Category Archives: food

Spring Break Quarantine: Week 1

20200318_171023Although I have not traveled outside of the country, my famiy’s spring break trips have been canceled due to threat of the coronavirus. Since we’ve been stuck inside, I took to Facebook and started posted daily quarantine updates in a style I like to think mirrors a Jane Austen heroine.

What follows below are my famiy’s exploits from our first week in quarantine.

Day 1 of Spring Break under quarantine: The day dawned as usual, although it was with a heavy sigh that I lifted myself out of bed. Today I was supposed to embark on an adventure to a Magical Kingdom, but alas, I am relegated to spend the next month at home.

After a morning and afternoon spent trying to sort out various travel issues for my clientele, I was finally able to take a short repose in my favorite chair. I sent the children outdoors for a constitutional, hoping they would stave off cabin fever with a frolic in the snow. My youngest was delighted. My eldest is displaying his dissatisfaction by tossing snowballs at my window and glowering at me. I fear this will be the first of many withering looks in the weeks to come.

As food shortages have already begun at the local markets, I am baking bread.

I have finished reading the first of the novels I plan to read during this long spring. I have high hopes that all will be well.

 

20200315_144241Day 2 of Spring Break Quarantine: Everyone was beyond thrilled when I served bacon for breakfast, since breakfast is usually a rushed affair so that we can be on our way to school and to work.

As a family we took our first daily constitutional around the neighborhood. The wind was bracing and made me long for the tropical climate we were supposed to be experiencing as we toured the world in only a few hours thanks to the magic of Florida. But there is no use bemoaning what should have been. Jumping over mud puddles on our walks will have to suffice as our daily thrill rides.

Later I finished the second of the novels I brought home to read. I also made progress on two other heavier works of non-fiction.

In addition to our twice daily walks, I am also instituting a family game hour. My daughter chose Munchkin Shakespeare and although I should not take quite as much pleasure in this as I do, I trounced both of my children and more than my fair share of Elizabethean monsters.

Dinner was a hearty soup with some of the homemade bread from day before.

The children were enconsed in their beds with little fuss and I settled in to my favorite chair, blanket on my lap to play some virtual cards with dear friends.

 

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Day 3 of Spring Break Quarantine: Books are sustaining us through this long, cold, distance with others. I have finished the three of the books I brought home with me. My son has read twice that number. I fear he will soon run out. And with no libraries to sustain him, madness may set in soon….

I began cleaning our homestead. Although much was accomplished, my work was brought to an abrupt end when I found some mementos of my dear departed father and decided to seek solace under a warm blanket and Netflix.

Our morning constitutional was a success, but sadly as we headed out for our evening waltz around the neighborhood, a light drizzle began to fall and my children stubbornly refused to remain out of doors.

Despite the slight rain, spirits did improve with a delivery from Amazon which brought Nerf guns for my son. He is planning a full scale attack on his friends once this quarantine has been lifted. For now, he seems to be plotting against his sister. At the moment a peace holds, but I can’t help but wonder how long it will last.

 

20200318_103523Day 4 of Spring Break Quarantine: Cabin fever has suddenly set in. The day began with sibling squabbles which culminated in sibling shouting. It was truly much ado about nothing, but it is hard to reason with children in the throws of unreasonable anger.

Tempers cooled and clearer heads prevailed when a Lego challenge was issued. My son took up the gauntlet and created a new roller coaster for a theme park. My daughter created passengers for his ride. A small dose of teamwork brought them together.

Thankfully we were able to take more than just a turn around the room and actually escaped outside for our daily constitutionals. We desperately needed the fresh air and escape from the confines of our humble abode.

I was also able to finish my fourth novel of this quarantine and make impressive progress on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Sadly, I did not make as much progress on my Fast and Furious quest. This was due in part to the hour I spent in a Zoom meeting with the dearest companions of my heart. They lifted my weary spirits and made this time apart a bit more bearable.

20200318_171030Day 5 of Spring Break Quarantine: The weather foiled our attempts to get some fresh air. The rain came tumbling down upon us and drove us back indoors. Since it did not cease until after dinner, we were a bit more desolate than usual. The dreary day made our spirits even drearier.

Thankfully a delivery of food arrived from the local market, so I had some beautiful carrots and potatoes to accompany my roast. I also made some biscuits to round out the evening meal.

My daughter decided we needed a special project to busy ourselves, idle hands and all…so she suggested baking cookies. Sugar cookies were her choice so that we could make a thorough mess of the kitchen. They have special unicorn chips in them and are quite tasty. But now we have three dozen cookies and only four of us. Normally I would take these extra goodies into school to share with my students, but alas, since school is not in session and we are quarantined, we will have to put our best effort forward and make sure none of these precious morsels are wasted. In hindsight, I should have frozen half of the dough. Clearly I have not adjusted to this new world we find ourselves in.

My son found solace in his drawing lessons and my daughter in her music. I retreated into books again, and have finished my fifth book during this isolation.

20200319_164603Day 6 of Spring Break Quarantine: Today we actually left our home! What was originally supposed to be our day of rest in between two whirlwhind visits, first with family in the bustling city of Orlando, and then with friends in the quiet countryside of Athens, was instead the first day we’d left our neighborhood in nearly a week.

Fear not dear friends, our sojourn into the world did not put us at risk. We had to pick up some medicine from our local apothocary and also had to stop by the local market to acquire some additional ingredients for our meals. We did not actually venture in to either of these establishments, but waited for our items to be passed to us outside. We were back home in less than half an hour.

We were home in time to take our morning constitutional, which was much needed, especially when the rain picked up again and our evening one had to be forgotten.

After luncheon, we moved to the parlor where we wiled away the afternoon playing games the children invented, which were surprisingly amusing. Later, while the children played more games remotely with their cousins, I found even further entertainment from one of my favorite musical groups, The Indigo Girls. They had a concert in their parlor and invited the world to watch. I was so excited at how so many people who were so very far apart were brought together through the wonders of this modern age. My heart delighted in it and I may have danced in my kitchen.

20200320_105341Day 7 of Spring Break Quarantine: It’s been a week and the days are beginning to blend into one another.

One noticeable difference was that my husband was not needed in town until later in the day, so he spent the morning with us. The children were happy to have some time with their father, and disappointed he had to leave before our morning constitutional around the neighborhood. It was windy and the sky was overcast, but it was suprisingly warm. Although we wore our coats, we almost didn’t need them. It gave me hope that maybe we’d see the sun again soon. My spirits were further lifted when my daughter reached for my son’s hand and he actually let her take it for a few minutes as they walked.

Once home, we sat and wrote letters to some of our nearest and dearest. My daughter was excited to post hers, but was filled with grief when I informed her that her cousins would not get her letter or the game she sent them for several days.

Upon my husband’s arrival back home, we decided to play parlor games. My daugther chose Apples to Apples and we had a delightful time playing with words and clever turns of phrase. Once again, I won, much to my husband’s chagrin.

I was downtrodden when one of the avocados was completely spoiled, but still managed to produce a passable guacamole that my family loved with the remaining fruits. It complemented the tacos perfectly. Even during a pandemic, it is hard to complain when there are tacos.

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Royal Caribbean: Brilliance of the Seas Minstrel Dining Room

20191231_181140With four children, three of whom were hungry, restless almost teenage boys, we knew the Windjammer Cafe buffet was going to be our main source of food on our cruise. But since we were celebrating not only New Year’s Eve, but also a birthday, we wanted to make at least a few nights a bit fancy by eating in the Minstrel Dining Room.

At first our boys were a little reluctant, until we mentioned that while it might not be a seemingly never ending buffet, they could order more than one appetizer, dessert, and even main dish if they wanted to. And of course, they did!

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On this cruise, my son was about two months shy of his 13th birthday and very tired of ordering off of children’s menus. He’s a very adventurous eater and always wants to try exotic things on menus. Unfortunately, those things are often some of the most expensive on the menu, so he’s been relegated to standard kid’s fair for most of his life. Granted, we do take him to some awesome places that have amazing kids menus, including one that will make junior portions of any regular entree at half price, but for the most part he’s been relegated to hamburgers, pizza, and chicken fingers for a large portion of his restaurant life.

So the chance to order whatever he wanted was pretty much his idea of Nirvana! He salavated over choices of steak, lobster, salmon, Beef Wellington, various tartlets, and escargot. And yes, he did get escargot as ONE Of his appetizers during one of our dining room meals.

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The first night he got salmon (one of his favorite foods) and loved it. The next time when we went to the dining room and he had a choice, he really wanted the salmon again, but he also wanted to try some steak. So we told him what the heck, have them both. He did…and ate every single bite of each meal.

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Thankfully the portions in the dining room are not huge. Even I found myself torn between two appetizers, but didn’t feel bad about ordering both as I knew the portions would be reasonable. In fact, our first night in the dining room I not only got a tasty pumpkin soup, but also an order of calamari. In fact, everyone in my family got calamari and my son got escargot and calamari.

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My absolute favorite appetizer was a slice of brie, which was lightly breaded and fried and served with a delicious raspberry compote. It was the perfect blend of salty and sweet. My son also got that one, along with a shrimp cup.

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My brother-in-law and I were thrilled when one night they offered a caprese salad as an appetizer. It was light, refreshing and tasty! Then again, I am always a sucker for a caprese anything.

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I was a bit wary of ordering the lobster dinner on New Year’s. It’s so easy to overcook lobster and I figured so many people on the ship would be ordering it in celebration that it might be quite overdone. My worries were completely unfounded. My lobster was perfect. My son was thrilled that he got one of his very own instead of just a small bite of mine per our usual routine.

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My favorite meal was the steak with a mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus. The beef was perfectly cooked and the mushroom sauce was light but rich. I could have used a few more stalks of asparagus, but it was otherwise delicious.

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Of course, dessert was a highlight for all of us. I think my favorite one was an apple pie blossom with vanilla ice cream. Interestingly, it was the same exact one I get at a local restaurant (clearly a food service type dish), but I just love them so much that I didn’t even care.

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My son was super excited about trying Baked Alaska. I am not a meringue fan, so I didn’t try this one, but he said it was fantastic.

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My daughter was excited about her banana split, even if she didn’t eat the banana! She really just wanted the ice cream, but her brother was fine with that as he got to eat her ice cream tinged bananas!

My nephews were all about the lava cake with ice cream. I got it too and was happy that the cake was moist and just warm enough to get the ice cream melting.

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My husband was all about the creme brulee. He also really loved the apple blossom with ice cream and ordered it twice in the dining room.

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The only dessert I was not overly fond of was the peach shortcake parfait. The description sounded great, but it was mostly air and not much flavor. There was a ton of whipped cream-like topping and a tiny piece of sponge cake in there, but there wasn’t much peach to speak of.

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Still, one mediocre dessert compared to a whole bunch of yummy appetizers, main dishes, and actually brilliant desserts is not something to complain about. While I wouldn’t want to miss out on all the AMAZING Indian food at the Windjammer Cafe buffet, I am glad we ate a few meals in the main dining room. The kids had a blast, got to try lots of new food, and we all got to be a bit fancy!

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Royal Caribbean Cruises: El Mirador, Cozumel

20191231_140537I am not sure there is much that outshines the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean sea. I love looking out at the gradations of blue as the water stretches out to the horizon. It is peaceful and idyllic. It seems too beautiful to be real.

The Brilliance of the Seas, my Royal Caribbean cruise ship, docked in Cozumel on the morning of New Year’s Eve. The weather was a sunny 85 degrees and the wind was gentle and not really cooling unless you were standing in the shade. We had booked an excursion to visit the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio and the Mayan Cacao Company, but did not realize our tour would include a drive around nearly all of the island and include a stop at a beach where we’d get to see the Caribbean Sea.

When Edwin, our absolutely delightful guide mentioned the stop, we were pretty excited. We’d gotten to swim with dolphins in Grand Cayman, but had only glimpsed the water from the dolphin place.

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We stopped at El Mirador (The Looking Glass). Although it was clearly a place that gets thousands of tourists each year, it wasn’t a typical tourist beach. The sands weren’t pristinely white and it was not littered with umbrellas and people sunning themselves. What made this beach so spectacular was the intricate coral rock that has been formed into a bridge of sorts.

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While anyone can run into the water and frolic, one of the coolest things to do is climb the coral rock because there is an outstanding view from the top. It is a bit dangerous as that coral is jagged and if you fall, it will cut you. Edwin warned us to be careful. I didn’t let my kids climb on it. While I wouldn’t say I struggled, it was not an overly easy climb. Like any other type of coral, it is porous and there are a lot of cracks and crevices. It’s very easy for feet to get stuck or people to trip.

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But, if you make it up, it is a wonder to behold.

 

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El Mirador also has a few fun little shops and a place to get a tropical drink in a coconut shell. I was tempted to get one, but we had to get back in the van soon and I was worried I’d spill it. Since I ended up getting a chocolate daiquiriat the Mayan Cacao Company, this ended up being a good call.

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If you are in Cozumel and looking for something fun to do, I HIGHLY suggest checking out El Mirador.

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Royal Caribbean Cruises: Mayan Cacoa Company Excursion

20191231_143345-1In my last blog, I wrote about our fantastic shore excursion to the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio in Cozumel, Mexico. While I loved exploring the ruins and got some amazing pictures, for me the highlight of the trip was our stop at the Mayan Cacao Company. There were a couple different shore excursions coupled with the ruins and when I saw this one that also included a chocolate tour…I was hooked. History and chocolate? Take my money and sign me up!

The Mayan Cacao Company is clearly a happening place to be. It was hoppin! I think half the island may have been there when we arrived, but our amazing guide Edwin got us right on a guided tour of the operation. It began in a room (which was thankfully air conditioned after our rather sweaty time at the ruins) dedicated to the history of chocolate. There were some replicas of Mayan statues, actual cacao pods for us to smell, written and pictorial explanations of the history and chocolate making process and some small artifacts from early chocolate making. Our tour guide gave us about a five minute talk on the cultural significance of early chocolate making.

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Next, we headed down a shaded path, where a beautiful red parrot sat squawking at us. Our guide led us to a thatched hut-like building where people were making a chocolate based mole sauce for us to try. We learned about the process and the importance of mole in Mexican cooking and then got to try a small corn tortilla with the homemade mole on it. Although only the briefest whispers of cocoa were present, I thought it was quite tasty. My husband and son both loved it too. My daughter, the insanely picky eater took a bite, made a face, and handed it over to me. Her brother was eyeing the extra portion so I gave it to him.

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We continued to wind down the path and our guide stopped to show us some cacao trees and explain how they are nurtured and cultivated. She also showed us actual cacao pods on the trees and explained a bit about how they are harvested.

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Along the path we passed another gorgeous parrot. This guy was green and even more talkative. I’m not much of a bird fan, but after their earlier interaction with parrots (they got to hold and play with one), they wanted to stop and talk to these birds too. I took pictures, which was really pretty brave of me!

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The next stop on our tour was the demonstration room. As we shuffled inside, we were handed a little wooden spoon with some not quite liquid, not quite solid chocolate on it. Our presenter explained that it was fresh chocolate which had just been made during the last demonstration. It was DELICIOUS! My daughter, who at least loves pretty much all things sweet, devoured that sample, which was a shame because I definitely wanted another one!

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The demonstration was really pretty cool…and not just because we were in another wonderfully air-conditioned spot. The presentation was about 10 minutes long and explained the entire chocolate making process. The Mayan Cacao Company is true to its roots and at least the initial process hasn’t changed in centuries. Unlike the Mayans though, now the cacao is served in delicious bar form and not as a very watery, very bitter unsugared drink. As we watched, he pounded and ground the spices together to make the samples of chocolate for the next group.

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After the presentation (you can watch thefull version here), we got a chance to try the original Mayan cacao drink if we wanted. Of course my husband, son, and I grabbed some. There was a little station where guests could add some spices like cinnamon to the drink. Man, it was bitter! I cannot believe people actually enjoyed it at all. But I drank it up, even if it made me grimace a bit.

Luckily right next to that cacao station was a bar with frozen chocolate drinks for sale! I guess they also served non-chocolate drinks, but why bother? My sister, husband, and I each grabbed one. Although they all looked pretty much the same, we each tried a different flavor of liquor! I got a chocolate daiquiri, my sister got a chocolate margarita, and my husband got a mud slide. Of course we had to taste each other’s drinks! I think I liked the mud slide the best, but my daiquiri was pretty good. The drinks were made with HUGE chunks of the Mayan Cacao Company’s chocolate. My only complaint is that the chunks did not get blended enough so the bottom of my cup was basically a solid chunk of chocolate.

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As with pretty much every tour I’ve ever been on, it ended in a gift shop. And this was a glorious gift shop! They had samples of each and every one of their chocolate bars (about two dozen). They also had samples of some of their jams. Of course we had to try them all. I was surprised by how much I actually liked their dark chocolate. I don’t know if I’m just slowly becoming a dark chocolate convert or if theirs is just really good, but most of my favorite ones were dark chocolate! However, I ended up buying my favorite bar which was milk chocolate with cranberries, almonds, and grapes. My kids got the milk chocolate and hazelnut bar to share, although they had a hard time agreeing on one bar. My daughter thought they should probably sample all of them twice, but I made her commit to a bar after only one round of sampling!

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As a chocoholic, it’s no surprise that I loved this part of the excursion. If we ever find ourselves back in Cozumel (fingers crossed), I definitely plan to stop by again. If you are cruising the Caribbean and get a chance to stop in at the Mayan Cacao Company, it is a must visit!

 

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Royal Caribbean Cruises: Mayan Ruins at San Gervasio

20191231_123858I’m a sucker for history. I always have been. Not in a “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can” sort of Great Gatsby way. I’m more of a let’s learn all about the past so that we can actually learn from it and also keep a portion of it alive sort of girl. When I was a kid and we went to DC, I was mesmerized by Ford’s Theater and later Gettysburg, even though I am profoundly anti-violence and anti-war. Even as an adult when I found myself visiting a friend in DC and realized he lived a few blocks from Ford’s Theater, I dragged my best friend who was visiting with me over for a tour.

So when we were considering shore excursions on our most recent Royal Caribbean Cruise, I really wanted to visit Mayan ruins during our time in Cozumel. I visited different Mayan ruins on my honeymoon cruise and found them beautiful and fascinating. When I found out that we could explore the ones at San Gervasio on this trip, I definitely wanted my kids to be able to see them. It didn’t hurt that the trip to the ruins was combined with a stop at the Mayan Cacao Company.

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We got off the ship and headed down to find our guide. His name was Edwin and he was spectacular! Since not only lives in Cozumel but also works in the archeology department at one of the colleges, he was full of great information. He was also funny and just so nice! We all loved him, which was good since we spent about 3 hours with him.

To get to the ruins we went on a scenic drive which took about 20 minutes. I’m not sure if it was the most direct path to get there, but it did allow Edwin to tell us quite a bit about life in Cozumel. I had no idea that basically everything in Cozumel has to be shipped in from the mainland and that tourism is basically the only industry on the island. I was also amazed that such a small island (you can drive from tip to tail in about an hour) has three universities/colleges. Even more amazing is how much of the island is uninhabited because it is covered by lush mangrove forests. There are parts of the island that humans aren’t allowed on and that is pretty cool.

We arrived at San Gervasio, which didn’t initially look like much. Edwin gave us our tickets and we headed in. There is a very pretty little courtyard at the entrance. There are some fountains, a small restaurant and a few shops selling mostly jewelry and native crafts. Edwin was leading our tour and wanted to get us in before larger tour groups came through, so there wasn’t really a chance to look around. He did point out the people offering to spray visitors with bug spray for $1 each. I thought this was a bit strange…until I got into the ruins and got more than my share of bug bites. We went in December when Edwin said the bugs weren’t too bad. I cannot imagine what it would have been like had it been June! If you ever visit the ruins, either bring bug spray OR pay the $1. It would have been money well spent and it is my only regret from my day in Cozumel.

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The ruins themselves are interesting. They aren’t as complete or elaborate as the other ruins I visited in Mexico, but this was a much smaller Mayan settlement, so that makes sense. We did see what would have been the king’s palace, the well where their water came from, the altar, the plaza, the big house, the arch, the small house, and the tall house. Of course, we only got to see a portion of the actual ruins. There are actually four “districts” that the ruins are in and only portions of one of the districts is open to the public. The ruins are also part of a wildlife sanctuary and full of iguanas and other lizards. We saw tons of small lizards roaming around the ruins.

You can watch a video of our exploration here.

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My favorite part of the ruins was a structure that I think is referred to as the Murals because it used to have murals decorating its walls. Although these are no longer visible, what I liked was the really cool tree that is growing up through the stone and has burst through the thatched roof overhead. There is just something so beautiful about nature reclaiming something man made.

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I also really like the Las Manitas, which was the residence of the Mayan ruler. It gets its name from the red handprints that are visible on the back wall of the structure. Originally it was an outer room that served as the ruler’s home and an inner sanctum reserved for his personal shrine. Visitors can still make out the two different areas and it’s pretty cool.

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Another really cool part of the ruins is the original stone road that runs through it. Edwin told us that the road actually many miles not only through all of the ruins, but out into the city itself. Apparently it is about 12 miles long and there are people who try to follow it (and sometimes get lost) every year.

We also learned some cool information about why the steps on the altar are so skinny. It’s not that people’s feet used to be smaller. You were not meant to walk up the steps the way we walk up them–forward facing the top of the altar and our back toward the space we left. Instead, you were supposed to walk up them sideways (and at an angle) so that you would always be facing where you were going as well as never turning your back on where you’d been. For the Mayans, it was a sign of respect. When walked the correct way, one foot perfectly fits the steps.

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Despite visiting during the “cold” season, it was still in the mid-80’s and since the ruins are largely unshaded, it was hot! We were all withering a bit by the end. Thankfully we got a bit of time at the end to explore the shops. The older I get, the less I want to fill my house with little objects de art, so I don’t really buy souvenirs much. I skipped the stores and went straight for the small restaurant. I needed some more bottled water (we’d exhausted the two bottles we brought in with us). On our arrival, Edwin had mentioned that if we were looking for some authentic Mexican tacos that the restaurant’s were great.

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Now, it wasn’t much of a restaurant. It was open-air with a roof to shade the five or six tables, cooler with drinks, and small counter to order from. There were only two people working. One took orders and one made tacos on a small griddle-like cooking service right behind the counter. The choice was chicken, pork, or the special. I figured I had to go for the special. It turned out to be a combo of egg and pork with some pico-like veggies on top. You could get one taco or three. My son and I were the only adventurous ones in our group. I added some of the green tomatillo sauce to mine and he ate his two just the way they came. They were absolutely delicious and if you get a chance to visit San Gervasio, I suggest you try them.

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Heat and bugs aside, this was a great excursion and I cannot recommend it enough. My family learned so much, we got some wonderful pictures, and got to try some truly delicious food.

Oh, and while I was in the restroom, the rest of my family ran into a man with a GIANT bird who was offering to let people take pictures with it for a small fee. Both of my kids had to do it, so my husband paid the fee and our kids got to play with the bird. I am not really a bird fan, but my kids adored it and love to talk about their friend the parrot.

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If you are looking for a truly fantastic shore excursion in Cozumel, I highly recommend the Mayan ruins and Mayan Cacao Company combination.

 

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Royal Caribbean Cruises: Briliance of the Seas Windjammer Cafe

20191228_120846When I told my nine year old daughter that we were going on a cruise, she cried. They were not tears of joy.

She’d been on a cruise once before when she was 5 and had a pretty scary experience. We were at the pool enjoying our very first few hours at sea when a boy much larger than she was ran on the small inch deep section she’d been playing in, and knocked her over into a deeper part of the pool. If this image is hard to picture (because it is definitely hard to explain), the picture below shows the different depths of the pool. Luckily I was right there, jumped in, and saved her. But still, she had horrible memories of it and did NOT want to go on another cruise. There were tears, there were protests. It was initially pretty awful.

20191228_164226So I slowly started reminding her of all the good, not scary parts of a cruise. I think it was when I said the magic word–BUFFET–that she stopped her tears.

My kids both ADORE buffets. They beg and plead for them. I am not really a fan, but my daughter, who has some major texture issues and is a rather picky eater, loves them. I think it’s mostly a chance to find foods she feels completely comfortable with and definitely knows. The rest of us are rather adventurous eaters and love Indian, Thai, and Cajun food, all of which she despises. But a buffet means everyone will be happy, right?

So, when I told her that she could eat several of her meals not only with her cousins (who she adores), but also at a buffet, she was suddenly delighted. I’m the opposite. The older I get, the less enamored of buffets I am. With the exception of The Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, as an adult, I have never been to a buffet that has blown me away.

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And I was not blown away by The Windjammer Cafe on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. Breakfast had pretty standard breakfast fair. There were made to order omelette stations, which I skipped because I did not want to wait in the daily lines. There was also just about every form of breakfast meat available. There were biscuits and gravy (with very bland gravy), grits (which were even blander), and several different ways to eat eggs. There were several dozen different types of breads and pastries. My daughter was THRILLED that there were donuts. When I told her she couldn’t have one because she’d had one the morning before, she was quite upset. But then she found out they had pancakes and a topping bar with chocolate sauce, so she thwarted my attempt to get her to eat something healthy by getting two of those. There were also several types of cereal and yogurts. My personal breakfast favorite (aside from the bacon) were these little yogurt, fruit and granola parfaits. I ate one every day. They were super tasty and very impressive.

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For the most part it was like every other decent, but not exciting breakfast buffet I’ve ever been to. In all fairness, I’m not much of a breakfast fan, so I was bound to be underwhelmed. My kids, gave it two thumbs up for breakfast.

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Lunch was a bit more my speed. There were a variety of sandwiches and chicken, tuna, and egg salad to make my own. There were also a lot of different cold salads. I’m always a huge fan of those. Sadly, they only had the delicious chickpea salad on the first day of the cruise. If I had known that I would have had more of it. I appreciated the traditional salad bar as well as it helped me feel I could offset some of the unhealthier options. One thing I noticed was a lack of cooked veggies, so it was nice to always have salad options. There wasn’t much variety of fruit, but if you like melon and pineapple, this buffet will be heaven. My kids were happy that they could get burgers, hot dogs, and pizza every day for lunch. Since my daughter would pretty much live on pizza and hot dogs if I let her, she was thrilled. She was also thrilled with the dessert table at lunch. She loved having access to the ice cream machine, cookies, cakes, jello and fun parfait creations. My favorite thing about lunch was the chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve. I have always been a sucker for a swirled cone!

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One big draw of cruises is having dinner in the formal dining room. It’s fun to get a little dressed up and order fancy meals and desserts. We did eat three of our meals in the fancy dining room, but dinner was actually when the buffet had the biggest draw for us: Indian food. Oh my goodness…this cruise had some fantastic Indian food. Every night there were at least two different offerings, one with meat and one vegetarian as well as either roti or papadums. I think I may have eaten my weight in papadums over the course of the cruise. I tried every single Indian dish they offered in the Windjammer and there wasn’t one I didn’t LOVE.

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After spending the day at Grand Cayman, the feature at the buffet was Caribbean and Indian cuisine. That night there were four different Indian offerings as well as Jamaican meat patties, fried plantains, and jerk chicken. It was, without a doubt, the best food I had on the cruise. I could have eaten it every single night and been blissfully happy. My mom, husband, and son who also love Indian food agreed. It was spiced perfectly. I had been worried that since it was being mass produced for a cruise that the flavors would have been dulled down to suit all taste buds, but that was not the case. It was spicy and flavorful and amazing! I definitely needed some extra water that night.

Indian food

For those who needed some milder dishes (like my nephews and daughter), there were still some great offerings at dinner. Every night there were a couple of different chicken and pasta dishes. There was always a carving station with roast beef, ham or chicken ready to be served. Just like lunch, there were two different salad bars, and tons of different  rolls. One of my personal favorite items was the steak, pork chops, and chicken they had cooked to order. I wanted a steak one night, so I walked up to the counter and ordered it medium well. It was done in a few minutes and it was tasty. Every night they had made to order options. One night they had a stir-fry option. One night it was a make your own pizza option. The night we were in Cozumel The Windjammer Cafe had a Mexican fiesta, but since it was New Year’s Eve, we decided to eat in the formal dining room to celebrate. I am still a bit sorry we missed this night as Mexican food is my favorite.

And of course, my favorite part of any meal is dessert. Like most buffets, dessert can be hit or miss. They often look much better than they taste. But let’s face it, it’s easy to make desserts look good. The plate below is a perfect example. And yes, I did try some of all four. The pecan pie and coconut cookie were just ok. Nothing special. I only had about two bites of each. But, the lemon meringue pie and the sugar free chocolate mousse were fantastic! I actually hate meringue, but this one was delicious. It wasn’t the stiff meringue I’m used to, so my guess is that it was some sort of hybrid recipe, but even as full as I was, I could have eaten a dozen of these. The lemon was so tart that it made the back of my mouth water a bit, just like I like it. And despite being a no sugar added dessert, that dark chocolate mousse was delish! I also had an insanely good chocolate cherry parfait dessert one night, but sadly the picture did not turn out very well.

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One of my favorite things about the Windjammer was the different seating options. Because it was pretty crowded in the morning, we often found ourselves eating in the outdoor section of the restaurant, which was right at the back of the ship. We had some lovely ocean views and breezes as we dined. I also like the veranda area which is still air-conditioned, but set off and a bit quieter. Since the walls are floor to ceiling windows, there were lovely views while we ate. We found ourselves sitting by windows several times, and it just added to the relaxing vacation vibe I wanted.

While The Windjammer Cafe may not be the most impressive buffet I’ve ever eaten at, it was pretty good. I would definitely suggest the formal dining room for breakfast (eggs Benedict!), but it was great for a light lunch and the Indian and Caribbean food at dinner blew me away. It may be a few more years until we find ourselves traveling the high seas again, but after this experience, I know it will be far easier to get my daughter on board!

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Travel Tuesday: The Extras at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

20191007_114824-1Today is the last in my series of posts about Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. It’s been fun writing these posts because I’ve gotten to relive a really amazing trip. I’ve stayed at four different Disney resorts and so far the Polynesian is definitely my favorite. That doesn’t mean I’m not up for staying at every single other resort on Disney property. In fact, that is one of my goals. But for now, I love the atmosphere, luxury, and proximity of the Polynesian.

And all the extras are pretty cool. Since I’ve already talked about the pool cabanas, rooms, food, and first impressions, I figured I should spend some time on the little extras I noticed at the Polynesian that make it so special.

20191007_105806First off for families is Lilo’s Playhouse. Mom and Dad need a little alone time? Much like on Disney cruises, Lilo’s Playhouse is a clubhouse of sorts where children are supervised and have a plethora of activities to choose from. Unlike the cruises, there is a fee involved with taking kids to Lilo’s Playhouse, but it’s a great way for kids to be social and have fun while Mom and Dad get a little time to themselves on vacation. Although any resort guest can use Lilo’s Playhouse, since it’s on the grounds of the Polynesian, guests staying there don’t have the extra hassle of transportation to get there.

20191007_105525Want to host your own family luau? Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has you covered. Or at least has a great grilling area for families who might want to stay in and cook out. The substantial grills and covered picnic table area make this a fun way for families who want to spend a day hanging out at the resort to have a meal together. And since there are several grocery delivery options available to Disney guests, all food items can even be delivered for the cook out!

20191007_110353And speaking of food, in addition to a fantastic character buffet, ‘Ohana, fantastic small plates at Trader Sam’s Grotto Grog, yummy breakfast at Kona Cafe, and Disney’s Spirit of Aloha dinner show, the Polynesian also has Pineapple Lanai, a place to get Dole Whip with and without booze right at the resort. We didn’t visit the Magic Kingdom on this trip, but I still got my Dole Whip! Actually, I got a lime Dole Whip and then a Lime Dole Whip margarita. Both were amazing, but I might have liked the margarita version just a bit more!

20191007_104956Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is also one of the only resorts with an actual beach on the property. There are lounge chairs set out and a really comfy swing which seats two adults and is a great place to watch the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom AND the Electric Water Pageant at the Seven Seas Lagoon (watch the video on Youtube). We didn’t get to the beach quite early enough to get chairs, but we were able to snag a seat on the swing and watch the fireworks right over the bungalows which sit out on the water. From the Seven Seas Lagoon, guests can also go on fishing excursions and boat rides around the lagoon.

Like all Disney resorts, it hosts movies under the stars. And like all Moderate and Deluxe resorts, it offers campfires with stories and marshmallows for roasting. Oh, and there are bungalows guests can rent, which can accommodate families of up to 8 people and have full kitchens, separate bedrooms, and a plunge pool.

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is definitely my recommendation for a Deluxe resort at Disney World. I loved every minute of our stay there and look forward to going back to visit.

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Munchie Monday: The best Godiva ever

Godiva cranberryIt seems that whenever I fall in love with a piece of Godiva chocolate, they discontinue it. Well, not discontinue per say, but remove it from the case where I can buy individual pieces (or maybe a dozen). Sure, Godiva gift boxes are great and if someone wants to get me one, I’ll accept it and be beyond thankful for it, but I prefer to make my own little gift boxes with my favorite chocolates. Who wouldn’t?

Which is exactly why I was miserable when Godiva took my absolute favorite chocolate ever, the raspberry cordial, out of the case. I loved it so much that I even bought the chocolate assortments it would show up in, and suffer through the far inferior cherry cordial to get it. But then, even that disappeared. It has been years and I still miss that cordial. DeBrand’s has a piece that is similar and I’ll admit I shop at DeBrand’s way more often than Godiva now as a result.

Because I love all things tart, my second favorite piece at Godiva was the holiday cranberry truffle. I’d wait all year for it to come out, go to the store and buy a dozen or so each holiday season. It couldn’t replace the raspberry cordial, but it was a solid backup.

And then they pulled it from the cases too. It’s like Godiva has some sort of strange vendetta against me and wants me to be unhappy. Thankfully, it is still available in the holiday collection, so I can still get it. However, now I get one each holiday season, which breaks my heart.

20191222_190606The truffle itself is a masterpiece. Even though it is wrapped in dark chocolate, which I am not a huge fan of, the fact that it is paired with this perfect, crisp, tart center, makes the dark chocolate the perfect mix. This fantabulous center would wither inside milk chocolate. The center has that perfect cranberry bite. It’s just fruity enough to make it pleasant, but tart enough to make my mouth water a bit. It reminds me a bit of the cranberries in the cranberry apple crisp I make. The perfect blend of sugar and tart.

I can’t see a way this  truffle could be better. Unless Godiva came to their senses and started putting it back in the case. Each holiday season I hurry in to my local Godiva boutique in hopes they’ve come to their senses. And each year I am disappointed and leave with a holiday box like this one and nothing else.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 7/10 (when it was sold in the case it had a fantastic bit of cranberry sugar on it.
Value: 2/10–if I could buy these on their own, the value would be 10/10, but they came in a “Limited Edition Holiday Collection: which had four truffles available all year round and only two “holiday” truffles. I didn’t want the other ones, so I was NOT happy about the price I paid.

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Disney’s Polynesian Resort: Pool cabanas

20191009_162339When I suggested to my mom and sister that we take a girl’s trip to Disney World, I knew I was going to be doing the planning. Of course, I don’t mind this at all as I LOVE planning Disney trips. I also knew where I wanted to stay: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Now, it didn’t take much to convince my mom that this would be a great choice for us. When I mentioned that we’d be able to ride the Monorail straight from our hotel to the Ticket and Transportation Center and then quickly switch to the Epcot Monorail, she was pretty much sold.

But, when I mentioned that we could rent a pool cabana at the resort and just hang by the pool while a cabana attendant brought us all the food and drinks we wanted, she was sold.

All of the Deluxe Resorts at Disney have cabanas for rent. While the cabanas at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa are a bit swankier-they include TV’s, Bluetooth speakers, mini fridges with water and soda, and fruit/snack baskets–they are also quite a bit more expensive–ranging from $99-$249 depending on season and rental length.

20191009_160709Regardless of which Deluxe resort you pick, cabanas are available from 10 am-7pm or you can do half day rentals from 10am-2pm or 3pm-7pm. We decided we wanted a leisurely morning, so we opted for a half day rental from 3-7. During the first week of October, it only cost us $35. Sure, we had no TV, fruit basket or fridge, but we got to lounge by the pool in VERY comfy chairs and have a dedicated cabana attendant bring us whatever we wanted from the menu (which we paid for).

20191009_160752ThePolynesian has three cabanas located at the much quieter Oasis Pool, which I have to say was super relaxing. During the four hours we spent in our cabana, one of the other cabanas was in use (although they left about an hour before the rental was up), and maybe a dozen other people were in and out of the pool at various times. There were four kids there in those four hours and they were younger kids who were pretty quiet. Not that I have anything against kids being loud at a pool. It’s a pool. I expected crazy hijinx and kids laughing and splashing, but it really didn’t happen. People with kids were enjoying the Lava pool with its cool volcano water slide and super spiffy kids water treehouse-type area.

The weather was a bit cooler on our pool day, highs only reached about 76, so we didn’t really venture into the water. That didn’t stop us from having fun though. We spent our time trying various drinks, snacking on wonton chips, and just talking. As much as I love all that the Disney parks have to offer, I think it is essential to have some down time outside the parks. Every good Disney trip needs a day right smack in the middle where everyone can leisurely move through their day and just enjoy time being together without any lines or rushing to meet a Fast Pass deadline.

20191009_162921The drinks we had were AMAZING! I cannot rave enough about my frozen margarita with Dole Whip lime. The drink alone would have been worth it, but I flipped over the chili lime salt on the rim. I loved it so much that I searched it out at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I found a packet of it, scooped it up, and brought it home for drinks at home. Incidentally, I also used it to season my pumpkin seeds this year and it was life changing! My sister’s blueberry lemonade (with vodka) was a close second. Of course, my mom’s Frosty Pineapple, which was Dole Whip and rum was tasty too. I was not as enamored of my second drink, a cucumber and mint vojito (a fun spin on a mojito with vodka instead), but honestly, anything after that Dole Whip lime margarita was gonna be a let down.

20191009_171308My mom has decided that we are now cabana people and any time I suggest going somewhere beachy–we are always planning our next trip–she immediately asks if there are cabanas available. She just doesn’t think that she can go back to a life where she doesn’t lounge while people bring her frosty tropical drinks. I can’t disagree.

Even if I was staying at one of the other Deluxe resorts, I would pay the $99 for a half day rental. The cabana was a lovely way to relax and recoup after a long day of traveling followed by an even longer day at Epcot. Plus, it helped us reset and prepare for the longest day of our trip: Epcot with the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party.

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Munchie Monday: Godiva Bundt Cake Collection

20191201_142644Any time Godiva has something new, I have to try it. They may have been beaten out by DeBrand’s as my favorite place to shop for chocolate, but I still have some serious brand loyalty. The problem, is that recently I have not been impressed with their new offerings. The old standards are still fantastic. I am not sure there is a better truffle than their holiday cranberry truffle. I am still angry that they no longer offer it directly out of the case. As it is, every year they sucker me into buying a holiday truffle sampler so that I can get it. That may seem smart on their part, but I buy one sampler and I would easily buy a few dozen. I love it that much. So really, they are losing out on mega profits, just from me!

So, when I walked in to Godiva and saw the Bundt Cake collection, I was definitely excited. Thanks to the opening of Nothing Bundt Cakes, I’ve had a resurgence in my love for all things bundt (I went through a phase about 8 years ago where I was always making bundt cakes). I was also skeptical. I wanted to like them, just like I’ve wanted to like all of their special collections. This blog, however, is a history of mostly failed special Godiva collection pieces.

But, ever the chocophile/glutton for punishment, I bought three of the six pieces in the collection. Since I am not a huge dark chocolate fan, I skipped all three of them: dark chocolate ganache, dark chocolate orange, and dark chocolate salted caramel. I almost went for the salted caramel, but I’ve been burned by dark chocolate varieties of this so often that I stuck with the milk and white chocolate pieces.

Godiva almond bundtFirst up was the milk chocolate almond bundt cake. I was very pleasantly surprised. The filling was on the drier, crumbly side, much like their almond butter truffle, but despite that texture, it was amazingly creamy. It tasted a little more hazelnut than almond, but I think that’s true of most nutty pieces Godiva produces. Like all things Euroopean, they love their hazelnut. Adding to the nuttiness of this piece were the crisped rice pieces embedded in it. It was odd because even though I knew they were rice, they somehow reminded me of the crunch of nuts and deepened the nutty flavor. This one was quite tasty and I was encouraged.

Next up was the white chocolate cinnamon pecan bundt cake. Although the inside flavorGodiva cinnamon bundt sounded appealing, lately Godiva and I have not been seeing eye to eye on their white chocolate. Ok, that’s not quite fair, as a whole I have lost my enthusiasm for white chocolate. It tends to leave behind a grainy, film in my tongue that just bothers me. I was sure this would be my least favorite…but it turns out I was wrong. This one was my absolute favorite. It was simply fantastic! It was creamy without any of that white chocolate film. The filling in this one was less crumbly than the almond one and a bit more like most of their non-liquid fillings in their truffles–softer, but not runny. I loved the subtle crunch of the pecans in the filling. The cinnamon came in at the of the bite, giving it a warm feeling. I was reminded of sitting next to a fire on a cold winter day, eating those candied roasted pecans that are sold at winter farmer’s markets. YUM!

Godiva coconut bundtI finished off this grouping with the milk chocolate coconut bundt cake. I was most excited by this one and sadly, most disappointed in it. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I actually did, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. I wanted it to be more coconutty. I could taste the coconut, but it seemed like an afterthought, not the star. The inside of this piece was not the liquid filling of a raspberry cordial (my favorite candy from Godiva), but it was definitely closer to liquid than solid. Texture wise it’s similar to the one inside their coconut truffle (which I also find a bit disappointing). This is a perfectly good chocolate, but I wanted it to scream “I’M COCONUT!” like an excited child. Instead, it sort of mumbled, “yeah, I’m coconut,” like a bored teenager. Fine, but after the delightful white chocolate cinnamon pecan bundt cake, it was a let down. Not the way to end my tasting of this collection. Had this been the first one I tried, I might have thought more fondly of it.

Still, I am happy to say I have once again gotten excited about a Godiva special collection. This gives me hope for future purchases and it’s why I keep trying these collections. I may have to kiss a few frogs, but eventually I get a prince!

Overall:

Taste: 8/10
Appearance: 7/10
Value: 8/10

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