Browse Month: November 2010

Fun gift idea: coloring books

I found a perfect gift for my oldest sister. Farah, who is incredibly artistic and did many wonderful sketches and drawings throughout her youth, is incapable of holding a piece of paper without drawing on it in some way. Magazines featuring humans, for instance, will quickly be drawn over, features and clothing altered and re-colored, hairstyles changed etc. I frequently buy coloring books for Farah’s son–my beloved nephew and godson–but she usually ends up coloring in them herself; she finds it relaxing. My love for Farah is devoted and and unconditional, but this uncontrollable tendency of hers to alter printed matter keeps me from lending her certain reading materials of mine…

My gold medal find for her: Rosie Flo’s coloring book, a coloring book with drawings of dresses and accessories. The drawings are headless and limbless–you draw them in and then color the image as you see fit. It’s one of a few coloring books created by British illustrator and designer Roz Streeten. Streeten says she originally created them for her little girls who were always asking her to draw dresses for them to color. In the US, you can get them at Amazon and they cost $8.99– in my opinion, an affordable and unique gift or stocking stuffer for a child or for the creative grown-up who has no hang-ups about enjoying things intended for kids (i.e. yours truly, and her sister Farah).

One of Rosie Flo's coloring books
A sample page from the Rosie Flo book

Thanksgiving Wishes

Some hae meat and canna eat, –
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit
~Robert Burns

I’m giving thanks from the Carolinas this year. I wish you all a Thanksgiving holiday filled with good times and much contentment.

My nephew and I in my aunt's backyard. Carolina for the Thanksgiving holidays.

I love my antler bottle opener.

I love my antler bottle opener. Upon first seeing it at Anthropologie, we assumed it was made of resin, but nope, they’re real antlers. Dasher and Dancer weren’t harmed in the making of the product–it’s made with dropped antlers, the ones that male deer shed every year. Due to the nature of how they’re made with whatever’s found on the ground or in the snow, the openers vary in size and appearance. I happily went home with this one.

Shed antler bottle opener

The “Don’t bother to Travel” Channel

I was watching a program and saw a commercial for a brand new show set to start on the Travel Channel (don’t know the launch date or time, and in all honesty wouldn’t share it if I did). It’s called When Vacations Attack. Premise? ‘You spend years planning for your dream vacation, and then it turns into something you’ll never forget,’ i.e. you fall off the cliff where you were hiking, your leg gets bitten off while you’re snorkeling, your hot air balloon drifts into electrical lines, etc. You get the picture. It’s a “reality show” featuring people’s home videos about their vacations gone catastrophic. It’s similar to another shock programming show I don’t watch, Monsters Inside Me, (a show I talked about on my blog a while back HERE) which is about parasites ruining people’s lives, except in this show, the vacations do the dirty work.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m an extremely positive and upbeat person. I would simply like tv to be a little more positive and upbeat too. There are three programs on the Travel Channel that I think are well worth watching: No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and Samantha Brown’s different shows. The first two are food-centric (the pleasant and brilliant Andrew Zimmern being my favorite of the two, as Bourdain’s too-cool-for-school attitude gets in the way sometimes) and Samantha’s show has a traditional format–she goes to various places around the globe and engages in plenty of activities both on and off the beaten path. These three are great travelers–great personalities, good humor, no stupid stunts, and they communicate a real sense of the place they’re visiting.

The rest of the shows on the Travel Channel are repackaged programming about hotdog-eating contests, fancy bathrooms across America, and other such nonsense. It’s kind of pathetic that on an entire network devoted to travel, there is very little travel-centric programming of quality. The following titles are actual shows that air over and over on the Travel Channel: Extreme Truckstops, Extreme Bathrooms, Extreme Fast Food, Extreme Pig-outs, 101 Chowdown Countdowns Pizza Wars, Barbecue Wars, Hamburger Wars, Ghost Stories, Steak Paradise: A Second Helping, Hotdog Paradise, Breakfast Paradise, Sandwich Paradise, Deep-fried Paradise, Doughnut Paradise, Bacon Paradise. All silly shows about people over-indulging in this and that.

Where are the non-sensationalistic programs that inspire viewers to check out different places, whether closeby or far away? Give me travel programming that highlights the different peoples, cultures, and beauty of the world. Give me programming that shows different sorts of travel. Lose the “angle.” Lose the extreme “edge.” I don’t need you to dumb down the world to get me interested in it.

So thanks, Travel Channel. You saw that you had a time slot available in your schedule and instead of using that time to show us places around the US and the world, and different manners of travel, you’ll be using it for shock programming. This one’s sure to inspire viewers to venture out their front doors.

The following is an ad for the show, taken from Youtube. The only bit of advertising for the show you’ll see from me.

Bookstore Find: Tales of Old Florida

The silence, the solitude, the wild grandeur of this bit of sea-girt wilderness was most impressive, and the sparkling water, the glistening sands filled with shell fragments, the beach-drift, and the harmonious blending of color in the rich, rank vegetation, I recall, even now, with pleasure. I tried to imprison it all upon a 6.5 x 8.5 plate. The negative made is a superb one, but the sentiment of the picture was too subtle, too evanescent, to catch and hold.” – from the article “Subtropical Florida” by Charles Richards Dodge, 1894

After browsing the bargain racks at my local bookstore, I recently became the glad owner of Tales of Old Florida. This book is a fat hardcover collection of old magazine and newspaper articles written about Florida: its terrain, waters, flora and fauna; and the ins and outs of life, travel, and sport there. All of the articles and essays were written between 1870 and 1911, and most include illustrations, engravings, and photographs of the period. It turns out it’s available on Amazon too.

The articles are wonderfully varied: “My Winter Game Bag in Florida” (1890), “Trailing the Sea Bat” (1900), “Following Audubon among the Florida Keys” (1903), “The Angler’s Battle Royal” (1903), “In a Grove of Oranges” (1909), “Snapper Fishermen of the Gulf” (1904), “The Haps and Mishaps of a Florida Maroon” (1894), “Our Florida Garden” (1910), and “Six Weeks in Florida” (written in 1870, and one of my favorites in the book) among many others. Some essays are devoted to fishing, a few are gator-centric, a few bird-centric. There are pieces about various activities such as boating and cruising, turtle hunting, and the livelihood of “spongers,” the men who fish out sponges from the sea. Much is said about the land itself and the people.

There is a strong sense of wild Florida in these articles–the clean slate that it was, overrun only with vegetation and wildlife until fairly recently. There is an undeniable feel of abundance, the kind that can only exist in a pristine and sparsely populated place. Charmingly and sometimes glaringly, the articles communicates the staunch pronouncements of the unapologetic adventurer. Political correctness? Not always abounding (‘how happy they were–those dusky-faced children of our far South! Does the Caucasian ever attain that height of pure animal gladness? And they accompanied all with shouts and melodious howls from the seventh heaven of negro joy.’) If you’re the knee-jerk type who dismisses people entirely for such statements, please get over it, for this uncensored storytelling from a bygone era is precious and revealing. The content of these writings is too important to chuck out the window just because the delivery is sometimes out of fashion. Being that the book is a collection of articles from various voices–writers, travelers, sportsmen, etc over some three decades, a wide array of moods and attitudes is represented, from awe to humorous disdain, from a God-given sense of entitlement to restraint.

On the bow of the boat, and in fact all over the boat, wicked people had stationed themselves with all sorts of fire-arms, firing at every helpless creature they could see…these men sat there and fired at the beautiful birds, which by the thousands inhabit the river-bank and the swamps; now and then getting a shot at an alligator; but in no single instance did they hope to fulfill that first requirement of a sportsman–never to shoot at game which you can not bring away. If the officers of the boat can not stop this mean business, the game laws of the State ought to be put in force to the condign punishment of the offenders.’ – “Six Weeks in Florida,” 1870

Some of the information is cringeworthy. Sportsman and writer John Mortimer Murphy’s 1899 piece “Alligator Shooting in Florida” is incredibly fascinating and informative, giving great description of alligators (and crocs–we have both in South Florida) and their habits, details of the manner in which they were hunted, and some interesting discussions such as the contrived process of photographing sportsmen with their kills: “the novices who kill large alligators…generally like to have themselves and their victims photographed  [and] also seem anxious to get a lady or two into the group, and no picture is thought complete without the usual black butcher engaged in flaying the carcass.” He makes mention of the animal’s steadily diminishing numbers (this is no longer the case today), estimating that in Florida around 250,000 gators were being killed each year for salted hides, tourism and sport. In a bit of irony, he follows that discussion with a description of his personal bests: twenty-eight alligators dead from his rifle on one particular day “though [he] shot several more;” his highlight performance: one evening when he killed seventeen with a shotgun; his most difficult quarry: one alligator “which carried thirteen of [his] 40-60 rifle cartridges,” the nine-foot-plus-long animal’s head full of bullet holes by the end of a four-hour battle. It is useless to be harshly critical and judgmental; what’s done is done, and Murphy probably wasn’t the worst man of his time. Still, the little gray cells can’t help but reel sometimes…

There’s plenty to make you chuckle: “Let us imagine ourselves at Key West…There is very little of interest here to hold the tourist.” Of course, when Mr. Dodge wrote those words back in 1894, Jimmy Buffett’s mother wasn’t even a zygote. How could he have predicted how lively that “uninteresting” little Florida island would become?

Anyhow, it’s a really great read (and nicely priced at $9.99)–a nice window into settings and attitudes of a not-so-distant past. Very enjoyable if you’re into history, land pre-development, sport and hunting, fish and wildlife, etc. Or an enjoyable gift for someone you know who’s into history, land pre-development…

A cup of citronelle

Lemongrass, AKA citronelle in francophone countries. I love this grass. In stores, I often see teas that market themselves as ‘lemongrass tea,’ or I come across packets of dried lemongrass. Unfortunately, these are just too weak if you’re used to freshly cut stalks. Fortunately, it’s an easy plant to keep; it grows nicely in pots, and almost too well in the ground.

My family’s always kept citronelle in the garden. It does well here, thanks to the Sunshine State’s warm, humid climate. Ours is kept in a pot, and it’s always got enough stalks for a big pot of tea.

Citronelle in pot

I came across some recipes for citronelle tea online–they’ve got a bunch of unnecessary steps: there’s all this business about peel this off to avoid bitterness and toxicity yada yada yada, and use only this part of the stalk and cut that part of the grass up into little tiny pieces, and blah blah blah. Then most of these people have you pouring boiling water over cut-up dried bits of lemongrass and letting that steep for five minutes before drinking. Well, we were never aware of toxicity and bitterness, so neither we nor anyone we knew ever did any of that. And only five minutes of contact between the grass and the hot water–why even bother? Just take some scissors or a sharp knife, grab a small handful of fresh stalks and make a clean cut at the base of the stalks. Rinse them and tie them in a bunch and put it in a kettle or pot with water, and then turn on the heat. I let it go at a rolling boil for about ten minutes, then turn off the heat and let it steep for as long as I can wait  to get a rich golden color and super concentrated lemongrass flavor. I usually put brown sugar in mine since this is a tea that I like sweet. This is how I’ve drunk fresh lemongrass tea my entire life and I’m alive and kicking. Oh, so get yourself a lemongrass plant.

Lemongrass knot

A cup of citronelle briefly takes me to Haiti, where this tea is a diet mainstay. The unmistakable smell and flavor call to mind quiet peaceful moments on that island–moments that are few and far between in my mother country these days.

I’m just here for the food (and wine).

I had some fun and yummy playtime in Orlando recently. I was there last week for rest and relaxation, and to enjoy one of my favorite events, Disney’s annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. My husband and I checked into Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. How I love this place–its beautiful decor, its lively yet peaceful atmosphere, its welcoming lobby filled with many comfy seating areas. It’s also got a great swimming pool (which it shares with its lovely sister resort, the Beach Club): a set of free-form sand-bottom pools, one of which is a lazy river. Aside from being my favorite Disney resort (along with the Grand Floridian), Yacht Club is ideal for Food and Wine because it’s a short walk from Epcot’s World Showcase, which is the staging area for the festival. Driving to and from a wine festival? I don’t think so…

Part of Yacht Club's lobby, where I spend lots of time reading and relaxing

Countries represented this year with food, wine, and spirit selections were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Poland, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, and the US. There were also some specialty booths like a Hops & Barley booth featuring different Sam Adams beers and New England fare, a Desserts and Champagne booth, a Charcuterie and Cheese booth, and a Brewer’s Collection booth featuring more beers from around the world. Everything happens around the Epcot Theme Park’s World Showcase, and you can stroll from place to place buying tapas-sized dishes and drinks along the way (this food festival experience is not to be confused with another common Epcot activity known by Disney-goers as “drinking around the world” which involves buying glasses of different wine and spirits from each of the Showcase shops; “drinking around the world” can be done at any time of year, and ought to be done with restrained glee).

Yes, it was searing hot outside. Yes, as you might be able to tell from this photo, I was sweating profusely. No, the very spicy bison chili and wine didn't cool me down.

In addition to the many food and wine booths, there were plenty of food and wine pairing seminars, culinary demonstrations, dessert and pastry demonstrations, wine schools, cheese seminars, tequila tastings, and general eating/drinking parties, many of these presented by some well known chefs and winemakers. We went to two events–one food-related and one wine-related–which I’ll post about soon. We only managed two events because time was so limited and had to be carefully divided between sunbathing and eating/drinking.

If you’re curious, I ate the following: a wheat berry dish and seared beef tenderloin with sweet potato, Nürnberger sausage wrapped in a pretzel roll, bison chili, barramundi and grilled lambchop, cured Spanish meats, a parmentier of Cab-braised beef (essentially France’s version of a shepherd’s pie), flourless chocolate cake with Baileys Irish Cream ganache, cheddar cheese and bacon soup, maple-glazed salmon, and a nanaimo bar (these three from Canada’s booth),  lamb sliders, some pear streusel pudding cake and a strawberry verrine from the dessert booth, pork and farofa, and finally, that ridiculously delicious piece of Chilean heaven known here on Earth as pastel de choclo. Thanks to severe food allergies (shellfish and peanut), I couldn’t try any seafood dishes, which accounted for many of the selections; too bad, they were delicious–so I’m told by my husband. But I’m not complaining; I very much enjoyed what I ate. I tried to stick to things I don’t usually prepare at home. Some booths were more inspired than others. As for wines, we research and experiment often enough with wine on our own, and I can’t say any wine I tried at the festival was new to me (aside from some wonderfully surprising fruit wines that I tried for the first time at the wine seminar I attended) but the selections were very decent and the booths usually had around three different wines showcasing popular varietals of the countries represented; I had one or two at each booth.

My lamb slider

I love this festival for its food, for the chance it gives me to eat things that are either tough to find or too time-consuming to prepare regularly, and for its laid-back, down to earth atmosphere. It gets better each year. I managed to come across only a small handful of pretentious @ssholes. The 2010 Food & Wine Festival King of @ssholes is a man who was seated near me at breakfast at my hotel one morning. He was some “bigshot” (in quotes to reflect his self-important, louder-than-necessary manner of speaking) wine sales rep who was having a business meeting/meal with a Disney restaurant/bar executive. He was in high sales pitch mode hammering on about the marketability of South American and South African wines, etc and talked about how for work, he had to travel to Chile and Argentina for winery tours and wine “education” (in quotes because… well, I’m far too kind to say why) etc. He then made this mortifying statement about his last five-week trip to South America: and I quote…drumroll please…. “I was shocked by how good the food was there! I mean, I just kept wondering ‘how the heck did you people figure out how to make such good food?!'” I nearly spit my coffee out.

There’s live music entertainment every night during the festival; each act does three nights. The first night, Billy Ocean performed some of his hits–he sounds just as good as he sounded twenty-five years ago. I walked by him at my hotel; he was very soft-spoken and extremely pleasant and gracious with his fans. The other nights, Starship performed and their concert was great, and I admit that I sang my lungs raw during “We Built This City,” which has been voted ‘worst song ever’ by various establishments; I have a soft spot for this ‘worst song ever’…

There were some great eats and I would have liked seconds or thirds of a number of dishes–the grains and wheat berries dish from the South African booth, the parmentier, the bison stew, among many others, but there just wasn’t time when there was so much to try and frankly, there wasn’t enough room in my belly. I chose to do most of my eating in the evening because it was scorching hot during the day, and high heat plus rich foods plus alcohol are a combination that renders me somewhat useless and lethargic, but eating at night meant I had a shorter window because Epcot closes pretty early (9 pm). I need more days next time. I did give into one desire though: on my last night, I hightailed it around the park towards the Chilean stand and made it three minutes before closing time–just enough time to buy another pastel de choclo, which I carried back to my resort and enjoyed slowly on a park bench overlooking the boardwalk. And yes, I moaned in pleasure every single time I took a bite.

Sidenote: while strolling around Epcot, I took a short break from eating and drinking and looked for the TARDIS, but all I found was a red phone booth.

Tardis's disowned faulty red little brother

Bummed about my failed search. But the very next day, I caught a glimpse of this spoonful of sugar…

Um diddle diddle diddle...

Cabin fever–so long, farewell…

Autumn’s the mellow time. – William Allingham

Cab·in fe·ver [kab-in fee-ver] (noun) – extreme irritability and restlessness from living in isolation or a confined indoor area for a prolonged time; origin: 1918, Americanism.

Blessed Fall. In October, after an extended steamy summer, we usually experience the first twinge of coolness in the air down here in South Florida. Cabin fever starts to go away. South Florida’s cabin fever works opposite from cold-weather places for obvious reasons–we want to be indoors, AC on, during the hot months (of which there are MANY); we don’t want to be outside unless we’re submerged in some cool refreshing body of water. Once the barometer dips down, we all want get the heck out of our houses. There are the glimpses of pumpkin patches and gourds and squash, which make you squeal like a 5-year-old girl (well, they make me squeal anyway, but I admit that I’m obsessed with pumpkin/squash–wondrous thing, this fruit family!). Some of us get excited about Halloween. People decorate their homes with Fall signage in earnest. November’s come along and it’ll be more of the same greatness, with steadily cooler spells and the Thanksgiving holiday.

Cooler air, light breezes, pumpkins, and festivities. Cabin fever–so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu. ***Please click to enlarge photos.***

In Autumn, great stuff comes out of the ground and my grocery store has the best stuff ever:

A little pumpkin patch near me
Fall goodness at the store

In Autumn, Floridians are willing to sit outside for extended periods of time, even for complex, artfully directed family portraits:

Porch people
Fall family portrait

In Autumn, people become the stuff of their dreams:

Nephew - fallen ninja
Halloween in the backyard

In Autumn, South Florida begins to dry out just enough to make that dreamy, grassy, marshy, watery place of ours accessible again:

Everglades residents
An Everglades gator plays peek-a-boo

Concerning Halloween costumes…

I haven’t worn a Halloween costume in years–the last few Halloweens have been completely devoted to my beloved nephew/godson’s enjoyment. I told myself earlier this year that Halloween 2010 would be different; whether I attended a party or not, I would wear a costume.

My original plan: ghillie suit. Really wanted to wear this hunter/sniper getup while taking my nephew trick-or-treating, was hoping to scare the kids in his neighborhood. I was intending to enlist the help of my mother, who has sewn clothing her entire life, in putting it together. Why this didn’t work out: price of materials was out of my budget.

Ghillie suit. One day, Chewbacca, I swear it...

Next option: Flapper. Why this didn’t work out: I couldn’t find a nice tea-length dropped-waist dress that I liked, and this was the typical fashion of the Flapper, so no cigar–I’m of the mindset that a Halloween costume should be either hideous or flattering, not something in-between. Sidenote: in my searchings, I did rediscover a gorgeous ivory lace dropped-waist dress that my mother had sewn almost twenty-five years ago. I’ve always loved the dress and dear mummy’s given it to me. I’ll have it altered to a proper fit, and I’ll update the neckline, but I wasn’t going to repurpose a dress with such sentimental importance just for a Halloween costume.

Final option: Mish-mash outfit consisting of various accessories pointing to some non-specific time in the early twentieth century. Why this did work out: I found a mask and boa, which cost about $15 total. I put on long black gloves, a black dress I found in my old bedroom at my parents’ house, rummaged through my mom’s jewelry for colorful pieces, and tied one of her scarves around my forehead. It worked not only because it cost very little, but also because I think it’s fun to make as much of your Halloween getup as possible. Didn’t do much–took some pictures in my parents’ backyard with my nephew, took him trick-or-treating afterwards, then hung out with family, but a good time was had by all!

Final product? See below.

Spooky portrait: a bluish take on Lady Undead
My costume, put together on Halloween afternoon
My nephew and I, er, lady and the ninja.