Wednesday, February 8, 2017

swimming with manatees

OK. OK. I lied. We did not get to swim with manatees. The swimming area was closed on the day of our visit. However we did get up close and personal with them at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.

What are manatees anyway, you ask. Adorable, with a stubby nose, manatees are peaceful marine mammals that graze mainly on water plants. They often swim upstream to warm Florida spring waters during the winter. We have only seen them in Florida. But supposedly they are also found in the Caribbean and parts of South America. Some eighty plus manatees were sighted on the day of our visit.

It was a beautiful sunny day at the beginning of Feb and we strolled along the boarwalk that hugged the bank of the spring. Several overlooks jutted out to provide a closer top down view of the crystal clear waters. We spotted a few mothers with their calf. Without a underwater camera, we were only able to capture the top down view. The flat paddle shaped tail is quite visible but not as clear is their egg shaped head and flippers.

We were amazed at the clarity of the spring water; which is at a constant 73 degrees. We also saw schools of bass, mullet and tilapia. There were quite a few kayakers, campers and hikers in the park. We did some people watching with the manatees. Then a picnic in the park wrapped up our little visit with these gentle sea cows. Our adventure continues as we explore more of our new home in Florida.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

a citrus note ... cheesecake and monster trucks

I made all things citrus today. My son visited us earlier in the week.  In lieu of taking him to famous Orlando sites, I requested that he accompany us to what Orlando was known before Walt Disney bought land here, a U-Pick Citrus Grove! Mind you, he is over 6', almost 30 and is no longer into childish endeavors. Oh the things my family puts up with me and my sense of adventure.

Florida Citrus

When we first moved to Florida, I looked for a place that sells locally grown oranges. Sadly, there aren't many orange groves operating any more. With more and more developments being built, many citrus farmers have moved out of central Florida; with large profits from the sale of their land.

Showcase of Citrus is one of the few left. To brand themselves as a tourist destination, they also run a 4x4 monster truck adventure with refurbished school buses through a portion of their 2500 acres of wilderness where you can spot alligators and feed buffalos. You just got to check out the size of those wheels!!

To complete the farm experience, this place houses a chicken coop. Feeding the chicken was so much fun. Once the chicken knew you have food, they just flock over to beg for more. Hahaha. And such shiny and luxurious feather. There is also a country store on site selliong all kinds of citrus and honey products you can ever imagine. Have you ever had citrus wine?

Showcase of Citrus

Honeybell, Minneola, Temple, Valencia and Navel oranges all mature at different times of the season running from Nov to May. That's when you can see the large ripe fruits dangling on the branches. Of course we picked more fruits than we could possibly eat. Now I am busy making orange cheesecake for dessert, citrus butter for popovers in the afternoon and lots of orange juice for breakfast. 

No Bake No Crust Citrus Cheesecake

There is something to be said about the sweetness, freshness and fragrance of fruits just picked off the tree. I always feel so grounded when I am in nature and I have such an appreciation for all who still work the land today. I think my son had fun too on our adventure!

Ingredients for my no crust, no bake citrus cheese "cake":

1 8 oz package of cream cheese (room temperature)
4 Tbsp of sweetened condense milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup of heavy cream (very cold)
1/4 cup fresh squeeze orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp of lemon zest

1) Beat the cream cheese with condensed milk, orange juice and zest.

2) Whip heavy cream till light and fluffy. Evenly combine into cream cheese mixture.

3) Spoon into molds. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to set.

4) Top with sliced oranges and syrup.

Serves 4 or more depending on the size of your molds. Since I don't like the crust in cheesecake, I created these without crust and eat straight out of the cup with a spoon similar to pot de cream.

Friday, December 16, 2016

10 dos and don'ts with photobooks

Whenever poinsettias appear in the store windows, I know it is time to start work on my family photo book. Creating a family album each year has become a ritual. It enables me to relive all the fond memories and ensures that all the highlights of the year are captured. I fumbled and stumbled with my first "production" many years back but have since gotten much better at it. Today I am sharing some of the dos and dont's that I learned along the way.

1.  DO create a photo book. They make excellent coffee table books and are great conversation starters with holiday visitors. I've even seen my friends go back to previous years and laugh at some of the goofy moments.

2.  DON'T try to complete a book in a day. Take time to collect your pictures, savour the journey and reminisce what made those moments special.

3.   DO browse the design templates that are available on the website you're using. Many provide sample pictures and descriptions. They helped me find different ways of hightlighing my trip that are unique.

4.   DON'T just put all your pictures onto the page. Write a caption. Group into a theme. Complement colors. Know where subjects are looking for proper placement on a page.  It's not only about the pictures, it's about recreating the feelings you have captured .

5.  DO experiment with colors and patterns in the background. You'll be surprised how those details can instantly make the page stand out by providing needed contrast or harmony that you didn't think possible.

6.   DON'T need to include ALL your pictures.  If you have 100 pictures on your day trip to the Eiffle tower, pick the best and/or representative shots that reflect your day.  It could be the architecture. The wind blown scarf. And of course, the bright smile on your loved ones' face.

7.   DO include some detail pictures; such as the surrounding landscape. This helps to give the story behind the story.

8.   DON'T try to put everything into one book if you had a really busy year.  Consider multiple books such as Baby's First Year or Scandinavian Adventure. This way it does not become an overwhelming effort.

9.   DO pay a few dollars more for a lay flat binding. It makes such a difference as it is easier to read and ensures nothing is lost in your picture that may span both pages.

10.  DON'T forget to track promotions and use a coupon code for a discount. The design features and the number of pages do easily add up and can really put a dent in your wallet.

Now back to my coffee as I try to finish my book today!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

garden verses. 2016

If I were better at memorizing, I would have studied to be a master gardener. Now, I mostly seek out gardens wherever I venture. Though my personal favorite would be an English cottage garden or one that is Italian inspired, my travels this year took me to a far different style.

In Japan and Hong Kong, I found zen gardens in shrines and temples abound. 

The design typically calls for miniature landscapes enclosed behind walls; with ponds, meandering paths, moss rocks and pagodas. Even though there is a lot of hardscape, the lines tend to be curved as seen in the tree selection and the paths that lead the eye.

The light tend to be dappled, creating a sense of respite.
Texture comes mainly from the trees and plants in various shades of green. Even a withering lotus contributes to the form and architecture.

What about the flowers? But of course! I found the most amazing camillias in Wellington New Zealand. 

We took the cable car up from Lambton Quay to the Wellington Botanical Garden which also holds the breathtaking view of Wellington city. Situated on a hill, this expansive garden has dramtic landscapes and a wide variety of retreats.

Blooms were limited in the winter but we saw signs of spring throughout our 2 hour walk. As my friend quoted once, where flowers bloom, there is hope.

Mad for gardens. In love with flowers. More blossom infused amazing landscape awaits me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

the perfect 1 day itinerary: rotorua, new zealand

"Your nose will guide you to Rotorua", I was told. Indeed! Within 5 miles of down town, the distinct flavor of active thermal activity dominates the air. Famous for its spas, this town has now developed into a major adventure sports capital. We opted for milder offers of this wondrous place.

After a good night rest, consider starting the day mountain biking in the shade of mature redwood forests. There are several levels of trail networks. All fun and some with phenomenal views. Navigating them is very much like getting through Jurassic Park with its prehistoric ferns and animal callings.

Once your muscles are sore, take a warm soak in the thermal waters at the Polynesian Spa to sooth your body, spirit and soul. Their Deluxe Lake Spa has 5 amazingly landscaped mineral pools overlooking the serene Lake Rotorua. Choose the temperature that you prefer or soak in all five pools. Listen to the water streaming through the rocks and gaze at the birds grooming by the island in the middle of the lake.

Before sunset, stroll through Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland and take in all the colors of the rainbow. Located on the edge of one of the 4 calderas of the Taupo Volcano Zone, the actions of earthquakes, mineral laden water and geothermal activities created many unique formations, lakes and colored pools. The Champagne Pool is my favorite.

I fulfilled my dream of visiting New Zealand this year and I really enjoyed this itinerary when we stayed in Rotorua. We could have easily extended the stay to 2 or 3 days. Seriously consider that if you are still planning your trip. I hope you will have as much fun as we did. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Grey /grā/

During a girls lunch out, I casually mentioned that I plan to stop coloring my hair after I retire. My friends gasped. Some laughed. One later pleaded for me not to. "It is so unbecoming", she exclaimed. "And you'll look 10 years older!". That was a threat. Ha. But only to those who are vain. Am I?

So who am I? What defines me? Is it the number of wrinkles that are now clearly visible on my face? Is it the color of my hair? Or that extra few pounds I carry with maturity?

None of those! I claim that it is my unwavering commitment to my family, my contributions to my community, the support I give to my friends, my love for my husband, my loyalty and passion for my work. That should be what defines me. And NOT my physical appearance.

Embracing the change, I stopped coloring my hair. Short of shaving my head, I had to endure the pain of letting the color fade and grow out with time. Those 12 grueling months truly felt like a century. Thanks to several strangers that complemented me about my ombre (hair), I did not feel entirely like a weirdo. Which just proved that ultimately I am somewhat vain ...

Grey. A color intermediate between black and white.

I stand, decidedly grey.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

iris the greek goddess

My baby boy once slept right by these Japanese iris blooms. My dear friend brought me to this charming garden one May day many years ago. True to its portrayal in the Greek Mythology as the personification of the rainbow, the irise at the Presby Memorial Iris Garden in Upper Monclair, NJ proudly display myriads of vivid shades of hue; mesmerizing all alike.

Iris holds historical significance throughout the ages. Whether it be Claude Monet or Vincent van Gogh, iris had been featured on the canvas of many renowned artists. The stylized iris, fleur-de-lys, had been associated with monarchy and can be found in the coat of arms in Florence. Even Hubert Keller's famous San Francisco restaurant bears this name.

This garden boasts a phenomenal collection; including beardless Japanese and Siberian iris varieties. Meticulously maintained by the volunteers and staff of the non-profit Citizens Committee, the Presby Memorial Iris Garden draws record crowds each year. Bloom time shifts depending on weather and you can time your visit by checking bloom status on their website 

It is a great place for an afternoon stroll. The garden also hosts special Mother’s day events and Jazz concerts throughout the spring. If you have not grown irises before, you must give it a try. It is easy, hardy and stunning to look at. A consistent performer which does need to be divided every few years to keep the blooms going. It is great fun exchanging varieties with friends and expand your collection of the rainbow.