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Tangy Salmon Fillets

Salmon is one of my favorite types of fish. I especially like it marinated and then grilled, broiled or baked so the edges get crispy. This tangy mustard, vinegar, sesame based marinade is a favorite. I usually serve it over a non-seasoned rice medley with roasted asparagus or roasted green beans on the side, if I am baking the salmon anyway.

Tangy Salmon Fillets

1-2 lbs salmon fillets
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon EVOO
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
3 green onions or chives, sliced

Combine vinegar, soy sauce, honey, oil, mustard, and ginger in a microwave-safe measuring cup. Warm slightly, 15-20 seconds, to help the honey dissolve and blend with the other ingredients. Stir well.
Place the fillets in a Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over them. Seal and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, turning over at least once.
Drain and discard marinade.
Bake on a foil-lined baking pan at 450°F for 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and onions or chives.

Broil: Place under a preheated broiler for 8-10 minute. Turn over and continue broiling for 5-10 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork. You will need to keep an eye on it as it may start smoking if too close to the broiler element. If your fillets have skin, broil the skin side first. It will bubble and crisp up with makes separating it from the meat a lot easier.

Grill: Grill covered, over medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

If you want to roast asparagus or green beans at the same time, place trimmed and washed ones on another foil-lined pan. Mist with EVOO and stir lightly to coat. Add fresh ground pepper and salt to the green beans or just salt to the asparagus. Bake at 450°F for about 12-15 minutes or until tender.

PLEASE NOTE: I have a convection oven which enables me to bake both pans at the same time with even results. If you don’t, you will probably need to switch and rotate pans halfway through.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples and Onions

Butternut squash used to be one of those pieces of produce that I shied away from in the grocery store. I mean, it just isn’t super intuitive as to how cook the darn thing! Then a friend from South Africa served us this amazing combination of roasted butternut squash, apples and onions. I was hooked! Some recipes call for added herbs or spices, like thyme or cinnamon, but we prefer it plain and simple. I recommend trying it this way, and then adding additional flavoring as suit your taste.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples and Onions

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled. cored and sliced
  • 1 sweet vedalia onion, peeled and sliced

Place all ingredients on a foil-lined baking pan. Spray with extra virgin olive oil, stirring to coat.  Roast at 425°F for about 30-40 minutes, stirring twice, until squash is soft.

It can be served as a meal in and of itself, or as a side dish for baked fish or chicken. I usually just add the fish on another foil-lined pan to the oven approximately 10-12 minutes before the squash is done, depending on thickness. It’s a super easy, healthy meal and cleanup requires just throwing the foil away!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

As an added bonus, you can make the leftovers into soup. Just place enough chicken broth to cover the ingredients in a pan and heat until warm. Use a submersion blender to puree until almost smooth. If you prefer a creamier soup, add a few tablespoons of milk or cream. Garnish with ground cinnamon, nutmeg or a few springs of herbs.

Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail

We recently took a trip to the Northern Neck of Virginia, which included a journey down the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail. For those not familiar with the Commonwealth’s geography, the eastern edge has 3 finger-like projections formed by several large rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. “Northern Neck” is the topmost peninsula with the Potomac River to its north and the Rappahannock River to the south, which is commonly referred to as “The Rivah.”

If you plan on visiting most of the nine wineries on Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, make sure you purchase a Tasting Pass. They are $30/person ($25 if you buy 4 or more) compared to the $56 worth of wine tasting fees you’ll incur doing full tastings at each of the eight participating winery. To save even more, you can also get stamps in your Wine Trail Passport. Seven different stamps entitles you to a 10% discount on wine for a full year. Nine different stamps = 15% discount on wine purchases.

TIP: The Passport is widely advertised at the wineries. The Tasting Pass is not. We just happened to learn about the Pass at our first stop. Make sure to ask about them!

TIP: Two of the wineries on the Passport (and several of the maps) have closed this year. This can be very confusing, especially since the road signs directing you to their locations haven’t been removed. Belle Mount Vineyards in Warsaw and Athena Vineyards in Heathsville are both out of business.

Oak Crest Vineyard & Winery

Tasting – $5 for 11 wines (3 were sold out)

Nice atmosphere. Friendly staff. Very nice collections of wines with a number of blends. Several were rather unique, including their Hot Jazz which is infused with jalapeño peppers. It was actually very well balanced (and I don’t like spicy food) and would go really well with roasted chicken or mild cheeses. We were also impressed with their Moonlight Sonata, a German Rhine style wine of 100% Symphony grapes.

  • Bottles sell for $15-$22
  • Wines – 4 stars
  • Winery – 4 stars

Ingleside Vineyards

Tasting – $8 for 8 wines with a souvenir wine glass

The unique atmosphere of the Barrel Room added to the tasting experience. The hostess was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. She did a great job of getting all the participants involved with each other. Most of their wines are straight varietals with a few blends. They have the unusual distinction of selling a wine that smells awful but actually tastes pretty good. Apparently, only certain people can smell the sulphur-like ‘bouquet.’ I was one of them. Their medium-bodied Sangiovese was our favorite.

  • Wines sell for $15-$25
  • Winery – 5 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

Vault Field Vineyards

Tastings – $2 for 5 wines

Don’t let the very attractive website fool you. The photos are obviously stock photos and not of the winery itself. Down a back road and past some really unhealthy looking yellow vines, you find a rather small winery. The “tasting room” is really just a counter in the storage shed. All their wines are from 2008-2010. The host said they had had several bad years but still had plenty of stock from the good years. He indicated too much rain in the fall had burst the grapes several years in a row. Despite that, we really enjoyed their 2010 Vidal Blanc and their 2009 Conundrum, which is a blend of several white wines and the conundrum is “which ones?” You’ve got to love a winery with a sense of humor too!

  • Bottles are $12-$20
  • Winery – 3 stars
  • Wines – 5 stars

General’s Ridge Vineyard

Tasting – $10 for a full tasting of 12 wines, $8 for only reds or whites.

TIP: If you make a purchase, ask if you can keep the glass, which has a cool cannon etched in it. They gave us ours once we inquired about it.

The tasting rooms with a tin roof don’t mix well with torrential downpours. It sounded like cannon fire to go with their logo! The woman who did our tasting seemed a bit brusque. I’m not sure if it was the noise, her personality or her irritation with some mistakes the other employees seemed to be making with opening certain bottles of wine. The wines, however, were very nice. The winery is owned by a retired 2-star Marine Corps General, which is reflected in several of the wines’ names. The offer everything from off-dry blends to 100% varieties to a sparkling wine to a charming late harvest white to a port-style red.

  • Prices range from $15-$28
  • Winery – 4 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

Jacey Vineyards & Velas Tapas

Tastings – $10

All the brochures and their listings on Yelp and TripAdvisor say they are open Wed-Sun 10am-5pm. Someone at one of the wineries told us we really needed to call ahead for an appointment. When we tried calling to schedule one, we found out they were only open on Saturdays now. We were about an hour away and it was 3pm, so I asked if we could get one for that afternoon around 4pm. They said they were closing at 4.

0 stars

The Hague Winery

Tasting – $5 for 5 wines

Please note, this winery does NOT participate in the Tasting Pass program. The outdoor seating area was very nice even though it was pouring rain. There was only one person working. She graciously handled the 3 groups that were at different points in their tastings, even though she seemed a bit harried. The star of the show here is their nicely layered Chardonel that is aged in acacia wood.

  • Bottles of wine range from $18-$29
  • Winery – 4 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

The Dog and Oyster Vineyard

Tasting – $7 for 5 wines

Please Note: If you have an older wine trail map, this winery used to be called White Fences.

The vineyard is home to numerous rescue dogs that live in the fields to keep the deer away. Don’t worry though. They have heated dog houses with heated water bowls and they all seemed quite content. The property is easily the prettiest one in the area. The tasting room consist of 2 long tables for folks to relax and savor their wines. We really liked the pace of the tasting. It wasn’t rushed at all. The wine were very pleasant but expensive. I especially liked their robust rosé. However, at $39 a bottle, it seemed over priced. Their was an oyster food truck on site if you wanted to do a wine and oyster pairing.

  • Bottles sold for $26-$39
  • Winery – 5 stars
  • Wines, quality – 4 stars
  • Wines, prices – 3 stars

Good Luck Cellars

Tastings – $9 for 12 wines

Our overall favorite of our trip. The staff was friendly and very personable. The tasting room was clean and bright. Even the crackers and chocolate were of a higher quality than most wineries. It was difficult to narrow down our favorites. I have a feeling if this had been our first or second stop on the trail, we would have purchased a lot more wine then we did. They use Seval Blanc in a couple of their blends, which was a new grape to us. One that we really enjoyed. Their Inheritage, a blend of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Cab Sav, was also a hit. We found the dry, lightly oaked Chardonnay exceptional as well. A surprising feature of the winery was they also sold flavored olive oil and they let you bring your own bottles.

  • Wines range from $12-$28 with most in the teens.
  • Winery – 5 stars
  • Wines – 5 stars

Caret Cellars

Tastings – $5 for 10 wines

Caret Cellars is in Essex County on east side of the Rappahannock River, which is not on the actual Northern Neck. It is down a long winding back road, but well worth the drive. The owner shared amusing stories while pouring his wine, all of which were well received. His favorite grape is the Sangiovese and it shows. It features in several of his blends as well as being bottled in the Classico Chianti style. The tastings are done in the heavily wine-scented barrel room. Unfortunately, it had a prolific fruit fly population. They were very distracting and you had to be careful they didn’t end up in your glass. Investing in some fruit fly traps would be well advised.

  • Cost of bottles are $13 to $25
  • Winery – 4 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

Cheers!

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Bruschetta Chicken

Fresh, flavorful, uncomplicated and healthy.  What’s not to love??

It’s always nice to find a new recipe that is different than anything else I make. To find one that we love which is also so easy to prepare is a huge bonus. The combination of fresh tomatoes, flavorful herbs and tangy balsamic vinegar over juicy chicken topped with a combination of Italian cheese is superb. Pair it with freshly baked ciabatta bread and an oaked Ox-Eye Vineyards Pinot Noir and it defies description.

Bruschetta Chicken

1 lb. thin-cut boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup EVOO
2 Tbls. balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tbls. Italian herb seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 pint diced cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup shredded Italian blend cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Place chicken breasts in a large resealable plastic freezer bag. Combine the EVOO, balsamic vinegar, garlic, Italian herb seasoning, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Pour HALF of the marinade over the chicken, reseal bag, and in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours. (Overnight is fine.)
Preheat your grill to medium high or about 350 degrees F. Combine remaining marinade with diced tomatoes; set aside. Transfer chicken from marinade onto grill surface and discard marinade. Grill chicken for 3-4 minutes per side or until cooked through. (It is also okay to fry them in a pan over medium heat.) Transfer the chicken to a serving plate and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Spoon bruschetta mixture over chicken and top with basil; serve immediately.

The Ciabatta Bread is mixed in a bread machine on the Dough Cycle and then baked in the oven. I honestly could make a meal out of just it dipped in a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil seasoned with real grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh ground pepper. The dough is very sticky. Don’t give into the temptation to add more flour. Treat it gingerly to keep from bursting all the lovely air bubbles that form. It makes two loaves. If you don’t need both immediately, double bag one and stick it in the freezer. Thaw it at room temperature for several hours. It was pretty darn close to fresh baked.

 

Travel through Europe while you solve Mysteries

As I have mentioned previously, I love books reminiscent of the Golden Era of Detection. Mysteries where the plots are elaborate, the clues subtle, the characters multifaceted and the vocabulary expansive. Throw in a good dose of appropriate local color from around the world, and I’m beyond content.

I have just recently discovered the Fiona Mason Mysteries by Judith Cranswick. The premise being that following the death of her husband, 50-something Fiona takes a job as a Travel Coach Tour Manager based out of the UK. Each book follows the levelheaded guide and her endearing bus driver, Winston, as they visit various European countries, along with a coachload of interesting passengers. Along the way, they stumble upon murders, smugglers, assassinations, thieves and a very charming MI6 agent.

Book 1 – Blood in the Bulb Fields, has us off to Amsterdam during Tulip Season on Fiona’s “maiden voyage” as a Tour Manager. Unfortunately, the dead bodies start piling up before they can even cross the Channel. I find the added travel and history commentary fascinating. However, if that isn’t one of your interest, it is easy to skim over those bits without losing anything related to the crimes being solved. Mysterious deaths and diamond smuggling keep this from being the boring job Fiona’s sons think she has.

Book 2 – Blood in the Wine, is a tour of the Rhine River region with an emphasis on Mosel Wine Country, where my favorite wine originates.

I found the travelogue and wine making notes as enjoyable as the mystery itself. Was the brutal stabbing of one of the passengers related to his annoying personality and where do the missing plans for a guidance missile system fit in?

Book 3 – Blood and Chocolate, takes place several months later during a culture tour of Belgium. The tour was supposed to be an easier one for Fiona as it included a private group who would be doing most of the lectures on Flemish Art. But things don’t go according to plan when a British Member of Parliament is assassinated while the group is dispersed throughout the city. Once again, Fiona finds herself relying on her faithful West Indies driver for advice and support while helping MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones answer questions that only her passengers can help with.

There are five books in the series so far. I’m reading #4 Blood Hits the Wall at the moment. If you’d like to save a few dollars, I recommend purchasing the boxed set of #1-#3. So sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery as we sleuth across Europe!

Fish with Eggplant, Tomatoes & Basil

Found this on Rachael Ray’s website. I made a few tweaks. She called for cod pieces, but I used flounder fillets. I also used African blue basil from my herb garden instead of traditional basil, and I cut back on the olive oil.

Fish with Eggplant, Tomatoes & Basil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper
1 eggplant (1 lb.), trimmed and cut into 12 round slices (about 1/2 inch thick)
1 pound flounder fillets
1/3 cup shredded fresh basil

Preheat the broiler. In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp. EVOO over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl. Add the halved tomatoes to the pan; season with salt and pepper. Cook, undisturbed, until tender on one side, about 5 minutes. Stir and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with foil; place the eggplant slices on the baking sheet in a single layer. Mist the eggplant on both sides with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Broil, turning once, until tender and browned, about 8 minutes.

Spoon the tomatoes on top of the eggplant and cover with the fish. Broil until the fish is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using a wide spatula, transfer to plates. Top with the basil and garlic.

Homemade Brownie Bites

I adore my brownie recipe. It produces such a moist, decadent brownie that it is difficult to not sit down with a spoon and eat the whole pan at once. Bliss in a dish!

I recently needed to make some desserts for a fundraiser. I knew the brownies would be a hit, but the traditional “cut into bars” version can be difficult to eat while standing around talking since they crumble easily. I decided to try making them in my mini muffin pans instead.

The results were amazing!

Homemade Brownie Bites

1⁄2 cup shortening
1⁄2 cup real butter
1 cup dark chocolate cocoa
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease 48 mini muffin tins.
Melt shortening and butter over low heat or in the microwave.
Remove from heat and add cocoa, blending well with a wooden spoon. Add sugar and mix well.
Add eggs ONE AT A TIME, beating well, by hand, after each addition. Stir in vanilla, flour, and salt.
DO NOT OVER BEAT!
Bake 9-11 minutes.

The centers will still be a bit soft. That helps maintain the fudginess of them. If you bake them longer, they will be more cake-like and drier. Cool about 10 minutes and carefully remove them. Cool completely and dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.

 

 

Moving vs. Zooming with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

I was surprised a number of years ago when I found out that using the zoom feature on a point-and-shoot camera isn’t the same as a telephoto lens on an SLR camera. I was a bit skeptical when I read my first article on the topic of moving closer to the subject versus zooming in on it. It stated that the results were different because of the change in relationship between the subject and the background. I read and reread on the topic and still couldn’t get my head wrapped around it. Finally, I did what I force my students to do. I took my camera outside and tried it for myself.

I had a student stand in front of the playground equipment. A “busy” background helps show the difference better.

First, I stood back a ways and zoomed in to get the composition I wanted.

Then, I put the camera back in its wide angle mode and walked closer until she was about the same size in the viewfinder.

I was shocked at the difference in the background! But also notice the difference in photo quality. The reason the first photo is grainier is because all the “zoom” is doing is cropping the photo and thus stretching the pixels so the photos are the same size.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo I took the other day with my point-and-shoot camera.

Now, for comparison, here is the same photo cropped.

And now, using the zoom feature.

Even though I didn’t manage to get them to match up perfectly, see how both of them are grainy and blurry? Personally, I think the cropped original actually is better quality than the zoomed version.

Now, here is what it looks like if I use the camera without the zoom and walk closer.

The relationship between the tulips and background have changed, plus the tulips are more in focus. (Please understand, this is a fairly inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, so the quality isn’t anything like my good SLR camera’s photos.)

So, the next time you are in a situation and are tempted to zoom in on something, resist the urge!! Move closer, if possible. If moving isn’t an option, remember that cropping the photo later on the computer actually gives better results than having the camera crop the image for you.

But, also remember that if you are trying to get rid of a busy background, zooming might actually have an advantage.

On a size note, actually telephoto lenses don’t have this issue because they are really magnifying the scene and pulling it closer, so to speak. I’m assuming the same is true for the zoom feature on camera phones, even thought I haven’t tested it personally.

 

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Breakfast Cookies

These are so much better than store-bought breakfast cookies or bars for a quick grab-and-go option. The oats, whole wheat flour and peanut butter help keep you full for a long time. The cookies were soft & delicious which contrasted nicely with the crunch of the Cheerio’s.

Make sure to use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to make the cookies. If you make them smaller, they will be too dry and hard. My kids prefer dates over raisins. I’ve used both old fashioned oats and instant without difficulty. The recipe works well with either wheat or white flour. I have used store brands, but the cookies are definitely better with Cheerios. It also makes a difference to use real butter rather than margarine.

Cheerios Jumbo Breakfast Cookies

1 1⁄4 cups sugar
1⁄2 cup butter
1⁄2 cup peanut butter
1⁄4 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 egg
1 1⁄2 cups whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup raisins or dates
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups Cheerios toasted oat cereal

Heat oven to 375°. Stir together sugar, butter, peanut butter, water, vanilla and egg in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients except cereal. Gently stir in cereal.
Drop dough by rounded 1/3 cupfuls 4 inches apart onto ungreased large cookie sheet. Flatten dough to about 1 inch thick.
Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet. Store in a zip-lock bag.

Yields: 18 large cookies

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Beef and Bean Oven Tacos

These are a nice change from traditional tacos. Baking them in the oven adds a different dimension to the overall taste. It also helps soften the hard shells, which makes them easier to eat. Sometimes, I place the filling in a crock-pot and used it to assemble traditional tacos later. This approach works well for having supper ready within minutes of walking in the door or when taking something to a potluck meal. It’s especially popular with the kids.

Beef and Bean Oven Tacos

1 lb lean ground beef
1 small onion, finely diced
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons taco seasoning
1 (15 oz) can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 (15 ounce) can corn, drained (optional)
8-10 taco shells
1 cup shredded cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Brown the lean ground beef with the chopped onion. Drain well, if needed. Stir in the black beans, taco seasoning, petite diced tomatoes and corn. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
Line up the taco shells in a 7×11-inch baking dish that has been lined with foil. (Easy clean up!)
Spoon meat mixture into the taco shells. Top with cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Serve with any or all additional toppings: shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream, avocado chunks or guacamole.

Taco Seasoning Mix

Several years ago, I started making my own taco seasoning. It tastes better and is so much cheaper than buying the little packets. Plus, there aren’t any additives. One of my nephews used to get headaches every time he ate tacos. They finally figured out it was the meat seasoning. Apparently, he was allergic to the preservatives used.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • 6 tsp. chili powder
  • 5 tsp. paprika
  • 4 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 2 ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 3 tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients together and keep in an old spice jar or other sealed container.

Makes enough for about 4 or 5 pounds of meat, depending on how much you use each time.

Use 1 ½ – 2 Tbls. of seasoning per pound of hamburger.

Lemon Limeade Bars

I love a Sweet Tarts.

I love Sweet Tart Jelly Beans.

I love homemade Lemon Limeade.

I love coming up with a recipe that satisfies that sweet/tart craving in a cookie form. These bars are a slight tweak of a recipe I had tried before that I felt needed a little extra umph. If you don’t care for a strong lime flavor, use only half the zest from the lime. It does seem to be stronger than the lemon. You can also use 2 lemons, but what’s the fun in that?? Now I’m trying to figure out how to add some cherry flavoring for when I’m craving Cherry Limeade….

Lemon Limeade Bars

1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3⁄4 cup flour
2 eggs, large
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 lime, juice and zest
3⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease an 8×8-inch baking dish with nonstick spray and set aside.
Zest and juice the lemon and the lime. Combine the juices and zest in a small bowl and set aside.
Beat the sugar, salt, and softened butter until combined with an electric mixer. Beat in the flour.
Measure out 4 Tbls. of the juice and zest combination (it should leave you with about 2 Tbls.) Whisk together the eggs and 4 Tbls. of juice and zest. Beat it into the flour mixture for 2 minutes at medium speed until smooth and creamy.
Pour into baking dish and bake for 23-25 minutes, should turn golden around the edges.
Allow to cool completely before glazing. Do not over bake, or the bars will dry.
Add the powdered sugar to the remaining 2 Tbls. of juice and zest. Adding more powdered sugar if necessary to get the right thick-glaze consistency.
Spread the glaze over the brownies with a rubber spatula and let glaze set. Cut into bars and serve.

Comparing the Islands We’ve Been To

A while back, I shared why we prefer Sandals Resorts when we travel to the Caribbean. I thought it might be helpful to touch on the pros and cons of the various islands we have visited around the world.

1992 – Cayman Brac (Divi Tiara Dive Resort – destroyed by a hurricane several years later)

  • British territory – very clean, low crime rate, friendly locals
  • Caters to divers – Divers were gone all day & went to bed early. It was almost like having our own private resort.
  • Island very rocky with scrub brush.
  • Very little to do besides lounging, snorkeling, diving or fishing.
  • Easy access to snorkeling on the pink sand island of Little Cayman

2003 – Kauai, Hawaii (Marriott Beach Resort)

  • US state – no passport needed or having to exchange currency. Also clean with low crime rate.
  • Lush and tropical
  • A lot of things to do off the resort like hiking, shopping, golf, helicopter rides, kayaking, and touring coffee or sugar plantations. Also an easy day trip to Pearl Harbor, which was completely worth it.
  • Lengthy flights and drastic time change from the east coast.
  • The resorts are very family oriented and touristy.
  • Seafood is pretty limited to fish. Shrimp and lobster hard to come by.
  • Water is clear and not near as salty.

2008 & 2011 – Bahamas (Sandals Royal Bahamian & a cruise ship stop)

  • Absolutely gorgeous crystal blue water.
  • Not overly lush but not rocky and scraggly either.
  • Locals are a bit pushy sometimes, especially when haggling over prices.
  • Easy-to-use public buses.
  • Low daytime crime rate. We were advised to stay on the resort after dark.
  • Very popular with European tourist.
  • Easy to get to from the east coast.
  • A lot of snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, stingrays or pigs, glass bottom boat tours, sunset cruises, large resorts with casinos & shows like the Atlantis.

2012 – Jamaica (Sandals Montego Bay Resort & Royal Caribbean Resort)

  • Very rocky with a lot of scrub brush.
  • The water isn’t as clear for snorkeling.
  • A lot poverty and crime.
  • Safe on the resorts and on resort tours but friends were mugged when they ventured into town on their own.
  • But on the other hand, some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.
  • The nicer resorts are a lot further away from the airport. The resorts right by the airport have a lot of jet noise during the day.

2015 – Bermuda (cruise ship port)

  • British territory – very clean, low crime rate & friendly locals
  • The most upscale island I’ve been to so far.
  • Easy to get around on buses, rented mopeds or the boat taxis.
  • A lot of historical forts and ruins to explore.
  • Gorgeous pink sand Horseshoe Bay
  • In the middle of the Atlantic, so chillier than the Caribbean or Hawaii.
  • Amazing snorkeling of the shipwrecks of the Bermuda Triangle. (Water temp only 68-70° in May)

2016 – St. Lucia (Sandals La Toc Resort)

  • Very lush jungle mountainous island.
  • A lot further south and very hot & humid even in April, even though they said it was unusual for that time of year.
  • Long flights with no return options that didn’t include an overnight in Atlanta. (But at least you are still in the same time zone, which helps.)
  • It’s an hour bus trip on winding mountain roads to & from the airport.
  • Some poverty & crime issues downtown in the city. Villages seemed a lot more friendly and honest.
  • Good snorkeling and water clarity.
  • Friendly locals on the resort. Some pushier, ruder ones in town.
  • A fairly large island which offers more things to do, like catamaran cruises to the Pitons, zip lining or hiking the jungles & mountains, plantation tours, rum factory tours, tall ship cruises etc.

We still haven’t found our “absolute perfect island,” but we are willing to keep looking!!

 

Buttermilk Bran Muffins

The first time I had these I was 9 and staying at someone’s house. When the lady said she was making Bran Muffins for breakfast I was pretty sure I was going to have a miserable meal. Boy was I wrong!! These are fantastic! I usually cut back on the sugar as they are a bit on the sweet side if made according to the original recipe, which called for 1 1/2 cups of sugar. If I am using all oil, I use 1 cup. If I use half oil and half unsweetened applesauce, I use 1/2 cup sugar.

The batter keeps very well in the refrigerator, for a week or so, so you can bake fresh each morning as many muffins as you need.

Please note that the first ingredient is wheat bran, which is NOT Bran Cereal. Wheat bran looks like sawdust and is usually sold in the health food section or at a bulk food store.

Buttermilk Bran Muffins

2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup sugar
2 1⁄2 cups flour
2 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup oil (I use half unsweetened applesauce)
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons molasses

 

Mix first 5 ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. If you wish, you can also add chopped apples, raisins or other dried fruit at this point.

Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350°F for 16-18 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick.

Best served warm with or without butter.

 

Trump Winery – Charlottesville, VA

Last week, we decided to visit Trump Winery in Charlottesville for the first time. We had done a tasting at a wine festival about 5 years ago shortly after Donald Trump purchased it from Patricia Kluge’s bankrupt estate. We didn’t care for any of the varieties they offered. We saw a news story a year or so later regarding their new French vintner’s intentions of improving the quality. Recently, we had a few friends say they had visited the winery and enjoyed the selection. We felt it was time to give them another try.

The weather was gorgeous, especially for February. With temps in the upper 60’s, we enjoyed our drive past Monticello and Ash Lawn as we wound our way through the back roads of Albemarle County to the estate. Because it was so warm, they had the patio tasting room open as well as the lovely one inside.

The $15 fee including a tasting of 5 varietals as well as a souvenir wine glass. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed each one. We rated each of the following a 4 out of 5.


Sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2010 – a champagne-style Chardonnay, which is bright and crisp.

Viognier 2015 – Virginia’s signature grape. This one is similar to a Riesling.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – This is my husband’s favorite wine. The Trump version is blended with 25% Merlot, which made it smoother than a traditional Cab Sauv and easier on the palate.

New World Reserve 2014 – A lovely complex, well-rounded blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

We finished off with the most amazing dessert wine we have ever tried. I think the best way to describe their signature fortified Chardonnay, Cru, is a white port. “Cru is created by blending Chardonnay juice with grape brandy in lieu of a traditional fermentation. This fortified wine is then aged for over a year in American bourbon barrels.” No matter how it is done, the end results are phenomenal!

We then enjoyed a glass of wine with their diverse cheese tray ($20) while relaxing on the patio. All the cheeses and fruit spreads were excellent. Our overall favorite was the espresso encrusted cheese.

The expansive views certainly add to the experience. Even in late winter, they were impressive.

We can’t wait to visit again in the summer and try out the Adirondack chairs!

 

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