Monthly Archives: March 2014

Guest Restaurant Review on FooDiva: Social by Heinz Beck

I mentioned a few weeks back that I met with a local celebrity here in Dubai, and the secret is now revealed! Samantha Wood (wholly deserving of the “local celeb” status!) of FooDiva.net, an amazing food blog covering (impartial) restaurant reviews, food features, chef interviews, and culinary travel experiences, was seeking a few guest writers to cover some of the restaurant reviews – it seems like every week there is a new eatery opening here in Dubai, so there is no shortage of material! I emailed Samantha of my interest and  the next thing I knew, Barr and I were enjoying a meal at Social by Heinz Beck. Head on over to FooDiva to check out my review by clicking here. And if you’re local to Dubai, dont miss out on this fab restaurant! Until next time…

Raspberries 1.0, Chef Heinz Beck's signature dessert - and well worth every caloric bite!

Raspberries 1.0, Chef Heinz Beck’s signature dessert – and well worth every caloric bite!

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Dubai Neighborhoods: “The Beach”

Dubai has such a simple (but large) way to hide their ever prevalent construction projects. Just take the drive between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and you’ll find the hugely tall walls going up to disguise Expo2020 building – they go on for miles. You can imagine my surprise and delight when some of those walls came down in JBR, just across the marina from our apartment, only to reveal the infamous, impressive The Beach. The walls had be assembled since we moved in (and well before that, I’m sure), with the only clues to what they beyond being the mock up paintings of the development around JBR and the clatter of construction tools. All was revealed a few weeks ago – voila!

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JBR is already a bustling area of Dubai, and The Beach only enhances this vibe – just now with a bit of a facelift. Developed by Meraas Holding, The Beach is comprised of a series of plazas, housing shops, restaurants, family-fun areas, a running/walking track, and what many believe will be the big draw: an open-air movie theater.

Where: The Beach can be located here, right on the water, just to the left of the Palm – approximately at letters N, O, and F. Just adjacent to the Dubai Marina and on JBR.

The iconic JBR buildings as seen from The Beach

The iconic JBR buildings as seen from The Beach

The iconic JBR buildings as seen from The Beach

The iconic JBR buildings as seen from The Beach

What: A number of retail and eatery options (only a handful of which are open as of yet – the rest are slated to open later this summer) right on the beach. And the beach itself is a great public beach option. The aforementioned open-air theater has seating right on the beach, as well as an indoor cinema (fabulous for movie buffs like we Blantons). Plenty of hotels, too! Be warned, however: the road to The Beach is a busy, one way street, but there is a 1,200 car parking lot as well as valet parking available – further, they are constructing a public transportation tram that should (?) be completed soon.

Gorgeous beach

Gorgeous beach

Menchie's...a favorite from Charlotte, NC!

Menchie’s…a favorite from Charlotte, NC!

Highlights:

  • The open-air movie theater by Reel Cinemas – check it out before it gets too warm here in Dubai!
  • The amazing sand sculptures (see below)
  • If you have children, I would think this would be an ideal place to bring them! The area absolutely caters to little ones with spots to ride bikes, a mini water park, as well as playgrounds (and of course the sea)
The sand Dubai skyline

The sand Dubai skyline

A tranquil little spot within one of the plazas

A tranquil little spot within one of the plazas

A ton (for Dubai) of green space

A ton (for Dubai) of green space

Check out The Beach in JBR to mix up your week – I’m looking forward to more shops opening and checking out a movie there one of these days. Until next time…

 

 

Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Five minutes after I crossed the finish line of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (the sprint distance: 750m swim, 50km bike, and 5km run), the endorphins kicked in, and allowed me to euphorically state to my husband, “I could do this again!” Endorphins are funny like that; three hours later (and even now, eight days later), I’m not as sure – still euphoric though – that I finished (my time was nothing to write home about, but I finished!) The event was exceedingly well run, and I can see how triathletes can become quickly addicted, though I dont think I will morph into one of those individuals. 🙂

As some of you may know, I am a runner – it’s definitely my preferred form of exercise! In a past life, I swam (though I wouldnt call myself a “swimmer”), and I definitely do not bike. When Barr and I signed up last fall, I thought, “Well, 1.5 of the athletics of the race I have down – I’ll just train”. HA! Having the triathlon on the heels of my return from the states didnt quite allow for as much training as I should have done, but again – I finished! So photographic evidence:

No no, we didnt come in 1st...

No no, we didnt come in 1st…

I so naively believed that the run would be my easiest leg, but having it be the last portion of the event and after the particularly grueling 50km bike (I could scarcely run my bike back to the racks), I struggled in the 5k run. But I finished! And nothing can really prepare you, save experience, for swimming in the ocean with hundreds of other swimmers thrashing around you – very daunting. But I finished! (Can you tell I was morbidly fearful of not completing the triathlon?)

The experience held two major highlights (aside from completion): seeing Barr cheer me on in the last kilometer or so of the run and having the Brownlee brothers (Olympic triathletes from the UK) whiz past me on the bikes (they did 100km of the bike) – I wasnt anticipating them (and they came upon me fast!!), and saw some cameras snapping shots. Thinking that they were trying to get a photo of the girl in the cute blue outfit (it is all about a good ensemble, isnt it?), I smiled wide, but alas, they wanted that picture perfect athlete shot of the famous brothers. You can (kind of – it’s a bit like Where’s Waldo) spot me in a picture from The National here – I think the Olympians had passed by me as this point:

Riding the struggle bus…err, I mean bike

An item to tick off the bucket list, to be sure, but would I do it again? Ehhhh, ask me again in a few months as I may have stored up some more endorphins by then! Until next time…

Nashville Bachelorette Adventures, continued…

Nashville has so much to offer and we took full advantage! After a traditional Southern brunch (thank you all that is good for grits, sweet potato fries, sweet tea, and BBQ with biscuits) at Puckett’s Grocery in downtown. I know I say it a lot, but nom nom nom!!!

 

Exploring downtown

Exploring downtown

We needed to burn off some of the friend green beans (this is a real thing), and whoa! I had planned a bike tour for our little bachelorette and co. I use Trip Advisor religiously, and Green Fleet Bicycle Shop and Tours had stellar reviews – signed, sealed, delivered! This was absolutely one of the weekend highlights; I booked a private tour for our group of seven, and thankfully we had great weather (I’ve become a bit of a cold weather wimp, so I was most concerned in the days leading up to this outdoorsy excursion). I won’t go into too much of a lengthy review (you can of course read my “official” Trip Advisor review, if you’re so inclined 😉 ), but our guides, the bikes, and the route was above and beyond what I had hoped for!

Gals on the Green Fleet Bike Tour of Nashville

Gals on the Green Fleet Bike Tour of Nashville – safety first from Ashley! 

Isnt she the cutest bachelorette you ever did see?

Isnt she the cutest bachelorette you ever did see?

Well after our bike tour, we were ready to rage! Cue the cocktails, cheesy costume jewelry, and in our case, honky tonk bars 🙂 We had a late dinner reservations at Merchant’s (run, dont walk to this eatery if youre ever in Nashville – but seriously, def make a reservation – theyre packed), so we started the night off strong with a visit to Robert’s Western World, where the bride to be was serenaded by an amazing country band – it was a sight to behold:

Get it!

Get it!

Obligatory cowboy boot koozie

Obligatory cowboy boot koozie

From there, we hopped along the various honky tonk spots in downtown, enjoying the live music, good weather, and celebratory beverages. The fact that several of the group had early morning flights coupled with the slight issue that is was daylight savings that night (spring forward – lost that hour – whoops!) didnt deter us – it was a great evening! Enjoy some of the pictures of the night and cheers to Sarah Craig!

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I know we’re all SO excited to celebrate again in May – toot toot! Until next time…

 

Bachelorette (Hen Party!) in Nashville

By the time I touched down in Nashville, Tennessee (home of country music, for those of you not aware), my days in the states were numbered, but the celebrating was far from over. Sarah Craig ties the knot in May (!), and as her matron of honor, the fun of planning a bachelorette weekend (hen party…am I using that correctly, British friends?) was on my shoulders. I love love love planning this kind of stuff – getting the details together and setting forth some fun activities is part of it, sure, but celebrating one of my dearest friends with all (most) of her dearest friends was the real special part 🙂

Sarah Craig and I donning some festive, celebratory wear at one of the honky tonk bars in Nashville (couldnt tell you which one by this point)

Sarah Craig and I donning some festive, celebratory wear at one of the honky tonk bars in Nashville (couldnt tell you which one by this point)

So first things first: why Nashville? Well, we knew that weather over the weekend we settled upon was going to be potentially cold (ahem polar vortex), so anything too beachy was kind of out of the question. Alongside that consideration, most of the bridesmaids and girlfriends live on the east coast, so being conscious of flying time for working/studying girls, as well as budgetary elements, we decided Nashville would be a good place! Not to mention, many of us either hadnt been before or it had been a brief visit – and there is plenty to do and see – and if it’s good enough for Rayna and Juliette, it was good enough for us 😉

For anyone out there planning a bachelor/bachelorette party in Nashville, let me tell you, you are not alone. There had to be no less like 20 other parties raging on that weekend in Nashville, so you will be in good company!

I booked us at the Sheraton downtown so we could be close to all the action of the honky tonk bars and restaurants we wanted to try out. Luckily, there are plenty of cute areas in Nashville, including the Vanderbilt area and the Gulch.

Sarah Craig and I arrived a day early to get acclimated and catch up one on one as email, What’s App, and FaceTime dont always cut it #expatproblems We grabbed dinner at Husk, an eatery we had also tried out when we were in Charleston, South Carolina last spring – what can I say? We’re consistent. And the food is that good – that Thursday night we didnt have any reservations and the place was packed, but luckily they served the full menu at the bar (alongside a very unique wine and cocktail list).

The other reason I arrived a tad early for the weekend was to get my goodies that I had ordered from my sister in law – she and her mother run two adorable shops in Memphis, Tennesse: RSVP and RSVP Baby. Fear not! Even though I wouldnt be making a trip to Memphis (though I would have loved to), Curry was kind enough to send her designs to Nashville. I told her I wanted a citrus color theme and a few “girly” touches; that was all she needed, and she went and designed some fab paper items for our girls weekend. I may be a bit biased of course, but I’ve placed a number of orders from RSVP and have always been overly pleased by the customer service, creativity, price, and end products. Here’s a peak at the cups and kraft boxes/labels (they matched the invites) she made up:

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Fun, arent they? RSVP also created the invites and a banner that we hung in the room. Loved all the items, as usual!

Many of the girls had arrived by mid afternoon, so we decided to walk over to Pinewood Social for lunch. Sarah Craig had read about it in Southern Living (one of the best bars of the south), and we werent disappointed! The kitchen was about to close when we walked up, but they were kind enough to still serve us a quick bite. This was a really neat spot: the food and cocktails aside, there was a bowling alley and a cozy little area where plenty of people were enjoying coffees and working on their laptops. It was a very eclectic and festive atmosphere. We enjoyed a quick lunch (and drinks!), and headed back to the hotel to congregate and rest up for the night ahead. I’ll fill yall in on our bike tour, meals, and evening out tomorrow. Happy Hump Day and until next time…

Pinewood Social

Pinewood Social

Los Angeles, Part II

So much packed into 3 days (and 2 posts!)

:) :)

🙂 🙂

For lunch one day in LA, Allison and I tried out Hinoki and the Bird – I had read about this Century City eatery on one of my favorite blogs, Oh Joy!, and knew that if it was good enough for Joy, I wanted to try it as well 🙂 So try it we did! Both Allison and I have some dietary restrictions so after having checked out the menu online, we were game (plenty for us allergy prone folk to nosh upon!)

Hinoki and the Bird is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the streets, but was PACKED when we rolled up for our lunchtime reservation. It’s right across the street from CAA (Ari Gold, anyone?), so I’m certain it was packed with plenty of lunching agents! Anywoo, we opted for some fresh mocktails to start us off as we enjoyed the lovely late winter afternoon at our outside table.

Interiors of Hinoki and the Bird

Interiors of Hinoki and the Bird

Delish mocktails

Delish mocktails: Cucumber Jade and Grapefruit Rickey

For our lunch, we gamely decided to split the grilled mix mushrooms – then Allison opted for the BBQ jidori chicken accompanied by a green papaya salad, while I ordered the coconut-curried mussels, sausage, and cauliflower. Nom nom nom!!

The mushrooms and my mussels topped with greens

The mushrooms and my mussels topped with greens

BBQ jidori chicken and papaya salad

BBQ jidori chicken and papaya salad

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Hinoki and the Bird infuses traditional Thai and Japanese delights with a fun, modern twist (whether it be a unique spice or an unexpected side item). Further, the ingredients are incredibly fresh (the mussels were incredibly tender and the mushrooms so earthy); indeed, although our portions were fairly generous, we walked away from the restaurant feeling light and satisfied. It was definitely a “treat” kind of lunch, but one I would absolutely advise you to test out for yourself should you find yourself in LA!

Following our lunch, we headed to the Getty Museum (for all the time I’ve spent in LA – even an entire summer – I had never been to the Getty – the shame!) for an exhibit on Queen Victoria. I had mentioned that I was reading a biography of the monarch, so the timing was great! The exhibit centered around Queen Victoria’s passion and support for photography throughout her reign – many of the photographs were generously lent to the museum by Queen Elizabeth herself! Quite a thrill for me because, if you know me, you know that I love all things British royal family.

The exhibit aside, the Getty offered some fabulous views of the city:

Los Angeles as seen from the Getty Museum

Los Angeles as seen from the Getty Museum

I left on the red eye from LA to Nashville, Tennessee later that night, bummed to leave, but feeling so blessed to have such good friends to host me. Thanks Mike and Allison – yall are the best 🙂 The departure wasnt all sad…because I was then on my way to a bachelorette party! More to come, yall! Until next time…

Wish They All Could Be California Girls

Happy Monday! I can’t believe it was a week ago that I was making my way back to Dubai (via Istanbul – go Turkish Air!) from Houston. Time flies, huh?

Well, I bring you a post about the second leg of my trip to the states – off to sunny Los Angeles! One of my closest friends from college and her husband (also a good Wake buddy) live in California. I love going to visit them in L.A.! Allison is a Los Angeleno, and she and Mike have lived out there since graduation – going to visit them is always such a treat because they know so many “off the beaten path” spots in and around the city.

That being said, I wish I could tell you this post would be filled with lots of trendy shopping/eating LA destinations, but frankly, the best part about these friends and this trip was how low key it all was – we got up leisurely, chatted in our pj’s, went to some fun workout classes, attended 2 museum exhibits and ate some yummy food. Dont you love trips like that? No laundry list plan or lots of appointments and things…it’s the best 🙂

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Sweethearts that they are, Mike and Allison picked me up from LAX at 1:30AM (yes, that’s right – I have amazing friends, folks!) as I kicked off a few days in California. They live, in my opinion, the cutest little hamlet in Los Angeles. It definitely feels like it is a quaint village amongst a large, metropolitan city.

The Hollywood sign peeking out

The Hollywood sign peeking out

The first day, Allison and I went to Beverly Hills to a Physique 57 class – man oh man was it hard! I’ve done barre classes before, but never this particular one, and I felt it the next day! We then strolled around Beverly Hills to do some errands (and look out for celebs – one of my favorite pastimes, although I seem to repel them at all costs).

HOWEVER, that night that would change! Sweet Mike made dinner reservations for the three of us at the Tower Bar in the Sunset Tower Hotel to belatedly celebrate my birthday – it was a great spot! The Sunset Tower Hotel is a historic Hollywood hotel on Sunset Blvd (duh), and the Tower Bar was this amazingly elegant and understated restaurant – there aren’t a ton of tables and they keep the lighting low and intimate (supposedly this is why celebrities like to frequent it!) Decor (and celebs) aside, the food was also to die for – they even had a make your own ice cream sundae dessert menu! That dinner was one of the highlights of the trip for sure – and then the cherry on top was Octavia Spencer was seated right next to us, and when my surprise birthday cake came out, she joined in the happy birthday singing (she also wanted a bite of cake)!

Of course I still took some pictures inside the restaurant, even though it is not allowed…such rebels!

Enjoying the sundaes - dont worry, the cake was on its way as well ;)

Enjoying the sundaes – dont worry, the cake was on its way as well 😉

The create your own ice cream sundae menu - fat kid at heart!

The create your own ice cream sundae menu – fat kid at heart!

The next day, Allison and I did a spin class at Flywheel. Another workout for which I was not prepared (a bad omen for my forthcoming triathlon perhaps?), but super fun – if you’ve never done a Flywheel class, get on it! They’re absolutely the best way to burn some calories without really thinking about it too much – plus the music make it go by so quickly (we even have a studio here in Dubai!)

We then popped over to LACMA for the exhibit celebrating the 40 years of Diane von Furstenburg: Journey of a Dress. It really was a testament to how timeless the DVF wrap dress is as they had dresses spanning her 40 years of design, and many of the dresses you couldnt tell if they were 2014 design or a 1974 design. It was a small exhibit that we made through quickly, but I really enjoyed it, and highly recommend it should you be in the Los Angeles area and are prepared to want to purchase a DVF wrap dress immediately after attending (dont worry, I didnt…)

photo 72 photo 71 photo 55I do have a quick review of a restaurant we went to while in LA, so I’ll save some more details and pictures of the trip for tomorrow’s post 🙂 Until next time…

 

 

A Nice Day for a Texas Wedding

Yall – it really was! And the word (yes it’s a word) “yall” couldnt be more appropriate for this Texas fueled wedding. Houston, Texas was my first stop in my trip to the states.

The bride and groom were high school sweethearts in Houston, so to listen to their long time friends, as well as family, talk about their relationship over the years was very special.

Gorgeous day, gorgeous couple!

Gorgeous day, gorgeous couple!

It is just a happy coincidence that the bride, a friend of mine from Wake Forest, was also from Houston (where I grew up during elementary and middle school), so seeing my parents during the wedding week was a great perk (not to mention they also attended the nuptials 🙂 ).

After a balmy (okay – it was downright FREEZING in my mind, but I’m also the girl that came to the states during winter without boots or a coat) week leading up to the big day, the weekend began to warm up and the clouds broke – a good omen! The wedding weekend kicked off with the bridesmaid’s luncheon at Ouisie’s Table – this day also happened to be the infamous “Go Texan Day” (the official kick off of the world famous Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo! I advise you to check out Longhorns and Camels’ excellent post to learn more about rodeo-ing here). Given the overlap of celebrations, Elise opted for a fun Texas charged lunch. Each of the tables had local blooms, and the bridesmaid’s were asked to don their cowboy boots:

Rocking our boots

Rocking our boots (def squeezed my big feet into my mom’s boots as you can be certain it’s way too hot to wear mine here in Dubai – unfortunately they didnt make it across the pond!)

Table cards and menu

Table cards and menu

That evening, everyone gathered for the rehearsal followed by a lovely rehearsal dinner. In another wholly Texas/rodeo event, our bus to the rehearsal was delayed due to chuck wagon parade along the highway – I can’t make this stuff up! 🙂

Sorority sisters at the rehearsal dinner - just missing the beautiful bride!!

Sorority sisters at the rehearsal dinner – just missing the beautiful bride!

Fast forward to the big day! Every beautiful detail was planned out for the morning (beauty prep), afternoon (picture time), and evening (the ceremony and reception). Elise was so calm and collected all day, and of course, looked absolutely beautiful (she is gorg inside too!) A great day to say the least.

Congrats kids!

Congrats kids!

Getting ready - gotta prep for that big Texas hair!

Getting ready – gotta prep for that big Texas hair!

Missing my girlfriends already!

Missing my girlfriends already!

My parents and I getting ready to dance the night away

My parents and I getting ready to dance the night away – Simply Irresistible, the band that played at my wedding as well, kept the dance floor packed!

Week one in the states was so full and fun. Congratulations to a dear friend! Until next time…

Around the World in 17 Days

Well not quite the whole way around the world, but close! It has been a long 17 days, but I had an amazing time during my stint in the states (with the only bummer having been that Barr couldnt make it too!) If you follow me on Instagram, you have been privy to some of the travels and subsequent celebrations, but I’ll do a bit of a recap over the next few days (in between last minute…okay second training for the Abu Dhabi triathlon – why did I decide to that again?? Super screwed on that front – and recovering from jet lag).

Our fur baby and continual source of love and happiness, Dash

Our fur baby and continual source of love and happiness, Dash

The journeys began in Houston, where I was in a good friend from college’s wedding. Thankfully, my parents live in Houston as well…and my grandmother (Mema!) came to town…and my dog (Dash!) is currently being lovingly taken care of by my parents as well. A recipe for a great week.

Mema receiving some love from the pups

Mema receiving some love from the pups

Following Elise and Evans’ spectacular wedding (more details to come…), I headed to the west coast to visit two of my favorite people in the world – they graciously welcomed me into their fabulous new home…and on the week of their anniversary no less! I love seeing Allison and Mike – you know those friends that just make you smile just thinking of them? That’s these two 🙂

I mean, LA - are you real??

I mean, LA – are you real??

From Los Angeles, I hopped on the red eye to Nashville to celebrate a bachelorette party! I am my dear, lovely, amazing friend Sarah Craig’s (double name, yall!) matron (ugh, can’t I stay a maid? Matron sounds old) of honor in her wedding this May. Seven of her friends met up in the Music City for a weekend of loving on the bride to be – it was an amazing way to end my trip to the states 🙂

A little teaser of an upcoming post on the Nashville festivities

A little teaser of an upcoming post on the Nashville festivities

Sarah Craig and I at Elise's wedding the weekend before her bachelorette

Sarah Craig and I at Elise’s wedding the weekend before her bachelorette

More details on the trips coming…along with photo overload (all iPhone – sorry!) Until next time…