Holiday Movies…..

It doesn’t bother me in the least to say that I love the old holiday movies and a number of the remakes/updates. There have been a lot of versions of “It’s A Wonderful Life”, most of them good, and I’m truly torn between “The Bishop’s Wife” and “The Preacher’s Wife”. I still think that George C. Scott in “A Christmas Carol” is one of the best versions, but I love “Scrooged”.

“Miracle on 34th Street” is another one that they did well with the remake even though I lean toward the original with young Natalie Wood. Hallmark of course has a string of holiday movies that are always enjoyable to watch. My husband rolls his eyes at the whole holiday movie bit since there usually aren’t explosions or aliens involved. This is another of those arrangements that you come to in a marriage. Since the holiday movies run on a variety of channels between now and New Year’s, I can indulge myself with afternoon shows (or record them) and he doesn’t have to watch.

So, okay, out there – chime in with your favorites and any remakes/updates that you like, and I’m not sure that “Bad Santa” qualifies.

Frying vs. Roasting Turkey…..

Frying a turkey has become fairly commonplace, but it definitely requires the right equipment and an understanding of what you’re getting into. The subject came up in discussing what to do for Christmas dinner with the neighbors. The situation is that they want to host dinner, but the turkey part is a bit beyond their capability. My husband enjoys frying turkey and indeed, the turkey fryer he has was a present that I gave him several years ago. So, the neighbor called to inquire as to if they brought us the turkey, would we fry it up? That became a qualified “yes”; qualified because right now, there is a chance that my husband will be working Christmas Day (people like to go diving on Christmas). If he is working, there is absolutely no way that I can tackle frying the turkey alone. Even though it does cook remarkably quickly in that manner, the timing would still be tight if we tried to wait and fry it after he got in from work. It isn’t that I don’t know the process for frying, it’s that managing a 12-15 pound bird in and out of 3-5 gallons of boiling oil is not something that I want to engage in. There are simply too many things that can go wrong.

Roasting, I can handle and it’s not a bad back-up plan. In fact, I think that whichever way we go, we will brine the turkey the night before. That’s a step that we’ve discussed in the past, but haven’t done. Alton Brown is one of my husband’s favorite celebrity chefs and he declares that brining a turkey makes a big difference in being able to have it come out of the oven both juicy and golden brown.  I will keep you posted on the progress of this plan. In the meantime, do I have any takers on how to prepare turkey for the holidays?

When You Don’t Have Family for the Holidays….

I wrote a similar post for Valentine’s Day. The truth is that holidays that emphasizes being with family and close friends can be painful for those who may be alone. The level of pain can run the spectrum from an irritant like a mosquito bite to full-blown depression. (This is also true if it is the first holiday after the loss of a loved one.)

When my husband and I were on active duty, we would host dinner for friends that were single and treat it like a party. We don’t know as many single people now although we do keep our ears open in case we can make the same offer. If you live in an urban area there tends to be enough diversity to have dinner at a Chinese or Indian restaurant, movie theaters open, etc.,.  Certain restaurants never close and others have made the business decision to be open on holidays specifically to cater to people who might either be single or not wish to cook. One of the older short stories on my web site is, Draft With a Sprig of Mistletoe, to acknowledge those of us who have spent many a holiday without significant other or family to join.

However, if you are in a small town where traditional family holidays are met with most businesses closing down and there are no singles in your circle to spent the day with, a little planning will be in order.  Pampering yourself is high on my list, whatever form that takes. Sleeping late, eating nothing but desserts or junk food all day, a DVD marathon of a particular genre. On the more altruistic side, there might be a place doing charitable work that you can volunteer for and then pamper yourself.  Perhaps there is a nature-related activity you can enjoy or a little day trip that is appropriate.

As for a holiday meal, if you cook, experimenting with a meal might be in order, or go traditional. A small turkey breast is a good option and there are frequently the one-two person portions of sides in the refrigerated or freezer sections of the grocery store. If you don’t cook, take advantage of places that cater, get the smallest number of servings they sell and then figure out what to do with leftovers.

In closing, if you are alone at the holidays and do go out, please remember to smile and say kind words to those who are working. It may be only a small thing, but you might be surprised at how it can help, too.

Thanksgiving Travels……

This will be a short post and then a gap until Friday. We always go to Georgia at Thanksgiving to be with my husband’s mom and whichever assorted family members are assembled. The crowd will be a big one this year. Two segments of the family alternate years to accomodate in-law situations and this is the year when all gather in Georgia. We don’t alternate because I go to Daddy’s in October for his birthday and that’s pretty close together timing-wise for a trip. Anyway, going to Georgia is similar to Louisana in the sense that we have no internet in either place and posting to the blog requires going into town to seek wi-fi. These are the days when having our own wi-fi capability would be useful, but since it’s only a couple of times a year, it isn’t that inconvenient.

Although we normally avoid traveling on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, there was a scheduling issue this time and we opted to come a little way last night that will hopefully let us avoid the major bottlenecks today. There is one stretch of I-75 that has been under construction for several years and that’s always potentially slow-going.

We are now at the point with my husband’s family of four generations together, one of the sights when you can see the great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and child laughing or reminiscing, the great-grandfathers no longer with us. There is a moment of poignancy as the infant or child of the fourth generation has no idea what a fleeting moment  it is. And so, for family, friends, and anyone reading the post today, travel safely and enjoy your day. May those inevitable irritations that pop up be few and quickly pass. Happy Thanksgiving!

A Delightful Evening……

NASCAR Driver Kenny Wallace receiving cooking tips from Miami Chef Adrianne Calvo during a fundraiser to benefit “Speediatrics”. This, one of many NASCAR charities provides funds to Homestead and Daytona Hospitals children’s programs. Photo courtesy of Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Even as I write this, the final race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship has just seen Brad Keselowski take the Cup and Jeff Gordon win at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. My husband is there of course, although he worked Friday and yesterday,  missing the Truck and the Nationwide races. Actually he was able to watch the Trucks and the last part of Nationwide on television. For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, that’s okay because the races per se are not the point of this post.

The final races of the NASCAR season are held here, and there are different events that occur prior to the races. This year they added something new to the mix – a charity event of the Championship Taste 2012 to raise money for “Speediatrics”. This is one of the charities supported by the NASCAR Foundation. Speediatrics helps support children’s units at the local hospital and one in Daytona Beach. I had been to other fundraisers at the Speedway and didn’t realize this one was arranged differently. Instead of the usual bar and hors d’oeuvres set up in the Champions Club, this was outside under the canopies in what they called the Chalet Village. A series of tents featured several restaurants and one cookie maker and there were two or three bars. Iced down Coca-cola products and water were in containers as part of your ticket. When you checked in you were given a card with the names of the restaurants to help you track which tents you visited and a judging card . You strolled in any order you wanted to, the servings tapas-sized. There was also a raffle with some nice prizes and an entertaininng, “Chef’s Challenge” where drivers Kenny Wallace, Johanna Long, and Sean Corr competed in preparing a chicken and broccoli stir-fry under the eye of Miami Chef Adrianne Calvo.

Oscar and Golden Globe winning producer Jon Landau was instrumental in this effort. As the Celebrity Host, he was gracious and engaging making his way around to thank the attendees prior to the presentation of the $100,000 dollar check to hospital representatives. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I only wished that I had urged more people to participate. I will certainly do so for next year if they hold the event again. Bravo to all who helped make Championship Taste 2012 a success!

Presentation of $100,000 check to hospitals. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Food and Love……..

Champagne for our anniversary dinner.

This is a few days later than I intended since I was posting about the Belize trip. Our 24th anniversary was this past Monday, and the Belize trip was really a part of that celebration, just a few weeks early because of timing. In addition to scuba, one of the things that we enjoy doing together is cooking. We both have our specialties and we also try new dishes. We decided to go with “gourmet at home” for our anniversary dinner this year and that was initiated with a trip to Total Wine. Anniversaries are worthy of Veuve Cliequot champagne and Total Wine is one of the few places where we can find Loire Valley Anjou white wine. Yes, I am aware there are better whites, but the Anjou wines are quite good and I am sentimental about them. With that said, on to the simple, yet lovely menu we prepared.

Stone crabs are in season, so we began with those. We added marinated artichoke hearts to Hugh’s mixed green salad and skipped them for me. We had some leftover vegetables in cheese sauce and there’s nothing wrong with using leftovers for a meal like this. The main attraction was lobster in a modified hollandaise sauce served in puff pastry shells. And yes, I use the Knorr mix and Pepperidge Farm shells. I like Knorr and I find it much less stressful than tackling that type of sauce from scratch. (I do not wrestle with puff pastry sheets, although had the week not been so hectic, I would have used phyllo sheets and had lobster napoleans instead puffed pastry.) Dessert  was admittedly pre-made, a nice peanut butter and chocolate sauce ice cream pie; the very small one considering what we had for dinner. I think I have mentioned before that desserts are not my forte and I rarely bother with making them myself.

It was a delicious meal, and had it not been quite so windy, we would have dined pool side. Trying to hold down your napkin while eating does take a bit of the romance away. Oh, I guess I should have put candles on the table, too. Ah well, maybe next year.

Lobster in Puff Pastry Shell as main course

Belize, Final Day…..

General tourist Map of Belize from one of the on-line sites.

The breeze is cooler this morning – I would be more comfortable with a long-sleeve shirt or I could move inside. However, I love early mornings in a harbor as the water ripples calmly, boat moored, waiting for the day to begin. For those who wish to take this trip, I was overly cautious about our planned return. There is a shuttle system arranged by the Sundancer II crew and we could have easily made the 11:30 a.m. flight to Miami. I booked us on the 2:30 p.m. The Radisson cleverly built a hotel across the street with a nice restaurant (long pants and shirt with a collar required) and both a casual indoor and poolside bar/restaurant. They have an arrangement where you can “hang out”, and access wif-fi which is what we will do when we leave the boat at 8:00 a.m. The Belize airport, while nice, does not have extensive amenities. The crew holds your baggage until time for the shuttle, so you don’t have to haul stuff around.

People are already discussing what trips they may take next and of course the crew invites us to return to this one. The sun is fully up now, and it looks as if it will be another pretty day. We knew nothing of Hurricane  Sandy and there is always an element of irony when we who live in South Florida have to be concerned about our Virginia relatives being hit with a hurricane.  Anyway, this trip comes to a close, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed the series of posts. The friends from Maine were staying for another week to go land-based out of Hamanasi Resort in Hopkins, Belize ( By coincidence, we sat next to a couple waiting at the airport who were on their way home after spending a week at Almond Beach on Jaguar Beach which is apparently very close to Hamanasi, but is not a dedicated dive resort. It too sounded lovely. (

We didn’t do the interior of Belize with the Mayan temples and other eco-tourism offerings, but with what we saw of the land while staying on Ambergis Caye, I imagine another trip will be in our not too distant future.

The map I’ve shown above came form one of the on-line tourist sites and I thought it might help orient those who aren’t familiar with the area. (Belize used to be British Hondouras.) The larger islands of Turneffe and Lighthouse are the sites we explored in the Sundancer II.

Dive Deck of the Sundancer II

Day Nine, Belize…..

Jacks gathering under the Sundancer II

Our trip is coming to a close. Two dives, then bound for Belize City. It promises to be a beautiful day, starting with a lovely sunrise. I did the first, early dive and sat the second out, but what a nice dive it was. Visibility was better, marine life with good “finds”, although no toad fish, turtles, rays, or sharks. Not a single shark all week for my husband. I could care less if I never swim with another one, (except for a whale shark of course as a goal), but that’s just me. Anyway, lunch is to be traditional Belizean fare of beef stew, snapper in a sauce, stewed beans and rice and oven-baked plantains, and this afternoon will be open for wandering around Belize City or simply relaxing. There will be a wine and cheese event around five, then we’re on our own for dinner. There’s a place that our friends know of and want to try so that’s fine by us. With only beer and wine on board (not a bad thing, mind you), I may need a rum drink of some type. We don’t want to take liquids home with us, but the Belizean coffee is another matter. If I can find that with no problem, I’ll take a bag back. Coffees, like rums, are island products that we frequently take home with us.

This is the time during the trip when gear is rinsed, hopefully drying well before re-packing. It’s perfect weather for that and as clear as the sky is, we should be okay with no rain shower to interrupt the drying process. The water is calm; I’d say no more than 2-foot waves, with an occasional three–to-four thrown in. For a boat this size, it doesn’t get “bouncy” unless the waves are eight feet or greater. I do have to get my rings out of the cosmetic bag. I took them off our first day of diving. It isn’t that I really think they will come loose enough to fall off when we’re underwater, but I don’t want to take the chance either. You do sometimes find the proverbial “treasures of the deep” – assorted items ranging from jewelry to flashlights and so forth. Some can be recovered and reused; others, not so much.

In returning to the Sundancer and crew, however, it is a boat that I can recommend. It’s my understanding that the best time to do this itinerary is in March-April because the visibility tends to be more consistent and you have the chance of seeing migrating whales. The Sundancer II vessel is well laid out and the crew of Captain Eddy (Eddie?), Megan, Elia, John, Simon, Carlos, and Jerry were great. They did everything they could to accomodate us, clearly showed an enjoyment of diving and know the dive sites well.

It has been a pleasant trip and I’m glad we came.

Queen Angel on Reef in Belize at “Cleaning Station”

Day Eight, Belize……

Spotted Toad Fish in Belize

Before, I forget – Happy Birthday to our, son, Dustin (25 October). Okay, Mother Nature was a bit feisty yesterday and sent us a fair amount of wind to stir things up. So, the noticeable current on the second dive did me in for the day. Even though we moved on to Turneffe Island a day early and got a significantly improved conditions, I chose to sit out the afternoon dives and my husband finally got to see some eels by going with our friends. For whatever reason, I had been finding lots of sea cucumbers instead on this trip. However, this morning’s first dive was filled with eels, so perhaps that problem has been resolved. The underwater visibility is down some and while that makes it slightly less pleasant, it isn’t a big deal. For the second dive, we chose to look specifically for smaller creatures in the sand and around the coral heads so the reduced visibility wasn’t a factor. I will do the first dive of the afternoon, and not the fourth. My husband will go with our friends again and actually be able to dive several minutes extra. I often come back 5-15 minutes before my husband really wants to, but he indulges me.

I must now talk about toad fish for those not familiar with them. Toad fish are odd creatures (of which there are many) that you encounter underwater.  They are not found in many places, and certainly not in South Florida. Turneffe Island is the native home of the spotted toad fish and you have to know what signs to look for. They tuck into rocky areas, but “clear out” sand from their habitat, so there will usually be a uniform pile of sand mounded in front. The afternoon divers yesterday found toad fish without me and when I went on my next dive, I was in fact victorious in my search. Others located more, but I was happy with the one. More eels, too, but not another turtle, which was mildly disappointing. A quick glimpse of an eagle ray and plenty of yellow-headed jaw fish, plus more arrow crabs and Pedersen shrimp.

As aside about lionfish because a staff member had a terrible encounter that will actually be a guest post in the future. For those who are not aware of the danger, lionfish are beautiful and are favored in many aquariums. The problem is that they are Pacific and Indian Ocean natives and have no predators in our hemisphere. They are voracious predators, have toxic spines, and breed rapidly. A situation occurred several years ago that released lionfish into Atlantic and Caribbean waters and as happens with invasive species, they are out of control. They deplete and sometime decimate native fish populations and there is an effort to eradicate them; an effort that has had limited success to date. Marine biologists are working hard to try and find a predator that will take them on, but again, no luck yet. The staff at Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) in Key Largo has developed a cookbook to show how to safely catch, clean, and cook them, but that hasn’t caught on in too many places yet either. It is a delicious fish and we eat them whenever we get the chance.

Oh, the terrible encounter was that a staff member was jabbed in the hand with a spine as she was distracted and her hand is swollen and temporarily restricted in use. It’s also quite painful, although tolerable. She is literally “suffering with a smile”, not to mention lots of jokes about her “claw hand”, and hopefully the swelling will diminish soon.

Sea Cucumber on Reef

Day Seven in Belize….

Green Moray Eel. Eels prefer to stay tucked in during the day and mostly feed at night.

Ah, an extra early morning for me. My internal clock that usually goes off at 5:00 a.m. was at 4:00 this morning – an inconvenient time. The reason for that is unless I can go back to sleep immediately (as does happen), then I might as well get up. If I toss and turn for fifteen minutes, then the odds are it will be for another several minutes and now I am approaching 4:30 which rounds up to 5:00. Don’t worry if you don’t follow that logic because my husband finds it to be merely another of those pesky things that one works out in a marriage that lasts for any appreciable length of time. He vainly suggests that I simply try to go back to sleep and I get up knowing the futility of his suggestion. The coffee wasn’t yet made since 5:30 is what is set up for early risers. There was hot water though and I enjoy hot tea, too. I will have my sunrise though, the reverse of last night when now the dark sky transitions through gray, pink and gold tinged clouds become white against a backdrop of blue.

Oh yes, speaking of night brings night diving to mind. There is a passage in Deadly Doubloons where I describe night diving to some extent. As with any ecosystem, there are night creatures that make limited appearances during the day. Fish tuck up into the reef at night to sleep, hopefully protected from the predators searching for a meal. Eels, lobster, octopus emerge from ledges and crevices seeking prey and sharks often feed at night, performing their primary food-chain function of gobbling up fish that have been slowed due to age or other infirmity. Contrary to popular fiction of ripping into humans as a source of food, sharks help keep the reef ecosystem in balance through this natural order. Squid often also prefer night and other activities with corals and so forth take place. It is this nocturnal side of marine life that lures divers into the water, and it is quite dark. Visibility is limited to what you can see within the radius of a dive light and that means one hand is devoted to holding the light. Well, there are some other methods, but in general, it is holding the light in one hand. I find it to be a cumbersome process, plus the topside and water temperature drops at night, frequently to a degree that I is uncomfortable for me. While those factors contribute to my lack of enthusiasm for night diving, the real reason is because night diving interferes with drinking and leisurely dining. The approved mantra among dive operators is, “Your first drink of the day is your last dive of the day.” Having a cold beer at the end of an afternoon dive is a distinct pleasure as is having wine or beer with dinner and then, voila!, you aren’t supposed to dive. In my years of diving, I think I’ve done less than a dozen night dives. The night dive off the Kona Coast to see the manta rays is a definite exception, but once was enough from my perspective.

There is, however, the option of “dawn diving” where you slip into the water approximately 30 minutes before scheduled sunrise. I’ve only done that a couple of times and you get to see the remaining night creatures that are making their way to rocky overhangs as the reef around you relinquishes darkness to light. That, I enjoy, but it doesn’t appeal to most people.