Dec 5, 2016

Malta: Europe's Best Kept Secret

Many people had suggested we visit Malta. I don’t know what took
so long. I think Malta is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  The archipelago of Malta is located in the Mediterranean between the Italian island of Sicily and Africa. Malta is blessed with a Mediterranean climate. English and Maltese are the official languages. The main island is 17 miles long and nine miles wide there are an amazing number of historical sites dating back to Neolithic times.  The islands are home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites including the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. 

Even though more bombs fell on Malta during WW II than any other place the reconstruction maintained the island’s architectural integrity.  I loved the colorful balconies. Malta has an unspoiled look; John said it looks Biblical. It has been the setting for many movies including “Game of Thrones,” “By the Sea,” and “Popeye.” The set of “Popeye” is now a theme park.

According to UNESCO, Valletta, the walled capital of Malta, is

"one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world." It was established in the 1500s by the Knights of St. John, a Roman Catholic order. The interior of St. John’s Co-Cathedral is a masterpiece of Baroque art with dazzling gilded pillars and elaborately painted ceilings. In the Oratory
is Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” painting, and the only one he signed.  Have you heard of the term “The stinking rich”? It is said that the term came from the practice of burying wealthy and influential people inside the churches and cathedrals. The term comes from lingering odor of rotting corpses. Interesting.

From the Upper Barrakka Gardens John and I had a panoramic
view of the world’s largest and deepest natural harbor and a view beyond the harbor to the three fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea, and Cospicu, best known as the Three Cities.  We were not on time for the Noon Day Gun, a reminder of when Malta was an English colony, Hong Kong still fires their Noon Day Gun. We did hear it when we were touring the Three Cities.

The Three Cities was a change from bustling Valletta. Visitors usually only see the Three Cities as it is pointed out on a bus tour. The area is claimed as the “cradle” of Maltese history. Is has been in use since the Phoenicians arrived in the 8th century BC – maybe even before. The palaces, churches, forts, and bastions are older than those in Valletta. It is the place where it is said they have the best fiestas. 

One of my favorite places was the historic house/museum Casa
Rocca Piccola. It is has been the home of the royal Piro family since the 16th Century.  The family still lives there. The current owner is the 9th Marquis de Piro. The Marquis was answering questions for visitors; his wife was taking tickets.  The house is an example of how the well-to-do lived and some still do. They
had their own chapel. Of special interest were the bomb shelters where the family sought safety during WW II. There were three shelters cut out of solid rock that could hold 100 people during the bombing raids with a private room for the family. 

As always there was a lot we wanted to do but just didn’t have the time. We love museums but, in reality, the whole island is a museum. 

Nov 28, 2016

How to make octopus Maltese style

Malta is an island in the Mediterranean so seafood it very popular.
 One day John and I had lunch at La Nostra Padrona, a seaside restaurant in the picturesque fishing town of Marsaxlokk. The weather was beautiful – perfect for dining alfresco. Malta can be very hot in the summer so seaside dining,
where it is usually cooler, is very popular. It was busy when we were there but there were many restaurants to choose from.  Most restaurants also have indoor dining. John was able to pick from the “catch of the day” while I had a great salad. Our lunch was excellent and ended with a typical dessert – imgaret a deep-fried date pastry served with ice cream. I loved walking along the waterfront where there were vendors selling a variety of goods including many locally made items.  The Maltese fishing boats are very colorful as they bobbed in the bay. 

One day we scheduled a ‘hotel day’ - reading around the pool,
enjoying the spa and learning how to make a traditional Maltese recipe. Ramla’s Executive Head Chef Christian Borg showed us how to make Qarnit Moqli. Chef Borg said Maltese cooking is simple, colorful, and tasty.   He explained further that many countries invaded Malta over the years so many recipes are a mix of Italian and Arabic cuisine.  
Qarnit Mogli is usually served as a starter but we found it was enough for a lunch.  John, the seafood lover, declared it excellent.  I am not a lover of seafood but, of course, I tried it.  The flavor was wonderful. I knew it would be from the aroma when it was cooking; however, I found the octopus a little too chewy to my liking. I really appreciate it when a hotel’s chef will take the time to share his expertise. I think they appreciate it when someone shows an interest in their work which often goes unacknowledged.  

Qarnit Moqli
2 whole medium-sized octopuses
1 medium fresh chili, diced (amount used depends on how hot you want it)
1 lemon
1tbsp black pepper corns
6 bay leaves
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small red onion, diced
2 – 4 sprigs of fresh mint 
2 – 4 sprigs of fresh basil 
10 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, diced
½ cup white wine
1tbsp capers 
1tbsp pitted black olives, roughly chopped
Freshly ground pepper as desired
Extra virgin olive oil as desired 
Crusty white loaf (Hobz tal-malthi) or bread bowls

Boil the octopus together with half the chili, half the lemon, black
pepper corns, bay leaves, and half of the garlic. Let it boil gently until the octopus is nice and tender (approximately 40minutes).
When the octopus is ready separate the tentacles from the head and cut them in half. Remove the beak. Cut the head into three thick slices.
In a frying pan add a dash of olive oil, when warm  add the onions until it starts to become soft then add the rest of the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and chilies.  Add the octopus and white wine. Cook over medium heat until it is reduced by half. Add the capers (rinse these before adding to the pan) and the olives and let them cook slowly for about 5 minutes.  Finish with a squeeze of lemon, freshly ground black pepper, and more olive oil. Scoop out the center of a bread bowl and fill with octopus mixture. Garnish and serve. 

Nov 21, 2016

Malta - the perfect destination

Many things about Malta surprised me. First of all I was surprised to learn that it was one of the most intensely bombed places during WW II.  It makes sense now that I think about it.  The Islands' strategic location in the Mediterranean made it a key stronghold from which the Allies could continue their North African campaign and from which they could launch their
attack on mainland Italy. The Axis power vowed to bomb it into submission. The German and Italian air forces flew over 3000 bombing raids in a two year period trying to gain control of the island.  After the war reconstruction remained true to the Maltese architecture.  John said that it looks biblical and to date they have managed to keep glassy skyscrapers from being built.  

Because Malta has retained its architectural integrity and has some
unique geological formations the island has been used in many movies such as “Troy,” “Conan,” “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Captain Phillips, “By the Sea,” and Popeye.  One of the places we visited was the site that was used in the Pitt-Jolie movie, “By the Sea.”  It was a
beautiful secluded place to swim. The set was on the cliff above the inlet but was torn down when the movie was finished.  Most movie sets, even though they cost millions of dollars, are taken down at the end of production.  However, there is one movie set on Malta that was not. Popeye’s village of Sweethaven is now a popular theme park where they now have a variety of activities. People can even star in their own film, record it, and take it home as unique souvenir. 

I was also surprised that Malta does not get more coverage as a
must-do destination in Europe.  Malta is safe, they speak English, there are many historical sites all within close proximity of one another, and they are blessed with a Mediterranean climate. There are plenty of beaches. The main and biggest island is about 17 miles long by nine miles wide.  Malta is home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites with several others in consideration for inclusion. I don’t know what took us so long to visit Malta. 

It is always hard to pick a hotel and so far we have been lucky.  We stayed for several days at Ramla Beach Resort which is located on the coast plus they have their own private beach.  A lot of the hotels are located across the road from a public beach.  And, as an added benefit they offer complimentary airport transfers. Nothing is worse, in my opinion, than to fly for hours, arrive at a destination tired and have to hassle with a taxi driver especially when we are not familiar with how far away the hotel is and the local currency. 

Ramla Bay worked out great. It was in a quiet area with a great view of Gozo and Comino islands – two of the other islands in the Malta archipelago. Besides having its own private beach, the hotel had two outdoor pools and one indoor pool.  Our room had a balcony with a great view.  After a long plane ride we like to spend our first day relaxing and enjoying the hotel. There was plenty to do.  I had a spa treatment, went in all three pools, and Chef Christian showed me how to make a Maltese favorite – pan-seared octopus. 

Nov 14, 2016

Making Tatizas in Saipan

When John and I were in Saipan we learned how to make Tatizas (Chamorro snack made with coconut milk.) Tatizas are popular with the Chamorro people. By the way, the Chamorro people are the indigenous people of the Marianas. The Mariana Islands include Guam, a US territory, and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. Coconut bread is also found in many other places especially in the tropics.  In Jamaica they make a pocket and stuff it with various fillings. In Honduras ladies with a wicker basket filled with coconut bread and rolls are often seen peddling them on the beaches.

The Marianas are an excellent destination and often overlooked by tourists, especially those on the East Coast.  When we visited we bought the least expensive air ticket to Asia and then used our frequent flyer miles to fly to Guam.  From Guam it was a short flight to Saipan; and, from Saipan the flight toTinian is very short. The takeoff for the flight from Saipan to Tinian is longer than the actual flight.  The Marianas are a good choice for those looking
for a relaxing, beach stay.  In fact, it is a favorite honeymoon destination for Japanese and Koreans. There is plenty to keep history buffs busy.  It is thought that the earliest people arrived about 6000 years ago and the islands were critical during WW II.
We enjoyed tatizas while at the Hyatt in Saipan where we learned how to make them by watching the chef as he prepared them.  It is rather easy.
4 cups flour
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄3 cup shortening 
1can coconut milk

Mix together flour, sugar, and baking powder. Then add shortening to the mix with a fork. Add coconut milk and mix well using your hands. If dough is too dry, add one Tbsp of water at a time until dough is a little moist and holds together enough to make a ball. From the big ball of dough and then make six to eight mini dough balls. Roll out dough balls on a floured board until thin. Place rolled out dough in pan over medium heat (do not add oil or butter to pan) but you can brush with coconut oil if you want for more even browning. A cast iron pan or griddle is preferred. Use a fork to poke out any air bubbles. Brown on both sides. They can be served as is or get creative; they pair well with many things.

Nov 7, 2016

Exploring Eagle River, Wisconsin

 Imagine 150 different flavors of soda. Decisions, decisions, decisions. I like the fact that the old-time soda fountains are making a comeback. When I was in Eagle River, Wisconsin I had a great lunch and root beer float at Soda Pops. I passed on the ice cream but most people did not. There is a wide choice of ice cream with 70 topping to choose from. The soda shop is as
authentic as is possible today with an original soda fountain and other original items plus other vintage memorabilia. Soda Pops is housed in a restored 1880 building that was at one time a tavern. During prohibition it became a soda shop. It was a walk into my past when I spend a lot time in the soda fountain in my hometown.  Around the corner is their retail store with a variety of vintage signs, bottles, and more plus
150 kinds of soda. They have the ones you have heard of such as cream soda and root beer but they also have a section called “Totally Gross Sodas.”  They must sell a lot of them because the section was empty except for a few bottles of “Kittie Piddle” and “Bug Barf.” It turns out that the owner is the son of the owner of Riverstone Restaurant & Tavern where I had enjoyed a wonderful meal the night before.

While I was visiting the shops on the main street of Eagle River, John was exploring the Eagle River’s Chain of Lakes with Rohrs Wilderness Tours. The Headwaters of the Wisconsin River flows south from Lac Vieux Desert 40 miles downstream to Eagle River where it joins the magnificent Eagle River chain of lakes to become the mighty Wisconsin River. He didn’t do all 40 miles but said paddling the winding stream that flowed through forest was easy and very picturesque. He was on the lookout for wildlife.  He didn’t see any. I wish I had gone.  After the canoe adventure he went to a place that served ice cream, the Boat House Grill & Creamery where he, too, had a root beer float. Their theme is nautical.  Some people enjoyed their ice cream while sitting in a boat. 

Before meeting up with John I stopped by the Tribute Brewing Company where they have free popcorn and peanuts (just throw the shucks on the floor).  We met at the Pirate’s Hidaway for a sunset ride on a pirate ship. Captain Steve built Northern Wisconsin’s only pirate ship in his driveway. The boat ride on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes was relaxing and even though the sunset wasn’t spectacular we did see a bald eagle.  After the ride we headed to Eagle Waters Resort for a delicious dinner. 

I am impressed with all the small towns in Vilas County.  Eagle
River is the county seat and has about 1400 people that supported two homemade fudge stores. Impressive.  All the towns have unique shops, restaurants, accommodations, and activities that seem to be thriving.  I wish I could say the same for Northern New York. Yes, they have muskie fishing which is a big draw but we have excellent fishing in Oswego County, too. The county hosts a large variety of events year round. The county has so many art galleries that they host a Northwoods Art Tour twice a year. 

Nov 1, 2016

Tea and Painting classes and more in Vilas County

When John and I were in St. Germain a friend suggested we go to
the Tea Academy at Green Rich Tea while our husbands went to the St. Germain Snowmobile Museum to learn about the history of snowmobiling and see a variety of snow vehicles.  Great idea, I thought, I should be able to shine at a tea academy because I had been to Tea Appreciation Class in Hong Kong, a tea museum in Taiwan, and had visited tea plantations in Taiwan and Sri Lanka. I was wrong.  The class
started out with “Tea in a Cup Game” to see if we could identify different teas. I didn’t get any of them right. Also I learned that different teas need to be heated to different temperatures.  Shanna, the owner, explained that when people are enjoying tea together a little bit should be poured in each person’s cup then pour a second and third round until the cup is full.  “It creates a sense of community,” she explained plus the first round is the weakest. I did better on the True and False quiz. I learned the most from the Multiple Choice part. Ice tea, my favorite beverage, was introduced at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis.  The
American Revolution had its start with colonial reaction to the tea tax but tea was first taxed in the 700s in China. By the way, the British attempt to tax tea coming into the Colonials was very small. It wasn’t the tax so much as being taxed without being represented in the British Parliament.  How would the world be different if the British allowed colonial representation in the Parliament?  I may not have done well on the
tests but I learned a lot and enjoyed wonderful tea in great company. I loved the story of Shanna and Noritake.  They met on line. They were on different coasts and different worlds but Noritake’s Japanese historical connection to green tea and its health benefits meshed perfectly with Shanna’s view on healthy living that included yoga and massages. I think I should have opted for a massage but I had fun and learned a lot about tea. 

I admire people like Shanna and Noritake who take the opportunity to follow their dreams.  Also in St. Germain I met Shawn who opened up the Hammock Hut, which by the way opens at the “crack of noon.” Using repurposed material he makes unique hammocks perfect for every location from the college dorm to the backyard to the woods. 

In Land O’Lakes I took another class in water color painting. It is part of the Land O’Lakes Artisans Center where there were an array of wonderful, handcrafted artworks and crafts on sale. While my birch tree watercolor wasn’t a show-stopper I enjoyed the interesting techniques by using razor blades and sponges to get the right effect. I need more lessons!

I may have felt like a fish out of water at the tea academy and the
watercolor painting class but I was right at home at the Northwood Children’s Museum in Manitowish Waters.  The learning started outside with a Hundreds Chart on the sidewalk. Makes math fun. I was impressed with their unique activities including a mining tunnel, a listening tree, a snowmobile safety exhibit, and pioneer cabin. Most impressive was the fact that all the exhibits were made in-house. 

Oct 24, 2016

The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has inhabited Lac du Flambeau since 1745. The word Chippewa and Ojibway are one and the same. The Band was given the name “Lac du Flambeau” (Lake of the Torches) by the French traders and trappers who visited the area and saw them harvesting fish at night by torchlight. The reservation is checker-boarded with parts in three counties. On a recent trip to Wisconsin I took the self-guided “Walk in the Footsteps of the Elders” tour. They have a guided tour, too.

My first stop was at their tribal fish hatchery. Fishing is and has been an integral part of their culture. Working with the state of Wisconsin the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa study the fish population and restock reservation waters. The Lac du Flambeau Reservation has 
260 lakes, 65 miles of streams, lakes and rivers, and 24,000 acres of wetlands including a 10-lake chain. The world's largest sturgeon to be speared was hauled in on the shores of Lac du Flambeau's
Pokegama Lake. It measured a whopping 7 feet and 1 inch, weighed 195 pounds and was 40 inches around. This world record fish is located in the George W. Brown, Jr. Ojibwe Museum & Cultural Center.

My next stop was the George W. Brown, Jr. Ojibwe Museum & Cultural Center to see the giant fish and to learn more about the Ojibwe. They are Eastern Woodland Indians similar to the Iroquois of New York State. In fact many have Oneida ancestry. The museum shows how they lived during the four seasons. I like the one that showed them ice fishing. The beautiful “Jingle
Dress” was decorated with small pieces of metal.  I would love to see and hear a dance with someone wearing the dress. There are also displays of a French fur trading post, Ojibwe arts and crafts, and more.  There is a birch bark canoe and a 24-foot dugout canoe recently recovered from the waters. I think that a canoe that large would have been a war canoe. We should all live by the Ojibwe Seven Teachings - Honesty, Humility, Truth, Wisdom, Love, Respect, and Bravery. 

I have read about and seen pictures dealing with the schools the US government built to house Native American children but The Mikwendaagoziwag (“They will be remembered”) Heritage Center, once the boys’ dormitory for the BIA/Government-run boarding school, is the first one I have visited. The girls’ dormitory was located next door but has been torn down. It is where children were taken from their families
without permission and then immersed in European-American culture thus losing their culture. They were all taught English and while the boys were taught a trade the girls were taught housekeeping skills.  While I think the intentions were good the biggest problem is that after the schooling was completed the students had a foot in two worlds – the Native American and American-European world but didn’t really belong to either. 
Of course, to raise need money to provide a better life for their people they, too, have opened a casino - a great place to eat even if you don't gamble. support their people and aThe Indian Bowl is where pow wows have been held for more than 60 years; it is now undergoing an upgrade and expansion.  I would love to attend an event there. Often there are reports about violations of personal liberties and the like that are taking place in foreign countries. We often choose to ignore the awful treatment the Native Americans suffered under the hands of the European-Americas.