Friday, May 26, 2017

Velocity Made Good

Yata took his turn at the helm our first full day out and it was a windy grey day with big swells and a boat riding like a herd of stallions over the sea. 

Each day of sailing around these islands is unique, from Yata's stormy ride to one day of near calm that required us to motor. Borko,  the consummate sailor never took the lazy route of motoring when sailing was an option. 

We would determine our course in the morning and depending on the direction and power of the wind we would sail a direct route downwind or tack back and forth with a side or headwind. The day I sailed we had a side wind and I kept trying to get speed but at the expense of the direction we were headed. At one point Borko explained Velocity Made Good. If you sacrifice too much direction for speed you could actually have a negative VMG because you're not actually getting to your desired destination. 

Sailing strikes me as something that is ruled by the laws of physics but at the same time is an art. It requires a feel for the boat, wind & water. But it also rewards experience and that is something Borko had ' in spades'. 



Split, Brac, Vis in the Dalmatian Islands

We are on one of the archipelago islands off Croatia's coast bouyed in our 46 foot monohull with Katchy Kay, Jolly Jelle, Dan, Jody and our hired native captain Borko (sp?).

We left the village of Milna on the island of Brac this morning just before the rain set in. 
We had a great meal last night at a fisherman -owned seaside restaurant. Black risotto was on the chalkboard menu. I was intrigued  since I'd never heard of such a thing I love a good risotto. We ordered a meal family style; a Sea Bream and another smaller fish, roasted vegetables and the black risotto. For some reason the fish here is very expensive, in fact the fish at one and a half kilos( about 3 1/4 pounds cost about $100 US. But it served seven people and it was caught the same day. The fish was simply grilled and it was fantastic with a crunchy butter flavored crust and juicy firm white flesh. But the black risotto... oh my!  It is black from the ink of the cuttlefish, very black and I expected an inky flavor but instead it seemed rich and creamy as if made with dairy cream of some sort. Borko says not!  Kay says yes they do finish it off with cream sometimes. I doubt I'll ever be able to make this since I don't think there is any substituting ink of cuttlefish. But Katchy says we can get squid ink back home at Coastal Seafoods. 

  On the island of Vis we had a real treat, meat cooked under the bell, Peka. Borjko highly recommended it especially the octopus so we pre-ordered 4 lamb & 3 octopus. The meat is cooked over wood fire in a bell shaped cast iron pot for about 2 hours. It is served in the bottom of the bell at the table. It's a traditional way of cooking of Croatia. The octopus was the most tender and savory seafood with potatoes and onions to soak up the juices and a specialty of  the island of Vis. We were at Roki's  an inland establishment that provided transport and had their own wine. Red & white.   We were unduly surprised to see the place full of happy diners.    

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico wine in the cellars of CantiliciVineyard near Radda where we are staying this week. Winding roads up and down the olive and grape growing hillsides anticipates the rolling waves of a sailboat we will soon be on in Dalmatia.    After a few hours of riding the rough waves of Chianti hillsides we found this charming little village of Ambra. In the town square a group of locals had just completed a fundraiser walk for a cure for cancer. They were sitting along banquet tables having a dinner of charcuterie, roast pork, pasta, couscous salad with local red wine and the lovely treat, a dulci they called Peaches.   The Peaches are actually a yellow cake, rosy tinted with a core of cream. 

I had shown the servers my list of allergies that I had translated to the local language and they seemed even more confused asking me to 'say in English'. Which didn't really help, when suddenly I realized I'd given them the list that had been translated into Croatian. When I realized the error, we all had a laugh at my mistake. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Art & Food

 This is my watercolor rendering of Noah, our youngest grandchild, Nick & Maggie's. Although I think it almost looks more like Ian, his older brother.
I've also been working on more books and paintings while here in Dominica. I have made a habit of doing an annual self portrait and a grandchild portrait while I'm away for the winter.

 I have an exhibit coming up at the 

LE Phillips Library in EAu Claire, WI 

April 17th to May 27 with the reception on April 20th at 7-8pm. 

I'll be featuring my work completed during our annual global forays.

Black Bean Pitas with Hot Creamy Sauce     

4 cups cooked black beans
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 diced red onion
2 large cloves garlic sliced thin
1 tsp toasted ground cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 small green bell pepper diced
1 med. tomato diced

1/2 cup water

4 oz. cream cheese
1/4 c. milk
3 T or more of hot sauce (too taste)
1 c. diced cucumber
4 whole wheat pitas

Saute in oil the onion, garlic, green pepper, tomato, spices and beans until onion is transparent. Add water and simmer until water is absorbed. Salt if needed to taste.

Cream Sauce:
Combine cream cheese, hot sauce and milk until smooth

Warm pitas, tear in half. Fill to 2/3 full with bean mixture. Top with cucumber and 2 heaping spoons of the cream sauce.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Keep it Pozitive

One third of a five foot by one foot acrylic of Dominican Sunset.
We’ve had an eventful week.  I think the last time we blogged, we were at the Sisters Sea Lodge at Picard Beach in Dominica.
Our room at Sisters Sea Lodge with new painting.
We are still in Dominica.  

Spesh, as in special, had taken us up to see the spectacular Syndicate Waterfall.

An old cottage used in Pirates of the Caribbean
He also 
rowed us up the Indian River where we saw a setting for the secondPirates of the Caribbean movie and introduced us to a new habitat. The river carries salt water quite far up the river and results in an unusual mix of plants and animals. The twisting roots of a particular tree resemble the arms of a swarm of octopi. We also saw a Yellow Crowned Night Heron, a Green Heron and more. 

We planned to drive to our next destination and enroute, go to the Kalinago territory. The Kalinago, aka Caribs are the last of the original people of the Caribbean.  They have a protected territory in this small country where they try, through educational demonstration, to retain some of their traditional crafts and practices. We visited their reenactment village and bought a few small items, a handwoven basket and a mask carved from the wood of the tree fern. Their name for the island was Waitukubuli which means, “she who stands tall”, referring to the high mountainous land they inhabited. 

Spesh had sent an associate of his, Charlie of Sunshine taxi.  Charlie came a bit early that Saturday morning to pick us up but since we’d seen this unusual behavior with Donkey, we realized we could take our time and he was not trying to push us. He just, “likes to be early”.  Charlie is a rastaman who is proud of his beautiful country and wishes all his countrymen would take pride in it and treat the tourists well and live a kind, healthy life…no drugs and very little alcohol, would be Charlie’s prescription for a better Dominica.  We warmed to Charlie of course; who wouldn’t with a philosophy like that, and arranged for him to return to pick us up a week later and take us to Mero, our next destination.  But before he dropped us at Calibishie Bay View Lodge he took us to the Islet Cafe in the Kalinago area where we had a great lunch from a high mountaintop perch.  The food was ‘really nice’ especially the starter, the plantain fries with a killer dip (my guess for the dip: cream cheese, mayo, curry, hot sauce).  As we sat down at the table, I pulled my lap top out of the backpack only to realize that the water bottle lid hadn’t been screwed on properly and had wet the computer.  I opened the screen, hit the power button. Yes, the apple started to reboot and then suddenly went black.  Nothing, it wouldn’t peep.  We took it to Bayview Lodge, put a fan on it and even put it in a big ziplock with rice and tried to restart it a couple times but it didn’t seem to even take a charge. Dang!

Yata’s mother died last week. We weren’t surprised, she was 98 and had been declining steadily for a few months. When we saw her at Christmas we realized it would probably be the last time we’d see her.  It was very sad leaving her. But she had had a full and fruitful life. She left behind three sons, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren who loved her dearly.  

Trying to communicate with family back home using only a smartphone and sharing it between the two of us was getting stressful, especially when I couldn’t charge the cellphone on the computer and had to try to find other people with usb plugins wherever we were, to keep the phone charged. Although people were generous and willing.

Calibishie is on the northeast shore of the island and thus has more of an Atlantic coast with brisk winds. It is also an area where many expats have built homes and thus there are more guest houses and tourism amenities.  We had heard from a number of people that we had met that there was a Canadian on the island who went by the moniker Poz  (for positive) and that he was a dead ringer for Yata.  So we had to meet him! Turns out we were staying an easy two block walk from his place, Calibishie Gardens and Poz Restaurant and Bar. They did look like they could be brothers. Poz, aka Troy, is a bit younger, taller and bigger but the eyes, forehead and nose are sure similar.  And they both have a positive energy that people are attracted to.  By the end of the week, we had swum in his pool, eaten our way through much of the menu, shared life stories and Yata finished up by entertaining his clientele on our last night with mostly Motown favorites.  Great fun. 

Poz is a bit of a social worker at heart, always trying to help people out and seems to be well loved by the locals and expats alike. But we came to realize that he was stressing.  His ‘ride’ had been stolen by a man who he’d hired to do some paint work on it.  The man was seen using the car and not returning Troy’s calls to return the car.  Troy notified the police but the best they would do was to follow up on a sting operation that Troy maneuvered, an illegal sale.  The man was caught in the act of selling the car that he didn’t own and yet Troy was still having a hard time getting the charge to ‘stick’.  So he continued driving, over an hour, day after day, to try to make sure that the man was properly charged. And on top of all of that he even remembered to pick up a usb charger block for my cell phone!  Wow!

Charlie was scheduled to pick us up this morning at 10am to take us to Mero, our final stay on Dominica.  But of course he arrived at 8:40 while we were still sitting in our pajamas having our morning coffee.  Again, no rush. When I told him that the laptop was dead he was amazed but said, “I have a friend, Cedric, in Portsmouth (which was on our way to Mero) who might be able to help. He worked for Apple in England for many years.”  I said, “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt”, although I was a bit skeptical.  I had contacted Apple and they told me to put it in a bag of rice which I’d tried to no avail.  But we dropped it off with Cedric who seemed like a capable guy.  We drove on to Mero and after some difficulty found out guesthouse, an elegantly appointed spacious villa overlooking the sea, again!  I guess that comes with being on a small island.  Within ten minutes of arrival, Charlie returned to say that Cedric had my computer repaired!  Wow, again!  These folks are almost miracle workers!  Within another hour we had the laptop back, fully operational.  I was so happy I gave Charlie a big hug and kiss and invited to take him out to dinner. 

We drove down the hill to the Romance Cafe on the Mero Beach for dinner a wonderful french style seafood filets in a buttery cream sauce with fresh vegetable salad and roast potatoes. While the manager/cook was totaling up our bill Yata grabbed a guitar and began extemporaneously singing a song about the Romance Cafe, shocking and delighting the staff. When we asked at the bar if the folks knew Poz, their eyes lit up and they said, “I heard there was a party at Poz’s last night.” I said, “That was him, playing music there last night”, pointing at Yata.  Poz is planning a party at Romance Cafe here with Yata heading up a jam session this coming Tuesday.  Stay tuned! 


Fungee with Carmelized Onions and Shitake Mushrooms
3 servings

1 cup of fine ground cornmeal
3 cups water
1 tsp or more butter
salt and pepper
1 red onion sliced into thin crescents
1/4 pound of shitake mushrooms sliced
2 T olive oil or butter or combination
1/2 tsp dry Thyme
1 scant T balsamic vinegar

Heat water in medium sized saucepan to near boil.  Slowly pour into the water the cornmeal, whisking while pouring.
Continue to stir with a spoon until it bubbles and thickens, about a minute. Turn off heat and add butter and salt and pepper, stir and then pour into a lightly oiled or buttered dish.

Saute onions in butter/oil for 10 minutes until soft. Stirring at times. Add thume and hitake along with some water if needed and continue to saute for another 5 minutes. Add vinegar and cook for 30 seconds. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve onions mixture over the warm fungee. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Minus Two on the Charm Scale

Sunset at Picard Beach
I think that AirBnb and other travel sites should have a category in their rating system for charm. After you’ve stayed in one of their member accommodations you are asked to rate them for location, accuracy, cleanliness, communication and value.  We’ve had a strange run here with AirBnb.  Maybe it isn’t designed for old folks like us.  When you read the reviews of sites, they are often young travelers, rarely people like us in our sixth decade.  

The garden at Sister's Sea Lodge
But this run of bad luck in Antigua, and now in Dominica, brings back memories of some of the other less than pleasant lodgings we’ve stayed in over our last eighteen years of travel.  For example there was the tent in the Masai Mara while on safari, that was riddled with mosquitoes, a sagging cot and a spare bathroom attached at the back. There was the hovel in Isla Mujeras that was so grungy I had to drink a few shots of tequila to be able to sleep in restless ignorance; the little motel in San Juan de Atitlan Guatemala where I was accidentally locked into the bathroom with no way out short of removing the hardware. Speaking of hardware; the bathroom shower was an instantaneous hot water shower head that could have been an instantaneous electrocution device, with electrical wires running directly to the shower head a few inches above your head.  I could go on ….  but here in Dominica we finally decided we’d had enough of subpar accommodations.  The room looked ok in photos and the reviews were five star, albeit, with only a couple reviews over the course of two years. In reality it was a small apartment in a sixteen unit four story concrete monstrosity set in a complex of dozens of other concrete abominations.  Turns out it was mostly rented to students at Ross Medical University just a block away.  We had to ask for new pillows — the old ones stunk — kitchen towel which were actually a cafe curtain panel and a pillow case.  Not a lick of art on the walls, a long fluorescent bulb above the bed as the only light in the room, etc.  But there was Wifi so I quickly got on the computer and found a place nearby on the beach that looked like our style, Sisters Sea Lodge. But they were closed until the next day until 9am.  So we made the appointment and contacted the manager and cancelled the week remaining in the concrete gulag. The manager wasn’t happy about it but seemed to understand when we told him honestly that, “ It wasn’t what we expected” and that we “Wanted something nicer”.  He even drove us to see the Sisters Sea Lodge the next morning. 

We loved it, just our style. On the beach, the tiny resort included a huge tropical garden with cabins built by an Italian owner. It reminded us of our first winter travel destination, Villa Los Mapaches at Isla Hotbox. The cabin has stone walls with wooden ceiling and furniture.  This is a bit larger and more substantial than the palapa —thatched huts — of Mexico and it  has survived at least one major hurricane — Erica, just two years ago.  

Already we’ve had a great lunch of fried Lionfish with fries and salad and a decent French Rosé in the house restaurant sitting here on Coconut Beach.  Life is good!

So, on a 1 to 10 scale, last nights lodging, rates a minus 2 on the charm scale and tonight’s looks closer to 8.

Donkey and the Lost Cell Phone

One day while in Dominica we decided to take one of the local buses, a van, to Scott’s Head at the southern tip of the island, where the Atlantic and the Caribbean meet.  There is a striking promontory at the very point that we wanted to hike and scope out for future snorkeling. 

From Scott's Head looking north up the Dominica coast.
We rode there from the next village, Soufriere, where we were staying for the week. We were deposited in the small town center and were heading toward the point when I saw a good photo subject and, reaching for my phone, realized that it was missing.  Panic! Then ,”No I probably just left it on the table back at the apartment”. But we saw another bus driver across the street so I thought maybe he could just check with the other driver. This is a pretty small island and I figured he probably knew who that driver was. Sure enough, Donkey, as his name was lettered in large silver foil across the top of his windshield, did know who that last driver was since he had just passed him enroute.  He immediately called him but his phone ran out of time just that moment.  Because he had tried to call, the other driver, called him back. 

Meanwhile we were climbing up the rocky isthmus when a van pulled up at the base and began honking and flashing his lights at us. We ran down and there was Jean Claude, aka Donkey with my cell phone.  I was so relieved and a bit surprised since I really thought I had left it at the apartment.  So we tipped him and talked to him about driving us to Portsmouth when we  moved to our next accommodation.  We told him where we were staying and got his number and agreed to Sunday morning at 10:30.  I tried calling him using WhatsAp the Wifi phone application that so many people use internationally.  But I couldn’t reach him to confirm. So the day before departure I I got the number for another driver and made other arrangements.  But Saturday evening as we were sitting in the kitchen eating the best Potato Lentil soup I’ve ever made, Donkey pulled up beside the window and honked.  He hadn’t heard from us — turns out he doesn’t use WhatsAp, so we canceled the other driver and were all set for the next morning.

I sat in the front passenger seat next to Jean Claude because the roads here are, at times, quite winding and nausea inducing.  We had about an hour to share stories and Jean Claude was an interesting guy.  He owned his own van proudly and kept it very clean and in good order; although I noticed the tires were getting a bit thin.  He dressed sharply and wore his hair in an unusual style. It was cut short except on top where it rose straight off his head in a flat topped muffin shape.  He was forty-one and said he loved to work and had aspirations to expand the taxi business. He acquired his first van by driving for a woman who paid him based on a percent of revenue.  He tried to hire another driver to expand business but that driver stole from him and he claimed he’d never trust another person again. The woman for whom he’d driven told him that her husband had told her, “While they were in bed one night” that Donkey’s van was paid off but didn’t want to tell Donkey. So the woman told Donkey, “ Don't tell my husband I told you, but your van is paid off.” The man had to pay him back payments for which Donkey had overpaid.  Donkey also said that he had moved away from his parent’s home when he was thirteen. It sounded just like a Cinderella story without the prince and the slipper or the stepmother. He was the oldest child of six. The parents made him do so much work and didn’t allow him to play or go with them when they took the others for enjoyment.  And so he just left. I asked where he lived and he said he rented a place and worked.  He also dropped out of school at that age and never went back.  

The view from our verandah in Soufrier, Dominica
Jean Claude seemed very honest, kind and respectful, in fact he also had the word RESPECT in large silver foil printed on the he side of his van.
This world is such a sad and glorious place at the same time.  We’ve met grouchy or sullen people, drunk prostheletizers, opinionated bores, sweet innocents, forgetful lighthearted optimists, greedy or desperate vendors, proud artists and gardeners, philosophical taxi drivers, wary youngsters, warm local passengers, vain teens and openhearted travelers.
It takes all kinds! Like I’ve said in the past, “Meeting new people as we travel is one of my favorite things about this wandering lifestyle.” And I suppose if everyone was a perfect citizen of the world it’d be a Steppford-like existence, boring and unsustainable.

Pumpkin Lentil Soup
2-4 servings

2 T oil
2 cups butternut squash cut into 1/2 cubes
1/2 onion diced
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 T fresh grated ginger
1 T curry powder
2 cups vegetable broth 
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup lentils
1 T demerara sugar
1 T lime zest or to taste depending on strength
Juice of half a lime (1-2 T depending on strength —Caribbean limes are strong)
salt to taste

Heat oil in pan and sauté onions, garlic, curry, squash and ginger
Once all is browned nicely, about four minutes, pour in the broth.
Add lime zest, ginger, sugar, chicken broth, coconut milk and high simmer until lentils are cooked, about 30 minutes. Test for tenderness.
Add lime juice to taste as well as salt if needed. 

So much of this recipe seems to rest in the quality of the broth.  I never throw away perfectly good flavors. Years ago when I worked in a kitchen I saw the chef making broth incorporating even the onion and garlic skins.  Why not, and what about the nutrition in the kale stalks and the subtle tang of the lemon grass stalks.  I think I even used a bit of the bones of a split chicken breast in the broth so it wasn’t strictly a vegetable broth, but you get the point. 

Just before the cell phone was recovered.