Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Little R & R - Punta Cana Style

As I mentioned in my previous post it was time for me to take a little vacation. This year we went to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It is the other half of the island with Haiti.
"The Dominican Republic occupies 48,482 square kilometers, making up the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola , with the country of Haiti comprising the western third. The island of Hispaniola sits more or less in the center of the Caribbean Islands - with the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas to the North, Cuba and Jamaica to the west, Puerto Rico and the Leeward Islands to the east, and South America to the south. The north coast gives way to the Atlantic Ocean and the south coast gives way to the Caribbean Sea."-
After spending a week there I am still convinced it is one of the nicest places I've had the opportunity to visit. I base that feeling not only on the natural beauty but giving high points to the friendly nature of the people I encountered and ease of the trip in general. The accommodations were above average and I really don't have anything negative to say about my overall trip. (other than there were times in the airports I thought it might possibly be simpler and more pleasant to buy a rubber raft and just head south than to deal with the difficulties and general headaches of the airlines).

Our trip started at roughly 4:30AM to get to the airport so we could stand in line to get on a flight at 6AM. We were required to play a round of clothing russian roulette- leaving a cold climate going to a warm climate. And as far as the plane's temperature.......who knows.....could be fit for Satan or an eskimo, and sometimes both within the same wonder people get sick when they travel.

When we arrived in Punta Cana we were not disappointed, yes, between the airport and the hotel we did see examples to remind us of just how fortunate we are. We arrived to the beautiful lobby of the Majestic Elegance Resort and Spa.
View from our balcony
Carlos and Lori

We were greeted by our "butler" Carlos. He was a very sweet young man, whom we later found out has a degree from the University of Wisconsin as well as the university in his country. He took us on a short tour of the property and gave us little tips that would help our stay to be the most enjoyable. He said to call him if we needed anything and he truly meant it. He offered to take us into town by his personal vehicle if needed and he helped the guys arrange a fishing trip. He called to check on us throughout the week and always greeted us by name when we saw him around. We found out that the "butlers" generally have about 25 rooms they tend to at any given time (or at least I think that is what he said). You can even make arrangements for your butler to have your jacuzzi tub filled and ready for you at a certain time - truly they spoil you. I'm sure your stay can be made by the attention of your butler and I think we probably got the best one available.
Random picture of a HUGE snail

Speaking of jacuzzi tubs, each room has one and the rooms were huge. A big 4 poster bed, marble tile floors, balcony, a fully stocked bar (which they refilled with whatever you wanted) a full refrigerator always stocked with soft drinks, beer, and bottled water. There was a separate sitting area and huge closets. They had this nifty little closet that if you ordered room service they would put the trays in the closet and you opened it on your side and took them out. Then when you were done you put the trays back in there, you never had to see anyone.
Our room

We were in the portion of the resort with a private pool (never more than 20 or so people at one time) and NO kids, meaning no loudness, no splashing, no silliness (well except for an occasional drunk), so totally relaxing. We had our own bar and the drinks were all inclusive and actually you never had to leave your poolside or beach chair,  because a happy - and I do mean happy, always smiling, always pleasant attendant would bring you anything you needed. We also had a little lounge area right there, with computers, wifi, snacks, bottled soft drinks and water and fresh towels, anytime we wanted - ALL INCLUDED. The poolside also included what is called a Bali bed. These are outdoor double-sized beds so you can take a nap poolside when you are tired or if you just want out of the sun.
Private pool

Bali bed poolside
Greg using the Bali bed poolside
 I did manage to read 3 James Patterson (my FAVORITE author) books, I took 4 but the last one just did not capture my interest.

The books I read

 I think there were 6 restaurants on the property, a Japanese tepenyaki, an Italian, a french, a steakhouse, a seafood and a buffet. The menus were somewhat limited but usually something could be found to satisfy them  even if they were HYPOTHETICALLY a non-fruit, non-fish eating type person. We found ourselves eating in the buffet restaurant each morning and we had the nicest waiter, Juan, who, even though extremely busy, took time each day to teach me a new word in spanish. I truly looked forward to my omelette and spanish lesson each day.
Lori and Greg

The guys went deep sea fishing one day and "caught" between 6-10 Mahi Mahi. Kim and I walked down to the market (souvenier stands) and I practiced my lame spanish skills to barter for a few trinkets. We also had access to use a Hobie cat whenever, so the guys went sailing a few days.
Greg and Tony on the boat

I loved this trip and would definitely go there again. The resort was excellent, the time of year was great (very good weather and not many people) and the I cannot say enough good things  about any of the people we encountered. I even made friends with a little dog on my way to the market. One day was our anniversary so we had a banner placed on our door wishing us a Happy Anniversary and that night we had a little cake and a hand written note from Carlos wishing us the same. A very nice touch.
Happy Anniversary and it was between mine and Greg's birthday

Our anniversary cake from Carlos

If you have an option to visit here, by all means, do it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beauty Abounds!

This post comes from the beautiful Dominican Republic. I am at the mercy of my iPad so forgive the typos and errors. *note to self - should have practiced more. I have been blessed to visit some beautiful places but this definely rivals any of those. It's only been one day and I've fallen in love - with the people, who are so friendly, sweet and helpful to the lush greenery to the most amazing blue green water.I not sure how brown a bean I will be when I get back but I'm loving athe sunshine. the only pics I can figure out how to post are from the iPad camera so I will try to take more. but until then, enjoy these.

Really should have gotten a pedicure!

Beautiful beach

View from poolside cabana

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Apple Toffee Blonde Brownies- OMGOSH Yummy!

Apple Toffee Blonde Brownies
First let me tell you about my chili experience. I think of myself as a pretty good chili maker, my kids have finally gotten old enough that I can actually put the good stuff such as tomatoes, onions and peppers in and they don't have to be disguised and pureed. But I found a challenge this week. At my place of employment we commonly have meals catered in for different events and Friday was one of them. We frequently use a local mexican restaurant by the name of the Anchor Inn. Well some things are easy to guesstimate like tacos or enchiladas, but one thing that they never get right is rice and beans. Especially the beans, seems people never eat alot of beans, maybe because when they are sitting in those two gallon metal pans, they just don't seem very appetizing, and also because, hey, right down the row there are SOPILLAS!!! OLE AMIGO! anyway, so needless to say there are always alot left over. I saw the nearly full pan and thought there has to be something I can make with these but the only thing I could come up with was chili. So I brought this 5 lb pan of refried bean home and set to work.

I started with about 2/3 thirds of the beans, based solely on what my crock pot could hold - which by the way, I dropped and cracked when cleaning it afterwards, grrrr). I filled my humongo crock pot up about 2/3 of the way with refried beans, added hamburger, some rotel tomatoes, big can of tomato sauce, some onions, a couple more cans of different beans with jalepenos, a package of seasoning and crossed my fingers. AND GUESS WHAT!? It was good, but I needed a couple more opinions so my son was home from college and we invited a couple of friends over and the consensus was all thumbs up. Who would've guessed it?

Well I couldn't exactly serve just chili so I tried another new recipe, (my friends really don't mind being guinea pigs), Apple Toffee Blonde Brownies. Like I've said before I am not a big fruit fan, but I really liked this. I think next time I will use the suggested 8x10 pan though as they seemed a little too thick to get completely done in the very middle of the pan. It reminded me of a gooey apple crisp. My friends brought Blue Bell Vanilla ice cream and we were all fat and happy.

I used a Granny Smith Apple and Heath Chips
Bake 30 minutes @ 350

Cool Completely
Add Frosting

*Original recipe here from Cookies and Cups

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Halloween Treat Bags - Individual S'more Kits

It's often been joked about how I should have been a kindergarten teacher. I would agree if I liked to be around little children or if I could color inside the lines but small children are like spiders - unpredictable - you just never know if they are going to run at you or jump or bite- almost creepy-like and then the coloring inside the lines......pffft, really? who does that?

I enjoy making the goofy little gifts for all my coworkers and friends. Every holiday I try to come up with some little gift for everyone in my office (around 35 people), my kids (ages 21 & 24) and my coffee friends. Sometimes they are something silly like a first grader would make in school and sometimes it is just something yummy but it's always fun for me.

For Halloween I found the cutest little project on Pinterest (OH? I've mentioned Pinterest before?)
It was so simple and so cute. It was a Individual S'more Kit.
Supplies needed:
       -Ghost shaped Peeps - what? you do not know what a Peep is? It is like those yellow marshmallow chickens at Easter. A marshmallow covered in sugar, need I say more?
       -Small Hershey bars
       -One graham cracker broken in half
       -Cellophane bags

I made a little tag for the top but you could easily use a ribbon or the twist tie that is included.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Apple Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

My goal for October is to post as often as I can. I would like to post all yummy fall-ish recipes but I simply do not have enough time to test and take pictures so I will just do what I can.
Today's recipe is for Apple Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies, I altered the recipe because I didn't have a specific ingredient or two and I had two apples instead of one. And I think if I were to make it again I would cut my apple bites smaller and use regular oatmeal.

Using my new muffin top/cookie pan

Original Recipe from: The Picky Palate

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fall Baking, New Kitchen Utensil & Orange Slice Cookies

Orange Slice Cookies

It's finally fall, the leaves turn, the sun rises slower, and there is a slight chill in the air in the morning. But fall also means comfort foods, soups, and BAKING!!! I love to cook and bake and as I've said before I'm sure it has something to do with combining a bunch 'o stuff and then having something totally yummy (or at least most of the time it's yummy).  One of the challenges of cooking is making something you personally do not like. I would much prefer to make something I can taste along the way or at least smell that it's going well, but sometimes ya just gotta step out on faith, slap on the Nike slogan and JUST DO IT!

I had one of these adventures this weekend, it was actually a two-fold reason for using the recipe that I chose. I got this handy dandy new baking item for my birthday and couldn't wait to try it out. It is called a muffin top pan, (from Apron Strings- Hutchinson) used to bake a very shallow muffin so that you end up with the most scrumptious part - the top.
Muffin Top/Cookie Pan

I had seen these used also to bake cookies so that you have beautiful perfectly round cookies. Sometimes a nicely shaped cookie can be achieved by using a uniform measurement, such as a cookie scoop, but the type of cookies that seem to be a problem is one that has stuff that melts such as caramel or fillings. I decided to test it on Orange Slice Cookies. Now anyone that knows me at all knows that if I had to choke down a jellified, sticky, sugar-coated, fruit flavored piece of ick, I would do just that - choke. But the second part of the cookie adventure was that this particular cookie is one of hubs' favorites and he was feeling a little blue. He had decided earlier in the week that the Hutchinson Rod Run was the perfect weekend to sell his third child - a white, '91 corvette. He was suffering a bit from separation anxiety and I thought if these didn't cure the sorrow at least he could get a good sugar buzz going.
'91 'vette

Recipe for Orange Slice Cookies

I gathered my ingredients and chopped up the gooey orange slices and set to work. The pan only holds 6 at a time and I only have one pan at the moment, but that turned out ok since there seemed to be a bit of a learning curve on exactly how much dough to put into the pan and how much to smash it down.
Chopped Up Orange Slices

I was happy with the results and think I will be getting one or three more to cut down on baking time. I have several recipes I want to try (have I mentioned I'm addicted to Pinterest? There are days I'm so engrossed in looking at the random collection of things from wedding  dresses (yes, I'm already married, and yes I have two boys, so what's your point?) to cute sayings to DIY crafts (like I NEED one more thing to start) to a bazillion kinds of recipes that I'm sure if someone ventures into my pinterest viewing space, I snarl and bare my teeth.

Speaking of snarling....random thought - because it's my blog and I don't have to have fluid continuity, I can be Queen of Random, if I so choose, hear ye, hear ye, all bow to the Queen Mum of Random......ohhh, I like that.... anyhoooo... Murphy, our million dollar dog, has hurt her paw. That within itself is not some big news flash because she is always hurting something, but she is limping around holding it up when she is walking creating a hopping effect, so we are affectionately calling her Hoppy the wonder dog now. Poor thing, she sets her paw in your hand but the minute you act like you are going to inspect it, her lip curls up in the cutest little Elvis snarl you ever saw on a dog. Well, cute until she snaps and sends her aptly named canine teeth into the fleshy part of your hand.  I'll let her work on fixing it herself - dogs seem to be able to do that - and if it doesn't get better, we'll spend a few more dollars on that silly but loveable member of the family.
Murphy aka Hoppy the Wonder Dog!