Monthly Archives: September 2010

Dive

Sit

Today’s swim began with me feeling more than a little sorry for myself: missing home, wanting to hold my newly hatched nephew and play with my dogs.  My swims, along with contact with home, and snatches of exploration, have kept me level these many months.  As I paddled again towards the white house at the far end of the beach, I pondered whether it was possible to pull off the feat of just getting on a plane and heading home (it was not).

On the horizon, about 150m away, I spotted my favourite birds: local pelicans diving for dinner, and changed course towards them.  The first time I encountered these creatures, more compact than our Aussie versions and a grey-brown colour, was my birthday on Nevis, where I laughed out loud at the sight of their twisting and swooping into the water to bag a fish or two.  Ever since then, whenever I see them, I feel happier and watch with fascination as they fly overhead, ready to catch their next meal, or soar across the water to their next destination.

Soar

Today, on the verge of evening, as I swam and pondered a flight of my own, there they were again: around eight magnificent pelicans, in silouhette against the fading sky.  I have never seen so many together; at most, I’ve watched two or three at once.  But here, in this enormous group, three or four of them would rise up together to spy their prey until, choreographed, they twisted and dived all at once into the water, folding in their wings just as they passed through the surface.  After the splash, they emerge with their catch and sit, draining the water from their bills.  Tiny birds land on their backs or heads hoping to get a piece of the action, before each pelican lifts their long, elegant bill and swallows their prize, a wobble evident in their fleshy pouch as the victim slides to its destiny. 

My pelican friends don’t seem too bothered by me, following the school of fish toward me until, there they were, just a handful of metres away.  Having no doubt considered me too slow to present a threat, they continued their dance all about me, leaping and diving and swallowing, disturbing their prey so much that a silver fish larger than my hand leapt in a large arc above the water before me.

Splash

I remained with them for what must have been 10 or 15 minutes, and one by one they flew away, satiated.  Those that remained flew further over the Caribbean racing after their meal.  I looked to the shore, and was two or three times further away than usual; I was in the open water. 

As I turned to head back, the wind picked up on the water’s surface.  I realised, amidst the dancing birds, that I have once more been reminded of the extraordinary gift of being here.

[The next day, again on my early evening swim, I found 14 pelicans in their group dance.  They let me float amongst them for 20 minutes, soaring past and plummeting into the water just a couple of metres from me (one even splashed me).  By day 3, my friends had moved on.]

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NotQuiteNotQuiteNigella

In a nod and something of an apology to the marvellous Lorraine from NotQuiteNigella, I offer a restaurant review.

It was my third trip to Miami, and I figured that I needed to do something about my drastic indifference to this destination.  The solution: food!  During my stay here, I’ve become addicted to watching the Food Network on cable and in particular a show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” where the chefs featured on the network tell of the best food they’ve ever had.

On one episode, despite having the entire continental United States to choose from, three different hosts selected dishes from a place called Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Miami.  Naturally, I noted this one down for my next trip and, sure enough, last week I made it there.

Outside seating in the courtyard

I made my booking on OpenTable, which is a rather handy online booking system that covers most restaurants in large cities like New York and Miami, and which I’ve often used to make bookings in New York so as not to miss out on my favourite places ;-).  After finishing up my meetings, and spending my hard-earned money on lots of technology (more about that later), I jumped in a cab to Michael’s Genuine.

It’s a stylish but homey place, and the staff are bursting with friendliness.  I made the mistake of having a late lunch, so wasn’t as hungry as I should have been for this gorgeous treat of a place.  The waiter explained that the owner was a James Beard Award-winner (quite the thing for chefs in the US), and the owner’s food philosophy, which is about locally-sourced and organic, fresh ingredients, served simply and sustainably.  In fact, the place is so sustainable that the owner (apparently after having his first child and getting very concerned about the environment) stopped serving bottled water and now offers only complimentary still or sparkling water on tap!

The menu is divided into dishes of varying size, ranging from “snacks” to “Small”, “Medium”, “Large” and “Extra Large”.  I was determined to leave room for dessert, so ordered the thick-cut chips and pan fried onion dip from the snack section, along with the Crispy Sweet and Spicy Pork Belly from the Medium dishes.

Thick-cut chips with pan fried onion dip

The dip and chips arrived first, and the chips were perfectly crispy.  The dip was full of caramelised onion, and reminded me of a much more spectacular version of french onion dip.  Naturally, I had to finish it all up.

Crispy Sweet and Spicy Pork Belly

Soon after, the Pork Belly came and it presented beautifully: the caramel-coloured pork belly sat atop an asian salad of kimchi (a Korean pickly-type thing, apparently the ingredient of the moment), peanuts and pea shoots.  The dressing was perfectly balanced, and the pork was melt-in-the-mouth tender, with the fat perfectly rendered making the dish juicy but not oily.  I swooned as I ate this brilliant dish, and the waiter served up a lemongrass and ginger soda that matched it perfectly (I even got to gnaw on the crystallised ginger decorating the glass).

The dessert menu arrived, and this was a tough choice: did I go with the Popcorn and Peanuts dessert that had been raved about on the Food Network, or branch out on my own?  In such difficult situations, I always find it’s best to consult my waiter and he recommended the intriguingly-named Orange Creamsicle Pot de Creme (which I vaguely remembered afterwards might have been mentioned on the show anyhow).

Orange Creamsicle pot de Creme with donuts and blackberry tarragon jam

Well, let me tell you: the Orange Creamsicle was nothing short of spectacular.  The Pot de Creme comes accompanied by two light, freshly-cooked donuts (including little “holes”) and a blackberry tarragon jam, with crystallised orange peel on top.  You really don’t quite know where to start, so I tried a bit of each on its own.  Mmmmm.  Then I mixed some of the jam with the pot de creme.  Mmmm again.  However, I totally recommend just slathering a bit of everything onto the donuts and doing your best not to embarass yourself (and, most importantly, missing out on the dessert) by letting it slide down your chest.

This might have been one of, if not the, best dessert I’ve ever had: I felt emotional at the thought of finishing it (I think I might have even pleaded with the plate “Don’t end!”).  But, horribly, end it did. 

I held back the tears and asked for the bill.

If the rest of the meal had been a pleasant surprise, the bill topped it off: $35 without the tip.  Yes, folks, that’s under AUD$50 for one of the most spectacular meals I’ve ever had.  Naturally, as with all good chefs, Michael’s Genuine is putting out its very own cookbook, and I’ve already placed my advance order on Amazon ;-).

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Gliding through emerald water

It's at the end of this little dirt road

Have you ever visited a place, only to find after you leave that it has shifted your centre of balance?  A place that exhilarates you from the very first sight?  That you can barely tear yourself away from, because somehow you have chanced upon another world?  Somewhere that, whenever you remember it, your very breath changes pace.

Before I visited Tobago, I thought I had seen some stunning beaches.  Greece, Fiji, Australia, the Caribbean…so when everyone told me that Trinidad’s little sister island was gorgeous, I assumed that I would find more of the white sand beaches and clear acqua waters that I loved.

But no.  On Sunday 5 September, I visited a beach of such breathtaking beauty, of such soul-clutching serenity, that I can’t stop thinking about it.  In fact, even before I had pulled myself away for the long drive home, I felt this place shift my perspective forever. 

Englishman’s Bay, on the northern side of Tobago, a secluded white sand beach, perfectly shaded by palm trees, with crystal clear, emerald green water. 

Yes, emerald green. 

So clear I could see the bottom (easily over 2 m under the surface) and the fish swimming beneath me.  And, apart from some boats and about a dozen other people, I practically had this piece of paradise to myself.

After sinking into that cool, crystalline water, the colour changes immediately from clear to emerald until, around 20 m from shore, it drops down so deep, like an underwater cliff: your stomach leaps as you glide across that line to the dark abyss. 

All around you, green trees and rocks climb out of the water and the bay wraps around you like an embrace from God.  It’s almost as if He winked at me: “I suppose you never thought a place like this existed.”

As I flew out of Trinidad a few days later, we flew over Tobago.  I glanced down, and there it was: My Beach, reaching up to me. 

 I know one day I need to return to this paradise.

Some photo credits: tobagobeachvillas.com and xlab.co.uk

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Introducing…Mutt!

…the newest member of the family, my little nephew Matthew James.

This little cutie pie arrived on Wednesday 15 September, weighing in at 3.9kg, 58 cm long.

Although my brother and his wife only decided a couple of months ago to call him Matt, I nicknamed him Little Mutt ever since he was confirmed as arriving, so that’s what I’ll stick to (after all, what are aunts for if not to tease their nephews).  To me, his Chinese heritage seems to be showing (he is rather the smorgasbord, being 1/2 Italian thanks to his mum, and 1/4 German, 1/8 Chinese and who knows what else courtesy of my brother).  My mum thinks he looks like my father, and he actually does a little.

When I saw this shot, I got a tad emotional; mum is completely beside herself, and very proud.  I’m looking forward to meeting Little Mutt when I go home for a few weeks for Christmas (yes, folks, you read it here first: I’ll be here in the Caribbean into next year).

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Surreal moment No 2

Port of Spain, Trinidad

A few posts ago, I promised to share some of the more bizarre moments I’ve spent here.

The first three months I was here, I was employed by the IMF, and my role was funded by the UNDP, which stands for the UN Development Program.  I think this is why I somehow fell within the rules set up by the UN for travel so, in July, when I had to schedule my first trip to Trinidad for a meeting, I received an email instructing me to go online and complete UN Advanced Security Training in the Field. 

Putting the Port in Port of Spain

Now, I had heard that Trinidad was pretty famous for its crime, but it turns out that, along with Kingston, Jamaica and Haiti, anyone working for a UN-related project in the Caribbean needs to do this security training before they brave travel to these destinations.  You can imagine that this made me feel pretty good about my first visit to Trinidad.  I was expecting maybe that it would tell me to find out the more dangerous parts of the city to keep my distance from.  Maybe a few handbag protection rules.  Or perhaps a few pointers on self-defence.  But noooooo…

Taking it to the streets

I had to spend around 4 hours doing my online training, all of which was to assist UN staff on peace-keeping and other missions into volatile areas in places like Africa and Asia.  I learned how to:

  • avoid being kidnapped,
  • to use a walkie-talkie, 
  • to liaise with the military, and
  • to tell directions using only the sun and my watch. 

All of which I’ve since forgotten.

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Antigua Tour

Karen and Rob

Although my usual M.O. is to rent a car and zip around an island in order to check it out, my friend Karen and her husband (I am working with Karen on this project) insisted that they act as tour guides to show me their gorgeous home of Antigua.

Karen was born on Antigua, and studied law in London and worked in Miami before returning home a few years ago, with Rob in tow.  Rob is from Brooklyn, and the contrast of a hardened New Yorker living on Antigua is pretty funny, as is Rob.

We kicked off at around 10.30am, and stopped at a few of the great sites.  Antigua is really a stunning island, and we drove past gorgeous beach after gorgeous beach.

My favourite stop, though, was Shirley Heights, where there is a big party every Sunday night.  Since we were there on Sunday afternoon, there was only this terrible view.

Afterwards, we drove around the island in search of lunch, only to discover that nearly nothing was open.  Apparently going out on Sunday’s isn’t really a thing in the Caribbean – and most places are closed altogether in the Caribbean, which makes it a lot like Australia 30 years ago (remember that, folks?)

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Antigua

As part of my current fantasy lifestyle, I get to visit exotic destinations for meetings.  Naturally, if the meeting is near a weekend, I’ll be sure to look to schedule a bit of R&R and book into a nice hotel so I can look around.

One venue I’ve been looking forward to getting to is Antigua, one of the hot tourist destinations in the region.  Antigua is famous for its beaches, which it claims to have 365 of.  As a lawyer, I can’t help but wonder how they defined what a “beach” was in order to conduct that audit, and picture some guy walking into the Prime Minister’s office and saying “I counted 350” only to be sent back with the instructions “Deliver me 365 or don’t bother to come back here!”

One of the people I work closely with, another Karen, likes to joke “One beach for every day of the year, and 366 in leap years!”

In addition to its beaches, Antigua is home to a number of famous celebs, and Oprah has a luxury home there, and Eric Clapton has lived there for years. 

Three hurricanes tried to uproot or blow over this tree - but it ain't moving!

I have to admit that Antigua’s beaches really are stunning – that perfect mix of fine, white sand with clear blue-green water is totally irresistable.  Although I was only there for 4 days and 3 nights, one night of which was spent in town away from the beaches, I managed to get 5 swims in – I really could not get enough of it and floated in the water, mesmerised by the colour.

There is little doubt, too, that the water passed the universal test for assessing a stunning beach: no matter how tall you are, you can see your own feet!

As I walked along in the water, I noticed that some sections of sand underfoot were soft and smooth, almost like walking across satiny clay.  On diving under the water and sweeping some up, I found that it acted just like clay, even forming into a ball when squeezed (photographic evidence attached – sorry about the poor focus, it was very difficult to get a clear shot).

It’s memories like that water and the sand that dig deep into me, and which I’ll miss most when I eventually head home.

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