Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Chrismas to Everyone

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Everyone

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Philadelphia Visit

Another trip, it is. On December 4 we boarded a U S Airways flight from Tampa to Philadelphia to visit our good friend Deirdre who lives in Newtown Square outside of Philadelphia. She had arranged a visit to Longwood Gardens situated in the Brandywine Valley in Kennett Square, PA, for the evening of Dec 5th. Susan, another friend from my working days at CIGNA joined us for the Gardens and dinner. It was a perfect evening, with clear cool weather. The Christmas displays outside and inside in the Conservatory were as beautiful as you will see in the photographs which I will leave to speak for themselves. We were very fortunate as this was the best weather of the trip, a large portion of displays of decorated trees is outside. 

After the visit to the Gardens we enjoyed a lovely and tasty dinner at Half Moon Restaurant in the old Downtown of Kennett Square. The menu included standard fare such as, say, Bison, Kangaroo, Caribou Hot Dog, Gator Gumbo and other wild game options. They also served a mean Smokey Exotic Mushroom Bisque which was to die for, OMG. I'll take more please. But none of us ordered any of the exotic items from the menu but opted for the more traditional items. Frank and I had perfectly cooked and marinated Flat Iron Steak, Susan enjoyed a brie stuffed wood smoked chicken, avocado salsa sandwich, with avocado, while Deirdre, being the adventurous sort had, a basic hamburger (passing on the buffalo burger).

[Historic Aside: "Kennett  is known as the Mushroom Capital of the World because mushroom farming in the region produces over a million pounds of mushrooms a week." from Wikipedia.]

The next evening Deirdre, Frank, I and a friend from Prague, Vaclav, met in the University City district of Philadelphia for a great dinner at White Dog Cafe. I met Vaclav on my first trip to Praha and the Czech Republic when another friend suggested I consider using Vaclav as my tour guide for my three day stay. He is currently studying for a Masters Degree and attending the University of Pennsylvania. The White Dog Cafe focuses on locally source products. Frank and I both enjoyed "the Spicy Lamb Bolognese Sweet Stem Farms Ground Lamb, Severino Rigatoni, ‘Jersey Fresh’ Preserved Tomatoes, Organic Baby Spinach, Shaved Grana Padano, Whipped Basil Ricotta" *extracted from the menu. It was very tasty however just a tad spicier than I like. But I did lick my plate clean. Vaclav ordered a Hamburger with sliced pork tenderloin stacked on top. (I frequently use the menu on the restaurant site to aid my memory, but I was not able to find this on the currently posted menu. So just imaging a very nicely prepared tasty sandwich). Deirdre opted for the same sandwich but with only the sliced pork, omitting the burger. Maybe Deirdre, Vaclav or Frank can fill in the comments section for me due to my lapse of memory.

One night Frank prepared his "always good" and tasty Tilapia Meuniere. Yummy. 

The next day we visited the National Constitution Center across from Independence Hall. It was interesting multi-media presentation of the founding of our country. While interesting and educational it would not be in my "A" list of sites to visit when in Philadelphia considering the other places to see.

Finally, after forcing you to read through all of our activity and eating, here is a link to the photographs - primarily of the Longwood Gardens. The only regret was that Deirdre's adorable dog, Barney, didn't get to go with us to the gardens - he would have had hundreds of acres to play in.

Click on the photo to view the album in Picasa.
Philadelphia, PA Dec 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Wrap-up

I don't want to let Thanksgiving end without a few final thoughts. 

First I am extremely lucky and thankful to have a cadre of friends and family supporting me through my health related issues. I am also thankful that I am still able to travel, and enjoy life. While there are an amazing number of family and friends who I thank, it is too many to list everyone, but you are all in my thoughts and best wishes for a great holiday season. One person who will not go unmentioned is my best friend, Frank. He is always there to give me support and encouragement and he is a great person and a fun traveler. THANK YOU, FRANK!

So it was appropriate that we started the Thanksgiving season with our annual Thanksgiving Eve dinner. We nailed another fine meal at my place. If anyone wants recipes let me know. The only one I will post is the Lemon Panna Cotta, at the end of this post which is my favorite dessert for any occasion. Try it, you can't go wrong.

Frank refers to this as our Italian American Thanksgiving and it was really good. Our main bird was a Roasted Rosemary Turkey Breast coated with a seasoned butter mixture of rosemary, sage, garlic and orange zest. For our sides we prepared an uncooked Cranberry and Blood Orange Relish (unfortunately, no blood oranges were available, so our back up was regular oranges but excellent just the same. Next up was a Butternut Squash Risotto (yummy) and Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta - both were great. We ended the meal with the Lemon Panna Cotta. We served a bottle of St. Supery Elu with dinner and a glass of Limoncello with the dessert. It was a great meal with a great friend.

On Thanksgiving Day we each went to our respective families - Frank to his sister's and I to my nephew's. Everyone, (except me) pitched in to prepare a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving spread. They had turkey two ways - one traditionally roasted in the oven and the other deep fried. Both were very flavorful and moist - good job everyone. For sides we had mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, my Mother's Creamed Corn Casserole. This is a tradition in the Simpson family since the 1950's and is a must serve at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The dinner was finished off with 3 different home baked pies - oink oink.

On Friday evening Frank and I attended "This is The 60's" at the Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg. The show was a multi-media presentation with a live cast of singers, musicians and dancers - only 7 in all. They presented a fun-filled evening of 60's songs, film clips and TV shows from the decade. We both enjoyed the show but feel they slighted the folk movement and the Mo-Town sound. However with so much music coming out of the decade I am sure they had a tough time selecting the tunes. 

Next up, to round out the weekend, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at our favorite French Restaurant  - St. Petersburg Brasserie downtown on Central Ave. Frank loved his Steak Frites and I was gushing over the Roasted Duck Breast served with Celeriac Rosti, Spicy Cherry Gastrique. OMG, have I mentioned how good it was. Both Frank's steak and my duck were perfectly cooked to a rare degree of doneness. We paired the meal with a very nice bottle of 2010 Shooting Star Pinot Noir from Stelle Vineyards in California.

That's it for Thanksgiving 2012 - Thanks one more time to my family and friends - I am truly a lucky guy.

As promised - the LEMON PANNA COTTA recipe follows. I skip the sauce and serve it with fresh raspberries.

Lemon Panna Cotta with Blackberry Sauce

For convenience, chill these individual eggless custards overnight before serving. The sauce can also be made a day ahead.
Yield: Makes 6 servings

Panna cotta
Vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup crème fraîche*
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel

3 cups frozen blackberries (about 12 ounces), thawed, drained, juices reserved
3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons crème de cassis (black-currant-flavored liqueur; optional)
For panna cotta:
Lightly oil six 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups. Mix milk and cream in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat. Cover; let steep 30 minutes. Remove vanilla bean.
Pour lemon juice into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes. Stir sugar and gelatin mixture into milk mixture. Stir over low heat just until sugar and gelatin dissolve, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in crème fraîche and lemon peel. Divide among ramekins. Cover; chill until set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

For sauce:
Puree 2/3 of blackberries and all reserved juices, brown sugar, and crème de cassis, if desired, in blender. Strain mixture into medium bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids in strainer. Stir remaining blackberries into sauce. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)
Run small knife around each panna cotta. Place bottoms of ramekins, 1 at a time, in bowl of hot water 45 seconds. Place plate atop ramekin. Hold plate and ramekin together; invert, shaking gently, to turn out panna cotta. Serve with sauce.

That's all I'm Saying !

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dick & Frank's Fantastic Fall Foliage Adventure

So it is that time again, our photographic followup to our last cruise. Hopefully you have read the blog, especially the hits and misses. I have set up two albums on Picasa with a lot of frustration - no thanks to Google and Picasa. Grrrrrrr   :-(

The first is a short version with 30 photographs culled from the original 200 +.
Dick & Frank's Fantastic Fall Foliage Tour - Short Version

The second is an extended version, consisting of 94 photographs. 
If you get bored easily with other people's vacation photos, I would opt for the short version.

The majority of photographs were taken by Frank. I owe him a big THANK YOU, for frequently taking the time to search out the sights when I was getting fatigued and I didn't feel like walking any more. So, he was the primary photographer and I was the editor. Good work Frank!

Your comments would be appreciated and please report any problems with the links

We hope you enjoy the photographs

Dick and Frank

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Miguel's is French

Tucked away in a corner of a non-descript strip mercantile building on Siesta Key, FL you will find an excellent French restaurant. This was our first visit to Miguel's (link) based on a recommendation our dining companions from New Jersey had received from someone in their condo complex. Eileen and Michael were visiting for a week and met up with Frank and me at this 25 year-old restaurant for a fine evening of dining and reminiscing The decor is traditional and rustic - a charming space that was packed with locals when we arrived for 7 PM reservations. (Note - I would always make reservations here especially in the season. They offer Early Bird specials which attracts a large crowd earlier in the evening. It is Sarasota of course.)

Naturally, the menu leans heavily to the French side, while they do have a few Italian items for the early birds. 

Some of us started the meal with La Soupe du Jour a wonderfully rich and flavorful Sweet Potato Bisque. From the Entree menu I opted for the Lamb Shank, the special for the day. I want more :-). It was cooked to perfection with a lovely dark sauce - tender and moist, I cleaned my plate. It was served with potatoes that had been roasted with the lamb which added a great flavor to the potatoes. 

Frank order Le Canard Roti Maison - roasted young duckling served with a l'orange sauce. I had a taste and would agree with Frank that it was top notch - again tender, moist, and tasty.

Eileen enjoyed her Le Boeuf Diane - beef tenderloin tips nicely sauteed with mushrooms, garlic, brandy and demi-glace served with puff pastry. 

Michael selected Le Petit Filet Mignon, a nice 6 oz steak, with a béarnaise sauce.  He proclaimed to meal to be great.

We expected the meal to be pricey, but with drinks, soup, entrees, house salad, dessert, and coffee/espresso the bill came to $50 per person. Not bad in my opinion for this quality of dining.

We were all very pleased with the entire dining experience at Miguel's and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Sarasota area. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Political Statement on my Non-Political Blog

I am trying this one last time. I keep having problems only posting the audio portion so I found the You tube link.  I was just trying to find a song that expresses my joy at yesterday's election results. Skip the lead-in ad and move on to the song.

Click Here

or here ---:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall Foliage Cruise - Hits and Misses

It's that time folks!  Our post vacation wrap-up with trip hits and misses!

So let's get started:

Dick (onboard) - Le Bistro, the up-charge French restaurant.  I had a lovely duck two ways (roast duck breast cooked perfectly and a moist confit of duck leg with crispy skin).  Nicely seasoned and presented.

Frank (onboard) - Bamboo, the up-charge Asian restaurant.  I had a Cantonese style chicken dish.  MUCH better than something you would get at PF Changs or the usual Sino-American establishment.  I'm not talking authentic here, but an admirable attempt just the same.

Dick (off ship) - TOAST! (Quebec City) - Had an amazing selection of appetizer sized plates.  My deer tartare was unusual, ultra-local, and surprisingly light in addition to being tasty.  The restaurant is connected to the Hotel Le Priori, which is also a very nice establishment, for those who may be looking for room and board in QC.

Frank (off ship) - I have to give it up to TOAST! as well.  I have never had sweetbreads (and, although I loved them, probably will never again), but the idea of pairing them with seared scallops as an ersatz surf and turf was genius.  The whole place is genius, really.  A bit of a splurge, but fun, cutting edge and definitely stylish!

Dick (onboard) - La Cucina, the up-charge Italian restaurant.  The osso buco I had was fall off the bone tender, and flavorful.  Alora, it was over-salted.  So close, and yet so far!  That's amore...

Frank (onboard) - Aqua, the main dining room.  If you EVER see holiday turkey with all the trimmings on a cruise ship menu, waddle to another dining spot cause it's not gonna be the type of meal momma would server on turkey day.  This was a big disappointment.  I have had better turkey dinners from a microwave.  In all fairness, I shouldn't have expected a real roast turkey from what is basically a catering environment.  But still, a little more thought than warming up a Jenny-O turkey roll would have been appreciated.

Dick - However, in defense of Aqua, I had a VERY nice whole lobster on the first night, which Frank did not order.  So BOO-YA!

Dick (off ship) - No misses off the ship, other than $10 bucks for a lox and bagel in Peggy's Cove seemed a bit excessive (it was good lox, though).

Frank (off ship) - The food poisoning I got at the Carrabba's at the Tampa Airport when we got back from our trip.  Not a great way to cap a wonderful trip.

Dick - Much of what we saw was very dramatic, and I enjoyed it very much.  There was still some color in the trees, which made for pleasant drives on the tour buses at each port.  But, I guess my overall favorite sight was Peggy's Cove.  I had visited years before, but enjoyed it as much this time as the last.

Frank - Well, my favorite sight is always seeing Simpson at the ship buffet beaming over a full bowl of ice cream (such a happy face!).  But, other than that, I really loved PEI and Quebec City.  Of all we had seen, those two spots would be the ones I would return to.

Dick - La Baie - This was my least favorite port of call.  It was a nice city, but really had nothing to offer in terms of significant sights.

Frank - Have to agree.  If you weren't into high-impact sports (zodiac rafting, etc.) or a narcolepsy inducing faux-folk extravaganza, you were kind of out of luck.  In all fairness, there were excursions to a National Park, which I am sure was lovely.  But not for us on this go round.

Ship Board entertainment:
Dick - While we did not attend any of the "Vegas" (quotation marks intentional) style productions in the main theater, we had the pleasure of realizing that our favorite performer from a prior cruise was on board, Nathaniel Reed.  He sings standards and modern pop and soul.  If you ever get a chance to see his Motown Revue, don't miss it!

Frank - I will give special mention to the folk strains of the three piece Celtic Umbrella.  One of the members was from PEI!  Listening to Scotch, Irish and Canadian music on piano and fiddle with vocals was lovely.  But my favorite entertainment was watching the rowdy drunks come to happy hour from 4-6 every night at the pub.  Two for one beers and wine and even some cocktails.  Nothing comes between an octogenarian and their scooter and two bloody marys.  Look twice or you are road kill!

BTW, I went there for observational purposes only, you nasty people!

General Comments:
Dick - Not surprisingly, we had only a couple of chilly and windy days, with temps in the low 30's and feels likes in the low 20's.  Mostly though, in the 50's and 60's with PLENTY of sunshine in Quebec City.

Also, back to the food.  One of the reasons I have always been reluctant in the past about cruises is my low expectations about the level of food quality at the main dining rooms, let alone the prospect of having to dine with complete strangers at a big table at a fixed time every night.  NCL has the up-charge restaurants, which I have always found to be good.  I ate much more often at the main dining rooms this time, and I was surprised at the quality of the food, and the ability to be seated at two tops with no problems or lengthy waits.

Frank - I really loved being able to see Canada, for the very first time.  I enjoyed all the ports.  Really thought the people were great (ok, so I got into a scuffle with the Canadian Customs guys, but I wasn't on my meds and had a bad day.  Details in my forthcoming memoir).  All in all though, it was a GREAT trip, good memories, and of course, good company.

Dick - I must agree with Frank, it was a great cruise, with colorful scenery, and delicious food.

Until the next trip, that's all folks...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lost But Now He is Found

I don't know where he was, but this guy missed the photo op last night. I found him hiding with other photographs - now it is his turn. But again, what is he? Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New Friends We Met on the Cruise

What is it?
Miss Elly

I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob
Moonky - Just Hanging Around Your Cabin

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 8 and 9 - Quebec City

For years, Richard and I each have had a strong desire to visit Quebec City. But, for one reason or another, neither of us quite found a way to make it there. Well, our cruise has ended, and now we are finally in Quebec City. And, I have to say, It has been totally worth the wait!

The tired old adage about Quebec City is that it is like visiting Paris. Only closer. And cleaner. I hate to admit it, but the old saying is mostly true. Now, no place can really, truly compare to Paris. But Quebec City does have something of the architecture and gastronomy of the City of Light. All without having to cross the big pond.

And, the city IS clean. Very clean. No dog poo on the sidewalks. No litter on the streets.

There is a disturbing lack of panhandlers.

The people are, well, NICE. And they don't hesitate to speak English (especially after hearing my well intentioned but sorely lacking attempt at French).

It's like France with training wheels!

Some of reasons for the tidy and pleasant nature of the city and it's citizens was explained by the guide of the city tour we embarked upon. Over half of the population works for the government, with reasonable Monday to Friday work hours that leave ample time for recreation and leisure. The residents of Quebec City are ethnically homogeneous, meaning ninety five percent are French-speaking, Catholic and white. In a city of 700,000, the murder rate last year topped out the year at four people. Wow. It all gave me a lot of food for thought. I certainly admire the social welfare aspects of Canadian society, but at the same time was somewhat dismayed at the the lack of ethnic diversity in Quebec. Not making any judgments here, just saying that I came away with a lot to ponder regarding different social systems, why they work in some areas but not in others, and what kind of lessons can be learned from them.

You know, being a responsible traveler.

On to the touristy stuff. Quebec City is divided into a historic riverfront, and then a more modern area further out. The historic area has a lower section (Basse-Ville) and an upper section (Haute-Ville). In days past, the lower section housed the poor and working class, while the upper town was the province of the wealthy and elites. Typical!

The city winds along narrow streets from the river docks of the lower town, up to the steep ramparts, and then into the upper town. Along the way, restaurants, shops and art galleries entice. The crown jewel overlooking the city is the grand Chateau Frontenac. Built in the latter part of the 19th century, the Frontenac was commissioned by the CN railroad to house travelers back in the day when rail was king. Boasting 650 rooms behind an imposing, faux-chateau edifice, the Frontenac recalls the grandeur of The Gilded Age.

Richard and I, minus top hats and monocles, commemorated our visit to the Frontenac with a drink at the the hotel's watering hole, the Bar St. Laurent. Clubby, warm and with commanding views of the city and the St. Lawrence River, it was well worth the stop-in.

Having been founded in 1608, Quebec has a rich history that includes the First Nation peoples, the French settlers, an unwelcome British Invasion (think RedCoats, not MopTops), and the controversial modern Separatist movement. Take one of the historic city bus tours to get the whole story.

I won't go on about dining too much, except to say French food abounds (natch!), albeit with a Canadian twist. A good example I experienced would be the Confit of Duck Salad with Maple Vinaigrette I had at the Aux Anciennes Canadienes.

By far, though, the best culinary experience we enjoyed was at place called Toast! The kitchen is run by a chef who apprenticed at The French Laundry under Thomas Keller. As you would expect, all was about super fresh ingredients and layers of flavors. Instead of entrees, the menu consisted of making as many selections as desired from a long list of appetizers. To give you an idea, I had a Surf and Turf of sweetbreads sautéed in lardons, along with seared sea scallops paired with duxelles of mushrooms. Richard had an unusual, but surprisingly light, tartare of deer. Delicieux!

I guess from reading this post you are getting the sense that I really enjoyed this city. I did. A lot.

I just wish I hadn't waited so long to see it!


Let me make one comment to Frank's posts. I owe him a heartfelt THANK YOU for all of his posts from this journey. I hope you enjoy his contributions to The Urban Flaneur as much as I do.

And stay tuned as we are planning our regular, post-travel "Hits & Misses" feature enjoyed by many of our readers.

That's all I'm saying (for now).

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 7 - La Baie

On Day 7 we visited our last port before our destination port of Quebec City. The weather was very similar to yesterday, cold and very windy. Since there were no sites of interest to either of us, we elected to stay on board, relax and catch up on some reading.

Dinner was at Le Bistro, the French surcharged restaurant. In my opinion it was the best meal of the cruise. I had the Duo of Duck consisting of a roasted duck breast and a confit of duck, (leg quarter seared in duck fat).Yummy I say. Frank had the Fruit de Mer which was a tasty collection of seafood in a puff pastry. Yummy also.

After dinner we visited the casino trying to recover some of our earlier losses. The one armed bandits are like sirens calling us in the fog. We are big gamblers each of us putting $20.00 into the effort. By the end of the cruise we still had $10.00 left out of are original $40.00. We did better on our last cruise on the Jade where we were big winners, maybe $20 - $30 ahead for the cruise. Not big winnings but when you are playing the penny slots you can play all week.

Our final stop was in the Gatsby lounge to hear and bid our goodbyes our favorite pianist and crooner, Nathaniel Reed.

Next stop will be Quebec City, a highly anticipated visit, where we have a couple of post-cruise days in a city neither of us have visited before.


Day 6 - Gaspe and Perce

Today we awoke to the coldest temperatures of the cruise to date. The temperature at 9AM was 38 F with high winds. The wind chill must have been in the mid-20's. But we put on our warmest clothes and headed out for our excursion to Perce.

Perce is a large rock island with a hole through this rock just off shore from the little fishing village of Perce which is French for "pierced". Perce was a one hour drive from Gaspe via a yellow school bus. The drive was along the beautiful rocky coast line. Unfortunately we were about one week late for peak colors. The high winds over the past couple of weeks blew the colored leaves away. There was still some yellow in the trees but the intense red from the maples didn't make it. While slightly disappointing but not unexpected as we are here at the end of the season. The drive along the coastal region was still lovely.

After a short rest back on the NCL Dawn we headed to the Star Bar for a pre-dinner drink before dinner at Aqua, one of the main dining rooms, (no surcharge).

We both started with the crab cake appetizer. It was nicely seasoned with just a little heat. I ordered the pork tenderloin medallions with a mushroom sauce, wilted spinach and roasted potatoes. It was tasty but a little overdone in my humble opinion. Frank opted for the sliced turkey and gravy with all the trimmings. Frank gave the meal a thumbs down.

The one thing I applaud NCL on is the portion sizes in all the restaurants. Over-sized portions is one of my pet peeves and were not a problem on the Dawn.

Overall, a cool but enjoyable day.


Day 5 - Charlottetown

If you have ever read the novel "Anne of Green Gables" as a child, you may have at least had something of an introduction to Prince Edward Island. Where I grew up in Alabama, any male child reading "Anne" would have been immediately suspect. Better to pick a book of another color, say "The Red Badge of Courage", for example.

Suffice it to say, I had no real literary primer on what to expect in PEI.

Fortunately, Richard had been to PEI about 10 years ago on an Elderhostel culinary trip, and gave me a hint of what to expect.

Charlottetown, PEI is a small place, with about 60000 residents. It's charming, though, with a smattering of galleries, restaurants (not just seafood!), and unique shops. It has the feel of many similar historic towns that have managed to be preserved thanks to a combination of political relevance (Charlottetown is the capital of PEI), educational distinction (PEI's main colleges are located here) and, of course, tourism.

We started the day with a trolley tour of the city. Let me just say here that our tour guide was a very sweet PEI native who did her best to stretch the most out of a two-hour tour that would have been better served clocking in at half that time. I mean, I really don't need to have the local Tim Horton's spotted out to me, nor do I care to spend ten minutes trolling around a rather non-descript college campus because that's "where we test our food." Not really what I came for. But a chance to see the historic neighborhoods, the Province Capital building and the shops along Victoria Row and all was forgiven.

We capped the excursion at a lobster house near the dock. I have had PEI mussels many times, and love them. I cannot remember, however, having a bowl of PEI mussels that were so plump, tender and consistent in size and texture. The mussels were served in a broth of white wine and garlic that was pretty much superfluous when measured against the delicious, natural briny liqueur given from the mussels themselves. The whole idea of eating local food really gets driven home when you get something as good as this. Any mussels eaten back home will have a hard act to follow.

I wish we had the time to explore the island more. I guess one measure of whether a trip is successful or not is if you come away feeling like you would very much want to return to see more. In that case, I would say our day in PEI was a success. I definitely would like to come back, maybe in the summertime, and try the locally made COWS ice cream, visit the factory store where PEI's Paderno cookware is made and sold, and try some more of the surprisingly good local white wine.

And when I do come back, I am bringing along a copy of "Anne of Green Gables", where I doubt even an eyebrow, let alone a suspicion, will be raised.


Friday, October 26, 2012

A Day at Sea

We are en route from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island, which means day 4 of our cruise is a Sea Day!

I love sea days, because they force you to do the one thing that so very often is missing from a vacation, i.e., relaxation!

Now, don't get me wrong, I want to get as much out of my time away as the next person. So much so that, at times, with the constant focus on itineraries and logistics and worries about ticket times and what is open and what is not and, oh Lord, will there be a bathroom that doesn't look like something out of Slumdog Millionaire, well, a vacation can seem like WORK!

So I say it's darn nice to have the time to read another chapter in that book you've been promising yourself to finish this year. Or take that nap in the middle of the DAY. Or sit down and actually enjoy that nice, tall glass of beer.

I guess I really should be giving you all some details about our day, like the nice lunch, or the wonderful performers, or the weather. And I will. Soon as I finish my beer. And perhaps after that nap.


Halifax and Peggy's Cove

Day 3 of the cruise, and we are in Nova Scotia. Which means, for me, ANOTHER country added to my list of places visited (O! Canada!).

Before I continue on, however, with the rundown of the day's events, let me take a moment to pay my respects to my fellow passengers who spent the previous evening going Green. Oh, not the Eco-friendly kind of Green. I mean head over the porcelain pagoda kind of Green. It seems we had a lot of nautical miles to cover between Portland and Halifax, and our captain put the pedal to medal to get us there in time. Hint, when you see the staff breaking out the sick bags and placing them all around the common areas, get ready for a bumpy ride.

Fortunately, Richard and I took our daily dose of Bonine, so our overnight was kinda pleasant. Something like taking a long nap in one of those MoonWalker machines you see at kid's parties. And hoping little Timmy doesn't hurl on you while you are dozing'.

Ok, moving right along.

First part of our day was a bus ride to Peggy's Cove. We were fortunate enough to see some of the best foliage color of the season on the way, per the tour guide. Our guide and driver were really top notch. The guide was pleasant, knowledgeable, and thankfully short on awful jokes, which is always a blessing. I learned a lot about the Acadian history, about the superstitions of the local folk, and about the events that tied Nova Scotia to the tragedies of the sinking of the Titanic and the crash of the Swiss Air flight in 1998. Pretty dramatic stuff.

Peggy's Cove is a small fishing village of around 30 to 40 people. It is picturesque, complete with colorful fishing boats and an oft photographed lighthouse. Quiet, however, it is not. Swollen during the day with bus loads of tourists (myself included), it is far from being a respite from the crush of the modern world. And yet, with my camera and my thoughts, I could imagine what this town might have been like, at a time when hard work and isolation were the norm. Throngs or no, I am glad I had a chance to visit.

Halifax is a clean and pleasant town of about 300,000 people (about a third of Nova Scotia's population). Richard and I enjoyed a hop on and hop off bus tour of the town. Among the highlights, a visit to the historic Citadel that has defended the city since it's beginning, and an awesome lobster roll at a casual diner recommended by our tour guide.

Interesting fact. During WWI, a ship loaded with TONS of TNT exploded in Halifax harbor. It was the largest man made explosion in human history prior to the A-bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. Thousands of Haligonians were killed instantly, many more were injured and even more became homeless. Were it not for the aid of the US, and most especially the citizens of Boston, the citizens of Halifax may have not made it through the ensuing winter. In gratitude even to this day, Halifax donates a 40 foot Christmas tree to Boston every year.

Back on the ship from our day of sightseeing, we dined at the Venetian Dining room on a luscious, rosemary scented leg of lamb, and a rich mushroom ravioli covered in a three cheese sauce. We washed it down with a lovely, dry Spanish Albarino, and then took in a performance of Mowtown hits from our favorite on board entertainer, Nathaniel Reed. We learned from the set that Nathaniel was a session player for Mowtown, and you could tell by the fact that this was a set that came from love, and far from the workmanlike shows some cruise performers coast on.

Ugh, bad pun. Time to hang it up.

Day 3 - Halifax Nova Scotia

Note: Due to the lack of free wi-fi on-board the ship, this post and others from the ship will be delayed until we can snag some free Wi-Fi.

Today was a much better day than yesterday. Clearer skies, although still some overcast but moments of sunshine made for a pleasant bus tour of the Halifax area and out to Peggy's Cove. (Google it to learn the relationship to The Titanic and to the crash of Swiss Air Flight 111 which crashed in the Atlantic nearby.)

Peggy's Cove has a lovely, much photographed lighthouse sitting on a rocky shore with Atlantic waves crashing all around. It is a beautiful site.

The scenery along the coast is lovely but rugged, dotted with little fishing villages.

We returned to Halifax and picked up the 2nd half of our journey, a Hop-on, Hop-off double decker bus tours- 3 separate 30 minute tours around the city. We rode on Route B around the harbor area. We hopped off for lunch at the Blue Nose restaurant for lobster rolls - very good.

Next and last stop was The Citadel caping a high hill overlooking the city and Halifax Harbor. We picked up route C for the return to The Dawn.

We are back onboard the ship relaxing before dinner.

It was another interesting and fun cruise

That is all I'm saying.


Day 2 - Foggy in Portland, Maine

We started the day in dense fog when we docked in Portland and we finished the day still in the fog. But that didn't hinder our enjoyment of our bus tour of Portland with a stop at the lighthouse

Dinner was enjoyed at Bamboo the Asian themed up-charged restaurant on the Dawn. I enjoyed a nice plate of scallops in Asian sauce with rice and Frank enjoyed his sesame chicken.

Next stop is in Halifax - Frank's first visit to Canada. Bravo

Saturday, October 20, 2012


This morning occurred at 3:00 AM so we could be on our 6:15 flight to Boston via Philadelphia. Our flight to PHL ended with 50 minutes in the holding pattern due to weather and traffic. We still made or connecting flight to Boston but ended up in a takeoff backup of 45 minutes.

Regardless we arrived in Boston in plenty of time to cab it to the cruise port and had a very smooth and quick check-in. After an OK lunch at the Garden Cafe buffet we participated in the mandatory evacuation drill.

We headed out to sea and after a drink in the Star Bar we headed to a packed Aqua Main Dining room ( no surcharge). While we waited on our table we went to a nearby lounge to listen to the same piano player who was on our NCL Jade cruise in April. What a coincidence. We enjoyed Nathaniel's performance again - he is a really good performer.

I enjoyed a broiled maine lobster and Frank enjoyed his grilled salmon.

We dock in Portland Maine tomorrow. I'll continue posting as I have time.

Richard Simpson

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, October 15, 2012

4 Days to Go !

Only 4 days to go before we board the NCL Dawn for our New England and Canada Cruise. Not excited, are we?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ready to Sail

Another cruise. We are about to embark on another cruise on October 19. We are sailing on the NCL Dawn out of Boston and finish a week later in Quebec City, Canada. Frank will add two countries to his Traveler Century Club quest (a la Paul and Libby - but well behind them) He will check off Canada and Prince Edward Island (yes, considered a separate country  by TCC. (<----- link). Both are already on my list so no new countries for me. Anyway here is our route map. If anyone has any suggestion on these ports, drop me a line or add a comment to the post (preferred). We know it will be cold, so save your breath on that one. The one recommendation we already have is from my Oncologist - he said we must stop in the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec City for a drink. I like that prescription, you won't have to twist our arms on that one, Doctor.

Stay tuned

Thursday, October 4, 2012


OK, here are a couple of words you don't often hear together. Greek Cuisine!

Yeah, maybe you know a few places in your area that serve some gyros, or Greek salads.  Maybe, some spanokapita.

But Greek cuisine?

Well, a few weeks back, Dick and I decided to check out some real Greek cuisine.  Albeit with a Disney twist.

The impetus of all this was an email from the Buena Vista Palace resort in Downtown Disney promoting a $79 dollar a night special fall discount rate.  Considering I had stayed at that same resort previously for several trade shows at twice that amount, it really sounded like a bargain.  So Dick and I jumped at the chance for a change in scenery,

The next decision was, where to eat?

Both Dick and I and had on several occasions discussed dining at Cat Cora's Orlando restaurant in the past.  For those of you who may not be familiar, Cat Cora is a celebrity chef who has not only competed (and won) in Iron Chef competitions on the Food Network, but who has also gained a reputation for successfully combining the flavors of her Louisiana upbringing with her Greek heritage.  No small feat.  

Add to that the fact that she is not only a renowned female chef, but also a renowned lesbian chef.  And darn attractive and telegenic to boot.  A combination that is both formidable and laudable in what is still, for the most part, a male dominated field.

Needless to say, both Dick and I arrived with a great deal of anticipation for her Kouzinna restaurant.

Kouzinna means "kitchen" in Greek (think cocina or cucina in Spanish or Italian, respectively.)  The restaurant is nicely ensconced in the Boardwalk area next to the Epcot resort area.  The decor is very casual, and evokes the atmosphere of  a Greek or Turkish taverna.

The menu is heavy on the Greek influences, with only a smattering of the LA bayous.  And all is done with flair.

Dick decided to order the fish stew (a Greek version of bouillabaise.)  For my part, I ordered the sampler (pastitsio, lamb sliders, and a chicken stew.)  The fish stew was excellent, redolent with the aromas of well prepared fish stock and perfectly cooked seafood.  No rubbery shrimp or overcooked scallops, here.  All was expertly prepared in what was, to be honest, a simple recipe that all too often many restaurants screw up.

My sampler was great.  The pastitsio may have been a bit heavy on the bechamel (not so much a crime in my book), and the sliders may have been a tad too spicy (a bit of Cajun exuberance, perhaps?), but all was forgiven with the chicken stew.  Who knew that cinnamon, with a judicious hand, could have provided such a sublime result?  

A bit of Greek wine, a shared baklava, and a final douse of chilled ouzo capped off the evening.

All in all, it was a great evening in a comfortable, welcoming environment.  Disney has a LOT of great dining options (and a lot of crappy ones, let's be real here), but anyone who happens to be at the resort and is looking for something not too expensive, casual, and above all, different (i.e. Greek cuisine), give Kouzinna a chance.  

As Dick would say, "That's all I'm saying..."


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Best Lap Cat

Paolo, my treasured lap cat had to be put to sleep on Monday September 17th due to ongoing health problems. When I first got him, a friend said he is too feral to become a good house cat. That was many years ago, and he became a wonderful friend and good companion, especially when he was sitting (napping) on my lap. This is an older picture of Paolo (left) and his good friend (and mine too), Lucia. I rescued Lucia from the office parking garage and Paolo showed up a short while later to help her eat her food. The rest is history. He was my good buddy and Lucia and I will both miss him. 

And a special mention is in order to Dr. Simon and the staff at The Cat Doctors in Tampa for their loving care over the years.

May there be an abundance of cat treats in Cat Heaven, Paolo.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Duck Two Ways - Updated

The post on Duck Two Ways from yesterday was missing some important information. First, I couldn't remember how Carol prepared her wonderful pork tenderloin. She has filled in the gap in my memory. Directly from her email... "The pork was coated with fennel seeds and cooked in a sauce of fennel,wine, chicken broth, garlic or whatever spices you might choose that would go with the fennel." Yummy! Thanks again Carol.

Frank also had a couple of good suggestions on the Seared Duck in Fig Sauce. As mentioned in the post you may have to reduce the sauce longer than recommended in the recipe to get the right consistency. You could also achieve the consistency you want by using less liquid such as the chicken broth - less liquid to reduce and less time to do so.

His second suggestion is to put the finished duck in a low (200 degree) oven to keep it warm while the sauce is reducing, but don't let it over cook. The duck is best served medium rare - in our opinion.

Quack I Say

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Duck Two Ways

Quack Quack !! Over the last couple of weeks I have enjoyed roast duck breast twice. The first at K Restaurant in the quaint  College Park section of Orlando, followed by an "At Home" preparation last Friday. Both were wonderful. 

Labor Day weekend found us a our good friend Carol's home in Mount Dora. Carol is a foodie and a very good cook in her own right. We have dined at most of the good restaurants in Mount Dora in the past so this trip we decided to branch out to Orlando. We made reservations at K Restaurant and Wine Bar which is located in an old house in this old neighborhood. The service was good and the food was even better. 

I opted for the Duck l'orange served with a side salad, and duck fat roasted cubed potatoes, it doesn't get any better than that. The duck was a perfect medium rare with crispy skin, and the l'orange sauce was superb. There were even bits of candied orange peel in the sauce.

Carol enjoyed the Mussels in a Tomato Broth with an Arugula Salad with sun-dried cranberries, candied pecans, blue cheese and a wonderful house-made grain mustard dressing. Very good!

Frank selected the Penne a la Vodka which he gave a double thumbs up. I was "allowed" to try a bite of Frank's and Carol's selections and would gladly order either on another visit.  The menu changes daily so you never know what might be offered next time, but I would like to return. Highly recommended. 

On Sunday, Carol prepared a sumptuous Pork Tenderloin cooked to a perfect degree of doneness. Maybe Carol would be so kind to remind me what the sauce was on the pork - I only remember how much I enjoyed the meal. Thank you Carol.

About a week later, this past Friday, we decided to fix our own Ducky-Duck dish at my place. We were inspired by a segment from the Kelsey Nelson series on the cooking channel - Kelsey's Essentials. She prepared a Seared Duck Breast with Fig Sauce. (The recipe will follow at the end of the post). 

A touch of sweetness in a duck sauce is aways a good addition, and the fig sauce was a perfect accompaniment.  Frank ended up doing most of the cooking as I wasn't up to 100%. He did a wonderful job of preparing the duck to a delicious medium rare. (Notice a trend here on how we like our duck prepared). He served it with Haricot Verts Almondine with lemon and shallots. We will prepare the duck recipe again - it is a keeper. If you are not a friend of the duck, I would suggest the sauce on a pork tenderloin - it should work great.

What can I say, we enjoy good food whether prepared in a restaurant or at home. All of these meals exceeded our expectations.

That's all I'm Saying 

Seared Duck Breast with Fig Sauce

45 min
10 min
Inactive Prep:
5 min
30 min

4 servings

                Four 6-ounce boneless duck breasts, skin scored in crosshatches, at room temperature
                Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
                1 teaspoon vegetable oil


                1 shallot, minced
                3/4 cup dry sherry
                1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
                1/4 cup fig jam
                1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
                Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
                2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
                Fresh chives, chopped, for garnish

For the duck breasts: Sprinkle each duck breast liberally with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the duck skin-side down and reduce the heat to low, cooking as the fat slowly renders and the skin becomes crispy, 8 to 10 minutes.

Once the skin is crispy and golden brown, flip and continue cooking until a thermometer reads 128 to 130 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast (for medium-rare doneness), 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate or cutting board and allow to rest about 5 minutes. It will carryover cook to about 135 degrees F. Don't tent with foil in order to ensure the duck skin will stay crispy.

For the fig sauce: Pour off all but 1 or 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet, reserving the excess for another use. Over medium heat, add the shallots and cook until softened. Add the sherry and reduce by half. Next, add the chicken broth, fig jam and balsamic vinegar, and continue simmering until the sauce has thickened and is syrupy, another 5 to 7 minutes. (It took more time to reduce the sauce - more like 10 minutes – just watch it until it reached the right consistence. My comment) Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper and whisk in the butter. Garnish with chopped chives.

Serve the sauce alongside thinly sliced duck breast.

Haricots Verts Almondine

25 min
10 min
Inactive Prep:
15 min

6 servings
                Kosher salt
                1/4 cup almonds
                1 1/2 pounds haricots verts (French string beans), root ends removed
                3 tablespoons unsalted butter
                1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
                2 shallots, minced
                Freshly cracked black pepper
                1/2 lemon, zested and juiced

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, toast the almonds over medium-high heat until golden brown and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the pan, finely chop and set aside.
Blanch the string beans in salted boiling water until crisp but tender, 2 to 3 minutes. The salt will impart flavor as well as help keep the string beans crisp. Immediately drain and run cold water over the beans or plunge into an ice bath to cool and stop the cooking process, then remove and completely dry.
Return the saute pan to the burner over medium heat and melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the shallots, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until starting to brown, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Toss the drained beans with the shallots and add the lemon zest and juice. Cook to heat the beans completely through, 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Toss with the toasted chopped almonds and transfer to a serving dish.