Thursday, July 28, 2011

The State of the, er, My Garden

It's exasperating to turn on the TV lately and watch our elected officials behaving like spoiled toddlers. 'Nuff said. So, once I was done crafting well-wrought e-mails to my President, my Senators and Congressmen (which I am aware they will likely never see) I decided, in the spirit of "Que sera sera" to focus no longer upon the State of the Union, but upon the State of My Garden!

Certain favorite veggies in my garden happily thrive in any situation, even neglect, and so I just want to give a shout-out to this year's tomatoes, herbs, chinese long beans and some of my eggplant varieties. Two varieties of peppers would also have been included in this list, prolific in their pepper production as they were, but look at this great pepper massacre I stumbled upon yesterday! It is hard to tell in this photo exactly what is going on, since I've got no "before" photo for comparison. In a nutshell, this used to be a three-foot tall plant, covered in developing banana peppers and healthy leaves. Next to it was a shorter, but equally healthy plant, covered in sweet bonnet peppers. All the peppers were still green, but the photo on the seed pack looks like they should be red when ripe. Yesterday I found the plants eviscerated, with all branches and leaves torn off and the peppers discarded, unbitten, all around the remains of the plant. I collected the unripe peppers, and will find some way to use them, but isn't this a mystery? My leading suspect is a raccoon, because of the opposable thumbs and their ability to climb the garden fence. It's funny the criminal only wanted the stems and leaves, though, and not the peppers.

Now for some happier veggies -- look at my lovely "Hansel" eggplants. I see vegan eggplant parmesan, round two, in my future!

I love how this Chinese long bean vine has utilized the top of this eggplant stake. Fabulous, hardy and crafty, this plant never disappoints. Isn't it wonderful how it actually reaches across an expanse of air to find something to climb on? Excellent plant!

My herbs are so happy in their pot. I think they get just enough sun but not too much. Will you get a load of that oregano? This works well with my eggplant parmesan plan!

A big disappointment this year is that my neighbor's cypress trees are much taller now, so parts of my garden get hardly any sun. I will just have to plan better next year in my plant placement. The tomatoes, while prolific in production, are very slow to ripen because of the lack of sun. Several zucchini vines withered completely even after flowering. I have compassion for the little veggies who didn't make it, or who were MURDERED, but I've got to remember to celebrate the rock stars of my garden and be grateful!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

South Caribbean Vacay, Final Installment

Docked back in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after hours (!) of waiting in a line to go through customs, we decided we had to wolf down some local delicacies before embarking on the sightseeing jaunt we had missed at the beginning of our trip. Above is a photo of Platanos Maduros redux -- much more fresh and tender than the timbale-shaped version at the beginning of our journey. I was STARVING so I had to eat half of it before I remembered to snap this pic. This dish was so, so good. I still find myself dreaming about it!

We took a cab to Old San Juan (I'd love to spend a week in this locale alone - such a beautiful place!) so we could see the old fort. Isn't it lovely how the locals utilize this beautiful national treasure? Many were picnicking and flying kites.


'Kenzie administering one of her famous "bear-hugs" to Hans -- sweet!

Ancient . . .

Formidable . . .

Stunning! Time was too short. I would love to spend many more days exploring Old San Juan.

Back at our groovy hotel room by the beach (yes, that's what I said) we began getting a little blue that our amazing adventure was coming to an end.

We focused the remainder of our time together upon our beloved extended family members. Then, it was time to go.

Upon landing in Atlanta, my parents called me from San Jaun with the shocking news that, immediately after our cab left the hotel from the airport, the hotel was surrounded by the flashing lights of many local police cars. Apparently, while we slept in our groovy rooms, a murder was taking place in another room of the hotel! We did not hear anything. As we were eating breakfast, a chamber-maid was finding two men -- one deceased and one still alive but critical. They had been bound, gagged and shot, so the leading theory is that it was a targeted hit, most likely drug related. Yikes!

Oh well, I still want to go back.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

South Caribbean Vacay, Installment Four

Today I want to feature some photos from our ports of call on our fabulous cruise. A cruise is a great vehicle for a "sampling" of several different locales. It only affords a few short hours at each port, but that was enough for us to form some rudimentary opinions about the islands. We participated in excursions which allowed us a slightly deeper exposure than we would otherwise have had.

On St. Thomas, we enjoyed being part of a jeep caravan tour with walkie talkies. It was fun to have our own jeep to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. At times the mountainous terrain provided roller-coaster-like thrills.

This blurry photo perfectly captures the breakneck speed, the treacherous curves and bumps in the road.

This photo of our caravan doesn't adequately convey the sense of vertical climb we experienced. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you there were moments when it seemed we would roll over backward.

At the top of one of the mountains, we stopped for a restroom break and a photo opp. of Oprah Winfrey's compound. See the small island at the top of the photo? Right below the right edge of the island is a clump of white buildings. That's Oprah's compound. We enjoyed St. Thomas, a beautiful, mountainous island with friendly people. 

Here's a "bumper" photo, on board ship, in between islands. That's my daughter, Wynne on the left, and my niece, McKenzie, on the right.

On St. Kitts, a beautiful, raw, mountainous island with plenty of history, we enjoyed a short bus ride to a double-decker diesel train. The lower deck of the train was air conditioned and had a restroom and the upper deck was open air. Here is a very old cemetery containing the grave of Thomas Jefferson's great-grandfather. Did you know that Alexander Hamilton was born on St. Kitts?

The terrain of St. Kitts reminded me of Nicaragua.

These look like goats, but it turns out they are sheep! I guess sheep don't need so much wool in the tropics.

The raw beauty and history of St. Kitts were impressive, but we didn't care for the folks at the dock so much, who were very pushy, unlike what we found at our other ports of call. People tried to put monkeys in diapers on us so they could charge us for a photo. I felt sad for the monkeys. The natives see them as pests now, since they are garden marauders. The French brought the monkeys as pets to St. Kitts when they colonized it. They are not indigenous to the island.

And now for another "bumper" photo:

My parents -- aren't they cute?

Curacao! There's the lovely port with our home away from home, The Serenade of the Seas, in the background. 

We loved the town and port of Curacao, but were disappointed in this:

Yes, that's an oil rig right on a lovely beach. Our tour guide was very proud of the nearby oil refinery which provides economic stability for the people of Curacao. She also pointed out the KFC and McDonalds that were on the island to make us "tourists feel at home," going on to explain that the locals can't stand our food, but they entertain it for their economic benefit. Hmmm. Being judged doesn't sit well with me, but then I just judged them for their oil refinery, didn't I? In any case, the island was beautiful, and I was glad to have "sampled" it.

I was surprised to find I had not taken any photos of Aruba, but that was probably because we went snorkeling there, and so I was busy learning that skill and drinking rum punch. Aruba looks like a wonderful island, Oranjestad seems to be a fun, cosmopolitan city, and I look forward to spending a longer time there when possible.

Stay tuned for the final installment of our South Caribbean Vacay saga.

Friday, July 22, 2011

South Caribbean Vacay, Installment Three

Aboard the beautiful "Serenade of the Seas" (Royal Caribbean) we were amazed daily at the bountiful offerings. This is a shot of the restaurant where we ate most of our breakfasts and lunches. That's little McKenzie in the foreground in her sunhat.

As any good vegan should, I had called Royal Caribbean ahead of time to discuss what I should expect in the way of food and to take any suggestions. I spoke to a lovely lady who described in detail what I would find at the buffets and mentioned that at every meal there would be vegetarian, and gluten-free offerings. I told her that was impressive, but pressed further to ask about vegan offerings. The spokesperson was perplexed to find in the bylaws "absolutely no vegan meals will be prepared". She and I both agreed there must be more to that story, some kind of history/previous lawsuit or somesuch.  I explained that I wasn't expecting tempeh, or even tofu on the ship, only that I would like the assurance that I could find food not covered in dairy products. While I have my favorites at home (whole grains like quinoa or wild rice with lots of dark green leafies) I can subsist on many different side dishes as long as dairy is not involved. I told her I was actually surprised that "lactose intolerant" was not honored in the way that "gluten intolerant" is. The gluten-free lobbyists must have been more vocal.

In any event, I was assured the buffets would provide plenty for me to choose from, and it was suggested that I speak with the maitre'd in the dining room about supper. I never did the latter, preferring to relax and "roll with" the offerings at hand. As it turned out, I had a vegetable curry with naan every night (the name of the dish and the veggies featured changed every evening) except for the night that pasta with marinara was featured. I was able to find a bit of variety at dinner with the salads and soups (an amazing green gazpacho was a highlight) The server asked why I chose the same thing every night and I explained that I'm vegan. Then she understood. I wanted for nothing actually. I was grateful for the curries, which were delicious, and I was mainly there to enjoy the experience and the pleasure of my family's company. I did eat something different at every breakfast and lunch, with salads, fruits, grains and beans of every kind featured prominently.

This was our first cruise and we were all bowled over by how much fun and how elegant it was.

Look what I found in the on board art gallery! "There's my girl!" I said (Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Diet" initially inspired my veganhood). So I had to take a photo of the photo.

Here, 'Kenzie and Wynne prepare to do some on board rock climbing. I think that's St. Thomas in the background.

Britton and Cathy at dinner

Hans and Braedon

Andres and my Dad clean up pretty well, don't they?

We enjoyed making friends with the staff, who hail from all over the world. Look at how our Stateroom Attendant, Elida, welcomed us back to our room one night! She utilized my daughter's Ray Bans. Elida lives in Managua, where my husband was born, and where we all have visited, so we had a lot to talk about.

A view off our balcony . . . A sailor's life for me!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

South Carribbean Vacay, Installment Two

 At the beginning of our journey, in San Juan, there was not much time or energy to do any sightseeing. We arrived around lunchtime, too early to check in, so we stashed our bags with the front desk and looked around for my Mom and Dad, my brother, Britton,  sister-in-law, Cathy, nephew Braedon and niece, McKenzie. They had all arrived in San Juan the day before. We did find everyone at the pool with a bucket of cervezas. We were all hungry, so we found a table for a quick lunch. Quesadillas, burgers and fish sandwiches were chosen by most.

I picked the most vegan item on the menu: guacamole, salsa and chips -- not health food, but vegan, as far as I could tell, and very, very delicious. The chips were plantain and root veggies, not tortillas. I regret I have no photo of the meal, which was very sustaining.

Once we got our room and our bags, we donned our bathing suits and took a dip in the Caribbean Sea! It was lovely, but after a full day of travel and a couple of beers I was ready to motivate for a little local flavor, None of us felt like venturing too far out, opting instead for a short walk from the hotel. The part of San Juan where our hotel was located reminded me very much of South Beach, Miami, so it felt comfortable and accessible by foot. We found a wonderful local restaurant which was able to handle our large group of 10 (I couldn't tell what the actual name of the place was, since advertisements for cerveza, entertainment and other things dominated the facade).

The specialty on the menu was Platanos Maduros -- mashed plantains roasted with your filling of choice. Most of us tried it, filled with beef, pork, chicken . . . mine was filled with veggies! The small, cup-sized molded concoction was unlike anything I had eaten before. The flavor was sublime, but the texture, rubbery, and the whole thing had plenty of oil, so it was instantly filling. I opted to eat about half of the oily plantain mixture and all of the veggies. Despite the meal being so filling, I was pleased with my choice for cultural reasons if nothing else. Later, at the end of the cruise, I ordered the same meal at the same restaurant (I asked for other suggestions, but there was really nothing else for a vegan except rice) and was surprised to find that it was much more palatable -- not in the molded timbale shape, fresher and more tender, less oily. I will feature the photo of that meal at the end of this series.

Here are some pics of us at dinner in San Juan, our first night. This is my son, Hans, and my Dad.

Here's my Mom with my nephew, Braedon. This is not the best photo for either -- they are much better-looking in real life, but I want them to be represented. They were tired. Stay tuned for more flattering pics of these two.

Below is my Dad with my husband, Andres. Have you ever travelled to a Latin country with a native speaker? It's fun! I used to speak Spanish many moons ago, but am only able to understand it now, and speak very little. My husband, who was born in Nicaragua and only learned English at the age of 6, was able to connect us with the locals.

Here is my brother, Britton, with my daughter, Wynne. This perfectly expresses the mood of this gathering -- tired, but so happy to be together! We only get to see my brother and his family once a year.

Here I am with my sister-in-law, Cathy.

Finally, here's niece, 'Kenzie, who slept through dinner. Nighty-nite 'til next time!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I'm Back! (South Caribbean Vacay, Installment One)

Hello MLV readers -- I guess you figured out I've been away.We just returned from such a wonderful vacation. My parents organized a family reunion cruise to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary! In attendance were my parents, my husband and I with our kids, and my brother and his wife and kids -- all the way from China! There's quite a bit of content I want to include, so I'll be making at least a couple of posts about the trip. I realized, upon my return home, I'd not taken enough food photos, being enthralled with the pleasure of the company of our extended family as I was.

Here's a shot of the girls up front, my daughter, Wynne, my niece, McKenzie, and my Mom. My son, Hans, is relaxing in the backgeround as he watches TV.

We began our journey in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We stayed at a very groovy hotel (my kids are mortified when I use that word, as it ages me so).

See? Groovy.

I loved that the toiletries offered by the hotel were my favorite brand: Aveda! It's not so easy to find in some parts of the world, like Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A., where I needed some hair paste for my brother-in-law's wedding, but there it was in San Juan!

To wrap up this installment, here are a few shots of the view from our hotel before the cruise:

Ahhh! The beach at sunset -- never gets old does it? More soon.