Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in New Orleans, Louisiana

Eat, drink and be merry. New Orleans certainly lives up to its joie de vivre reputation. It is like Beale Street (Memphis), 42nd Street (New York City) and South Beach (Miami) all rolled into one. As you drive (or are stuck in traffic rather) from Bourbon St to Decatur St, music wafts from every corner. And the food, oh the food, from French to Cajun to Creole, they are to die for!

Visiting New Orleans without much cash on hand is a big problem. Many establishments, both small and large, DO NOT take credit cards, much to our surprise. So we didn't get to taste those yummy beignets at Cafe du Monde. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguse. Instead of being cramped into a tiny table with hordes of tourists, we found a much nicer alternative - Cafe Beignet on Bourbon Street. Its signature is spacious outdoor seating in a cozy little courtyard with a band playing traditional New Orleans jazz and Christmas songs. We savored some delicious gumbo, followed by mouth watering beignets with cafe au lait. We toasted to our luck in discovering this lovely place.

Christmas time is definitely a wonderful time to visit New Orleans. The weather is pleasant, the city dazzles with festive Christmas lights and decorations. There are Christmas concerts and carols in various parts of the city. This trip will go down in our family history book as one of the best places to spend an unforgettable Christmas holiday season. And we wish you were here too!
Bourbon St at night

A home in the garden district
The bustling Jackson Square
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y'all!

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Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Chinese New Year! Christmas lights at Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Boat Parades

We have been very fortunate to have several opportunities to see some awesome boat parades and festivals over the years. From the magnificent Tall Ships that visit Boston every decade to the famous Winterfest Boat Parade in Fort Lauderdale, these boat parades and festivals are truly one of a kind. Hopefully, our videos here will impress you enough to attend or participate in one somewhere. Check out this link to see the upcoming boat parades in Florida.

One December Saturday in 2005, we found ourselves in the center of a boat parade. We were anchored at Bimini Basin in Cape Coral, off of the Caloosahatchee River. Overlooking a lovely park and gorgeous homes, Bimini Basin is one of our favorite anchorages. It has a free dinghy dock, and is a short walking distance to supermarkets, restaurants and a laundromat, all things cruisers love. On this particular day, we were expecting two sets of friends on their Endeavor catamarans to come in for the night. After they set their anchor, we dinghied over to socialize with them. We saw the crowd in the park growing bigger and the music wafting through the anchorage getting louder. Something was definitely up. As more and more illuminated vessels drifted in, we realized we were smack in the middle of some festive boat parade. How lucky were we? We had a blast!

Boat Parade in Bimini Basin, Cape Coral, Florida


Now, fast forward to last night. Our marina (Hales Bar) had a chili cookout, followed by a mini-boat parade. A small fleet of five boats went out, two of which were all decked out with impressive lights and holiday decorations. We went all the way to the U.S. Hwy 41 Bridge (and heard some honking on the bridge) before turning around. It got windy when we returned to our slip, but oh what fun!

The Awfiss (Steve and Glenda's boat)
Kevin and Connie's boat, which also participated at Chattanooga's Boat Parade on 11/26

Holiday Lights from Hales Bar Marina, near Chattanooga, TN

Wishing you warmth and cheer for a fun holiday season!

The Tall Ships return to Boston
Fourth of July on the Charles River in Boston
Gasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa, Florida

Monday, November 22, 2010

Black-eyed Pea Salsa

In the spring of 2006, we crossed the Gulf of Mexico from Anclote Key (near Tarpon Springs) to Dog Island. We took our time cruising the Florida Panhandle, exploring the magnificent beaches of the Redneck Riviera, as this area is often called.
Shell Island, Panama City
Barge traffic on the Gulf ICW heading towards Mobile Bay
Lulu’s
On our way to Mobile, Alabama, we passed by Lulu’s, a restaurant along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Gulf Shores, Alabama. It looked like a neat restaurant, but we didn't have time to stop. We later learned that Lulu is owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister Lucy. Several friends had visited and raved about the place. One received Lulu’s cookbook for a mother's day gift, and she fixed us the delightful black-eyed pea salsa, also known as L.A. (Lower Alabama) caviar. Thank you for sharing, Janice!

Black-eyed peas are widely grown in the south, and hence a familiar ingredient in many Southern dishes. It is associated with luck, and is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day. If you are looking for a unique appetizer that is not only healthy and but also delicious and easy to make, black-eyed peas salsa is the perfect recipe. The flavor of the vinaigrette with the black-eyed peas will tantalize your taste buds. This is a fabulous appetizer for your cocktail or holiday party.

The following black-eyed peas salsa recipe is adapted from a dish served at Lulu’s. The recipe serves lots, which is great for the holidays when parties are in full swing, but you can also halve it. The black eyed peas salsa will be a big hit with your guests; I guarantee it. Enjoy!

Black-eyed Pea Salsa
[Print Recipe]

3 (15-oz) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained 
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
1 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cup red onion, diced
1 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Dressing
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt and black pepper. Set aside.

2. In large glass bowl, toss together the black eyed peas, all the bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, red onions and cilantro. Pour dressing over the black eyed peas mixture, and toss to combine. Transfer to plastic container, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

3. Serve with tortilla chips.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-eyed_pea

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Travel Deals of the week , Nov 3

The Renaissance R1 anchored off Rhodes, Greece Carpet weaver at a carpet store in Kusadasi, Turkey


For over a dozen years, I have been getting newsletters on great travel deals from various sources via emails. We have booked on several of these travel deals ourselves over the years. One incredible deal was a 9-day Greek Isles vacation which included a 5-day cruise from Istanbul, Turkey to Athens, Greece over the Thanksgiving holiday. As a matter of fact, my my writeup on this trip just got published today on AssociatedContent.com, where I am a featured travel contributor.

Some of the top travel deals at TravelZoo this week includes the following:

$299 -- Oceanview Cabin on 7-Night Caribbean Cruise from Ft Lauderdale, Fl to Thomas, St. Maarten and the Bahamas

$699 -- Mediterranean 9-Night Spring Cruise plus $200 Credit*
Sail Roundtrip from Rome on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas to Italy, Greece and Turkey. Sale ends Friday, Nov. 5.

$318 -- Las Vegas 4-Night Getaway from Tampa on Southwest, which allows you to check up to 2 bags per person free of charge!

$79 -- Savannah: Historic District Hotel (Inn at Ellis Square)incl. Breakfast

$79 -- Downtown Atlanta Hotel (Hyatt Regency) incl. Holidays, 50% Off
Check out what this Southern Belle has to offer!


Related posts:
St Patrick's Day in Savannah, Georgia
Hot, hot, hot in Atlanta, Georgia
Gasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa, Florida

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall Foliage in Chattanooga, Tennessee


Entrance to Raccoon Mountain
When we embarked on our cruise up America’s inland waterways from Florida, we had absolutely no idea what to expect from the deep south. We were pleasantly surprised to find elegant homes with beautiful gardens lining the rivers, friendly people, and fabulous food (love the barbecue and fried catfish!) We were thrilled to learn about civil war history and discover cities like Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta. But it is Chattanooga that charmed us the most.
 Chattanooga waterfront, with the TN Aquarium in the background
The city that once upon a time was the dirtiest city in America has undergone a renaissance over the last decade. Anchored with a signature aquarium, Chattanooga has revitalized its downtown and waterfront, transforming it into a favorite tourist destination. In 2009, Money Magazine’s September issue named Chattanooga as one of the best places to retire. Since then, it has garnered more accolades.
Ross Landing with Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge in the distance
Glass-bottom bridge looking towards the TN Aquarium
Surrounded by mountains and lakes, Chattanooga has lots of activities to offer families and outdoor enthusiasts. The opportunities to climb, hike, bike, kayak and fish abound. Every which way you turn, you are greeted with stunning scenery. When the leaves change color in the fall, Chattanooga is a beautiful city to hike or drive around.
Fall Colors at nearby Foster Falls
Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain
Laurel Point Trail at Raccoon Mountain
I especially like Raccoon Mountain, because it is practically in my backyard. Raccoon Mountain is a unique TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) hydroelectric facility where water is pumped from Lake Nickajack on the Tennessee River to a storage reservoir on top of the mountain. This water is later released to generate electricity during periods of high electric demand. You can stop by the Visitor Center to learn more about TVA and its facilities across the Tennessee Valley, and to see a jaw-dropping view of the Tennessee River Gorge. This intriguing facility is also popular recreation spot for mountain biking, hiking, fishing and bird watching. There is also a boat ramp for launching your boat.
TN River Gorge one November
Wait no more. Come and discover Chattanooga yourself!

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This post has been entered into the Grantourismo - HomeAway travel writing competition for October.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yes, you can. Build a boat yourself

With a plan from Glen-L.

We learned about the company several weeks ago when a group of people descended on our marina with their oh so cute little miniature boats. Apparently they built these boats themselves with blueprints from Glen-L!

How do you like this boat name - FastIdiots?

Not only do these talented people know how to build cute little boats, but they also know how to party. We had fun chatting with some of them, and even met some boaters who used to cruise on bigger boats. We discovered that we were all docked on the St Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida around the same year. They were at the Ortega River Yacht Club while we were just around the corner, at Ortega River Boat Yard. We reminisced about our good old days on the Ortega River/St Johns River. These people were so nice (aren't most boaters?) as to offer us a ride on their beautiful boat Beaujolais. We had two friends with us, and it was their first time on a boat. We had a blast. Thank you Adam and Elaine!



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Monday, September 27, 2010

Picking chestnuts in the fall at Solomons Island, Maryland

When we bought our boat, we chose Newport, Rhode Island as our hailing port, thinking we will spend our summers in the sailing capital. Little did we know. Every time we headed north from Florida, we had gone only as far as the Chesapeake Bay. There was so much to explore along the Eastern Seaboard that by the time we got to the Chesapeake Bay, it was already end of summer. Fall brings cooler temperatures and beautiful fall colors, and then it was time to head south to warmer climes.

 The Chesapeake Bay is about 200 miles (300 km) long, stretching from Havre de Grace, Maryland on the Susquehanna River to Norfolk, Virginia on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest estuary in the United States. Its shores are dotted with quaint towns, rustic farms and beautiful sceneries. Limitless miles of serpentine tributaries provide countless coves for gunkholing, making the Chesapeake Bay a wonderful cruising ground. With gentle waters, and creeks teeming with wildlife, oysters and blue crabs, it is no wonder the early settlers came and never left.
Steamed blue crabs. Yum!
Our mission was to explore new anchorages and look for the quintessential Chesapeake Bay crabshack. We found the latter at Sandgates Inn in Mechanicsville on the Patuxent River. It serves the best steamed blue crabs and soft-shelled crabs. The side dishes - cole slaw and French Fries were excellent too. As for anchorages, there were so many in the Chesapeake Bay! Our favorite is the picturesque Gibson Island.
Sunrise at Gibson Island
Crab traps and work boats on Tilghman Island
One September found Mai Thai docked at Solomons Island, Maryland. Located on the Patuxent River, this neat little place is a cruiser’s haven, abound with restaurants, marinas, boatyards, and marine stores.

One morning, we were walking the marina neighborhood when my sister-in-law, who was visiting, spotted something spiky lying around two mighty tall trees. She picked it up, inspected it, and surmised it to be a chestnut. She was right. After this initial discovery, my sister-in-law would walk over to those chestnut trees every morning, and return with a large paper bag full of chestnuts. We dubbed her the bag lady, and joked that she was taking food away from the squirrels. And what were we going to do with all these chestnuts?
Chestnuts, in and out of their burs
We had an idea. Every time my husband's cousins visit from Paris, they always bring us gifts of dark chocolate and marrons glacé (candied chestnut confection, usually available around the Christmas holidays). Those delicious glazed chestnuts came to mind. We got a production line going in Mai Thai's tiny little galley. We donned gloves to remove the chestnuts from their prickly husks or burs. Then we washed them, and peeled off their skin. 
Washed, ready to be peeled
Glazing the chestnuts
Next, we boiled and glazed them with sugar, and spiked some with a hint of Cognac. Voilà, we got marrons glacé! Not bad for our first try at making a candied confection. We were quite pleased with the results.
Our candied chestnut confection - les marron glacé!
This post has been entered into the Grantourismo - HomeAway travel writing competition for September.

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