Monday, July 27, 2009

SKYAUCTION... How to travel in luxury on a budget!

I am in love with a travel website called Skyauction. I've probably used it successfully a dozen or so times - all for hotels. We have stayed at amazing places we could never have stayed had it not been for this site. An example of that is our trip next June - Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands.

Recently, I have had several people ask about the website I use, and how to use it. So, I've written a step by step guide that will help walk you through it. You too can find some awesome deals!


Happy traveling!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Italian Cooking Kick Continues! Chicken Mushroom Risotto

OK, this will be my second time making this so let's see if I can time it just right. Do NOT let it sit while you finish up something else... it will turn to glue! Be warned! (mine really wasn't glue - but I can tell a big difference from when it was done till the time I took it off the stove)

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 small sweet onion (chopped)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
Olive Oil (and a little butter)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan reggiano cheese
1 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley

1. Heat the chicken stock to a simmer. Keep it hot! (this is key)
2. Melt 1 tbsp of butter and a swirl of olive oil in saute pan, and saute the sliced mushcrooms till they are soft. Remove from heat and set aside for later.
3. In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, heat olive oil and 1 Tbsp of butter over medium heat. Add chopped onion. Saute about 2 minutes, add 2 cloves minced garlic (or more if you love garlic like I do). Saute another minute or two until onion is slightly translucent. Do not let garlic burn!
4. Add the rice to the pot and stir briskly with wooden spoon so that the grains are coated with oil and butter. Saute for a minute or so, until there is a slightly nutty aroma. Do NOT let rice brown. Stir in the wine, continue stirring until liquid is fully absorbed.
5. Add one ladle of hot chicken stock to the rice and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed. When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock and repeat the process. IT IS IMPORTANT TO STIR CONSTANTLY, AND ADD THE NEXT LADLE AS SOON AS THE RICE IS ALMOST DRY. THIS WILL BE YOUR UPPER BODY WORKOUT FOR THE DAY. As you see the rice absorbing the stock, it is important to season the rice with salt and freshly ground pepper. It is at this point that the flavor will be absorbed into the rice.
6. Continue adding ladles of hot stock and stirring the rice while liquid is absorbed. As it cooks, you will see rice take on a creamy consistency as it begins to release the natural starches.
7. Continue this ladle at a time process and stirring for 20-30 minutes, or until the grains are tender but still firm to the bite (not crunchy). If you run out of broth, and your risotto is not completely cooked, you can use hot water or more hot chicken broth. (I had to the second time I made this.) When you are down to the last few ladles of stock, add the cooked mushrooms.
8. Stir in 2 Tbsp butter, the parmesan cheese and the parsley. Finish seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
9. Risotto turns glutinous if held for too long - serve it right away! It should be soft, creamy mound on a dinner plate (not run across the plate). I put chicken on the top of mine.

Yummy!!! Serve with a salad.

Adapted from and a YouTube video...

Monday, July 20, 2009

ITALIAN COOKING KICK! Pasta Carbonara ala' Tom Cruise

Ever since visiting Grenada, and staying at La Luna with an Italian chef, I have been on an Italian cooking kick! One day I asked if they could make a Spaghetti Carbonara (not on menu) for my lunch. Absolutely - no problem. Tasting the wonderful pasta dish made me realize how long it has been since I made it myself. Well, upon our return, I set out to find a true recipe for Carbonara. There are lots of pastas that say they are Carbonara, but a true Carbonara has no cream - yet many recipes call for cream. Here is one I found, and tried - delicious! I was a little heavy with the red pepper flakes - next time will follow the recipe. Enjoy!

Supposedly this recipe comes right from Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes...

Spaghetti Carbonara

Olive Oil (good first cold press extra virgin), 1/2 inch in large saute pan
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 chopped onion
8-12 slices pancetta, thick bacon (I used regular bacon)
4 eggs
1 16oz. pkg spaghetti (recipe calls for 2 pkgs of spaghetti - I used one)
2 cups fresh grated parmesan cheese or parmigiano-reggiano cheese
crushed red pepper flakes
salt & fresh ground pepper

1. Put 1/2inch olive oil in saute pan
2. Add 2 cloves (or more) chopped garlic, onion & bacon cut into small squares
3. Let simmer 30 minutes, don't let it boil
4. During last 10 minutes, add red pepper flakes (1 tsp., probably not much more)
5. In bowl, beat 4 eggs with lots of salt and fresh ground pepper.
6. Cook spaghetti until al dente
7. Drain and immediately add egg mixture to pasta. The pasta needs to be very hot in order for the eggs to cook!
8. Stir until eggs are cooked.
9. Mix into saute pan and finish with grated cheese.
10. ENJOY.

Source: Recipe Bazaar

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Dreaded Island Fever is a malady, which eventually affects all those who travel primarily to the Caribbean and truly let the varied sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings into their bones. Dreaded Island Fever, hereinafter known as DIF, is a real, not imagined, affliction which is contracted by most first time visitors to the Caribbean! People contracting the disease usually start showing symptoms within the first twenty-four hours of being in the Caribbean. It manifests itself in a myriad of different ways, depending on the sufferer. There is no known cure, only treatments, given in bouts of one, two or at the most three weeks, depending on the funds available to the sufferer.

I suffered my first bout of DIF in March, 1992. My family and I spent a week in the British Virgin Islands, 7 days on a sailboat named Island Fever, viewing spectacular sunsets, and enjoying all that the islands had to offer. I felt the first real symptoms of the malady as I gloried in snorkeling in the bath-water-warm waters of the Caribbean. I had never snorkeled in my life and remember (after the fear wore off) being amazed at those beautiful fish. Once contracted, DIF is never cured. The malady did not have a name for me then and in fact remained dormant thereafter–through a combination of divorce, lack of money and time and other factors--until 2001, when I again visited the British Virgin Islands aboard the Windjammer Barefoot Cruises Flying Cloud.

Over the years, we have taken many trips to the Caribbean, on land and sea, trying to visit all the islands in the Kokomo song. On land and sea, we’ve visited Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, St. Thomas, Grenada, Bequia, St. Lucia, Mustique, Mayreau, Canouan, Carriacou, Puerto Rico, Petit St. Vincent, St. Vincent, Barbados, and many other islands, shopped for dark chocolate bars from the Grenada Chocolate Factory, fed bananas and petted a monkey who lives in the Grand Etang rainforest, spent hours hunting for enough little nutmeg graters to give as a gift to each of the teachers I work with, making numerous scrapbooks to keep memories alive just a little bit longer, ALL symptoms of one variant or another of DIF.

In between those trips to the Caribbean, the deadly disease continues to affect us, as it does other victims. Victims have been reported posting pictures and even posters of a tranquil island scene on office walls and near their desks and purchasing a $1,000 Nikon D70 digital camera so that they can take digital pictures for the computer. Many folks’ computers reflect computer wallpapers and screen savers of Caribbean scenes, keeping the malady more alive in the sufferer’s mind, but not necessarily helping folks to recover. Reporters have observed folks checking in on travel forums 6 times or more a day, many of them while they are SUPPOSED to be working, and hurriedly shrinking their browser as the boss walks past. Very severe DIF sufferers have been observed pounding their computer keyboard in frustration, as they are unable to get any Caribbean Beach Bar web cam to come up. People with DIF have reported that they often daydream about that special island in the sun, while at work. Others have reported seeing people in serious business meetings with a silly grin on their face and a far away look in their eyes.

At home it doesn't get any better! The poor sufferer forgets about the lawn, housework, kids, little league, friends, neighbors, family and even their job! In an extreme case, one forgets about house payments, car payments and social responsibilities. All they can think of is, "If I don’t eat lunch at all this month, can I afford another trip to the islands this year?" Many are observed listening to Jimmy Buffett or the Beach Boys or a tape or CD from some no-name band they listened to in the Caribbean (that sounded a WHOLE lot better down in the Caribbean!!) blasting out of the player, bugging the neighbors and the dog.

Most lately the symptoms for us have settled in to, more often than not, one particular Island in the Sun, as they do for many folks here. If a person is lucky, they find their own particular island in the sun, that one place on earth that makes their soul sing. That place is different for many folks and could be an otherwise deserted island, on a sailboat, a villa overlooking a fabulous sunset, or a cruise ship. That one particular “Island in the Sun”! For us, it means a sailboat sailing to small islands with the friendliest people you have ever met. It is there that we experience the highest, purest form of DIF. The initial symptom is an uncontrollable urge to lie on a beach and do absolutely nothing. All those "must do" plans seem to melt away in the Caribbean sunshine. When the afflicted are asked about going somewhere or doing something, the reply is usually, "What's the DIFference? It can wait until tomorrow!" The effects of a strange force found only in the Caribbean further compound DIF. It is called "Sand Gravity!" When the disease meets up with this force, the poor afflicted soul finds it hard to even get up to retrieve another cold beverage! That's why some resorts employ beach waiters and waitresses. The far-gone sufferer has taken to bringing along a portable collapsible cooler so that liquid libations will never be more than an arm’s length away. The disease gets progressively worse as time goes on. Even couch potatoes are more active than DIF sufferers! Flight attendants, who say that spouses have been observed dragging their mates aboard aircraft leaving for home, have reported another symptom of the disease. The afflicted have been heard to scream, "One more day -- just one more day!!!"

There is no known cure for DIF! All of the people, who tried to find a cure, were themselves afflicted and ran off to some Caribbean location! There are only "treatments" for this dreaded affliction. The treatment consists of a large "dose" of warm Caribbean sunshine, soft sandy beaches, warm Caribbean sea water and many cold drinks served at a beach bar. There is a downside to this however. The afflicted build up a resistance to the treatments and have to return more and more frequently and for longer periods to relieve the symptoms! Most of the regular travel internet forum goers are hopelessly and helplessly afflicted and will never recover! The CDC and your government don't even acknowledge that this disease exists because they don't want to have mass panic and have all of the citizens rush to the Caribbean. The main problem is, DIF is something that you either already have -- or something you WILL get!

So, how ‘bout it? When did YOU first realize that you were suffering the effects of DIF???

And DIF is just not the Caribbean alone, but includes all destinations in the world. The type of place where you say going in -- this is a ONCE IN A LIFETIME shot and it will never happen again -- but.......will it or not -- who knows -- but DIF is................ and there will never be a cure and we are glad for that!

(The above is rather cheerfully plagiarized from a similar piece written some ten years ago by one Ray Ousley. Ray hung out “sometimes in the Caribbean” and sometimes on the Prodigy BB service. Ray was somewhat of a philosopher, sanguine and cantankerous all at once. Apologies also go to Jamaica Jim Jordan, and Carol & Eric (TTOL), from whose websites we recently stole a version of Ray’s original piece. JJ hangs out mostly in Easley, South Carolina and sometimes in the Caribbean.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

La Luna - The Grand Finale of our Trip!

Thursday, 7/2/09 – 7/6/09
This was another day of transition. Kathi left Grenada for her home in Oregon. Larry and I left the comforts of Bel Air to experience yet another property in Grenada. I must say we felt trepidation about leaving, as we were so very comfortable in our unit at Bel Air Plantation Resort! We left Bel Air around noon, and headed for La Luna Resort.

I have read about La Luna in the past, and this year we were lucky enough to have obtained the property on a Skyauction bid. We were in a cottage at the top of the hill, #11. It has a gorgeous view, and the plunge pool was the perfect place to enjoy a sunset happy hour (although each day was too cloudy to get the best sunset viewing during our stay).

Someone described La Luna as "Shabby Chic", and truly that most likely does fit this property. It has a Bali feel, dark woods with lots of cushions and pillows. As you approach the unit, you walk up to a deck with a large couch/day bed filled with white cushions and pillows. There is a coffee table with a large lantern complete with candles; and various other seating types all white and comfy, contrasting with the dark woods used. The doors to the unit were double French doors with white curtains tied on each side. The flooring inside the unit is sealed cement, and the walls on the property appeared to be ragged with either a blue or terracotta color. The canopy bed was dark wood, with white coverings. The bathroom is truly an outdoor bathroom, yet very private. I was worried that we would be bothered with bugs – and the entire time there I did not even see a bug. (I’m not sure how they accomplished that, but everything was immaculate.)

The pool/bar area was stunning - again, dark woods with white cushions everywhere. Under their covered area were a variety of seating areas designed for your comfort. I found a favorite spot - a large daybed - the perfect place for curling up and reading a good book.

We ate in the restaurant each night (four dinners), one lunch and two breakfasts. The service was excellent, the food very good. We even ordered off the menu two times – and nothing was too much trouble! The Italian chef came out each dinner and spoke to the guests making certain everything was to their liking. We were very pleased.

One thing I noticed is that La Luna works hard to get to know each guests name and calls them by their name. This is always such a nice touch, and a touch that not many establishments accomplish.

From La Luna, you could walk to the Grand Anse area. Yes, there are some hills – but after 3 weeks of vacation, and delicious pasta from an Italian chef, I absolutely needed to burn some calories! We walked to Grand Anse two different times, and on one of those jaunts took a bus the rest of the way into St. Georges to do our final souvenir shopping. The goal - to buy up all the dark chocolate bars we could put out by the Grenada Chocolate Factory! Our last walk into town looked as if it might rain, so we took the La Luna umbrella. Boy, did it rain! Not just a little rain, or a mist, but we were caught in a huge downpour – wind & rain. Well, the little umbrella helped to keep our heads dry anyway! The rain stopped as quickly as it began, we dried out and continued on our journey.

Our flight was an early morning flight, so we settled our account after dinner on our last night at La Luna. We were asked if we wanted them to put together something for our breakfast since we had an early flight. They put together a nice muffin and some fruit for us to have prior to our flight. Very nice touch!

All in all, La Luna was a very nice experience and a fantastic way to end our amazing trip to the “islons”!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Socony... The Musician

Well, I was wrong in my spelling of Socony's name - this is the correct spelling. Socony was the musician that came aboard Camille on Union Island to entertain us with his music, song and trivia!

Turns out, Socony has many YouTube hits!


Socony is an expert at trivia - both U.S. Presidential trivia, as well as other trivia. Here is one question!

Name five State Capitals that are also names of U.S. Presidents. (Don't cheat and use Google!)

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Off to Grenada!

6/28 - 7/2

Our group of four hopped aboard the 7am ferry on Sunday to catch the nonstop Liat flight to Grenada. As we sailed out of Port Elizabeth, we waved goodbye to Camille (our wonderful sailboat where we had the most delightful week), and viewed the gorgeous scenery. Early morning is so peaceful and quiet!

Our flight was slightly late, but we made it to Grenada with most of the day to enjoy. Our hotel was fantastic – as always. Bel Air Plantation Resort in St. David’s.

We had one 2-bedroom villa for hubby and I, and my adult son; and a 1 bedroom villa for my friend. The villas at Bel Air are luxury all the way and include air conditioning throughout, huge bathrooms, a large spa tub and separate showers. The linens are top notch, and everything you could possibly need you have. The kitchens are fully stocked with all utensils, serving dishes, etc.

We spent four relaxing nights here enjoying the amenities. On Sunday, our arrival day, we were treated to live entertainment in the restaurant/bar, Water’s Edge. Very enjoyable. We also spent some time at the nearby La Sagesse Nature Center enjoying the beach where we got married three years ago, and a wonderful lunch.

This time at Bel Air, we did cook two of our four nights. I provided Susan, the owner, a list of items that I would need and she shopped prior to our arrival and had the villa stocked with food. Something that was greatly appreciated!

Sunday night we had dinner at Water’s Edge. The food was very good, and it was nice to once again see the restaurant staff. We had a delicious meal and wonderful drinks!

Monday we went into St. Georges, doing our shopping at the public market for spices, gifts and jewelry. After we were done, we wandered through the tunnel and had lunch at BB’s Crabback. This was our first visit there, and it was excellent! So much so that hubby and I visited another time during our stay. I can’t say enough about the food and the experience – it was excellent! We used to always go to Nutmeg on our in town trips, but Nutmeg has closed down. We have absolutely found a better alternative!

Tuesday we went on an island tour with tour guide and friend, Mandoo. If you are looking for a top notch guide, Mandoo is your man. We have used him now every year for four years, and I can’t recommend him highly enough. Our lunch was at Belmont Estate and excellent! What a beautiful place. On our stop in the Grand Etang rainforest we were lucky enough to experience our old faithful monkey – Lover Boy. He is getting quite old and slowing down. He came right up to us, took a banana (or two or three), and made clear he wanted to be scratched and petted. Sweet monkey – wow. Seeing the moana monkeys is always a highlight for me! I’m wondering if next time we visit (2 years) we will see Lover Boy again. Sad thought…

Wednesday my son had to go home (we actually extended his stay by 2 days - he should have gone home on Monday), so hubby and I took him to the airport (very early). Once he got inside the gates, hubby and I went to the Grand Anse area thinking that we could catch an early breakfast at La Boulangerie. La Boulangerie is a bakery that has excellent food at very reasonable prices. Little did we know they did not open until 8:30am, and it was only 6:30am. OK, plan B… we would walk the beautiful beach and get some exercise to start our day. We were not the only ones out on the beach – lots of locals taking a nice morning walk or swim. At 8:30 we did end up making our way back to La Boulangerie for a nice breakfast. After breakfast, we took a bus (aka: crowded minivan with loud reggae music) into St. Georges. Once we got to the bus terminal – it just started to pour! We experienced the bus terminal, figured out which bus we needed to take us back to St. David’s after a few kind people answered our questions. This was our first time taking the bus out to Bel Air. The bus would stop at the road that goes to the hotel, from there it was about a one mile walk to our little villa. Let’s hope for no rain we thought!

Mother Nature was kind to us and by the time we got to our road, the weather had cleared making it a nice walk in to the resort. We visited with dogs, puppies, and goats (including 2 newly born white goats). Very peaceful walk!

The rest of our day was spent relaxing at the pool and enjoying Bel Air’s beautiful property. We had a game of H20 Uno in the pool, lunch outside and thoroughly enjoyed the day. This was our last day at Bel Air.

I can’t thank Susan and her staff at Bel Air enough for a wonderful stay. It is like visiting a good friend as opposed to staying at a resort.

Sailing the Grenadines! Final day on the boat...

Friday, 6/26/09
It was time to explore Chatham Bay – gorgeous beach with no people (but us). We wandered, hunted for sea glass and shells, and enjoyed the last peaceful morning on the boat. Our trip was about to wind down… time to set sail for Bequia.

After a long sail and late lunch, we were able to explore Bequia a bit. We went to Coco’s for dinner – wonderful dinner and the last one for our motley sailing group to experience together. There was supposed to be music, but for some reason the band did not appear - low season in the Caribbean, things are quite casual - even music engagements. We took some leftovers with us to try to feed the fish at the boat. We got strong flashlights, and thought we would have good luck getting fish to come over with our tasty leftovers. But, alas - they were either not hungry, or did not like what we had to offer as we did not do well finding fish to look at. By the time we finished our fish feeding experiment, everyone crashed.

Saturday, 6/27/09
Jackie and Neal had to leave first as they were flying out on SVG to Barbados for a night at the Crane. The rest of us went back to Sugarapple Inn where we spent a quiet day exploring Friendship Beach, and being lazy in the pool. We enjoyed a great lunch at the Bequia Beach Hotel.

For dinner on our last night on the island, we met Paul and Jan at Mac’s Pizza. We had to get in our Mac’s Pizza fix, it is a tradition for us to go to Mac’s. I had a lovely lasagna! They have many other things – not just pizza, although their pizza is wonderful. The evening was delightful. We had to say our goodbyes to Jan and Paul – the crew that had become good friends over the week!

Truly, this was “the” best vacation, relaxing and fun. We loved it so much, we are signed up for another week next June, British Virgin Islands this time! Can’t wait…

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sailing the Grenadines! A deserted island....

Thursday, 6/25/09

The plan for Thursday at 6am was to get up early and swim with the turtles as they were feeding. However, the weather was not really cooperating for that plan so we slept in and waited out the wind/rain. After breakfast, we did venture over to snorkel the area as I said earlier.

After our snorkel, we moved the boat over to another Cay (yes, another deserted island) where we could go ashore and climb up a hill for a great view of those turquoise waters. Larry actually walked around the entire island. Beautiful!

We stayed here until after lunchtime at which point we set sail for Union Island – Chatham Bay.

Chatham Bay is a beautiful, quiet bay that we have been to before. The weather made it “interesting” – huge winds flipping our dinghy (and other dinghy’s in the area as well). We were all drenched by the time we were all squared away (anchored). I’m not sure there were any dry towels left! Once we were all dried off, we moved our usual game activities in to the saloon – cribbage night.

After an hour or two, the rain cleared and everything dried. The next day the sunshine was beautiful… storms pass quickly in the Caribbean!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sailing the Grenadines! Happy Anniversary to us...

Wednesday, 6/24
Our Anniversary!

Well, our day began after breakfast by wandering around town a little more exploring the shops and such that had not been open the previous evening. Jan had to pick up some supplies for the boat, etc. Well, tricky girl – she really went out to pick flowers and buy an anniversary card. She came back, handed Larry the flowers to give to me. Very sweet!

We set sail for Petit St. Vincent – an island we had never visited before (always a special treat).

We anchored and were dropped off for some beach/floating time, remember it is our favorite pastime! They sent us with the cooler bag and provisions. We were there a couple of hours, and Paul came to pick us up. Time to go back to the boat for lunch. What a beautiful island. There is a resort on island, and they were fairly careful about not letting us beach people wander too far into the resort.

Next stop – Tobago Cays! Tobago Cays is a marine park – very protected. We used to go here with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises (for a day stop), but once this area became a marine park, that was not allowed. Now this is the first time I've been since it has been deemed a marine park, and boy, can I see the change! Sea turtles – and LOTS of them. Wow. The afternoon we arrived we were going through a bit of a squall in the area, so we really did not explore until Thursday.

Dinner was fabulous and Paul had baked a cake for our anniversary! Jan had everyone aboard sign the card, and they sang a rendition of Happy Anniversary. Jackie and Neal even got us a Tobago Cay mug on Union. Very sweet – what a great way to spend an anniversary! (Let’s do it again next year…)