A Travellerspoint blog

The Hudson Valley: Fall's Well That Ends Well (Pt. 1)

I don't cook all that often, but I do have one favorite recipe: Take one of the world's most foremost culinary institutes, add a bunch of elite Manhattan chefs fleeing the city's astronomical rents, toss in acres of prime farmland, and finish with a slew of expert mixologists who favor locally-distilled whiskey and other spirits. Stir well to combine, and the result is the food and drink paradise known as the Hudson Valley, one of our favorite weekend getaways.

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This is particularly true in the fall, that magical time of year when the bounty of the area's harvest graces restaurant menus and seasonal cocktail lists from Kingston to Kinderhook and every town in between.

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It's a little over two-and-a-half hours from New York City to our favorite town in the Hudson Valley, aptly named Hudson, which is obviously about one-and-a-half hours longer than we can typically go in between meals. And so we usually stop for lunch on the way, this time at Tuthill House in Gardiner.

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Of course, we didn't make a detour into Gardiner just for lunch: Tuthill House is part of Tuthilltown Spirits . . . which makes Hudson Baby Bourbon . . . which I like for its gorgeous bottles and cool labels and seasonal offerings like Maple Cask Rye and Fresh Pressed Apple Vodka . . . which made it the perfect place for lunch, a whiskey tasting, and a little shopping.

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We snagged a table by the windows overlooking the falls, then got to work choosing a couple of seasonal cocktails: The Apple-y Ever After with apple-and- vanilla-infused gin, cinnamon, walnut, and egg white foam for me, and the Autumn Smash with Old Grandad, sage-poached local apples, sage liqueur, and cinnamon for Angel.

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Lunch was inadvertently loaded with greens: A "whole head of lettuce" salad dressed with Castelvetrano olive vinaigrette and shaved manchego; Murray's chicken breast with pesto and Hudson Baby Bourbon chicken jus; and a tartine with frisee, walnuts and goat cheese.

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This much healthy in one meal would not do, of course, so we ordered up an Orchard Gin lemon-thyme custard tart with stewed plums and meringue for dessert, to restore balance in the universe.

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And then we did a whiskey tasting.

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Or, rather, I shopped while Angel sipped.

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Loaded down with tote bags full of booze, we noticed on our way back to the car that we weren't the only ones who might have overindulged at Tuthilltown.

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Our next stop was at Golden Harvest Farm in Valatie to stock up on apples, pumpkins, and pies made from both.

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Finally it was time to head over to Warren Street in Hudson, the bustling main drag where we'd rented an apartment for the weekend.

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That evening Angel had planned a birthday dinner for me at Deer Mountain Inn in Tannersville. We kicked things off beforehand with a round of celebratory cocktails at my favorite spot in Hudson, the William Farmer Barroom.

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We lucked out to find two seats at the busy bar, then consulted the "Field Notes" for our cocktail choices.

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Soon it was time to head over to Deer Mountain. And while we were expecting a fantastic fireside meal, we were not expecting a swirling snowstorm . . . in October.

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The bad weather actually made the dinner all the more romantic, snuggled up as we were with craft cocktails, comforting bowls of soup, decadent entrees of beef tenderloin and butter-poached lobster with pillowy dumplings, and a view of the storm outside from our toasty table.

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After dinner we retired to the cozy bar to finish our cocktails.

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And although the drive back down the mountain featured sleet, snow, and even tennis-ball-sized hail, I'd like to think this guy watched over us.

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CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2!

Posted by TraceyG 07:15 Archived in USA Tagged hudson_valley oak hudson deer_mountain_inn tuthilltown william_farmer gaskins Comments (2)

The Hudson Valley: Fall's Well That Ends Well (Pt. 2)

The next day dawned bright and sunny in Hudson, so we decided to take a leisurely walk down Warren Street on our way to lunch.

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We poked in and out of the eclectic shops, admiring the antiques and picking up gifts of books, jewelry, candles, and olive oil for ourselves and friends and family.

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We'd worked up an appetite after all that walking, so we decided on pizza at a new spot, Oak Pizzeria Napoletana, for lunch.

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Owned by locals Juliana Santos and Joseph Alvarez, Oak turns out authentic Neapolitan pizzas made from naturally leavened dough (sans commercial yeast) and fired in Oak's wood-burning oven.

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After perusing the extensive menu of antipasti, we decided on a salad of little gem lettuce with pickled mushrooms, followed by a couple of paper-thin pizzas.

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After lunch, it was time for a stroll down the other side of Warren Street to walk things off.

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By late afternoon we were in need of a little pick-me-up, so we stopped into local motorcycle shop for a coffee . . . as one does.

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The afternoon had warmed up considerably, so we decided to make the short drive over to the Greenport Nature Conservancy to finish out the day enjoying the sunny weather and fall foliage.

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We chose the more mountainous green trail, which offered expansive views of open meadows, forest, dense cedar groves, the Hudson River, and the Catskills.

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That evening we drove down to Germantown for dinner at Gaskins, a modern country tavern that serves as the community's meeting spot at dinnertime.

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If you eat before 9pm, that is.

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After tucking ourselves into a cozy booth with a couple of glasses of red wine, we feasted on comfort food expertly made from local ingredients: Creamy burrata with kale pesto; a crunchy Brussels sprout salad with kale, clothbound cheddar, and hazelnuts that has become my new go-to recipe for fall dinners; crispy buttermilk fried chicken with honey-butter hot sauce; and a juicy grass-fed burger with a house-made bun(!) and cheddar cheese.

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Cheeseburgers, pizza, lobster, and fried chicken: Angel really does give the best birthday presents.

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Check back soon or subscribe here for yours truly roughing it in the bush in South Africa; pub-crawling around Dublin (with my Dad!); getting by with some help from my friends in Anguilla; and slothing (and sloshing) it up in Delray Beach. See you there!

Posted by TraceyG 05:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Anguilla, Part 1: Let's Make Some Waves

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of good luck, it was the age of bad luck, it was the epoch of human kindness, it was the epoch of utter stupidity, it was the season of juicy cheeseburgers, it was the season of tough ribs, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had beaches and blue skies before us, we had metal detectors and grid searches before us.

But let's start with the best of times, shall we?

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We arrived on a picture-perfect August day, collected our rental car, and made a beeline for Coconut Palm Villa on Mead's Bay.

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The larger of two separate villas comprising Twin Palms Villas, Coconut Palm has three full ensuite bathrooms, one half bath, two outdoor showers, and a private pool, and if all of that is not enough to keep you sand-free, then I don't know what is.

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The living areas were accented with colorful pops of lime and turquoise, and lots of doors, windows, and skylights to let in air and light.

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And did I mention the roof deck with the panoramic view of Meads Bay, and the umbrella and lounger setup on Meads?

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But all of that paled in comparison to having three bedrooms: One to sleep in, one to store my clothes and shoes in . . . and one for ironing in.

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I decided that the upstairs bedroom, in its own pod across from the main house, would be my hair and makeup prep area. Angel loved the idea, figuring that if I was tucked away in a separate building, I wouldn't be able to yell out every five minutes for him to bring me something I'd left in the main house or downstairs. And he was right; I didn't yell. I texted him instead.

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After depositing our things in their designated bedrooms, we quickly changed into swimsuits, then popped down the road to the island's cutest little beach bar, Waves.

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I mean, even the bathrooms are cute.

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These squishy, oversized beanbags are perfect for napping, or for passing out after a few of Waves' colorful rum punches. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

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You should always match your drink to your dress . . . and to that pillow you will need after a few rounds.

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We sipped our way to sunset, then finally headed back to Coconut Palm to take in the view and get ready for dinner.

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I'd made dinner reservations at Picante, our go-to choice for a warm, welcoming first night on island.

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We'd decided to keep our reservation even though the owner, Chloe, had messaged me beforehand to let me know that, because it was their last night of the season, they would not have my beloved seafood enchiladas. We compensated accordingly.

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You've gotta love a place that sends you a Code Red when they're out of your favorite dish.

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And you have to love it even more when the chef magically whips up a batch for you anyway.

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Toward the end of our meal we met the lovely Stacie from Maine, who can vouch for the fact that I was grinning like a loon after finishing those margaritas enchiladas.

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I awoke the next morning at the crack of dawn, an annoying, only-on-vacation habit if ever there was one. Just ask Angel.

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I used the time to do some unpacking, then rewarded myself with a leisurely walk through the gardens behind the house.

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It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, so we decided to take a drive up to Zemi Beach House for lunch.

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If you can think of a view more spectacular than the one that awaits you on the patio at 20 Knots, you are taking way better vacations than I am.

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We snagged a table in the sand and ordered up a round of cocktails, the excellent Tiki Old Fashioned with Mount Gay XO for Angel, and a caipirinha for me, made to order with vodka instead of cachaça.

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The bread at Zemi is toasted to a crisp and comes with an addictive roasted garlic spread and, if you gobble it up the way I did, will also come 1,000 tiny cuts to the roof of your mouth.

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After lunch, we splurged on a second round of cocktails -- for digestion, of course -- which we enjoyed on a couple of loungers on the beach.

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The day was really windy, so we finished the afternoon Zemi's spectacular aquarium pool.

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That evening we had plans to meet up at Roy's with Renee and Mike, two online friends whom we'd had yet to meet in person.

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Anybody can lose a shoe when it's a flip-flop. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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Have you ever had the potent rum punches at Roy's? It took just one for me to decide I liked Renee and Mike enough to invite them to join us for dinner at E's Oven, and another half of one to accidentally walk into the house next door to E's when we arrived . . . and compliment their living room decor. I'm not a complete animal, you know.

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There, we feasted on the famous coconut-crusted grouper and a pile of cheesy au gratin potatoes. At E's, that is. Though I'm sure my new friends would have whipped something up after I raved about their fancy vases.

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I even managed to get into the right car at the end of the night.
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Posted by TraceyG 04:58 Archived in Anguilla Comments (9)

Anguilla, Part 2: Ain't Nothin' But a Bling Ting

The next morning I again woke at the crack of dawn, but this time it was on purpose: Sleeping in on FBI Monday would be like sleeping in on Christmas morning when you're sure Santa is bringing you a new bike.

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I slipped on a beach coverup, threw on a hat to hide my bed head, and burned rubber over to FBI for the Happiest Day of the Year.

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Though the burgers are always the main attraction, we were also excited to sample the AXA Ale from AXA Brewing Company.

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Christian had lots of AXA Brewing gear, so we bought one of almost everything to bring back to New York. There's nothing like sending your husband to the gym wearing a brewery t-shirt to advertise exactly what he's doing there.

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After lunch we hung around to chat a bit and take some photos. Though I wasn't quite expecting this when Marjorie asked Angie to smile for the camera.

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Indeed, we were enjoying the company at FBI so much that we almost didn't make it to Rendezvous Bay for a swim. And in hindsight, I really wish we hadn't. It started off innocently enough:

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The afternoon had gotten away from us a bit, so rather than drag our beach bag, rafts, and other stuff down the beach, we just grabbed two towels and bounded down to the beach for a quick swim.

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We plopped our towels down onto the sand, then stripped down to our swimsuits and deposited our rings, Angel's watch, and our phones into Angel's baseball cap for safekeeping. Afterwards, we put everything back on in order to take a walk down to Rendezvous Bay Hotel to check out the rebuilt version of The Place.

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As we made our way back down the beach, I decided to take one last dip before heading back to the car. Angel begged off, since his trunks were already dry from our walk and he didn't want to get the driver's seat wet.

I'd only waded in up to my waist when I realized I'd left my engagment ring on. I asked Angel to come get it; since he was already dressed, he waded in roughly up to his ankles and I met him near the water line to hand the ring off to him. Angel put it in his pocket, and I paddled around for a bit until it was time to leave.

It wasn't until we were halfway back to Coconut Palm that we discovered that the ring was no longer in his pocket.

I'll spare you the gory details of what happened when we pulled the car over and turned Angel's pockets inside out, but as our disbelief turned to horror, it looked something like this:

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Retracing our steps, we immediately began racking our brains as to what might have happened: Perhaps Angel had missed the pocket? (He hadn't.) Maybe the pocket of his trunks had a hole in it? (It didn't.) Had the ring slid out of his pocket in the car? (It hadn't.) Or perhaps fallen out of his pocket when he'd reached in for the car keys? (It didn't.)

But none of those things could be ruled out right away . . . at least not until we'd spent three days combing the beach, the parking lot, the car, and even the roadside with a battalion of generous friends, kind strangers, and every metal detector on the island.

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Two of those strangers-turned-new-friends, Rob and Julie Willsher, met us at the beach each day at 5:30 a.m. Rob spent the first part of his career as the British equivalent of a Green Beret and is an officer in the Royal Anguilla Police Force Marine Unit and the owner of Vigilant Divers, and Julie is a former Baltimore police detective, and between the two of them, they managed to calm us down enough to develop a working theory of where the ring might be, as well as a workable plan -- including grid searches, synchronized snorkeling, and a search of our car to put even the most thorough DEA agent to shame -- to find it.

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That evening we understandably needed alcohol, and a hell of a lot of it. And so we set off for Dolce Vita, where we could be assured of delicious food, great wine, and a sympathetic ear.

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We were thrilled to see that the restaurant had been lovingly restored after Irma, all the way down to the familiar white curtains tied with red ribbons and our beloved corner table.

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We settled on a bottle of Cab, then took Abbi's suggestion of the evening's special, an excellent tuna and salmon tartare.

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It was the first time I'd gone to dinner without my ring in almost 20 years, but wielding one fork in each hand for the shrimp pasta and mix-and-match gnocchi certainly kept my naked left hand occupied.

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The next morning we began what was to become our new morning routine: Wake before dawn, stumble around bleary-eyed, throw on some clothes, and meet Rob and Julie at the beach to search for the ring. After several unsuccessful hours of searching, we headed over to Elodia's for some hydrotherapy.

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After a long float, we shared an order of Elodia's crunchy fish bits, along with a nutmeg-topped rum punch for Angel, a creamy pina colada for me, and our usual lunch orders.

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That evening we had reservations at Veya, which included walking out not with a doggie bag, but with yet another loaned metal detector. We're nothing if not classy.

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As usual, we bargained hard to influence each other's appetizer and entrée choices to maximize which of Veya's fabulous menu items we'd get to try this time around.

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I decided on the local leafy greens with marinated goat cheese, candied papaya, and pumpkin vinaigrette, and then talked Angel into the Vietnamese style deep-fried calamari because I have a reputation to uphold here.

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For our entrées, I chose the roast chicken because it came with three of my favorite things: rice, chicken skin, and a bunch of chicken meat that can usually be traded for whatever carbs Angel happens to have on his plate.

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Angel decided on the grilled shrimp with sweet corn hush puppies and coconut curry sauce.

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He even got to keep one of those hush puppies for himself.
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For those of you still wondering, the prevailing theory in the Great Ring Debacle is that one of the ring's prongs caught on the fine mesh of Angel's swim trunks when he deposited it into his pocket, so the ring hung there for a bit before coming loose either while he was in the water, or on his way to the car. Happily, it was insured, and new bling is on the way!

CLICK HERE to read Part 3!

Posted by TraceyG 05:18 Archived in Anguilla Comments (6)

Anguilla, Part 3: A Sauvignon Blanc-Out

By Day 4 of the Case of the Disappearing Diamond, we were emotionally drained from getting our hopes up each day, only to have them dashed, and physically exhausted from the 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls. Confident that we'd done everything humanly possible to find the ring, we reluctantly called off the search and vowed (heh-heh) to enjoy the rest of the trip.

We started with a morning swim, followed by a leisurely stroll through Coconut Palm's lush garden.

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And although we ultimately did not find my ring, we actually wound up finding a lot more: The kindness of strangers. An outpouring of similar "lost ring" stories. Concern and well wishes from nearly every Anguillian we encountered for the rest of the trip (apparently word travels fast, especially when you're a Cheeseburglar). And the knowledge that even though the ring held immeasurable sentimental value, in the end it is just a thing, the loss of which could never change how we feel about each other.

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And we finally found out where the police station is.

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It was shaping up to be a gorgeous day, so we headed over to Ocean Echo for a little R&R.

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And maybe a couple of cocktails.

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Soon the smell of curry began to waft our way, so we headed up to our usual corner table for lunch.

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The smell of regression might have drifted our way as well. Don't judge.

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The rest of the afternoon passed in a happy haze of sun, sand, and sea.

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That night we drove up to Island Harbour to stuff our faces full of (pre-ordered) lobster.

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And we weren't the only ones.

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Full of lobster, $5 rum punch, and Falcon dip, we enjoyed a midnight swim before turning in for the night.

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The next morning was another beauty.

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After coordinating our schedules, we'd arranged to take Rob and Julie to lunch to thank them for helping us with the ring search. We agreed to meet at Straw Hat, with Rob warning us that it was going to be a "Five-Bottle Lunch."

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That's right: Although Rob may look like the kind of guy who pounds Budweiser and then smashes the empty cans on his forehead, he actually favors a delicate Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

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We snagged a large table by the water's edge, ordered an endless succession of icy bottles of wine, and enjoyed an afternoon of food, fun, and fantastic new friends.

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It was hard to part ways -- Rob and Julie have more crazy adventures than I have hairs on my head -- so we made plans to meet up later in the week before Angel and I drifted down to the beach for a late afternoon soak.

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That night it was back to Ferryboat Inn, since I had a hot date with a lobster Thermidor.

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To answer some of your questions: Yes, I'd just had lobster the night before at Falcon Nest. No, you can never have too much lobster. Yes, Marjorie's Thermidor should be on your bucket list of things to eat before you die. Yes, you have to call ahead for it. No, they won't give you extra of that creamed spinach thing that I've raved about before, even though I have suggested that, like Wing Night Wednesday and FBI Monday, it be designated its own special day ("Spinach Saturday").

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I didn't give the dogs anything to eat, and I think these photos prove it.

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I mean, when the Thermidor is as good as Marjorie's, they'd be lucky to even get a shell.

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Click here to read Part 4!

Posted by TraceyG 05:21 Archived in Anguilla Comments (8)

Anguilla, Part 4: You Come at the King, You Best Not Miss

The next morning we spent a few hours in the pool at Coconut Palm to start the day.

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We decided on lunch at Tropical Sunset, if by "decided" you mean "planned months in advance according to a color-coded agenda." We arrived early to claim our spot and enjoy a swim before lunch.

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I'd tried Tropical Sunset's sticky, fall-off-the-bone ribs on our last visit and couldn't wait to have them again.

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But like so many things I've looked forward to that have turned out to be disappointing -- bottled coconut water; the series finale of The Sopranos; every jumpsuit I've ever purchased -- the ribs this time around were underwhelming. But anybody can have an off day, and when the manager messaged me later to apologize and invite us to return, I gladly accepted (and will of course report back).

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We whiled away the rest of the afternoon in that brilliant blue water.

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We'd worked up quite a thirst from all that floating, so we took a walk down the beach to Zemi for a round of their expertly crafted cocktails.

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For dinner that night, it was back to Dolce Vita for some garlic bread with a side of Caesar salad, a decadently cheesy lasagna, and a mound of seafood fra diavolo.

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As usual, I was feeling so full after all that pasta that I really wished my belly button functioned like the plug on a beach ball so I could deflate it at will. Also as usual, Abbi ignored my pleas for mercy and brought over a slab of chocolate cake, which I insisted I could not eat . . . and then proceeded to devour.

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The next day was our last lunch at FBI.

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We'd just been to FBI two days before, so Angel committed the ultimate heresy by announcing that he was in the mood for something else besides the burger. (At that moment, I was actually glad I wasn't wearing my wedding ring, lest anyone think I was actually married to this dolt.) I, of course, remained in full possession of my faculties and ordered accordingly.

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After perusing the menu -- something neither of us had done at FBI since the late 90s -- Angel decided to try the chicken sandwich with FBI's homemade BBQ sauce. Sure, I figured it woud be good, but it certainly never occurred to me that a simple chicken sandwich could actually compete with the best cheeseburger known to man.

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How wrong I was. Ferryboat came for the king, all right . . . and now I have to eat two sandwiches every time I come here.

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Of course, I hadn't forgotten about Angie and Basil. But I did keep forgetting to stop at Best Buy, so we popped in to Ashley & Sons on our way to lunch to get some dog treats. Unfortunately, Ashley's didn't have any, but they did have these, which would have to do.

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Obviously I had to spoon-feed them . . . because they could get hurt with a fork.

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After everyone was well-fed, we headed over to Meads Bay to float the afternoon away.

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The loungers belonging to Coconut Palm villa are on a pristine, private stretch of sand between Carimar and Malliouhana.

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That evening we decided to relax at the house with a night swim, followed by some wine on the roof deck.

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It was the perfect way to reconnect, seeing as how I almost had to divorce him over that FBI burger betrayal.

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----------------------------------------
Check out what we're eating, drinking, and doing when we're not in Anguilla at @escape.from.new.york, or stick to flip flops, floppy hats, and fab frocks @the.beach.blonde.

CLICK HERE to read Part 5!

Posted by TraceyG 05:02 Archived in Anguilla Comments (5)

Anguilla, Part 5: The Circle of Life

We only had two days left, and though we'd fallen in love with Coconut Palm, enjoyed hours of blissful beach time, and made lots of new friends (all of whom conveniently own metal detectors), the loss of my ring had admittedly cast a pall over an otherwise perfect trip. And so we decided to finish strong with a last lunch at Ocean Echo, because if a round of Rumzies cannot cure what ails you, then probably nothing can.

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I love Ocean Echo for its great food, friendly service, fun drink list, and of course that stunning view.

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They'll even "reserve" your favorite table while you lounge at the beach.

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But most of all I love that they will make you a big bowl of Kraft mac & cheese if you beg ask nicely.

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It was our last night on island, so we headed back to the villa to get ready for another dinner at E's, this time with Christian from FBI.

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After managing to make it into the correct building this time, we feasted on the lobster spring rolls, mushroom chicken, coconut-crusted grouper, and lamb shank.

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And, of course, a side of E's cheesy au gratin potatoes for me. That bowl of mac & cheese at lunch was just an appetizer.

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The next day was departure day, but we'd lucked out with a late afternoon flight and had time for a last dip in the pool.

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And a quick breakfast at Straw Hat, where Angel fueled up for travel day with the seafood frittata stuffed with lobster, shrimp, and local fish.

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Have you had the Straw Hat egg sandwich? It comes on a Portuguese roll with two eggs; bacon, sausage, or ham; and the choice of with or without cheese, which is no choice at all unless you have a life-threatening cheese allergy (and even then I'd suck it up just this once).

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Angel settled the bill while I took one last soak in the warm, clear water.

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Too soon, it was time to get cleaned up for the flight home. We arrived at the ferry dock duly prepared: Luggage, passports . . . rum punch.

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As Calypso sped off toward St. Martin, I thought ahead to the double-cheese pizza I planned to order for the plane ride home. (Yes, still more cheese -- might as well, er, double down on your way out.)

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More importanly, Angel and I made peace with the fact that my ring had actually come full circle, finally resting where it had always wanted to be after making a break for it on Shoal Bay during our honeymoon. Naturally, we'll always have to return to visit it.

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One of those visits will be this summer, when we plan to introduce my newbie sister and her husband to the island. And that's when it occurred to me that I've been to almost every government building in Anguilla: The post office, the hospital (three times!), Inland Revenue, and now even the police station.

That just leaves one.

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Hmmm. That summer trip is gonna be an interesting one. Stay tuned.
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Check back soon or subscribe here for yours truly roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!!); drinking homemade hooch in the Hudson Valley; enjoying a birthday blowout with my sissy in Brooklyn; and frozen-drinking my way around Delray Beach. Cheers!

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Posted by TraceyG 06:10 Archived in Anguilla Comments (8)

The Key West Food & Wine Festival, Pt.1: The Wrath of Grapes

So, I've got a bone to pick with the folks who run the Key West Food and Wine Festival. The tag line for this winey weekend, which I have written about here and here, is "78 Degrees. 30 Events. 1 Tiny Island." Really? That's like describing Mardi Gras as "Some Beads and Maybe a Parade," or Super Bowl weekend as "There Might Be Hookers, But Don't Count On It." In other words, it doesn't even begin to describe the beachy bacchanal of food, wine, more food, and even more wine -- with a few detours into tequila, whiskey, and Champagne thrown in to keep things interesting -- that is the days-long eating-and-drinking binge known as the Key West Food & Wine Festival or, as I like to call it, "The Ultimate Liver Smackdown."

Day 1: I'll See You On the Other Side

We arrived on a gorgeous January morning after a quick and easy flight.

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Our friend Mark, who runs the festival, had arranged for us to be greeted by a rep for Tesla, one of the event's sponsors. The idea is that they give you a ride into town in the new Tesla Model X, a futuristic pod with falcon-wing doors, a medical-grade HEPA filter comparable to those used in hospital rooms, and more gadgets than the Starship Enterprise, including a self-driving mode -- and during those 15 minutes you agree to drop a year's salary on a new car because it reminds you of the one in "Back to the Future."

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The Model X was gorgeous, no doubt, but there was one tiny flaw . . .

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I told Angel not to bring so much stuff.

Eventually we managed to squeeze everything in, and the car drove itself on over to Old Town, where we'd rented the top floor of an eyebrow house on Olivia Street.

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We'd actually stayed here before, about 15 years ago, and were delighted to find that the amenities we'd enjoyed most -- the private deck, hot tub, and outdoor shower -- were just as we remembered them.

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We didn't have much time for hot-tubbing, though, since we had very important errands to run.

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That evening was the Welcome Party for the Food & Wine Festival on the beach at the Casa Marina.

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Our friends Claudia and Alden had driven down from Key Largo for the night to attend the kickoff party with us.

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We were thrilled and flattered, but they weren't the only ones trying to cozy up to us. Well, one of us, anyway.

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A spectacular sunset rounded out the evening.

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After the party wound down, we headed off to Santiago's Bodega with Claudia and Alden to get some dinner. You know, because we hadn't already eaten enough.

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It is possible that you may have overdone it on the wine when you manage to have a 2+ hour dinner and have nothing more to show for it than a single blurry photo of some flaming cheese.

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You would think that would've been a hint to call it a night, but you would be wrong. And so we set off for The Saint, a chic new hotel that Claudia had been raving about.

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It would have been rude to check out the space without also having a cocktail, so we had two.

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And then we started swinging.

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We had been on something like a 7-hour bender by this point, and it was clearly time to wrap things up. Which is why we thought it would be a fantastic idea to go to The Other Side for a nightcap.

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There, I discovered my new favorite cocktail: The banana nut bread Old Fashioned, made with Jameson Irish whiskey, Brazilian banana liqueur, spiced pear liqueur, and black walnut bitters.

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Even Fredrick approved.

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Day 2: Sweet Caroline

The next day we were off to a slow start, though I cannot imagine why. We decided to take it easy by spending the day at the pool.

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We had the place to ourselves, and spent the morning dozing in the cushy loungers and taking dips in the warm water.

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Eventually our stomachs started growling, and we decided to answer the call. We headed over to Caroline's for a healthy lunch of salad.

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Well, salad with fried chicken. And fried shrimp. And cheese.

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Later that afternoon, we took a spin on our bikes before heading back to the eyebrow house for a soak in the hot tub and a much-needed nap.

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That evening we had plans to meet up with friends Stephanie and Ari at Michael's. We'd never been before, but I knew I was going to love it because MEATLOAF.

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And not just any meatloaf, but meatloaf made of a Wagyu and prime tenderloin blend with house-made spicy ketchup.

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We had drinks, appetizers, and other entrées, too, of course, like a yummy Ruby Sipper with ruby red vodka, cranberry, and fresh basil; meaty crab cakes; snapper meunière with lemon brown butter; a warm chocolate cake; and a bunch of other stuff I could not be bothered to photograph because MEATLOAF.

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Day 3: The Garden of Good and Drunk

The next day we were scheduled to attend several food and wine events back-to-back, so we decided to line our stomachs with a big lunch at (dearly departed) Kelly's to give ourselves a fighting chance.

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Were you wondering why we also had key lime margaritas right before five hours of wine tastings? Scurvy prevention.

Soon it was time for the Tropical Garden Tour and Tasting, which would take us to five different gardens around the island.

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The event was sold out, with folks lined up for a chance to enjoy a glass of Hahn wine and some nibbles paired to go with at each stop.

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Now this lady knows how to dress for a wine tour.

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We boarded the trolley and set off for the first garden, the Memorial Sculpture Garden in Mallory Square.

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There, we enjoyed a glass of Hahn chardonnay and a black pepper popover with warm mushroom salad and goat cheese.

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We moved on to the Oldest House, where we feasted on lobster and avocado gazpacho and delicious little antipasto pinwheels with sundried tomato tapenade.

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Next up, we visited the gorgeous Audubon House.

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Unfortunately, however, there weren't alot of good spots for snacking here.

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By this time, we'd had three glasses of wine and had stuffed ourselves full of popovers and pinwheels, so it was time for a little divine intervention to keep us going.

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Finally, we set off for Martello Tower on Atlantic Boulevard, which houses the Key West Garden Club.

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Completed in 1864, West Martello Tower was used during the Spanish American War for quartering troops, storing supplies, and serving as a lookout.

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Today, it's used to house crowds of revelers scarfing down black bottom key lime pies, chocolate custard tarts, coconut tres leches bites, and some red wine.

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We still had two and a half more days to go, and it is not giving anything away here by admitting that, well . . . I didn't make it.

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The liver is the only organ in your body that can regenerate itself. Take advantage and get your KWFWF tickets here!

Posted by TraceyG 04:38 Archived in USA Tagged key_west key_west_food_and_wine the_saint the_other_side andrews_inn carolines Comments (3)

The Key West Food & Wine Festival, Pt.2: The Wrath of Grapes

That evening was the Grand Tasting at the Southernmost Beach Resort.

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We immediately began stuffing our faces with everything on offer.

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We might have had some wine, too.

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Day 4: Uncorked and Uncouth

The next day we decided that the only cure for that much wine was some good, old-fashioned grease. Lupita's -- with its cheery decor and cheesy enchiladas -- was the perfect antidote.

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Once tucked in at a cozy booth, we feasted on chips and salsa, lobster enchiladas, Dos Equis for Angel, and a Mexican soda for me, since I don't like to drink and drive.

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I do, however, like to match my dress and my flip-flops to my ride.

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We'd no sooner dried out from the night before when it was time to pour even. more. wine. down our throats.

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A bar crawl like no other, Duval Uncorked features over two dozen shops and restaurants along Key West's main drag, each of which offers a glass of wine and nibble or two paired to match.

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One of the first stops was at Wine-O, a stylish new wine bar at the La Concha on Duval.

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Stylish and comfortable.

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From there, we moved on to the frosé with elderflower at the Little Room Jazz Club.

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From there, it was a haze of pour, sip, giggle, repeat.

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Of course, it wouldn't be a bar crawl in Key West without drag queens, sitar-strumming superheroes, and dogs on bar stools.

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I wasn't feeling much pain by the end of the crawl, which is why it seemed like a great idea -- if by "great" you mean "incredibly ill-advised" -- to stop at the Speakasy on the way home.

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It was all downhill from there.

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We'd planned dinner with our friend Steve that night, but I urged Angel to go on without me. You know it's bad when I was worried I might embarrass them . . . in Key West.

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And because he is the leading contender for Husband of the Year, well, every year, Angel surprised me by bringing home a pepperoni pizza since I'd missed dinner . . . and remembering to photograph it.

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But not without a little pit stop for himself first.

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Day 5: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

It was our last day in Key West, and a chilly one at that, so we decided to spend it indoors sobering up so we wouldn't get kicked off our flight that afternoon.

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Oh, you're wondering why we'd go out for pizza, after I just devoured an entire pizza the night before? Hi, I'm Tracey. You must be new here. Welcome!

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Onlywood is tucked away in a little alley off of Duval Street, adding to the cozy feel on a rainy day.

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With Angel busy checking on our flights, I used that opportunity to scarf down all the meatballs we'd ordered.

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Soon our wood-fired pizzas arrived, and between last night's pizza and today's, the dough sponges did their job and we were permitted to board the plane.

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I'm just glad they don't have breathalyzers on those things.
-----------------------------------------------------------
There's lots in the hopper! There's "The Missing Bling Ting" in Anguilla; yours truly roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!); homemade hooch in the Hudson Valley; a birthday blowout with my sissy in Brooklyn; another pre-Irma trip to Anguilla (remember when Seaborne lost Angel's luggage? I sure do); and a lazy long weekend in Delray Beach. Check back soon, or click here to subscribe and Travellerspoint will do the checking for you!

Heading to the Key West Food & Wine Festival? What doesn't kill you makes for great stories! Get your tickets here.

Posted by TraceyG 04:58 Archived in USA Tagged key_west kwfwf key_west_food_and_wine_festival lupitas duval_uncorked Comments (2)

Cuba, Part 1: Half of My Heart Is In Havana

Havana. The very name evokes images of a seductive tropical paradise, off-limits and forbidden. Havana is sultry nights spent dancing with strangers and downing mojitos; it is high heels and red lips and vibrant flowers tucking back loose strands of hair.

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Havana is rum and revolution; music and moros. It is a study in contradictions: Startling beauty and crumbling buildings; brutal dictators and a burgeoning arts scene. It is a city moored in time, never-changing and yet ever-changing.

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Most importantly, it's where Fredo betrayed Michael.

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But when we first set foot in Havana on a hot November afternoon on the tongue-twisting Perseverancia Street, my preconceived notions of this intriguing city are immediately dispelled. Dogs are barking, men are hollering. Children are crying and music is blaring. An old man with an impressive set of lungs is bellowing "CLORO!!!!" so loudly that it can be heard several blocks away.

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I comprehend only snippets of Spanish as I carefully pick my way down the middle of a dusty street that is a veritable obstacle course of rocks, potholes, trash, and god knows what else. Directionally I'm at sea, and not yet convinced that the neighborhood we've chosen to stay in, Centro, is all that safe.

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Yet amid this loud, crowded, dusty assault on the senses, there is beauty, so much beauty that I can't even begin to take it all in. Havana is stunning, like a tropical Paris, and I am torn between rejoicing in the city's magnificence and despairing at the senseless regime that has allowed so much of it to fall into ruin.

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After just an hour or so in this noisy scrum, I am exhausted.

I am exhilarated.

I am falling in love.

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Our journey began at the arrivals terminal at JFK -- yes, arrivals. Flights to Havana have their own private check-in area, tucked away at the end of a deserted, out-of-the-way corridor, which immediately gave the trip an air of secrecy.

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And the flight itself had an aura of outright fantasy, seeing as how it was only about half-full.

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A few short hours later, the island came into view.

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We'd decided to stay at a casa particular -- the Cuban version of a B&B -- called Casa Densil. Praised as a "tiny gem" in Vogue, the magazine had also raved about Casa Densil's rooftop terrace and private feel.

We chose a casa over a hotel for the chance to live like real Cubans for a few days, though that usually also means living without air conditioning and even hot water. Casa Densil, however, offered both, along with a great location just a few blocks from the ocean and a short walk to Habana Vieja, the historical "old town" where many of the buildings date back to the 1500s.

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We were greeted at the airport by a sweet ride -- a classic, emerald-green Chevy Impala -- and a sweet lady, Barbara, the daughter-in-law of Ezio, one of the owners of Casa Densil. We immediately noticed Barbara's accented Spanish, and were surprised to learn that both she and Ezio were not from Cuba, but from Italy.

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Indeed, such is the allure of Havana that, although initially we couldn't fathom why anyone would voluntarily move to a communist dictatorship, by the end of our trip, the idea didn't seem so crazy.

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Located just two blocks from the Malecón, or seafront promenade, Casa Densil was built in 1907 and retains much of its original architecture and decor.

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Divided into two halves by an interior courtyard, the rental half of the casa consists of 3 queen ensuites plus communal living and dining areas, while the other half houses the owners' quarters.

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Our bi-level suite consisted of a bedroom and small sitting area downstairs, with a vanity area and separate shower overlooking the courtyard upstairs.

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One floor above, an expansive roof deck plays host to breakfast each morning, along with dinner under the stars by request.

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Across the street, one of Ezio's friends was restoring one of Centro's many crumbling buildings to its former glory -- a small sign of progress.

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After settling in and freshening up a bit, we set off to find the incongruously named Calle O'Reilly in Habana Vieja.

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Named for Alexander "Bloody" O'Reilly, an Irish-born military strategist and Inspector-General of Infantry for the Spanish empire, today the street is home to some of the city's hippest bars and restaurants, including the one we were seeking, O'Reilly 304.

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But first we had to get from Centro to Vieja. Centro has variously been described as no-frills and crowded, with LaHabana.com helpfully pointing out its potholed streets and "frenetic (even daunting) street life." It was, in fact, all those things, but it was also positively buzzing with the contagious energy of daily life in Havana. (LaHabana also noted that some of the city's finest restaurants are in Centro, and so I rest my case.)

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As we approached Vieja, the tenor of the neighborhood began to change; it became prettier and better-manicured, but also more touristy and less authentic.

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It was to be our first meal in Havana, and we were a bit apprehensive, having heard stories about some restaurants running out of plates, utensils, and even food. That was certainly not the case at the stylish O'Reilly 304, where we ordered up an assortment of mini empanadas, croquettas, and papas bravas, all accompanied by complimentary fried plantain chips studded with large slivers of garlic and served with a fiery salsa.

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For bebidas, Angel decided to try the local beer, Cristal, while I took our waitress's advice and had a watermelon mojito.

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The mojito was delicious -- strong and swampy, just the way I like 'em -- but I was surprised to find myself stealing sip after sip of Angel's crisp, refreshing Cristal.

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After lunch, we explored Calle O'Reilly a bit, then made our way over to La Bodeguita del Medio, one of the most famous spots in Havana to sip a mojito.

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Roughly translated as "the little bodega in the middle," La Bodeguita opened in 1942 as a small grocery store; later, it began offering snacks and drinks for the regulars. One day one of those regulars, a journalist named Leandro Garcia, decided to write his name on the wall, and soon many other distinguished personalities followed suit, including Brigitte Bardot, Ernest Hemingway, and the former president of Chile, Salvador Allende.

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Today, La B del M is crowded and touristy, and the mojitos are nothing to write home about, but it was a must-do nevertheless.

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That evening we had reservations at Habanera in Miramar, a short drive from Centro.

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Before the Cuban Revolution, Miramar was home to some of Havana's wealthiest residents. After the revolution, however, Castro seized many of the mansions -- along with the owners' belongings and even their bank accounts -- in the name of "fairness." Today, Miramar plays host to many Cuban government officials, foreign embassies, and banks.

Habanera is housed in one of Miramar's prettier mansions, this one dating back to 1930.

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We had to forego the spacious outdoor patio due to a quick pop-up shower, but dining indoors among the fabulous artwork and period furnishings suited us just fine.

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We began the meal wth a couple of simply-prepared appetizers -- a green salad with serrano ham and parmesan and a fresh fish ceviche -- along with a rum Old Fashioned for Angel, and a fun Cuban cocktail for me.

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For the main course, I chose the curried shrimp in coconut sauce, while Angel went with the chicken with chimichurri sauce.

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Both dishes came with the politically incorrect, but very tasty, moros y cristianos -- black beans (the Moors) and white rice (the Christians).

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It had been a long day of sensory overload, and we were dead on our feet by the time dinner wrapped up late in the night. And so we headed back to Casa Densil to get a good night's sleep for the mojitos, music, and mayhem that awaited us in the days ahead.
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CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 06:30 Archived in Cuba Tagged havana centro vedado vieja o'reilly_304 habanera casa_densil Comments (10)

Cuba, Part 2: The Lure of the Lair

The next morning we greeted the day from the rooftop at Casa Densil.

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Then we did something we almost never do: We set off without a plan.

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But we did have a map, which we'd marked with various shops, bars, restaurants, art museums, and other points of interest that I'd researched before arriving. That sort of planning is essential for a visit to Havana, since looking up anything on the fly, including directions, isn't an option: WiFi is virtually nonexistent.

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Soon we found ourselves drawn to La Luz, a small local spot with outdoor tables where we could enjoy the live band that had just started playing.

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We settled in at a table in the shade and ordered up a couple of cool cocktails to beat the heat.

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Soon we were hungry, we so decided to order some fried chickpeas to snack on. We were a little confused when they brought us a spoon, but these stewed chickpeas turned out to be one of our very favorite dishes of the entire trip.

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After lunch there was more music, this time with dancers on stilts.

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After lunch we ambled around Vieja to take in the historic sights. Our first stop was Museo de la Ciudad, the museum of the city of Havana.

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Of course, once you've seen one cannon, you've pretty much seen them all, and that seemed like as good an excuse as any to go grab a drink.

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We headed up to the rooftop at Hotel Ambos Mundos, which was home to Ernest Hemingway for seven years during the 1930s.

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Surely Hemingway must have enjoyed a pina colada or two served in a hollowed-out pineapple while writing "A Moveable Feast," so I figured I'd have one, too.

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Angel decided on a caipiroska, which was quickly becoming our drink of choice in lieu of mojitos, since we weren't loving the ubiquitous Havana Club rum.

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Having been properly, er, fortified, we decided to check out Fort San Salvador, which was built in 1590 as part of Havana's colonial-era defense system.

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It had been a long day of sightseeing and my feet were aching, so we picked a candy-apple-red ride to match my dress and headed back to Casa Densil.

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After a short siesta, it was time for dinner at the famed La Guarida, just a couple of blocks from our casa.

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Known as the restaurant in a ruin, La Guarida -- which means "the lair" -- is known for its faded but stunning architecture and secret-hideaway feel.

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Even the bathroom was cool.

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The space is large and spread over several floors, including a main dining room; a couple of smaller, private-feeling rooms with just 3 or 4 tables; a narrow balcony overlooking the street; and a large, open-air terrace overlooking the city.

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Happily, the great food -- including tuna tartare, ropa vieja, and grilled swordish -- and the mismatched glassware just added to the charm.

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Indeed, everything was so delicious that we decided to have dessert -- a deconstructed lemon pie with almonds for me, and a gorgeous apple tart with vanilla ice cream for Angel.

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After dinner, we braved the precarious sprial staircase up to Guarida's sexy rooftop lounge, El Mirador (which means the tower or turret), for a nightcap.

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Though Havana's mojitos failed to impress us, the rum old-fashioned, made with Havana Club 7-year, was a hit, as were the succession of sweet, tart, perfectly muddled caipiroskas.

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Soon it was time to head home, and the empty streets on the way back to Casa Densil looked ominous. But we found Havana to be incredibly safe, even late at night, and so we strolled back to Casa Densil arm-in-arm.

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Mostly to keep from falling over after all those caipiroskas.

Posted by TraceyG 05:36 Archived in Cuba Tagged ruin el_mirador casa_densil la_luz fort_san_salvador ambos_mundos la_guarida Comments (9)

Cuba, Part 3: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

The next morning Angel and I decided to have breakfast together at Casa Densil, since we planned to split up for the afternoon.

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We enjoyed strong coffee, fresh fruit, and an assortment of cereals, plus an unusual pink drink that neither of us could identify. Angel asked our server what it was, and even though he speaks fluent Spanish and I have a decent vocabulary, neither of us were familiar with a Spanish word that sounded like "you who."

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Until I figured out that it was English. Yoo-Hoo. Strawberry Yoo-Hoo, to be exact.

After we stopped laughing, we each set off on our respective plans for the day: Angel was headed out to Havana's baseball stadium, Estadio Latinoamerica, to see the Havana Industriales take on Granma (which didn't sound like much of a contest to me), while I planned to spend the afternoon sunning myself at the rooftop pool at the Hotel Parque Central and wandering around town.

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Attending a baseball game in Havana is a little like attending an underground rave -- nobody seems to know where it's happening, or on what day, or at what time -- and if you do manage to somehow stumble upon it, it's really noisy and confusing.

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The schedule we'd found online before leaving New York had the game starting at 1pm, but word on the street was that it would actually start at 4 (though without internet or television, there was no way to confirm). We'd also heard that they didn't serve food at the stadium, so Angel showed up early (whatever that means in this case) to grab a sandwich beforehand.

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Of course, only after he'd downed a smushed El Rapid-o-wich did he discover that not only was there food at the stadium, but really good food.

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Happily, his luck only improved from there -- a group of friends from Florida who regularly attend the games in Havana took him under their wing, pointing Angel to the best roast pork sandwiches, introducing him to Coral juice drinks, and sharing background information and stats on various Industriales players.

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And then he hung out with Rob Reiner.

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While Angel rubbed elbows with celebrities, I claimed a lounger at the Parque Central's rooftop pool, then enjoyed a towering strawberry daiquiri as I basked in the warm sunshine.

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For lunch, I ordered up a cool, refreshing tomato gazpacho, an entire pizza that I didn't have to share, and a pina colada for good measure.

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Soon, however, I found myself longing to get back out on the street, the noise and energy and foreign-ness of it all drawing me like a magnet. And so I headed back to Centro to explore the area around Casa Densil.

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Without Angel around, I was left to my own translations of the signs I saw around town.

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"Your electoral college is a baby circus, but it's not your fault."

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"If you don't have a batallion in your life, alleviate it with some alcohol."

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"Jesus is our homeboy."

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"This message brought to you by rum. Lots and lots of rum."

Speaking of rum: That evening we had reservations for dinner and drinks at one of the hottest spots in town, El Cocinero.

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Located on the banks of the Almendares River between the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, El Cocinero, which means "the chef," is defined by its towering smokestack, a remnant of the peanut oil factory that occupied the premises in the 1930s.

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We'd booked a table on the coveted rooftop terrace and were graced with perfect weather -- including a full moon -- to enjoy it.

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For dinner, we grazed on ropa vieja, mini Cuban-style cheeseburgers, patatas bravas, and a couple of appropriately swampy mojitos. (Are you noticing a stubborn unwillingness to give up on the mojito? We figured if we tried enough of them, we'd find the perfect one. El Cocinero was as close as we got.)

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After dinner we headed upstairs El Cocinero's "waiting bar," one of the coolest spots we've ever been to . . . since it's housed inside the smokestack.

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And the inside of the smokestack is illuminated by a constellation of "stars" -- thousands of tiny colored lights.

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By the time we'd had another round of drinks it was nearly 11pm . . . which was just in time to visit an art gallery.

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But not just any art gallery. The Cuban Art Factory, known by the initials F.A.C. (La Fábrica de Arte Cubano), is Havana's hottest nighttime scene, drawing throngs of hip young Cubans with its contemporary art exhibitions, dance performances, plays, and indie-music concerts -- all of which go on until 3 a.m.

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The space at F.A.C. consists of different inter-connected rooms, so you can meander from one space to the next as the mood strikes, moving from a crowded dance floor, to a quiet room with a single video installation or sculpture, or to the bar for a piña colada.

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We would have loved to wander around F.A.C. until the wee hours (and will definitely do so next time), but other plans beckoned. A friend of Ezio's at Casa Densil was scheduled to perform at a local bar called Sia Kara in Centro around midnight, so he dropped us off at the packed space, but not before speaking to the manager to make sure there'd be room for us and that we'd be well taken care of.

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We were ushered to a cozy couch in Sia Kara's loft, which afforded a perfect bird's eye view of the piano and lounge space below.

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An unassuming bar frequented not by tourists but by chic Cuban hipsters, the name "Sia Kara" is said to come from the Afro-Cuban religion and is colloquially used to ward off a bad mood or tell someone to just "forget about it."

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Which is precisely the function of a bar like Sia Kara, estoy en lo correcto?
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Posted by TraceyG 05:41 Archived in Cuba Tagged baseball granma parque_central industriales sia_kara el_cocinero f.a.c. beisbol estadio_latinoamerica Comments (1)

Cuba, Part 4: A Mojito-Borne Illness

The next morning marked our fifth day in Havana, which is about four more than I can usually go without some pasta. And so we set off for 5 Esquinas Trattoria in Vieja.

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Occupying a tiny triangle where, yes, 5 corners meet, 5 Esquinas also had 5 of my favorite things: Homemade pasta, fresh mozzarella, frozen lemonade, ice-cold Cristal, and outdoor seating.

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Properly, er, carbonated, our next stop was Habana 1791, a perfume shop located in an 18th-century mansion in the heart of Old Havana.

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The shop has 12 different "signature" scents from colonial-era Cuba, such as violet, orange blossom, lilac, vetiver, and tobacco, along with custom scents like the one I chose, verano (summer).

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I even got to choose the bottle -- one hand-painted with tiny colorful flowers.

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After a little more wandering around, we happened upon the lovely Hotel Raquel.

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The rooftop bar affords a nice view of the street below.

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By this time it was nearly happy hour, so we stopped at Mojito Mojito for a frosty pina colada and a mojito made with 7-year Havana Club.

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The staff here was sweet and accommodating, and even the check comes with love.

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In fact, we so enjoyed the drinks and the warm welcome at Mojito Mojito that we decided to return for dinner. Apparently I was very excited by the prospect.

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We ordered up a panoply of porky products, along with a couple of perfectly-shaken cocktails.

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After dinner we headed back to the rooftop bar at La Guarida -- I mean, it was on the way.

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We ordered up our "usual" caipiroskas, along with a cigar for Angel.

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Eventually we made the short walk back to Casa Densil, capping off the evening by taking in nighttime city view and brisk sea air from the rooftop.

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The next morning I awoke feeling terrible -- exhuasted and weak. I never get sick, so I had no idea what the problem might be, and without any Wifi to consult Dr. Google, my imagination began to run wild. The leading contenders were hoof-and-mouth disease from all the pork chops I'd eaten the night before and salmonella from that glass of warm Yoo-Hoo . . . and Angel wasn't any help. All week I'd been trying to pet a cat I kept seeing around the neighborhood, and all week Angel had been warning me not to. Left on my own while he was at the baseball game the day before and, well, I think you can guess what happened.

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And that's how Toxoplasmosis worked its way to the top of the list.

Too weak to even get showered and dressed, I urged Angel to continue with our lunch plans on his own, and so he set off for Azucar while I tried to remember exactly how snuggly I'd gotten with that cat.

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Angel enjoyed croquetas, a ham sandwich, and a watermelon caipiroska for lunch, while I had my own saliva and a fever.

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I hadn't recovered by the evening, and so our plans to see the Cabaret Parisien at Hotel Nacional after dinner at L'Atelier were foiled. In fact, I was still so ill that even heading up to the roof at Casa Densil for dinner was out of the question.

And so the sweet staff brought the dinner to me.

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Fragrant Cuban chicken soup with fideo pasta, mounds of rice, chicken legs . . . it just kept coming, even though I could do nothing more than take a few sips of what turned out to be the best chicken soup I'd ever had.

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They even brought flan for dessert.

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Happily, we'd brought an assortment of baby products to Havana -- wipes, q-tips, cotton pads, and the like -- and were thrilled to be able to use them to "repay" my sweet waitress/nurse, Meiby (and baby Chiani), for her kindness.

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Whatever was in that soup did the trick, and the next day, though I was still quite weak, I felt well enough to head up to the roof for a quick breakfast before we had to depart.

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It wasn't until I got back to New York that I was able to Google my symptoms and obtain a diagnosis: Severe dehydration.

It made perfect sense. Angel had gone though roughly a dozen bottles of water during our stay, while I'd barely made it through one.

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I'm sure it had nothing to do with all those mojitos.

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Where to next? A dose of Vitamin D in Delray Beach; a clothing calamity in Anguilla; homemade hooch in the Hudson Valley; a birthday blowout with my sissy in Brooklyn; a wine-soaked weekend at the Key West Food and Wine Festival, and some bungling in the bush in South Africa. Check back soon, click here to subscribe, or join us for weekends in the Hamptons this summer at Escape.From.New.York on Instagram!

Posted by TraceyG 04:05 Archived in Cuba Tagged el_mirador casa_densil la_guarida 5_esquinas_trattoria habana_1791 mojito_mojito Comments (6)

Anguilla, Part 1: The Fountain of Youth

Before we get into this five-part fiesta of cheeseburgers, lobster, and rum, there's something I'd like to say: Thank you.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy work day or lazy weekend to read this blog, to comment on it, to commiserate with me, or just to offer a kind note or message. What started off seven years ago as a way to pressure myself into honing my photography skills by posting them for public ridicule has blossomed into a wonderful way to meet like-minded people who at least pretend to understand why I travel with my own nutmeg and my own ironing board.

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One of those like-minded folks, a gentleman named Hal, had gotten in touch with me earlier this year, and it was a very pleasant surprise when he suggested that Angel and I stay at one of his condos at the Fountain Residences on Shoal Bay for our next trip to Anguilla. Hal and his wife Donna would be on island during part of our stay, so we could finally meet and get to know each other “IRL,” as the kids say.

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Of course, I saw through that pretext immediately: What Hal really wanted was to see if I could eat more in one sitting than he and his wife combined. To which I might say, LOL, LMAO, and ROFL.

But no matter: I'm certainly not too proud to perform like a trained monkey when the circumstances call for it. And so we set off for Anguilla, bound for blue water and sunny skies.

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Our visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of Anguilla's revolution, during which 600 British paratroopers invaded Anguilla when the islanders rebelled against independence from Great Britain. It was hard not to see the parallels -- I, too, was invading Anguilla and the islanders were almost certain to rebel against me eating all their food -- so I decided I should drape myself in the Anguillian color scheme for the occasion.

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This visit also marked the 50th anniversary of Angel's birth, and I had some secret plans up my sleeve to make sure we celebrated in style. Or at least with enough rum punch for him not to notice the lack thereof.

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But first things first: We unpacked just the essentials -- deodorant and a toothbrush for Angel; 18 pairs of sandals for me -- and then bounded down the short little path from Fountain to the beach for a swim.

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Fountain shares a small stretch of Shoal Bay East with Zemi Beach House, just a stone's throw from Gwen's and Tropical Sunset.

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The dramatic rocks and varying shades of turquoise make it a perfect spot for photos.

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Even bad photos.

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Among the rocks, I found this little throne. Angel agrees that I am at least slightly more benevolent than King Joffrey.

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After our swim, we decided to check out the grounds at Fountain before heading back to the condo to clean up for dinner.

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The property at Fountain consists of twelve 2-bedroom units -- six poolside and six oceanside -- with full kitchens, spacious living areas, and roomy bathrooms with oversized showers.

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Each unit can be rented as a one-bedroom or studio if you don't need both bedrooms.

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Of course, we needed both bedrooms -- one to sleep in, and one to house my flip-flops.

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Fountain may not be as chi-chi (or as cha-ching) as Zemi Beach next door, but it's got charm in spades, with shady paths lined with conch shells, cushy loungers at the pool (equipped with built-in drink trays!), outdoor showers, and even a bin full of beach and pool toys for the kids.

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And, of course, Fountain enjoys the same gorgeous sunsets, made even better -- as most things are -- with wine.

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Arrival day also happened to be Angel Eve, and we had decided in advance to celebrate at our beloved Dolce Vita.

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After some red wine and deliberations, Angel decided to try something new: The grilled black Angus ribeye served on a hot stone and accompanied by an assortment of salts: peachy-pink Himalayan, fragrant rosemary salt, and a fiery salt studded with crushed Tellicherry peppercorns.

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There was no way I was eating any kind of meat in advance of FBI Monday (see Rule #1), so I stuck with the classic lobster pasta in pink sauce instead.

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We were much too full for dessert, but couldn't resist when Abbi surprised Angel with a slab of chocolatey tiramisu, topped with a towering birthday sparkler.

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The next day started off cloudy, but luckily it wasn’t cutting into my beach time: My plan for the morning was to drop Angel off at Elodia's, head over to Village BakeHouse to pick up the birthday cake I'd secretly ordered, then deliver it to Ferryboat Inn for Angel’s birthday dinner . . . all without calling Angel for directions or roadside assistance, lest that give away the surprise.

There were, of course, a couple of roadblocks. First, the literal ones:

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And second, although I've driven on island before -- who could forget all those pharmacy runs during CoffeeGate? -- this was the first time I was driving from one end to the other alone. I'm not great with directions as it is -- I'm generally looking out for new restaurants and baby goats, not memorizing turns -- and this trip involved multiple stops. And so, just to be on the safe side, I brought along the mobile phone that was provided for us at the condo.

An actual. mobile. phone.

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I told you I wasn't good with directions. Apparently that's how I drove myself right back to 1989.

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On top of that, because it was drizzling by the time I set off, I'd left my sunglasses back at the condo. My prescription sunglasses . . . which I need for driving.

But the worst part was the phone. That godforsaken, E.T.-phone-home contraption would not stay on the hook no matter how or where I positioned it or how securely (or violently) I stuffed it into the glove box. The incessant dial tone was mocking me, I was sure; I could almost hear its taunts about my bad driving and poor eyesight and non-existent sense of direction in that endless, high-pitched drone.

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Despite these obstacles, I managed to find the Village BakeHouse, though I did not find the nearby parking lot. Instead, heeding Angel's advice to stay on the left no matter what, I maneuvered the car into a nearby ditch and stumbled out like a blind mole . . . who’s also gone deaf from a maddening dial tone.

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Of course, I wasn't willing to settle for just any birthday cake for my little viejito. And so I'd arranged for Pascal to make an authentic bizcocho, or Dominican cake, which is just like regular birthday cake . . . except that about one-third of the cake is pure fat. The result is an extra-springy, extra-moist cake, which is then topped with suspiro, a soft, fluffy meringue icing. (There's also usually a layer of pineapple jam, guava jam, or dulce de leche in between the sinful layers, but I'd asked Pascal for coconut cream instead.)

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Miraculously, I managed to get the cake all the way down the stairs and into the car without dropping it. Which is not to say that I did not have some wobbly moments navigating myself and the cake into that ditch, then gunning the car like I was at a monster truck rally in an attempt to catapult it back onto the road.

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All of which goes to explains why, if you saw me behind the wheel that day, you saw a wild-eyed maniac -- with one hand on the wheel, one hand on a lopsided birthday cake, and one eye squeezed shut in an attempt to squint down to 20/40 vision -- doing battle with a Soviet-era telephone that absolutely refused stay on the $#@&% hook.

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Meanwhile, back at Elodia's, the weather had not improved, so Angel contented himself with guzzling rum punch and checking his futuristic iPhone for Amber Alerts involving yours truly.

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I dropped off the cake without further incident and joined Angel for lunch, where we had "the usual" -- grilled fish for Angel and a turkey club for me.

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Plus a side of chicken nuggets, 'cause I like to party like it's my birthday . . . even when it's Angel's.

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Happily, by mid-afternoon, the day had brightened enough for us to take a swim.

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We returned to Fountain just in time for another fabulous sunset.

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Soon it was time to clean up for Angel's birthday dinner.

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He'd chosen Ferryboat Inn, which might not be the first place that comes to mind for a milestone birthday celebration on an island brimming with gourmet restaurants, but is the only logical place if you've ever had the good sense to call ahead and order Marjorie's life-changing lobster Thermidor. Plus, FBI was the very first restaurant we ever visited on our first trip to Anguilla 20 years ago -- nearly to the day -- and it seemed only fitting that we celebrate Angel's 50th, Anguilla's 50th, and our 20th all on the same night.

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To our delight, Marjorie surprised us both by decorating our usual table with balloons, a candle centerpiece, and elegantly folded cloth napkins.

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It was a lovely gesture, particularly at a spot so casual that we looking forward to seeing our favorite dogs in the dining room.

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And so you could have knocked us over with a feather when Christian busted out a celebratory bottle of Champagne, and a fancy glowing ice bucket.

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Because it was Angel's birthday, he got to eat his buffalo wings at the table, instead of over at the bar where I didn't have to smell them.

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While Angel devoured his wings, I was holding my breath -- both literally and figuratively -- in anticipation of the main event: Marjorie's justly-famous lobster Thermidor.

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Were you so busy drooling over that Thermidor that you didn't even notice that thing that looks suspiciously like a green vegetable next to the lobster? I can't say I blame you, but trust me: That cheesy, creamy, crunchy-edged spinach casserole was so mind-blowingly delicious that I would have happily traded my entire lobster -- or at least half of it -- for just one more bite of that casserole. I can only assume that it's not on the regular menu because creamed spinach casserole + FBI cheeseburger would be so much cheesy stupendousness that the universe might implode.

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After dinner, Marjorie brought out the bizcocho, and the entire bar serenaded Angel with a rum-fueled rendition of "Happy Birthday."

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As the night wound down, we settled into a loose circle of Adirondack chairs in the yard and sipped the last of the Champagne, with the sound of the waves providing the soundtrack to raucous retellings of McClean family lore, countless belly laughs, and hugs and happy tears before we finally called it a night.

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At least at Ferryboat, that is. Because not even spinach casserole beats a slice of extra-sinful birthday cake in bed.
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Wondering why this post is pre-Irma? Read the "prologue" here...or, CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 06:04 Archived in Anguilla Tagged ferryboat_inn shoal_bay fountain_residences elodia's Comments (20)

Anguilla, Part 2: The Falcon Has Landed

The next morning we awoke to a glorious sunrise over Shoal Bay East.

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Like all the great mysteries of the world -- where do all the missing socks go? is there a big pile of eyelashes behind your eyeball? why do I always pick the bag of Doritos with a substandard amount of nacho cheese powder? -- I have no explanation for why I am up at the crack of dawn on vacation, but cannot get out of bed before 8am at home without hitting snooze for at least one solid hour, which begets yet another mystery (why on earth is Angel still married to me?).

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After the cloudy start the day before, we were thrilled to see that it was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

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We decided to spend it at Trattoria Tramonto on Shoal Bay West.

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There are many reasons to love Tramonto: The pasta, the watermelon-y rum punch, the pasta, the quiet beach, the pasta, the blue-bottle rosé that matches the restaurant just so, and, oh yeah . . . THE PASTA.

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And you thought I only matched my flip-flops to my bikini.

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After a morning of swimming in the warm sea and lounging under the shady palms, it was soon time for lunch. I was thinking maybe I'd have the pasta.

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We settled in at a table at the water's edge and split our attention between studying the menu and admiring the view.

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We started with the freshly-baked focaccia, followed by -- surprise! -- the penne pomodoro topped with a flurry of freshly-grated parmesan for me, and the grilled swordfish special for Angel.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon floating in the blue water, napping in our comfy loungers, and sipping those tasty rum punches.

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Oh, and hanging with my new buddy.

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Back at Fountain, we took a quick dip in the pool, then I poked around the property for a bit while Angel fixed us a round of rum punches.

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Later, we fixed ourselves up and set off for a spicy supper at Picante in the West End.

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We love Picante for the casual atmosphere, friendly service, and twinkling lanterns.

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But who am I kidding? I'd eat Picante's cheesy seafood enchiladas off a dirty tray in a prison mess hall if I had to.

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Generously stuffed with crab, prawns, and lobster swimming in a seafood bisque sauce, those enchiladas are the main reason to visit Picante, but they are certainly not the only reason.

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The next day was another beauty, so we decided to head over to Rendezvous Bay. Our plan was to make Anguilla Great House our home base for the day, with a stop at neighboring CuisinArt for lunch.

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Eventually we ambled down the beach for some lunch at CuisinArt. On our way, we happened upon the lovely Jeanene, ambassador for the Sunshine Shack and poster girl for infectious smiles who was, as usual, parked outside of SSS with a rum punch in her hand and one of those aforementioned smiles on her face.

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I was getting a complex being surrounded by that many dimples at once, but luckily it wasn't anything that a frozen mojito couldn't cure.

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Thanks to its stellar hydroponically-grown produce, CuisinArt is the only place on the island where you'll catch me eating raw vegetables. Scratch that -- it's the only place anywhere you'll catch me eating raw vegetables.

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We listened with amusement as the woman seated next to us ordered tuna salad and chicken salad for lunch -- neither of which (nor even the ingredients for which) are found anywhere on the menu. It made me feel a whole lot better about asking for the white bean dip instead of baba ghanoush with our mezzo platter.

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The platter also came with olives, roasted red peppers, naan bread, and a tug-of-war over those blocks of creamy feta drizzled with fresh basil pesto.

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The day was hot, and we knew we needed to save room for a couple of Great House's pina coladas, so we both ordered a hydroponic salad to keep things light.

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I ordered the little gem salad so I could get my hands on some more of that salty feta, while Angel decided to try the chopped salad with kale, currants, chickpeas, and basil balsamic vinaigrette, all topped with a mountain of fresh, tangy goat cheese.

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Afterwards, it was time to hang up my hat and take a nap.

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Back at the Great House, bartenders Jodi and Shanna hooked us up with a nice, strong rum punch for Angel, an overflowing Pina colada for me, and two beautiful smiles for anyone lucky enough to catch them posing.

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Later that afternoon, we had plans to meet up with Christian from Ferryboat Inn. We'd never actually seen him anywhere but behind the bar at FBI, so it was mostly just to see if he actually had legs.

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As you might guess, Christian started off a little apprehensive, so I agreed to shoot him roughly from the waist up so everyone would recognize him.

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He got a little more comfortable as I continued shooting . . .

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And by the time the rum and Cokes kicked in, we were treated to a full-on grin.

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That night, we had plans to take Hal and Donna out to dinner before they headed home. We left the choice of restaurant up to them, and they chose Falcon Nest in nearby Island Harbour. We agreed to meet by the pool at Fountain and ride together in one car.

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We'd never been to Falcon Nest before, but when Hal mentioned that he'd called ahead to order three lobsters -- one for me, one for Angel, and one for he and Donna to split -- I knew we'd like this place just fine. (I also liked that Hal knew it would start World War III if Angel and I had to split anything, least of all fresh grilled lobster).

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And once I discovered the $5(!!) rum punches and Falcon Dip, I knew we were going to love this place.

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I mean, they had all my favorite stuff: Cheap rum punches, ginormous grilled lobsters served with a mound of curry-spiced pasta salad, rice 'n peas, a big ol' pile of French fries, and an addictive "secret sauce" for dipping them in (or pouring on your lobster, or on your rice, or just directly down your gullet).

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Best of all, we got to spend time with Hal and Donna, a couple of adorable lovebirds who met in high school, then went their separate ways. They then proceeded to meet up every 5 or 10 years at their class reunion (each of which Hal attended for the sole purpose of finding out whether Donna was still married), and finally got together when Donna became available to marry her one true love, Hal -- who'd pined away for her for decades.

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Thank you, Hal and Donna, for introducing us to our new favorite restaurant, and for providing such sweet, entertaining company.

And for not making us split that lobster.
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CLICK HERE TO READ PART 3!

Posted by TraceyG 05:51 Archived in Anguilla Comments (15)

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