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Friday, April 26, 2013


In the garden of NYC's Cloisters, a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I caught
this guy doing just what he is supposed to do.
He is covered in pollen.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


If Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City captivated you, then grab In the Garden of Beasts, his non-fiction-that-reads-as-fiction account of 1930s Germany as Hitler consolidates his power over the country while the United States’ government parades in blinders unable or unwilling to anticipate the coming storm.

In his research, Larson delves into every historical record of Ambassador William Dodd’s four year tenure in Germany, the first in the Third Reich, fleshing out details that give everyone involved a three-dimensional quality.

A 64 year old University of Chicago history professor, Dodd initially sees the ambassadorship as a sleeper opportunity where he will have the time to finish his own life’s work—a history of the antebellum South.  Because Dodd is neither rich nor socially worldly, he is shunned by the elitist corps at the U.S. State Department, a group of wealthy, basically isolationist, and essentially anti-Semitic men.  His work in Germany means nothing to them.  They don’t like him, and they work against him.  They are concerned only with receiving Germany's reparation money and turn a blind eye to everything else.

Dodd’s family accompanies him to Germany, and his daughter, Martha, a carefree, sexually liberated young woman sleeps with everyone from Thomas Wolfe to higher ups in the Nazi party.  She twitters like a schoolgirl when Hitler kisses her hand though in private Hitler disparages her and abhors her father.  

To save money, Dodd rents an elegant home across from the Tiergarten (literally Garden of Beasts) from a Jewish man whose family has fled the country.  The man believes that having an American in residence is a safeguard for him as Jewish persecution escalates.  He eventually brings his family back, and they occupy the upper floors.  Dodd is so ambivalent that he is annoyed at the man and considers instituting a landlord/tenant dispute.

Martha’s goal to become a journalist induces her to document her own life in detail, providing Erik Larson with a sweeping social view of the decadent and increasingly frightening world Germany became as Hitler and his cohorts consolidated their power and began their persecution not only of Jews but also of anyone who did not demonstrate support for him.  Germany mutates into a terrifying world, but Martha remains oblivious.

Martha and her father actually share a basic dislike for the Jews and concur with many of the stereotypes.  Hitler ratchets up his persecution, and it is not until well into his ambassadorship that Dodd finally awakens to the reality of the situation.  Dodd begins to recognize the horror primarily because Hitler’s henchmen attack Americans who do not give the “sieg heil” salute during parades.  As ambassador, Dodd is forced to intervene and deal directly with Hitler.  Made aware of Hitler’s persecution and intimidation, Dodd begins to notice more and more aggressive actions that belie Hitler’s talk of peace. 

With the course of history behind us, we know that the contemporary United States’ view of the Nazi world as a passing fad of adolescent antics headed by Hitler with his funny mustache, Goering with his enormous girth and outlandish costumes, and Himmler, transitioned from a poultry farmer to the SS commander and main architect of the Holocaust, seems impossible. But that is exactly how this gang was viewed until it was too late to stop them.  By then Dodd was exhausted and sick, disliked by the State Department, and not trusted by an unsympathetic President Roosevelt who would do nothing to jeopardize his New Deal.

Erik Larson’s saga is fascinating, heartbreaking, unemotional, and mystifying.  It reads like the political thriller that was Germany in the 1930s and demonstrates how quickly and completely a people can be influenced by the combination of a charismatic leader and intimidation by force.  It is a real life horror story that should not be missed.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Maid of the Mist in Springtime
Niagara Falls is beautiful in the Spring
This is the Maid of the Mist making her way to Canada's Horseshoe Falls

Monday, April 15, 2013


Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Could our search for Aruban cuisine driven me to drink?
 As you can tell from my posts on Aruba, it is not so easy to find purely Aruban anything because the culture is an eclectic fusion of all the cultures that have lived and worked in Aruba beginning with the Arawak tribe from South America. Finding an Aruban restaurant is a task, but after repeatedly asking the concierge, “Where would you go for dinner if you were looking for Aruban food?” we finally had a few choices.  The first, and absolutely the best, was Queen's Caribbean.

Why such difficulty in finding Aruban cuisine?  Aruba was part of the Netherlands until becoming an independent country  within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1996, so, of course Dutch influence is felt.  Located only 15 miles from Venezuela, Aruba is influenced by South American culture.  For a long while, oil refineries were the main industry bringing experts from around the world, and with them came their comfort foods.  American influence is a result of the burgeoning tourist industry.  That goes back to the mid 20th century when Aruba was “discovered” by Elizabeth Taylor & friends around the time their playground in Cuba ended with Fidel Castro.  The resulting mixture is quite delicious.

Someplace along the way, Queen's Caribbean found a way to offer the Aruban answer to that mix. Queen’s owner is Varella Inocencia, but it is her mother, Luisa who is the chef and Queen who created the restaurant and preserved the Aruban recipes that had been in her family for generations.  She learned her craft from her parents who were also Aruban restaurateurs.

Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
The Queen's Restaurant in its new location in Palm Beach Plaza
 The original Queen’s Bar and Restaurant was located in downtown Oranjestad where the cruise ships docked. On June 1, 2012, Queens relocated to Palm Beach Plaza within walking distance of all the high-rise hotels. Never fear, foodies.  Quality moved with them, and according to locals, the Aruban specialties cooked up in the old location are still on the menu here.

It’s a shame we couldn’t taste everything on the menu, but I will share dishes I highly recommend you try.  We had the assistance of our wonderful server, Melissa, who made the recommendations once we explained that we were hoping to sample.

All Rob and I can say is that we enjoyed some astonishing dishes as well as wonderfully personalized service in a sleek, modern environment.  Everything you would expect in a fine restaurant you will find at Queen's.

Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Aruban Pancakes and a wonderful sauce
 We began with very, very good Margaritas and Aruban Pancakes.  The pancakes were served with a spicy dipping sauce that mingled the tastes of hot peppers with chopped sweet onions in a vinegary brew.  Using our pretend Scoville Scale to measure the hotness of the peppers, I would say medium, but Rob would say low.  What that might mean is—don’t worry; be happy! 

Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Goat Stew in red wine and herbs---wonderful!
We really diverged in choosing our main courses.  Rob selected Cabrito di Cunuku which is stewed goat in red wine and local herbs.  To say he was delighted with this native dish is an understatement.  He sucked the marrow from the bones explaining that the marrow ”…is like a sponge in the meal that despite its own flavor it sucks in the flavor of the meal.  You should try it sometime.” 

Rob’s entrĂ©e was accompanied by a selection of fresh vegetables, fried plantain, a brown rice and raisin dish, and pan bati, a type of corn bread. 

I did sample the goat stew, and it was delicious.  The meat has the consistency of lamb, but the flavor is a bit more robust but not gamey. I was very surprised and very pleased with a dish I would not find at home.  That’s part of the adventure of traveling.

Aruba-Queen's RestaurantRob’s final word on Queen’s Cabrito di Cunuku: “If there’s only one thing to bring me back to Aruba, it would be this.”  Praise cannot get much better than that, but here’s a photo of the “remains.”  A picture says a thousand words!

Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
Kesha Jena--absolutely the best!

I chose another Aruban dish, Kesha Jena, a baked Dutch Gouda cheese shell stuffed with chicken, raisins, capers and cashews.  Yes, I chose something with more familiar ingredients, but the dish was something new and wonderful.  It was superb.  The melding of flavors and the rich, creamy Gouda cheese added that extra zing that highlighted this experience.

My dish was accompanied by white rice, fresh, steamed vegetables, fried plantain, and funchi (polenta). 

We were ready to sit back and relax with a cup of coffee and smile about our meal.  The coffee was extraordinary enough for me to ask the brand, and what I learned makes for an interesting tale of success when an opportunity is seized.

The extraordinary coffee was Smit & Dorlas. This company began as two separate Dutch companies formed in the early 19th century and did not combine until 1980.  In 1991, Smit & Dorlas opened an office in Aruba, a country not used to fresh roasted coffee; they used instant.  In ten years, in 2001, Smit & Dorlas opened its own building in Oranjestad.  The company’s employees are trained in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States, and Italy.  Smit & Dorlas Caribbean n.v. is now an independent company with Smith & Dorlas in the Netherlands as its main supplier. 

Aruba-Queen's Restaurant
and it tasted as good as it looks
Our wonderful culinary guide, Melissa, pointed out to us that we really HAD to have the flan for dessert.  How easily we capitulated!  We shared one dessert.  Queen’s’ flan is different from most we’ve had.  It is very substantial, not nearly as custardy as most flans.  It is closer to cheesecake.  It is delicious.  As with our other dishes, the flan was attractively presented and really, coupled with Smit & Dorlas coffee, topped off a delicious culinary journey. 

Make sure you have Queen's as a restaurant you want to visit.  You will have a wonderful evening.

PS  I've realized how many times I've used the word "wonderful" in this post.  It's not overuse; it's the perfect description for Queen's!

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Alaska greeenery
Some Alaskan scenery looks more like a painting than a photograph.  Isn't this magnificent?

Friday, April 05, 2013


Pelican in Florida
Read my next post and you'll see what this pelican is eying

Thursday, April 04, 2013


Florida's Sailfish Marina
A trolley carries customers around Palm Beach Shore and other hotels
One of the nicest Sunday brunches one can imagine is at the Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach Shores on Singer Island, Florida, a relatively well-kept secret and a lovely respite from the hustle and hubbub of the nearby communities of West Palm Beach and Jupiter just minutes away.

Sailfish Marina is a charming place located diagonally across from Peanut Island.  Boats enter through the inlet of the Lake Worth Lagoon separating Palm Beach from Singer Island.  The boats docked here are a show in themselves, big and beautiful.  Charters are available for fishing, and there is a “taxi” service across to Peanut Island, the artificial island created to serve as JFK’s headquarters and bunker during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  With the passing of time, this artificial reef has developed into a delightfully rewarding public park and off-the-beach snorkeling site.  Walk right into the water, and before you are knee deep, you can see the fish.  Don’t wear jewelry when you snorkel here as there are even barracudas—albeit small ones--who will be drawn to the sparkle. 

Florida's Sailfish Marina
You get to see some really big fish
 The Sailfish Marina boasts a “seawall aquarium.”  Walk along the edge of the walkway and see dozens of different kinds of fish of all sizes and colors, and if you care to, you can treat them to a meal.  They love to be fed.  Bring your own bread or purchase fish food from a machine.

Be on the lookout for pelicans, not that they are difficult to find.  They thrive at the Sailfish and perch on the pilings creating beautiful living sculptures.  If you catch it right, you will enjoy their unique performance when the fishermen come in and clean their catch at the long sheltered tables.  Those pelicans, very familiar with the routine, patiently wait as the fisherman skins and guts and filets his catch, throwing pieces here and there to his hungry, anxious, audience.
Florida's Sailfish Marina
The fisherman filets his catch in front of a waiting audience

Florida's Sailfish Marina
They are waiting for their share!

Florida's Sailfish Marina
They are ready to dive in too

Florida's Sailfish MarinaSunsets at the Sailfish Marina are times for celebrations, and each Thursday evening there is a Sunset Celebration with music and entertainment.  Local artisans show their creations, and everyone gets happy!  I never leave there empty-handed.

Florida's Sailfish Marina
Walking around on a Thursday night for
the Sunset Celebration

The Sailfish Marina’s restaurant is top notch.  On Thursday nights you’ll undoubtedly get a flashing beeper as you wait for your table, but you’ll be able to walk the whole length of the marina as you wait for the flashing lights to blink.

Writing about the restaurant brings me back to my original thought—Sunday brunch.  While you can order off the menu, the Sunday buffet is well worth the $19.95.  We had seats at the window walls.  In warmer weather the front window walls open totally to the water. 

Let me describe brunch buffet:

We begin with the freshest of fruit: beautifully arranged giant strawberries, sliced watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe and honeydew melons. 

Then we see platters of nicely rolled slices of nova salmon paired with capers, beautiful, ripe, sliced tomatoes (a special treat after what we get up North), and thinly sliced purple onions. 

Moving on we see heaps of herring covered in cream sauce loaded with onions. 

Covered servers contain mounds of freshly scrambled eggs all light and fluffy, bacon and sausages, waffles, fruit filled crepes, and sausage gravy—with a mound of fresh biscuits on the side (this is, after all, the South).

Cross to another section for bagels, cream cheese, English muffins, toast, and butter.  This is also the place for a selection of pastries.

Move a bit further, and order from the omelet station.  Anything you can think of that could possibly please your omelet palate is there for the asking.

The coffee is delicious.  The service friendly and prompt.  There’s no waiting for coffee refills, and as we’ve met my cousins for breakfast and are talking up a storm as we catch up with each other, no one rushes us.  This breakfast has become an annual Florida vacation reunion ritual for us, and we spend a long time enjoying the Sailfish Marina’s hospitality.

Rob and I make sure to get to at least on Thursday night Sunset Celebration.  We stroll along the seawall aquarium and watch the fish.  We feed them too.  We walk up and down the docks and wish we could have a boat “like that one.”  We buy some things from the artists.  We’ll have a wonderful fish dinner too.

If you are anywhere in the Palm Beach County vicinity, put the Sailfish Marina on your hit list.  You won’t regret it.