Travels in Aruba 2016 – part eleven

This visit to Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort, I noticed something new was being offered to guests, a Driftwood Workshop.  Each Sunday during happy hour at the Sand Bar, they feature local artisans which is always fun. It’s where I met Maria Onni, who teaches the driftwood painting class.  One look at her work, you are enchanted and want to try your hand….I signed up the following day for the next class.

Maria is one of those artists who has natural talent and loves to repurpose driftwood, sea glass and other found items. Check out some of her creations:

I arrived for the class, set up in the Tara Lounge and learned it would be just one of the Bucuti and Tara Resort staff and myself for this class.  To my delight, it was Nicole (who I’ve enjoyed getting to know on both of our visits), who was the other student.  I loved the one on one attention Maria was able to give us as we learned how to work with molding clay (making eyes, noses and mouths) and mixing the acrylic paints as we fashioned our driftwood creations.  We each made two works of art and it was such a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Both Maria and Nicole are interesting and lovely, young women who I was fortunate to get to know over the two hours we spent together.  I would take this class again if offered on my next trip and would recommend it to anyone visiting Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort.  A truly fun day to be sure and special memories of this vacation!

Maria Onni sells her works of art in a kiosk in the highrise hotel area (across from Playa Linda) as well as teaching these classes.  She is so talented, if you are in Aruba, check her out!

 

 

59 Candles, 59 Things – part forty

Forty eighth thing – On my latest entry about things that make me happy, I have to share one of my new favorite things – Skechers!

You might be thinking, hmmm really? Are you running out of things?

My sister has praised Skechers for some time and while we were away for a recent girls weekend, I’d commented on a pair she was wearing.  We talked about the pain I have in my toes – so much so that I can hardly bear to wear closed toe shoes, live in UGG’s all winter and then my Merrell sandals and flipflops in summer.  I even bought a pair of seamless socks this winter, made for folks with diabetic nerve pain.  I have one pair of tennies that I can wear but they are getting a bit old and beat up. I knew the time had come to try Skechers.

I went to Amazon, my go-to shopping addiction, where I’m a PRIME member.  This gets me 2 day delivery, free shipping/free returns and great prices.  Wearing a size 11 makes it challenging to walk into a retail store so from the comfort of my living room, I scrolled through the selection and read reviews.  I settled on two pair and placed my order.

Straight away, I thought they were super cute, light-weight and tried them on.

“Oh no” I cried “This is NOT comfortable!”  Then I found a piece of cardboard packing in the toe……

After that, it was heaven.  I loved both pairs and wore them around all evening.  It may seem silly or as though I’m exaggerating but if you’ve never had terrible shoe-related pain, you can’t imagine my bliss.

I’ve been breaking in my first pair over the last two days and have been complimented more than a few times.  Which also makes me happy!

And pair number two, waiting for their first day in the sun!

 

This series, “59 Candles, 59 Things” was started on my 59th birthday to reflect on those things that make me happy! Spence keeps reminding me that May 12 is now less than one month away and I need to stay on track…..for more entries, check “59 Things” under categories.  And let me know, what makes you happy!

 

59 Candles, 59 Things – part thirty nine

Forty seventh thing: The next entry in this series of things that make me happy is new experiences.  Since retiring, I have had a number of new experiences that have enriched my life, making my new “normal” exciting.

Some experiences, such as taking guitar lessons (a life-long dream) turned out differently than I’d imagined.  It was hard – awkward, painful and clearly not for me.  Others, blogging, yoga, meditation, writing, culinary knife skills – I truly enjoy.

This past weekend, I attended my first opera, “Orpheus and Eurydice”produced by the Opera Grand Rapids. Loving music, theater and dance, I was intrigued and was sure it would be great.  In truth, it was more than I could have imagined, it was magical.

Photos courtesy of Opera Grand Rapids Facebook page

Due to my unfamiliarity with this story I sought out a synopsis via Wikipedia, finding that it is comes from mythology, a subject I’d loved in high school.  The story is compelling, a love so great that after his wife Eurydice dies tragically, Orpheus travels into Hell to bring her back.

The staging was set in modern day, simple yet dramatic and very effective. There were three leads, dancers and a chorus, a small cast I learned (compared to grand operas).  The orchestra (while not visible from the pit) was amazing as was the haunting music.  There was a screen along the top of the stage which supplied translation of the lyrics making the story easier to follow.

“Orpheus and Eurydice” was fascinating and performed beautifully – the singing and acting conveying a deeply moving love story.

I’m so grateful to my dear friend for sharing her love of opera with me.  It was the highlight of an absolutely stellar girl’s weekend and a new experience that I’ll never forget.

Photos courtesy of Opera Grand Rapids Facebook page

For more on this series, “59 Candles, 59 Things” just click on 59 Things under categories.

59 Candles, 59 Things – part thirty three

Forty first thing: The next thing that makes me happy is one that I wouldn’t imagine being on the list when I started this series on my 59th birthday last May.

Weight Watchers makes me happy. 

On December 28th, when Oprah spoke to me (and millions of others) I heard her message “if not now when?” and it resonated.  Loving to cook and eat with the additional freedom to travel since retiring 2 years ago, I’ve seen the number on my scale inch upwards.  I was having so much fun that I’d become complacent. With 2016 on the horizon, I got online and signed up that evening.

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True that….
My expectations were that the first 5-10 lbs would come off with mindful eating and more movement – and that happened.  What surprised me is that I’ve lost 19 lbs in just two months while enjoying food. In fact if I’d been a bit more disciplined with choices when dining out and traveling, I’d have lost more by now.  Part of my success has to do with not depriving myself by having foods I love but in moderation and the other part is being more active.

Purchasing my FitBit has been integral to my acceptance that I’ve been living like a sloth.

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No offense intended, I once held a baby sloth in Costa Rica and it was adorable.
Accepting that I can’t change my past, I’m now tracking every step via the FitBit which syncs to my WW and FitBit apps on my iphone and MACBook.  It also means that if I’m running behind on my daily goal by bedtime, I fire up my ipod to a couple of my favorite tunes and “dance it out” in the kitchen.

Thank you Oprah for getting my attention, to Weight Watchers for an awesome program and great tools and to Spence, your encouragement and support are endlessly appreciated.

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For more of this series, “59 Candles, 59 Things” – click on “59 Things” under Categories.  And I’d love to hear what things make you happy.  

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A bit more animal/diet humor because seriously, haven’t we all been there? 
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Japanese Cultural Center – Tea House & Tea Ceremony

After strolling through the gardens at the Japanese Cultural Center yesterday, my Mom, sister and I proceeded to the Tea House to take part in the Tea Ceremony.

Awa SaginawAn was designed by renowned architect Mr. Tsutomu Takenaka and constructed in 1985 as a collaborative effort between the City of Saginaw and its sister city Tokushima, Japan. Its foundation rests part on American soil and part on Japanese soil. It is treasured as one of the most authentic tea houses in North America.

Designed by a Japanese architect, the exterior was built by a local contractor. The interior was finished by four Japanese contractors working directly with the architect.  A few interesting facts:

  • There were no nails used anywhere in the interior. Everything was planed and fitted.
  • No paint was used. The material of the walls is natural and has a sandy, stucco type feel to the surface.
  • The ceiling of the Tea House is hand-woven cedar.
  • All the wood is natural and unfinished and includes trees that were fitted into the walls, brought from Japan.

We took our seats shortly before the ceremony was to begin after first being encouraged to take photos, that included a few selfies. (Girl’s Day Out documentation)

Our hostess came in at 2:00 beginning with a brief yet fascinating history of Tea Houses (this one and Tea Houses in Japan) and Tea Ceremonies.  The type of Tea Ceremony we were attending was established only 400 years ago by the 11th Grand Tea Master in 1872 for the World Fair in Kyoto Japan. To introduce the world to Tea Ceremonies, it was determined that the traditional kneeling on Tatami Mats would be too painful and awkward so they provided benches. This is how we were seated. Traditional Tea Ceremonies in Japan, in Tea Houses or Tea Huts, go back many years and the number of Tatami Mats are descriptive of the size of the Tea House (2 Tatami Mats, by example would be a small Tea Hut) and participants would kneel throughout the duration of the ceremony.

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Our lovely hostess was a wealth of knowledge
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Born in Japan, she came to the US in 1957 when she married her husband, a Saginaw Michigan native.

The Tea Ceremony is based on four principles, Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility. Tea leaves are picked by hand in May, steamed, dried and ground into powder for Tea Ceremonies (not brewed as the type of tea you’d drink daily).

There is a hot water pot with a bamboo ladle and a cold water pot should the temperature of the water need to be adjusted. There is a lovely process of cleaning and preparing the tea bowl before the guests. Then using a long implement, tea is measured into the tea bowl and whisked into the steaming water.  The whisk is fashioned from a single piece of bamboo.

Each movement was slow, deliberate, silent and reverent.  Our hostess was assisted in the ceremony by two ladies in Kimonos, one who served the other. The Tea Bowl in which the tea is prepared is highly prized. With a lovely design on one side only, the bowl is turned as it is served so that the guest may admire the design. The guest then turns the bowl and slurps the tea from the plain side of the bowl. The “slurping” is considered a sign appreciation indicating “it was good to the last drop”.

Historically, Tea Bowls were so revered that a Shogun was known to take it as his only possession upon retirement and the value was such that often a Tea Bowl was given in place of land.

The ladies served each of us, delivering the sweets first, one person at a time.  Then bringing our tea, one at a time.

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The sweet on the left, Yokan, is made from a sweetened red bean paste, the consistency like a firm gelatin. (I thought it tasted like dates) The one on the right had a much more complex name and is made of a cookie type crust over a sweetened white bean paste. I thought it tasted a bit like shortbread.

For more information about the Japanese Cultural Center, visit their website at:

http://www.japaneseculturalcenter.org

Did you miss part one of my Girls Day Out?  Click here to go to the first post:

Japanese Cultural Center – The Gardens

For a short video of the Tea Ceremony:

The Tea Ceremony at Japanese Cultural Center, a short video

Japanese Cultural Center – The Gardens

The Japanese Cultural Center in Saginaw Michigan is less than an hour’s drive from home. There are gardens and by reservation they do a Tea Ceremony one Saturday per month.

My sister called. “Girl’s Day Out?” Absolutely.

Mom, my sister and I drove north, arriving at 1:00. The Tea Ceremony commences at 2:00 giving us time to enjoy the gardens which border water across from Ojibway Island along Lake Linton.

The Japanese Cultural Center, Tea House, and Gardens resides within the town of Saginaw, MI to promote intercultural understanding and peace through a bowl of tea.

It was a most enjoyable day, mid 80’s and a soft breeze.  First we strolled through the “strolling garden”.

It is a quiet, safe haven to view weeping cherry trees, authentic stone lanterns, hand crafted bamboo gates, an Asian-inspired gazebo, and an arching vermilion bridge over a winding stream.

Its gate opened in 1971 as designed by Mr. Yataro Suzue and Lori Barber.
He stated then: “beauty is not trickery, not illusion … but arranging elements like trees, water and rocks in a way that there is no crowding, no competition for attention.

All italicized quotes are directly from the Japanese Cultural Center’s website:

http://www.japaneseculturalcenter.org

Related posts:

The Tea Ceremony at Japanese Cultural Center, a short video

Japanese Cultural Center – Tea House & Tea Ceremony

Top Ten Things I Learned from Watching The Food Network

I like to think I came upon my cooking skills from God-given talent, inspiration by family cooks, collecting and reading numerous cookbooks plus my avid interest in food.  What I know for sure is that I’m far better today due to my obsession with watching The Food Network. Keep in mind that I was well into adulthood before The Food Network was ever conceived and what now may pass for common knowledge was not so common back in the day. I’m nowhere close to knowing it all and will continue “my education” while watching my friends/instructors Rachael, Ina, Giada, Bobby, Mario, Michael, Geoffrey, Alex and Jeff, to name a few.

Here are the top ten things that I’ve learned from The Food Network

1. Cooking with Wine – Only cook with a wine you’d drink, as it will reduce. If you wouldn’t drink it (think “cooking wine” ick!) then it isn’t worth cooking with.

This confuses me as well.
This confuses me as well.

2. Salt your pasta water – I’m not talking a dash of salt. Get your “salt on” and in doing so you’ll flavor the pasta while cooking it. It makes more of a difference than you’d think.

3. Dry your Sea Scallops – Spence and I love sea scallops yet for years I sadly wasn’t getting a nice golden crust on these tasty treats.  Lay out a paper towel and spread them out, now lay another paper towel over the top and press lightly, removing excess moisture, then let them continue to air dry a bit more. Add dry scallops to a searing hot pan and you’ll get lovely, golden scallops on your plate.

4. Don’t fear the Anchovy – I’ve always liked anchovies but thought of them in terms of topping pizza or an ingredient in a Caesar dressing. Where they really shine is as the “salt” element and that little “je ne sais quoi”  when added into a sauce or pasta dish. They “melt” into what you’re making (use the back of a wooden spoon to break down if you want). You will not taste any fishy flavor but I guarantee, they add a depth of flavor that takes any dish up a notch.

Just thought this was a funny anchovy quote.
Just thought this was a funny anchovy quote.

5. How to make a better pot roast – I always thought I made a darn good pot roast and I probably did.  Then, watching Jeff Mauro (The Sandwich King) who’d just won The Next Food Network Star, I learned something that rocked my pot roast loving world.  I rarely follow recipes (I tend to “wing it”) but after having made this one time, I have not deviated since.  The most important lesson – sear not just the top and bottom of the roast but all the sides.  I use a big fork to achieve this, propping the meat as I turn it, getting a nice sear on all surfaces. But then the recipe is so perfect that honestly, I believe each step is critical to the final success, even the cooking time as something magical happens in the last 30 minutes. Jeff eventually turns this into a sandwich (which I’ve no doubt is fabulous) but I serve it as a pot roast. The gravy that results with the broth, red wine and pan drippings is phenomenal. Here’s a link to the recipe: http://foodnetwork.com/recipes/jeff-mauro/c/ch/chi/chic/chicago-italian-beef-pot-roast-style-recipe.html

6. Use fresh shrimp – It’s so easy now to get raw, easy-peel, deveined shrimp and cooking with raw shrimp is not time-consuming but the flavor and texture is so much better.  For years I would buy cleaned, cooked frozen shrimp and just pop them in at the end of a recipe for shrimp scampi (as an example).  Using raw shrimp in any preparation is far superior.  An example? Try my Shrimp Ceviche (link below) and then report back to me.  I also make a cream of shrimp soup (recipe will appear in the future) using raw shrimp and there is a depth of flavor raw shrimp adds.

Here’s the link: http://www.spencesgirl.wordpress.com/ceviche

7. Don’t Fear Red Pepper Flakes – There was a time that I only used red pepper flakes to enhance my pizza.  Not so any longer.  My friends/instructors at The Food Network always add red pepper flakes to recipes to “kick up the heat” and now I constantly have them at the ready.  Use a little or a lot depending on your need for heat but there’s something magical about what they do to the most basic recipe. Trust me.

8. Use good ingredients – When you really love to cook/eat/entertain – wow your friends and family, don’t skimp.  I love Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa.  If you’ve watched her show or bought one of her cookbooks you’ll notice that she strongly suggests using a good olive oil, mayonnaise or champagne vinegar (as examples).  Why? Because when you use good ingredients, your end result is better.  Like a Hallmark Card, you care enough to send the very best? Then use good ingredients. Enough said.

Just use the good stuff.
Just use the good stuff.

9. Deglaze, carmelize, braise, brine – Just knowing terminology and how to apply this to your cooking can put you ahead of other home cooks.  I still believe that one day I’ll be competing on The Food Network simply because of the techniques and technologies I’ve learned.

10. The Power of Compound Butter – I love butter.  Slathered on an english muffin or mashed potatoes, in a really great shortbread or taking it to the next level and creating a Compound Butter by integrating another ingredient or several ingredients to softened butter, then using that compound to create something magical.  It’s no longer just butter.  It’s a burst of flavor and I have numerous recipes, here’s one below that you can use for a roast turkey or chicken.

For a link to one of my recipes: http://wp.me/p5hh0k-bo