Friday, May 25, 2018

East Coast Irish Castles & Countrysides

Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork

Wicklow Mountains, outside of Dublin

Blarney Castle, Cork

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

St. Maarten Carnival 2018

The Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) was thrown to bits last hurricane season. (Its modern design was supposed to withstand heavy winds; claiming to be the hurricane-ready port.) The fact that no person/organization took responsibility for it after the storm allowed for a mold explosion. Now, a line of tents makes up our departures, arrivals, and immigrations. 

But something I found out recently, the most heartbreaking part was the lost opportunity for many women who wanted to work at the airport. Not because it has a good reputation or the quality of work/pay is decent. It is a desirable place to work because SXM sponsors troupe outfits for Carnival season. Long story short, women are literally basing their careers off of this festival. 

Costumes (or lack their of) can cost upwards of $2,000. Which on an island pay is not an easy bill. The fact that SXM will sponsor you during the biggest event of the year, is worthy of an application. (But the competition is tough.)

Some women were more prepared than others. This parade lasts for four hours, in the Caribbean heat, and for some... in heels. The music is loud (a little heavy on the bass) and constant. Tractor trailers inch along between troupes to offer a few minutes break and a rum punch.

The amount of booty popping was unbelievable. And I'm a fan of it, but after so much of the same, I would have loved to see another style of dance. (I think the DJs found an algorithm to enhance the amount/pace of booty pops.) I was impressed at how long these women could go– keeping smiles on their faces most of the way. 

These women are about 50% more covered than most. There had to be around 800 dancers coming down the street (it felt like it was never ending). Even the men were bedazzled and made-up. I suppose everyone was up at 6 am preparing for the parade. Some had airbrushed abs and Avatar designs all over their bodies. Others had little jewels glued to their private parts as a costume. Which for me is pushing it, but I do admire their effort and ease to which they can go so confidently showing every curve. If only for one weekend in the year, go big or go home.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pookie in the USA

Margo got a two-week tour of the good ol' US of A in April. Naturally, we went straight for the capitol and then made our way south. Although she wasn't thrilled about the layovers at the airport or the escalators in the metro, she had a pretty great time. She got to see a bit of snow, grass, deer, and coyotes... which we don't get too often in St. Martin.

(Also, Americans took to her presence much more than local Caribbean women. Not to mention this dog is better behaved than I am... perhaps more fun too.)

Can you tell she doesn't like being held? Got to get the #cherryblossom selfies in tho. 

Although Margo is super calm, she loves to chase and tackle nine-year-old men (when told).

Though I'm sure she missed swimming in the ocean, racing down the beach and hopping on our paddle board... there's something about a big green yard that is hard for a dog to walk away from. Till October...

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Heineken Regatta

Five days of intense sailing, one night of unparalleled dancing. The full story can be seen at in the April issue.

What I learned from the Heineken Regatta: you either have to be tough enough to sail for days on end, or tough enough to drink Bloody Mary's at 8am while the boats head for the starting lines.

The photos below are from the two boats I joined for the regatta. Green Dragon, Volvo 70 and The Spirit of Juno, Farr 65. Tryst is a 50-year-old wooden trimaran from SXM that sank three times and still competed. Andy sailed Tryst while I sped past him on my monohulls.

Green Dragon finished first in their class; Spirit of Juno did not– but we still had fun. (If not the most fun.)

Taco Chelsea (#wasntme) made a special appearance during JonnyGuy's show. Opening for Shaggy is no big deal for a taco.

Although there are several hundred other great pictures from the regatta and parties... I just don't care about them. A week's worth of taking photos in direct sunlight for several hours each day on a racing sailboat is a bit exhausting. (Just like that sentence.) The worst part was going home to edit and upload them. 

Nevertheless, it was one wonderful week. Everyone had fun, gained a few pounds (in muscle or in beer weight), and left better because of it. The SXM Revival continues. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

New Year Nature Adventures

I decided to bring in the new year with a few "closer to home" adventures. Before 2017 ended, I managed to wiggle my way aboard a brigantine tallship and spent Christmas viking style. That was enough adventure for awhile; 2018 will be a bit more relaxed. By 'relaxed' I mean no major disappearing acts as I venture out into the unknown. No, this year I will behave and stay close to home. Luckily for me, my backyard has adventures of its own.

Natural Pools

A short hike around Point Blanche takes you to the Natural Pools. (I now claim to have two natural pools, as the villa’s pools have turned swamp green with a good bit of life swirling around them. As much as I’d like to be back swimming in there, how can I take away this abundant habitat? The ducks would surely be upset.)

Anyways. The Point Blanche Natural Pools are of a different sort. Connected to the South Eastern side of the island, they get rough waves from the Atlantic. The Tradewinds also make the swimming conditions not so ideal. However, it’s totally fine to take a dip in the pools which are protected by the jagged rocks. Okay, mildly protected… we still get some big waves and swell into the pools. Which could be dangerous. And there are a number of sea urchins, so be careful where you step. 

As a matter of fact, just hire Margo and me as your guide. Better be safe than lost and sorry.

Garden Blues (& Yellows)

I built a couple of gardens out of debris. I was pretty proud, seeing that I spent no money on the materials, and instead pulled them from mangroves and the beach. Then I grew many plants from seedlings. I like the start to finish process; I have a seed and soon I will have a fruit. Or so it goes. Plants surely teach you patience. 

Unfortunately, when I left on my sailing trip in December, caterpillars bombarded the island. Masses of caterpillars marched in like I’ve never seen before. Over night they could strip a plant down to nothing. Ooh how they do love squash. My pumpkin, yellow squash and zucchini were finished in a matter of days. I would spend hours picking them off, one by one. Just to find a new hatching the next morning. 

At last I left them to feast. I could have bought an insecticide, but poising myself isn't on my to do list. So this time, the caterpillars won. And soon enough we had “Caribbean Snowflakes” which are white butterflies that dazzle around you. They are so beautiful. And I hate them. 

I now know their true nature, and what they did to my innocent plants. It’s not easy not being able to enjoy a butterfly (aka flutter by). It’s a strange feeling. So bitter towards those beautiful beasts. 

But the caterpillars were wild. Hundreds of them in our house. They would repel from the ceiling with Bond like dexterity. Landing on my shoulders until Andy would point them out. “You’ve got another one.” “So do you.”

I did manage to keep a few of the plants alive. The tomatoes survived unscathed. The okra went unnoticed in a different part of the yard. My brussels sprouts proved to be brussels sprouts (why does nobody like them?!). And my sunflower replaced the fallen palm tree. 

So the caterpillars weren’t totally ruthless. But taking 50% of my yield right as flowers were blooming was pretty damn mean. (Did you know they shit where they sleep? Who can respect that?)

I've decided for the next time they're in season, I will welcome them with arms wide open. Right into my pan. (Okay, first I'll freeze them which is more humane then once they're no longer they get tossed in the pan.) From there I will take back my food. I grow a garden to supplement my diet. So if they are going to eat it, I'm going to eat them. And thanks for doing the digestive work for me! Don't mind the extra protein either. 

It's clean, sustainable, organic, local, nutritious... and tasty. Yes, believe it or not, anything fried and seasoned correctly will taste good. It's all in your head, man. 

Surf's Up in St. Martin

(Okay, bad play on words, still keeping it.) This will be the year of my surf debut. It's time to conquer my very realistic fear of being discombobulated in the ocean. In addition, the last few times I went surfing I would throw up a tiny bit. Which is really weird and funny; I just couldn't take the pressure from lying on the board. I took it as a sign that surfing wasn't for me.

But now I've been watching others carve the waves and I'm a bit jealous. So I've decided to invest in a wetsuit and board. I've spent time on the smaller waves and it turns out surfing isn't that scary. Especially when you're surfing the waves, not on your board paddling until you barf. Big difference there.

Keep an eye out for me– SXM's newest and fiercest surfer. I am now taking on early sponsors. I have ways to improve, but I'm accepting lavish gifts in return for surf promotions/ related material.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No Sugar November

September and October were the most stressful two months of my life. Hurricane Irma and Maria toppled the Caribbean while I chewed my nails from the sidelines.

I've been a relatively stress-free person. So this was a new experience. I had pain in my sides, trouble breathing, a little to no sleep for weeks. Unable to understand what was happening to me, I quickly found an anti-anxiety solution: indulging in cheesecake and wine for 45 days.

At least I indulged in good company.

During my downtime on Stallion court, I stumbled upon a book I had bought for my father years ago, Whole30. It is an all-in-one guide to getting complete health via food (and lack there of). Which is something I totally believe in. But to get the benefits of the program, you must cut out dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, soy, alcohol and certain processed foods for 30 days. That leaves meat, veggies and fruit. Beans, hummus and wraps play a big part of my diet, so cutting out those left a significant gap.

However daunting it seemed, I was persuaded to do it once I returned to St. Martin for November. As I was discussing it with my island friends, two others jumped aboard.

So the three amigos took on Whole30 to see if this detox would really benefit us. I simply enjoyed the challenge of the program. It is not easy for me to pass up a glass of Merlot or a dark chocolate bar. It was a test of self restraint, and I think I did pretty damn well. Once you cut things out of your life, you stop forgetting how much you enjoyed them, and you move on.

The number one benefit I got from the program was sleep. There was but one night I faltered. And I have a history of sleep problems, so this was a welcomed surprise. Also, I did not have to cut out coffee in the detox, so I believe it was the lack of sugar (esp. in alcohol) that allowed me such rest. I did however, have to cut out coffee cream and sweetener. And what do you know... black coffee grew on me. You know it's not so bad? Simple can be good too.

Because we did not have grains, flours, breads, granola, quinoa (which are actually seeds), rice, etc., we didn't get full as easily. So we had to eat a lot of potatoes and cassava. For this reason, I gained weight. I am not used to eating so much. Ninety-eight percent of people lose weight during the month. Which is no surprise when you cut out sugar and alcohol... I was the lucky 2%. In conclusion, science is fake and alcohol is not bad for you. Cheers.

But with less dairy and beans came less gas. That, everyone benefitted from.

The second best part about this program is the cookbook. It is wonderful. I cooked about 95% of the meals listed. (I really got into it.) And now I know how to make amazing curry, baked chicken, gazpacho, chicken cacciatore, cauliflower mash, ratatouille, shepherd's pie... the list goes on.

I relied on sparkling water and kombucha to replace alcohol, which it did just fine. I fried plantains and other fruit when we needed a dessert. And we just got used to having savory breakfast. No more granola, yogurt and oatmeal– no problem.

But with all the cooking, came all the cleaning. Especially since in Whole30 you have to make all your own dressings. Ketchup, mayo, mustard, tomato sauce, roasted red pepper sauce, salsa, guacamole, vinaigrettes, etc. That takes time and space. And for someone who doesn't have a dish washer, it took muscle.

Never the less, we came out better for it.

Keep in mind I am not a food photographer. After all the shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning I'm not in the mood to take serious photos– also there was no wine to guide me during this time.

 Tuna salad with coconut mayo, grapes, almonds, avocado & celery.

Lemon curry sauce with shrimp.

Baked chicken, cauliflower mash, braised brussel sprouts & beets in a balsamic reduction.

Chicken chowder with sweet potatoes, broccoli, coconut milk & onions. 

Slow cooked pot roast with carrots & broccoli.

Gazpacho with prosciutto & olive oil.

Butternut squash soup with grilled mushrooms & egg.

Spinach frittata.

Salad with apples, cashews, ham & hemp seeds.

Crockpot spaghetti squash with homemade red pepper sauce & meatballs.

Tuna salad with yellow carrots & anything else I could find.

Average breakfast consisted of leftovers with a fried egg thrown on top & fruit.

Cauliflower mash, portabella strips & broccoli.

Scrambled eggs, broccoli, eggplant & tomato sauce.

Ratatouille aka the bomb.

Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce.
Shepherd's Pie with sweet potato topping.

Cold Thai salad, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts & sunshine sauce.

Baked chicken, broccoli cauliflower mash & roasted mushrooms.

Sweet potato mash, creamed spinach & roasted cassava.

Scrambled eggs, peppers, tomato, ham & sautéed plantain.

The idea behind the transition back into our old diets is to take it slowly. Try one food type and see how the body reacts. I've noticed that alcohol does in fact mess with my sleep. Pizza (it could be the bread or cheese or both) halts my digestion. Diary sometimes gives me stomach cramps– this was old news.

I am not sure what effects soy, peanuts, rice and some other foods have on me. But since science says they're inflammatory, we've basically cut them out. Almond butter rules the house. Coconut aminos replaced soy sauce. Cauliflower rice has my heart. Ice cream is still a work in progress. Cashew "cheese" is the next mission. Honey, which the vegans call "bee vomit" and say rots your teeth, has been untouched. In fact, the hardest thing to give up... was the easiest to keep at bay. We'll see if that lasts.

As Hypocrites once said:
"Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food."