Monday, February 25, 2013

Lunch in a Box: Vegetable Jalfrezie, and the Wonders of Paneer

I've eaten paneer in restaurants, but never really cooked it at home. Known as "vegetarian meat", it's similar to cottage cheese, but with a more dense texture. It's high in protein, which is helpful when cooking (or eating) dishes that are heavy on vegetables. I believe that you can find paneer at Whole Foods or Central Market, but I grabbed two blocks of it on my recent trip to Apna Bazaar. At only $4 a block, I really liked the price!

Paneer looks like this- in case you were wondering.

Sautéing paneer can often result in a rubbery texture, which is why I'm glad I came across this recipe for Vegetable and Paneer Jalfrezie (from Curry of a Life). She mentions a technique that soaks the paneer in boiled milk/water. I only had rice milk on hand, and didn't notice any funny aftertaste as a result of using it. But what I did notice was how much softer the paneer was after soaking it for 30 minutes. It made the dish so much better!

I chose this recipe because I had 3 bell peppers on their last leg, and I couldn't stand to throw them out. I'm also on a mission to cook as many dishes as I can from this blog (I learn something new every time I make something), and so this recipe was perfect. I had everything I needed (minus green beans and carrots), and other than cutting up all the veggies, it came together pretty quickly. I would always recommend using onions for the base, but you could substitute any other veggies you might have on hand to go with. I would imagine frozen ones would work just fine, too.

I followed the directions pretty closely, but chose to add only 1 tsp of vinegar at the end (it scared me a little, but really did give the dish a nice sharp taste in the end). I also decided to sprinkle on just a little bit of kasoori methi before serving. I used it in the Malai Kofta dish I made recently, and loved the way it made my kitchen smell.

Last night I served dinner over brown basmati rice, and with leftovers today I put some fresh berries and cottage cheese in my lunch box. I realized after the fact that paneer and cottage cheese in one lunch is a little over kill, but I was in a hurry this morning and that was the best I could do. At least it's low fat, and I only put 1/2 a cup in there!

I love dinners that taste equally good, if not better, the next day. This one was a hit for sure!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Out and About: Apna Bazaar and Indian Food

I realized the other day that it's been nearly 6 years since my friend Audrey started our "cookbook club". Many of the original members have since moved away, but our little group still meets about every 6 weeks or so to share food, drinks and girly conversation. I always look forward to our Sunday get togethers, and we have had some really terrific meals. Six years is a long time to collect cookbooks though, so lately we've tried to alternate choosing a book, and then referencing food blogs. For this past period, we read from A Curry of a Life and Journey Kitchen, both blogs that are heavily influenced by Indian food.

Let me just say that I LOVE Indian food. The spices, the smells...I just think it's so good. However, I rarely cook it at home. So I was glad to have the chance to learn more about it, and both of these blogs were a great resource. Due to time though, I really only read and cooked from A Curry of a Life. I was fascinated by her life's adventures, and really loved the videos she posted of her mother in law cooking several classic Indian dishes.

I made do with the spices I had at home for the few dishes I made, but when it came time to choose (and cook) a dish for our get together this past Sunday, I knew I had to step up my game. I wanted to make Malai Kofta, my absolute most favorite Indian dish. It's a veggie dumpling dish served in a decadent, creamy tomato curry. I've only had it in restaurants, and knew this would be something worth trying at home. However, the blog states that there was an ingredient that really shouldn't be substituted (and typically only found in Indian stores), so I began a search for a local Indian grocery. There weren't very many close to home, but thanks to Yelp, I came across Apna Bazaar.

This little store is tucked in a very ethnic strip center very close to my office, making it really convenient for future trips. I went with only 2 ingredients in mind, but left with a few other goodies. This place was a little bit of Heaven! It's a long and narrow store, and everything was organized in an easy to find manner. Pricing was also easy to read, and I was shocked at how inexpensive most items were. They had a huge bulk spice section with many bags of spices for $2-3, tons of flours and rice varieties, and of course all of the specific Indian ingredients that I don't really know how to categorize. I ended up just browsing down each aisle and picking things that I remembered seeing in recipes I wanted to try.

For $19, I left the store with the following (all of which will last for awhile):

Enough brown basmati rice to last us for months
Ghee (clarified butter that I plan on learning how to make myself)
Chana masala mix
Kasuri Methi (the magic ingredient for Malai Kofta)
A bag of Garam Masala (not pictured)

The lady who checked me out was very nice, and I happily went on my way with my goods. I did stop at Costco and happened to see a bag of refrigerated Chapatis, and grabbed that too. 36 of them for $8- not too shabby! Punjabi Indians use this flatbread as a utensil with most meals, but I am way too lazy to make them from scratch. I remember seeing this same product at Apna, so I'll have to compare pricing next time I go back.

I finally made it home (Saturdays at Costco are insane), and began the 3 hour cooking marathon on Sunday. The dish was a lot of work, but I think it would be easier to make a second time. I learned from this blog post that Kasoori Methi is an ingredient frequently used in restaurants, but not typically at home (if Americans are making Indian dishes). And this is why it doesn't always taste the same, or as good. You rub the leaves in your hand and sprinkle into the dish at the very end. The result is that your food tastes fabulous, but you end up smelling like it for at least the next two days.

The dish was nothing short of amazing, and our whole meal with the group was delicious. I made a double batch so Hank and I could enjoy it at home (and for lunch). We both agreed that it was worth the effort. But with 2 cups of heavy cream, it's not something I'll make often. Colleen (from A Curry of a Life) served this at their wedding, and I agree that it's definitely a special occasion dish.

If you're interested in learning more about how to cook Indian food at home, check out both of these blogs, and then head to Apna Bazaar to get your ingredients! They have everything you need, and it won't break the bank.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Puppy Love

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all! I know the holiday isn't for everyone, but it's always been a fun one for me. My mom always made a big deal about it growing up, and every year I looked forward to making my Valentine's Box (or bag) at school to collect all the cards from my classmates. Even when I was a teacher, I loved making the day special for my students. It's not all about mushy love for just one specific person, but sharing love to all those you care about. Cheesy? Yes! Likely made up by a greeting card company? Sure. But I still think it's fun to find ways to show people you care about them.

Of course, I do happen to have one very special person in my life. He shows how much he loves me any day of the year, but I appreciate the fact that he's willing also to indulge me on a holiday that I love. Last year he surprised me at work with chocolate covered strawberries (my favorite- and way better than flowers!) And this year he did it again, a tradition that I hope will continue throughout the years. He also included a really sweet card that had the absolute perfect message for this time in our lives. On the inside it says "I can't wait for our happily-ever-after!", and I couldn't agree more. It was sweet and thoughtful, and very much appreciated.

Tonight we will forgo the circus that is the Valentine restaurant crowd, and instead we're catching a chick-flick and dinner at the Moviehouse Eatery I've blogged about before. Yes, Hank is pretending to like Nicholas Sparks just long enough to watch his latest book-turned-movie, Safe Haven. I read it on our trip, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie tonight.

XOXO to all my friends!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lunch in a Box: Costco Zucchini Cakes

I love an excuse to make a trip to Costco. Shopping for two people doesn't always warrant one, but the need for an inexpensive birthday cake for a co-worker certainly does! (Their cakes are fabulous!) So I happily dropped in yesterday after work to grab a cake and see if anything jumped out at me. I saw a box of Handmade Zucchini Cakes for $8.99 (with only 60 calories and 1.5g fat per cake) and knew they would make a great lunch meal. I also grabbed a large container of 0% fat Fage greek yogurt for $4.99 ($2 less than HEB). I figured I could get at least 6 lunches out of this if I threw in a few things I usually have at home, making this about $2.33 per lunch.

We have a ton of spinach right now, so I put a few cakes on top of a bed of spinach, cut up half a tomato, and then made a quick and easy yogurt dressing to serve on top. I would have made tzatziki (which you can also buy pre-made at Costco), but I didn't have any dill. So I just used what was in the fridge (lemon, garlic and some fresh mint).

I also served this with an Israeli Couscous Salad that I made on Sunday, and added fresh strawberries for dessert. I have to say, I'm in love with this lunch! It didn't take a ton of time to put together, and it's still fresh and really healthy!

Yogurt Dressing

1 cup 0% fat greek yogurt (I always prefer Fage for it's tart flavor and thick, creamy texture)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 T. chopped fresh herbs (dill, mint or tarragon work nicely)

Mix in a bowl. Done. If you want to thin out the texture, just use a little more lemon juice.

Israeli Couscous Salad (makes 4 side servings)

1 cup Israeli couscous (uncooked)
2 cups water
1 cup chopped vegetables of choice (I used asparagus spears, jarred roasted red peppers and jarred pepperoncini rings)

4 T red wine vinegar
3 T olive oil
1 T pepperoncini juice (lemon juice would make a good substitute)
1 T chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme because it's what I had)
1 tsp mayonnaise (optional- leave it out if you want a vegan dish)

Bring the couscous and water to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until water is absorbed. Meanwhile, roast any vegetables if necessary ( I chopped the asparagus and roasted for about 15 minutes), and make the dressing. Just whisk the ingredients together and let sit until couscous is ready.

Combine everything in a bowl and toss with dressing.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Out and About: Winflo Osteria

I first had the chance to sample the pizza from Winflo Osteria before the storefront was even open. They provided food for the American Institute of Architects holiday party this past December, baking pizza at lightning speed in a mobile oven. I remember being impressed with how delicious it was considering the conditions they were cooking in, but never really gave a thought to when the actual restaurant would open. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I drove by the gigantic oak tree out front of their new building, all lit up with the most beautiful twinkle lights I've ever seen. I knew immediately that I would make a visit soon.

When a friend suggested happy hour this week, I said that we would have to meet at Winflo. It was convenient for her, and it would give me an opportunity to have some of their yummy pizza again. I was a little weary over the fact that they've only been open a few weeks, but the gorgeous weather and chance to sit out on the patio won me over.

There are many great things about this new darling of a restaurant. I'll start with aesthetics- the apple-green exterior is eye popping, without being obnoxious. The lit tree in front is stunning, and when you pull up, you're even offered complimentary valet parking. (Note to self for my next visit, as I did not know that tidbit going in.) Another great feature is the fact that they take reservations. Not enough restaurants do this, and I appreciate the fact that it makes it easier for me to get together with groups of girlfriends, or for Hank to plan a romantic dinner (hint, hint). I wish I had gone inside the building to take a look, but my friend had been waiting on me and I was ready to sit and have a glass of wine. She had nabbed a table in the corner of the large patio, and I think we both had good views for people watching.

Our server was nice and attentive, and had a few suggestions to make for us when asked. But she also gave us plenty of time to talk and catch up without interrupting more than necessary. Water was refilled in a very timely manner (a big pet peeve of mine when it's not), and plates were cleared shortly after finishing too. I don't recall any special happy hour pricing, but the overall prices on the menu make for a reasonable meal. We shared salad and a pizza, and each had two glasses of wine, and got out of there for $36 (including tip). Not too shabby if you ask me!

I wish we had started with an appetizer- I'm dying to try the crispy artichoke hearts. But I ordered the Gorgonzola Salad instead (not big enough to share). The butter lettuce was fresh, and the creamy peppercorn dressing had a nice little bite to it. I ordered mine without the pancetta, but didn't feel like I was missing out on anything.

Making a decision on which pizza to order was a much more difficult task. We narrowed it down to 3 options, but ultimately decided on the Prosciutto Pizza because the balsamic onion marmalade sounded so delicious. I asked if they could put the prosciutto on just one side, which they did with no problems. I love their pizza! The crust has an earthy flavor to it, and just the right crispiness. It's thin, but not too thin. The mozzarella really anchored the onion jam on it, and the fresh arugula and parmesan on top added an interesting layer. It was easy to eat, and the flavors were just a great combination. I can't wait to go back (hopefully for our next girl's night out) and sample more of their pizza options. But the pasta entrees looked good too, and apparently the Gnocchi with Arrabiata Sauce is a hit, as they were already out of it for the evening.

We didn't save room for dessert, but I'm glad to know that there are plenty of reasons to go back and visit. They are only open for dinner right now, but I hear brunch is in the near future. They also have a downstairs Listening Room that offers acoustic music and serves as a space for private events. From the pictures on the website, the interior space looks clean and inviting, and I can't wait to see the pizza oven. And as if there aren't enough great things already mentioned, the patio is dog-friendly to boot! I think Winflo is on to a great thing, and I'm looking forward to my next visit soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Out and About: Blue Bridal Boutique

It's very rare that I'm blown away by customer service. Having worked in both retail and the restaurant industry for a combined 10+ years, I know my expectations are high. But I also know it isn't really that hard to make someone feel good by simply smiling and being polite. I've had several recent experiences at some of my favorite shopping and eating establishments that have left me less-than-impressed due to sloppy (and even rude) customer service. With so much competition, I just think it's sad to treat customers that way.

I recently went wedding dress shopping with my mom, my sister, and my sister-in-law. After a disheartening first appointment at Serendipity Bridal, I was feeling down and not the least bit excited about finding the perfect wedding dress. The lady who helped us there seemed disappointed that I would not be spending several thousand dollars, and would hardly talk to me as I tried on the very few dresses that fell into my price range. It was obvious that she was ready for me to leave so that she could get on to her next appointment. Not really the way you want to feel when you've been looking forward to what should be a special day.

And then there was Blue Bridal Boutique. Our second appointment was at this adorable store down on South Congress. It turned out the owner of the boutique, Ruthie Broughton, is friends with a girl who I have known for ages. Our friend had nothing but great things to say about Ruthie and her store. When I called to make the appointment, I was honest about what I was looking for in a dress. Since it's a second wedding, with a late morning ceremony, I knew I was not looking for a traditional bridal dress. But I still wanted something special that made me feel really good while wearing it.

Jaime, a sales associate, met us at the door and introduced herself to our group. She had detailed notes from my appointment conversation and did not bat an eye when I told her what my budget was. Ruthie was also there, and assured me that my tight timeline would not be an issue in ordering and altering a dress. Jaime gave us a tour of the store and pointed out sections that would be of more interest to me. They use a system of hanging tags to mark dresses you would like to try on. It was fun to pass them out so that everyone could choose a dress that they wanted me to try on, and Jaime collected them and took them to the fitting room for me. There is a fun seating area in the back of the store (think crisp white couches and fancy chandeliers) that provided a private spot and allowed us to enjoy the experience together.

At my first appointment, I tried on a few longer gowns, and then a couple of short ones. I got bit by the "wedding dress bug", and decided that I did want a longer gown after all. The selection at Blue Bridal was mostly long dresses, so I had plenty to choose from. After a few near-hits, and several misses, I put on a dress that fit like it was made for me. And when I saw myself in the mirror, and imagined walking towards Hank on the day we get married, I got tears in my eyes. I turned around to look at my mom, sister and sis-in-law, and they all had the same reaction. We had found the perfect dress.

Throughout the whole process, both the owner and Jaime were so patient and helpful by bringing different options to try. Not once did they go over my budget, and I appreciated the fact that Jaime always asked what I thought of each dress, regardless of other opinions. She never pressured us over any decisions, and even brought us wine to celebrate when we finally said "yes to the dress!" She followed up by email later in the day and that personal touch really summed up the whole experience.

I left the store with a serious dress high, and just so excited that I was able to find something that I loved so much. The overall experience at Blue Bridal made the afternoon such a fun and special one, and I was so glad that my family was able to participate in it. Not only do they offer stellar customer service, but they also offer a wide variety of dresses in a price range that is much more affordable for the average bride. The quality of the dresses was amazing, and the smaller, more personalized service made a big difference as opposed to trying on dresses with other groups of people around you. I would recommend to anyone with an upcoming wedding, to start at Blue Bridal. If you are wanting a true bridal dress experience, there really is no other place to go!

Lunch in a Box: BBQ Tofu leftovers

This is seriously one of the easiest dinners that makes for great leftovers the next day. I love (metaphorically) killing two birds with one stone, and that's what makes this such a great lunch box!

The idea for the BBQ tofu dinner originally came from a post on Oh She Glows, a new recent favorite vegan blog. I didn't even need to look at the recipe, I just knew I wanted to dump barbecue sauce on a block of tofu, bake it, and call it a meal. Lucky for me, it was pretty much that simple.

Here's what I did to get this meal done in about 30 minutes (with the help of Hank, since I was making breakfast muffins at the same time):

Drain a block of tofu (or don't, if you don't have time- we rarely do)
Slice into 1/2 inch thick slices, not cutting all the way through
Place in a baking dish sprayed lighting with non-stick spray
Pour your favorite BBQ sauce on top (we used about 1/2 a bottle of Stubb's) on top of and in between the slices
Bake in oven at 350° (for roughly 30 minutes)

Meanwhile, chop your broccoli (or any other vegetable) and get it steaming.
Boil water and cook your grains. (I picked couscous because I really don't like quinoa, and it cooks super quick).

When the sides are done, pull out the tofu and put it all on a plate. This also makes a great "bowl of food", one of Hank's favorite things to do. He just layers it all in a bowl and mixes it together. It tasted awesome for dinner, and even better the next day for lunch after the flavors had a chance to really get into the tofu.

I packed my lunch box before we even did the dishes, and added some fresh strawberries for a little dessert. This was by far one of my favorites lunches in awhile. If you don't like tofu, you can obviously substitute baked chicken or other meat.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Paradise Vacation 2012: Nevis (Part II)

Wednesday morning started just like the rest, with a delicious brunch buffet at the Coral Grill, at a table over looking the beach. We had another early start, as this time we had planned a Rainforest Hike with a group of Apple folks. We boarded a few taxis and headed towards the volcano. I thought it was just for effect when we were handed walking sticks, but it turns out that they were very necessary. The climb was a little harder than we thought, but still lots of fun. The higher we got, the muddier it was, so we had to be very careful on some parts. Our guide pointed out lots of the different trees and plants (including a cinnamon tree and the "leaf of life"- it never actually dies). Hank was a little disappointed that we hardly saw any monkeys, but we were treated to a beautiful view once we reached the peak of the trail.

Our view at breakfast each morning.

Next to one of the water wells that was part of the water collection system on the island.

It was really hard to get pictures that truly captured how neat the rainforest was. But I loved all these vines that hung down everywhere.

Part of the view from the top of our trail.

After our hike, we changed and hit yet another pool, and took advantage of the opportunity to have a little alone time from the rest of the group. We found a quiet spot at the Garden Pool and enjoyed lunch and drinks for the afternoon. Miss Jackie (my favorite staff person) took good care of us, and we enjoyed leisurely dips in the pool and naps.

This bird was stalking a small lizard, and swooped right above the water to catch it on another bush.
It's the little things in life that entertain us. 

Wrapping up another fun day by the pool.

We headed around the corner for dinner again, this time eating at Double Deuce. We had read great things about it, and were not disappointed. The restaurant is run by a local family, but the chef was British and previously cooked at one of the plantations. I caught a glimpse of the kitchen and could not believe there were only two people doing all the work, but they did it well! Hank had fish and I had coconut shrimp, and everything was delicious. We were pretty worn out from the week, and I wasn't feeling so hot, so we skipped another late night at Sunshine's and opted to head back to the room instead.

Thursday morning finally brought the opportunity to sleep in for a bit. We grabbed some breakfast, and decided to walk the "challenging" trail along the golf course. There were 3 options, and they weren't joking that this one would be difficult. Hank had tried to run it our first morning there, and the hills nearly killed him. But the best part about it was that we saw monkeys- LOTS of monkeys. They got so close to us that we could have reached out to pet them. For fear of having our faces ripped off, we opted to just snap a couple of pictures. When the British settled on the island, many of them brought Vervet monkeys with them that they kept as pets. There is now a huge population of them on the island, but they aren't all that welcome. They're known for eating fruit and flowers, but they are awfully cute to look at.

A sweet little monkey who was captivated by  Hank.

Monkeys on the road! Right before this they were swinging on the vines.

A rare view of the top of the volcano.
It only happens about once a month when the clouds are not covering the top.

View of the ocean from the golf course trail.

When we got back to the hotel, it was time to hit the beach for an Apple-hosted beach bash. They reserved all sorts-of water sports (paddle boarding, jet skis, sailing, etc) and also served lunch and drinks. It also happened to be Hank's birthday, so I tried to pull off the beach party as his very own party. He didn't seem to mind! We enjoyed jet skiing, napping, hanging out with friends and drinking some fruity drinks. The highlight of the day though was when 4 French men swam from their catamaran (at any given time there was a variety of boats and yachts just off the shore) and made friends with some of our group. A volleyball game ensued, and there was all sorts of yelling (and likely cussing) in French. Watching Hank interact with these guys was hilarious, and I think everyone had a good time watching.

Beach party

French men and their speedos!

Off to circle the yachts on our jet skis.

Our final night in Nevis was the Apple awards dinner, held under a tent on the 18th green. There was a cocktail reception first, along with a performance by the most adorable children's choir. The view was gorgeous and of course the whole set-up was top notch. We were served a three course dinner, and treated to a slide show with fun pictures of all the Apple employees who were on the trip. After a day of drinking on the beach, and cocktails and wine with dinner, we got to show our stuff on the dance floor to a really fun band- the evening definitely got a little crazy! There was a ton of dancing, and everyone had a great time! It was the perfect way to wrap up an amazing trip.

Awards dinner

The sun setting behind the children's choir.

Loved their colorful dresses.

Pretty flowers on the table.

Dinner menu.

We were sad to say goodbye on Friday, but ready to make our way home to see all our animals and sleep in our own bed. The ferry didn't leave until 1, so at least we had time to sleep in and have one last lunch by the pool. We were treated to one last "surprise", a view of a $300 million yacht parked right outside the hotel. Each day it seemed that the yachts got bigger and bigger, and this one took the prize. We found out that it belonged to a 38 year-old Russian billionaire named Andrey Melnichenko, and his yacht was simply named "A". You have to click on this link to get a video tour of the inside- it is so over the top, that it's just hard to imagine what that lifestyle must be. We also saw his matching plane as we flew out of the St. Kitts airport- it was hard to miss with the matching A's in front of each engine. Rough life, I tell you!

One last drink- iced tea- before taking the ferry back to St.  Kitts.

View of "A" from the hotel.

A view of the open hull in the back, where they keep 2 30-foot speed boats.

Back of the boat. They say it's named A after Andrey and his wife Aleksandra.
But other say it's so that it will be the first boat listed in the registry of super yachts. 

After an overnight stay in Miami, and a 6:20AM flight the next morning, we finally made our way home on Saturday afternoon. I don't think I have to say again what an amazing experience the whole thing was, but I will! We really, really enjoyed getting away to paradise and shutting off all the stress and worries of work, home, etc. We relaxed, experienced the islands as much as we had time for, and just enjoyed being together. I was ready to get back to work though, and get busy trying to make my goal this year so that we can do it all over again in Hawaii for the 2013 Circle of Excellence trip.

Paradise Vacation 2012: Nevis (Part I)

On Sunday of our trip, we met the ferry to take us to Nevis. After a 45 minute ride, we pulled up in front of one of the most beautiful resorts I have ever seen- the Four Seasons Nevis. We were greeted by our own staff member who escorted us to the Apple hospitality lounge for check-in, where we received a fun welcome gift of a beach bag and matching towels. It was then on to our room overlooking a hammock, the beach, and the 18th hole green. Seriously, I could have died right there.

After settling in, grabbing a little lunch and then touring the property, it was time to head to the beach for the welcome reception. There were drinks, great food, and even a band playing. It was fun to see the few co-workers who I knew, and also to have a chance to meet some of the ones from the field who I rarely get to see. But Sunday also meant football play-offs, and those of us from the Texas team ended up migrating to a tent set up closer to the hotel that had the games on a TV. We drank beer and watched football, with the sound of the waves in the background and sand beneath our toes. Not a shabby night, I tell you!

Monday started with our mandatory business meeting, which ended with a Ray-Ban rep handing out pairs of glasses. Awesome! We then settled by the Reflection pool (one of 3 pools on the property) for a few hours of relaxation. I scheduled a body scrub at the spa for later in the day, so I eventually had to go inside to clean up for that. I wanted to try a treatment that I had never done before, and that sounded like a great way to get the dead, flaky, winter skin off my body. The spa area was nothing short of amazing- and I could have stayed there for hours. There were two small "pools"- a waterfall pool and a dipping pond. They were both small, but so relaxing.

A girl could get used to this!

Lunch by the pool was served in these adorable bento boxes.

Entrance to the spa

Waterfall pool

Dipping pool

After my spa visit, we met up with friends to walk around the corner to Lime Beach Bar for dinner. The Four Seasons is nice, but as you can imagine- the food was very pricey, and not as good (or creative) as we were expecting. But lucky for us, there was a string of beach bars just a 10 minute walk down the beach, with fresh lobster and fish for only $20 a plate. The pace of life on the island is a slow one, so we were prepared for a long evening and made the most of it with familiar and new friends. Hank ordered lobster, I ordered shrimp, and everything was wonderful! After dinner, we made our way over to Sunshine's Bar, where the Killer Bee drink was made famous (so we were told). This drink is made with some kind-of moonshine rum, fresh fruit juice, and topped with bitters and fresh grated nutmeg. More than one is guaranteed to mess you up, big time! But it is oh so delicious, and definitely worth trying.

Lime Beach Bar

Dinner crew

Sign at Sunshine's Bar

With my field counterpart Natasha and her husband B-rock (his nickname for the trip).


Tuesday morning rolled around a little too early, as we had signed up to do a kayaking excursion that started at 9. We took a cab a few miles away from the hotel and met our tour guide Greg. He was great and made sure that we were all set up and ready to go. We kayaked for 3 miles back to the hotel, stopping twice to snorkel and have a little picnic. It was so fun seeing Nevis up close from the water. It was not an easy excursion at times, but we really enjoyed it. Back at the hotel, we changed and got lucky by snagging one of the beach side private cabanas. Apple had rented these out for 3 days, and I was so glad we got to spend a few hours in one. After being out in the sun for ours, I needed to be in the shade. These were like fancy little huts, with a sitting area, TV and small fridge inside, and lounge chairs under the covered area. We also had a girl waiting on us, and quickly ordered lunch and drinks. We only got to enjoy it for a few hours since we had to get ready for our second Apple hosted event, but it was a great afternoon!

View of the cabana from the beach.

View of the ocean from the cabana porch.

After a brief cocktail party, the whole group (there were about 130 of us) boarded buses to head to Garden Rock Inn, an old sugar mill plantation turned nature preserve and boutique hotel. It was breathtakingly beautiful! The grounds were meticulously kept, and many of the old buildings had been repurposed into a restaurant, pool bar, etc. They also turned the old sugar mill into a 2-story room. We were greeted with drinks and appetizers, and had plenty of time to walk around exploring all the trails. Dinner was served next to a multi-level pond area, and this ended up being one of my favorite meals. Very fresh, lots of variety (they served a ton of vegetarian options) and even served a delicious cheese and fruit plate before dessert. It was heavenly. There was a great DJ and plenty of dancing after dinner. We were tired from our morning excursion, but made our way onto the dance floor a few times.

Ready to head to dinner.

Standing at the roots of an amazingly large tree.

View of the Sugar Mill-turned-guest room.

Inside the Sugar Mill.

Such beautiful scenery.
(Picture courtesy of my friend Amanda who takes WAY better pictures than I do).

An eating area surrounded by lush gardens.

Part II of the trip coming right up.....