It has become an annual tradition that, in late January/early February, we invite Chris’ parents over for a weekend of celebration. Their birthdays fall in these two months, so we pick a date between them and go out to dinner and a Broadway show. An indulgent breakfast is enjoyed the following morning. This tradition has become known as the Birthday Weekend Extravaganza, and it’s something that we all look forward to every year.
Since birthday celebrations aren’t quite complete without cake, I also make sure there is one waiting and ready when we arrive home from the show. This year’s cake was a repeat of last year’s, at the request of my mother-in-law—a request that I must say that I was more than happy to honor. This Cardamom Coconut Cake is one of my favorites.
Before we left for Aruba, I had moderate concerns about the food situation. I can generally find something to eat in most places, but the question is always, “Just how limited are my options going to be?” Eight nights away meant a lot of meals not prepared in the safety of my kitchen, and I knew that, try as I might, I would not be able to survive a whole week on rum cocktails alone.
Fortunately, it wound up being pretty easy to eat gluten-free in Aruba. Most of the main hotels and resorts are at least familiar with the gluten-free restriction. Some even have a note on their menus instructing you to mention your GF needs to your server. Unfortunately, none go so far as to offer an actual gluten-free menu with pasta or bread-type substitutes. I think this wouldn’t have even been an issue, though, if we hadn’t planned such a long stay. A person can only take so many consecutive days of meat and potatoes, or shrimp and potatoes, or meat and rice….you get the point.
I will say, however, that I never tired of the dessert options. Thanks to the Latin influence on the island, I don’t think we visited a single restaurant that didn’t offer some sort of custard-based dessert. I had several amazing flans and a couple of crème brulees that, beneath their perfectly caramelized crust, were as thick and rich as a triple cream Brie.
We did have one shining moment of gluten-free joy that week, and it happened at a place that I wasn’t initially sure we could rely on. All we had to go off of was a lone TripAdvisor review from two years ago that mentioned gluten-free pancakes. No matter how hard I searched, I could find nothing else to substantiate those pancakes. The restaurant doesn’t have a website (UPDATE: Linda's has since launched a website) and, once we got to Aruba, none of the hotel staff believed that any place in the area offered special GF options.
So, on one of our last days there, we took a gamble on Linda’s Dutch Pancakes.
Chris and I spent our honeymoon in Aruba. We picked the island for its white beaches, blue waters, and reliable weather during an iffy season. We left with visions of spending our days lazing with books and mixed drinks on the beach, and returned with memories of threatening skies and crossword puzzles in the hotel room. Turns out 2009 was a dry year for Aruba, and we were making up for it. Still, the vacation as a whole was great and filled its purpose: relaxation after a year of wedding craziness.
Here are just a few things we took away from our stay.
When it came to the cake, we knew we had a challenge in front of us. It obviously had to be gluten-free for me, but we also wanted to make sure that it was good. At some weddings, the cake is a bit of an afterthought, a photo op and last jolt of sugar before everybody rushes out to the dance floor. Ours, however, would be served on the heels of an exceptional meal. Also, there’s still a lot of skepticism from many gluten-eaters about the quality of gluten-free baked goods. Those of us on the inside know that they can be just as good as, if not better, than your standard confections. With that in mind, it was important to us that we feed our guests a cake that was better than just “good…for gluten-free.”
Since this is a food blog, and considering that our choice of venue and style of celebration were centered on food, I thought it only appropriate to share with you our wedding menu. Naturally, there was so much else going on that night that I don’t think I could recall specific tasting notes in any sort of worthwhile detail, so this will be a largely pictorial illustration. Suffice it to say, every last bite was exceptional.
Wedding favors are a tricky subject. Many people today are deciding to forgo them altogether—and for good reason. Trinkets bearing your monogram can be difficult for your guests to make use of, and there’s a pretty decent chance that those baggies of candy will be forgotten on the table or thrown away at the end of the night. Not that there’s anything wrong with either category if that’s your thing and it appeals to your guests. For a lot of people, though, it’s seen as a waste of time and money. For us, we just knew we would need something a little different.
Since I started my own little garden last year, I initially thought of giving everyone a packet of herb seeds with growing tips and recipe recommendations. Cute idea…if everyone attending was into gardening. I realized fairly quickly that, while many people would appreciate the favor, only a handful would be likely to follow through and actually grow the herbs. Also, I didn’t want to give our guests a project.
Still, we felt like we wanted to give our friends and family a little something special as a thank you, something they could take away in remembrance of the day. We didn’t want it to be something they would be stuck with, feeling obligated to keep or guilty for throwing away. It should be something useful, enjoyable by all, and still a reflection of us.
The wedding date has come and gone. There are no more surprises to spoil. It’s only fair, then, that I finally share the results of my wedding dressdrama.
When I set out to plan the wedding, I most definitely did not envision myself walking down the aisle in a ball gown. I wasn’t particularly interested in anything whiter than ivory. And if you had said the words “taffeta” or “floral detail” to me I’d have raised an eyebrow at you before snorting in obvious disapproval.
Chris and I flew out and spent our first married Christmas visiting family and friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin, many of whom were unable to make it to the wedding. We planned our itinerary carefully, packing each day full of people and plans. It was a targeted four-day trip that went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped.
We spent an afternoon with one of my dear friends from middle and high school, chatting with her and her husband and playing with her adorable kids.
We caught up with some of our oldest family friends and marveled over how long we’ve all known and loved each other.
We laughed with aunts and uncles, met cousins’ significant others for the first time, and shared great food and stories. It was perfect.
On our last night there, as we were decompressing after Christmas dinner with my dad and his girlfriend, Chris looked up from his phone. “Our flight was cancelled.”
I had spent our entire visit very cockily relaying to our hosts how, despite the two-foot dump they’d experienced, we’d only received a light coating of snow one night that was gone the following morning. So, people of New York, I take full responsibility for the storm that shut down the city and left us stuck in Minneapolis for an additional four days. Karma’s sort of a bitch like that.
Fortunately, we were stuck in a metropolitan area, which gave us something to explore in between Chris working remotely and me shopping for underwear to get us through our extended stay. As it turns out, Minneapolis and St. Paul offer some great gluten-free options, which I thought I’d share in case you ever find yourself stranded in enjoying the Twin Cities area.