Travel: Antigua & Barbuda

Antigua English Harbor

Winter tends to be colder and longer in Maine than in other places where we’ve lived.  We always are well stocked with firewood, food, wine and have indoor projects and books to read that keep us busy.  Still, a warm weather break is something to which we look forward.  Our favorite destination was always St. John, USVI, but the island was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year and is still struggling to rebuild.  Thus, we’ve been exploring other Caribbean destinations and selected Antigua for this year’s getaway. Had we known more about the coronavirus situation at the time, we might have cancelled our trip.  Luckily we had a great time and came home in good health.

Fort Barrington

The view from Fort Barrington

Originally known as “Wadadli” by the native population, the island is located in the West Indies and is approximately 11 miles wide by 14 miles long. was renamed Antigua by Christopher Columbus in 1493. In 1632 a group of English colonists left St. Kitts and established the first permanent British settlement in Antigua which rapidly developed into a profitable sugar colony. Betty’s Hope, Antigua’s first full-scale sugar plantation was so successful that other planters turned from tobacco to sugar and imported slaves to work the sugar cane crops. However, the American War of Independence disrupted the sugar trade in the late 18th century and Great Britain abolished slave trade in 1807.  Today, tourism is the primary industry

The irregular shoreline offers over 300 white sand beaches (nearly one for every day of the year) and is ringed by coral reefs which provide excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. Abandoned British forts are scattered around the island (we liked the hike up to Fort Barrington), one of which protected English Harbor, the site of a restored British Colonial naval station. “Nelson’s Dockyard” was named after Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson who made the island his home base in the 1780s. The dockyard houses an excellent marine museum and a marina that caters to super-yachts.  The Antigua Yacht Club nearby hosts “Sailing Week” each year – one of the top regattas in the world.

Antigua Yacht Club

There are numerous all inclusive resorts along the white sand beaches of Antigua, but Craig and I have always enjoyed sampling the local cuisine in small cafes, so we opted for a boutique hotel sans meals.  We stayed at the Buccaneer Beach Club on Dickinson Beach which was set in a tropical garden with a free form pool. The hotel features 16 apartment-style rooms and two larger cottages.  We liked the fact that we had a kitchen and could prepare our own coffee and breakfast each day before setting out to explore a new beach.

Besides spending our time on the beach or exploring the forts, we managed to do a little hiking. There are a lot of hills on the island, with Mount Obama at being the highest at 1,319 ft. The hike from Wallings Dam to Signal Hill (elevation 1,198 ft) was great.  We started at the Wallings Nature Reserve and passed a zip line canopy tour venture along the way – something to try the next time we visit. The views at the top were magnificent!

The highlight of the trip for me, given my interest in food, was on Valentine’s Day when Craig signed us up for a Caribbean cooking class with Nicole’s Table (www.nicolestable.com)  A short drive from Dickenson’s Beach, Nicole and Adam’s house was perched on the top of the hills with views of the ocean. She served us her famous rum punch and put us to work preparing coconut chips, fried plantains, pineapple salsa, a sour cream lime dip, jerk chicken, plantain tostones, red beans and rice and delicious coconut tarts.  In addition, Nicole’s husband Adam gave us an introduction to rum class with tastings of rum from various Caribbean islands.  It was a fantastic experience.

We reluctantly returned after our two week vacation, but vowed to return.  Antigua is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: The Maritimes

Craig and I recently spent a week in Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Although there is a CAT Ferry which travels from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, we decided to drive up to New Brunswick so we could explore the countryside, and from there planned to take the 2-hour ferry to Nova Scotia.

As we headed north, we were aware of an increase in the pine and spruce trees lining the highway. New Brunswick is known for its woodlands, mountains and the Bay of Fundy, known for extreme tides and whale-watching.  The extreme tides wash an abundance of fish into the Bay of Fundy, attracting the whales. We spent the first night in the port city of St. John and had dinner at one of the restaurants bordering the long-standing St. John City Market.

The next morning, we went to Fallsview Park so we could see the Reversing Falls, where the tide changes average 40-50 feet and the rapids flow backwards at high tide. It would have been a whitewater kayaker’s dream! On our trip to the ferry landing, we also stopped at the Irving Nature Park and hiked along the shoreline underneath the evergreens on woodchip paths.

 

The Maritimes are known for their seafood – lobsters, plump sea scallops, succulent oysters, mussels, halibut, haddock and cod. The ferry from St. John deposited us in Digby, the scallop capital of the world! Our bed and breakfast overlooked the harbor and the scallop boat fishing fleet! It was a short walk into town where we sampled some superb restaurants. We also drove down Digby Neck to a beach where whale sightings were common but failed to see any.

From Digby, we drove south to Kejimkujik National Park which is also a National Historic Site. The National and Provincial Park systems in Canada are very well maintained with great visitor centers, camping and calendars of events. Keji (“Ked-gi”) was the site of early Mi’kmaq Natives. Kejimkujik is a Mi’kmaq word meaning “tired muscles” and may refer to the hard work of trapping and catching fish in fishing weirs in the rivers. The Mi’kmaqs had dwelled in the area for thousands of years, built birch bark canoes and made weirs of stone or wood to dam the rivers and divert the fish. When we went hiking, we saw a lot of first growth hemlock trees.

We spent the next two nights at a B&B in Lunenburg, a colorful fishing village on the South Shore of Nova Scotia originally settled by Germans. The Maritime Museum there was fantastic and gave us a good glimpse of the seafaring trades. We met a very interesting “Old Salt,” a former scallop boat captain who explained exactly how the scallops were “raked” from the sea beds and gave us a step by step procedure for making his favorite recipe from salt cod!

Our final destination was Prince Edward Island, where we stayed at Shaw’s Hotel in Beckley Beach on the North Shore. Shaw’s is an old country Inn built in the 1800’s and is still run by the same family! It was truly luxurious and only a half mile to the beach – miles of red sandstone dunes. The restaurant menu was amazing! PEI mussels are my favorite & I was not disappointed. It was a nice finish for our second honeymoon!

We both wish we’d had longer to explore Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital, and Cape Breton, but we will save that for another trip.

Conch Fritters

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Ingredients

2 cups diced conch meat (see how to prepare below)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon Cayenne pepper

1 egg

½ cup milk

¼ cup diced onion

½ cup diced green bell pepper

½ cup diced red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Peanut oil for frying

Lime, quartered

Cocktail sauce

Directions

If you have purchased whole conch, place it on a cutting board and using the rough side of a meat mallet, pound the conch to about 1/4″ thickness.  Then use a very sharp chef’s knife to dice the conch meat into 1/4″ pieces.   Transfer the chopped conch to a large mixing bowl.

In a large pot or deep fryer, heat oil to 365°F. Mix the flour, baking powder, egg, and milk in a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Mix in the chopped conch meat, onion, green and red bell pepper, and garlic until well blended. Drop rounded tablespoons of the mixture into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with a wedge of lime and cocktail sauce on the side.

 

Travel: Turks and Caicos

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New England winters are very vibrant – there is always a lot going on around the Seacoast! In addition, it’s a great time to work on a project (Craig does woodworking and I do stained glass) or just cozy up under an afghan and read a good book next to the woodstove. But winter this year stretched out a little longer than usual and we desperately needed a warm-weather break. Neither of us is enamored with glitzy resorts or all-inclusive destinations. We prefer exploring the culture and cuisine of a Caribbean island that offers great beaches, good hiking and excellent snorkeling. A direct flight is nice too, but not always possible. So, we decided to explore Turks and Caicos this year, which is rumored to have the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Turks and Caicos is an archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean, a British Overseas Territory southeast of the Bahamas. The gateway island of Providenciales, known as Provo, is home to expansive Grace Bay Beach, with luxury resorts, shops and restaurants. Scuba-diving sites include a 14-mile barrier reef on Provo’s north shore and a dramatic 7,000 foot underwater wall off Grand Turk Island. The official language is English and the currency is US dollars. But Providenciales (“Provo” to the locals) was too developed for our tastes (it had a Club Med and similar resorts, high end shopping and expensive restaurants), so we headed for North Caicos – accessible by ferry and very undeveloped.

Our Airbnb host arranged a taxi to meet us at the airport and deliver us to the Caribbean Cruisin’ ferry on the eastern end of the island. She asked if we wanted to stop at a grocery store on the way, but we assured her we would do provisioning on North Caicos. The IGA on Provo is huge with a spectacular selection of food products. (Note to self: Definitely stop and shop on the way to the ferry next time.) The ferry ride gave us our first glimpse of the beaches along the shore. We’ve traveled all over the world, but I must admit, they were most definitely the best we’d ever seen. In fact, the beaches stretch from six to 14 miles along the coast of the islands and are made of soft, white sand like talcum powder that come from the eroding limestone on the islands. The water is a neon aqua and was mesmerizing! When we arrived at the ferry landing on North Caicos, our rental car was waiting (also arranged by our Airbnb host). We followed our host’s Mom to the house and were pleasantly surprised by the location (in the middle of a village named Whitby), and amenities (short walk to the beach, coffee, fruit and bagels in the fridge). The warm, salt air was a delight. We quickly changed clothes and went for a tour of the island and a search for a grocery store.

North Caicos (and the next island over, Middle Caicos) are mostly undeveloped. North Caicos only boasts a population of 1,500. A recent hurricane had frightened the hundreds of flamingoes and they relocated elsewhere in the Caribbean. The huge land crabs roamed across the unpaved roads in the evenings and many of the cement block houses were abandoned. But, we were in a perfect location – within walking distance actually to a grocery store (that got fresh produce on Mondays) and both a great, casual restaurant, the Silver Palm, and the Pelican Beach Bar that served the most amazing pina coladas!

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We stocked up on basic essentials at the grocery store and a bottle of the local Bambarra dark rum at the liquor store and headed back to the house.

Our first full day was spent on the beach, just walking and swimming, and then back to the house to read on the patio. We dined that first night at the Silver Palm Restaurant where the owner/chef Karen and her husband, Poach, spoiled us with fresh seafood (conch fritters and whole fried snapper) and information about the island. Her rum punch is legendary!

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The highlight of our vacation came on Monday with a fishing trip. We had hired a local, Captain D, to take us out for inshore fishing. Trip Advisor reviews raved about him and said that he would clean all the fish you could catch and send it back to your Airbnb rental with you. We were excited about feasting on our own fresh-caught seafood all week. We chartered him from 9-2, spent most of the time fishing and then went snorkeling off the boat (waters were a little choppy) for about an hour before returning to the launch area where he cleaned our fish for us. We caught three good-sized barracuda (the largest one was 32 pounds!) We had seen barracuda with their scary teeth while snorkeling in the past and didn’t know they were edible. Apparently, predator fish at the top of the food chain can carry dangerous toxins, but these fish didn’t pose any problems for us. Captain D told us a few ways to cook the fish, but we opted for the charcoal grill at our rental house and a little lime juice. It was delicious!

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As for hiking, we mostly walked along the beach although we did hike the Middle Caicos Cross Island Trail which wound along the coastline and across pitted limestone cliffs.

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We saw only one other couple on the beach the entire week we were there It was heavenly and very, very relaxing for us. We definitely plan to return some day.

 

Bahraini Cuisine

Bahrain is an international port and, as such, imports goods from all over the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Africa. Each restaurant in Manama featured a different cuisine and the food markets offered a dazzling selection of bins filled with spice, shelves stocked with oils, dates, honey and staples from around the world.

Spices

But what did the average Bahraini eat? Every meal was served with flatbread, and various small plates of egg dishes, meat dishes (usually chicken or lamb), vegetables (I liked the white beans with cilantro which were very spicy), hummus, tahini, and curries. These dishes were shared among diners. The flatbread was torn into smaller pieces and a spoonful of one of the other items was placed on the flatbread and rolled up. Diners ate this morsel with their right hand, utensils being reserved for serving. The population is predominantly Muslim and alcohol is not served except in larger establishments and hotel restaurants. Thus, diners drink water or fruit juices with their meals and follow the meal with Arabic style (strong) coffee or chai tea.

The area is subject to dust storms of very fine, white silt, which was probably the reason there was not any “street food” per se as there is in other cities of the world. The famed “shwarma” was sold at many establishments along the sidewalk where doors could be slid open to reveal the juicy, marinated chicken and lamb roasting on a spit. This Middle Eastern variation of a wrap was available everywhere for the equivalent of $3 US.

The vast array of available spices is incorporated into most menus. The following recipe is for the Chicken Machboos that we made in our cooking class.

Bahraini Chicken Machboos

Ingredients

¼ c. rose water

¼ t. saffron threads

2 T. melted butter

¼ c. canola oil

Whole spices:

3 star anise

2 black lemons*

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

5 whole cardamom

Vegetables:

2 medium onions, diced

2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced

½ t. ground ginger

½ c. fresh cilantro, chopped

½ c fresh dill, chopped

1 medium tomato, diced

Remaining spices:

1 T. salt

½ t. black pepper

½ t. cinnamon

½ t. ground cardamom

½ T. turmeric

½ T. paprika

1 T. curry powder

1 t. cumin

1 2-3 lb. chicken, quartered

2 c. basmati rice

4 c. water

Green chili (optional)

Directions

Pour rosewater into a measuring cup and add saffron threads. Cover with plastic wrap and soak for 4 hours or overnight.

In a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven, heat butter and oil over medium high heat. Add whole spices and sauté until you can smell the aroma. Then add onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add cilantro and dill and stir for one minute. Add the fresh tomato and mix until it softens. Add remaining spices and mix for 3-4 minutes.

Add the chicken and fry for 5 minutes on both sides to lightly brown. Add 4 c. water and bring to boil. Simmer for 40-45 minutes until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Rinse rice with cool water until it is clear. Drain. Add to stockpot. There should be 3 c. water in the stockpot for the 2 c. rice. If not, add more water. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the rose water and saffron. Place chicken on top of all other ingredients and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Garnish with lemon slices. Serves 4-6.

African Peanut Stew

 

Our daughter, Gretchen Steidle, Founder and President of Global Grassroots, was recently named by INC Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers! She is in Rwanda and Uganda this week to oversee the women-led Conscious Change Initiatives that her organization funds. This spicy Peanut Stew recipe is typical of East African cuisine and can be prepared without meat.

 

Ingredients

6 scallions, thinly sliced

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 quarts turkey stock

2 cups cubed, peeled sweet potato

1 cup creamy peanut butter

One 6-ounce can tomato paste

3 cups shredded cooked turkey, chicken or pork

One 15 ounce can diced tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)

1 cup chopped lightly salted peanuts

4 scallions, thinly sliced

Optional: 1 cup chopped kale or spinach

 

Directions

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, cook green onions and sweet pepper in butter and hot oil for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add stock and sweet potato. Bring to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 10 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

In a medium bowl, whisk peanut butter and tomato paste until smooth. Gradually add one cup of the hot turkey stock from the Dutch oven and continue to whisk until well-blended.

Add turkey, peanut butter mixture, and tomatoes to Dutch oven. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cilantro. Top with green onion slices and peanuts.

 

Serves 4-6.

Travel: Bahrain

I recently returned from Bahrain where I went to visit our son Eric who is stationed at the Naval Support Activity there. It was my first visit to a Middle Eastern country, and he was a great tour guide. We started by going to the Bahrain National Museum so I could learn some history about the country. I learned that Bahrain is an island country and an Arab constitutional monarchy situated in the Persian Gulf between the Qatar peninsula and the northeastern coast of Saudi Arabia. Originally referred to as Dimun, it is rumored to have been the site of the Garden of Eden, although it is mostly a white sand desert today sparsely spotted by date palms. The natural pearl fisheries dominated its economy and the pearls were considered the finest in the world, until Japan started cultivating pearls. Oil was discovered in 1931, production began the following year and oil remains Bahrain’s most exported product today.

 

On the second day, Eric took me to an old fort and museum. Archeological excavations revealed that the fort had existed for over 4,000 years through 6 different civilizations – the last time it was rebuilt was by the Portuguese in 1521.

One of the more fascinating compounds in the fort showed how dates were placed in troughs in a room, weighted down with boards and allowed to sit and soften until the date “honey” or liquor drained into a depression in the stone floor. The date tree trunks were used as the ceiling, covered by woven date palm fronds made into mats.

Summers are very hot there, often with a heat index of 130 degrees F, although we enjoyed moderate temperatures in the mid-80’s with a slight breeze. I found the various souqs (markets) fascinating – gold, pearl jewelry, spices, and Persian carpets abounded. Food was fantastic and I especially enjoyed the karak (spiced chai), balaleet (egg and noodle dish), shashouka (eggs and tomatoes) and the shwarma (marinated lamb or chicken wrapped in khubz or flatbread).

 

The men making the flatbread placed the rounds of dough on a cushion and slap them onto the sides of a stone oven. Another person removed them with a hook. The flatbread is served with every meal and is used to scoop up the various meats and vegetables that are served.

We also toured the circa 1800 home of the Sheikh in the old part of the city, the Royal Camel Farm where I got to feed the camels, the Grand Mosque which can accommodate 7,000 people during prayer where I had to change into an abaya and head scarf, and had a Bahrain cooking class where we made machboos, a spiced rice and chicken dish.

The Sheikh’s Palace

 

Feeing a baby camel

 

The Grand Mosque

 

Inside the Mosque

 

Learning how to make machboos

It was an amazing cultural experience. And to top it off, Eric and I raced go karts around a Grand Prix course (I came in last in the heat of 14 cars, but Eric was only a half second behind first place)

Ready to Race

AND I got to be Eric’s date to the Marine Corps Ball where we toasted his brother and our oldest son Brian, former Marine Corps Captain.

 

Marine Corps Ball 2017