Surprise Party!

So.

Where should I start?

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I’ll try for the beginning.

Since we last spoke, I had a dismal cronut; I am happy to report that I’ve gotten over the disappointment and moved on to other things to obsess over.

Like my husband moving to DC.

::screeching halt::

OH, RIGHT! My husband is in grad school… in DC. So this summer has been jammed packed with tons of things to do together before he leaves (left). I am currently without a personal computer so I will try to figure out a regular(ish) posting schedule.

I will be sharing all the great things we did together that I was able to document including the food-filled weekend we had in DC.

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When B got word as to when he started classes, I started scheming on something for him. He has a great deal of support from his coworkers so I thought I would plan a small get together for his coworkers and some of our family to send him off with lots of love.

First order of business. WHERE? We are newly-weds. Our pockets are NOT rolling deep. So, I considered his favorite pizzeria in our neighborhood that also doubles as a bar/lounge. Then I went to his company picnic in the early summer months and acquired everyone’s Facebook or phone number to send the invite.

Now that I had a venue. I created the invite and set out to order a cake. Since it was a farewell party, I made it one of his favorites. Pizza was a given. But the cake? A huge (and ridiculously inexpensive) Dominican Cake!

If one thing is certain, its that I am TERRIBLE at keeping secrets- especially from my husband. On so many occasions, we would be having a conversation and he would mention someone that just RSVPd to his party and I would instantly feel the urge to mention but I kept the lid sealed TIGHTLY.

The days leading up to it, B kept insisting he should plan a get together before he left and I kept dissuading him. That was so difficult! And on D Day, while we were getting ready for my friend’s birthday party (great cover!) I was receiving so many text messages of guests who were running late!

Surprise parties are NOT for those with anxiety. Just saying.

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We made our way to the Pizzeria/Bar and I was nervously agreeing with everything he was saying. I swore he knew what was up.

But when we arrived, everyone was there and I stepped aside as everyone yelled Surprise and B was sincerely shocked- confused even! His reaction was “What?!?” and the evening was filled with pizza but the pie, soda by the gallon and all the shots we could do! Followed by a HUGE Dominican Cake!

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It was a huge success! And totally worth it! Anxiety and all!

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So I finally had a Cronut…

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cronuts swag

In 2013, the Cronut came to New York City by way of the Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo. The baker, Dominique Ansel crafted a limited supply of donuts daily and the anticipation drew much plublicity. Upon its release, donut enthusiasts waited in line for hours daily just to get their hands on one of the 200 available cronuts.

I admit, I was one who would read article after article of the beautiful donut croissant hybrid and dreamt of having my own; just to say I have tried it.

I have been to reputable bakeries and tried their dough’ssant and their croissant donuts and all were good, but nothing to make me obsessed. The hype for Dominique Ansel’s Cronut was really making me feel like I was missing out.

…until about a year ago when a friend of mine acquired some cronuts thanks to the cronut preorder online. She had one left and she sold it to me for $5. It was a fig cronut. She told me to eat it immediately as they are best when eaten the day they are purchased.

I took photos of the cronut. I posted the pics to Instagram and twitter. Held my breath and sunk my teeth into the cronut.

“Isn’t it AMAZING?”

Well, it’s not terrible but I did not experience the thing that made me want to get up at 4AM to get in line for one of these babies. Not at $5 a pop either. And if it were up to me, can I have a choice on my flavor? Fig, Chocolate, raspberry- plain even. I need variety.

I chalked up the MEH cronut to the fact that it had been purchased way early in the AM and it was now evening- it clearly wasn’t “fresh”…

Fast forward to Sunday.

I was able to acquire my own cronuts thanks to the online preorder system. I had no idea that when I chose to pick up cronuts on July 19th that it would be 94 degrees in New York City and that it would take me an hour to get there. My husband and I (really just me as I dragged him there with me like a good wife) braved the heat for the cronuts. The line was long inside the bakery but since I pre-ordered, I was able to skip the line and grab my cronuts.

I glanced over the register and saw the DKA and the Cannelle de Bordeax. These are two of the regular pastries at Dominique Ansel Bakery that are absolutely delicious- there is NEVER a line for them and they are, without a doubt, way better than the cronut. (highly recommended!)

With my huge bag of cronuts, I slowly walked back to the train station so I could enjoy the bananas foster filled cronut as soon as possible. I was so self conscious of my purchase as the entire world could see my bag contained Cronuts- it was a huge YELLOW Bag. Like, HEY LOOK AT MY BAG!

I purchased some for my family and I plus two more to enjoy if I really liked them. . .

Cronuts

I set up our cronut experience. Coffees on deck. Photos taken. Heart racing with excitement.

I took a bite.

And it was good but not mind-blowingly so.

I believe this item was way over-hyped. The texture of the donut was lacking something.  I was fully convinced by the sugar coating and the crisp-looking layers that the cronut would have a slight crispness/flakiness to it and a soft, delicate center with a glob here and there of custard or whatever the filling of the month was. Instead, I sunk my teeth into a donut that was not light and crisp. It was a bit greasy and lacked the texture that I was seeking; much like my first cronut encounter with the fig filling.

I was disappointed. My husband doesn’t like any kind of donut with filling inside-so that was a bust, My parents both preferred the dough’ssant we got from one of other bakeries we frequented and I felt like I wasted a perfectly good Sunday morning, sweating my butt off for something I didn’t even love.

I am still a big fan of Dominique Ansel. His DKA and cannelle de Bordeaux are enough to keep me coming back over and over again. I will just check cronut off my bucket list.

It’s just not for me.

Sweet Potato Hash with Chicken Sausage and Spinach

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I was inspired by a photo of roasted sweet potatoes on my facebook feed to create dinner for Brent and myself. It was a little off the beaten path since our dinners lately consist of a grilled protein and lots of greens. This was different in every way for us and has instantly become a favorite. It’s easy to make. Healthy. And only soils ONE pan!

This sweet potato hash has everything good in it. Onions. Apples. Sausage. And spinach. Don’t let the apples fool you as they cook with the onions- they take on the delicious flavors that they are surrounded by! I cannot wait to make it again and modify it for lighter days!

Serves 4 or 2 big portions

Ingredients

2-3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 lb of chicken sausage (Italian style), sliced

1 medium red onion, diced

1 apple (pink lady preferred), cored and chopped

1 5oz package of fresh baby spinach

Salt

Pepper

Olive oil

Method

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Steam the diced potatoes for 8-10 minutes to soften. While they are steaming, sauté chicken sausage in 1 Tbsp of olive oil until browned- about 8 minutes over medium heat. Set chicken sausage aside. Add onions and apples and allow to cook in sausage drippings. If anything is stuck to the pan, add a spoonful of water to the pan to help break up the dried up bits on the bottom of the pan. Allow the onions and apples to caramelize. Add salt and cook on medium to low heat for 10 minutes or until onions are caramelized.

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Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to the pan and add sweet potatoes. Allow to crisp – combine with apples and onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. After about 5 minutes, the potatoes should have a little crispness to them, add the sausage back to the pan.  Add spinach to pan and combine. Allow 2 or 3 minutes to wilt the spinach. Give it a good stir and serve.

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This tastes even better the following day!

I enjoyed my leftovers for lunch with a fried egg on top. It was everything! I plan on remaking this again in the near future and swapping out the sausage for black beans and a smoky paprika- and definitely keeping the egg!!!

Picnic in the Park

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On one of the first nice days of this season, hubby’s friends invited us to picnic. I have been dying for a picnic to use one of our bridal shower gifts from my friend Jen:

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With its lovely insulated pockets we set out for a blanket feast. We were setting out to meet at noon on a Sunday so i figured some quiche and Mediterranean pasta salad was in order. Two things that could be served at room temperature without spoiling.

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The quiche I prepared using a quick crust and lots of random fridge findings; bacon, mushrooms, onions, cheddar cheese, and eggs. One of my favorite things about quiche is how versatile it is. You need eggs, a little milk, some cheese and any meat or veggies you like. A bake in the oven and you have a delicious brunch/lunch/dinner dish that always wins!

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This pasta dish was inspired by a catered event at the office. This pasta salad is mayo free and filled with everything good. This recipe will be a great addition to your summer picnic or bbq.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

1lb box of fusili or bowtie pasta

1/2 cup pitted black olives

1 cup diced cucumbers

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes

1 medium bell pepper, julienne

1 cup feta cheese

1/4 cup extra virgin

drizzle of balsamic vinegar (optional)

salt and pepper to taste.

**Boil pasta until cooked al dente. Once the pasta is cooked, drain excess water, place in a cool container or bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Allow pasta to cool before combining with all the ingredients. Let sit in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. **

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We had such a great picnic with tons of eats. it was perfect.

Anxiously craving my next picnic!

Honeymoon in Jamaica

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One of the best decisions Brent and I made before we got married was to splurge on our honeymoon. Our previous vacation wasn’t our best- in fact, it was the worst vacay for the both of us – we made it work but promised that the honeymoon was going to SLAY.

I should preface this by saying the first trip we took together left B feeling a little sour on Caribbean vacations and he said after our honeymoon we should try something more stateside… happy to report we cannot wait to go to JAMAICA again!

We chose Couples Swept Away in Negril Jamaica for 7 blissful days. We kept several things in mind when booking this trip. 1. Adults Only. Can’t stress that enough. Nothing spoils a honeymoon quite like screaming children and teenagers being too cool for family vacation. 2. ALL INCLUSIVE. I wanted to pay upfront and relax. And that we did. 3. FREEDOM. No schedules. No meal times. Straight freedom.

The moment you land in Jamaica and make it through customs (prepare thy self), you are greeted with “Welcome Home”. We were greeted warmly with smiles and most of the folks we encountered told us if it was our first time we would surely be back.

We hopped on a shuttle to our resort. The ride was about an hour and a half away from the airport. We took in the trivia, the sights and sounds of Jamaica as it started to pour. A beautiful rain! The water was refreshing and the air felt CLEAN. A true escape from NY.

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Exhausted and HUNGRY we checked into our room and made a bee line for whatever was open with food. The great thing about Couples- there is always something to eat. We happened upon what would become our favorite spot with quick and satisfying dishes likes Jerk Chicken, beef patties [with coco bread], fried red snapper sandwiches and nachos.

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We actually started to order food to bring back to our room towards the last leg of the trip.

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We enjoyed our first meal in Jamaica and spent the rest of the evening listening to the sound of the rain on our porch. (with bug spray!)20150416_094614

We quickly learned a routine that involved rising early, donning swimsuits and sunscreen, heading to breakfast and then lounging on the beach for the rest of the morning.

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One thing a girl can get used to is the abundance of fresh fruit!!!

Loved the variety of breakfasts. From fresh fruit, to granola and yogurt, to callilou and eggs, to salt fish and ackee. So many things to go nuts over.

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After several hours on the beach, we found ourselves exhausted and would grab a bit of lunch which usually consisted of freshly caught red snapper or a salad for me followed by a nap in our room until dinner.

20150418_135747 Brent always finds pizza. lol.

A fun fact. before we got to Jamaica, I read I should get used to the jamaican humidity. So when we checked in and tinkered with our air conditioner and not finding a COOL option, we thought OH- No AC… ok. And on the 3rd day i passed the housekeeper while cleaning another room and felt ice cold air. I walked into the room in pure amazement like i had never seen an AC before. “What is this magic you make to the air conditioner- you must show me!” I had never felt like such a bonehead before. Once that AC was poppin- we were on Cloud 9!

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We caught dinner and a show one evening. IMGP0040

Caribbean night on another with local food favorites.    IMGP0068

Dressed up for fancy dinners… and dancing at what the locals call the DISCO.            20150422_092519

We ordered room service sometimes… Jamaican coffee is to die for. IMGP0073

I forced B to take pics.

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We went on a sunset cruise on a catamaran boat with rum punch for DAYS.IMGP0062 IMGP0060 IMGP0055

Castles in Negril

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We ordered champagne with everything – we fancy.

Overall, when it was time to go, we were ready for home. We missed our dog, our bed, our routine…you know how it goes. But boy did it awaken the desire to see the world. We cannot wait to, as the Jamaicans say, “come back home to Jamiaca”. We had the most wonderful time ever and came home to find this lovely card in the mail:

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Wonderful Honeymoon! Next vacay soon, please?

Mediterranean Brunch

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At one of the very first signs of Spring weather a few weeks ago, Brent and I were invited to one of his former co-workers homes for a Mediterranean brunch. We were told to bring only ourselves and prepare for a treat.

Aside from having to commute to Long Island by train on the weekend (wasn’t as bad as I thought!”) we arrived to a delightfully fragrant home with our hostess sitting back sipping a pomegranate and champagne cocktail while the chef she hired for the day slaved away.

::record skips::

CHEF? HIRED? CHEF!?

::giggles with glee::

I have seen/heard of this private chef thing but really had no idea how practical it was. Apparently, hiring a personal chef for a lunch or dinner is a click [and credit card] away. The cost can range per person but again, can vary. Our hostess, Roz, really wowed us with this. TREAT it was!

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To start, we sipped pomegranate and champagne cocktails and snacked on the sweetest strawberries EVER.  While filling up on fresh fruit, we also enjoyed some shrimp tempura. Because – FOOD.

Everything that Chef Omar prepared for us was made from scratch.

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Once we were done snacking on appetizers and Chef was putting the finishing touches on his brunch, we started with homemade yogurt, granola drizzled with honey and sliced kiwi. While the kiwi wasn’t an instant win for me, that yogurt tho! So creamy and was great with the granola!

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Tried to pace myself but I was already envisioning the wall I was about to hit with all the deliciousness.

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We placed the spread on a table to create a buffet style but soon we all decided the best course of action was to fill our plates with a little bit of everything.

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Our buffet consisted of: GIANT buttermilk pancakes with an apple and pear compote, zucchini fritters, poached eggs with fiery chick peas and tomatoes… and that yogurt and granola I kept eating.

#noregrets

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I thought “This isn’s so bad! I can def eat this!” and proceeded to wolf down a pancake the size of my face! A zucchini fritter the size of my fist! Protein packed eggs and fiberlicious chickpeas.

Truth: The odds were against me.

I powered through and devoured that mammoth plate of deliciousness. I was thinking with every bite “this is delicious!” – I may have also told Brent several times we are hiring Chef Omar to cater our next event.

We picked at our remnants as we made small talk about life and work and the chef bid us adieu as he prepped our dessert. An avocado key lime pie with a graham cracker crust.

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If I’m being honest, this was a miss for me. It was as if eating sweet guacamole. I love guacamole but on chips or toast. Not in a pie. Thankfully, one of the other attendees made oreo truffles that I cannot wait to make on my own!

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I snapped a pic of the group with the chef in the middle.

Overall, I had an amazing experience. I would totally hire a chef for a few hours to allow me to mingle with my guests…but I really do love cooking. Maybe I can make the dessert.

Decisions, Decisions.

Red Snapper with Marinara over Angel Hair

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One of my hard to break bad habits these days is ordering take out when I get home late and am too hungry to cook.

The freezer is well stocked with steaks, chicken breasts, and fish but to defrost it and cook it can be time-consuming. I was determined yesterday morning to cook no matter what time I got home and put two frozen red snapper fillets in the fridge to thaw. I had a freezer stash of marinara sauce too so I was going to have red snapper with marinara sauce over angel hair.

Of course as I sat in the office at 6:15, about an hour after I was scheduled to leave I had to mentally prepare myself to run home, walk the dog and prepare dinner- stomach growling or not!

I am writing because dinner was ready in under 25 minutes. It was healthy, hearty, and “Brilliant!” (Brent’s words).

Here’s what you need to feed two:

2 red snapper fillets (8-10 ounces) be sure to remove bones/scales

3 – 4 cups of marinara sauce (depends on how saucy you like it)

½ box thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta

Directions:

Set up a large pot of water to boil.

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In a large frying pan, heat 1 cup of marinara sauce. Place red snapper skin side down. Add ½ cup more sauce to the pan to cover the red snapper slightly. Cover and allow to simmer on low for 20 minutes.

When 8 minutes of cook time remain for the fish, place the pasta in boiling water. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or according to box/preference. Drain reserving 1 – 2 tbsp of starchy water.

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Remove the fish from the pan with a large spatula. The fish will be tender- be careful when transferring to a plate. Place drained pasta in the pan with the leftover sauce adding a little more sauce and the starchy water to coat the pasta. When the pasta is coated, transfer to plate- top with snapper.

We sprinkled some parm cheese and red pepper flakes on to this.

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It was so good. The red snapper really holds up well to marinara sauce. It’s not fishy at all, either! I highly recommend for anyone trying to get more fish in their diet and those that want something quick for dinner.

Sausage, Cannelini, and Tomato Ragout over Rosemary Polenta

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Now that hubby and I are back from Negril (and can’t wait to go back) we are trying to get back into the swing of things. The wedding is over. The honeymoon is over. And the gorging on take-out is definitely over.

I came home to a STACK of my favorite magazines. Cooking Light. Food and Wine. Bon Apetit.

My schedule has been a little crazy but once I had a moment, I sat down with my post-it tabs and got to tabbing. While tabbing away, I came across a recipe that reminded me of my favorite comfort dish and the fact that I haven’t made it in FOREVER.

Bolognese over polenta. Really, anything with a marinara sauce and a sharp creamy polenta is heaven to me. It’s simple but so filling and really good! Inspired by this recipe, I tore apart my pantry and freeze and found everything I needed to make this dish- plus a few tweaks.

sausage cannelini tomato ragout

Sausage, cannelini and tomato Ragout

6 ounces bulk hot Italian sausage (6 sausage links with casings removed)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon unsalted tomato paste

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup dry red wine

3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dash of crushed red pepper

1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained (I used Fire Roasted for more heat)

1 (15-ounce) can unsalted cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Directions:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add sausage to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring to crumble.

Remove sausage from pan.

Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Add wine chicken broth; cook 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in stock and next 5 ingredients (through beans); reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 8 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Stir in cooked sausage and oregano.

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Rosemary Polenta
Ingredients
1 cup ground corn meal
1 cup cold water
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt
4 ounces non-fat Greek yogurt
4 Tbsp reduced fat parmesan cheese
1 tbsp dried rosemary

Directions
Combine cornmeal and cold water. Place in medium pot. Place over medium low heat. Add boiling water and stir. Lower the heat and allow to bubble. Add yogurt, cheese, salt, and rosemary. Allow to simmer for 5 or 8 minutes.

Serve polenta with sausage and bean sauce on top. Sprinkle with parm cheese. Enjoy!

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This dish didn’t take long to make but it made SO many servings. I had polenta and ragout for days! I love it with lots of grated parmesan!

Alice’s Tea Cup

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As we “speak” my husband and I are off to a faraway land where frosty beverages flow and sandals are the only acceptable footwear. We are off to our honeymoon! It’s been a long time coming since our last vacation and it is so needed. Here is a recap of the second afternoon tea we did during out mini-moon in NYC.

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Part of the reason we didn’t jet set right after the wedding was that we wanted to spend some time with my new in-laws. My sister-in-law has two gorgeous (and so sweet!) daughters that truly melt my heart. Brent and I wanted to spend some time with them and since we bought them American Girl dolls for Christmas, we thought brunch, lunch, tea, or dinner at the American Girl café would be a real treat. But reservations for American Girl are SOOOO hard to get and when I couldn’t book a decent time for a meal I searched for Plan B.

Enter Alice Tea Cup.

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One, my love for Afternoon Tea. Two, the Alice in Wonderland décor was reminiscent for the grown-ups while being completely appropriate for the littles. We went on a Thursday afternoon, around 2PM. It was freezing outside so the warmth of Alice’s Tea Cup was everything. Our table wasn’t quite ready so we sat in the waiting area surrounded by books and fairy tale lore. I spied some fairy wings hanging in a corner and gave the girls their own set of wings for the occasion. Staff really play up the fairy tale and greeted our newly winged fairies with fairy dust. We all got to make a wish while the girls put the fairy dust (AKA glitter) on their face and hair.  (why didn’t I take more photos!?!?)

We were seated at a huge table and the girls took some fairy tale books with them; to do a little reading while the adults chat I guess. I decided it was in our best interest to order the Mad Hatter.

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A tower of scones, sandwiches, and sweets and a pot of tea. The scones and sandwiches were unlimited (!!!) and all the additional pots of tea were an additional fee. Brent got earl grey, I share a pot of chai with my sister in law and the littles shared a pot of berry tea- which they quickly realized was not fruit juice; we tried.

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The sandwiches were by far our favorite. Unlimited BLTS? Yes please. Some sandwiches were a miss (smoked salmon) but the tuna was pretty great too as well as the egg salad.

Service here is relaxed which I love for tea service but if you are looking to fill up on sandwiches, you may want to order your next round while you are still working on the current.

Overall, I LOVED Alice’s Tea Cup and the unlimited sandwiches and scones in the Mad Hatter platter really sealed the deal for me- that and the awesome décor. There are three locations in NYC, this post is referencing the West 73rd Location. Great spot for a ladies brunch, date with the significant other or a day with the kiddos.

*photos courtesy of yelp

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

One of the things I love most these days is a good afternoon tea. Reading blogs during the day, I discovered afternoon tea at some of NY’s finest hotels. The entire experience of afternoon tea appealed to me with comfy chairs to relax in, wonderful background music, a wide selection of teas to choose from and the delicious treats to accompany said tea.

My first afternoon tea was with B on our 1 year anniversary of dating. Since then, we have relished opportunities to hurry up and relax- even going so far as to take a mental health day JUST for the sake of having afternoon tea at our favorite hole in the wall.

A week before the wedding, I wanted to do something that was US and something that we could splurge on that we would never treat ourselves too. Afternoon Tea was a must but one of the first glimpses into afternoon tea I had was from Kathy Yl Chan when she wrote about Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton.

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It was perfect. I called B and asked if he was interested and of course he was. With little convincing, we booked THE LAST reservation for the day after our wedding for afternoon tea. The experience was definitely once in a life time – but *spoiler alert* I like our humble hole in the wall a lot better.

Walking into the Ritz, we were seated in plush high back chairs. The table itself was a little high for the seat but it was meant for leaning back and relaxing.

I was slightly disappointed in their tea selection so I went with a spiced chai tea. unnamed (2)

Thumbs down for no lumps of sugar.

Our tea service came in courses.

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Scones.

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Sandwiches.

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Petit Fours.

The sandwiches were TEENY TINY but so good. I loved the lobster roll and the ruffled egg salad. We enjoyed them so much we ordered some more. The scones were massive and fluffy and crusty and dense. So much going on in those bad boys.

Alas, I was disappointed in the clotted cream. It was lackluster. I had such high hopes for this tea and I think I over-hyped it in my head.

We left barely able to finish our sweets when the staff brought out a slab of cheesecake with Congratulations written on it.

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When I made my reservation, I mentioned it would be the day after our wedding- that was a nice gesture.

On the way home with our doggy-bag filled with the sweets we couldn’t finish, we couldn’t help but think the Ritz was severely overrated. We made the best of it and still enjoyed ourselves but it’s likely we will not return.

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