Girls Getaway 101

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Flamingo Beach – Costa Rica (2016)

I take a 4-night trip, every January, with one of my best friends of over 20 years. We go somewhere warm and tropical to escape our New Jersey winter and spend the time doing not much more than eating, reading, drinking cocktails & soaking up the sun. It’s pure heaven. We catch up on all the happenings since our last trip and laugh like little kids.

Plenty of people over the years have asked me how I “get away with” this annual excursion. I simply tell them, “It’s already on the calendar.” Just as I’m sure you plan family vacations, this friend-cation is really no different. Obviously there is a cost involved, but I’d rather drive my old car and color my own hair, than miss this trip! Everyone needs a break from their daily lives & responsibilities – you just have to make it happen.  So how do we do it?  These are the tips I recommend…

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2012 in Puerto Plata

1. Find the right partner(s) in crime. Whether you go with a group or a single companion, traveling with friends can be tricky. You all need to want the same thing from this escape, regarding both destination & activity level.  If one of you wants to lay on the beach all day, and your friend wants to zipline, parasail & tour the countryside, it’s generally not going to be as fun. Compromises can be made of course, and some things can be done individually, but for the most part, it’s easier to stick with the same schedule. My girlfriend & I happen to travel incredibly well together. We’re both up early, we both need our coffee right away, food is of the utmost importance & wine is a necessity. We like to relax, with little regard for schedules or planned activities. Our lives at home revolve around this pick-up or that meeting, which sport or what deadline, so when we’re away it’s nice to just go with the flow. But again, it helps if you’re all on the same page.

2. Timing is essential.  Keeping to the same week or weekend every year, makes it unobjectionable for everyone involved. Spouses, kids and caregivers all know when it’s going to happen and there becomes less & less discussion about it. For us, there seems to be the least amount of activity/commitment/obligation in January, so that’s when we go, but you need to find a time that works best for you. Maybe during the summer is better for your schedule, or one of the holiday weekends. Just pick a date and stick with it! Getting everyone on board that first year is definitely the most difficult, but by the 2nd year, you may only hear, “You’re doing that again?” After that it becomes routine and one of the most looked forward to events on your calendar!

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Our beach in Antigua – 2017

3. Length of Trip.  This one depends on how long you can be away from home, how much you want to spend and how flexible your schedule is. Work, childcare, vacation time, pets, etc., will all play a part, but it’s not impossible. If you’re flying, try to find direct flights and don’t stay too far from the airport – you want to maximize every second of your time. Four nights seems to work the best for us, but I have another friend that I only do one night a year with and that works too! I The key is simply getting away, even if it’s only for 24 hours.

4. The Destination. Beach? Mountains? Wine country? A night in NYC? The options are endless. We prefer long days in the warm sun, but your trip can take you anywhere! I will say, however, that all-inclusives or prepaid packages make everything easier – no splitting checks or trying to figure out who drank more at the bar, lol… your transportation and room fees are all covered, including incidentals like wifi & airport transfers. It’s one less thing to worry about as this trip should be as stress-free as possible.

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If you only knew how long it took and how hard we laughed, making this sign!

So pick your travel mate(s), find a date, and select a destination that you’ve always wanted to visit! We started our annual getaway in 2011, for only 3 nights, at an unfamiliar high-rise in Cancun. We got a good deal and had a blast, despite cooler temps and such a short stay.  We decided right then that this needed to be an annual tradition, and in less than a week, we’ll be leaving for Aruba – our 9th trip! When all’s said and done, it doesn’t matter where you go, how much you can spend or what you eat & drink, it’s a little “escape” that every woman deserves at least once a year!

Here’s a little slideshow of the incredible resorts we’ve visited so far!  We’ve lucked out with amazing beaches, incredible views and great weather (except for that one year in Puerto Plata!). We are very fortunate to have this friendship, and to have kept this tradition alive… Eventually we’ll be the two old ladies at the swim-up, but with so many years of crazy stories to share!

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Can I Eat Out on Keto? Absolutely!

I love eating out. I can’t wait to be handed that menu, and read through the pages like a novel. I truly enjoy the fresh ingredients and those creative combinations, but am just as pleased with the basics. The restaurant doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy, although I am easily impressed by a themed setting or unique atmosphere. I appreciate the efforts in the kitchen, and I love that I don’t have to clean up. And nothing has changed since I started following a keto way of eating… you can really eat anywhere – you just have to be a little creative!

From "Toast" in Asbury Park, NJ

Lobster Cobb Salad

The easiest meal to order is a salad, topped with a protein & dressed with olive oil. Cobb Salads are PERFECT (egg, avocado, bacon, tomato), but you can really enjoy any bed of greens with grilled chicken, steak, shrimp or even lobster! Get fancy & go for the Iceberg Wedge, complete with those blue cheese crumbles, or indulge in a Caesar Salad (just skip the croutons). Toppings to avoid: candied nuts, craisins or any dried fruit, carrots, beets, or other higher carb veggies.

There are tons of dining options out there… here are a few of the more popular:

Fine Dining
Go for the steak! Prime rib or other fattier cuts are great. Chicken (any way but fried), pork and almost all seafood are other fine options. The only problem you’ll run into is sides… swap any potatoes, pasta or rice for a salad or keto-friendly vegetable. And keep an eye on the sauces (creamy is usually ok, but “sweet” is not).

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Sauteed Scallops over Spinach

Most chicken or seafood dishes can be made keto by simply having them served them over sauteed spinach instead of pasta. Or splurge on lobster or crab… and dip the meat in that butter for a ketolicious treat!

The Chains
Fridays, Applebees, Chilis… Options are limitless here. Salads, burgers (no bun), other meats (veggies instead of a starch for the sides), there are plenty of choices. You know what else you can have? Chicken Wings! As long as they aren’t battered in any way, chicken wings are keto approved 😉

You’ll need to watch out for sauces here too. Ribs are great, but you’ll need to get the “dry rub” as most BBQ/Teriyaki type sauces are loaded with sugar. Same goes for the wings… stick with regular Buffalo (and dip away in that blue cheese) or the Garlic Parmesan styles. Anything that tastes the least bit sweet, contains carbs.

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“Low Carb” Whopper w/Cheese

Fast Food
Not my favorite option, but I have taken a liking to Burger King if I have to pick one. They offer all of their burgers as “low carb,” which just means it comes in a bowl, rather than on a roll. And at least the “Whopper” includes some veggies (lettuce, tomato, onion). Add the cheese, but skip the ketchup (loaded with sugar)… mustard & mayo (even though it’s not the best mayo) are ok. If you really need to amp up your fats for the day, just throw on some bacon 😉

Obviously you’ll have to pass on the fries & onion rings, that also goes for the chicken nuggets & any kind of fried fish. Grilled chicken sandwiches (without the roll), or fried chicken where you can remove the breading and just eat the meat, are also viable choices.

One other note on the fast food chains… they’re actually great for breakfast! Any bacon/egg/sausage/ham/cheese sandwich can be eaten without the “bread” for a relatively low carb meal.

Other Quick & Convenient Options

img_20190111_160759_655Pizza. Think of the crust as your plate & use a fork to eat the top right off! The more toppings, the better. This is a “before & after” of a recent Cheesesteak Slice I had 😉 Or I’ll get the “Everything” slice, loaded with pepperoni, sausage & all the veggies. Like a white pie?  Load it up with spinach & tomatoes and make sure they don’t skimp on the ricotta! Remember: Cheese is your friend.

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Roast Beef “Bowl”

Subs.  Load up on the meats, cheeses & veggies, and use a fork to eat it out of the roll like a bowl. This “bowl” from Jersey Mike’s is one of my favorites… they also offer the option of ordering any of their subs this way 🙂

See? Not so hard! Just stay away from anything breaded or fried (I have been known to “pick off” the breading from zucchini sticks & calamari… lol), and no fries, rice, quinoa, pasta, couscous & other grains.  You’re also going to have to skip desserts while you’re out, unless you can get a bowl of berries. Save your sweets for at home, where you can bake with low-carb sugar substitutes and make your own whipped cream.

Remember that restaurant meals are usually a little heavier on the calories, so you still have to watch it, but you don’t have to stay home & miss all the fun! Do I miss my nachos & would I love a grilled panini? Of course, but overall, eating out is still a most pleasurable experience for me while following keto. 😋

A few more faves…


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Thinking About Keto for the New Year?

IMG_20180507_212017_216Thinking about jumping on the keto bandwagon, but not really sure what it is or how to begin? Well it’s been just over a year since I started my keto journey, so I’m sharing a few tips. 😉

Following a keto lifestyle essentially means eating a diet high in healthy fats, a moderate amount of protein, and a limited amount of carbohydrates, leading your body into a state of “ketosis,” where you burn calories from stored fat, rather than from empty carbs. It gives you more energy, promotes healthy brain function, and satisfies your appetite without leaving you hungry or feeling deprived. You can read article after article on how it works, why it’s the best, why it’s the worst & everything in between. All I know is that it’s been prescribed by doctors since the 1920s & it’s the easiest “diet” I’ve ever followed.  I lost 10lbs in the first 6 months, have kept it off for another 6 months and still going strong!

If you’re seriously considering giving it a try, here are a few things I recommend to get you started…

1.  Download a food tracking app.  I was already a “Map My Run” user, so I stuck with the brand & went with “My Fitness Pal” which worked perfectly for me. You’ll need to set a calorie limit & then adjust your macros to fit a Keto lifestyle (generally 70% healthy fats, 20% protein & 10% carbs).  In the beginning, you’ll need to enter every morsel you put in your mouth to find those “hidden” carbs, and determine what you need to eat to meet your macros each day. To determine your daily calorie allowance, try this calculator or one of the many others you can find online.

2.  Hit the grocery store.  Keto is as much about what you can eat, as it is about what you should avoid. You’re trying to eliminate sugars from your diet, especially those coming directly from carbs, but there are tons of foods you can still enjoy! And you don’t need a fancy grocery store or spend a million dollars…. I find most everything I need at Aldi, and the more specialized items I get right from Amazon.

3.  Make the commitment.  For the first couple of weeks, it’s important not to “cheat.”  It’ll take 3-4 days of following a strict low carb, high fat diet for your body to enter into ketosis and any big dose of carbs will start you all over again, so you’ll need to stay on track. Eventually, a little cheat here & there won’t affect your numbers, but in the beginning, your goal is to get your body into that fat burning state as quickly as possible.

The internet is full of keto-approved food lists, but here are the items I try to keep on hand. I could go on & on with recipes, substitutions, etc, but I wanted to start by keeping it simple. These are my “go tos” plus a few bonuses I’ve discovered along the way…

HEALTHY FATS
Grass-fed butter (Kerrygold)
Olive Oil
Coconut Oil
Avocados
Nuts

PROTEINS
Meats (Beef, chicken, turkey, pork)
Try to buy grass-fed & organic when possible, and include fattier cuts like chicken thighs & highly marbled steaks.  When buying meats like cold cuts, pepperoni or bacon, I try to find nitrate-free varieties as a healthier option.

Fish – Tuna & salmon are my staples, but I also splurge on lobster, shrimp & scallops!)
Most all seafood & shellfish are keto-approved.

Eggs – a great source of protein. I do buy organic/cage-free when possible 🙂

Cheese – Full fat, all varieties

Other Dairy – Heavy whipping cream, sour cream & plain greek yogurt

OTHER FOODS
Veggies:  Greens, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Celery, Peppers, Onions, Eggplant, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage

Fruits:  Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries
(Top these with whipped cream for a great dessert!)

Dressings & Condiments:
Salad Dressings/Mayo (Look for olive oil or avocado oil based – I love Primal Kitchen)
Mustard, Salsa, Hot sauce, Vinegars, Sea salt, pepper & all seasonings

For Baking/Cooking:
Almond Flour (for bread doughs, pizza crusts, bagels, cookies
Monkfruit Sweetener (a natural, low glycemic sugar)
Cacao Nibs (use in place of chocolate chips in cookies or add to yogurt)

Snacks:
Pork Rinds (take ’em or leave ’em, but it’s nice to have a crunchy snack & something to use as a “dunker” with your favorite dips & spreads.

Whisps (Baked cheese snacks)
Moon Cheese (Another delicious cheese snack)

Drinks:
Water is essential to making this lifestyle work.  At least half your body weight, in ounces, is recommended, but more never hurts!  Plain water can get a little boring after a while, so I use these 2 products to spruce things up:

Stur: These all-natural, sugar-free, zero calorie sweeteners come in awesome flavors & use stevia instead of  the chemical sweeteners found in MIO & others.
True Orange (& Lemon… & Grapefruit!): Love these little all-natural packets to flavor my water (and also my favorite low carb beer!)

Coffee & tea (unsweetened of course) are also regulars for me.  Coffee prepared with grass-fed butter, MCT oil (or coconut oil) & heavy whipping cream provides a great breakfast alternative & will keep you full right up until lunchtime!  You know I love my coffee and you know my fave… Keto Coffee from It Works 😉

One last word on drinks… Alcohol.  The good news is that Vodka has 0 carbs & is just under 100 calories per 1oz shot.  It’s the mixers you have to watch out for… no fruit juice, no flavored sodas, no syrupy cordials.  But you can have all the club soda & seltzer you want, topped with a squeeze of lemon or lime, so that’s a winner in my book!  Dry wines are also allowed, in limited quantity.  New brands like FitVine Wine, a low carb, lower sugar variety have helped keep me on track. 🙂

So Should You Try It?
I’m not a doctor, a health professional or even a nutritionist, and I don’t think this way of eating is for everyone, but if you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake, need to lose weight, want more energy or are simply trying to eat healthier, it’s worth giving it a try!

Need a little push?  Here are some of my “keto-friendly” meals… I’m definitely not missing anything!

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Follow me on Instagram @tripsandtastes for recipes and more!  And please feel free to post any questions below.  Thanks!

First I Drink the Coffee, Then I Do the Things

If I had to pick a favorite morning ritual, unfortunately it wouldn’t be a trip to the gym, or waking up and enjoying a nice hot shower, or sitting down and reading the daily news.  In my little world there is no question that a proper morning cannot begin without a creamy, delicious cup of hot coffee. Bonus points are awarded if I’m sipping it outside on a balcony somewhere, and double bonus points if there’s a water view involved. 😉

20180729_074609There’s just something about that first taste… that warmth that travels to my stomach & awakens my brain.  I look forward to it each & every day, from the moment I open my eyes.  Lately, I even find myself getting up extra early so I can savor my quiet cup before anyone in the house has begun to stir.  I head out to the upstairs deck off my bedroom, where I slowly awaken in a perfectly arranged little sitting area that has become my haven.

Not only is the coffee itself precious, but the perfect mug or cup enhances the experience as well.  I prefer one on the lager side, with a comfortable handle & a sturdy bottom.  I love finding cute quotes, beautiful pics or something that makes me laugh.  My son has added a few to my collection, making me a very happy mom in the morning.

 

IMG_20161115_084712If addition to the perfect brew & the appropriate cup, location is what really seals the deal. My absolute favorite spot is sitting on a cruise ship balcony, watching the sun come up, surrounded by an aqua blue sea – there is simply nothing better.  Second prize goes to a hotel balcony, looking out at the beach or a cool city view.  But my own little deck does the job as well – providing a peaceful place for me to begin my day.


I don’t recall my parents being overly-dependent on coffee while I was growing up, but I do remember my grandparents’ unbroken morning ritual. I would wake to the sounds & smells of my grandmother’s percolator chugging away… a symphony that would bring their morning to life. To this day, that rhythmic sound surrounds me in warm memories of the times I spent in their many homes, in addition to various hotel rooms, as my grandmother never left home without that pot!

IMG_20180611_091210_029My coffee life began with a very basic automatic drip machine and was eventually replaced with one of the best inventions ever… the Keurig. I can’t tell you the number of times that efficient little device has saved my sanity in the morning!  When I feel fancy, I whip out my French Press, but these days I’ve simply been using the Keurig’s hot water feature to concoct my beloved, Keto Coffee – an actual instant mixture of ground French robusto beans, MCTs oils, grass-fed butter & a dose of collagen, which I blend with heavy whipping cream, cinnamon & a dash of turmeric.  It sounds elaborate, but is really quite simple and the rich creamy taste satisfies like no other.

IMG_20180523_211556_438I usually enjoy just that one cup in the morning, with a possible second if I have the time. Every once in a while I’ll grab a cappuccino in the afternoon from my local Cafe Volan, or a decaf after dinner to settle a particularly heavy meal.  I’m one of those people with a fairly high sensitivity to caffeine, so my “cut-off” time falls roughly around 3pm or I’ll find myself staring at the ceiling at 3am, contemplating all the world’s problems.

I’m enjoying my faithful cup right now as I write this, and am slowly gaining the strength to face the day.  I’m thankful for these quiet morning moments… and hope that everyone who appreciates this delightful brew is savoring every sip!

Don’t Forget Facebook!

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I haven’t been neglecting my blog on purpose, I’ve just been finding it easier to post little snippets directly on Facebook lately!  Recipes, articles, travel tips & recommendations can all be found there, when I’m not on here!  So please “Like, Follow & Share” my Facebook page, Trips and Tastes and be sure to check out all my pics on Instagram as well!

Thanks for the love!

All-Inclusives… Yay or Nay?

20170801_063332I was inspired this morning by this great list of all-inclusive resorts published by Caribbean Journal. Some I have visited before & some have been on my bucket list for quite some time. I’m a huge fan of the all-inclusive concept & have been checking them out regularly since 1998 with our 1st trip to Sandals 🙂 They’re certainly not for everyone, but the ease with which they operate, and all they have to offer, makes them a no-brainer in my book.

Sandals Royal BahamianI’ve been to Sandals, Beaches, Excellence, Melia, Iberostar & several other all-inclusive chains, big and small. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the more laid back, less cookie-cutter resorts, without an overwhelming number of activities or the invigorating “party” atmosphere. It could just be that I’m getting old, but I like to think at this point in life, I’m more than capable of entertaining myself… lol. Don’t get me wrong, I always love some local, live music in the evening & I’ll never pass up a good snorkeling or boating excursion. But usually I’m just there to relax, read my book on the beach, do a little sightseeing & enjoy a delicious meal each night!

The beauty of an all-inclusive (AI) lies in its simplicity… one-stop-shopping if you will. Pick your resort & then enjoy everything a small beachside village would have to offer, without ever having to leave the property. You’ll have the option of fine dining from all nationalities, shops, a beautiful spa, a gym, a water sports center & more. Easy peasy.

Pineapple Beach Club

Perfect local entertainment!

With that said, it becomes more a matter of personal preference when selecting the perfect AI. For me, it’s all about the beach & the food. I don’t need a super luxurious room, a fancy spa or lots of theater-style shows, but those amenities are important to some, and widely available.  I enjoy a good “adults-only” resort (or at least an adult “section”), but when traveling with my son, I need to adjust our requirements a little and include a good pool & an active kids club.

AIs are found mostly in Mexico and the Caribbean with an extreme number on the Yucatan Peninsula & in the Dominican Republic. You definitely get what you pay for, however sometimes the brand name alone, dictates a higher price but not necessarily a better experience. It’s important to read reviews & be clear on what type of resort you’re looking for. Here are a few things to consider:

Size of the resort.  AKA… how far do you want to walk to the beach or to dinner.  Layout plays a part here as well… some resorts lie parallel to the beach, while others form a long, perpendicular strip from the main road to the sea.  Another trend seems to be combining multiple properties into one, creating a huge mecca of dining options, pools, etc.   It all depends on what you need to keep you entertained and your mobility level.

Variety (and quality) of restaurants. If a buffet for breakfast & lunch and a few a la carte options for dinner are sufficient, any AI will do.  However, if you want access to room service, need to order breakfast off a menu or would like a high-end French meal for dinner, you’ll need to stay on the upper end of things. Some of the smaller resorts may only have 2 or 3 restaurants, but if their focus is on quality, you should still receive an excellent variety of fresh & creative food.  Some of the best food I’ve had at an AI was at the Excellence Punta Cana last year… here’s just a snapshot of the types of items available at the BREAKFAST buffet!

Room accommodations.  Do you want to be next to the ocean? Do you need your own swim-out pool? Are 2 beds a requirement?  As with all resorts, most AIs offer a large variety of rooms and the cost will most likely be determined by the view & proximity to the beach.  Many AIs now also offer an exclusive section (usually adults only), that includes a private stretch of beach, select restaurants and other upgraded amenities – it’s up to you to determine if this extra expense is necessary.  Reading resort reviews on TripAdvisor or other trusted sites, is the best way to find this out for each particular resort.  Here’s a perfect example… our room at the smaller, Pineapple Beach Club in Antigua wasn’t the most luxurious, but it literally sat on the water, with a huge balcony… I couldn’t have asked for anything better!


Location.  Do you want to explore the town/culture/sights or just stay put? Some of the best resorts are often farther from any centralized “downtowns” or local hot spots.  Consider your sightseeing needs when making our selection.  Also, depending on the length of your stay, you’ll want to consider the drive time to & from the airport.  In Cancun, for example, most resorts are on the main strip, with a quick, 20-min ride from the airport.  If you venture out towards the Riviera Maya area, however, you’re looking at 45 mins to an hour.  For shorter trips, the closer the better, but if you have the time, the ride is often worth it.

All-inclusives offer something for everyone and are often easier when traveling with kids or a larger group. It’s also nice to pay for everything up front & not have to worry about extra expenses once you arrive (other than trips to the spa, gift shop or unplanned excursions). Personally, I like to make as few taxing decisions as possible when I’m on vacation, so the concept works wonderfully well for me.  The only way you’ll know for sure, is to do your homework, get recommendations from friends & try it out!

Here are a few links to some of my favorites:

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Melia Caribe Tropical – Larger, well-established resort in Punta Cana.  Go for the upgraded “Level” if you’re leaving the kids at home 😉
Excellence Punta Cana – Beautiful, adults-only resort.  Amazing food & my favorite stretch of beach.
Iberostar Costa Dorada – Smaller, open-air resort on the north coast of the D.R.  Great food & service.

COSTA RICA
Flamingo Beach Resort – Experience “pura vida” at this laid back, boutique resort.  Soon to become a part of the Margaritaville chain… hoping that doesn’t spoil the atmosphere.  Here are some pics from last year’s visit 🙂

ANTIGUA
Pineapple Beach Club & Galley Bay – Both part of the Elite Island Resorts chain… Visited the quaint Pineapple this year (here’s my review), looking to try the more upscale Gally Bay soon!