24 November 2014

Once More Unto the Beach, Dear Friends

Morning rainbow (double!) on Barnes Bay  
As usual, I woke up early on our first morning on Anguilla.  DH was still slumbering peacefully and The Kid looked dead to the world.

Therefore, my mission was to head out to Geraud's to pick up breakfast and bring it back to Caribella. Anybody who has visited Geraud's, only to discover that her favorite pastries have sold out, knows how important it is to arrive early!   I got there around 6:30 am and had my pick of pastries, but I took a moment to check out the new items that they're carrying, such as cookies and pies and brownies. 

Coconut cream pie AND rum baba in one case?
My personal idea of heaven.

Back at Caribella, DH was awake and reading on the porch, so we sipped our coffees and enjoyed the beauty of the day while waiting for Ava to join us.  The light was really gorgeous, so I made a quick video, too.  

I just love this photo.  For multiple reasons.

Before long, Ava wanted to go down to the beach.  The loves to skip rocks, and she entertained herself for hours over the course of our vacation doing just that.  Sorry, all you folks visiting Barnes Bay in the upcoming weeks.  We located and promptly skipped every possible piece of flattened rock or coral in the vicinity, even some roof tiles that must have blown loose in the last storm. We walked up and down the length of Barnes, from our swimming cove to Viceroy and back to our place, astonished over the changed landscape. We were rewarded for our efforts with some beautiful rainbows.

If you look carefully, you can see one of our skipping stones in action 
Large swathes of the beach were perfect for shelling

Even better than a pot o' gold
Eventually we went back inside to pack our beach bags. Our destination for the day: Rendezvous Bay, with a short stop first at Limin' Boutique to lighten our purses. Ken and Renée very warmly welcomed us back and were great involving Ava in the conversation, too.  I made some photos and we all made a purchase or two, and then Renée charmed and surprised us by inviting Ava to choose one of their goat milk soaps as a birthday present.  Those are some mighty fine folks at Limin', I must say.

These tea towels are new and I was sorely tempted
 to buy one. But I went with a necklace instead.
And so onward to Rendezvous, once more unto the breach beach.  We optimistically tried accessing The Place via the regular entrance, which was still flooded (about which, more anon), so we went the long way 'round and entered via the Rendezvous Road near Blowing Point. I had never seen this place before, but I bet it was a great place to stay, back in the day.  

Dave and Mo welcomed us back enthusiastically, thus demonstrating to Ava even more reasons why we love Anguilla.  We were only the second group of people to arrive, so the three of us settled in on one of the couches and read for a while until it was time for lunch.  (Well, Ava read for a while and then set up shop as the resident Stone Skipper for an hour.)

Before we went up for lunch, we had a lovely surprise: Daffy and Mr Daffy from one of the Anguilla travel forums stopped by and introduced themselves.  I was hoping that our paths would cross, and we passed the time discussing, naturally, our mutual love for Anguilla.  Since Daffy was one of the first handful of people who helped me decide to visit Anguilla in the first place, it was a true honor. They couldn't stay long, as it was their last full day on the island and had plans to be at Shoal Bay, but it was great to see them for a little while.  

The totally shabby view from our lunch table

After that, we walked up to the restaurant portion for lunch, where we shared the coconut shrimp as an appetizer and ordered the calamari, the spring rolls, and the mahi mahi sandwich for our meals.  Some Tings and a bottled water rounded everything off nicely, but I have no photos of food to share. Mostly because we hoovered all of it into our mouths almost immediately.

During lunch, I got up to make a phone call to Anguilla Watersports to rent a couple of stand-up paddleboards, as Carrie from Veya had recommended them to me. They will deliver the paddleboards anywhere on the island for you, and you can find their advertised rates on their website.  We arranged for them to meet us at The Place at 1:30, but that time came and went.  Around 2:00, a very handsome young man named Miguel walked up to us and explained that he had been down by the Anguilla Great House waiting for us since he couldn't get past the flooded salt pond. Mishap #1.

Miscommunication, it turns out.  Miguel has only been on the island for one month, and he didn't know that there was a different way to access The Place. No problem, we said, and we walked down the beach with him to get the paddleboards and our brief introduction in how to use them. Then comes Mishap #2: there's only one working paddle.  Miguel is terribly apologetic, but again, no worries on our part.  He says he can leave and return with another paddle in 20 minutes, and he's as good as his word.  What's more, to compensate for the hassle, he offers to give us an extra hour with our boards.  It's obviously great when everything goes perfectly from the start, but I've always said that a true measure of any business is how they handle a situation when things go wrong, so I was very pleased with the outcome despite the hiccups. 
Ava, triumphant
Ava is quite an athlete, so I figured she'd have no problem learning how to do this whole stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) thing.  I was less sure of how I would take to it, but I gave it the ol' college try.  To my surprise, it took Ava quite a few tries to find her balance, but in the end she was handling her board well. Me, on the other hand?  Well, I was able to get the SU part okay, but not the P.  Every time I tried to paddle from a standing position, I lost my balance and dropped to my knees.  Because do you know how hard it is to get back ON the paddleboard from the water?  Pretty darn hard.  But going from kneeling to standing and back again was easy enough. So I'm pretty much the queen of kneel-down paddleboarding (KDP.  It's a new sport. Look it up.)

We wanted to take our boards down closer to The Place, where the water was calmer and not having to paddle into the wind so much, so we swam our boards down there instead.  Once we were there, it was much easier to stay upright.  I still couldn't paddle from a standing position, but that's okay.  I converted my board to a kayak and became the reigning queen of Sit Down Paddleboarding (SDP), which is even easier than KDP.

At 4:30, it was time for us to settle up and pay the bill because The Place was hosting a private party that night.  That was fine, as Ava was exhausted from her time in the sun and I didn't mind heading home to shower off and enjoy a sunset cocktail. Ava promptly fell asleep after her shower, so we woke her up about 5 minutes before heading off to what would be her favorite dinner of the trip: Dolce Vita.

Après sunset at Caribella
Until our first trip to Dolce Vita in 2013, DH and I never would have thought we'd love eating Italian food in the Caribbean.  Don't get me wrong -- I love Italian food, but it always has seemed a tad heavy for eating in the tropics. Ava, on the other hand, practically worships pasta, so we knew from the start that we'd take her there for dinner.  Little did we know that it would be a life changing experience for her...

Because I was too tired on my *actual* birthday to do much celebrating drinking, I declared Saturday night to be my birthday instead.  I love the mojitos at Dolce Vita -- so much fresh mint, so much lime juice, so much perfection -- and began briskly consuming them.  That explains why I only have pictures of our food and not of the restaurant or of us. The bread (which they get from Le Bon Pain in Island Harbour) is excellent, as is the accompanying olive oil & balsamico. 

We started off with salads.  DH and I split the arugula & pear salad with bleu cheese, as usual, while Ava enjoyed her full size Caesar:

Ava already loves lasagna, so she needed no encouragement to order it once she heard it was a Dolce Vita specialty.  DH did the same, while I opted for the shrimp fra diavolo.  We all loved our selections, and Ava made us look good by polishing off not only her entire entrée, but finishing the last third of DH's lasagna and my pasta.  SUP (or KDP, or SDP) can make for a mighty appetite.  

The famous lasagna
My shrimp fra diavolo
The best thing, hands, down, was listening to Ava's continuous rhapsodies over her lasagna. "This must be what doing drugs feels like" and "This is my heaven," and my favorite, "If I were to die after eating this, I'd be okay with that." 

Yeah, it was a pretty excellent evening. For once, we were too stuffed for dessert, and to be honest, none of them really appealed to me anyway. (It was all very chocolate-heavy.)  Abbi stopped by to wish us a happy birthday and to extend a special welcome to Ava.  He's always been so very gracious, every time we're there.  

After dinner, we popped into the little gift shop next door, since I'd never been in there before.  Bijoux, I think the name is?  It always looks so glamorous from the outside, but neither Ava nor I was drawn to their offerings.  But still, it's pretty on the outside and I'm a sucker for colored light. 

Stay tuned for another terrible day at the beach, with no fun and no good food...

22 November 2014

Minithon Failure! Sort Of!

Today's Mini Readathon is brought to you by Tika at Reading the Bricks. It's her fourth semi-annual readathon, and the theme here is...MINI. Tiny.  Keepin' it small, including our snacks, our level of effort, and our reading time.  The only thing outsized about this is our devotion. And possibly our laziness.

In other words, this is my kind of readathon and these are my people.

I usually spend some time shopping for the all-important snacks, but by the time I knew about this 'thon, I had just gotten back from a mini-vacation (heh, it's like I was psychically anticipating it) and was hard at work.  I had no time to shop and will thus forage for my mini snacks. Looks like I can create a peanut butter theme to my mini snacks, courtesy of the gluten-free pb cookies my friend Liz made for me yesterday, some pb & banana frozen yogurt, and some peanut buttery Butterfinger minis.  Not too bad for a few minutes' worth of scrounging in the pantry. And hey --  peanut butter = protein!

For my reading, however, I intend to tackle the forthcoming collection of short stories from Charles Baxter, There's Something I Want You To Do. Short stories are obviously mini novels.

If I need something else to mix it up, I may dip into the last of the Pippi books that I had left over from the last mini readathon (a-ha! Continuity!).  It's a book for children, aka mini readers, and I haven't read it since I was myself a mini-reader. Obviously this is not the edition I read as a child, but the mini-reader in me still snorts, because fährt/fart jokes will never grow old.

Fährt.  Tee hee. 
At first I was a little distraught that I wouldn't be able to participate in the mini-thon for its duration since I already had some plans today, not all of which could be changed.  But then I realized that my very participation in this 'thon was going to be mini, so BAM.  I'm fulfilling the challenges of this mini readathon on a meta level.  In other words, I can 'thon with the best of 'em.

How 'bout you?  How will you be honoring the mini in your reading today?

21 November 2014

Anguilla, or There And Back Again

Recently my husband and I took one of our grandchildren to Anguilla for a short, four-night trip.  We take the kids in the family on a special trip once they become teenagers.  It gives us a chance to know them outside the hustle & bustle of the larger family and share with them places that are special to us. Ava was the perfect candidate to take to Anguilla because she's a young person who can entertain herself and because, well, there's no delicate way to put this: the kid can eat.

Up at 4:00am to catch the airport shuttle, we were pretty bleary-eyed and subdued for our two flights to get to St Maarten. For the first time ever, we flew USAir via Charlotte, and because our incoming flight was delayed a bit, we really had to hustle to get to our connecting flight, which was boarding when we arrived at the gate. We had paid a bit extra to sit in the front rows of economy because we knew the connection might be tight, but unlike the commensurate seats on American, I was disappointed to note that these did not have extra legroom.

The rep from Anguilla Air Services met us before we went through immigration in St Maarten to provide us the transfer boarding passes.  NB: they do not use immigration cards any longer in St Maarten, but they do require you to show your boarding pass upon entering.  We only had one to show and we got fussed at a little.  Oops.
Ava loved the small plane
We did have the wonderful experience of landing on St Maarten, going through security, and immediately boarding our connecting flight. Pleasant change from last time, when we were delayed more than an hour while waiting for other passengers.  Before we knew it, we were up in the air and landing again at our favorite spot in the world: Anguilla.

Our plane's shadow over the beautiful water 
Anguilla in the distance
Ronnie Bryan left our rental car in the airport lot, and before long, we were zipping down the road, with Ava exclaiming at regular intervals along the way.  It was hot and we knew dinner wouldn't be for a few more hours, so we stopped to visit Pamela at Sea Spray for a quick smoothie before heading to Caribella.  Ava declared hers to be the best smoothie she'd ever had.  Promising to visit once more when we had more time to chat, we hurried off to the west end.

When we arrived at Caribella, the entire staff was hard at work trying to clean things up from the hurricane and other recent storms.  While our unit was certainly comfortable enough, it wasn't looking its best in some places, particularly out on the balcony where much of the newly-applied paint had been stripped off by an unexpectedly vigorous storm.

Ava and I immediately changed into bathing suits and walked down to our usual swimming cove at the west end of Barnes Bay, but it was a far cry from the serene spot I'd left behind in July. The entire face of that part of the beach had radically changed and now the water was churning around.  Once we were in the water, it wasn't so bad, but between the increased waves and the sand erosion, it was a little tricky entering (and exiting) among the exposed rocks!  In the meantime, DH had gone to Best Buy to pick up some essentials: water, sunscreen, bug spray, gin, and Ting.
Panoramic sunset show from our balcony
Mango's, where we usually eat on our first night, hadn't yet opened for the season, so wanting something easy, I tried to make a reservation at Picante via their website.  However, I never got a confirmation back, so we ended up at Jacala, which ended up being a perfect choice. Because we were traveling with a younger companion and because the Anguillan sunset was an hour earlier than what we're used to in June, we had dinner reservations around 6:30 each night and thus were almost always the first diners to arrive in each restaurant.
Interior of Jacala at night
Which suited us fine, thank you very much.  We had the undivided attention of gracious waitstaff and we could take all the time we wanted to consider the menu and enjoy our cocktails/mocktails. I love rum punch, but only when it's not too sweet.  The very idea of putting amaretto and/or cinnamon in a rum punch makes me want to gag, frankly. Which is why I always inquire with the staff how the rum punch is in any establishment before ordering one.  If they're coy about the contents, I flatly state that I don't like sweet rum punches that are served with cinnamon or amaretto and see where that gets me. The one at Jacala was still too sweet, but I asked for extra lime juice and that did the trick. It was very pretty, though:
My rum punch
In the meantime, our server brought over an amuse bouche of asparagus soup with a crispy wonton.  I thought it was pretty good, Ava didn't care for it much, and DH thought it was jusssssst right, so he finished hers, too.

The evening was beautiful, with just the right amount of breeze coming in to keep everything comfortable. Fighting off exhaustion, we managed to do some damage to our food nonetheless. DH opted for the cucumber soup with spicy tomato sorbet (possibly my favorite soup, anywhere in the world) and a steak (pretty uncharacteristic of him), Ava had a lobster soup and the fettucine, while I settled on the grilled crayfish, no starter.

With the exception of DH's steak, it was all wonderful.  His steak was completely pedestrian and a little overcooked, but that chilled cucumber soup makes up for a world of other ills, as far as I'm concerned.  Not to mention that we all loved the asparagus that came with the steak.  We're trying to figure out how it came out the way it did.  Parcooked then flash-fried, maybe?

Ava got off to a slow start with her lobster soup as her palate adjusted to the new flavors, but before long, every last drop was gone.  She also handily polished off the fettucine and helped me with my crayfish. Seriously, this kid could eat us right into the poor house on this island.

My crayfish were delicious, simply grilled and served with a choice of a lemon butter or a garlic butter sauce.  Not being willing to choose, I asked if I could have a bit of each sauce.  The accompanying rice was also good, which surprised me.  I can take or leave plain rice, but this was flavorful and a little nutty.

That night at Jacala it was technically my birthday, but even if it hadn't been, I would have selected the rum baba with banana sorbet anyway.  I'd been dreaming of that dessert ever since I read about it on the Savannah Gallery blog that Frank writes.  It was absolutely incredible, and that night I proved definitively that you can have your cake and drink it, too!

Yum!  Happy birthday to me!
Ava's pièce de résistance was some kind of chocolate-upon-chocolate concoction called the Jacala cake. One bite was enough for me, but she managed to polish the rest off on her own, including the yummy caramel sauce on the plate.

All in all, a wonderful start to our trip.  We were sufficiently tired from our travels that when we got back home to Caribella at 9:00, we promptly retired to bed.  It rained a bit in the night, and that, combined with the noise of the Barnes Bay waves crashing on the exposed rock, made for perfect sleeping and dreaming conditions.