Monthly Archives: June 2014

US Virgin Islands.

There’s not very many beach “destinations” only a short direct flight away from mainland USA. You could fly to the Bahamas but there’s usually a stopover somewhere in Florida. The mainland itself has a few beachy areas that make for veritable beach vacations. But if you’re looking for a Caribbean flair without having to forgo American comforts, look no further than the Virgin Islands.

Historically, after being owned by various European settlers, the Dutch wrested control of the region until modern times. The United States bought the islands for a paltry $25million at the beginning of WW1, and they have been a US territory since then. The ancestry of its people however remains firmly African (from the slaves brought there by the Europeans. Ugh, what a nasty word/concept it is!)

Today, the USVI is a haven for those seeking powdery-sand beaches and spotless aquamarine waters. Our family isn’t inherently beach vacationers. However, after exposing the kids to Peru (not a vacationy vacation), we felt like they needed a beach break where there would be no expectations of getting them anywhere on time or them having to endure sightseeing that we wanted to do. So they did a lot of this.

ImageAnd this.

ImageOur stay at the Marriott Frenchman’s Bay was all that it promised to be. Our room, situated in a building right on the beach, meant that the kids could just descend right into the waves whenever the mood struck them. Although ours are still too young to be in the water without supervision, for older kids, I reckon, parents would appreciate not having to accompany them if they didn’t want to; you could keep an eye on them from your balcony. This is what our balcony looked out to.

ImageEating Vegetarian in USVI

For how common it’s becoming, being vegetarian still causes eating challenges in many countries. Luckily, we were able to discover a couple of restaurants that served tasty veggie fare so much so that we didn’t feel a pinch. The Sandbar restaurant in our hotel, for one, served a killer Black Bean Burger. A crispy patty sandwiched between crunchy buns, served with a mustard aioli, really hit the spot. Sandbar also serves totally yummy drinks during happy hour every evening. I tried the Havana Blueberry cocktail that was just delicious — sweet vanilla rum mixed with fresh blueberries, passion fruit juice (and pieces!) and crushed graham cracker crumbs (what!). It was like a floating cake in a glass; if you’re a fan of sweet not dry cocktails, this is definitely your drink. The only downside was that because of the restaurant’s casual ambiance, the drinks were served in plastic cups. Half the fun of a cocktail is the vessel it’s served in, so a few negative points there.

We also discovered the bohemian Barefoot Buddha in town that serves yummy veggie wraps and sandwiches. It offers free Wifi, great food and a relaxed island vibe that is much appreciated in an otherwise lackluster town. We felt like besides the touristy area of St Thomas that boasts luxury brand outlet stores, bargain liquor shops and an open marketplace for the cruise-ship hordes, there wasn’t much else to do. I guess if you’re there for the beach you don’t really care for exploring much else. We took a quick driving tour of the whole island without stopping for much.

For once the kids weren’t complaining.

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Happy Birthday, Papa.

It was the hubster’s birthday yesterday. I won’t say which one because he’s sensitive about it. (Psst: Unknown sources allege that the date is also under dispute but you won’t hear anything from me :))

No matter how many disputes he and I may have about parenting strategies, discipline, the foods they ingest, or other things kid related, the kids themselves think of him as the choicest chunk of the family pie. They spent the whole morning making him birthday cards with heartfelt sentiments and looping personalized bracelets on their loom for him.

Dear Papa, I love you. Thanks you for being such a good dad. Thank you for playing sports with me. You’re the best dad ever.

Huh? Playing sports?!

The hearts card with colour within the lines has to count for something.

Wait. There’s more. The card came with a coupon for “anything you want” and a booklet describing reasons why “you are a great dad”.

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Reasons why you are a great dad:

  1. You play sports with me. (Again? Guess those once-a-week kicking around ball in the yard sessions hold more importance than I thought!)
  2. You help me build Legos. (Legit.)
  3. You plan fun vacations. (All the whining notwithstanding.)
  4. You let me walk on your back.
  5. You buy us cookies. (Unnaturally colored frosted ones from the grocery store. Bleh.)
  6. You fight me. (!)
  7. You throw me on the bed.
  8. You got us a new computer. (Touch screen!)

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Little R couldn’t NOT follow suit. His booklet contained ten pages of “NecstPau” which loosely translates to Next Page. (I was too busy icing cupcakes to correct his inventive spelling.) So basically the recipient gets to interminably turn pages to reveal a stick figure at the very end depicting a male person. Open to interpretation.

All these goodies were then stashed in a shoe box and wrapped to look (kind of) like a present. Then the wait began for the birthday boy to get home from work before pouncing on him with loud requests for opening his “presents”. Of course daddy loved them! True to form, he redeemed his “anything” coupon right away by decreeing a school-night bed time even though the kids are off for the summer. Yay! 🙂

After presents came the cupcakes.

IMG_8347Although these cupcakes looked pretty, I over beat the batter and they were too tough. Notice the cracked and pale tops?  Classic over beating clue. Sadly, no recipe today.

The special dinner of chole-bature, chick pea masala/fried bread, more than made up for the cupcake fiasco though.

Bottoms up, old man. 🙂

Royal Icing recipe for my Photo Class friends.

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I took a photography basics class this spring. What a wonder it is to realize that one can use flash in the day. Or how to capture the blurriness of motion in an action shot. Heck, moving on from the Auto setting to some others feels like a big accomplishment when a photo turns out better than you were expecting it to.

ImageNot surprisingly, a lot of the times I completely ignored the given homework in lieu of cookie pictures that loosely followed class guidelines. It just so happened that this last month or so has been a busy baking season as well with lots of school-year-end/summer initiation events that I  made cookies for. (I made these adorable summer themed watermelon, Popsicle and sun ones for my son’s second grade cookout.) So my poor classmates were exposed to way more cookie pictures — involuntarily — all of them inadvertently at the time of day when the morning munchies hit. (No? It’s just me? Ah.)

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Anyway, folks, I use Royal Icing (RI) to frost all of my sugar cookies. This icing is soft and pliable when made but will dry hard enough to pack. There’s tons of info and great cookier blogs out there with variations of this type of icing  Here’s the recipe that has worked for me so far. It is basically adapted from the master cookier Meaghan’s blog The Decorated Cookie, butI’ve tweaked it just a tiny bit to suit myself.

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Royal Icing to decorate sugar cookies (Makes enough to fill ~3 12′ piping bags, which decorated about 25-30 medium sized cookies).

4 tbsp meringue powder (I use Americolor now but Wilton gave great results for a long time, available at Michaels)
scant 1/2 cup water
6-7 cups confectioners sugar
2 tbsp Crisco
2 tsp vanilla

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine meringue powder and water until mixed and slightly frothy. Add sugar one cup at a time and continue beating. After sugar is mixed in add shortening and vanilla. Mix everything on medium-high speed for 5-6 minutes. (It will seem like a long time but let it.) Empty icing out into an airtight container.

Note: I would highly encourage watching a few Youtube videos re the consistency of this icing. If it’s too thick it won’t spread too well; too runny and it’ll slide off your cookie. Many cookiers prepare RI in varying consistencies for outlining and flooding purposes. I’ve done both but to save time and energy will go with a 12-second icing most times.