Jan 19, 2015

Making Plantain Fritas

I am always impressed with how hospitable people are –worldwide.  This was the case when we were in Haiti. Haiti is an interesting destination but it is not on many travelers’ radar. There is always so much to learn and experience everywhere we go. 

In the 1700s Haiti was the glory of the French colonies and one of
the richest colonies in the world.  In 1804 Haiti became the first black independent nation. Over the years, poor leadership and other issues caused economic troubles from which Haiti has never fully recovered and the earthquake in 2010. 

I had expected beaches and I was not disappointed. One of my favorite places was Jacmel where there are not only great beaches but shops with great local artwork created out of whatever was handy. We visited a place where artists made artworks out of discarded oil drums.  In Jacmel I was especially impressed with Charlotte, a shop that displayed colorful works of art made of gourds and reeds.   

In Jacmel we stayed at La Colline Enchantee.  The lovely eco-resort is high on a hill just outside of the Jacmel.  The owner Michele Gehy was very friendly and, like all the Haitians we met, proud of their country. While we were talking about Haitian food she mentioned that
plantains are the “Haitian potato.” I told her I had tried the Plantain Fritas and would love to know how to make them because they are not only delicious but would make great hors d'oeuvres.  She said, “Do you want to know how to make them? Come with me and I will show you.”  We went into the kitchen where she proceeded to show us how to make Plantain Fritas– gratis. The Griot de Porc can be made ahead of time, refrigerated and reheated when ready to put in plantain cups and serve.

Plantain Fritas
Griot de Porc 
1 lb of pork 
Juice of 2 limes 
1 cup orange juice
2 onions thinly sliced
1 green pepper thinly sliced
4 to 6 cloves
5 cloves of garlic
1/4 tsp thyme 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Water as needed

This can be made ahead of time. Cut the pork into small cubes (keep the fat). Make a marinade of the lime juice, orange juice, half of the onions, green pepper, cloves, garlic, thyme, salt and black pepper. Marinate pork in marinade overnight in refrigerator (or at least four hours). Put it all in a sauce pan. Boil on low heat for about 20 minutes. Add water if necessary. Drain. Add rest of onions. Saute over medium heat until brown. Put in the plantain baskets and serve. It can be spiced up according to personal taste.   

Fried  Plantain  Baskets
4 green plantains
2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt
2 lemons
2 tbs vegetable oil for frying – or as needed

Peel the plantains. Cut into pieces two inches long. Place in water with salt and juice of lemon for two hours. Remove and drain on paper towels. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Cook plantains for two to three minutes. Remove plantains. Drain on a paper towel. Press the fried plantain pieces in a lemon press of similar device to make the small cup-like baskets. Put them back in the salt and lemon water for a couple minutes. Remove and drain on a paper towel.  Fry in oil until crispy. Fill with Griot de Porc and serve.

Jan 11, 2015

Snowy Getaways

There are many great places to getaway for a night or more in Central New York. Off season rates offer great values. One of the places I wanted to check out this past summer was the new Harbor Hotel in Clayton but I never made it so it is on my “To Do List.”  They are open all year and during the winter they have some great value-laden packages.  Their Romance Getaway includes a one-night stay for two, rose petal turn-down, bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries plus breakfast. In February they have a Valentine Ice Bar Weekend with 20,000 pound of ice carved into functional bars and other sculptures with complimentary wine tasting and snacks.  There will be ice carving demonstrations. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Wounded Warrior Project. 

Even if you are not a snowmobiler, cross-country skier, snowshoer, or a winter hiker, Altmar’s Tailwater Lodge is a great place for celebrating winter. The trees laden with snow can be an awe inspiring site.  Salmon River Falls is nearby and I’d love to see the falls when they are frozen or rimed with ice. 

At Mirbeau in Skaneateles you can pretend you are in France since
the resort, from the gardens to their chateau-style accommodations, is designed to look like a painting by French Impressionist Claude Monet. Mirbeau has the coolest water spa in Central New York. For total relaxation sip wine in their Aqua Terrace, an outdoor pool area, with the fireplace ablaze. Inside their spa has a unique relaxation area with a stone fireplace and heated foot pool. They offer many weekday spa getaway packages that include accommodations, spa treatments, breakfast and even the gratuities are included.  They also offer a variety of fitness programs. 

Even though it is not very close, The Mohonk near New Paltz is a wonderful winter retreat. It is a classic Victorian getaway that looks like a castle on the Hudson.  It is an all-inclusive with nightly rates that include breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea and a slew of complimentary activities.  You can enjoy their indoor swimming pool, yoga and meditation classes, and guided nature walks plus their open-air ice skating pavilion, groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.  Their spa offers a variety of treatments, an outdoor heated mineral pool, and a solarium for relaxation. One of the things I love about the Mohonk is that it is family-owned since 1869. Not many places can say that. 

If you want to pretend that it isn’t winter then head to a casino
where you won’t know what season it is or even the time of the day. Turning Stone Casino has a variety of accommodations in different price categories from The Inn to their luxurious suites in The Lodge. Golfers can practice at their Golf Dome and test their skills at 38 different courses on
a virtual simulator including St. Andrew and Pebble Beach. There is always a variety of entertainment, excellent dining and their Skana Spa is the perfect place to renew and get rid of the winter blues. Another casino option is the one in Niagara Falls, The Seneca Niagara Casino has a great entertainment schedule from the music of Foreigner to Frank Sinatra, Jr. who I saw a couple years ago and thought he sounded just like his father.  No need to languish during the winter there are many things to do without traveling too far.

Jan 6, 2015

Exploring Aruba

We often stay at several places when we are visiting an area. In Aruba, after our stay at Sunset Beach Studios we moved to the Holiday Inn where we had points for six free nights.  We are IHG members so our free stay included an automatic upgrade and other benefits one of which was a reserved palapa on the beach.  The Holiday Inn Resort recently finished a complete remodel and has three pools and of the longest beach of any Aruban hotel.  

John and I had driven along the south coast of Aruba but once we left the main road the highway markings were few and far between plus many roads on the wild, barren north coast are unpaved so we took a tour with jeep ABC Tours. One of the benefits of a tour, besides taking people to the significant sites, is that the guides are knowledgeable.  Our driver/guide, Rocky, was
great. The north coast is very different than the southern coast.  It is barren with a rocky coast pounded by high waves.  There are no hotels and few buildings.  We visited the beautiful Alto Vista Chapel, built in 1952 on the site of the first Aruban Catholic Church built by the Spanish in 1750.  Along the road to the chapel there are the Stations of the Cross and a labyrinth. 

We stopped at a couple of natural bridges sculpted over thousands of years by the strong winds and pounding waves. Arid Aruba was not suitable for plantations and has few natural resources but in 1824 gold was discovered by a 12-year-old sheep herder which created gold fever. We stopped at the Bushiribana Ruins, one of the old gold smelters. By 1916 it was no longer profitable to mine gold in Aruba. 

There are many interesting rock formations some of which have
petroglyphs. The Ayo and Casibari Rock formations look as if they were dumped there by giant beings.  They were sacred sites for the indigenous people hence the ancient drawings. I always wonder what the people were trying to say with their artwork. 
Some have hiking and climbing trails which offer great views. We stopped by a pretty Dutch-style private home and Rocky explained how traditional houses were built and that many people are restoring them.  In the hotel district there is an authentic windmill across from the Butterfly Farm. It was built in 1804 in the Netherlands and brought to Aruba in 1960.  We truly enjoyed the tour and would like to do it again as there is a lot more to see.

Our accommodations for 11 nights had been very reasonable so it
was time to treat ourselves.  We spent our last nights at the luxurious, adult-only Bucuti &Tara Resort on expansive Eagle Beach, one of the world’s top beaches.  I knew it was going to be awesome when we were greeted with sit-down check-in and champagne!
Needless to say our room was wonderful and had a balcony. After our complimentary breakfast on the restaurant’s deck we spent the day on our beach lounge with a book from their lending library. I took some dips in the infinity pool. We stayed at the beach to watch the sun set which was followed by a five-star dining experience at Elements Restaurants. The service and ambiance were excellent as one might expect from a privately-owned hotel where the owner makes a point to meet every guest.

Dec 29, 2014

Aruba - One Happy Island

The small island of Aruba in the southern Caribbean Sea has sandy beaches, cooling trade winds, and friendly people so the island is dubbed “One Happy Island.” Aruba is considered one of the safest Caribbean destinations where even the water is drinkable. 

John and I had Delta vouchers for a free flight because we volunteered to give up our seats on a recent flight.  The flight wasn’t overbooked but was over the weight limit. The flight attendant said it was easier to take off four passengers than to take off 500 pounds of luggage which would have upset passengers when their luggage didn’t arrive with them plus those of us with flight vouchers were happy to fly for free.  

We decided on Aruba because the airfare matched our vouchers
and we had never been there.  After we arrived we were met by Royal Car Rental. John wanted to go to an ATM machine to get florins, the local currency, which turned out to be unnecessary as USDs are accepted everywhere and prices are usually listed in both currencies.  We picked up our vehicle and set off.  The roads are good and there isn’t a lot of traffic which was good because there are several roundabouts which can be confusing.  

Going through Oranjestad, the capital, I thought, “I am not going to like it here.”  There were three cruise ships in port so the area was full of tourists and the city looked like an upscale mall with many glitzy shops.  Then we continued north past the various hotel zones and arrived at our accommodations, Sunset Beach Studios.  It was perfect for us. We had a small room with a kitchen and a side porch that looked out onto the ocean and, as the name suggests, a great place to watch the sunset.
The staff was wonderful and helpful in many ways. They recommended the car rental and also a food market on the way where we could shop. The food market was huge and busy with everything one would find in the states from fresh Florida oranges to Steward’s root beer.
We bought food for breakfast but, even though our place had grills available, we found getting takeout from Wendy’s (there is a slew of familiar food chains and restaurants) perfect for us. We ate on our patio porch and watched the sunset. Sunset Beach Studios has great off-season rates and a discount for long stays. We were only booked for five nights.

The island is 20 miles long and six miles across making it an easy
island to explore. One day we drove to the iconic lighthouse at the northwest end of the island.  I noticed people had piled stones in various places which I found interesting because I had marveled at the artist who creates 100s of balancing stones along the river just outside Ottawa.  These are not balanced but just piled up.  When I asked about it we were told they are “Wishing Stones” as in wishing to return like throwing a coin into Trevi Fountain in Rome.

Another day we borrowed the hotel’s snorkel equipment with the intention of snorkeling but ended up driving around instead.  There are several small beaches along the way and all beaches in Aruba are public.  John took kite surfing lessons so we drove to the southeast end of the island where there are more beaches and where experts kite surf.  

Dec 22, 2014

The Battle of New Orleans

The end of 2014 brings to a close two years of celebrating the
200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The war is called “The Second War for Independence” because after the American Revolution the British did not respect our independence; but it is also called “The Forgotten War” mainly because it only lasted two years and was fought mainly on the water. Many of the battles were fought on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and even though the bicentennial is over visiting sites along the Great Lakes still makes a great way to learn and remember.  Fort Ontario in Oswego has War of 1812 events yearly and Sackets Harbor has a reenactment every summer. 

Unbeknownst to those in New Orleans the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on Christmas Eve 1814 ending the war so one of the war’s most decisive battles was fought after the war had ended. The Battle of New Orleans is considered the greatest American land victory during the War of 1812. It was fought in the town of Chalmette near New Orleans between December 23, 1814 and January 8, 1815, to protect New Orleans since British troops were intent on capturing the port. It is the battle in which U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson led a team of about 5,000 soldiers – regular
troops, state militiamen, volunteers, and even a band of pirates. Most of them had no official training and had never fought together. Jackson led them to victory against 7,000 British soldiers. In one two-hour period during the battle, more than 2,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing compared to a 71 American casualties (13 dead, 39 wounded, 19 missing).It was later made famous by Johnny Horton in the fun song “The Battle of New Orleans.” It tells of the determination of the Americans in the line “We fired our cannon ‘til the barrel melted down, so we grabbed an alligator an’ we fought another round.” After the war Andrew Jackson became an American hero whose popularity eventually led him to become the seventh president of the United States and landed his image on the $20 bill. Three other men who played roles in the War of 1812 also ended up at the White House – James Monroe John Quincy Adams and William Henry Harrison.

John and I have visited the battlefield but I would love to be there
between January 6 and 11, 2015 for their big Bicentennial Celebration. However, the story of the Battle of New Orleans is told year round at the Chalmette Battlefield. New Orleans is a popular destination but many miss this important part of American and Louisiana history. 

We learned interesting facts while visiting War of 1812 sites in NYS, Louisiana and elsewhere.  We Americans don’t make much of the fact that one aim of the war was to annex Canada but when visiting sites on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence this is often mentioned. Two major events that took place during the war were the burning of the White House on August 24, 1814, during James Madison’s presidency, and the Battle of Baltimore a few weeks later, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” One of the most impressive presentations of the American Flag is at the end of the film at Fort McHenry when the curtain opens and there it is in all its glory. 

Dec 15, 2014

Give the Gift of Travel

We all have people who are very difficult to find the perfect gift for be it a grandchild or an adult. There are those people who seem to have everything.  Gifting travel creates unforgettable memories. At first thought it may seem like travel is an expensive gift but it doesn’t have to be. There are inexpensive gifts of travel and the more expensive ones can be affordable if people/family make it a group gift.  Keep in mind that off season travel is usually much less expensive. Unused air miles or points at a hotel can be used to create a special gift at little expense.  We were gifted with three nights at the Venetian in Vegas with points from our son-in-law. It was wonderful. Many times our children have given us theater tickets which were much appreciated and enjoyed. Most places offer gift certificates so the gift of travel can be used any time. If a gift certificate is not available then a gift certificate can be created on the computer. Travel does not have to take place immediately. Anticipating travel in the months to come is always something to look forward to. 

For the hard to buy for person consider creating a package with tickets to an SU game or theater tickets for a play at the Landmark or Syracuse Stage with an overnight at the Genesee Grande or Skyler Hotel. Both are close to the dome and Syracuse Stage. Parking is free. Make it even more special with a dinner at the Genesee Grande or another Syracuse fine dining establishment. For those who enjoy the theater another package idea would include tickets for Merry-Go-Round Theater possibly with an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn in Auburn or dining at a local establishment. 

I love the Erie Canal and a gift that includes a day on the canal with
Mid-Lakes is an excellent opportunity for people to relax and learn about the canal while traveling in the slow lane; and, tickets are reasonable with some including a meal. The speed limit on the canal is five miles an hour. Another great water trip is aboard one of Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours. Tours include stop at the castles, there are two – the well-known Boldt Castle and Singer Castle which is completely furnished. 

 A great anniversary or wedding gift could be a night at the Best Western Plus Captains Quarters in Oswego where their King Suite has an in-room whirlpool spa. This would be great for a couple with children if it was accompanied a promise to babysit making it the perfect romantic getaway without going far from home. 

As a high school graduation gift for our grandson we gifted him
with a trip to Cleveland. He was majoring in music so he really enjoyed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and in the evening we took him to dinner at Nighttown which included great jazz music.  Before heading home we had lunch at the Hard Rock CafĂ©.  We enjoyed it as much as him because we did things that we would not have done if he had not been with us.   

There are a multitude of travel experiences that make great gifts.  Need to get a gift for a snow mobiler or a cross-country skier?  How about a night at Tailwater in Altmar and include dinner? Think local: keep in mind that the gift of travel helps the economy. 

Dec 7, 2014

The Boston Tea Party Museum

I enjoy visiting places where history comes alive. I especially like watching the visitors, young and old, get excited about historical events while learning more about history and it is even better when they get to participate in the event. Such is the case at the Boston Tea Party Museum.   Most of us know the basic facts of the Tea Party.  On the night of December 16, 1773, colonists dressed as Indians boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and threw crates of tea overboard as a protest to the Tea Tax but for many that is the limit of their knowledge and some of the facts get skewed with the retelling. 

At the Museum, the staff dressed in period costumes summoned
visitors to a meeting by ringing a bell.  Everyone got a feather to stick in their hair to resemble the colonists who were dressed as natives because their actions were illegal and considered a source of treason.  Their identity remained secret even after American Independence for fear they could still face civil
and criminal charges; also many did not want to be associated with mob behavior and destruction of public property. Inside the museum had recreated Old South Meeting House where the protestors met before dumping the tea. Visitors were given name cards of actual participants with a short biography. I was Francis Akeley, a self-employed wheelwright, who died in 1775 so he never lived to enjoy freedom under a new American government. Some were given roles to play shouting out protests to the Tea Tax – the rowdier the more realistic. 

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Tea Act actually
reduced the tax on tea and would have allowed colonists to purchase tea at half the price paid by those in Britain. The protest was not on the tax itself but the fact that the colonists had no say in governing the colonies.  The cry was “no taxation without representation.” The British reaction to the Tea Party caused more protests.  It wasn’t called “The Boston Tea Party” until 50 years later. As punishment the British parliament passed what the colonists called the “Intolerable Act” which closed the port of Boston until damages were paid. The port was the focal point of business at that time.  Also, more hated British troops were sent to Boston. Other tea protests took place in the other colonies.

After the protest meeting visitors converged on the ship and took turns dumping the tea in the harbor.  The young patriots especially enjoyed the “act of civil disobedience” of tossing the tea into the harbor. No one died during the 1773 Tea Party but one participant was knocked unconscious by a crate and thought to be dead only to awake hours later. 

Our tour then continued to a museum where the only known
surviving tea chest is on display.  In the Minute Man Theater we saw an excellent multi-medium, giant screen presentation “Let it Begin Here” where the sounds of the horses galloping and musket firing made the events of the American Revolution come to life. 

After our Tea Party experience, John and I went to Old South Meeting House where the actual meeting took place on that fateful day and we learned more about the revolutionary actions in Boston. I think the Boston Tea Party Museum is one of the best museums of its kind that we have visited.