Sunday, October 10, 2010

Adventures in Sin City

My recent travels took me to an unlikely place - Vegas. Now, I'm not much of a gambler, so finding fun things to do in Vegas was a bit of a challenge, since, you know, the main thing to do is gamble. But with a little help from some knowledgeable friends, we found plenty to do on and off the Strip.

First notable stop for dinner: Lotus of Siam, also known to some as the best Thai restaurant in the country. This is a no-frills restaurant located in a strip mall WAY off the strip, but well worth it. Many of the dishes here were ones you might have tried in your local Thai restaurant, but the flavors were so much richer and bolder than the bland takeout that I have in my neighborhood. The green curry with shrimp and drunken noodles were my favorite by far.

Next stop, right in our hotel, was Sage. We started with some old-school drinks at the bar - I had an excellent Aviation and bakerbiker tried a Manhattan. We then moved on to the dining room, where the chef specializes in locally-inspired, inventive dishes. We went with the prix-fixe, since we wanted to try lots of different things. My very favorite of the evening: slow-poached farm egg with smoked potato, shaved black truffles, and country bread. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner rolled into one! Main dishes were also excellent - I had a tender potato-crusted Arctic char with fennel, apple, and horseradish. Definitely a flavor profile you don't see every day. The one dull spot of the meal was dessert. Mine was perfect and totally unique -- lemon-thyme semifreddo with roasted grapes, sugar cookies, and orange honey. But bakerbiker's meal came with a somewhat boring chocolate torte. Overall, though, would totally recommend a stop for a meal here. They have happy hour during the week as well, and it's a bargain with half price drinks and an affordable bar menu.

To burn off those calories, the next day, we drove out to Red Rock Canyon about 45 minutes away, and spent the day hiking. I have been to the southwest exactly one other time, so the landscape is really different and striking for me. I've never been to the Grand Canyon, so for those of you have, this is probably nothing. But I was still in love with the colors and shapes.

For an evening out on the town, we splurged and went to a Cirque du Soleil. There are actually seven or eight Cirque shows going on in Vegas simultaneously at any given time. After A LOT of research, we settled on "O," which was a good choice for me. It was a mix of diving, synchronized swimming, and acrobatics. The set is basically a stage equipped with a pool that opens out underneath it. There was a plot, but it didn't take over, and you could focus on the artistic parts, which were really impressive.

To top off the weekend, we hit Bouchon for brunch. The food was upscale Euro-American brunch fare. I had a very good garden omelet, plus a cup of homemade yogurt and granola, with fruit and honey. Portions were huge and tasty and kept us both full until dinner.

Which leads me to dinner, which was really the highlight meal of the trip. We drove off the strip to Rosemary's, a tiny spot in a strip mall (lots of unexpected gems in strip malls on this trip). Things I especially enjoyed: prosciutto-wrapped figs with basil pesto, crab cake "fritters" with shaved fennel, and a gorgeous piece of halibut on sauteed spinach, with crunchy leeks and chive butter. You can guess from the descriptions, but the flavor combos were really different - I would never have even thought about putting basil with figs! The wait staff was awesome, and the owner even called me a few days later to find out how my meal was.

Overall, the city itself was a bit much for me - so much excess. But we were still able to find some fun stuff to do - and no gambling!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jamón, Jamón! And other European food adventures

It's hard to boil down an amazing experience into just a few words. And that's one of the reasons I haven't written anything about our two week vacation to Spain and Portugal this past summer. But if I have to sum it up, I'd have two words for you: Jamón Ibérico. I had heard a lot about this cured ham, made from Black Iberian pigs that are fed natural diets of acorns and grass, but I hadn't ever actually tried it before going to Spain. That's for two reasons. First of all, I'm still pretty squeamish about eating meat, especially when it comes from *cute* animals. And even though I do have a sometimes weakness for bacon, I consider pigs to be super cute. And second, Jamón Ibérico only recently came to be available in the US (it was illegal until 2007) and even so, if you want it, be ready to shell out upwards of $200/pound.

I really wanted to enjoy the experience of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine; and in Spain, jámon is basically part of every meal. So before we left, I made a decision to embrace that and eat what was recommended wherever we went. And lo and behold, one of the first things that appeared in front of me when we landed in Spain were some super-thin, smoky slices of Jamón Ibérico. And I loved every melt-in-your-mouth, salty bite. Jamón Ibérico works well on its own, but is also very tasty with some slices of Manchego and a nice crusty bread. Pair it with a red wine or sherry and you've got a great little lunch. I wouldn't recommend running out and spending $200 on your jamón and cheese sandwich, but there are lots of related cured ham alternatives, like Jamón Serrano, which is cheaper and very similar in flavor.

Other highlights of our trip. As soon as we touched down in Madrid, we headed to a local cafe for a breakfast of tortilla española, a simple, but rich Spanish omelette, made with cream and potatoes. In Sevilla, every restaurant was guaranteed to have a juicer handy so you could order fresh-squeezed orange juice made from those famous Seville oranges.

I especially liked all the bright colors of Sevilla, and these candied limes really captured it for me. I didn't get to try them, but they were gorgeous in the café window.

In Jerez de la Frontera, where sherry is made, we headed to a sherry house to learn about sherry-making (and tasting!). In Cadiz, we tried fried seafood, which is a specialty of the region - check out the gorgeous shrimp cakes.

Portugal had its own list of delicacies, ranging from the famous egg custards made in the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon (seen below). And of course grilled sardines, a Portuguese specialty.

You certainly don't need to run all the way to Europe anymore to get many of these little delicacies. In the Boston area, there's a lovely little Spanish market called Las Ventas, which has everything you need to make your own Spanish tapas at home; or you can get a bocadillo (traditional Spanish sandwich) to go. Formaggio Kitchen also has many of the ingredients you'll need to bring a little bit of Spain and Portugal home. I for one can't wait to go back.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Savoring the end of summer

Hi everyone!
I know it's been a while since I've posted anything - I've got a backlog of travel posts a mile long. More on that to come. But in the meantime, I know I've written about peaches before, but I can't seem to get enough. We've been getting some small but super fragrant peaches in our CSA and I was supposed to be saving them for brandied peaches, which I've written about before. But earlier this week, they were sitting right next to the berries staring longingly at me, begging to be turned into a cobbler. Some of you out there have had this cobbler recipe in one form or another before. I just can't seem to stop making it, and it's been a tried and true recipe for a few years. You can throw just about any summer fruit into this recipe and it's super tasty. I've made it with just one type berry or a mix. You might need to play around with the sugar proportions a bit, depending on whether you're using sour or sweet fruit. But the basic recipe, with touches of fresh lemon zest, cornmeal, and buttermilk, still works well. Serve with ice cream or fresh whipped cream for a summer dessert you'll want on hand all year long.


For the filling (make and cook filling first):

1/2 c. sugar
1 T. corn starch
a dash of cinnamon
a pinch of salt
6 c. of fruit (if you're using peaches, you'll want to slice into bite-size pieces and remove the skins)
1 1/2 t. minced lemon zest
1 T. fresh lemon juice

To make the filling:
Heat oven to 375 degrees with rack in the lower middle position. Mix dry ingredients of the filling. Then stir in fruit and lemon juice. Bake in a 9x9 baking dish for about 25 minutes.

For the biscuits (make while filling is baking):

1 c. flour
2 T. cornmeal
1/4 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3 T. melted butter
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/2 t. vanilla

To make the biscuits:
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients in a second bowl. Just before the filling comes out of the oven, fold wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Form dough into eight equal-sized portions.

For topping (make while filling is baking):
1/8 t. cinnamon
2 t. sugar

To make the topping:
Mix 2 tsp. sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

For final assembly (after berries come out of oven):
Take berries out of the oven. Reset oven to 425 degrees. Put eight dough portions of dough on top of hot berries. Sprinkle each round with cinnamon sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A failed experiment, a sweet finish

I'm not much of a dessert person - I often find sweet things a bit too cloying. Sweet drinks, sweet foods - if there's too much sugar, I start longing for fries. But there are times when a dessert knocks it out of the park for me. For instance, I love desserts with berries and biscuits and cream.

My personal favorite tends towards the strawberry-rhubarb combo, since it's somehow tart and sweet at the same time. I also love different textures in my desserts and when I'm out at a restaurant, I usually want to try something I don't know how to make at home. That's why I've always been intrigued by panna cotta. It's light-tasting and not too sweet. It's super-smooth and it seems like you can do anything with it. Lavender panna cotta? Sure! Why not? Espresso? Sage? Basil? Go for it! And it always seemed so hard to make. But when I recently saw a panna cotta recipe from a favorite blogger La Tartine Gourmande, it looked gorgeous and so darn easy. It only had about 8 ingredients and a few easy steps, so I thought what the heck, I'll try it. Well, I have to say that it didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. The flavor was actually pretty good, but the texture was off. I don't think it set quite right and even though on top, it looked like it had, when you dug in, it was a little grainy. So I guess I'll have to keep trying. In the meantime, though, the topping we made to go with it was actually really good, so here's the recipe. It would go well on ice cream or yogurt and, in theory, panna cotta. So if you've got a good recipe or tips on how to make a successful panna cotta, I'm all ears. In the meantime, I'll be sticking to ordering it at restaurants.


4-5 stalks rhubarb, chopped into 1/4 in. pieces
1 1/2 quarts strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch
crystallized ginger

Simmer first four ingredients together on the stove until fruit is tender. Let sit on stove to cool and thicken. Spoon compote onto ice cream or yogurt and top with crystallized ginger to taste.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A tropical treat

I've recently been obsessed with hibiscus flowers as a really versatile base for some refreshing summertime drinks. Inspired by Jamaica Agua Fresca, which is a Mexican cooler made with hibiscus, I went on a city-wide search to make my own at home. You'd think that with all the natural foods/organics stores out here, this wouldn't be such a hard task. But after lots of searching, I was only able to find a couple of places that carried whole hibiscus flowers, which are the main ingredient in my summer thirst quenchers. If you're local, I was able to find these little gems at Christina's Spice and Specialty in Cambridge. I happen to love Christina's, mostly because they carry an extremely well-edited and yet somehow varied collection of hard-to-find spices. Oh, and their ice cream at the shop next door is to-die-for. But the goods are not cheap. So beware going into the store with a long list - you'll come out with a much lighter wallet!

This leads me to the other find. I was bemoaning my failure to find an affordable spice store that carries everything I want to some friends. And lo and behold, they introduced me to Atlantic Spice Company, which I visited on a recent trip to the Cape and it was heaven! Just about every spice, herb, grain, essential oil, and tea you can imagine. They sell wholesale so prices are low. And you can buy these online - spices brought straight to your doorstep. Though a visit to the store would also be well worth your while. We bought a pound of hibiscus flowers and went to town.


2 cups dried hibiscus flowers
8 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of 4 limes

Bring flowers, water, and sugar to a boil and simmer in a saucepan for about 15 minutes. Let cool on the stove. Strain and reserve flowers in a separate bowl. Transfer tea to a pitcher, add lime and refrigerate.

For a little bonus, here's a recipe for a delicious simple syrup with the reserved flowers (or use new ones if you like). Use it to make a fun little champagne cocktail or a Hibiscus-Lime Margarita.


1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 handfuls of hibiscus flowers

Bring water to a simmer, add sugar and let dissolve. Add hibiscus flowers and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain flowers and refrigerate.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spring has sprung!

There are a lot of reasons to love spring - the warmer weather, stuff starting to bloom. As you could probably guess, we especially like the early fresh crops of greens that spring produces. Our garden plot is small, but super productive. This year, we planted a few early crops of greens - two kinds of kales, green leaf lettuce, arugula, broccoli, and peas. Most of these were planted as seeds in March, so by now they're ready to pick. What's amazing about these early crops is that they grow so dang fast! The other day, we went out there and found that our lettuce and arugula had exploded, so we decided to harvest some of it. This little box of vegetables yielded enough salad greens for the whole week!

We usually do our garden shopping at Allandale Farm - a great little local place and Boston's only working local farm. Allandale not only has great starter plants - we bought about 15 different varieties of tomato plants - they also have a small, but gorgeous produce section featuring fruits and vegetables from their own land. We saw fiddleheads and asparagus and just had to have them.

What I love about these beauties is that they don't need much to shine. Here's a quick recipe for a simple, healthy, fresh-tasting meal we recently made.


1/2 lb of fiddleheads
1 bunch of asparagus
1 lb of fresh pasta
1-2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
2-3 cloves of garlic
1-2 links of cooked chicken sausage (optional)
1/4 cup of high quality shaved parmesan

Thoroughly wash and scrub fiddleheads and snip off their ends. Chop ends of asparagus and cut into bite-sized pieces. Sautee asparagus and fiddleheads with garlic and olive oil for 5-7 minutes. Toss with fresh pasta, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and shaved parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil to taste.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Maine Getaway

bakerbiker and I recently took a long weekend trip to Maine, to celebrate various fun happenings in our lives. We've been to Maine many times, which in some ways is good since we know we love it. This time, we made some of our usual stops (i.e., Portland), but ventured a bit farther north to the sleepy town of Camden. For those of you who have been to Maine during the high season, Camden is the opposite of sleepy. But April in Maine is definitely not high season, so we had the town practically to ourselves as tourists. Though the weather was a bit chilly (it snowed one of the nights we were there), we made sure to get a room with a fireplace to stay cozy and still were able to enjoy some nice walks outside along the gorgeous coast in the stormy New England weather. The highlights of our trip, you're probably not surprised, were about the food.

Our first stop was Portland, where we hit Hugo's for dinner. Last year, Hugo's chef Rob Evans, won the James Beard Best Chef Northeast award. We've been there before and ordered a few small plates, but we'd never gone all out with the recommended six-course tasting. Now that I've had it, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to go back. We started with an amuse bouche of mussel with red pepper and lemon foam. A single bite of heaven. Second course was asparagus salad with marinated mushroom, a poached farm egg, and fried ricotta. It was very fresh and "spring" and the asparagus was the most tender that I've ever had. The third (and my favorite) course was a porcini mushroom consomme with truffle-pea agnolotti, parmesan, and scallion. Some of you know about my obsession with mushrooms and this dish really proved it even further. I just can't get over how earthy, meaty, yummy they are! The next two courses were fish dishes - a cod and a salmon - both excellent and featuring more spring ingredients. The fifth dish was very unusual - an almond milk mouse with licorice stick, tapioca, and cocoa crumble. This sounds like dessert, but it was in fact just a touch sweet and was described to us as a "palate cleanser." It was very light, surprising, and super-interesting...definitely not something I could make at home. And finally, a sweet and fresh end to our amazing meal - a sort of deconstructed pineapple upside down cake with lime curd, coconut sorbet, and molasses. LOVED the tart, sweet, juicy, milky combo.

Did that whet your appetite? There's more! For lunch the next day, we hit the famed Duck Fat. As you might be able to guess, the theme here is duck fat and everything is cooked in it. Now I'm not a big fan of foods that are super high in fat, but let me tell you, duck fat fries are just amazing. And that's exactly what we had - duck fat fries with truffle ketchup, a simple but super-tasty smoked turkey panini, and a fruit and nut salad (hey - had to have something sort of healthy, right?). I know it sounds simple, but if you're ever in Portland, GO. It's seriously worth the trip.

Next we hit Camden, ME for a couple of nights. Camden is a very beautiful seaside town that is just mobbed in the summer, but fairly quiet during the other months. We walked around the coast and checked out some of the local food spots. The highlight for us was Francine Bistro. I have heard Francine compared to a Manhattan restaurant and I have to agree. Very upscale, European bistro style with a local flair. And lastly, we tried Natalie's, housed in a four-star B&B owned by a Dutch couple, it has a very modern decor and a gorgeous view of Camden Harbor. The dishes were classic but with an experimental twist and the wait staff was very friendly and personable (we even got treated to a little local dessert wine to go with our dessert). All in all a great trip and we can't wait to go again!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A sight for sore eyes

Hi everyone,
Quick update here. We're happy to announce that our place has been featured in the Boston Globe for a story about Bostonians using color. It was a treat to see some fun colors while it's still gray and gloomy out. For a little pick-me-up, check out the slide show here. All photos are by the Boston Globe. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

An ancient dish with a memory and a twist

When I was growing up, my mom often made large batches of one or two dishes that she put in the freezer and served up over the course of a couple of weeks in rotation. She used to make this chicken stew over rice with chunks of vegetables and we ate that so often that we sometimes complained about it - unfairly of course. Recently, bakerbiker made a similar sort of dish - Coq au Vin - that made me remember those times, sitting around the table with my family eating chicken stew. Coq au vin is a traditional french dish of rooster slowly braised in a red wine sauce with lardons and butter so that the tough meat becomes juicy and tender. Most coq au vin recipes have you use chicken and add in mushrooms, carrots, and onions to the stew, but ask you to remove the vegetables to finish the dish. bakerbiker made a variant of this dish with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. He kept in the veggies to give it some body and texture and served it over egg noodles (taking a page from his doppelganger, Alton Brown). We really liked the earthiness of the dish and the crunch of the veggies kept it from being too "stewlike." And every bite reminded me of my mom's chicken stew, which I remembered fondly and certainly wasn't complaining about, at least this time!

COQ AU VIN for 3-4
2 lb chicken (here, boneless skinless chicken thighs, but anything would probably work)
4 strips bacon (turkey or pork)
1-2 onions, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
8-12 oz white or crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 c stock (chicken, veggie, etc) or water
1 750ml bottle of red wine (preferably lightly oaked if at all, french is "most traditional")
2 T tomato paste
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1-2 bay leaves
1 t thyme leaves

Set aside a 6-8 qt dutch oven to build the dish in. In a large (12" or bigger) saute pan set to medium heat, cook the bacon until its fat has mostly rendered, then roughly chop and toss into dutch oven.

In the fat (or if you've used turkey bacon, add a bit of olive oil or butter), saute the veggies (not mushrooms yet) until starting to brown, then toss into the dutch oven.

Toss the chicken in a bit of flour, then (adding fat if necessary) brown it in the pan on both sides. You might need to do this in 2-3 batches - it'll brown more easily if not crowded. Toss into the dutch oven.

Finally, saute the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, until they give up their liquid. You know what to do with them.

Last, pour 1c of the wine into the pan and deglaze it over medium high heat (i.e., cook for a few minutes, scraping up the browned bits in the pan, until it's slightly thick). Pour into the dutch oven.

Then, add the stock, garlic cloves, bay leaves, thyme, tomato paste, and salt and pepper (start with 1-2 t of salt, and add to taste). Add the rest of the wine. In an oven set to 300 or on the stove, simmer the mixture on low for 90-120 minutes (or longer if you've really gone and shot a rooster!). I partially covered the pot, but it probably isn't necessary.

Serve over egg noodles and with a rich bread, like brioche, to sop up the stew. Yum.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A summer breeze in the middle of winter

Just the thought of fresh peaches brings me back to the summers of my youth, when my family made a yearly road trip from DC to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Driving along the southeast coast in the middle of July, you'd feel the hot, muggy air and wish you were anywhere but in your car. Back then, though, being in the car also had its perks. Namely, one could find all kinds of yummy treats, right there for sale on the side of the road. Fresh corn, boiled peanuts, and best of all, juicy, golden southern peaches. We used to pick them up by the bagfuls and eat them in the car, swatting away the fruit flies that gathered around right there with us. That's why, when we saw this recipe for brandied peaches last summer in the New York Times, we jumped for joy. New England peaches are no match for the peaches of the South. But that's why they're the perfect candidate for canning - they still have that wonderful peachy flavor but the temptation to eat them raw isn't as great. We canned these over the summer and saved them for times like this, when even the idea of summer makes us warmer. We recently tried them on french toast with blueberries and caramelized bananas. And boy were they tasty!


3 pounds ripe peaches

3 cups sugar

About 1/2 cup brandy

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using the tip of a paring knife, make a shallow “X” in the bottom of each peach. Add the peaches, one at a time, to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove the peach from the water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Repeat with the remaining peaches. Peel off the skins, then pit the fruit and quarter the flesh.

2. In another large pot, combine 3 cups water and the sugar and bring to a boil. Add the peaches and simmer until just soft.

3. Have the jars, bands and new lids scalded and ready. (To scald, dip the jars and rims in boiling water. You don’t need to sterilize the jars, as you will be processing them for more than 10 minutes.) Simmer the lids in hot water to soften the rubberized flange. Gently pack the peaches into the jars.

4. Boil the leftover syrup until it thickens slightly, then spoon it over the fruit, filling the jars ¾ full. Use a butter knife to release any air bubbles caught in the jars. Pour in enough brandy to fill the jars, leaving ¼ inch of headroom. Wipe the rims, cover with the lids and screw on the bands fingertip-tight. Place the jars on a rack in a big pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and gently boil for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and then, after about 5 minutes, remove the jars. Allow them to cool, untouched, for 4 to 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes 2 pints.

Recipe courtesy of The New York Times

Monday, March 1, 2010

Top of the morning to you!

I've been meaning to write about my new favorite cocktail for a while now. Tried first at #9 Park now nearly three weeks earlier, the Morning Glory Fizz is one of those drinks that just doesn't sound like it should work... plus, it has an egg white, which freaks out nearly everyone I've mentioned it to. But it does. I should know - I've had several. Including one made with the white of an egg laid maybe an hour before it became a cocktail - if you have access to a chicken like we did when we first gave this drink a try, I heartily recommend egg-based cocktails as a way to get through all those amazing fresh eggs!

2 oz scotch - I've used both Lowland and Islay whiskeys to good effect
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz absinthe
3/4 t turbinado sugar or syrup
1 egg white
splash carbonated water/soda

Dry shake the egg white with sugar and juices, then add the remaining ingredients (not the soda water) and hard shake again with ice. Strain and top with a splash of soda.

I hear this is an excellent morning cocktail; I'll leave it to you all to decide...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why I want to spend more time in my bathroom

For the past few months, we've been working with our friends at ChromaLab to spruce up some of the nooks and crannies in our small condo. First, they helped us refinish and refresh some small furniture pieces, which you can see on their blog here.

While I was stoked to get those projects done, I had something even bigger in mind as well. For years, I've been dissatisfied with our back hallway and bathroom. We spent so much time working on the main parts of the apartment (bedroom, kitchen, dining room, and living room) that those smaller spaces were left completely neglected. I had some ideas about what I wanted to do, but couldn't quite make any final decisions. When I found out that, in addition to furniture, our Chroma friends also do custom wall treatments, with our compatible style and color taste, it was like a match made in heaven. The first project we tackled was the hallway. I had been thinking about a deep purple for the hallway, to complement the yellow kitchen and green bedroom. I'd recently gotten into wallpaper and had a floral pattern that I liked in mind. So when Tony mentioned that he could paint a pattern directly onto the wall, I totally dug it.

Next we started in on the bathroom. When we first conceived of that project, I imagined painting the bathroom another color entirely. We discussed a few options, including a turquoise and a purple similar to the one in the hallway, with a raindrop motif that Tony uses in a lot of his artwork. But for those of you who have seen our place, every room is painted a different color. I was worried that it would look overdone, but I still wanted that combination of graphic and modern, but whimsical at the same time. I was especially inspired by this photo of Cynthia Rowley's bathroom below, which was recently featured in Elle Decor.

So Tony went back to the drawing board and brought us a few more neutral samples to look at. In the end, we decided to stick with a neutral white backdrop for the bathroom, but to add a little interest, Tony suggested a burlap, waffle-like texture underneath the paint. And to give it that whimsy and use the colors I oh so love, we went with a black and dark gray raindrop motif, intermixed with various other colors.

We were so happy with the idea and our previous experiences with Tony and Alicia, that, after a couple of color and design consultations, we went away on vacation knowing that we were leaving our bathroom in capable hands. Here's a snap of how it turned out.

Next up for the bathroom: re-doing the floors.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Escaping the New England Winter

One of the only things that makes New England winters semi-bearable for me is planning tropical vacations to escape them, even for a little bit. This year, we decided to spend a week in January in St. Lucia, a small island in the West Indies, just south of Martinique and north of the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. St. Lucia is a very small island - 15 miles wide and 27 miles long - created out of volcanic rock. It has an interesting history, having been established by the Arawak Indians, but colonized and battled over by the French and British for hundreds of years. It only recently gained its independence from the British in the late 1970s. The country's official language is English, but most citizens also speak a French patois.

One of the reasons we chose St. Lucia is that it is one of the less-traveled-to islands in the Caribbean, and is therefore less-developed in the tourist sense. Even then, there are lots of big resorts like the Hilton, Sandals, etc. located in certain areas. We chose to stay away from all that and rented a two-bedroom apartment in Marigot Bay at Villa Pomme D'Amour.

There is both lots to do and nothing to do in St. Lucia depending on what you're looking for. With the help of our hosts, Josee and Pierre, we mapped out day trips to the beach, with plenty of good snorkelling, as well as short hikes in the rainforest. One of the things St. Lucia is best known for is its live volcano, located in Soufriere. It's a collapsed volcano, like Yellowstone, which means you can walk right into the caldera. Since it's live, but not active (yet!), you can safely take a tour through the volcano and see the sulphur bubbling up in the crater.

The other well-known feature of the island are its two Pitons - two sharp peaks formed by volcanic rock - that tower over the Caribbean. You can hire a guide to lead you on the five-hour hike to the top and back, if you so choose. Tempting, but we sat that one out this time, and kept our focus on relaxing on the pristine beaches and exploring different towns around the island.

Another wonderful highlight for me was our visit to the local market in Castries, where we found freshly caught tuna and lots of local fruits and vegetables, including the biggest avocados I have ever seen. For local food, rotis and meats with creole sauces were super tasty. There is lots of fresh seafood on the island and it's worth trying the many different kinds of sauces. But if you're vegetarian, be warned - not tons of variety if you are going out to eat. Cooking at home was another story - there are plenty of great options and the markets to choose from and we concocted a bunch of great dishes at home.

If you go: 1. Rent a car! The roads are windy and you have to drive on the left side, but it's worth it so you can see the island at your own pace. 2. Save time to explore as many beaches and coves and bring snorkel gear wherever you go - we saw lots of great sea life, including turtles, clownfish, squid, and many different corals. 3. Be sure to check out the towns of Soufriere and Castries - they are really different from one another, but appealing in their own ways. In Soufriere, you see mountains, beaches, and volcanoes all at once. In Castries, the capital of St. Lucia, you can get a flavor for local city life and like I said, the market is a must. Hope to see you there someday!