Great Exuma, The Bahamas


Exuma!  If you like long walks on soft, white sandy beaches and swimming in pristine water that reflects every shade of green and blue like an artist’s palatte, then this is for you.  The air is warm and silky smooth on your skin, and the water so crystal clear, you can see straight to the bottom. The Exumas is part of the chain of cays and islands that form the Bahamas beginning 35 miles southeast of Nassau.  Great Exuma, the largest of the Exuma islands is home to Georgetown, a charming laidback city encircling Lake Victoria with only 1000 permanent residents and variety of restaurants and small shops.


Or maybe you just need to get away.  Beaches in Exuma are nearly deserted. I’m sure more people show up on the weekends and during high season, however we are only one week away from the beginning of the busy season and we only saw three or four other people on the beach at Tar Bay. Everything is casual and low key.  This is not a super touristy destination. There are no high rise buildings, shopping centers, mega developments or vendors hawking their wares on the beach, or anywhere else for that matter. The people are really friendly and I have completely fallen in love with the Bahamian accent, English but with a melodic and singsong twist.


Great Exuma offers many different kinds of accommodations.  There are two large resorts, Sandals Emerald Bay, an all inclusive resort for couples and Grand Isle Resort and Spa, which offers a true luxury experience and the smaller family resort, Palm Bay Beach Club. There are also quite a few HOTELS or restaurants that also offer lodging. We opted to stay at a private residence right on the beach in Tar Bay, a cove several miles outside George Town.  One of the charming quirks of Exuma is that there are no street numbers.  Houses are known instead by their names and everyone knows them.  We stayed at “Yellow Bird House”, a charming two bedroom house, owned by our friend, Sean, who has been coming to Exuma for years. Yellow Bird House is available for rental (as are other homes) through Bahama Villa Rental.  Just click HERE for photos and information.


The beach waits just outside the back door.


We only had three full days at Great Exuma so we wanted to make the most of them.  Sean had arranged for us to spend our first day with Sugar Adventure’s, a Father and Son operation that was truly authentic, not like many ‘adventure travel’ excursions we have taken on past vacations that lead tourists around en masse to tourist attractions.  Sugar and his son, Montelle, took just the four of us out exploring some of the many cays that make up the Exumas launching from Barreterre at the top of the island.


Our first stop was at Major’s Spot Cay to swim with the pigs.  The official explanation for why the pigs are on the island is unclear but Sugar told us a local restaurateur had moved them out there and feeds them restaurant scraps. It was fun to pull the boat up to their island and watch the pigs make their way down to the water to visit.


They are domesticated and swim out to greet boats as they come out looking for bread or other treats.  The water is very shallow and offers a long sand bar which makes it easy for humans to interact with the pigs.  If you look closely, on the island are several tiny piglets just waiting for mom to come back.


Our next stop was Leaf Cay, Nicholas Cage’s island which is completely uninhabited except for hundreds of iguanas, who also come out to visit when humans stop by.  It feels a bit like Jurassic Park but actually they are very friendly, and if invited will climb up on you.


They have sharp talons and can inadvertently leave a scratch or two so make sure you have a towel handy for them to crawl up if you are so brave.  They are also happy just sunning with you on the beach, unless, of course, you have food.  Then they want you to share.


Then the action adventure portion of the day began.  Sugar went spearfishing for our lunch.  We stopped at several dive spots and he came up with two spiny lobsters, two conch and a trigger fish.  He did it all holding his breath using only a rudimentary spear. Fishing with oxygen tanks and gear is illegal here.   Then, feeling like cast members from Gilligan’s Island, we had lunch on a deserted beach on one of the many uninhabited cays.


Sugar and Montelle gathered brush and built a fire on the sand.  Then they prepared a conch salad with the fresh conch, hot peppers, lime juice and tomatoes, a very traditional Exuma dish, which was really delicious and couldn’t have been any fresher.


Once the fire made enough coals, they placed individual covered aluminum containers with lobster, fish, plantain, sweet potato and onion on the coals to cook while we swam in the blue waters.  I have already talked about the water but I really can’t say enough about it.  When you are on a small island, water is in almost every view.  Our driver told us that the locals say that their water comes in nine different colors from champagne, where it laps the shore, to shades of aqua and azure blue to a deep sapphire blue out in the deep water.


And, voila!  Lunch…


Back in the boat to go exploring…


We spotted several starfish swimming by and jumped out of the boat to say hello. Starfish grow with 4, 5 or 6 legs. Our guides were very excited that we ‘discovered’ a 6 prong starfish, only the second one they had ever seen in their lives.  We felt honored to be blessed with that experience.  After our photo op they floated away.


The day wound down with a short stint at bonefishing, which is a sport for which The Exumas are famous.  Bonefish are elusive, silvery fish that move like shadows beneath the surface.  This is a catch and release sport as bonefish are not considered good for eating.


Then home to shower change for dinner at the Fish Fry.  A Fish Fry is a conglomeration of small very casual restaurants.  There can be as many as 10 restaurants open during high season.  This week only Shirley’s and Charlie’s were open.  We ate at Shirley’s, which did not disappoint.  Shirley is as much a character as her restaurant – and she is a good cook.


We ordered grilled lobster and crack conch, along with all the Bahamian favorites like peas and rice, plantains and mac and cheese, but my favorite, hands down was the coconut crusted grouper. Yum!  See below for a list of Exuma restaurants and reviews.


Day Two began with long walks on Tar Bay beach and goodbye to our friends, then we drove into George Town to take a water Taxi to Stocking Island to hang out at the Chat N Chill. The water taxi is $12 round trip which is a bargain.  Here we had explicit instructions from Sean on how to experience the island.  We figured he should know, so why deviate?


 “Once at the Chat N Chill make sure you: 1) eat a conch burger 2) drink multiple Gumbay Smashes 3) with full drink in tow, walk around the small inlet behind the bar (east), wade across the water crossing, pick up the small trail that takes you up and over the small hill to the east side of Stocking Island.  This only takes about 10 minutes total.  The other side is beautiful, deep water, waves, huge beach to walk.  Sea shells.  Looks different on that side than anywhere on island.  Must do this.” 


The conch burger, a local favorite, was delicious, as were the Gumbay (or Goombay) Smashes, a ubiquitous drink in Exuma made with two kinds of rum, coconut liquor and orange juice.  We attempted to wade across the water to see the beautiful view but it was high tide and the water was up to our shoulders so we sent one plucky adventurer to report back. No photos as we weren’t willing to sacrifice our cameras and phones.


The Chat N Chill is a great place to spend an afternoon (or day). You can swim, have lunch or play beach volleyball.


Stingrays like to hang out along the shore and don’t seem to mind human interaction. While we were there, 5 or 6  stingrays swam close to us, brushing our legs. They are really beautiful, gentle creatures who seem to enjoy being touched or petted, especially above the eyes. Sometimes dolphins like to show off just off-shore too, but we weren’t lucky enough to see them today.


I spotted a large pile of conch shells on the beach and was told they tie them together and drop them out in the water where they are building an artificial reef for crabs, squid and other little fish and shellfish to make homes.


Dinner on Day Two was at Catch A Fire, a good seafood restaurant with a wonderful ambience and a great place to see the sunset.  A live music band and colorful local character, Bahama Obama (ironically, the locals call him Bush), who can show up  anywhere and does his best to make people feel welcome, added a festive note to the evening.  We enjoyed the tasty Curry Lobster with Potatoes.


Day 3 was a lazy beach, book, long walk day.  We went into George Town for supplies and checked out some of the shops.  The most famous shop is Straw Market which offers Bahamian souvenirs and t-shirts.


It was ‘Rake and Scrape Thursday” night at the Peace and Plenty Restaurant in downtown  George Town where they offer live music and a dinner buffet with quite a good assortment of Bahamian fare.  I believe that other nights they serve food from the menu. Of course, we saw our old friend, Bahama Obama.


Breakfast on our patio  in the morning and one last walk on the beach.  Good bye Yellow Bird House! We’ll be back..


TIPS:  Bring insect repellant as well as a soothing anti itch cream since Exuma is fairly insect free except for the sand flies (or No See Ems) which come out at dusk or on calm, windless days.  They can leave you with itchy bumps so be prepared. When planning dinner venues, check around to see where live music is being played as the band travels among several restaurants throughout the week. Lastly, taxi drivers are very willing to be ‘on call’ for you during your stay.  Just arrange it with them when you leave the airport.  Or you may be able to pre-arrange with your hotel.



Great Exuma Restaurant Reviews via Travel Advisor:



Silouette Photo: Cecilia Singh

Bonefishing, Starfish and Swimming with Pigs Photos:  Jason Windfield

Map of Exuma:  Exuma Visitors Guide

George Town Photo: Hideaways Palm Bay

Weekend in the Virginia Countryside and Old Family Recipe



It’s 35 degrees Fahrenheit and we are in a convertible with the top down taking a drive in rural Virginia.  Crazy?  Maybe, it was cold but beautiful! My husband and I are here visiting his cousin Mitch and his wife, Barbara. Mitch isn’t really his cousin.  Their relationship is something like his mother’s sister’s husband’s sister’s son and his wife.


Regardless, they grew up as cousins and we are on a short but sweet visit to their lovely country home nestled in Madison County right next to the Shenendoah National Park at the base of the Blue Ridged Mountains.  The area is mostly agricultural and farmland, home to many beautiful horses and cows who, I think are quite lucky to live in such a gorgeous place.


Shenendoah National Park is best known for Skyline Drive, a 105 mile (169 km) road that runs the entire length of the park along the ridge of the mountains. The drive is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors (which we just missed). 101 miles (162 km) of the famous Appalachian Trail are also in the park.


 We left California early in the morning while it was still dark and landed in Washington DC in the evening, in the dark. While we were driving here, we couldn’t see anything except the road in front of us.  It was the kind of dark you can only get in the countryside where there is no illumination from ‘citylife’, so it was nice to get up on a cold but sunny morning and see green fields, rolling hills and majestic mountains.  We missed the glory of the changing of the leaves but still found some spots of color here and there.


On our drive we ran across a tiny Old Post Office which was in operation until only a couple of years ago,Virginia2

…and the historic and picturesque Episcopalian Church


However, I am not forgetting that this is a food blog.  I also woke up in the morning to these beautiful popovers, which Barbara had just taken out of the oven.  They were delicious!  I had mine with cold butter and orange marmalade along with my hot coffee.  Heavenly!  What a wonderful start to the day.


Barbara shared her recipe with me and I am sharing it with you.  It is her grandmother’s grandmother’s recipe.

Old Fashioned Popovers

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print



TIPS:  For best results, Barbara says all ingredients must be at room temperature and oven and pan should be preheated before filling.


‘Cousins” Mitch and Barbara in their front yard.


We left Grave’s Mill and travelled on to Charlottesville to visit our friends, Kerri and Rick.  Charlottesville is a beautiful city with big sprawling lawns and Jeffersonian Architecture, primarily an abundance of stately red brick buildings with white pillars and portico entries.  It is the home of the University of Virginia and two former presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.   Monticello, the historic plantation manor of Jefferson, maybe better known as the building on the back of the nickel, is available for tours as is  Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland .



We only had a few hours to explore so we headed to historic downtown Charlottesville. We strolled through City Market,  a large open air Farmer’s Market, which is open only on Saturdays from 7am to noon from April through December where you can buy a wide variety of fresh, local produce, baked goods and crafts.


Then we windowshopped our way through the Downtown Mall which is a pedestrian walkway filled with shops and restaurants.


We had lunch at Citizen Burger Bar where I enjoyed a house made quinoa, millet and beet burger


and crispy fried pickles with Sriracha mayo. I love fried pickles, which is a treat I only see on the East Coast.


We stayed at the Boar’s Head Inn Head Inn, a lovely 4 Star resort located on a 473 acre country estate in the Ivy district several minutes from downtown. The hotel boasts a spa, golf and tennis, a sports club and several restaurants.


While dining at Bistro 1834 in the hotel I tried one of their Southern specialties, Peanut Soup, definitely a first for me.


The slogan is ‘Virginia is for Lovers’.  Well I love Virginia and will be back.  Tomorrow we leave for warmer climates.  More soon! – J


Boar’s Head Inn Photo Credit: Boar’s Head Inn. Charlottesville Architects Johnson, Craven & GIbson







Wheatless Wednesday – Rancho La Puerta Granola



‘THE RANCH’, as it is affectionately called by those people who are lucky enough to have been there, is one of my favorite places in the world. Rancho La Puerta, basking in the shadow of rugged Mount Kuchumaa in Baja California, is a fitness and wellness oasis, and gorgeous retreat. I went for the first time when I had three little boys at home. It was the first time I had left my kids to go on a trip by myself and my mother and father in law came to help my husband. It was quite liberating to not have to worry about anyone else for a whole week, a rarity for most moms.   I loved everything about The Ranch; getting up at 6am to do the Pilgrim hike before breakfast; going to pilates, yoga, then circuit training before lunch; pool-time, spa treatments and naptime restorative yoga before dinner. Ahh, what a day –every day for a week!

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What I loved best though is the food, which is ovo-lacto vegetarian, with small amounts of seafood. The wonderful food made me realize that I really like vegetarian food when it’s done this well. Meals are flavorful, healthful and creative. Most of the produce comes from Rancho Tres Estrellas, the 6-acre organic farm on the property which is available to visit.  Foodies take note, a wonderful cooking school rests in the center of the farm, La Cocina Que Canta (“The Kitchen That Sings!”) which also takes advantage of the fresh produce. Classes are available to Ranch guests.


I have been back several times, with friends and by myself. Every day I was there, I did something I had never done before; Crystal Bowls (Sound Healing), Silent Dinner, Tai Chi or even a walk through the labyrinth. It’s a magical place and I can’t wait to go back, for both the experience and the food.  So I thought I would share their most requested recipe, Rancho La Puerta Granola (which I have been wanting to make for the last 10 years or so).  It is lower in fat and sugar than most recipes and truly delicious. Upon arrival at the San Diego airport, we were each given a baggie of granola for the bus ride to The Ranch and with just one mouthful we were all hooked.   As I recall a bag of granola was one of the most coveted prizes at Bingo night, (The Ranch is not known for its rocking nightlife, although Bingo night is legendary).


I stayed true to the recipe with the following exceptions.  I am allergic to canola oil (and no longer think its so great anyway) and substituted coconut oil which I melted in the microwave on low power.  I also used a coconut oil spray to coat the pan. I made this recipe twice since the first time it turned brown too fast as my oven was too hot.  The second time I had the oven at 250 degrees, as recommended, not 350. Note to self:  “Do not attempt to make a recipe for the first time without your reading glasses.  I would recommend using the top rack in the oven as the granola turns from golden to brown pretty quickly even at 250, so start watching at the 60 minute mark.


Enjoy your little bit of The Ranch!  Even better, share with friends!  Rancho La Puerta Granola makes great gifts.  One batch makes four cup and a half servings.  Just bag, label and tie with a ribbon. (Check out my Canning and Preserving Page for more info on labels).  Voila!  Hostess gifts solved.



Rancho La Puerta Granola

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup chopped almonds
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour (or a nut flour, like almond flour to make gluten free)
  • ¼ cup oat bran
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ½ cup unsweetened unfiltered apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 250ºF.
2. Lightly coat a baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. (I love an extra coconut flavor so I used a coconut oil spray).
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, almonds, seeds, coconut, flour, oat bran, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom.

4. In another bowl, whisk together the honey, apple juice, vanilla and oil until the honey is thoroughly incorporated. Add the orange zest and the orange juice if desired.

5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix well. Spread the granola evenly over the baking sheet and bake about an hour and a half, checking and stirring every fifteen minutes.  Take care that the outside edges do not burn. When golden and dry, scrape onto a plate or cool baking sheet and set aside to cool.


Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Calories per serving: 25, 1 tablespoon per serving

A Whirlwind Weekend in Seattle



Eat, Drink, Sleep, Repeat. I  just spent 48 hours in the ‘Emerald City’, and I don’t mean Oz.  Seattle is known as the Emerald City because of the abundance of evergreens in the city and surrounding area.  Beautiful Seattle stays green year round, probably due in part to a little bit of rain…  I am originally from the Pacific Northwest where most of my family still lives and I have the pleasure of going back to visit often, this time for my Dad’s 83rd birthday.  If I were going to Seattle as a tourist or on vacation, I would be busy soaking up all Seattle has to offer, however, I was there to see family and friends so tended to frequent neighborhood restaurants and local haunts, which are also pretty great.  For the unenlightened I thought it fun to list my top five things to do in Seattle, then I will get to the point of my blog which is a very brief tour of Seattle’s neighborhood restaurants, at least as many as I could get to in 48 hours. Alas, I was not home to prepare menus this weekend but Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday will be back next week.

Seattle Pike-Place-Market

1) Pike Place Market, opened since 1907, is one of the oldest markets on the west coast and one of my favorite places to go in Seattle.  You will see fish mongers tossing fish to each other, fresh produce, beautiful flowers, interesting places to eat and great shopping.

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2)Seattle Water Front is another interesting and diverse area. More great shopping and dining while you enjoy a free show of the musicians and street performers that take over the piers.  Walk down to Pier 57 and check out the Seattle Great Wheel, the city’s newest attraction just built in 2012, which is the largest observation wheel on the west coast. I have not gone on the Great Wheel yet but it looks like fun and an awesome view!


3)Take the monorail from downtown Seattle to Seattle Center, an amusement park and entertainment center, originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair,  which also includes the famous Space Needle where you can take the elevator up 605 feet and enjoy a 360 degree view of Seattle.  There is a rotating restaurant on top which completes the circle every 46 minutes for a unique dining experience.   Thanks to technology you can now experience the amazing view from the Space Needle from the comfort of your armchair. Just click on the link and start scrolling for a pretty cool view of Seattle and the observation decks.


4) If you’re in Seattle for the first time, you should take a ferry – anywhere. It’s a common mode of transportation for locals but also a great way to see Seattle and the surrounding area.  Go visit Bainbridge, Whidbey or one of the many islands that form the San Juan Islands.  You can even take a high speed ferry to Victoria BC which is charming.  You can take your car right on the ferry and go exploring once you get to the other side.

wild ginger sign2

5)Seattle cuisine is exceptional so check out some of the trendy and fun restaurants.  My hip local friends are raving about Flying Fish in South Lake Union, Luc, Ba Bar and Tavern Law in Capital Hill and Caffe Presse near Seattle University.  The only trendy restaurant I went to this trip was Wild Ginger.   Located in downtown Seattle, it has a great ambiance and delicious Asian inspired food.  I would definitely recommend.


So now lets leave the ‘virtual trip’ and talk about my ‘actual’ trip.  After a 5:30am wake up call and flight to Sea Tac Saturday morning, my sister, Margaret and her husband, Scott launched my two day eat-a-thon with lunch at Green Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant in Chinatown.


Chinatown is also known as the International District which is a multi-ethnic neighborhood with predominantly Asian Americans where you can find noodles, sushi, dim sum, stir fry and pho, all delicious and authentic.


At Green Leaf we ordered Tofu Spring Rolls (which I had to take a second picture of since my sister insisted on getting her Sea Hawks jersey in the photo.  It was a tofu packed meal as I followed up with Bun Chay, a noodle bowl with Chinese mushrooms, vegetables, grilled tofu, fried tofu and something suspiciously called ‘imitation ham’, which is apparently common on Vietnamese vegetarian menus.


Our waitress seemed somewhat vague about what it was made out of ( maybe wheat and vegetables) so I ordered it on the side.  I’m not a fan of tempeh like foods so I was a bit hesitant to try it but we all agreed that it was better than we expected. (see photo above).


We celebrated my Dad’s birthday at Europa Bistro Italiano in the heart of Tacoma’s Proctor District, near where my parents live.  Europa is a small neighborhood restaurant that makes its own pasta (gluten free upon request) and uses fresh local seafood.  The wonderful aroma that greets you at the entry lets you know it’s going to be a good meal.


My Dad and I shared Vongole, fresh Manila clams (the little teeny ones that are so good) sautéed in  garlic, olive oil, white wine broth. I have a large family so we got to try half the menu.  Other popular dishes that night were Eggplant Parmagiana and Spinach Manicotti with homemade noodles.


Breakfast Sunday was at Calamity Janes, in Georgetown, Seattle’s oldest district known back then for its bars, brothels and saloons. It actually incorporated in 1905 as a response to Prohibition.  Georgetown is still dotted with taverns that are still rustic, filled with old wood and original brick. but they are now trendy and serve good food.


For breakfast I splurged on Orange Almond French Toast (with Drambuie French toast batter).  Their omlettes and other dishes looked pretty good too.  Calamity Janes prides itself on supporting neighborhood businesses and serves Georgetown beers, coffee and baked goods.

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My grandfather had a car top shop in the neighborhood back in the day and frequented Jules Mae’s Saloon which is still there today.  A block away is Doris Street (which is my Mom’s name) which is just an interesting coincidence.  Jules Mae’s also serves great breakfast but doesn’t open until around 11am.

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We stopped in at the Star Brass Works Lounge for a Screwdriver and then checked out Georgetown Trailer Park which is a very cute second hand/antique shopping center housed entirely with retro trailers.  Then we drove back down to Tacoma to hand deliver mini birthday cakes to our Dad on his actual birthday. Happy Birthday Dad!


Our last leg of the trip was a quick stop at the house on Lake Washington Boulevard where Curt Cobain, Nirvana lead singer, lived (and died) on the way to meet our friends. Next to the house, in Viretta Park, fans have turned two benches into a shrine where people often leave flowers and messages honoring the singer.  Fans of ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’ will remember that this is the neighborhood where Bernadette lived and Curt Cobain’s house had a cameo.


We UBERed to Wild Ginger, an Asian fusian restaurant and satay bar  in downtown Seattle. This is a great place to meet friends.  The food is excellent and creatively prepared.  We ordered Siam Lettuce cups, grilled seabass with roasted peanuts, Thai basil, lime, chili and tamarind wrapped in butter lettuce leaves. Yum!    Another dish I would recommend is the Thai Passion Tofu, fried tofu, eggplant, kefir lime and basil,. The purple and green are glorious and the sauce is delicious.


Their most popular dish is one we tried as well, Green Curry Chicken.  I love everything with green curry but this was pretty good.  The restaurant is so kind as to share the recipe on their website, so I have printed it below.  ‘Til next time Seattle…Enjoy!

Credit for the fabulous photos goes to:

Seattle Skyline –

Pike Place Market –

Seattle Great Wheel –

Monorail –

Ferry –


Wild Ginger Chicken Curry

For the marinade:

1 tsp    Wild Ginger curry powder

½ tsp  white pepper
1 tsp  sesame oil
1  egg white
1 Tbl   rice wine
2 tsp   corn starch
1½ lb  chicken breast
For the curry:
2  green onions, bulb and greens, thinly sliced
1  shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1  medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 Tbl rice wine
1½  cup chicken stock
¾ cup coconut cream
1½ Tbl  Wild Ginger curry powder
1 tsp sugar
 fish sauce to taste
Method: Marinate chicken for 30 minutes.  Cut into bite size pieces.
Heat wok and sauté green onion bulbs (save greens to be used for garnish) and thinly sliced shallots over medium high heat until slightly brown.
Add yellow onion and garlic to wok, sauté for 1 minute.
Over medium high heat, sweep onions to the side of the wok and add chicken. Brown on all sides.
Deglaze wok with rice wine.  Add chicken stock, coconut cream, Wild Ginger curry powder and sugar.
Bring to a boil and let sauce reduce and thicken.  Season with fish sauce, to taste.
Serve your curry over steamed jasmine or brown rice and garnish with reserved sliced green onions.

Havana, Cuba – Coffee, Rum & Cigars…


Cuba Havana

CUBA! A week in Havana has left me delighted by the sights and sounds but dismayed at the deplorable condition of what was once a glorious city. We stayed at Hotel Nacional (in the above photo on the left) perched on a rock wall overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Cuba Havana2Cuba car

The classic 50’s cars, some in in faded yellow, green or blue and others hot pink and cherry red, somehow still in pristine condition, add a certain charm, as do the narrow winding streets and wonderful old buildings with overhanging balconies, columns and arches.

Cuba ruinsCuba Ruins2
However, most of the beautiful buildings and mansions are neglected, with peeling paint and crumbled facades. It’s easy to envision how beautiful and vibrant Havana must have been in its heyday. It’s hard not to feel protective of this island nation which has been under communist rule for over 50 years. The people are poor but warm and friendly.  This is a food blog though so I will just leave it there and show you how I ate my way through Havana.

Cuba coffeeCuba cigarsCuba mojito2
Cuba is known for its coffee, cigars and rum (The Bacardi family is from Cuba.) but we also found the food to be delicious.  “Cuban cuisine is a fusion of native Taino food, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisine. Some Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish and African cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. As a result of the colonization of Cuba by Spain, one of the main influences on the cuisine is from Spain. Along with Spain, other culinary influences include Africa, from the Africans that were brought to Cuba as slaves, and Dutch, from the French colonists that came to Cuba from Haiti. Another important factor is that Cuba itself is an island, making seafood something that greatly influences Cuban cuisine. Another contributing factor to Cuban cuisine is the fact that Cuba is in a tropical climate. The tropical climate produces fruits and root vegetables that are used in Cuban dishes and meals.”(Wikipedia)

Cuba Papaya and pineappleCuba bananas and apples

We were with a large group so found the food served in the hotels to be underwhelming but had delicious meals when we ventured into smaller restaurants, many of which were private homes or villas that served food. A typical Cuban breakfast is eggs and ham, or even a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Rice and beans, and pork are the main staples and eaten at most meals. People that live on the coast also eat fish and seafood.  Tropical fruit is gorgeous and abundant. It seems that locals eat what is available and affordable.

Cuba breakfast Cuba Cubano

My days began with lovely Cuban coffee, eggs and some form of rice and beans and a variety of fruit, papaya. guava, banana and grapefruit. I have also included a photo of the very traditional Cubano (grilled ham and cheese) which is also often eaten in the middle of the night when it is called Medianoche.

Cuba farmstand 2Cuba store
Although Cubans rely on their government ration and almost everything is owned by the government, we were surprised and pleased to see so many entrepreneurs. Many locals set up impromptu produce stands, presumably with produce from their gardens, or barbecues with a variety of goodies along the streets and highways. The above photo on the right is a store in Old Havana where locals buy staples like rice and beans when they get their ration every month.

Cuba Playa Santa MariaCuba Playa Santa Maria 2

At Playa Santa Maria, outside of Havana, we had a delicious Mariscada seafood platter with lobster, Dorado (mahi mahi) and fried banana and sweet potato at a beach ‘restaurant’ that some enterprising locals set up with umbrellas and tents. The table next to us ordered a most interesting red snapper that almost looked like it was going to swim away. They were kind enough to let me take a photo.
Cuba MariscadaCuba Red Snapper

Cubans eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, plantain, cassava, banana, potato, yuca, calabeza and sweet potato that are boiled, fried or baked. At Mediterraneo HaVana, which is a private home turned into a Cuban Italian restaurant, another sign of local entrepreneurship. I ordered a very delicious Pargo (red snapper) with tomatoes and olives and Spinach Croquettes, although most croquettes have beef or pork which is not on GMD. (They do love their fried food)

Cuba DoradoCuba Croquettes Espinachi
At Paladar La Guarida, (a fabulous old villa owned by a chef who started the restaurant in his home) we had yucca two ways, steamed in garlic (yum!) and fried like french fries but better.

Cuba steamed yuccaCuba fried yucca

We also had honey lime chicken, black beans and rice ( I could live on this), fried sweet potato and plantain chips, all typical Cuban foods.

Cuba Chicken2Cuba beans and rice

Old Havana, the original ancient city core of Havana, is a charming paradox of very old and a very little bit of new (thanks to outside investing it is being refurbished).  It is  reminiscent of The French Quarter in New Orleans, or rather what it could be if it were completely refurbished and filled with thriving businesses.

Cuba Old HavanaCuba Old Havana2Cuba Old Havana3

We had drinks at the hotel where Hemingway liked to stay when he was in Havana, before he bought a house in the country, and then had dinner at Café Del Oriente in Old Havana, touted as one of the best the city has to offer. One of the dishes we enjoyed was a beautifully prepared fish and octopus carpaccio.

Cuba fish carpaccio

We had a wonderful time in Cuba, however, it is very much a third world country.  You can’t drink the water (like in Mexico), cell phones don’t work (unless you rent or purchase one that does) and they don’t take American money or credit cards.  It would be nice to see our relationship with Cuba restored which would greatly improve the quality of life for the locals.  Sorry, I have no recipes to share today, however, Wheatless Wednesday will feature a complete Cuban meal. Adios!

Cuba Taxi


Havanah Skyline:

Cuban Cigars:×1024.jpg