Sunday, September 30, 2012

Asian Sesame Salmon - and Mommy's Secret Helper

Come September, I think just about every mom is ready for a bit of peace.  While summer may have been absolutely fabulous with no alarms to wake up to, a bit of travel, a few days lounging by the pool, and no strict schedules, I know the thought of a day all to myself with the kids back to school and my husband back to work sounded like a little slice of heaven.

I had grandiose ideas of planning healthy, well rounded meals, leisurely shopping at midweek Farmer's Markets, and our family sitting together around the table enjoying a fabulous dinner created by me.  Sketching out the menu would be done as I sipped my morning coffee, then I'd toss the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher and fold up the last of that laundry.  There would be time for the gym, walking the pups, and with all of my organization, perhaps even a lounge in the sun with one of the magazine from my every growing unread stack.

This is about the point where all of those fantasies fell apart...  Enter my driving schedule which has me on the road multiple times a day, never driving very far, but the mere fact that I'm jumping behind the wheel every few hours to deliver some child to some new destination interrupts my organization and takes time.

Add to that, the fact that my husband has been on vacation for some 19 days (having him home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no schedule at all...), and I have even less of an organized life.  Yes, we've had time for a few lunches together and we've walked the dogs along the beach, but by the time those two activities are done it's time for me to jump back in the car for school pick up and I still haven't planned dinner.

As the kids arrive home from school hungry and with only a short time before they need head back out the door, I needed something quick, easy, and on the table in a flash.

Here is where I am thankful to be a part of DailyBuzz Food's Tastemaker Program.  With an offer in my email box to try McCormick's Recipe Inspirations, I hit "reply" within mere seconds as my subconscious begged for meal-prep help.  Within days a box arrived on my doorstep hefting some 10 samples of McCormick's Asian Sesame Salmon Inspiration packages.

Salmon, always a favorite with our family, is a staple in my freezer and just happened to be thawing as the box of seasonings arrived after school.  Seizing an Inspiration Package I whipped up the handy recipe on the back in less than 3 minutes, placed the thawed salmon into the glaze, and popped the fish into the oven.  Setting rice on the stove to boil and tossing together a quick salad, I was looking like a hero with dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Pre-measured portions of spices, sesame seeds, and dried garlic and onions bring wholesome, real ingredients (with no added sodium) to the recipe while combining with a few additional commonly stocked items in your pantry.  Honey, soy sauce and freshly sliced green onions finished off the recipe, and served with the rice and salad, a healthy meal set the kids on their way for the evening activities.

Thanks DailyBuzz Food and McCormick for making me shine like a superstar.  Oh, and please accept my apologies for not mentioning to the family that it was really you that made the fish so good...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Amazing Race Nutella Biscotti

Amazing Race Nutella Biscotti

Being middle aged and not a tv watcher, I sometimes find myself a little out of touch.   As such, when rumor had it that Liv's dance choreographer had returned from a month-long adventure doing tv's Amazing Race, my mind immediately turned to food and dreams of exotic restaurants across the world.  Excited, I asked her, "So did you have any memorable meals??  What was your favorite?"

Obviously, I had never actually seen an episode of The Amazing Race, and Miss Abbie's comment of, "Well... we didn't really have time to enjoy any meals..." left me thinking, "Didn't she have time to eat??".

Yes, she did eat, but now that I have YouTubed two seasons of the reality show (can I mention here that I ❤  Mark and Bopper??), I have a better understanding of why she didn't have any memorable, in my way of thinking, meals.

For those of you out of the loop, The Amazing Race is a reality tv show which follows some 11 teams as they race around the world while facing some amazing physical as well as mental challenges.  Through a process of weekly eliminations, the final team wins the race.

According to a press release from CBS, "Teams will travel through three continents, nine countries and cover more than 25,000 miles, where they'll be faced with a 10-story rappel in Los Angeles, frying an egg on their heads in Indonesia, working as 'rat collectors' in Bangladesh and revisiting one of the Race's most infamous Roadblocks in the Netherlands in this season's Switchback."

Frying an egg on their heads in Indonesia??  Somehow that wasn't what I was thinking when I asked about memorable meals...

Meet Abbie & Ryan - Team Dark Green

A favorite choreographer of Liv's from her dance team, I'm eager to follow Abbie and her teammate, Ryan, on the show.  Following the rules of the show to a "T", Abbie has not given us a single clue as to how she fared in the competition, but if I had to make a guess, I'd put my money on her going pretty darn far, if not all the way.

Sample of Miss Abbie's choreography & costumes
A role model at Liv's dance studio, Abbie exemplifies talent, stamina, and a healthy competitive spirit. She challenges the girls to accomplish their best on a daily basis, not only in dance but in life in general.  And indeed, she often pulls that best out of them.

Remember "The Boots??".  Yep... she's the one that had me working all those hours painting, repainting and embellishing boots that she had turned into tap shoes for one of last year's numbers.  At the time, us dance moms were all asking, "What is she thinking???".  But then we saw the boots on stage, and we knew whatever she was thinking, it was awesome.

And speaking of awesome, our Nutella Biscotti is pretty darn awesome too.  Amazing, I might even say.

Originally made for a dance function last year, Miss Abbie was seen returning to the biscotti basket more than once (actually, I think it was something like 4 times...) along with the rest of the team members.  These Nutella Biscotti have become somewhat of a team tradition over the last year with numerous girls asking for the recipe as well as special birthday batches.

Nutella Biscotti, Coffee
Nutella Biscotti is the perfect afternoon snack even if you are not running the Amazing Race...
As it seems Miss Abbie's memorable Amazing Race meals may include frying those eggs on her head, I'm thinking that if she had stashed a few of these beauties into her pockets as she navigated those foreign streets, she may have had at least a snack to remember fondly.

Tune in this Sunday, September 30, 2012 for the premier episode of Season 21 of The Amazing Race.  We'll be rooting for team dark green...
Go Abbie & Ryan!!
Abbie & Ryan, Amazing Race Season 21
Abbie and Ryan, photo courtesy of The Amazing Race

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Whole Grain Pumpkin Banana Nut Bread

Whole Grain Pumpkin Banana Nut Bread

Autumn may have quietly crept into our San Diego world as we slept a few nights ago, but looking behind me, I see a stretch of claw marks as I do my best to hold on to my beloved summer.  This summer in particular, while it may not be quite as popular with many of the locals, has been a personal favorite of mine with its above average number of hot and somewhat sultry days.

Whole Grain Pumpkin Banana Nut Bread
Living near the coastline, many of our local homes (ours included) do not include air conditioning, and as such, temps in the mid-80's with humidity to match have many people moaning about the "extreme" weather.  I, however, have been waking with a smile with no jacket required.  I love living the day in tank tops and skirts and then leaving for the evening knowing a chill is not going to set in before I arrive home.

That being said, I'm not opposed to a staple of fall and a family favorite - pumpkin.  Actually, my pantry is stocked year round with cans of Trader Joe's canned pumpkin, and we often enjoy Pumpkin Pancakes or even Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls as treats in mid-July or over Spring Break.

Luckily, though my stash of pumpkin may be dwindling, we had enough to get us through, and.., shopping at TJ's yesterday brought a most welcome sight:

Trader Joe's Pumpkin

I'm still not admitting to the arrival of autumn, but I will admit to becoming just a little addicted to our carpool treat last week - the esteemed Pumpkin Banana Bread.  Filled with generous flavors of cinnamon and pumpkin, the bread follows a somewhat traditional path.  Add in a couple of those over-ripe bananas sitting on your counter, and you have a moist, tender bread that would be perfect as a fall treat if one were considering greeting the season with a welcome.  As we are still celebrating summer though, I'm proclaiming this bread the perfect back to summer school treat, just perfect for the lunchbox.

Whole Grain Pumpkin Banana Nut Bread

Friday, September 21, 2012

Andaz San Diego's Salon Event - The Art of Sake and Sushi featuring Katsuya

Katsuya San Diego
Katsuya, located in the Andaz, San Diego Hotel
Having lived in San Diego for some 15 years, I consider myself fairly comfortable referring hotels and restaurants in the area.  However, every once in a while, a new revelation makes itself known, and so it was with San Diego's Andaz Hotel and the Katsuya restaurant.

Receiving an invitation to the Andaz Hotel's Art of Sake and Sushi event, I immediately sent the email over to my sushi obsessed husband.  Within minutes I had an email back with an exclamation of, "Yes!  Let's go!"  While many of my blog events do not particularly interest him, this one was right up his alley.

Sake Tasting
Arriving in San Diego's famed Gas Lamp Quarter to the Andaz, a Hyatt property, valet attendants quickly opened my car door, and within seconds the car was whisked away to some parking lot that I didn't have to think about.  Boasting some 159 guest rooms and suites, the Andaz describes itself as a "boldly progressive addition to the city's historic quarter".

While I didn't actually check into the hotel, I've read that registration occurs as one is seated in the Andaz Lounge while being treated to a complimentary beverage.  Featuring Respire by Hyatt hypo-allergenic rooms, the hotel website provides the best description:

Respire by Hyatt - Hypo-Allergenic Rooms are designed to provide a comfortable sleeping environment for all guests, especially allergy sufferers. Although all Hyatt rooms follow a strict protocol for cleanliness, Respire by Hyatt hotel rooms in downtown San Diego undergo an additional six-step process to reduce airborne particles and minimize the presence of potential irritants. This process includes installation of a state-of-the-art air purification system and treatment of all fabrics and surfaces in the guestroom. All Respire by Hyatt rooms are installed and maintained on an ongoing basis by PURE Solutions NA. 

Bucket 'O Sake Instagram I sent to make friends envious!
My visit though, revolved around an Andaz Salon Event, one of a series of events featured at the hotel.  Past events have included a wine paring held in the popular Ivy Wine Bar, Art shows, Fashion Shows and for me, the Art of Sake and Sushi featuring pairings by the esteemed Chef de Cuisine, Adam Cho of Katsuya, a restaurant located on the first floor of the hotel.

Treated to a flight of premium Sake tastes, my husband and I came away with different favorites, but with a better understanding of the spirit made from fermented rice.  Sakes from the Western Coast of the US contrasted with sakes made from water hailing from Mt. Fuji, and all came to life with a detailed narrative by the charming, sake expert, Takuya Shimomura.

Moving on to the sushi pairing,
Katsuya Chef de Cuisine, Adam Cho, demonstrated sushi preparation as he filled the group in on the importance of the rice, types of fish, and technique.  As he finished, tables had been set for us to try our own hand that the craft, and laughter filled the room as the guests discovered that making a sushi roll just might not be as easy as it looks.  Luckily, previously prepared sushi samples had also been set out for those of us who were not so successful with our own creations.

Sushi tasting and pairing featuring Katsuya's Chef de Cuisine, Adam Cho
All in all, a very enjoyable event and one that I'm thrilled to have taken part in.  For future Salon Events at the Andaz, keep an eye on the Andaz Facebook page.  Whether you are in San Diego for business or pleasure, or simply a weekend staycation, the Andaz, with its convenient Gas Lamp location, fabulous Ivy Wine Bar and the tempting Katsuya restaurant looks to be the place to be.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Vanilla Bean Scones

vanilla bean scones

Friday night... it used to mean so much more than it does now.  In my early 20's, I would head home after a full day of school in addition to a full day of work, shower, glam myself up, and wait for the clock to tick 10:00PM.  After all, everyone knows that anyone heading out before 10 was definitely not "cool", and cool is what I wanted to be.  Tired, but looking forward to seeing friends, I would meet my BFF, Gail, at our local hang out where we both somehow gained a second wind and would dance the night away.

Vanilla Bean Scones, Glaze
Now, however, Friday brings a whole new meaning.  Friday is the only night of the week that Liv doesn't have dance, hence, I don't have to drive anywhere if I don't want to.  And frequently, I don't want to.  While I do enjoy the occasional High School football game or an early bird cocktail with girlfriends, I mostly look forward to a night with no schedule and a bedtime bordering on 9PM. 

With the car parked and put to bed by 3 PM this afternoon, our family has enjoyed this unusually hot San Diego Friday evening (our temps reached the mid to high 90's, and with no air conditioning, it's a little hot...) under a fan catching up on the latest episodes of So You Think You Can Dance along with a simple dinner from the grill.

Looking for a sweet treat, Liv thankfully remembered the product of my early morning baking extravaganza - tender, sweet, Vanilla Bean Scones.  Topped with a sweet glaze speckled with tiny vanilla bean specs, I originally proclaimed these scones bland.  That proclamation, perhaps an early jump to conclusion, came as they were fresh from the oven while the glaze was still "drippy" and not set.

Vanilla Beans with Plumeria
Liv and her girlfriend a few hours later, however, had a very opposite opinion.  Bringing them scones for our carpool ride home, each girl's eyes nearly popped as they took their first bites, and asking for critiques, the only on they came up with was, "You didn't bring enough!".

Taking my second try this evening, I have to agree with the girls.  Tender and with that ever so slight "crunch" as one bites into the hardened vanilla glaze, these delicate scones had me slyly reaching for seconds.  A wonderful, basic recipe that eases one's sweet tooth and brings a little excitement into Friday night.

Speaking of Friday night, it's 9:05.  I need to get to bed...

Vanilla Bean Scones, Vanilla Beans, Plumeria

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Bean, Holiday gift
Homemade Vanilla Extract - One to two beans pre 4 oz. bottle.  This extract has been steeping for 1 week
Entering Costco last week, a glittering snowman surrounded by strings of blinking Christmas lights greeted my empty cart.  With our September San Diego temps and humidity boarding on my beloved tropic level, I have to admit that the snowman gave me no pleasure whatsoever, and even had me thinking of boycotting the looming holidays altogether.

Costco Snowman
With visions of shopping, wrapping, organizing and decorating filling my head, a shudder ran through my body, and I moved on to the safer grounds like the produce section - thankfully still bearing tree-ripened peaches and pallets of summer watermelons.  Avoiding the objectionable showman on my way out of the store, all holiday thoughts were pushed far from my mind.

Or were they...?  Reflecting on the amount of shopping I will need to do, I felt that little tightening in my stomach of, "What am I going to do?".  With so many little gifts needed throughout the season, I usually try to put together something homemade, something that I hope the teachers, neighbors, hostesses, etc will appreciate.  We've done tins of candy, nuts and/or cookies and breads.  Liv has given gifts of homemade jams and hot chocolate mixes, and we've made greeting cards and calendars from photos we've taken throughout the year.

But so far this year, I had nothing.  No ideas at all.  That's about the point that I reached into my pantry for vanilla extract for Liv and her brother's pancakes, only to find my bottle empty.  And there I had it, Homemade Vanilla Extract...

Homemade Vanilla Extract
4 oz. jars, 1-2 beans per jar, filled with Vodka
Internet searches turned up very similar "recipes", or procedures.  A bottle, a vanilla bean and some sort of alcohol.  However, that's where some of the variances came in.

How long should the vanilla bean steep in the alcohol to be proclaimed "done"?  With recommendations ranging from 3 weeks to a minimum of 6 months, I already feel behind the power curve.  And what sort of alcohol should we use?  While most versions used vodka, some used bourbon or even rum.

And where would I find bottles at a reasonable price that still remained attractive enough for gift giving?  And last but not least, with vanilla beans in the local markets costing upwards of $5 per bean, how could I do this project and still keep my costs in check?

For the moment, the recipe will remain a work in progress, the beans and bottles were both found online, though, and at reasonable prices.  A tip for Beanilla Trading Company had both bourbon and my precious Tahitian vanilla beans in the mail for about $18 per 25 beans.  Shipping was not outrageous, and it was fast.  (Edited 10/21: I've since found plump Organic Vanilla Beans on Amazon! )

Homemade Vanilla Extract
Vanilla Extract - 3 hours.
More internet researching brought me to these round bottles, that make the cutest gifts (here's where I'll admit to having a bit of a bottle/jar obsession...).  Comparison shopping for alternate ideas, I found these fun swing top bottles that I just ordered.

The rest was easy... with a full bottle of vodka in the cabinet, vodka became my alcohol of choice, though we may give a try to bourbon with a few of the leftover beans.

Slicing each bean down the center, I opened the bean (but did not scrape the seeds), allowing the alcohol to flow over the seeds as it steeps.  Placing the whole bean (or two) into the bottle, we filled the bottles with vodka, and sealed.

Setting up the bean and vodka filled bottles for an impromptu photo shoot, I loved the look of the beans in the clear liquid, but after snapping a quick shot or two, carpool duties took over.  Returning my focus to the bottles several hours later, Liv and I commented how the liquid had already begun pulling the vanilla ever so slightly from the beans giving a soft, light amber glow to the bottles (see instagram shot above - find us at: kimlivlife).

Tahitian Vanilla Extract, holiday gifts
Tahitian Vanilla Extract - 1 week
Now, a week into our vanilla extract project, the liquid has taken on a lovely golden hue, and has a somewhat modest vanilla aroma.  With one week under our belt, I'm thinking that longer is better for the steeping process, but we will continue checking weekly to record the progress.

As such... if you are contemplating making vanilla extract for your 2012 holiday presents, I suggest getting going now, allowing a few months for optimum results.

So far I'm thrilled with the progress of our holiday experiment, and I'm eager to research sealing the bottles with wax and finishing with pretty ribbons or embellishments.  While I'm definitely not feeling "holidayish", visions of holiday gifts are beginning to fill my head.

Bourbon Vanilla Beans

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Caprese Salad - Photography on White

Caprese Salad, tomato, basil

Cruising Twitter a few days ago, I stumbled across a tweet from Jungle Frog Cooking regarding a photography and styling challenge featuring white.  I love white.  As many of my backgrounds are white, and my dishes are mostly white, I thought immediately, "I'm in!"

Simplicity at its best, my lunch of a basic Caprese Salad had vivid colors of red and green popping off of my white palette in no time.  As with my other styling challenges though, my lack of detailed styling perhaps leaves a little to be desired.

Gazing in envy at Jungle Frog's white linen lined table artfully strewn with white props including flowers, vases and adorable little square dishes, I realized that while I do have white, I don't have that much white.

My white wooden board filled in for her linen, and a lone white petunia clipped from my garden added a nice floral addition.  Filling my favorite white Ramekin with the tomato concoction, and using a white dipping dish to cradle the mozzarella chunks that also flavored my colorful caprese salad, my lunch was served.  Enough white?  I think so.

As for the salad, brilliant, organic, red mini tomatoes, fresh from the farmer's market kept me living the summer that I'm fighting so hard not to let go of.  Basil from my garden flavored the tomato/mozzarella  combo, and the last of my beloved Greek Olive Oil, treasured from my summer vacation, dressed the farm fresh ingredients with flair.  Sprinkling the medley with a touch of salt and pepper brought the flavors to a peak, and indeed, my lunch of ultimate simplicity made its debut.

Whether you are hanging on tight to summer or transitioning to fall, these simple, fresh ingredients bring lunch to a new level.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Seabourn Spirit - Venice and Adriatic Gems

Seabourn Spirit, kotor, Montenegro, Cruise

On Seabourn, nearly anything is possible... all-suite accommodations, fine dining, champagne at every turn, and a staff anticipating desires you didn't even know you had.  Spending 10 nights sailing the 200 passenger Seabourn Spirit on a round trip Venice to Venice voyage in August of 2012, Liv Life enjoyed living life while sailing the Adriatic Sea with ports of call including Kotor, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Rovinj, Split, and Brindisi.

Living Life in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Watching the world of travel open to my teenage children became an unforgettable experience.  From the canals of Venice to the ancient walls of Dubrovnik, the world became real as they not only visited, but touched history.  My 16-year old son, somewhat of a history buff, rattled off facts ranging from war to architecture as we toured buildings older than our country, and Liv quickly learned that shopping is actually more appealing without a mall.  Returning to our floating home away from home after spending the day port brought a special indulgence, and a touch of luxury to our transportation.

An all-inclusive line, Seabourn spoils you from the moment you arrive.  Greeted at registration with smiles and bubbling glasses of champagne, our family found ourselves situated in our suites in mere moments.  Room attendants somehow know you've arrived and appear quickly with champagne refreshers and light canapes, setting a trend of excellence which never dimmed during our entire voyage.  With a staff ratio of about 1.4 to 1, the Spirit workforce spoiled our weary, much in need of vacation, family to no end.

Happy Birthday Liv!
Our first evening in the dining room found the meal finishing with a surprise cake for Liv's 13th birthday and a crew of happy waiters singing their hearts out to my smiling birthday girl.  The next morning she was greeted by different waiters at breakfast who called her (as well as the rest of us) by name, and asked if she had enjoyed her special dinner.  A trip to the spa for a birthday pedicure brought a celebratory "mocktail", the fruity/coconutty Miami Vice, and a gushing exclamation from my newly teenaged daughter of, "Mom!  I love Seabourn!!!"

The Spirit, affectionately known as one of the "Little Sisters" (larger ships carry up to 450 guests), offers two featured dining areas with several alternate dining choices available.  The Restaurant on Deck 3 offers a full service restaurant for all meals of the day in a fine dining venue.

Veranda Café, Seabourn, Spirit, Legend
Mommy's happy place.... The Veranda Café
My personal favorite dining spot for breakfast and lunch, however, has always been the Veranda Café.  Affectionately known to me as, "Mommy's happy place", the Veranda offers outside seating with a more casual atmosphere.  Service however, remains as attentive as the main dining room.

For off hours, one has the option of the Sky Grill, afternoon Tea in the Observation Lounge, or the ever present 24-hour in suite service.  In the evening, The Veranda transforms into Restaurant 2, serving themed small plate tasting menus with extraordinary views of the passing sea in the fresh outside air.

Seabourn Spirit, Dining Room
Taking advantage of "order whatever you want from the menu", my Filet Mignon loving girl did just that.  Cooked to perfection filets arrived at our table night after night, while my son's choices tended to include meals he'd never tried including Lobster, Veal, and his favorite Duck Egg Rolls.

Innovative fresh salads, soups and appetizers began each evening meal accompanied by wines from around the world.  While simple entrées of Grilled Salmon, Filet Mignon, or basic chicken met our every standard, notable standouts included the Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle with Roasted Sweet Garlic Cream, Oven Baked Duck Spring Rolls with Chili Spiced Cucumber Salad, Oven Roasted Capon "Saltimbocca", and a simple Three Pea Salad.

Desserts ranged from Crepes Suzette to Creme Brulee to Sorbet to plain 'ole Chocolate Cake.  For myself though, I found taking advantage of a not-so-American offering, the Cheese Plate bringing various cheese tastes along with sweet chutney and sugared or flavored nuts, to be the ideal finale to a wonderful meal.

Seabourn, Spirit, Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle
Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle with Roasted Sweet Garlic Cream
Joining the sea day Galley Tour, my husband and I received a behind-the-scenes peek at the food production areas as well as some of the staff who make the magic happen.  With particular interest in the baking area, my appliance envy grew at the sight of giant, sparkling mixers near the rows of trays laden with rising bread right next to a wall of waiting hot ovens.

Every loaf of bread, pastry or croissant served on the ship is made right there in that kitchen by just a few staff members as the rest of us receive our beauty sleep.  Seabourn's signature breads sticks remain one of my favorite offerings, and a never ending production brings some 1,000+ sticks per day to the table.  Might I also note how much I enjoyed the flavored butter offering of the day featuring various herb butters which only served to enhance those addictive little bread sticks.

Seabourn, Galley Tour, Chef Martin Kitzing
Galley Tour
Moving through the kitchen along with Executive Chef Martin Kitzing, one can't help but be amazed at the precise organization which keeps the food and all of our special requests arriving to our tables timely and almost always correctly.  Prep areas are arranged ahead of time, and large vats of steaming broths bubble away all afternoon in preparation for the guest's orders.  I can only imagine the beehive of activity that occurs nightly as nearly every guest is treated to an extraordinary dining experience which the Seabourn staff makes look easy.

Seaborn, Fine Dining, The Restaurant
Dinner is served...
Taking a moment with the Chef after the tour, I explained my son's dairy free diet, asking if any of the breads were made dairy free.  Chef Martin took the time to make suggestions along with taking my suite number.  Later in the day as I made my way past reception, the Restaurant Maître d happened to be crossing at the same time, and calling me by name, he mentioned he was just on his way to my suite with a printed list of dairy free foods served at all meals.  In addition, he explained that Chef Martin would be altering some of the recipes, and that tomorrow this additional list of foods would also be dairy free.  You see... on Seabourn nearly anything is possible.  

Days later we met up with Chef Martin once again in Split, Croatia while joining his "Shopping with the Chef" tour.  Leading us to the local fish market, Chef Martin navigated the fish laden tables while selecting ultra fresh ingredients for our lunch and dinner.  The market itself proved to be a treat for us grocery store shopping Americans, but the haggling for price was an exciting experience in itself.

Shopping with the Chef, Seabourn, Split, Croatia, fish market
Shopping with the Chef - Split, Croatia
A ship guest from Majorca, Spain followed the Chef closely, and on his second stop she stepped in.  Throwing a hand into the face of the vendor while bellowing, "No!!!  Too much money!" she proceeded to haggle with the vendor, and eventually got the final price somewhat reduced.  A resounding cheer went up from our crowd as she and the vendor smiled, obviously enjoying the act of haggling as much as we all enjoyed watching, and we moved on to the next table of selections along with the next round of haggling.

*Not listed on the excursion itinerary for your voyage, check with the Chef himself or reception for dates and times of the enjoyable Shopping With the Chef tour on your Seabourn voyage.

Seabourn, Marina, Banana Boat, Triluke Bay, Croatia
Marina Day - Triluke Bay, Croatia
Triluke Bay, a small bay off the coast of Croatia, became the kids 2nd favorite day of our voyage (right after our day in Corfu).  With the back end of the Spirit becoming a fun-filled marina, the kids spent the day kayaking, paddle boating and being pulled about the bay on a banana boat.  While they didn't have time to take in every activity, the ship also offers wind surfing, water skiing, swimming, and sailing.

With guest of all ages taking advantage of the marina activities, my advice is to sign up early for the events that interest you as the day seems to fill up quickly.  Clear Adriatic waters, light breezes and balmy temps had this day right up there for Liv as, "One of the best ever!".

A favorite evening for the crew and guests alike followed our day in Dubrovnik.  As the passengers enjoyed tours of the ancient historic city walls, the crew put together a fabulous BBQ dinner.  Set outside on the main decks, tables laid with linens and silver became the meeting place for new friends.  Tables laden with fish, meats, gigantic Nigerian shrimp, and endless desserts tempted us as we watched the historic walls of Dubrovnik glow as the sun set into the warm Adriatic sea.

Seabourn, BBQ under the stars, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Deck BBQ
Sunset, Dubrovnik, Seabourn
Dubrovnik Sunset...
Within days, the kids also came to love and look forward to my happy place, the Veranda Cafe, for breakfast.  Offering cooked to order items as well as a buffet featuring those breads the bakers work so hard to bake all night, we also chose from fresh fruits, yogurts, cereals, meats and cheeses.  Always filling my plate just a little too full, I never found myself wanting for anything.

Most special about our morning though, was Nino.  Yes, Nino had us living the Seabourn advertisement.  The part that reads, "Our award-winning staff is driven only by their sincere desire to please, and with a smile that comes from the heart."  and, "whose knack for anticipating what you might like borders on the clairvoyant."  Nino exemplifies Seabourn, and personally, I have never been treated to better service which indeed came from the heart.

Greeting us each morning with, "Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Kelly!  Your coffee orders are being placed, Liv, your tea is on the way, and young Mr. Kelly... I have your eggs and 6 sausages ready to go."  Note we mentioned only once that we were creatures of habit, and from then on, after verification that we didn't want to change anything, our meals, drinks and treats arrived without us saying a word.  Occasionally we received surprises in addition to our "usual", like a much welcomed Mimosa, or for Liv, a 2nd donut of her favorite kind simply appearing by her side with Nino's happy smile and an "e voila!".

seabourn, Spirit
Spirit Staff - never without a smile
Yes, we were ultimately spoiled.  The staff of the Spirit worked together like nothing I have seen before.  Complimentary and courteous to each other as well as to the guests, they formed a team that any company should be proud to have.  I have sailed Seabourn in the past, and while I have always been treated well, this trip was truly "living the advertisement".  From the Captain on down, I received smiles at every turn, an extra towel by the pool, a chilled glass of champagne as I read my book in the late afternoon, and Nino's exemplary "E Voila!" in combination with a heartfelt smile at every meal.

Lunch on our last day had me remembering a tidbit I'd read on Cruise Critic regarding Seabourn's incredible Onion Rings.  I had read that the precious rings were not on the menu though, and did require a bit of notice for preparation.  As this was our last day, I thought I'd ask anyway, knowing my request may not be possible.  The server confirmed just that, and since we were actually outside of the Veranda operating hours the chef might not be able to meet my request.

"Not a problem," I responded, "This will leave me something to come back to Seabourn for.". 

Without much further thought, we continued our meal along with a recap of our day wandering the alleys and canals of Venice.  My husband, looking over my shoulder, noted the servers talking, and mentioned he didn't think my onion ring request was going to happen.  Sure enough, our server approached again, mentioning that indeed, the chef could not make the rings now, and he was sorry.

Onion rings, Seabourn
A minute or so passed, and again my husband continued to look behind me.  Confused at his ear to ear grin, seconds later I felt a small tap on my shoulder followed by a flourished, "E Voila!", and surrounded by our special Nino and the rest of our friendly staff, a plate piled high with some of the best onion rings I've ever had descended to the center of our table.

You see... on Seabourn nearly anything is possible.

E Voila!

New friends from around the world... miss you all!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

California Corn Salad with Avocado and Abbie Lee's Dance Moms go to Hollywood

Dance Moms, Abbie Lee Miller, christi, Jill, Holly, Kelly
Abbie Lee and the Dance Moms in Hollywood watching the In10sity competition.  Abbie Lee is actually recording one of our girls in this photoCan't blame her...
I'm a dance mom.  Yep, a real, honest to goodness dance mom.  With 3 years of practice under my rhinestone belt, I can whip out a bun in no time flat, handle costume changes in mere minutes, and keep my dancing girl fed and energized in between it all.  Have I mentioned that I'm also a Nationally acclaimed costume designer?  (That's my story and I'm stickn' to it!  You can read about The Boots, here and here.)

Dance Moms, Chloe, Maddie, Brooke, Paige,  Nia
Their girls are good...
However, watching Lifetime's weekly version of Dance Moms, I can honestly and thankfully say my life is nothing like theirs.  Spending my weekends with my own group of Dance Moms, we have none of the back stabbing, no yelling and arguing, and nothing but pure support and encouragement.  These moms have become some of my best friends, just as the girls on the team have become some of Liv's best friends.

That being said, we are competitive, and given the chance to dance against Abbie Lee's talented team, we knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.  Taking our National Champion team to Hollywood's In10sity dance competition to meet up against Chloe, Brooke, Paige, Nia, Maddie, Kendall, and Mackenzie, was an afternoon filled with pure fun and competition.  While we didn't have a chance to compete against the little girls, our team did compete with Brooke and the group number.

California girls might be better...
While I will admit to being a tad envious of the private dressing rooms the Dance Mom girls had access to, we managed just fine in our own crowded room under the stage.  The girls, theirs and ours, all danced beautifully, and everyone had a good time meeting the tv girls and moms.

Personally, I didn't have much of a chance to speak to them, however I did bump into Dance Mom Holly in the hallway and she was nothing but happy and extraordinarily friendly.  Christi and Kelly on the other hand, literally turned their heads and wouldn't even make eye contact while walking by.  Understandable, I guess, as they are probably tired of making small talk with other moms.

As they sat in the audience, the moms appeared to be good friends, and with the addition of Jill, who has recently returned from the Candy Apples Studio, I was eager to see their interactions.  On tv they are portrayed as frequently arguing and bickering, however, here in the audience we didn't witness a single argumentative moment, and Jill seemed to be a welcomed part of the group.

Dance Mom Jill, Hollywood, In10sity
Dance Mom Jill takes the stage during the Parent Dance Down
Seeing Jill on tv, my perception of her was not a super positive one, but after watching her interact with the other moms and then participate in a Parent Dance Down, she's quickly becoming one of my favorites.  She glowed onstage as she danced, cartwheeled and radiated pure fun, seeming to really have a good time while some of the other moms seemed to be more inhibited and not really happy to be up there.  Admittedly, you won't ever find me up there either.

Tomorrow's episode (9/4/12) of Dance Moms is this competition, so I won't give away the details.  But, just know that when Abbie Lee talked last week about going to Hollywood and the quality of "those girls in California" and how talented they are, she was talking about us...

California Corn Salad, Avocado, Tomato, Black Beans