Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pedernales Falls State Park

Apparently, I'm filled with wanderlust this week; all I can think about is vacations and travel. This weekend, I'm heading to a bachelorette party for my amazing MOH, Lauren, but the trip is just going to be way too short. Damn you, work. I'm so excited for the weekend, but I know it will be over way too soon and I'll be missing everyone all over again. Maybe that's fueling my craving for a full-on vacation, but until that's possible, I'll have to make do in Texas.

A little while back, Adam, Oliver and I spent a gorgeous sunny day in Pedernales Falls State Park, just a short drive outside of Austin. I wasn't sure what to expect, as the Texas winter landscape isn't exactly lush and thriving, but I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful this park turned out to be. Oliver absolutely loved it, and especially liked the ample opportunities for a swim. I can't wait to go back this spring when the weather is warm enough for us to join him!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Positano: Villa Fiorentino

Positano, from the terrace of our honeymoon suite
When dreaming up my perfect honeymoon, the one place that was unquestionably atop the list is incredible, magical Positano on Italy's Amalfi Coast. I consider myself to be well-traveled, and I have never in my life laid eyes on a more breathtaking place. I could go on for days about this charming and enchanting coastal town, but I'm saving that for a post of its own. Today, we're talking accommodations, and the best suite in the world. That's a fact, not an opinion. OK it's an opinion, but a justified one.

I first discovered Villa Fiorentino while reading the blog A Cup of Jo. The author and her husband stayed in this very suite on their own honeymoon, and I knew instantly that I had to experience it for myself. Villa Fiorentino has been owned and operated by the same hospitable Italian family for generations. The cozy villa features only six beautiful suites, each with their own unique charm. The creme de la creme, however, is the luxurious Honeymoon Suite. It had to be mine, if only for five nights.

The interior of the suite is palatial in size and beautifully decorated in true Italian style; however, the real value lies in the private outdoor terrace. Secluded from the rest of the villa, the terrace includes its own tiny lemon grove, sunbeds and chairs for lounging, an indoor-outdoor shower with an incredible view, and most importantly, a private swimming pool overlooking the Mediterranean! It was, hands down, the most amazing place I have ever stayed, and so much more memorable than any traditional swanky hotel.  I mean, seriously, take one look at this place, drop what you're doing, and get on a plane; I promise it's worth every penny.

Our private pool on the terrace, with an outrageous view
Pool shower? Why not
My favorite chair in the entire world
The honeymoon terrace
About that chair...
Our personal lemon grove on the terrace rooftop
I just liked this one
One of my favorite photos - the view from the terrace shower
Seriously happy
I just liked this one, too
Bougainvillea on the terrace
Hamming it up on the balcony

Monday, February 24, 2014

St-Germain & Pear Champagne Sparkler

With the Austin weather between a gorgeous 70 and 80 degrees for the foreseeable future, it seems it's time to wrap up my miniseries of winter champagne cocktails. Of course, this drink would be good any time of year, but cocktails crafted with winter ingredients don't come around nearly as often as summer ones. Pear makes it wintery in my eyes, I guess. Either way, it's delicious and easy. Now it's officially time for spring and sunshine.

St-Germain & Pear Champagne Sparkler

4 oz Champagne
1.5 oz St-Germain
1 oz Izze sparkling pear soda, or club soda
Pear slices for garnish, optional

Combine all ingredients in glass or flute. Garnish with a thin slice of pear.

Sparkling Winter Cocktails

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Capri by Boat

When people ask about vacation recommendations from our honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast, I always insist that one absolute must-do activity is a boat ride around the island of Capri.  This was one of the most fun and beautiful parts of our trip, and couldn't come more highly recommended. We were staying on Capri, so the boat left from the main marina and took an approximately 4 hour trip around the island. Boats also leave from the Amalfi Coast, so you could also see Capri in a day.

Our driver and guide, Frederico, was as ciao, baby! as they come, and was very knowledgable about the history and sites around the island. The boat had essentially a giant soft built-in daybed for sunbathing, and we sipped limoncello while basking in the rays. We stopped at several places around the island to swim, navigated through Capri's hallmark Faraglioni rocks, and took a turn entering the famous Blue Grotto. I left the photo of the grotto, and it's ethereal blue waters completely untouched, so you can see how stunning the color was in real life. Each view was more beautiful than the last, and it was a day I will never, ever forget.

Our private boat, from Gianni's
The Emerald Grotto
Swimwear that matched our brilliant surroundings (my color heaven)
The Blue Grotto
Thoroughly enjoying a refreshing swim
Anacapri's Faro di Punta Carena  
Ciao, baby!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Girls Valentine's Day Brunch

Yesterday, I hosted a Valentine's brunch for ten or so friends that was so jam-packed with girly goodness that I had to share it here, despite only snapping a few less-than-dazzling photos with my iPhone. I decided to have a brunch to get in some girl time at the tail end of the holiday weekend; plus, it was an excuse to make some pretty adorable decorations.

The hard part of entertaining for a large group is coming up with food ideas that can be made ahead of time, and assembled easily on the day of the party. I decided to try my hand at a massive four layer cake as the centerpiece of the buffet, but the rest of the food was pretty simple. Even though the photos don't say much for the libations, I've decided to include my menu and some recipes I made here anyways, because they were all so great for entertaining. It was a really fun day spent with old and new friends, and all around awesome ladies.

Girls Valentine's Brunch Menu
  • Blood Orange Pomosas
  • Ruby Red Crushes
  • Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese & Pancetta Mini Quiches
  • Spinach, Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Mini Quiches
  • Brown Sugar Bacon
  • Turkey Sausages (store bought)
  • Pastry Pups (store bought, Trader Joe's)
  • Vanilla Yogurt with Raspberries, Granola & Honey
  • White Chocolate Covered Strawberries
  • Watermelon and Strawberries, cut with a heart-shaped cookie cutter

Blood Orange Pomosas

     Orange juice
     Blood orange juice
     Pomegranate juice
     Champagne, Brut, or Prosecco

Note: I did not exactly measure the ingredients for this drink, and trust me, you really do not have to; it all depends on personal taste. My approximate measurements for a crowd were two 92 oz. jugs of OJ, one quart of blood orange juice, 3/4 cup of pomegranate juice, and four bottles of champagne.

Directions for making one day ahead:  Combine the three juices in a large beverage dispenser or pitcher, and allow to sit overnight. Just before guests arrive, add champagne. 

Ruby Red Crushes

    Grapefruit juice, preferably fresh squeezed
    Absolut Ruby Red
    Grapefruit La Croix
    Kosher salt and sugar rim

Note: I did not exactly measure the ingredients for this drink, and trust me, you really do not have to; it all depends on personal taste.

Directions for making one day ahead
  1. Combine grapefruit juice, Absolute Ruby Red, and several sprigs of mint in a pitcher. This mixture should be tasty, but quite potent. You'll be diluting it later. Refrigerate overnight, if desired. 
  2. Combine Kosher salt and sugar in a pile on a small plate. Wet the rim of several cups or glasses with water, and dip in the salt and sugar mixture. Add a sprig of mint to each cup.
  3. Just before guests arrive, fill cups 2/3 full with grapefruit and vodka mixture. Fill remaining 1/3 with La Croix. 

Basic Mini Quiche Recipe

  • Ingredients
  • 2 T. butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup panko
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat the insides of 24-cup miniature muffin pan with butter, and sprinkle with panko. It does not have to stick to all of the walls, or be perfectly even.
  3. Beat 4 eggs until bubbles start to form. Add in heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
  4. Pour mixture into mini muffin wells, filling 2/3 full.
  5. Add desired add-in ingredients (see below for ideas) to each well, distributing evenly among quiches. You can pack a fair amount of "stuff" into each one, but they should be fully immersed in the egg mixture.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes.

  • Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese & Pancetta Mini Quiches
  • Add-Ins
1 cup butternut squash, cut into small cubes and roasted until soft
3-4 slices pancetta, chopped and sauteed until just slightly crispy
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

  • Spinach, Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Mini Quiches

1 cup mushrooms, sauteed and chopped
1/3 cup caramelized onions, chopped
1/4 cup spinach, sauteed and chopped

Brown Sugar Bacon

    Good quality thick-cut bacon
    Brown sugar

  1. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with a layer of aluminum foil. Spread bacon out in a single layer over foil.
  2. Drop a large spoonful of brown sugar on top of the bacon. Using your fingers, rub the brown sugar evenly into one side of the bacon (no need to coat the bottom side). 
  3. Place baking sheet into a cold oven, and turn oven on to 400 degrees. After about 15 minutes, start checking on bacon regularly until bacon is golden brown, and just slightly crispy.
  4. Remove bacon and place on several paper towels to soak up grease. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Glamping in Texas

Oh, glamping. I cringe a little just to say your name. I practically roll my eyes before the name leaves my lips when talking with friends. Yet, the concept is fantastic in every way. I first learned of this idea on an episode of the Real Housewives (seriously), and while the women were over-the-top with their diamonds and stilettos in the woods, the concept was great. I did a little research, and found a gorgeous retreat only 45 minutes outside of Austin.

Sinya on Lone Man Creek was an amazing getaway, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit from start to finish. My best description of the structure is a large, permanent tent perched atop a wraparound deck. The inside was beautifully furnished, with a plush, comfy bed, a luxurious tub, an outdoor hot tub under the stars, and perfect rustic decor. Lynn, the owner, was charming and helpful; she brought us breakfast on our balcony, prepared the fire pit each evening, and provided a s'mores kit for late night snacks. The setting was peaceful, the view beautiful, and the experience all around lovely. I would highly recommend a visit for any couple looking for a nice weekend together.