This book. So much fun, even though the character (author) deals with some dark times. One of my fav books in the last few months. Here is my book review Becoming Duchess Goldblatt.
I kept seeing this book pop up but I wasn’t really paying attention because I was busy and traveling. I tossed it on my library waitlist assuming it was a novel about a 17th century Duchess. LOL Well you can’t judge a book by it’s cover as they say.
The still anonymous author and pseudonym, Duchess (or Your Grace as she prefers to be called) found solace in this fictional character during the most dark time of her real life. A divorce spirals her into depression. She loses friends and family and income. She is trying to hold on for the sake of her child, keep working and provide a suitable home environment. But her dismal existence makes her sad and lonely, and on one particular dark day (her birthday) with nowhere to go, the author creates Duchess.
Today Duchess Goldblatt has 60K followers including multiple famous authors and musicians including Lyle Lovett who features heavily in the book.
What a strange situation this author found herself in. Clearly hitting a note that many people out in Twitter land didn’t even know they needed. Her humor and “grace” not only brings light into the lives of her followers, but it lifts her out of her own depression, gives her purpose, and in essence becomes her memoir.
I bit difficult to explain this one but I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. A great page-turning read.
*****Five stars for Becoming Duchess Goldblatt
Thanks for reading my book review Becoming Duchess Goldblatt.
If you are even an occasional follower of this blog or my social sites you know I love food! And even more than eating, I love to learn about local foods while I am traveling. Some of our all-time most rewarding experiences in our travels have been engaging with locals, learning to cook regional food. During our recent visit to San Juan del Sur we thoroughly enjoyed a Nicaragua Cooking Class. Let’s talk about it.
What is Nicaraguan Cuisine
Although it has some similarities to Mexican cuisine, we found the delicious foods of Nicaragua more similar to Guatemala. One of my all time favorite cooking classes was in Antiqua Guatemala. In that class we used a lot of the same ingredients that we see here in Nicaragua; beans, rice, corn, onions, chicken, plantains, yucca and pico de gallo. And Nicaraguan coffee is also much like Guatemalan coffee…one of my favorites.
San Juan del Sur
We spent a month in San Juan del Sur, a Pacific Coast beach town about an hour’s drive from Granada. On arrival I did some research and found a local tour operator called Pacific Adventuras that offered several tours in the San Juan del Sur area, including a Nicaragua cooking class. So of course we signed up right away!
Rancho Tere, Escamequito
We were picked up in San Juan del Sur by Chef July, who owns Rancho Tere Restaurant with her family in the small town of Escamequita about 20 minutes from San Juan del Sur. July speaks very little English, so we also had Cesar with us as an interpreter. He is actually studying at the university in Managua every Sunday to improve his English. We had a wonderful time practicing English and Spanish through the day.
When we signed up for the Nicaruagua cooking class we requested to learn about vigoron, one of Nicaragua’s most loved dishes. It consists of a cabbage salad, boiled yucca, and chicharron, all wrapped in a banana leaf. This dish is often eaten without utensils, and it is frequently served to visiting family and guests, as it is generally easily and quickly prepared. Wikipedia. So Chef July was eager to share this popular dish with us, and she also chose to share with us how to make tostone.
Tostone is a dish we had eaten several times since arriving in Nicaragua and we loved it. The word tostone refers to the twice fried plantains that serve as a vessel for toppings such as cheese, meat and pico de gallo.
Nicaraguan food is made from simple, local, fresh and easily accessible ingredients. Honestly isn’t that the way all good food should be made? Chef July introduced us to yucca. We actually have eaten yucca before, but never worked with it in a recipe. It is a staple food in many Central American countries as it is cheap and easily accessible. It has a consistency very much like potato.
For the vigoron we placed the boiled yucca in a bowl (often served on a banana leaf) then topped it with a cabbage salad very finely grated and mixed with lemon juice. Next topped with delicious homemade pico de gallo made from fresh tomato, green pepper, and a new ingredient to me, called culantro. Culantro is similar to cilantro, but a much bigger leaf. It’s always fun to learn about something new. The last ingredient for vigoron is the chicharron, a popular snack food, which we call in the United States pork rinds.
The entire dish took about 20 minutes to make and it was very filling and delicious. And also pretty.
Another very common ingredient in Central American and Caribbean cuisine is plantain. Did you know there are more than 1000 varieties of bananas? The plantain is a firmer and less sweet variety used mostly for cooking. If you read our blog post about Granada, we ate a delicious hamburger in Granada that used a plantain tostone bun. So yummy.
To make the twice cooked tostone you first cook the plantain chunks in deep oil for about three minutes. Next using a towel so you won’t burn yourself you smash the chunks into disks with your hands, then fry them again in the oil. This is the tostone. We then fried the delicious local queso (that has a high melting point) and placed each piece on top of the tostone disks, topped with pico de gallo. So, so delicious. You can also top a tostone with meat, beans, avocado…lots of yummy things.
This dish was easy and delicious. Don’t try this with regular bananas though, you need the firmer plantains. It is possible to find plantains in the USA, sometimes at supermarkets but also at Latino markets.
Fat and Happy
We really enjoyed our cooking class at Rancho Tere. In fact we are planning to go again and learn some more delicious local foods. Because spending time with locals, learning their foods and customs, is the best part of our Grand Adventure and My Fab Fifties Life. We loved our Nicaragua Cooking Class. Muy Bien.
This book. Mind boggling. Described by critics as both brilliant and confounding…for me I’m going with brilliant. It’s not for everyone, but I was astonished. Here is my book review To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.
If you are looking for an easy read…this is not it. This book is intense and sometimes horrific. But Yanagihara has a beautiful ability to develop characters that take your hand and bring you right into the story. Or stories in this case.
Because this novel is essentially three stories…three stories that seemingly don’t connect, but keep reading. They will. The three stories are placed 100 years apart; 1893 in New York City, 1993 in Hawaii and 2093 in New York City.
But none of these places will be familiar to the reader. An alternate New York City exists in this book. In 1893 it’s not in the United States, it exists in an alternative country after a revolution. It’s openly Lesbian/Gay friendly. Arranged marriages are common. History is rewritten through the bold yet quiet imagination of Yanagihara.
In the second story we find ourselves in Hawaii in 1993. Unrest, global warming, and family legacy in the island nation finds the characters searching for meaning. But wait these characters all have the same names as 100 years ago. What exactly is going on here?
And then boom. We are back in New York in the year 2093. This astonishing third story for me was gripping, and a bit too close to home. Pandemics, intense heat, unbreathable air, and a country in utter chaos. Here the characters are honest and emotional and so believable – even given the dystopian world they occupy.
With all this angst and uncertainty can this story end happily? The overriding theme through-out is hope; hope for the survival of the planet, our human species, family, love and happiness.
An extraordinary work, that may take some time to digest. But I give high praise to the imagination and beautiful story telling of Yanagihara. Thank you for reading my book review To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.
*****Five stars for To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.
We spent six days in Granada Nicaragua and found so many surprising things. You could easily see this small town in less time, but we had the time so we took it. Let me tell you some of our favorite discoveries in Granada Nicaragua – Colonial Charm and Much More.
We flew into Managua from Miami, but based on our research did not have any interest in hanging out in Managua. So we moved right along. After a slow process getting through passport control and inspection, we met our driver right outside the terminal. I had booked ahead the driver through Southwinds Tours. He spoke perfect English and transported us safely on the 45 minute drive south to Granada.
We stayed at a small hotel in a perfect location in Granada called El Almirante. Easy walk to everything. This hotel was inexpensive, had fabulous staff, was popular with both locals and foreigners, and offered a great breakfast. We did find it was noisy however and our room was very small. After six nights we were definitely ready to move on to something bigger.
A Little History
Granada (region) was populated long before the Spanish arrived with a thriving indigenous population. In 1524 the city was named after the town of the same name in Spain, by Spanish conquistador Hernandez de Cordoba.
During the colonial era Granada was a sister city to Antiqua Guatemala and the cities have a very similar look architecturally. For many years Granada was in conflict with the city of Leon with the power struggle between families and politicians. This was often violent.
In 1834 Candido Flores attempted a revolt against the government in Leon, but the failed attempt left Granada in shambles. Next American William Walker attempted to take control of the city and declared himself President. An anti-abolitionist, Walker wanted to keep slavery and run the region of Granada. When his attempts failed he burned the city. He was later executed in Honduras.
Granada was spared from most violence during the Sandinista vs Contra period in the 1970’s – 1990’s – luckily. It’s why you can still enjoy this gem Granada Nicaragua Colonial Charm and Much More.
Granada Nicaragua Colonial Charm and Much More
There are many things to do in this pretty little town. We did not do them all, but here are some of our favorites;
Mombacho Volcano Hike – we took a guided tour up to the Mombacho Volcano using Danny’s Tours. We were picked up at our hotel and drove the 45 min up the steep road to the top of the volcano. Then we hiked with a guide along the trails and enjoyed flora and birds and fantastic views back down to Granada and Lake Nicaragua. The view includes being able to see Masaya Volcano about 15 miles in the distance with venting steam. We also stopped at a Las Flores Coffee Plantation on the way.
Lake Nicaragua Boat Tour – we also used Danny’s Tours for this excursion and it was the most fun of all the things we did. Our guide Manuel picked up at our hotel and drove us to the lake where we boarded a small boat. Motoring around the dozens of islands on the lake, learning history, seeing how the locals live as well as the millionaire mansions was incredible. We saw so many amazing birds, as well as monkey, bats and fish. I highly recommend this. You also can choose to do a kayak tour.
Walk along Lake Nicaragua – on our last day with time to spare we took a long walk, seeing some of the less touristy neighborhoods and walking along the lakefront. Though very neglected and in need of some TLC, a park stretches several miles along the lake and we enjoyed the walk.
Carriage Ride – A popular activity, though very touristy, is to take a horse drawn carriage ride through the city. We decided to do this on our final day. The 40 minute ride was $15 with an English speaking guide pointing out sites along the way and answering our questions.
Wow. The dining options in this small town were phenomenal. What a surprise that was. Not just the local food but international cuisines of every kind. These listed here are all amazing.
Nectar – located on the Calle La Calzada, a pedestrian area bursting with dining options, we chose Nectar at random but turns out it is a highly rated spot. We enjoyed Nicaraguan cuisine including our first time having tostone, a fried plantain topped with meat and cheese. Delicious
The Garden Cafe – we read great reviews about The Garden Cafe so we headed there for a late lunch and enjoyed our quinoa bowls so much. They have a wide range of healthy foods based on local ingredients. Absolutely delicious.
Pita Pita – This was such a surprise to find such authentic Mediterranean food in Nicaragua. The baba ganoush, hummus and falafel were excellent.
Boca Baco – We had an exceptional meal at this little tapas place that also serves sushi. What more could you want? We enjoyed half a dozen tapas to share, including fabulous deep fried shrimp and a delicious beef carpaccio. Highly recommend.
Bistro Estrada – another delicious surprise, and in a beautiful garden courtyard. We loved this hidden little gem and the authentic Nicaraguan menu.
Tosto Metro – You must eat here…if you can find it. We went to the Mercado three times trying to find it. On the third try we were determined and we found it. It’s very hidden in the chaos that is the Granada Mercado. Just a few steps to the left from the main entrance, but if you blink you’ll miss it. And we did…but the third time was the charm. Tosto Metro does burgers. Only burgers, but it is exceptional. You choose beef, chicken or pork. It’s served on a bun made from plantains. Accompanied by the absolute best sauce. And sweet little treat at the end. Perfecto.
There are many, many more. You won’t go hungry in Granada Nicaragua – Colonial Charm and Much More
Granada A Pleasant Surprise
I encourage you to visit Granada Nicaragua. It has a lot to offer and you will be pleasantly surprised. Next week I’ll post about San Juan del Sur Nicaragua so be sure to come back!
A whodunit that mixes poverty, race and the high society of classical music in an intriguing mystery. Here is my book review The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb.
A poor black child from North Carolina, Ray has few options. Despite his apparent musical talent his mom wants him to drop out of school and get a job. She wants him to pay rent and work…and stop making all that noise with his beat up school loaned violin.
But Ray’s grandmother sees something special in his talents, and when she bequeaths him an old beat up family violin he is thrilled. Helped along by a handful of people who see beyond his race to his exceptional talent, Ray soon discovers the beat up violin is a priceless Stradivarius.
Ray’s life changes dramatically as he is recognized, more for the story of the unsuspecting Stradivarius, but also for his burgeoning talent. Then he is invited to the renowned Tchaikovsky Competition, and the media storm grows around Ray and his violin.
But the unthinkable happens, the violin is stolen right from under his nose. Ray feels like one of his arms has been cut off. How will he get it back? How will he pay the ransom? Who would do such a thing? There are lots of suspects, friend and foe.
Will Ray find the violin in time for the competition? You’ll need to read The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb to find out.
****Four stars for The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb.
Thank you for reading my book review The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb.
We spent five weeks in a condo in West End, Roatan, Honduras, without a car, so we stuck pretty close to our neighborhood. It’s a very authentic little village, though also with lots of tourists. We liked it better than nearby West Bay because there are no big resorts in West End. Just a cool local vibe. Our Airbnb condo (see it here) was about a half a mile walk (with a very steep hill) to the center of the tiny town of West End. We did the walk nearly everyday and sometimes more than once. Over the course of our time we got to know the village pretty well. So here are our favorite things in West End, Roatan, Honduras.
The Main Drag
Just walking along the main drag is entertaining. West End is in a protected bay, so many of the dive, snorkel and fishing operators are based here. The water taxi to West Bay is also based here, and they tie up the boats here at night. This creates a nice nighttime scene with lots of bars and restaurants, although it never seems too noisy. West End was originally a fishing village and remains focused on water activities, although the town is bursting at its seams in its small one and half mile stretch of road that fronts Half Moon Bay.
Half Moon Bay
There are just a couple beaches to swim from in West End, the best one is the public beach at Half Moon Bay. A very narrow beach with easy water access that feels safe. Nice sandy bottom makes it a great place for families or those who just want to float around. Palm trees provide beach shade and the sargassum grass and trash are cleaned up each morning.
Because I suffer from extreme motion sickness, I can only snorkel on a calm day. While the weather is usually calm, Roatan, like the rest of the world, was having some unusual weather during our visit and we experienced a lot of wind. But we managed to pull off a wonderful hour long snorkel right off the beach in West End on one of the best weather days. Very calm and sunny as we did an afternoon snorkel of the Blue Gulch that we booked through Roatan Tour Guide Association. We highly recommend working with Dani from RTA who was very helpful and understanding for my concerns. We had a great snorkel.
Rent a Kayak
We didn’t need a guide, although there are guided kayak tours as well as kayak snorkel tours. We just wanted to leisurely paddle around beautiful Half Moon Bay. So we rented a kayak from Harry’s Hideaway in West End for $18 an hour. It was just perfect to get out and enjoy the water on a calm day and get some good photos looking back at the village of West End.
Even if you have no reason to go back and forth between West End and West Bay we still recommend taking the water taxi just for the fun of it. The $5 one way charge is reasonable and gives you a great view from the water side. The Water Taxi runs all day long every day and is located right in the middle of West End.
As I have said before, I am not a big shopper. Mostly because we have no room in our suitcase, but also because I just don’t love shopping. We did however visit a few shops that were fun, such as Rusty Fish, which is a recycled art store. My favorite shop in West End however is an absolute don’t miss… the beautiful Waves of Art Gallery. Unlike most the other shops it is full of LOCAL artists works and I bought some beautiful handmade baskets from the Lencan Indian Tribe of mainland Honduras.
I also visited the Roatan Chocolate Factory on several occasions to pick up something from the bakery on the main floor. And then on my birthday I took a chocolate making class in their upstairs kitchen and museum. The class was $40 and I was the only person in the class. It was great fun to learn the process from bean to bar.
There are several “mini-marts” offering beverages, snacks, toilet paper and some other essentials but no meat and very little produce. The nearest supermarket is in the larger town of Coxen Hole, about a 15 minute drive. But we used Roa Market for must of our smaller needs and they had the best selection.
There are a couple of fruit markets in the village and we stopped in about every other day for fruit, tomatoes, avocados and occasionally we could find lettuce. Our favorite was Frutas Verduras.
So Many Restaurants
There are so many restaurants in this little tiny town. Really amazing. When we visited West Bay there were not nearly as many restaurants, except for the ones in the resorts. Another reason we loved West End. We cooked most of our meals, but ate out a few lunches, a couple breakfasts and about once a week for dinner. Our last five days we were out of food so we ate out each night, and we never ate anyplace twice…we wanted to try them all. Here is a list of our favorites, with links when possible. Most restaurants use What’sApp for reservations.
Roatan Oasis – hands down the best meal we had. Definitely get a reservation.
Pazzo – our driver Dario recommended we go here. Without his recommendation we would have overlooked it. Authentic Italian pasta and more. Possibly the best beef carpaccio ever. Cash only and bring your own alcohol.
Tijuana Taco Stand – friendly proprietor right on the beach, very authentic Mexican food to eat at the picnic tables or take away.
La Ruta Del Sabor – is a teeny place that front an abandoned hotel but where you will find the most authentic and delicious El Salvadorian pupusas. I’m drooling thinking about it.
We don’t spend a lot of time in bars, but we did stop into a few places, watched football at a few places and enjoyed mostly the local beer called Salva Vida. We visited the Sundowner (nice view and they also serve food), Blue Marlin (also nice view), Tequila Jack’s (beautiful view and some appetizers), Harry’s Hideaway (fun bar and restaurant on the water), Tita’s Pink Seahorse (an awesome hidden beach bar worth searching for) and Booty Bar (great for football and excellent food).
There are no sidewalks. It’s kinda annoying. Unless it’s early in the morning, most cars drive pretty slow, because the heavy traffic requires it. But you are walking in the street with cars, busses, taxis and scooters. This is true in most places in the island. So be prepared and stay aware.
We always felt safe, but that said don’t carry a lot of cash or unnecessary valuables.
Use bug spray. The tiny sand fleas (also known as midges and no-see-ums) are prolific, and not just on the beach. Bites are painful and take 7-10 days to heal. Also don’t forget your sunscreen.
US Dollars are widely accepted but your bills will not be accepted if they are torn, written on, old or damaged. Carry fresh pristine bills…but try to use the local currency if you can.
There aren’t really any addresses, so having a good driver is useful. Currently there is a ton of road construction going on, widening the main road that runs through the island. That work will continue into 2024.
We used Omar’s Tourist Transportation and our driver Dario for several trips we made. We highly recommend them if you want a safe and reliable transfer service. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Taxis are abundant and there is also a funky little bus system. Not actually busses but vans. Flag them down. Cheap too.
If you don’t already, download What’sAp to use during your visit. It is the communication tool all the locals use including for dinner reservations.
Don’t drink the water. Filtered water is easily available and very inexpensive.
Thanks for reading our post Our Favorite Things in West End Roatan. It’s a safe and wonderful option for visiting Honduras. We hope to visit this tiny place again someday.
Celebrated memoir author, food writer and former editor of Gourmet Magazine, Ruth Reichl’s first novel is for foodies as well as anyone who has lost someone they love. Here is my book review Delicious by Ruth Reichl.
Billie Breslin has a most discernible palate – a talent to pull every spice and flavor from a recipe with just a taste. But Billie refuses to cook….why?
Billlie’s abrupt decision to flee her home in Santa Monica for the big city of New York has her family flummoxed. She lands a job with Delicious, a well known food magazine. She is the new assistant for the editor, and to her surprise the quirky collection of staff become her new family.
But when Delicious is suddenly closed with no warning, Billie is the only staff kept on to continue to serve Delicious readers with the “Delicious Guarantee”. Alone in the old historic building that once housed the magazine, Billie discovers a hidden room, that opens a world of history to Billie and sets her on a quest to discover a World War II girl named LuLu and understand LuLu’s relationship to renowned Chef James Beard.
Along the way Billie will face her own ghosts, grief and past, and open her heart to the possibility of love and cooking again.
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