Surprising Cuba

February
26
2015

 

I didn’t know a lot about Cuba before I started looking into it for our trip.  I knew what we all learned in history, I knew it was a Communist country, ruled by Fidel and now Raul Castro, and that a lot of people tried to escape.  Then Pope Francis visited and everything seems to have changed.

Before I begin telling you what is going on with our building project….or more accurately, what is not going on, I’d like to share with you our impressions of Cuba.  John was there when he was in the Coast Guard years ago and he’s always wanted to go back.   He worked for months to get us permission and to make arrangements for our trip.   You probably already know there are twelve acceptable reasons Americans can visit Cuba:

1. Family visits

2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations

3. Journalistic activity

4. Professional research and professional meetings

5. Educational activities

6. Religious activities

7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions

8. Support for the Cuban people

9. Humanitarian projects

10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials

12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

 

It’s even easier now, just a few months later, because the ban on direct flights has been lifted.  We weren’t going with a tour group, we were going on our own, for business purposes.  John is an international IT consultant and, as a result of our visit I’m happy to say we are now doing business in Cuba! (See his site here.)

 

This was outside our window as we were approaching Cuba.  I took it as a good omen.

This was outside our window as we were approaching Cuba. I took it as a good omen.

I was a little worried about traveling to Cuba.  (Between us friends,  I was scared to death.)  I’m also a bit of a nervous flyer. (I’m being kind.)  And many of the posts I read made it sound like we’d be accosted on every street by beggars and pick-pockets and prostitutes. Theft in the hotel seemed to be a given.  Add this to our own ignorance of the place and notions of what it would be like in a country shrouded in mystery, we had no clue what to expect.  Thankfully, we were very pleasantly surprised.

Our 5 day trip was only in Havana so I can’t tell you about the rest of the country.   I’ve seen a couple of documentaries and also Anthony Bourdain’s show (Parts Unknown) on his travels to Cuba, so I know that in other cities it is quite different. But Havana resembled many other Caribbean countries. Yes some of the buildings were crumbling. Not every building, but many. But there is also construction and new buildings going up.  New hotels were being built and some old buildings were getting a much-needed face lift.  Yes, a lot of the cars are from the 50′s and 60′s.  But not all of them.  The taxi driver we became friendly with, Frank, drove an Audi!  Also, people were on their cellphones almost as much as we are here in the States.   We asked Frank how many people out of 100 have a cell phone, he said 80!  Surprising?  You bet.

We had a 7 AM  flight from Miami and arrived at our hotel (Hotel Nacional) at 10:30 AM.  As we expected our room wasn’t ready.  So, we walked over to the concierge desk, hoping the woman sitting there spoke some English.  She did….as  did most everybody we came in contact with – and we booked a two-hour tour around the city in a classic car like typical tourists. What fun!

Here's the car and driver for our tour the first day

Here’s the car and driver for our tour the first day

Here’s a one minute snippet:

 

Their Capitol Building was modeled after ours

Their Capitol Building was modeled after ours

 

Many buildings on our tour looked similar to these.  Some were in better shape than others.
Many buildings on our tour looked similar to these. Some were in better shape than others.

 

Revolution Square

Revolution Square

A bar/restaurant across from the hotel, and an apartment house

A bar/restaurant near the hotel, and an apartment house

We were surprised there were so many churches!

We were surprised there were so many churches!

 

Over the next couple of days John had meetings set up, one with a software company, one with the Chamber of Commerce and one with a University professor who is also a consultant.  Every one spoke English very well, and they were all very eager and hopeful about doing business with the U.S.  And they, along with everybody else we felt comfortable enough to ask, hope the embargo will end soon.   We always had this vision of everybody trying to escape, living very scared and oppressed lives, but the truth is people seem happy. That was the most surprising thing we learned about Cuba. They go about their lives, going to jobs, taking their kids to daycare, and even eating dinner out. They have cell phones and although they do not have internet connections in their homes yet, (we hear China is starting to set up some homes with internet on a trial basis) there are internet cafes (okay, not everyone can afford them) and they have areas where there are free wi-fi zones on the weekend. (Those areas get very, very crowded.)  Internet connection is allowed in your place of business if it’s for your job.  They have many TV channels, (one seems to have baseball on all the time) and they also have “underground” TV, where they pass around flash drives from person to person. (They can watch American movies and Disney shows and cartoons and many American TV shows! They knew all about our presidential candidates and the fact that Rubio doesn’t want to end the embargo!  They were very aware of that.)

They all wish they had better economic conditions and that’s the biggest reason people would want to leave.  The typical pay check runs from $17 (factory worker, hotel maid) to $30 (doctors and lawyers) a month! People receive rationed food, and they can swap food that they grow. But now people are allowed to start businesses (restaurants or B&Bs) in their homes. And since tourism has become a major source of income, people are opting for jobs such as taxi driver where they can make $30 in just one cab ride or restaurant worker, where tips for a day can equal that monthly pay.  With the huge growth in tourism, especially now that restrictions have eased for Americans, our new friends told us people have more hope now for a better life, for more income and yes, for more personal freedom.

Hotel Nacional

Hotel Nacional

The back of the hotel, where we enjoyed Mojitos and Cuban sandwiches!

The back of the hotel, where we enjoyed Mojitos and Cuban sandwiches!

 

looking from the hotel door in back towards the water

Looking from the hotel in back towards the water

 

Looking across the water from our hotel

Across the water from our hotel

 

Walking to a neighborhood restaurant in Havana

Walking to a neighborhood restaurant in Havana

La Pergola restaurant

La Pergola restaurant

The menu

The menu

The regular Cuban peso is only used by Cubans.  Tourists use what is known as a Cuban Convertible Peso (called CUC – pronounced cuke).  It is basically one for one, so the Ropa Vieja dish, with salad, rolls and butter, plantains, and rice and beans was $7.50.  And it was delicious!

One thing John and I really wanted to do while we were in Cuba was go fishing!  I know that’s not on everybody’s to-do list, but we both love to fish and c’mon, we were in Cuba!  Where Hemingway used to fish!  We tried to book a boat online at the hotel (we could buy internet time – it cost $15 for 12 hours of internet use) but we couldn’t get onto any sites that booked fishing charters.  Much later we found out unless they are fishermen or have special permission, Cubans cannot go on boats!  So we called our new friend Frank, and he drove us over to the Hemingway Marina to book a charter for the next day.

 

Hemingway Marina

Hemingway Marina

The beautiful 38' boat we chartered

The beautiful 38′ boat we chartered

We were as lucky with the weather that day as we were with the fish!

A gorgeous morning to go fishing!

A gorgeous morning to go fishing!

We caught a small tuna, a bonita, and two large wahoo!

 Peter, the mate, is holding one of the Wahoo!

Peter, the mate, is holding one of the Wahoo!

Nelson our captain told us there are many fishermen from small towns who build their own boats

Nelson, our captain, told us there are many fishermen from small towns who build their own boats.

 

After our boat trip, Frank took us to a store to buy some coffee as souvenirs.  There was a store right at the marina – where there was also a woman rolling cigars.

This is a very common sight, a lot of tourists want Cuban cigars!

This is a very common sight, a lot of tourists want Cuban cigars!

We had a wonderful time.  We made new friends and we found out so much about a country that had been frozen in time for more than 50 years.  I won’t be so apprehensive next time we go.  And yes, there will be a next time.IMG_0135

Gardening Tips

April
8
2015

 

I was busy working in the garden last week, planting some cool weather herbs and veggies, and now I’m on the hunt for something they don’t have around here.  Broccoli raab. I don’t know why nobody has it. It’s not that unusual an item.  But it made me decide to put in some brussel sprouts.  I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to me.  They are all over the place and I have a little room to spare.

What we have so far is arugula and garlic, chives and celery seedlings, and parsley, cilantro and thyme. I also planted more parsley (by way of seeds), and peas and spinach.

I’ll be away this week, back in Jersey, and you can bet I’m scouting around for some broccoli raab! Meanwhile, I saw this wonderful article on gardening.  It’s from fix.com and it’s very interesting and informative.   Hopefully it will get you in the gardening mood and help answer any questions you might have if you’re just starting out.  And I’d love to hear about your gardens!

 


Source: Fix.com

The Best Garden Ever!

March
27
2015

 

Well, that is to say it will be OUR best garden ever.  Right before Christmas John started building our garden.  With several acres to work with, the first decision was where to place it.  Close to where the hose is for sure – no one wants to depend on the rain or shlep the watering cans!  I thought I’d want it close to where the house is going to be, but it is actually too early to tell where the best spot for that will be, and also there is no water set up there yet.  Okay, so close to the garage and close to the Crab Shack.

Building the Garden

Building the Garden

This will actually be our first raised bed garden!  We had a small garden on Long Island when we were first married, and because the ground was so easy to work, and we had the sun all day long, and I suspect because it was small enough that it wasn’t overwhelming, that was our best garden so far.  We had a large garden in Pennsylvania when we lived there, but the soil was as hard as rocks.  It actually was all rock.  We worked some areas of it, and things grew, but as you can imagine, they struggled.

 

Paper to prevent weeds

Paper to prevent weeds

Our garden in New Jersey was manageable enough, and we worked in a lot of good soil, but once all the trees bloomed, it was too shady for any award-winning vegetables.  I usually did pretty well with herbs, had plenty of basil for my pesto, but the tomatoes and peppers were …eh, just okay.

 

Shells for the garden floor

Shells for the garden floor

But we have very high hopes for this garden.  John and Mark (our friend) put shells down on the “floor” of the garden to also discourage weeds.  I love to garden, but I don’t like weeding.  And I’ll try anything to avoid having to do it.

Shells all done

Shells all done

Then John started on building the boxes.  And I started researching what we were going to plant, planting dates, how much room plants need for good root growth, along with soil and fertilizing requirements. What fun!

First garden box

First garden box

By the time we finish for this our first year, with all the lumber, the shells, the soil and the plants and seeds, our first tomato will have cost us $1,000!

Raised bed garden

Raised bed garden

We have four so far

We have four so far

We have one more large box to build, and two more waist-high ones.  Then our garden will be complete.  I’ve already planted a few cool weather things, garlic, peas, and a few rows of arugula.  Isn’t it cute?

Garlic and arugula

Garlic and arugula

I’ll keep you posted as to our progress.  And I’d love to hear about your gardening plans!

March Sunset

March Sunset

 

Eggplant, Spinach and Roasted Pepper Panini

 

March
20
2015

 

On a recent trip back to New Jersey, John and I went to lunch at a place we had never been to in our town – Bon Appetit Deli and Catering.  We thought it was solely a catering place – but we found out they decided to open the deli and put in a few tables a couple of years ago and the food was delicious and the specials were – well, really special!

Now right up front here I have to admit this is not a quick, throw-together type of Panini.  It takes a little prep, but if you like to cook, and enjoy making a special dish once in a while, then this one is a winner.  Plus, if you really plan – you could make extra eggplant cutlets and either make a parmesan right then for dinner, or freeze the eggplant cutlets and have them for another Panini or for a future eggplant parmesan dinner.

Peel and cut your eggplant in long slices.  I guess you could do rounds if you want to, but they had them this way, and that’s the way I did it.

Little Choptank 2016 C March 113          Little Choptank 2016 C March 117

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whisk a few eggs in a dish, and put some breadcrumbs in another dish….you know the drill.

 

By the way, you know this white gook that you have in every egg?  I wonder if there’s a term for disliking that thing because I remove it from every single egg I use. Whether I’m making a cake, or breakfast, or just using the eggs for dipping, like this.  Now that I think of it though, when I make hard-boiled eggs, I never wind up seeing it after they’re cooked!  Where does it go?  Something I will be pondering I’m afraid.

Little Choptank 2016 C March 124

Saute your spinach if you want to do it in a clean pan first, then saute your eggplant cutlets.

Little Choptank 2016 C March 135

Little Choptank 2016 C March 130

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drain your roasted peppers. And get your provolone slices ready.

Now, for the pesto mayonnaise.  I always made my own pesto.  I grew basil in my garden, and at the end of the season I picked it all, cleaned it all and made batches and batches of pesto.  I’d freeze them in little plastic containers and they’d last right up until the next growing season.  Then while we were fixing up the house to move, I didn’t plant my herb garden.  I tried several kinds of store-bought pesto, and although they were all…okay… there wasn’t one I found I would buy a second time.  Then my cousin Irene told me about Costco’s pesto!  Yes – you read that right!

Costco Pesto

It’s delicious! I freeze it in little baggies like Irene told me to, it’s a little messy when you take it out, but it saves space in the freezer, and here in the Crab Shack I don’t have much freezer space.

 

Little Choptank 2016 C March 139

Okay, now assemble your Panini:

Little Choptank 2016 C March 144   Little Choptank 2016 C March 146

 

Little Choptank 2016 C March 147  Little Choptank 2016 C March 149Little Choptank 2016 C March 151

After grilling it in your Griddler, or Panini maker, or broiler, or even in a regular old pan on the cooktop you get this:

Little Choptank 2016 C March 153

Little Choptank 2016 C March 157

I hope you will love it as much as we did!  Enjoy the weekend!

 

Eggplant, Spinach and Roasted Pepper Panini

Ingredients

  • Eggplants
  • Eggs
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Oil for sauteing
  • Spinach
  • Roasted Red Peppers (from a jar)
  • Provolone cheese slices
  • Pesto
  • Mayo
  • Panini rolls

Instructions

  1. Clean and saute the spinach, add salt, pepper and a little garlic powder to the spinach
  2. Peel and slice the eggplants the long way, egg and breadcrumb them and saute till golden
  3. Drain the red (or red and yellow) roasted red peppers
  4. Combine pesto- I'd say 1/4 cup with 1/4 cup mayo. You can add as much or as little as you like
  5. Spread the panini bread with the pesto mayo on both sides
  6. Lay the eggplant slices to cover the whole panini
  7. Add on the sauteed spinach
  8. Put the roasted pepper on top of the spinach
  9. and cover all this deliciousness with slices of provolone cheese. You may use mozzarella instead, or muenster, or swiss or whatever you want! I won't mind.
  10. Put your beautiful sandwiches in your panini maker, or on your Griddler, or in your broiler if that's what you have and cook till the cheese is melted.
  11. Eat and enjoy! Yum!
http://designingourretirement.com/2015/03/20/eggplant-spinach-and-roasted-pepper-panini/

 

 

And the Tide Will Fall

March
18
2015

In December, John, Gene and I went on a fishing trip.  Yep, in December.  In Maryland.  And that is precisely why we wanted to move here.  We have all the seasons, (personally I’d give up the cold for warmer climates if you want the truth), but winters are shorter.  However, along with some extremely high tides, (read “And the Tide Will Rise”) come some very low tides.  We found this out when we ran aground that day.  We were soooo close, but not close enough!

John braved the cold water to go get Gene and I some waders.  He’s the best!

pictures from phone 440

Here he is coming to rescue us:

Low Tide

The only boat this is a problem for is the “Captain Joe”, our fishing boat named in honor of John’s dad. It’s bigger and heavier than the others, and it’s the one we take outside our river into the Chesapeake Bay to fish.  It’s a Glacier Bay so technically it’s a catamaran.   We saw one when we were out fishing one day, and thought it would be perfect for us because of its stability and because it has a “bathroom” – always a good thing!    So we began a search and found one online that was in a boatyard in south Jersey.  It needed some attention but we fell in love with it the minute we saw it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So we bought him, fixed him up, and brought him home:

Little Choptank 2012 April 1 and 2 New Boat 007

Meanwhile, back at our low tide story, Gene is out there waiting for his turn to come in:

low tide

John has to go back and forth taking off the tackle:

Little Choptank 2014 L Nov, Dec and other pics 247

I wish I could tell you that we caught some monster fish that day. We caught a couple small ones, but we let them go. (There are size limits.)  We enjoy catching anything but we’re always on the lookout for stripers (striped bass) – although we have to get used to calling them rockfish like they do here in Maryland.  For some reason we’ve had more luck catching them in Montauk:

Montauk Vacation July 22-29, 06 142 Montauk Vacation July 22-29, 06 144

But we’re learning some of the tricks to catching them here:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little Choptank 2012 May 22-29 Memorial 158

We couldn’t bring the Capt. Joe back into the dock till later that night when the tide rose again.  But he looked so nice sitting out there:

Little Choptank 2014 L Nov, Dec and other pics 259

Till next time.

Little Choptank 2014 L Nov, Dec and other pics 246

 

Property Improvement

March
12
2015

pictures from phone 505

When John and I moved down to our “retirement” property full-time a few months ago, we decided to make a few improvements even though winter was coming and we might not be able to enjoy them until spring.  One thing high on John’s list was an awning for the back deck!  One of the reasons we fell in love with our property was the unobstructed view. Yes, shade is nice, but our property in New Jersey was surrounded by trees and was so shady it always seemed dark. Plus, raking leaves is not something we want to spend our time doing.   Our place here is the opposite, it’s BIG SKY country,  but along with that comes a summer sun that is so bright you need sunglasses inside.  Our awning will bring down the temperature in the back where we spend most of our time at least 10 degrees, plus I won’t have to spend my time squinting – always a good thing!

Little Choptank 2014 K Oct, Nov and other pics 123

Here’s how it looks from the inside:

Little Choptank 2014 K Oct, Nov and other pics 125

 

Nice and shady, huh?

 

Little Choptank 2014 K Oct, Nov and other pics 124

So with that project done, we moved on to what I would say was my number one priority:  finishing off the fence!  John and I both agree Robert Frost had it right when he wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  After we were here all the time we began noticing that our neighbor’s dog was leaving us little gifts.  Gifts you don’t want.  And after spending more and more time cleaning up after a dog I don’t own, we knew it was time to complete the project!

pictures from phone 422

Little Choptank 2014 L Nov, Dec and other pics 175

 

This part of the fence may look a little strange, but we cut it down this way so our neighbor’s view of the water isn’t blocked.  And it’s not the way we face when we’re looking at our view and sunset, so it doesn’t bother us too much.

Little Choptank 2015 B February 159

And here’s our beautiful gate:

Luci IPHONE Pictures 503

Ah, fences.  They are also a very good thing.

The third project which we are all excited about (and by all I mean John and myself, and Chrissy and my cousin Irene) is the garden!  Chrissy and Irene will have a spot for themselves and for our areas we’re going to put in raised beds and one waist-high bed for herbs.   John built it for me in December!  Yep, December.

Little Choptank 2014 L Nov, Dec and other pics 278

Little Choptank 2014 L Nov, Dec and other pics 314

We were so naive then, thinking what a mild and short winter we were going to have.

Then the ice came.

I thought this was bad:

Little Choptank 2015 B February 037

Little Choptank 2015 B February 024

Till we had this:

Little Choptank 2016 C March 004

Little Choptank 2016 C March 005

It’s mostly melted now, although the cove isn’t completely unfrozen.  Soon though.  Very soon.  Spring in 8 days!

And that’s a wonderful thing!

Pictures of Vienna

July
17
2013

As you probably know, we recently got back from a trip to Prague and Vienna. Both such gorgeous cities, but in my opinion, especially Prague!

Here are some pictures from our tour of Vienna, some are of the magnificent architecheture, some are of the beautiful gardens, and some are just everyday sights.  We took a 3 hour tour of the Danube, and the Danube Canal, which we didn’t realize was a separate thing.  It was all so gorgeous and amazing.  Have you been there?  I’d love to hear about your impressions.

Train station in Prague

Train station in Prague

 

Prague countryside

Prague countryside

 

Prague and Vienna-ALL July 2-8, 2013 489wtmk

Prague and Vienna-ALL July 2-8, 2013 494wtmk

Prague and Vienna-ALL July 2-8, 2013 491wtmk

Prague and Vienna-ALL July 2-8, 2013 497wtmk

Look at those gorgeous flowers!

Look at those gorgeous flowers!

Prague and Vienna-ALL July 2-8, 2013 503wtmk

Prague and Vienna-ALL July 2-8, 2013 513wtmk

Famous Apple Strudel and coffee, always served with a glass of water

Famous Apple Strudel and coffee, always served with a glass of water

Prague and Vienna-ALL July 2-8, 2013 551wtmk

 

The tram along the Ringstrasse

The tram along the Ringstrasse

 

The Danube

The Danube

 

Heading into the lock

Heading into the lock

 

Water level dropped 12 feet!

Water level dropped 12 feet!

 

Blue Danube not so blue!

Blue Danube not so blue!

 

Down the Danube Canal

Down the Danube Canal

The Danube Canal is a 162 mile man-made canal, with a series of “locks”, and links the Rhine and Danube Rivers enabling ships to go from the North Sea to the Black Sea!

 

One of many interesting bridges

One of many interesting bridges

 

There were many of these little cabins along the side of the canal

There were many of these little cabins along the side of the canal

Vienna's famous Giant Ferris Wheel

Vienna’s famous Giant Ferris Wheel

Horses and carriages outside St. Stephens Cathedral

Horses and carriages outside St. Stephens Cathedral

Down a typical street in the city center

Down a typical street in the city center

 

A must-see!  Cafe Central

A must-see! Cafe Central

The Cafe opened in 1876, and at the turn of the century it bacame the meeting place for many famous people in the world of art, science, politics and literature.  It’s also BEAUTIFUL!

Piano Player sereneded us at the end of a long touring day.

The piano player serenaded us at the end of a long touring day.

Famous Sacher Torte

Famous Sacher Torte

 

Like the Parker House in Boston made the Parker House rolls famous, so Vienna has the Hotel Sacher who made famous the Sacher Torte.  We had ours at the Cafe Central, and it was delicious, but the Hotel Sacher claims only they have the original and best recipe!  Vienna was wunderbar!