Jamaican Flavor Dinner

To say I love Jamaican food is an understatement. I like to think at 31 years old I’ve been well exposed to a variety of cultures and cuisines and Jamaican cooking is absolutely in my top five favorites, if not top three.

Jamaican cuisine infuses flavorful spices for unique flavors you will always remember. While I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit beautiful Jamaica yet, I’ve fallen in love it and can’t wait to visit. There is so much I love about Jamaican culture but in particular is how gracious and happy the very large majority of Jamaicans I’ve met have been.

I love reggae music, I’ve rasied my two daughters listening to it from a young age and I even my husband at a dance-hall reggae club night. When I hear reggae, I instantly relax and think of beautiful blue water by my feet, the smell of the ocean, all the good things you can expect. It is also powerful, reggae lyrics are some of the saddest and most beautiful lyrics I’ve heard. Message about love, respect, inequality, change, its music that forces you to think beyond comfort zones.

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the tasteful, bold coffees I’ve tasted (THIS I know I am an expert in!). This all organic coffee tastes radiant in the start of your morning. Grown in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Jamaica at a very high elevation, this coffee is as rich as any I’ve tasted.

Once you are done with your cup of coffee, let’s think dinner. My two favorite meals I’ve tried (thus far) is curry chicken and jerk chicken. Both will have you eating off the plate!

I’ve been cooking this recipe or well a similar variation of it for Jamaican curry chicken for years and let me assure you it is beyond delicious! Courtesy of the New York Times!

Photo by New York Times

Try it out this weekend, pair this delicious recipe with a cold drink, some reggae tunes and you’ll thank me!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, halved, stems removed
  • 6 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, thickly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, optional
  •  Juice of 2 large limes (about 4 tablespoons)
  • 6 large chicken legs, leg and thigh attached

PREPARATION

  1. Put allspice, thyme, garlic, chiles, scallions, peppercorns, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, soy sauce and lime juice in a blender or food processor and grind to a rough paste.
  2. Put chicken in a baking dish, add seasoning paste and coat chicken well, using a spoon. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
  3. Heat oven to 350 degrees and bring chicken to room temperature. Turn chicken once more in marinade to coat well, then put baking dish in the oven, uncovered. Bake for 1 hour or until well browned and juices run clear when probed with a paring knife. Put dish under the broiler for a minute or so to char chicken slightly. Remove and serve with coconut rice, if desired.
  4. Voila!

Wedding Designer: Maggie Sottero

Maggie Sottero wedding dresses are likely one of the most popular options for  brides. As a wedding planner, I often see brides pick Maggie Sottero dresses as their choices and for good reason.
Maggie Sottero designs are a combination of classic, beautiful and comfortable. These designs are meant for the  brides that would like to present a piece of classic and  timeless beauty at their weddings.
They frequently feature classic A line figures, very intricate designs with little fluff. 
For the very fashion forward bride the Maggie Sottero line has launched Sottero & Bradley. A beautiful collection of more innovative and playful dresses. 
The Maggie Sottero line is also incredibly affordable. In times where the average wedding rings in at $27,000, it is comforting to know you can have a high quality bridal design at a small faction of your budget. I encourage to check out their website for inspiration!

Navy Color Dreams

One of my favorite colors in clothes is dark navy. It is a royal color that endures new trends and changes in fashion. I like to think it is a flattering color on most and it is an elegant signature color.
I love to pair my favorite navy dress with a pair of aviators for an even more classic look. If ever in a hurry, remember navy color + aviators = great outfit.
Another tip: if you are anything like and tend to lose or break your glasses at the drop of a hat, then buy inexpensive glasses that will not be a terrible financial loss when they meet their dismiss.
I have a pair of very nice aviators that I only wear to very special events. The rest of the time I do well with $12.99 pairs. My favorite place to buy them is H & M. They are inexpensive, durable, high quality and stylish!

Glasses: H & M

Look of the day: New York Style

 This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to New York City. I lived there from ages 10 through 18 and to me NYC will always be home.
While I love Vermont, I miss the energy the city has, there’s always something to do, somewhere to be. Everyone is open to embrace fashion statements, and from all the cities I’ve been to (not too too many at this point), no place is like this beautiful city.
While I’m a child of Brooklyn, I have fallen in love with beautiful Manhattan. If I ever move back, it will be to Manhattan more than likely.

A few snaps from my “around the city” outfit on Saturday.

Dress: Banana Republic
Shoes: H & M
Bag: Vintage from local shop in Brooklyn
Earrings: Top Shop

                                Posing alongside one of my many styles muses: Marilyn

Safer Nail Polish Options

A few moons ago I became more conscious about the organic and natural movement in food and have never looked back. While I still indulge in plenty of “bad” food, for the most part I’ve made a commitment to eat natural and chemical free. Over the past year, this has extended to other parts of my life including anything from cleaning supplies, make up, toothpaste even toys.

The reality is once I researched the harmful chemicals that exist in day to day products, it was difficult to turn my back on this new found knowledge. I also told myself I wouldn’t “preach” about my lifestyle. I am happy to share about it and educate if people are interested but it is not my place to tell anyone that my lifestyle is any better than theirs.

I could write blogs upon blogs on natural living but today I will focus on a simple fashion statement that is bold, beautiful and typically full of chemicals: nail polish.

Nail polish lies in our fingernails and virtually touch everything that we eat, utilize and much more. The idea especially crossed my mind when I realized that when I painted my daughters’ nails, they were being introduced to these chemicals. In particular, my youngest Mackenzie who as any other 5 year old puts her hands in her mouth.

What kind of chemicals am I referring to? The worst offenders are typically broke into several categories “Big 3” “Big 5” and “Big 7” and when looking for toxic free options you’d like to make sure they at the very least fall into the “Safe 3” category which indicates 3 of the top chemicals in nail polish have been removed from the formula.

Some toxins found in nail polish include:

  • Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) – Common plasticizer, which increases the flexibility and fluidity of a product.

Why a concern? Potential links to cancer including potential problems in the endocrine system, an increased risk of diabetes in women, nausea, potential birth defects.


  • Formaldehyde – Naturally occurring organic compound that is a gas at room temperature.

Why a concern?  A known carcinogen . Health concerns include allergic reactions, breathing issues (coughing, asthma-like symptoms, wheezing, etc.).


  • Methylene Glycol/Formalin – An organic compound of a solution in water of formaldehyde.

Why a concern? It is a known carcinogen. Health concerns include allergic reactions, breathing issues (coughing, asthma-like symptoms, wheezing, etc.),  it’s an irritant, and can cause vomiting. 


  • Toluene – Derived from petroleum and commonly used as a solvent to dissolve or combine other chemicals.

Why a concern? It can  cause dizziness, dry skin, it’s an irritant,  headaches, liver and kidney damage, nausea, numbness, and has been linked to birth defects.


This is just a small list of potential hazards in conventional nail polish but you get the idea by now.
Some safer alternatives I recommend and absolutely swear by are: 

Pacifica Beauty (seriously my ultimate favorite brand for so much)! They have 7-free nail polish at a reasonable price for what you are getting!

Zoya Nail Polish (Okay they are tied for #1 spot)- THE best color selection ever, 5-free nail polish and they have some of the best deals I’ve seen monthly. 

Honeybee Gardens– Beautiful nail polish colors and other make up options. 

Kure Bazaar– Upto 85% natural nail polish, again the selection is amazing.

Priti NYC– Vegan, gluten and cruelty free, most importantly free of virtually any harmful toxic and a color palette to rave about for days!

Investment

I know what you are likely thinking. You seriously pay $9-$20 for nail polish? The answer is yes. Am I very well off? Not exactly. When I first had the desire to buy this type of nail polish, I struggled with the concept of paying this much for a bottle of nail polish when I can buy it elsewhere for $3, that coupled with having a family and an overbearing amount of student loan responsibilities made me feel as buying nail polish at these prices was not a smart investment of my money.  It was then that it hit me.  I’ll be spending  maybe $13 more than usual, okay got it. If I bought 3 or 4 bottles over a few weeks, months the amount of additional money spent would have been minimal or quickly spent on other items and yet I am investing in a safer consumer product for myself and my family that could potentially prevent me from being exposed to harmful chemicals.

The numbers started to make sense.

I ask you to take a look at newer alternatives and remember true beauty doesn’t need to be toxin

filled. Natural is beautiful!


Look of the day: My Favorite Red Dress

I am not a huge fan of red. It’s never been one of my favorite colors but I know it looks good on my particular complexion and yet this is one of my new favorite dresses. I bought it at TJ Maxx in a rush for a work event for maybe $12 and it’s become the biggest hit. Every time I wear it, I get a healthy amount of compliments.
Its a simple and classic dress. The combination of gold and red are one of my favorite colors in fashion. The way the zipper runs across the dress is a beautiful design that really highlights what otherwise would be a plain red dress. The best part is that I can wear it with heels, flats, sandals and it works well with any pairing. I can also add some gold earrings and a bracelet or go with more natural Earth tones for jewelry. I try to wear either brown leather bags or a white bag to undermine the stronger red dress.
What do you think? Feeling like going out and buying a statement red dress?





2008, Glitter and a Confidant

I went  back and forth, back and forth in my head about posting this or not posting at all.

Do you know how sometimes you meet people for short spurts of time in your life but those few months/years have a deep impact for the rest of your life? I feel that happens frequently to me.

2008 was a year I’ll always remember. I had just graduated college and was very confused as to what came next. I didn’t have a dream job or company in mind, no idea what I wanted to be or do or live or anything. I knew I probably wanted to move out of Vermont and then I met my now husband Dave.

And we lived happily ever after! Except not at all. The six months after we met were filled with anxiety, frustration, misunderstandings and many, many tears. “If he likes me then why so and so and this and that”? Why won’t he commit? etc, etc.

Around this time I landed a second job besides my office job to help make ends meet. The job was at a retail store and I got it through an acquaintance  I frequently saw and spoke to at a local coffee shop I used to frequent as a college student. I still remember sitting outside sipping a beer when she stopped by and asked “Were you still looking for a job”? I may have one for you at Store X where I work.
I enthusiastically accepted her offer, interviewed and was hired part-time in late Summer ’08.

I wish I could describe her but words don’t make her justice. A radiant woman, a lovely smile, soft spoken and always, always, always sporting incredible amounts of glitter on her,beautiful, bright skirts and tops, beautiful hats. I LOVE glitter and as such I thought she was the most beautiful person I’ve seen. A human who embraced glitter just as much as I wish I could.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d put my glitter on for shows, festivals or a fun night out and I used to way overused it as a teenager on my hair and skin, but for her it was a daily ritual. It was the norm.

It turns out she also had her bad boyfriend story going on at the same time as mine. Except Dave wasn’t my boyfriend, and hers was and they lived together, except it wasn’t peachy. So a pattern quickly developed. Anguish over the boy, run late for work in the morning, manage to sneak a coffee and breakfast sandwich and meet said woman at work. Once there, we had a daily exchange of the latest and greatest disappointments in our “relationships”. I was so grateful to have her to speak to because she got it. Our men had somewhat similar problems, they were very different people but at the most basic of levels we were two lovesick women. As I repeated every scenario that happened with my guy in my head, she advised me-typically positive words about him. I was upset at myself, she told me not be so hard on myself. It reinforced some faith in me, I too could have a happy ending to my story.

We chatted music, we both loved Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. We both love sparkly things.
When Fall arrived and she bought a white glittery knit hat from a vendor on Church St, I got the same one in black.

Those Fall months in 2008 were life changing for me. They were the beginning of a true relationship with my now husband but they were also life forming months for me as a person. So much happened, so much changed me.

Eventually she decided the 9-5 life was too overbearing, she was an artist, she had to find her creativity and freedom outside the walls of a retail store. When she gave her notice, she offered me her position which I gladly accepted as my student loans came knocking at the door. Her role paid more, demanded more. It was almost like we swapped points in our lives. She was stepping down from responsibility, I was taking on more of it which I was not keen about only a few months before.

She broke up with her boyfriend, Dave and I became official. There were no more confiding conversations to be had. The life changing months were now over. More would come but that particular point in time was now over for good.

She invited me to a couple of parties which I attended but I stopped visiting our local coffee shop and we lost touch. On occasion a few years after, we may have seen each other and simply smirked and nodded at the other’s presence. Each time reminding me I should dig up that glitter and wear it more frequently.

Last week I found out this beautiful woman had passed on. It left me speechless. While it had been years since our last conversation, I still remember our 2008 conversations vividly, I remember every detail of those months.

I don’t have any lessons out of this post, I mean I do sure but the most sincere thing I can say is that it absolutely saddened me to hear the news, it seems unreal people as divine as her can leave this world. It just doesn’t seem real.  I’ll always remember 2008 and my conversations with her and overbearing amounts of one of the best fashion statements: glitter.



Harlow & Dahlia Events: Adding Flowers to your Wedding Cake

I have a thing for flowers. I think that goes without saying. Flowers are beautiful, they smell great and just overall make most people happy upon seeing the. As a wedding planner, I try to use flowers for just about every possible affair I plan and if doable I use them in all types of decor.
I even work with my brides to put flowers on the wedding cake. Yes! The cake.
Just a few years ago the trend was to have cakes that may have been way too over-frosted and with a figurine of the bride/groom sitting on top. In today’s weddings trends, the cake serves as a gateway for creative decoration. Adding flowers to your wedding cake can serve as a way to further decorate your wedding and make your cake a delicious, beautiful center point in the reception.
I mean let’s face it, most people can’t wait to eat the cake, why not make it not only delicious but stunning by adding some flower work to it?

                         

Look of the day: Slip on dress

I’m a big fan of fashion on the go, meaning being busy all the time and a mom I need to figure out creative ways to be fashionable while being fast. Keyword: FAST. That is why I love easy, quick one layer outfits I can easily thrown on and go! That doesn’t mean these outfits have to be frumpy, you can pick beautiful one layer pieces that are modern and stylish. Perfect example, the slip-on-dress. 
A simple, cotton, no pattern dress you can throw and GO. Pull your hair up, add cute shoes, a dab of make up, earrings and a bracelet and you are ready for the town in less than 5 minutes! 
My favorite slip-on-dress is this black number from Wet Seal. It is well fitted, I get tons of compliments on it and can wear it to just about anything. Casual functions, day in the park, evening out, I dress it up and dress down.
Want to make a good clothing investment? Find a slip-on-dress and you’ll love what a difference it will make to feel great and be ready quick!

Travel Diaries: Peru: Cajamarca & Chiclayo

Hello…hello. 
From time to time I will begin posting on the blog about travel destinations I’ve been to and ones I’d love to visit someday, it would be my travel “wishlist”. Traveling is one of my top five favorite things in life for many reasons. Thus far I’ve lived more or less in 3 different lands for equal amounts of my life. I was born in Uruguay, raised in New York City since 10 and have lived in Vermont, USA for 13 years! Since I don’t have a place I “belong” to, no simple one word answer as to where I was born and raised when someone asks, I feel the world is my native land. I’m fascinated by people and when I travel I am like a little kid at the toy store, I love learning stories, cultures, traditions, tasting foods, being culture shocked. I don’t travel nearly as much as I wish I could, lack of time, the whole student loan debt thing, excuses, excuses I just don’t. I will use this blog to share my love for travel but also as a way to motivate me to pursue what I love so much, leaving my post land and exploring the world. 
A couple of years ago I had the immense opportunity to travel to Peru with my former employer Keurig. Peru is a very popular destination for coffee distributors given the high quality coffee that grows high in the mountains of this beautiful country. Typically when you hear tourists visit Peru, they are heading towards the South in Machu Pichu. My trip took me in the opposite direction to Cajamarca, north of Lima and close to Ecuador. I had no idea what to expect, in pure honesty I was very nervous. I heard so many stories about Peru and other Latin America countries that get a bad reputation about potential safety dangers. I know so many of these are ignorant anecdotes but being a mother to two girls I couldn’t help but worry. The worries were pointless. Peru was a beautiful country, welcoming, safe, loving and hopeful.
Our first stop was Lima which  needs its own post, I will talk about this beautiful city in part II of my post series on Peru.
Once we landed in Cajamarca, I was feeling a slight bit of culture shock. The streets were no longer tidy and organized like I’ve been used to. While this may turn some off, these details were soon overshadowed by the beauty of Cajamarca. Riding in a tiny bus where the roads are located on mountains, it helps to put things into perspective. Then there was the moment where our bus came head to head with another bus and we had to back out…into a road…built on the edge of a mountain. Great, why not…?
Once we arrived to our destination in Chiclayo and after hours of admiring the unique beautiful scenery of local markets, natural resources and the mountains I was in for some fun. In Chiclayo, we visited a coffee distributor who took us through the entire process of coffee harvesting and drying. Being an avid coffee lover and being able to process how that cup of coffee gets in my hands each morning was an experience I’ll never forget.
Even more fun was our trip up to San Ignacio which led us into the lands of coffee farmers. Very high up in altitude I ended up picking cherries with a local coffee farmer, their work life is to pick these cherries which eventually turn into mass amounts of coffee that feeds an over caffeinated population elsewhere in the world. 
Interesting facts I picked up on my many conversations: local coffee farmers don’t actually drink the high quality coffee they produced but instead weak, inexpensiv coffee imported into Peru from other countries like Ecuador. Why? They can’t afford to use up their own product they need to trade for income.
Another surprising fact was hearing the amount of local people who had never been to Machu Pichu. Why? As I was told, “esos viajes cuestan mucho dinero” or “those types of trips take a lot of money”.
Yet my most memorable moment came on top of a coffee mountain as I was picking coffee cherries. It was right after having a cup of robust, dark coffee. This trip was happening at a very troubling time in my life. As a result of the stress, I was suffering from what appeared to be heart palpitations. After drinking the strong coffee and being out in the height of the mountains, I had a palpitation and immediately asked one of the men who drove us up there if he could please drive me back to the town so we could be at a lower latitude. He kindly did and he could see how nervous and shaky I was on the ride back. In his effort to comfort me, I remember his beautiful words to me which I still carry with me whenever I stress about anything: “Señorita, si el senor la quiera llevar ahora, no la pondria en esta hermosa montaña con este hermoso dia, todo esta bien” which means “If G-d wanted you to die at this hour, he wouldn’t put you on top of this beautiful mountain in this beautiful day, it’s not time”. Religious or not, his words were so comforting and his confidence a reminder of how positive and forward looking the Peruvian culture is.
I got the pleasure to meet so many locals, share so many stories, meet women my age with children my age in a completely different environment than me. We visited Peru’s beautiful mountain side and drove fairly closed to the Amazon although we didn’t make it quite there (another trip!).
On our last day in Cajamarca, a group of locals that heard we were there hosted for us a goodbye dance at one of the coffee distributors headquarters. There was beautiful local dancing and artistic performances done for us even by a sweet little 5 years old who danced to Latin American pop hits. We danced, we ate, it was one of the best Saturday nights of my life.
Of course I have to mention the food. That was one of my favorite things about Cajamarca. I remember trying delicious “empanadas” filled with savory beef but my best food memory was eating Chinese food in Chiclayo. Up in a tiny town there where there were only 2 hotels (one halfway under construction), I stayed at the hotel off the end of the town that happened to have a Chinese restaurant. Random? Chinese restaurant in the middle of a mountain town in Peru. I went with it, I figured that was a once in a lifetime type of opportunity. It was the best Chinese food I’ve tasted. The rice and chicken were infused with a tangy orange zest flavor, I still haven’t forgotten it. I still remember sitting by the pool in an open patio at this very small hotel, eating Chinese food and drinking a cold Cusqueña!
If you want to visit the other side of Peru, away from an overload of tourists and where you can meet some of the nicest, most welcoming people in your life, I recommend the beautiful area of Northern Peru in Cajamarca. You will not regret a day there. I can’t wait to come back some day!

    Storefront in Cajamarca

     Members of a local women’s project to enhance women’s input in local economic development

    The amazing views of Peru’s mountainside



 

                     Coffee cherries in the mountains, high quality Arabica coffee only grows in high altitudes vs. the more commonly available Robusta coffee that can grow at lower altitudes

    Hours of travel finally lead to a larger than life view on top of the mountains

    Our last day in town Saturday night dance party. So much fun.