Sunday, June 29, 2008

Honeymooning in Cancun, Mexico

After the wedding, we honeymooned in Cancun, Mexico. We stayed at the Cancun Palace, an all-inclusive resort right on the beach. Vince’s cousin owns a timeshare which we were able to take advantage of for our trip, the only downside being the fact that we were referred to by a completely different last name throughout the entire week! (Good, bad, whatever you make of it).

We flew out from Albany on Sunday morning, with a layover in Charlotte. We had a couple of hours to kill right around lunchtime, though unfortunately there were slim pickings for a gluten free diet. We found a restaurant that served nachos with corn tortillas, and I had a cup of chili while Vince had a salad. The rest of the flight wasn’t too bad, and we arrived in Mexico ready for a week-long vacation.

Well, we were absolutely thrilled with the Cancun Palace. The resort was gorgeous, featuring a huge swimming pool literally right on top of the ocean, four restaurants to choose from, and several nighttime activities. When the staff found out we were on our honeymoon they upgraded our room with a pool/beach view. The first thing we did was go down to check out the resort and the beach, and we quickly made our way to the Mexican restaurant at the resort.

I had been a little nervous about the language barrier going into the country, and I had picked up a pocket-sized Mexican Spanish reference just to be on the safe side. (I was impressed to see the phrase “I am allergic to gluten” right in the book). Of course, Vince and I were blessed to have not one but three members of our wedding party who were fluent in Spanish, but do you think we though to ask them anything for a cheat sheet? Of course not! Still, it wasn’t a problem at all. Everyone in the resort spoke English, and once they found out about his special dietary needs they passed along the information to all of the restaurants, etc.

Unfortunately, of the four restaurants we had to stay away from two restaurants, the Asian teppanyaki restaurant and the Italian restaurant. We didn’t think it was that big of a deal though because we could choose from a Mexican restaurant, and an international buffet for every meal. And let’s face it, who goes to Mexico for good Italian food?

The Mexican restaurant was great. We ate most of our meals there throughout the week, and every night at dinner they’d start us off with a plate of appetizers. All sorts of interesting food – an array of miniature tostadas topped with everything from guacamole to refried beans to pico de gallo to flank steak, tamales, taquitos, ceviche, etc. For dinner we could choose from tacos (Vince’s favorite were mushroom and cheese tacos, while I was partial to the pork and pineapple tacos), quesadillas, kebabs, or a whole bunch of other choices. All of the tortillas were made from corn flour and were safe to eat, and everything was absolutely delicious – I think the experience would have ruined Taco Bell for us, if they had a gluten free menu! Our other discovery at the Mexican restaurant: frozen amaretto sours – yum!

The International restaurant at the resort was a buffet. We went there almost every day for breakfast, where you could choose from a continental breakfast of coffee, sweet rolls and fruit, to a traditional American breakfast of eggs or an omelet, meat and potatoes, to a wide variety of interesting Mexican dishes. And of course, tortilla chips were served with every meal.

On Wednesday night of our stay, the resort put together a special “romantic” dinner for honeymooners and other couples celebrating special occasions like anniversaries. They served a five course meal – I don’t quite remember what the appetizer was, but then they served a hearts of romaine salad, rose petal soup, an entrée choice of chicken or stuffed fish, and a chocolate heart dessert. Everything was paired with champagne, and attentive servers were always there to fill your glass. (That was actually true of the entire resort experience – we had to be careful to tell them when we were “cut off” so to speak!) While neither Vince nor I were crazy about the rose petal soup (though it was interesting to try), and I was the only one who partook of the chocolate dessert, everything else was delicious.

When we ate off the resort, it was generally on tours we booked through the resort. All-day trips to places such as the Riviera Maya or the snorkeling adventure we signed up for included lunch, which usually consisted of traditional Mexican food, tacos, rice, beans, etc. We also visited the La Isla mall in Cancun – the gorgeous outdoor mall with everything from tourist traps to duty free stores to high-end designer shops. We shared nachos and soda at a place called Come-n-eat and tasted Bailey’s flavored ice cream at Haagen Daaz. (We don’t normally treat ourselves to places like Haagen Daaz, so I didn’t know that Bailey’s is one of their typical flavors).

Unfortunately by the end of our trip I had come down with a stomach bug – quickly resolved by the doctors on call at the resort, multiple injections and what seemed like an entire pharmacy’s worth of prescription pills later. While we didn’t have to be careful at the resort (all their water and ice was purified), I was very careful when we ate off the resort. I have my suspicions where I may have gotten sick off the resort, but since it’s way too late at this point to know for sure, that’s all I’ll say!

With the exception of that last day, Vince and I had an amazing time on our honeymoon. Everything was beautiful and perfect, and we’d love to get the opportunity to visit Mexico again!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Gluten Free Wedding

Well, it’s been quite a long while since my last entry. I was caught up in all sorts of last-minute wedding details, and then had my wedding and honeymoon. The wedding was absolutely amazing. Everything was perfect, everyone was beautiful, and our guests had a great time. However, this being a food blog, I’m going to focus on what we ate.

First of all – we had our ceremony and reception at the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia, NY. Let me tell you, if you’re planning a wedding in the Capital Region, go there. Maria, the wedding coordinator, was extremely organized and capable, and she – along with the rest of her staff – made sure everything went off without a hitch.

That said – one of the major obstacles we faced during the entire wedding planning process was my husband’s diagnosis with celiac disease. I know I’ve said this before, but finding that out right after going to a wedding cake tasting is a cruel twist of fate. Still, after finding out about his new gluten-free lifestyle, we made an appointment with Maria at Glen Sanders. We had already selected the menu for our guests, which included a Peppercorn & Herb Crusted Chateaubriand and Chicken Française with Jumbo Tuscan Shrimp. However, she and the chefs were extremely accommodating and worked with us to create a second, gluten free menu for my husband.

Several of the appetizers served during cocktail hours, such as the shrimp cocktail and the cheese platter, were naturally gluten free. The chefs arranged some special hors d'oeuvres for my husband, including brie & spinach stuffed mushrooms and chicken satay, as well as gluten-free variations of the hors d'oeuvres passed to the rest of the guests during cocktail such as the scallops wrapped in pancetta. The waitress assigned to us (yes, I told you they pulled out all the stops) brought him plates of appetizers separated from the rest of the food to avoid any cross-contamination.

During our dinner, instead of the jumbo stuffed ravioli we served our guests, my husband had an antipasto sampler, and since he had his heart set on the chicken and fish dinner we’d originally selected, we came up with a grilled and marinated chicken and shrimp dish with white rice and green beans. He was extremely satisfied with his meal choice and afterwards reported that everything was delicious.

However – that’s not even the best part! Glen Sanders’ wedding packages include a cake from Villa Italia. We’d already selected a yellow cake with lemon cream filling and whipped cream frosting, in this beautiful three-tiered design with butter cream flowers. Considering the fact that my husband doesn’t eat chocolate, it was a perfect cake for us, and again he’d had his heart set on this combination – that took us an afternoon of sampling to decide upon.

Now it goes without saying that cake is not generally on a gluten-free diet. However, we worked with a wonderful woman named Tricia at Villa Italia, and they gave us a 6” round gluten free cake to add on to our wedding cake. My husband wanted the same flavor cake – or as close as possible – to what we already picked out, and they delivered! The yellow cake was slightly darker than a “normal” yellow cake because of the different flours, but it was light and delicious, and, speaking as someone who ate both the gluten free cake (when we fed each other cake) and a piece of “regular” cake, they tasted exactly the same. Not to mention absolutely gorgeous!

The rest of this round is safely tucked away in my in-laws' freezer (not only don't we have a lot of freezer space in our apartment, but we'd already have broken down and eaten the rest by now, not to mention our first anniversary, if it was within five miles of us).

All in all we had a wonderful experience. It was such a relief to know that my husband’s dietary needs were taken care of (that’s the last day in the world you want to get sick!) and everything was handled in such a professional and classy manner. I don’t want this blog entry to come off sounding too much like an advertisement, but wow – I can’t praise Glen Sanders or Villa Italia enough for their service on the most important day of our lives.

Stay tuned for my next blog entry – eating gluten free in Mexico!