Saturday, June 11, 2011

Culture Vulture

Da cruise, da cruise!!

June 2, 2011
6:59 am - and the headlines include:

Fierce fighting in Sanaa, Yemen
Japan's Prime Minister Survives No Confidence Vote
The Dow fell 279 points
Shaquille O'Neal Announces Retirement

Well, Sanaa is burning, badly. The no confidence vote was just plain mean, as far as I am concerned. I am going to miss seeing Shaq on the court - any court - as the Big Guy has always remained my all-time favorite.

As far as the Dow is concerned, let us remember that on Black Thursday, 1929, it fell all of 75 points and THAT was the moment the stock market crashed and plunged this country into the Great Depression. Our government needs to stop pretending that all is well, or at least getting better. It's not, and it hasn't been and it's not going to.

I have an idea - let all the governments, foreign, federal, state, and local, declare General Day of Debt Amnesty. All debt, private and public, should be eliminated - wiped out. Every person and every entity starts with a clean slate. I am no economics genius, but my idea can't be any worse than what the real, self-proclaimed experts have been trying to do for the past few years.

Happy Anniversary to Me!
Eight years ago today I had my insides rearranged. It was worth it, although I still have some unpleasant side effects. The benefits outweigh the bad stuff, and knowing what I do now, I would still go forward with the surgery.

I really hated having to buy that suit, as I knew I would never wear it again

It's time to get culture.  Does that make us culture vultures?  Our last shore excursion takes place today, shortly after the ship docks at Costa Maya on the Yucatan peninsula.

2:31 pm
What a terrific port! And what a terrific day. I finally did find my very favorite perfume of all time, "First" by Van Cleef and Arpels. We went on a wonderful shore excursion, the "Mayan Culture Experience". First we headed to an impressive Mayan ruin right in the middle of town, then to a Mayan home where the owners were Mayan descendants and they prepared a traditional meal in which the delicious chicken had been cooked in a pit, and the Señora offered handmade tortillas which were unlike any other fresh tortillas I've ever tasted.

Yes, that's me.  Rob always cuts off my head in favor of a shot of my cleavage and/or the food

The tour guide was an absolute gem. His depth of knowledge was incredible and he kept it interesting.  Also, he let me speak fractured Spanish to him.  Now that's a nice guy!

This Mayan Ruin sits smack in the middle of town, on the side of the road

The family maintains a shrine to the Lady of Guadalupe

I did not buy any vanilla. I may regret it later, but I have a big bottle in the pantry, and there is limit to how much vanilla any one person can use. I do regret missing out on that rum cake when we were at Mahogany Bay, but as it is said, that should be the worst of my problems. Yesterday we picked up Kahlua and Myer's Dark Rum in the ship's duty free shop.  You know ... the good stuff.

I beg your pardon ... I never promised you an herb garden ...

La senora serves the chicken that el senor brought out from the underground "oven"

I miss my Boy. I am concerned that I did not leave him enough to eat. Rob scoffed at me, until I reminded him that his mother still worries about whether he is eating enough, and he is 65 years old. She will drop off sandwiches and cooked entrees at his office, in case he doesn't have a chance to leave to pick something up. I understand this completely, as it is a Mom Thing.

I also miss my furry babies. Today, the señor y señora tienen dos perros y un gato, un Siamese, en su casa. I spoke to them in Spanish, and it was a very satisfactory exchange. But I still miss talking to my own kids - two legs, four legs, fur covered, clean shaven. I know they can take care of themselves (or at least most of them can - not sure about Indiana, he's still just a big gawky baby), but . . . all together now . . . IT'S A MOM THING!

By now you may be wondering why we haven't taken disco lessons with Butch, Your Cruise Director, or tried out the two story pool slide, or played some serious bingo, or let a complete stranger named Sven place hot rocks on our naked backs. Well, let me reflect just a little bit on this vacation. There is so much to do on a cruise ship, and you can't do everything. Because we live in Florida and there's a pool at our house, pools and sunbathing aren't anything special, although I certainly understand how they would appeal to someone from up north. Rob isn't into water sports, and neither of us are crazy about sand. We don't gamble, because I have such an aversion that I won't even buy a lottery ticket. We like shows, but not enough to stay up late and breathe cigarette smoke. Shopping is nice if we want something specific, but otherwise just okay. I had a massage once when we sailed on NCL, and I found it to be a weird experience I did not care to repeat. We love going to the formal dining room and meeting new people, and to the casual dining and getting room service and ice cream at midnight. Yeah, it's all about the food. We love the shore excursions that take us around the town or island. We love learning new stuff about a new place. We love the onboard art auctions but right now we have a substantial collection and have run out of wall space.

Most of all we like to spend time together exclusive of the stresses of everyday work and life, and the cruise ship is the perfect environment for that kind of vacation. I may never try to snuba but I will always be able to snuggle.

I never realized how much fun it would be to take a cooking class with Rob until we took the class in Cozumel. Which just reinforces my desire to go on a celebrity chef cruise. Rob and I both agreed we would have loved to go on the cruise with Chef Anne Burrell last spring (I think it was last spring) but unfortunately it was WAY above our pay grade, in part because it involved two round trip air tickets to the Mediterranean. Just have to post that one on the bucket list and hope for better days.

Working diligently on the cat's paw scarf, reading a Janet Evanovich "between the numbers" Stephanie Plum novel, and still watching the Casey Anthony trial . . .

We sat at the bar like grown ups and had our usual - gin martini for Rob and a cosmo for moi. Yes, I was a trifle tipsy. Our missing couple showed up again tonight and Rob spent a good part of the dinner convincing the guy to try taekwando or at least tai chi, and explaining why any city, like Atlanta, that can contain an awesome barbecue restaurant like Thompson Brothers as well as the Holy Grail of Hot Dogs, The Varsity, can't be all bad. I remembered why I shouldn't have ordered the baked Alaska for dessert. Speaking of Alaska, Sarah Palin is taking a family vacation riding cross country in a very big bus that would make Buckaroo Banzai jealous, accompanied by most of her staff. But she's not running for President in 2012. There are big honking pictures of eagles and American flags on her tricked out bus, but she's not running for President in 2012. The Lady and her entourage landed in New Hampshire the same day Mitt Romney throws his hat in the ring and starts serving chili to registered voters, and Sarah Palin is still not running for President in 2012.

I can't wait to see who else isn't running for President in 2012. Maybe Mike Huckabee, eh?

The last little towel buddy.  I knew him well, Horatio.

When I got back to work after the cruise, I was telling my coworkers how I would be trying to speak Spanish to the folks in Mexico while they were trying to speak English to me.  It made for fun, as we were all trying to be friendly and respectful.  Then Brenda Paralegal and I started kidding about my limited Spanish - Brenda is one of my "tutors" - and Brenda was saying that she really speaks "Spanglish".  Well, so do I, except Brenda speaks more "Spang" while I speak more "Glish."  Actually Brenda was born in the US and speaks perfect English.  She had to learn Spanish in a hurry when her family moved to Puerto Rico while she was in elementary school.  She did a much better job of it than I did, since I've been trying to learn Spanish since seventh grade.  I love the language, I find it useful, and while I think it would be better for everyone who lives in the US to be able to speak English, I understand the reality of having to learn another language and I'm willing to make accommodations to communicate.  Working in Osceola County, which has the second-highest number of Spanish-speaking residents in Florida, I feel fortunate to have so many willing tutors available to me in my office.

Back to the real world.  I am leaning towards preparing a beef stew, but can't settle on what kind.  Wait.  What about a choucroute?  I know that's not any kind of beef stew, but it is big and bold and everyone in this house loves it.  Also, if there are leftovers, Cory will scarf them up during the week Rob and I are gone.  So do I make "my" choucroute or Emeril's choucroute?  I think mine is better, bwah ha ha.  No, really. 

One of my very favorite cookbooks of all time is Emeril's Potluck.  This is my kind of cooking, big dishes for a lot of people.  He offers a choucroute recipe which looks good, and if you've never tasted mine, will probably love madly.  His Kickin' Chili recipe is the only chili recipe I have ever made that my family likes almost as much as mine. 

Emeril's Potluck    Louisiana Real and Rustic
My two favorite Emeril cookbooks - and yeah, I have most of them

My choucroute garnie recipe was originally found in a cookbook "Great Dinners from Life" by Eleanor Graves.  I think it is seriously out of print, and my copy is literally falling apart at the seams, but I have gotten some very fine recipes from it over the years.  I had to tweak it a little to suit the availability of ingredients, and my son is crazy for it, which is a good enough reason to prepare it.  It's not difficult at all, by the way.  The biggest problem has always been what to serve with it.  I would like to offer potato dumplings, but damn if I can find a recipe that works for me.

So I went to Publix, and figured out what to do.  Tonight, Rob and I are going for sushi at Mikado.  Well, Rob is going to have sushi.  I am going to have a nice cold glass of plum wine.  Then tomorrow, I will cook up the choucroute and some sweet and sour meatballs for the rest of the week.  Tomorrow we're going to Kobe's for an early Father's Day dinner with Rob's parents.  Early because Rob and I won't be here on Father's Day.  God willing and the crick don't rise, we'll be leaving Atlanta and heading to Kodak, Tennessee.  Yes, we are going on yet another vacation.  Oy, I know.  After an extremely dry period for even taking mini-vacays, caused by the Omnipotent Tax Season, we fell into a scheduling conundrum of having to take too many.  Normally, we would never take time so close to our annual trek to Little Rock, but Rob's birthday and the availability of a great cruise all came together that last week in May.  Never mind that the ATA Worlds are always the third week in June.  This year, we enjoyed an abundance of riches in the travel department, and I don't regret one crazy minute.

I'm going to go with Vigo brand potato gnocchi.  One day when I have time, I'll try to perfect the potato dumpling.

From Kodak, which is near Gatlinburg, we'll be heading to Memphis, and then finally to Little Rock, where we will put down roots for 5 days.  I'm still hoping we can take one of our free days and head over to Hot Springs.  I have it on good authority that we've absolutely got to check out the barbecue at McClard's.

This trip is probably the best for sampling the best barbecue in the country.  There is Thompson Brothers in Atlanta, Interstate in Memphis, and Whole Hog in Little Rock.  Plus there are a whole bunch of barbecue joints, especially in Memphis, that we haven't even tried yet.

America the Beautiful, America the Delicious.

"Live, Love, Eat!" - Wolfgang Puck
"And then blog about it! - Me

Friday, June 10, 2011

He who controls the horse controls the horse

"He who controls the spice controls the universe!"

Geez Louise, who is controlling the spice gas these days, anyway? The price has been so terribly volatile this past year, and usually heading up at an accelerated pace, but lately the whole thing is weirding me out. The prices are going down and that's a good thing - except when they bounced back up by four cents, for just one day, then started to glide back down.

I have to pass four different 7-Elevens on my way to the office, and a fifth one when I drive to the courthouse, so I am something of an expert on the price of gas there.

More from the cruise:

June 1, 2011
"Be one with the horse . . . "

The last time I rode a horse was almost 50 years ago. I was a kid and it was what turned out to be my last summer at Camp Anawana in Monticello, New York. I always liked horseback riding, although I do not care for horse racing nor do I really like horses, and I think "playing the horses" is a really bad idea.

But today's shore excursion was pleasant, despite getting rained upon for a little while - we were walking in a rain forest after all. Shopping in Belize is nothing much (good rum cake sample) and I've given up hope of finding my "First" cologne by Van Cleef & Arpels. I'll just have to go back to Nassau. Funky Nassau.

We continue to follow the Casey Anthony trial. Oy Oy Oy . . .

I hate to say it, but this lovely vacation is more than half over. And I have 2 trials starting next week upon my return.
Reality bites.

June 9, 2011
I keep killing off Doctor Who and Amy, and it is starting to get to me. I rarely play video type games, but this was such a an interesting little app for the iPad and I am such a Fan of Who, I wanted to try it. Sorry to say that the Doctor has "died" so many times due to my careless fingers, that he has used up all of his lives and simply won't be regenerating any further.
I had been craving mushroom and barley soup for several days. I don't think I've made it in over 20 years, although I used to make it with some frequency when we were young and freezing. Now that we are old and toasty, soup didn't happen too often until just a few years ago. Anyway, it was mushroom and barley I was craving, and I made it, and it was grand. Of course I will post the recipe on the other blog. You will love it.

One trial down, one to go, before this wild, wild week is over.

June 10, 2011

"Sittin' here restin' my bones, and that loneliness won't leave me alone, two thousand miles I've roamed just to make this dock parking lot my home . . ."

Wait, that's not right - although I am sitting in the parking lot at my former (and Rob's present) office, under a tree, all the doors and windows in the car open in an attempt to capture whatever errant breeze wanders by. It is lunch time, and I am between witnesses in an all day trial. The UTI continues to plague me despite the liberal consumption of antibiotics, and is making me feel generally run down. I am hopeful that I will be able to head home at the conclusion of today's court hearing, and catch a nap. Or nap with a cat. In my house, it's all the same.

Gas prices were stable for 36 hours, which gave me hope that we might also achieve world peace by next Tuesday, but as I drove around this afternoon, I could see they were starting to destabilize once more. They are in fact still heading downwards, and that is good, but I also hate the feeling that we are being manipulated by Big Business, or the government, or the oil- producing Arab nations, or some combination of all of these, to react with a particular behavior as a result of these penny-per-gallon bones that are being thrown our way. In the meantime, the stock market is headed in the same direction as the gas prices, which is good for the gas prices but very bad for the market.

I am already far enough into my work that my lovely cruise is a distant memory. That's why I am enjoying the opportunity to relive it day-by-day on this blog.

Friday, 5:54 - I am sitting in my favorite spot on my couch; my feet are up and there is a nice cold Black Russian on the end table within easy reach. It was an all day trial and it was intense and it is not finished yet. I am beyond tired. My best boy cat is tucked against my side, and for a brief, inebriated moment, all is well with the world.  My wonderful husband brings me a cup of mushroom and barley soup, perfectly heated, and I savor the flavor.  Life is good.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Scene:  Transylvania, 1974.   The Voice:  Teri Garr as Inga, rushing in to the bedroom of Dr. Frederick "Fronkensteen", proclaiming "Doctor!  You were having a Nachtmare!"

Teri Garr

Yeah, tell me about it, Inga.  Last night was a double-feature doozy.  And while it certainly wasn't as bad as, say, the nachtmare experienced by Ebenezer Scrooge, it was bad enough.  I have had nightmares on and off my entire life, but I truly have not had one in years.  I can only guess I was making up for lost time.

In the news:  Well, turns out it really was Weiner's wiener.  Politicians, what can I say?

Politicians are among those who sometimes believe the rules don't apply to them, according to psychologists and sociologists who study behavior. They say the self-confidence politicians must exude to succeed can lead them to believe they are invincible, and ego can lead them astray.  (I lost the link, I think it was from the LA Times)

Just in case anyone has forgotten, Weiner's wife is a senior aide to Hillary Clinton, and has worked with Mrs. Clinton since 1996.

More from the cruise:

May 31, 2011
8:17 am

Watching the news on CNN leads me to wonder if there is any country in the eastern hemisphere that is not experiencing civil war. These are bad times, and it seems the entire world has destabilized. Yemen, Egypt, Syria, and FIFA, the world soccer organization. Meanwhile the Pentagon has declared that cyber attacks can constitute an act of war. No kidding. And Germany is in the throes of a serious E. Coli outbreak, which Germany claims has been traced back to produce from Spain. Apparently it is spreading to other countries in Europe. I would personally swear off salads for a while, but if you just gotta eat that cucumber, wash it well, wash it often. The blame in Spain falls mainly on the plain, which may be some premature fingerpointing and is wreaking havoc on the Spanish economy.

The economic news is just as grim, although today the various world markets are opening slightly up, after several weeks of abject depression.

12:44 pm
Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan. Nothing to see or do except beachy type stuff, and neither of us is a sand person. So after a brief foray to the pier for some unsuccessful fragrance shopping - has Van Cleef & Arpels gone out of business? - we headed back to the ship for a restful day before our special dinner at the Chef's Art Steakhouse.

I am Lady Lobster, the newest rock star. And I am determined to finish this ?!#%! Cat's Paw scarf!

11:19 pm
Let's talk about food. Because I refuse to blog about the BIG news that Brangelina may finally be getting married.

Carnival has in the last year or so, placed steakhouses on a number of their ships. There is a reasonable upcharge associated with a dinner there. The first time we ran across this concept was during our trip on Norwegian Cruise Lines. I think it was a French restaurant, and it was very good, but if memory serves me correctly, all the food on NCL was excellent.

Carnival's food is very good, sometimes excellent. The Chef's Art Steakhouse is a step above that, and well worth the additional charge. The service was splendid. Very unrushed, and we were actually encouraged to relax and linger. Lobster bisque was excellent, although the best lobster bisque I ever had was at Firefly in Panama City Beach. This was pretty darn close to that, and it was served with a crouton that seemed to have more lobster actually baked into it. Salads - I had the Caesar, Rob had the baby spinach. You will have to see the pictures to appreciate the presentations. The taste was marvelous; I only wish I could have eaten more of it. The dressing was prepared in the "traditional" manner and tossed with whole leaves of Romaine lettuce.

I had the broiled lobster tails (surprise!) and Rob ordered a Porterhouse steak the size of a certain Yorkie. Everything was prepared beautifully. One downside was that the steak was not aged. I admit we have gotten a little spoiled, as aging adds a certain depth of flavor, but Rob still enjoyed it immensely.

My husband actually ordered fruit for dessert while I stayed true to myself and ordered some sort of symphony of chocolate which was actually four different mini desserts - a tiramisu, a banana pannacotta topped with a sorbet, a flourless chocolate cake with one sort of ice cream, and another dessert whose name I cannot remember, but it was rich like fudge, was served on top of some berry coulis and accompanied by yet another kind of homemade ice cream. I tasted EVERYTHING and will dream about the experience during moments of stress.

The Tot Mom Follies
We always hear that the worst thing that can happen to a parent is to outlive their child, but I have finally realized there is one thing far worse - to have your grandchild murdered, and then to find out it was your own child who committed the murder. Now I usually find Nancy Grace to be overly dramatic, but her coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial hasn't been half bad. The look on the accused's face as she listens to her own mother testify is priceless, and I do not mean that in a good way. And by the way, HLN hosts, can you PLEASE dump Leonard Padilla, that Dog the Bounty Hunter wannabe from your line up - he does the world's worst interview and contributes nothing to your story. He is one big sloppy dope, which explains why Dr. Drew seemed to be cringing as he spoke with him.

Tomorrow - horseback riding in Belize!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Back in the saddle

I think Google went a bit nutsy in my absence.  Checking the stats on the blog, it seems that on a single day last week there were 1,168 page views of one single blog post - "I have a dream" from May 11 - and all the readers were coming from Turkey.  I don't get Turkey.  I understand Norway and Australia and the UK, but I don't get Turkey.  I really think Google had a major hiccup, or Al Qaeda was trying to hack my blog because they didn't like my "Osama in Hell" series.  Either way, my numbers are freaking skewed now.   Aw, nuts.

We made it to Publix.  Sunday night dinner is going to be chicken with smokehouse maple seasoning and dijonnaise.  No idea how this will come out.  Also throwing together carrots, sweet potatoes, and bananas.  No idea about that either.  Sauteed chicken livers and onions.  Yum.  And if I still have the energy - and this may have to wait to tomorrow - my newest version of stuffed mushrooms.  I've made countless versions of stuffed mushrooms, from the basic garlicky bread crumbs to shrimp and marinated mozzarella.  What I've got in mind has a combination of flavors that always pleases.  UPDATE:  I cooked the following - The Devil is in the Chicken; Don't Make a Tsimmes Over It; and Chicken Livers Provencal.  My food critics approved.  Please check the recipe blog for the June 5th  entries, and I hope you enjoy them.

I was pretty news-starved while on the cruise, not having access to my online newspapers and such.  Now that I'm back online - wow, what a fertile source of blogging topics!  I don't even know where to begin.  Okay, you talked me into it:  Sarah Palin and Paul Revere.  I mean, you can't make up stuff like this.  And then Germany pointing the finger at Spain for E. Coli tainted cucumbers, which virtually destroyed the Spanish economy in about 2 days.  In the meantime, it is starting to look like it is  bean sprouts from Germany that are spreading the rather nasty bacteria.  When I was in high school, I happily studied bacteriology, and E. Coli was a favorite - to study, not eat.  E. Coli was probably the first recipient of my early cooking attempts, as I made a special brew of nutrient agar for it to feast upon.

Shaquille O'Neal is retiring.  A volcano erupted in Chile (are you watching the news, Harold?)  Food Network is starting the new season of The Next Food Network Star.  Happy to say that Howie, the guy whose lights I wanted to punch out, went home.  Next week I hope to see that Penny chick go home.  If she spouts "sexy!" one more time, I'm gonna heave.  The market is still heading south, and as I've said somewhere on this blog before, we are taking the rest of the world down with us.

food network star finalists
Penny the Purple People Eater ... next to go?

Something I forgot to mention - during the cruise, I did finish knitting the baby hoodie AND the cat's paw scarf.  For the first time in a long time, I feel like I am making progress in knitting.

More blogging from the cruise:

May 30, 2011
8:25 am - Memorial Day

Twang that magic twanger, froggie

Room Service
Why have I never thought to do this before? Coffee for me, juice and hot tea for Rob, and no need to put on a bra and leave the room in order to reach that state of caffeination which permits me to minimally function. Absolute genius. Later, when my eyes are open and my breathing is back on automatic, I will be sufficiently awake to do my eyebrows and brave the outside world.

This ship has a forward camera which broadcasts in real time so we see where we are heading. Right now, for the first time since leaving Florida, we can see land on the horizon - Cozumel, Mexico. Once we dock, Rob and I will head out to our air-conditioned bus for a "scenic ride to Playa Mia Grand Beach Park" where we will "learn the art of cooking traditional Mexican cuisine from a prestigious Chef." We get to eat our creations accompanied by some Mexican wine, followed by an hour of beach time.

This is our second trip to Cozumel; first time was ten years ago on our first cruise on the Carnival Imagination. That trip was the brainchild of my dear friend Bethe. Up until that time, we had never cruised before. Rob, Cory and I opted for the shore excursion to see the Mayan Ruins of Tulum, and it was a wonderful experience. Our original plans for that Thanksgiving vacation were to repeat our 2000 trip to The Buccaneer resort in St. Croix - we had, in fact, booked the suite almost a year before - but then 9/11 happened, and no one in their right mind was flying anywhere for any reason.  Bethe's idea was that both families would cruise over the holiday - no cooking for either of us, and our boys, then 13 and 11, could share a stateroom, and we would stay out of airplanes until the horror lessened.  It was such a good idea, we cruised with them the next year on NCL to Nassau, and then came the trips to Italy and Greece ... but those are definitely a couple of other blog posts.

I was perusing today's issue of "Fun Times" and noticed there is going to be a Big Hair Contest tonight. Damn, and I just cut my hair! I coulda been a contender!

5:07 pm
Back from our shore excursion, and we are tired but what fun we had. The bus trip was comfortable and not too long. Our class was a total of eight people, four couples, and all of them good companions. Chef Luis was a terrific teacher, and did I mention that this class included prodigious amounts of booze? Margaritas, daiquiris, piña coladas, wine . . . we were still sober enough to prepare a three course meal. Mini "Huaraches", Veracruz Style Fish Filet, and Rice Pudding Tower for dessert. We also learned how to properly use a tortilla press, and how to make those really cool designs on the dessert plates using heavy cream and raspberry sauce. Awesome!

If you are a parent, then you know that from the minute your child comes into your world, life as you know it is over. We stopped being Rob and Cindy and became Cory's parents. Our activities, our interests, our choices for restaurants and vacations were all undertaken with his preferences in mind. And that becomes a happy habit, so much so that when he "aged out" we found ourselves missing his presence, and half of our conversations still are about Cory. Cory would like this, or love this, or enjoy this, we say, and there is always that regret that he is a little too old to tag along with Mom and Dad, and that he has a work and class schedule that requires his presence at home. But we know he would have been crazy about this particular ship, and all of the food including the 24 hour availability of pizza and ice cream. Cory and I are night owls, and long after Rob is sleeping peacefully, we are wandering around the house, snacking or, in Cory's case, eating a full dInner. Sure enough, when he has accompanied us on cruises, he and I can be found wandering the halls, ice cream or pizza or coffee in hand. Rob has pointed out more than once this trip that Cory would really enjoy the sight of lovely young ladies in evening gowns or (even better) itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis.

We saw some of these bikini-clad cuties on our shore excursion, after the cooking class was over and we had eaten the fruits of our labor. We had some time to kill and so we sat near the beach at Playa Mia. I knit the Cat's Paw scarf, Rob read science fiction, and we both people-watched. Gosh, we were brutal. Hee hee. But come on, folks, some blocky, bleached blonde in a bikini (so everyone could admire her tramp stamp) and a chubby dude with a beach ball for a belly, wearing a Speedo, for heaven's sakes, should be ashamed of themselves. Forget the fashion police, those two should have just turned themselves in.

6:38 pm
We are officially back at sea, headed for Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. I thought there was some kind of political crisis going on in Honduras. Guess we'll find out tomorrow!

Which reminds me - if Harold Camping had half a brain, he could have looked like a bloody prophet by pointing out that terrible events like the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan, the flooding near New Orleans and Memphis, and the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri were all tied to the End Times. Natural disasters have, at least in my perception, been increasing in frequency and degree of damage especially over the past decade. Haiti, Indonesia, Iceland - I remember viewing the streets of Kissimmee after the hurricanes of 2004 and thinking, "this is what streets look like after a nuclear explosion." Then there are the sudden, explosive political events cropping up worldwide, and economic meltdowns like what has happened in Greece. If I were a half-cracked scam artist like old Harold, I could have made even bigger bucks by tying all these events together in one neat prophetic package. A good preacher can take any event and use it to prove his point through Biblical writings. Harold is just not that good.

10:16 pm
Whoo hoo, this ship is rocking. Literally. I think this will rock me to sleep later tonight but during dinner it leant a weird tilt to the proceedings. Tonight some of the waitstaff was singing and dancing on the tables, which was great fun. Our newly acquired couple is among the missing, but our remaining table mates continue to be good company. One of the husbands has this great soothing voice, like Tom Bodet when he is assuring you he' ll leave a light on.

That's Desirta on the right, one of our waitstaff, practicing for her guest shot on "Dancing with the Stars."  Kirstie who?

Dinner was delicious. I even ordered dessert, which was a relief to our waitress who had been fussing over me like a mother hen because I had yet to order dessert.

And the relaxation goes on ...

Saw this on our way out of Playa Mia.  There was a girl in the cake, but she left before I could get the shot. 

"Animal House", anyone?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Weighty Matter

I have to admit that during the entire time we were away, I was a murder trial junkie.  While our TV selections were limited, we did have HLN (CNN Headline News) so that even when we were in sunny Mexico, I was watching the Trial of the 21st Century back home.  Since arriving home, I have (of course) checked the news, both written and video, and oh boy, this is bad - Judge Perry raised the issue of incompetent counsel as a basis for future appeal if a certain line of questioning is pursued. Apparently Jose Baez "opened the door" to questioning regarding Casey Anthony's felony charges regarding her theft and use of checks belonging to a former best friend, and while the Judge was prepared to allow the state to pursue what would have been devastating testimony for the jury to hear, he did so with the caveat about possible future appeals. There is no doubt that Jose Baez is stepping on the Chief Judge's last good nerve. There is also no doubt that he is an embarrassment to the legal profession.

I would like to know how Giada deLaurentiis grew up eating, at least according to her, copious amounts of Nutella without turning into a very chubby individual.  I love the stuff, but it has the same calorie count as butter, so I limit my intake.  Like peanut butter, I could eat Nutella out of the jar using a spoon or my tasty index finger, and if I were to indulge in that too frequently, I can only assume I would come to regret it.

Giada and her mother are making (and eating!) Fried Nutella Ravioli. 

Speaking of regrets, I have none.  About eating, that is.  It felt as though all I did was eat for the past seven days, but that was apparently as imaginary as Casey Anthony's nanny, because when I got on the scale this morning, I had lost a pound and a half.  Rob is the same weight he was before we left.  After the last full day on the ship, when we made sure to try everything we had not drunk or tasted before that, I figured I'd have to be rolled down the gangplank.  I guess that perception came from the same part of my brain that fears I am going to wake up one morning 140 pounds heavier than I was the night before. 

From our first full day on the cruise:

May 29, 2011

There ought to be a law against indiscriminate breeding by annoying people. Look, when there are 4500 people on board, excluding the crew, you have got to indulge in some bitchy people-watching. You can't help it - whiny parents with whiny kids. Morbidly obese women sporting heroic breasts, searching out the legendary "midnight buffet", only to be disappointed by the relatively Spartan nature of the 21st century version. Jeez, lady, you already ate enough to save a third world country from starvation - are you saying that 24 hour pizza, ice cream, and coffee, plus late night snacks of huge hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries is somehow not enough?

Breakfast at "The Gathering".  I kept expecting the cast of Babylon 5 to show up.

We are sitting by the window, enjoying a post-breakfast respite, now that the whiny kid has been spirited off for delivery to Camp Carnival. The food has been rather good so far. Ahh ha ha, whiny kid has been replaced by sullen teenager. It's a good thing we never raised a girl.

This morning we are going to check out a cooking demonstration by the Steakhouse chef. The weather is glorious, and sometime today we're going going to sit out on the deck like proper tourists, soaking up sun, sights, and tropical libations. I like this ship!!

Cooking demonstration held in the Chef's Art Steakhouse.  That's Rajesh on the right.  The fellow on the left better watch his hair extensions; apparently there's a big market for those, and they've become the top target of thieves and ruffians who would do harm to possess them.

We're at the cooking demonstration. We all get samples to taste and they are awesome. A lot of garlic, truffle oil, exotic mushrooms, and mac and cheese to go with a grilled free range chicken breast. A tiramisu to die for. Fun with yum. And recipes to bring home.

More from the cooking demo.  I have to admit the creamy mac and cheese tucked under the chicken was awesome and the tiramisu was ethereal.

I don't know if my hearing is going or is merely dyslexic, but I was sure the onboard shopping director was exhorting us to head over to the Burnt Flounder Lounge. Never did find it, but we took our own tour of the ship, checking out the tax and duty free stores and taking pictures from the highest decks. Pretty and mesmerizingly peaceful.

High Noon
So we manage to find some deck chairs in Serenity and settle down to read and relax. I am very proud of the fact that I remembered our hats, even if Rob's does say "Grumpy" on it. But guess what we DID forget? Oh yeah, the sunscreen. Since we are essentially cave dwellers, it is doubtful our fish belly complexions can withstand too much more of this. But the heat feels marvelous and I can put on my Fashion Police hat, which looks a lot like my favorite straw hat, with cheerful anonymity. Like, "Girl, I know you're not pregnant, because if you were, you wouldn't be jiggling like that. I would like to send out a message to my sisters everywhere: bikinis and bellies don't work well together. And guys - I know you CAN take your shirts off, but that doesn't mean you should. If you've got man boobies, please keep 'em covered. If you were a girl, you'd be wearing an underwire bra to support those babies."

Miniature golf on deck

Apparently our cruise director's name is Butch. Cute. Butch, not his nickname. And hyperactive, but I think that is a prerequisite to holding that position. Butch has an assistant named Alan or George or something perfectly normal, but for the purposes of this voyage is wearing the unfortunate sobriquet of Baby Butch.

Hmmm ... I've been on this ship for 24 hours and I have yet to have any alcohol.

Midnight in the Garden of Food and Evil:

Took care of that alcohol thing. I had forgotten just how good the cosmopolitans are on these cruise ships. Tonight was "formal" night, and that means one thing: lobster. Never mind taking pictures in a formal gown, or shaking hands with the Captain - it's about my favorite food, the food I have designated for my last supper. I was actually able to hang up my Fashion Police hat for one evening.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie ...

Dining onboard is always an adventure. We acquired another couple at the table tonight. The gentleman apparently hates the city of Atlanta, which ought to be a crime. Our maitre d' sounds like Bela Lugosi. The entire waitstaff sang "That's Amore!" which was especially sweet because they are all Filipino. It was a good night.

From our table - Gloria, Ilia, and Bob

Tomorrow we dock at Cozumel, and we're going ashore to participate in a Mexican cooking class. No Mayan ruins for us this stop, unless I burn something.

If you have ever sailed on Carnival, then you know that all of their ships, regardless of size or age, are essentially the same.  This is a good thing, as far as I am concerned.  Think about it - it helps to know that Deck 5, the Promenade Deck, has all the shops on it, plus affords access to all the stairwells and elevators, front to aft, without interruption.  You can always orient yourself on Promenade Deck to find where you are trying to go.  At the same time, each new generation of ship has something even better to offer to guests, and the Carnival Dream is at the top of the food chain.  An example is again, Deck 5, where in addition to unfettered interior access, there is an uninterrupted exterior deck wrapped around the ship.  This is where the Lanai is located (good eats, plus a couple of whirlpools) and you can enjoy a stroll or jog without having to climb to the nosebleed section on Decks 13 and 14.  The ship has also incorporated bells and whistles that were first seen on ships built during the previous decade.

Each ship does adopt it's own theme.  When Rob and I were on the Carnival Triumph in late 2008, it was the Great Cities of the World theme, with dining rooms and lounges named accordingly.  On the Carnival Dream, it was about the color red, which was weird.  The Scarlet Dining Room, the Crimson Dining Room, and the Burnt Flounder Burgundy Lounge.  Weird.

Also weird - we just got back, but I've got to bust a move and finalize our plans for Little Rock.  Somehow I let it get past me just how soon the departure date was coming up.

I have to make a trip to Publix and do some cooking to feed the family, and I think I'll take an opportunity to participate in my self-styled "I can make it better" recipe contest.  As I had said throughout the trip, the food was really good.  Having said that, there were a few dishes that I tried (or in one case, had Rob describe to me) that I felt I could definitely do better.  One of those was the Cream of Sun Ripened Tomatoes with Herb Croutons.  My creamy tomato soup is better, in my humble opinion, and I have provided the recipe over here.

The other recipes that I have, or can do better:  West Indian Roasted Pumpkin Soup; Assorted Seafood, Newburg Style; Baked Eggplant with Mozzarella Cheese (an appetizer), served with a green pea fondue and Romesco sauce; Baked Alaska;  Stuffed Mushrooms.  Not sure which one I'm going to pick to make today - it will, as always, depend on what strikes my fancy once I get inside my favorite palace of provisions.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mi casa es su casa, and there's no place like home

Back from our cruise, back from Mexico.  It was terrific.  As soon as we walked in the door, I put down my purse and landed on the couch.  Slept for hours.  I'm in between naps now  ;-)

As you can imagine, I got a lot of pictures on my iPhone, which I will have to gradually move over to Facebook so I can post them here.  I also used my iPad to create blog entries, albeit offline, and those have to be moved over here by a multi-step method that is awkward but necessary.  I had no time to set up 3G on the iPad before we left, but I did have wi-fi capability - however, one pricing area where the ships are absolutely mercernary is with their internet access, and I just could not bring myself to spend it.

Let me just say that I have been waiting my whole life for the iPad.  It is everything I have ever wanted or needed in a portable computer.  I carry it in my purse.  It has 3G and wi-fi.  It has sufficient word processing ability, for my needs, on it's Notes app, which comes with the iPad.  Before I left, Cory set it up for my and sync'ed it with my iPhone.  There's still some more syncing to complete, but the fact it can sync through my main computer, which is Microsoft rather than Apple-based, is a joy.  I have all my iPhone apps, and then new iPad apps.  Extended battery life.  The screen is clear, colorful, and gorgeous.  With this, I have no need of a laptop.

One thing I did do when I got home was check my BlackBerry to see what had transpired in the office in my absence.  Nothing horrible, or even awful, and all I can say is that I still work with the best group of people in the world.

And the Dallas Mavericks kicked the Miami Heat's sorry asses beat the Miami Heat in Game Two of the NBA Finals.  Go Mavericks!

Food was a big part of this vacation, as the number one activity on a cruise ship is eating.  We also had the opportunity to take two cooking classes, and having done this for the first time would really love to see the cruise lines do more of it.  We can't all afford those wonderful 12 day celebrity chef cruises to Alaska or the Mediterranean or Italy, but I think cruise lines like Carnival can incorporate some more classes and programs into their onboard and offshore schedules.  Trust me, there is a substantial audience for this type of thing.

Here's the first blog post from our cruise:

Approaching the Carnival Dream at Port Canaveral, Florida

May 28, 2011
11:30 am

We are in the car, packed and poised to head out to Port Canaveral. The weather is beyond perfect. Since it was raining cats and dogs last night, that is a relief. Speaking of cats and dogs, our Gang of Eight is moping around. Situational depression caused by the sight of the suitcases. By tonight, when they realize they have the entire bed to themselves, they'll be getting over it.

So we've moved onto State Road 528, which gives me a chance to bitch about the name change. As far as I am concerned, this is the Beeline. I traveled on the Beeline every work day for four years as I headed to the DCF Legal office in a particularly funky section of Cocoa. The name of the city seems so innocuous - cute, even - and that is probably true if you limit your exploration to Cocoa Village. But Monroe Center, the truly decrepit facility used by the agency formerly known as HRS, was in a section of town so horrible, even the drug dealers did not hang out there after dark. So riding to work on a road called the Beeline, marked by signs sporting a cute little bumblebee, took away some of the sting - ha ha- of practicing law in a condemned building while paying law school loans that raised my personal debt ceiling into the stratosphere.

And then, several years ago, somebody proposes renaming it to the "Beachline" because - are you sitting? - it takes you to the beach! Dude, all the roads into Brevard County take you to the beach! From whimsical and charming to merely utilitarian - beach line . . . Sounds like a BMT subway line, and twice as boring.

Casual Dining on Lido Deck - "The Gathering" - Silly name, good food

So we took this boring road all the way to the beach and beyond and now we are on the ship, which is anything but boring. This is our fourth cruise, and our third on Carnival, and this is the most amazing ship so far. I took some pictures, but won't be able to upload them until we return home. The ship is pretty new and tricked out like Mrs. Astor's pet horse. Embarkation was reasonably painless. Hot and cold running food, drink, and music, and we're still sitting in port. I could get used to this.

Pool area, aft  deck  

The other pool area on the forward deck, with crazy slide and "Serenity" area on upper decks  

Rob and I took a stroll on the upper decks and found a child-free zone, called "Serenity." Very nice place to sit with your sweetheart in the whirlpool or in those special wicker chairs for two while clutching a cold drink sporting fruit salad on a stick or a paper umbrella. There is something so inoffensively festive about a drink wearing that paper bumbershoot, especially if it contains some of that there Kickapoo joy juice with a splash of something sweet and fruity. I've yet to have a Cosmo thusly embellished, and I'm wondering if I could enjoy it even more, decked out like Carmen Miranda, when I already enjoy it so much. Post gastric bypass, it just takes half a drink for me to slide into the toasty zone. Wheeeee!

4:26 pm

And the Carnival Dream is is moving gently out of Port Canaveral . . . (click on the link for more info on the ship)

Port Canaveral from the ship - just left of middle on the horizon, you can see Kennedy Space Center

Our first night out, we met our table mates - Denise and Terry from Indiana, and Gloria and Bob from Oviedo - and our wait staff, Ilia (I think - I could never see her name tag well enough) and Desirta.  I actually enjoy the traditional cruising dinner experience, which now that I think of it goes back to my summer vacation days at Kutsher's in the Catskills, when you were assigned to a big table with a bunch of strangers and made a whole bunch of new friends.  First night dinner I chose the tomato soup and the tilapia.  The tilapia was delicious, nice and moist (tilapia can dry out if you're not careful) and the tomato soup was good, but - I can make it better.  I'll even give you the recipe over at the recipe blog.  Rob ordered the St. Louis spareribs (which I ordered the last night) and they were incredibly good.  The St. Louis-style rib is my favorite cut of slab rib, but difficult to find.  These were expertly prepared.

Although I missed my furry babies, I managed to sleep well; in fact, except for the small, noisy and inconsiderate group  of young hoodlums adults who created minor disturbances at 3 am, I slept through the night and but for two of the nights, did not need any OTC assistance. 

Our room steward was Ricardo.  Like our wait staff, he was kind, efficient, and extremely personable.  A good crew can make or break a cruise, and I don't think there was one person working there who did not enhance the experience.