out SP Chicken, famed for their rotisserie.

The unassuming sign outside.
Their speciality is stuffed with tons of garlic. It's incredibly moist, flavorful and absolutely worth seeking out if you're in CM.

Get in my belly.
We toured a few more temples after lunch, including this one, which had elephants!



Since it was Sunday, we decided to stay in town for the rest of the afternoon to experience "Walking Streets." This is when many of the major thoroughfares in town are closed off to car traffic and hundreds of vendors fill the sidewalks, selling everything from replicas of the shirt Tom Cruise wore in Risky Business to fresh curries and noodles. You can also get a 30 minute foot massage for about the cost of a Kind bar.

Thai popsicles

Marzipan fruit

Scarves
Just like Angelina!
We obviously ate a second lunch, as well. I think the grand total was two more bowls of khao soi (at two different establishments), bananas in coconut milk, fried rice, green curry, and JACKFRUIT. Why is jackfruit in caps, you might ask? Well, it turns out my only known allergy is to such fruit, as I found out the hard way. It's a shame because it is delicious, but luckily all that resulted were swollen lips, tongue and throat and not full-blown anaphylactic shock. 

The next day we woke up as the sun rose to start our cooking class. Why so early? We went to the market first to pick out ingredients:

So many pots and bags of goodness.
My new frog friend.

Fresh coconut pudding. Oh, how I wish I could find this in NYC.
Armed with everything from galangal to curry paste, we headed back to the beautiful kitchen of our hotel's cooking school.

Not too bad.
My husband looks pretty good in an apron.


And I finally learned how to make my own khao soi from scratch! Our cooking class taught us that the process of Thai cooking is often very easy: all you need is a wok and high heat. It's the sourcing of ingredients that may prove to be the tricky part now that we're back stateside, but I'm planning on making a voyage to Chinatown soon to scope out the scene.

Big smiles for noodles.
I must give a special shout out to our instructor, Chef Meow (we were meant to be friends with that name). She was patient but also extremely funny. Did you know the best way to smash garlic is to scream "No mercy!" as you pound it with a butcher knife? Chef Meow does.

Showing us how to fry noodles for Khao Soi.
We made four dishes: the above-mentioned khao soi, fish steamed in banana leaves, pork larb salad and a shrimp dip.


Many people told me that by the time we left Thailand, I wouldn't even want to hear the word curry. But for me, if anything, the opposite was true. The only problem now is finding places that can replicate the sauces and preparations that we had while we were there (DIVAAA). So far, I've had luck in Queens and will obviously keep everyone up to date on my findings.

Lastly, if you need one more reason to come to Chiang Mai, our hotel had an albino ox. He and Mike became very close.

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