50

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-7_35649430572_o

Snakes passed a landmark birthday back in early July, one that deserved to be celebrated beyond the usual night on the town. (Look- it even merits a blog post!) He was hesitant because we’d both had a stressful and difficult year, but I pushed back, insisting that this was exactly why we had to pause and honor this time. I reminded him of a decade earlier when we threw a party for his fortieth in our Detroit backyard, “The Circus in the Hood”. We had an intern staying with us, working with Snakes at The Detroit News. As luck would have it, this intern also happened to be an accomplished juggler. We hired a local bluegrass band and a friend to tend bar. When the band took breaks, the juggling show would begin. We talked about it for years after.

Our social circles have changed almost entirely since then but we shot off a few hopeful emails to some old friends who were around for The Circus in the Hood.  Incredibly, one couple accepted. They flew in from Detroit to help mark the occasion. I decided that a dinner cruise would provide an solid framework around which I could create a beautiful meal and memorable experience for Snakes and our guests.

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-6_35649428182_o

Boat rentals are available at the riverside for around $30/hour. They have an upper and lower deck, in case of rain showers.  I figured we could use the lower deck as our staging and prep area as well. The captain cruises south to where the Tonle Sap joins forces with the Mekong and putters along until the party decides it’s time to head back up stream. I reserved one for the evening and set to the details.

First I went on line to seek out pretty, lightweight melamine tableware and cups. World Market came through with the beauties pictured above. I found the gold foil placemats at a local market; each is a different design. The price was far too high at a dollar a piece but after some shrewd bargaining on my part, I was able to get four for that price. The candles are from Amazon, LED lights that flicker through the wax casing. Our friends from Detroit carried with them the battery powered string lights that are seen in the background. I am confident we will use all of these things many times over.

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-5_35430418890_o

A friend who manages some local hotels recommended a couple of assistants who had experience working in food service. I was thrilled to have two extra sets of professional hands to help this all come together. I planned the menu with some input from Snakes. There were a few items he insisted on having, shrimp cocktail was one. Again, our traveling friends came to the rescue with some fresh and zippy horseradish carried across the Pacific to make the cocktail sauce complete.

We started with a white sangria, spiked with St. Germain Liquour and Grand Marnier. I swapped the recommended berries and peaches for local fruits instead, fresh mango and lychee. It was not a decision I regret.

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-3_35649427412_o

I served bruschetta with lemon feta dip topped with those insanely addictive sweet hot cherry peppers from Trader Joe’s, a staple on my consumables shipment shopping list. I also made one of my oldest stand-bys and crowd pleasers, caramelized onion dip with kettle chips. It cannot, it will not be resisted. We all kicked back with our drinks in hand and a full moon rising over the Mekong as the captain pulled up the anchor and cast off. It was a beautiful evening, straight out of a story book.

Soon we switched over to champagne and shrimp cocktail which had both been waiting below on ice. The waiters brought them up and topped off glasses. Snakes took the opportunity to make a quick toast and thank all of our friends for joining us.

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-14_35818806265_o

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-15_35818813785_o

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-20_35818819475_o

The sun went down as quickly as the champagne and the city sparkled from the river banks. We moved to the table and settled in for the salad course. I prepared a classic caesar since the greens needed to be fairly hearty and amenable to a little travel and humidity. Nothing fancy, but a homemade garlicky Caesar is popular for good reason. I had my helpers dress the greens just before service. Then they uncorked bottles of wine and placed them on the tables, refilling as needed.

The entree came next. I had poached red snapper in olive oil with fennel and tomatoes in my big Le Creuset dutch oven. It held it’s heat nicely in the heavy cast iron. I prepared this recipe once before when we hosted a giant gourmet picnic years ago on Belle Isle, a city park in Detroit, where we were mistaken for an art installation. But that’s another story. The point is, this recipe is delicious and it travels well. I paired it with an off-the-cuff green bean and potato salad with roasted tomatoes, dressed with a caper dijon vinaigrette.

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-22_35818820305_o

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-28_35818825945_o

Just as we were finishing up storm clouds began grumbling in the distance and a light rain sent us all to the lower deck. It was a perfect change of scenery by then, like shifting dinner party guests into the living room at home to relax with dessert and coffee after the meal. Though, cheese and dessert were yet to come, nothing so civilized as coffee was brewing.

Snakes opened presents while I served the cheese course and Sauternes. The ukuleles came out (I think we had three on board) along with a bottle of Four Roses bourbon.

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-33_35649451232_o

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-43_35649465372_o

davids-birthday-party-july-8-2017-45_35778159876_o

Finally we sang happy birthday with uke accompaniment and a sparkler light show. The last and entirely unnecessary course was slightly tortured key lime bars. They’d gotten tossed around the cooler and squashed into their cellophane a few times too many. I doubt anyone noticed, I barely did. By then we were all merrily singing and strumming our way down the Mekong, headed back to shore.

***Photo credits go to the incomparable Mike G., an ideal dinner guest and a phenomenal photographer.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Advertisements

waking with the city

 

Each morning, as the neighborhood birds, beetles and lizards begin their chatter and I am merely one precious hour shy of a satisfying night’s sleep, the newest member of our family shakes the sleep from his head, tags jingling with pride and enthusiasm. He clears his throat and emits a high pitched whine which rides the airwaves up the stairways and through thick hardwood doors.  The hum of air conditioners does little to tamp the tone that jolts me from my dreams and doesn’t cease until my feet hit the floor. Good morning 5am!

IMG_2591

In November, we adopted a street dog. Bonecrusher or Bones for short, named by the Bushbaby after hearing a euphemism for Dengue fever, the local mosquito born illness. He’s a great dog, considering he’d never been walked on a leash nor set paw in a house before arriving at our door. The guy has never once had an accident. And most importantly, he’s incredibly gentle with Colette and her friends. He patiently tolerates the tutus, headbands and big snuggly hugs.

It hasn’t been love at first sight as it was for me when I first met MY dog, Banjo, rest his legendary soul. But I’ve realized that Bones isn’t MY dog. He’s our family’s dog, and more specifically- Colette’s. So like any tender-hearted mama, I love him more all the time when I see how much joy he brings my lady. But back to that daily wake up call…

I strap on my sneaks and am out the door by half past five. If I’ve managed to prepare myself the night before, my iPhone is charged and loaded with my current favorite podcasts (The Daily from NYT, The 10 Minute Writers Workshop, Civics 101, Hidden Brain, and the usual suspects: TAL, TED, Lore and RadioLab). There’s no need to grab clean up bags since the streets and shrubs are full of them.

Some mornings I am nearly cross-eyed by the injustice of it all. Why can’t I be nestled into bed next to my husband at this obscene hour? Why can’t I get up on my own terms? Enjoy a coffee, check the news, putter around the house a bit. Banjo never did this to me! By the time all of these questions have been chased from my head by some riveting interview (or simply, Shankar Vedantam’s voice!) piping through my headphones, I’m hitting my stride on the riverwalk.

17474271_10154143603132504_1970802896_o

A variety of exercise groups mark my progress along the route. The first park I cross is Independence Monument where groups of men play a version of hacky sack. They lob a beanbag the size of a baseball back and forth using only their agile and dexterous feet. Other duos whack birdies to and fro in spirited games of badminton.

Next I cross over toward the riverwalk and through the throngs of well-fed pigeons that congregate in front of the palace. Bones is a keen hunter and will leap 3 feet in the air trying to sink his teeth into these plump little tarts. Last week he actually got one and I had to jerk him back in an effort to save the thing from his jaws of death. I may or may not have succeeded.

IMG_2581

Onward to the riverfront where speakers blast Cambodian pop music to a group of early risers who clap and high-step to the tinny beat. Incense from a nearby pagoda, fried noodles from street vendors and sewer gases from the Mekong crowd the narrow passageways of my nostrils. I switch to mouth breathing and taste it all now too.

17475013_10154143602952504_2146532093_o

IMG_2570

Further down the walkway an instructor guides a group of yogis through sun salutations. Around the next bend, a tai chi class is in progress. Unified in white, they swoop swords in graceful arcs and some mornings snap red fans open with a quick flick of the wrist and a loud POP!

17474063_10154143602497504_1642904229_o

I continue to the end of the path where a cluster of passenger boats is docked, resting from the night before and awaiting their sunset cruise assignments. I glance at my Fitbit to check my steps and the time. If I have some to spare, I climb down the concrete stairs etched into the side of the retaining wall to the river’s edge. It’s pretty ripe down there, but I enjoy the change of perspective and elevated heart rate that comes with sprinting back up the two flights to the street level, usually chased by stray dogs. There are around 10 sets of these double flight stairways that I shoot to accomplish, but usually only manage half that before my olfactories are overwhelmed.

17453616_10154143602357504_1222935117_o

Heading toward home now, the sun inches higher and intensifies. We take a slightly different route down a new section of the path, in front of nice hotels and restaurants. I peek through the fences, twined with fuchsia bougainvillea, into courtyards where gardeners take great care. The path ends near a ferry launch where motos stream like minnows off the decks. Almost all are loaded to the gills, families of five sardined onto that seat built for two, darting through the morning traffic, on their way to schools or markets.

I’m home in 15 minutes and patting my buddy on the head, thanking him for waking me in time to experience another colorful morning in Phnom Penh.

IMG_2592***all photos were taken with my “ancient” (4 year old-ha!) iPhone 5***

 

 

Siem Reap Food Tours

dsc_1643

While in Siem Reap, we semi-splurged for a guided food tour. At $75 per adult and half that price for kids, it was a little spendy by Cambodian standards, but food tourists that we are- we were excited by the prospect. I realize this sounds like a gluttounous crawl from roadside cafe to street vendor to kimchi pub burger, packing ourselves full of far more than is prudent or humane, but as suspected, one’s guide makes all the difference. I had a poolside conversation with a fellow traveler who’d just returned from a “culinary tour” herself. She groaned with overindulgence while the other members of her family slowly digested their lion’s shares in the comfort of the room’s AC. “Don’t do it,” she moaned, clutching her belly in regret. “It’s just TOO much.”

Despite her graphic warning, we carried on with our plans. When I’d made reservations the week before, I felt confident in our choice. The tour’s organizer informed me that this would be a “private” tour because we had a Bushbaby along and assured us that they could alter the plan as necessary to make sure she (or we!) weren’t too overwhelmed.

Her partner, Steven, a Scottish chef with knowledge surpassed only by his curiosity, picked us up at our hotel; tuktuk stocked with a cooler full of water and wet wipes. My first request was for coffee since our hotel’s machine was broken and instant was their unfortunate solution. We loaded in to our transportation for the day and bumped off in search of breakfast.

dsc_1586

We wound through the main parts of downtown, passing by organic juice and smoothie cafes and vegan bakeries. I’ll admit my brow furrowed when I detected freshly brewed coffee beckoning and we kept on rolling by. I wondered if he hadn’t heard me or taken my request with the urgency I’d intended.  Lucky for us all, we soon arrived at our first stop, the Cambodian version of a diner.

It was nondescript from the street view with a cafeteria atmosphere inside. All of the tables were occupied. One gentleman, just there for a coffee, invited us to join him with a wave of his hand. Bowls of fresh noodles and pork steeping in an herbal broth were passed through a small window at the back of the room to the waitresses who delivered them to the hungry diners. The morning’s nourishment was balanced alongside the convivial spirit of the morning rush. We ordered three bowls, since there was no menu, and three strong iced coffees, served with sweetened condensed milk. Divine!

Once we’d had our fill, we set off for the markets. I knew that between the heat, the smells and the crowds (not to mention the tangle of freshly skinned snakes, still writhing with nerve impulses), this would be a tough segment for our girl. When the tattered canopies or low ceilings bumped her from the safe haven of her dad’s shoulders, she stuck close and muscled through.

dsc_1601

dsc_1635

Our guide was the wealth of information that I had been craving since arriving in Cambodia months before. He offered insight into the way the food culture has transformed during the past 4-5 decades from the strong colonial influence of refined french preparations stripped to one of survival through foraging. Fishweed- from the marshes, used to lend a fishy depth of flavor to soups and salads. Multiple types of basil, all with their own uses. Lotus root, galangal, kefir lime, water convulvulus. So many others with names and flavors equally unfamiliar. Still other curiosities like giant goopy buckets of sugarcane sap with a similar extraction process to that of maple syrup. And you’ll know it when you smell it, Prahok, a fermented fish paste that is distinctively unique to Cambodian cuisine.

One prahok master sold at least 10 different types, each one aged for varying lengths of time and chopped to varying consistencies, producing flavors and odors so complex and unusual that the uninitiated chef or diner may prefer fasting. (My one experience with prahok was when my housekeeper/cook prepared a dish that overtook our kitchen with the odor of a gangrenous wet dog. IT WAS EXTREME! I had the Daisy troop over on that particular day and they carried on dramatically horrified about what we were having for dinner that night.) Our guide, Steven, assured us that with the right balance of acid, salt and sweet, prahok could unlock a magical umami balance and elevate a simple dish beyond your palate’s imagination. But if the cook was heavy handed with one or more ingredient and the scales were tipped too far in any direction… prepare for the assault.

As we passed through the market, Steven gathered random items for us to snack on and assembled a couple of generous bags filled with herbs, fresh pork belly, starfruit, winged beans and more to offer the families we were going to visit at their homes in the neighboring villages later that afternoon.

dsc_1662

dsc_1655

On the ride out of town, the landscape opened up to rice fields and stilted family compounds. We stopped at one of the many which had a roadside grill selling sausage stuffed frogs and a prahok mixture steamed in a banana leaf. Our guide expertly supplemented this with a dab of mango salad, sliced cucumbers and an omelet he’d picked up at the market. He chose this particular spot due to the fact that a litter of puppies was born just 3 weeks earlier. Colette was delighted to play and watch them tussle. She opted for a nibble on a Lara bar I expertly supplemented from my own bag of tricks.

The next stop was at the family compound of multi-generational rice noodle makers. They’ve been using exactly this same “machinery” for centuries. I didn’t catch the entire process enough to explain in much detail.  Below is the grinder, the press and boiling water and finally the hands with the muscle memory required to loop the delicate noodles into silky nests arranged neatly in the baskets headed to market.

dsc_1666

dsc_1668

dsc_1679

Next we passed by a family farm where they were proud to share their dedication to self-reliance and sustainability along with a generous splash of sake straight from the still. Our guide translated with good humor and a skill to make what could’ve felt awkwardly intrusive seem more like a visit to your grandma’s place in the sticks. This country mouse felt right at home.

As the tour wrapped up, our final stop was at a cafe in the village center to sample what this region is known for, at least nationally if not beyond. Rice noodles in a prahok-spiked coconut milk broth served along side an overgrown bowl of foraged herbs and long beans meant to be snapped off and added to your bowl. It was a sublime balance of sweet and savory with a hint of lime anchored by that luscious depth of flavor as Steven had promised. I felt a timelessness to this ancient dish and a connection to these kind and generous people from whom it had come, a metaphor for the delicate balance of connection we all seek to the past, present and future.

dsc_1697

43

dsc_1449

Last weekend my 43rd birthday coincided with the Cambodian national water festival AND the super moon! This holiday marks the end of the rains and the beginning of fishing season. Phnom Penh is flooded with over a million visitors from the provinces and the city transforms into a festival of celebration. The Tonle Sap river plays host to hundreds of long boats zipping down the waterway. With both Snakes and the Bushbaby free from work and school, we decided to pack our overnight bags and head up the river instead, away from the crowds and visit Siem Reap.

dsc_1765

dsc_1444

We left before dawn on Thursday. The drive took us around 5 hours. Had it not been for google maps and their suspect directions, we’d have made it even sooner. (Note to self and others tasked with navigation while driving in Cambodia: if map suggests turning down a two track path, there’s most likely a much better route. Thankful we have 4-wheel drive and a sense of humor and adventure.)

There is a huge variety of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, catering to every single budget. I chose a lower-mid range (Tanei Resort, near the big circus tent) since we were going to be staying for five nights. It was one of the many new developments on the outskirts of the central city. A fabulous pool with a shallow end for kids, spacious, clean rooms and a private outdoor rain shower were highlights that drew me in. The food was fine, the instant coffee less so, but none of that mattered with the wealth of options available in town.

The week before, I had reserved a spot for us on the Siem Reap Food Tour. (A separate  post which is forthcoming.) It’s run by a couple who got a mention in a 36 hours NYT article a while back for their fantastic and super informative tour of the markets and a surrounding village. They were happy to cater to the fact that we had our Bushbaby along and switched things up as necessary. If you are interested in food, culture and the delicious ways in which they inform one another, steeping in one big ancient pot, this tour is worth every penny.

dsc_1477

Although the tour operators offered us tons of suggestions and dining advice, we had no problems finding great food and interesting shopping. It was fun to wind through the markets- which I found to be stocked differently than ones we’ve visited in Phnom Penh- nicer choices of fabrics for the ubiquitous though necessary breezy dresses and much better cuts. Colette was thrilled to find a talented henna-master Nepalese lady nestled into a stall of the night market. She couldn’t wait to return to school this week to show it off.

dsc_1555

We rose early each day with the neighborhood roosters and set off for the temples. Visiting Bayon and Ta Prohm one morning and Angkor another. The midday heat makes visiting temples in the afternoon a real test of one’s constitution. With the gorgeous pool back at the hotel beckoning and the knowledge that we will be returning multiple times in the coming years, it made it easy to honor that voice in our heads that kept insisting that this was actually meant to be a “vacation”. No need for a self-imposed death march. Back to the pool, let’s order up some frosty drinks!

dsc_1485

dsc_1529

dsc_1509

In the wee wee hours of my birthday morning, I left solo to catch the sun rising over Angkor. It was fun to be up and chugging through the silvery cool air of morning. Once I arrived at the temple those moments of peace and solitude were gone. There were hundreds of others eager to sop up that same experience. Tripod photographers had staked out all the best vantage points so I snapped a few shots and carried on exploring. I put my camera away for a good part of the morning, reminding myself to be present and sometimes expand my perspective beyond the Nikon’s viewfinder or an Instagram composition. With all of the frustration and grief in our world right now, it felt good to get lost in these ancient corridors, at liberty to stop and meditate when the mood struck.  It was a solid start to my new year. I was so ready for the last one to end.

dsc_1787

dsc_1773

dsc_1771

tuktuk Halloween

 

dsc_1140This weekend I volunteered our house for the annual Phnom Penh Tuktuk Halloween. This family event attracts over 400 trick-or-treaters each year. Residents and businesses sign up to be included on the route that winds through the BKK neighborhood. One kind neighbor translates all of that information into a map which is then distributed by a local coffee shop. Expats and Cambodians alike come out in swarms clogging up the streets with their spider-webby spooked out tuktuks.

Participants whose houses are not on the route are asked to donate bags of candy to help defray the cost of supplying treats to such a large crowd. I ordered a generous amount through the pouch and kept my fingers crossed that all of the US candies and chocolates would arrive in time. And they did! We had more than enough to allow even the occasional overly-zealous fistfuls to go unnoticed.

dsc_1171

I didn’t have much in the budget for decorations but that didn’t matter.  It’s my philosophy that the less you spend, the more you tap your creativity. It was with this philosophy that I started clicking through pinterest and finally settled on making a bunch of disembodied mummy hands from masking tape. I sat with the Bushbaby during after school chill out time, wrapping my left hand, sticky side away from my skin, then rewrapping with sticky side down to seal it off. After, I gently nipped through enough to loosen and remove glove, then taped the incision, and a mummy hand was born! I thought they were effectively creepy without entering into “stuff of nightmares” territory. Total cost at 60 cents a roll came in under 10 bucks.

14716295_10153743345727504_7143187774088559235_n

Colette decided early on that she wanted to be a witch. I picked up a yard of slinky (cool) fabric from a market for $3 and zipped it up into a breezy dress. We tattered the hemline to “make it look like the gators got me while out collecting spell ingredients from the swamps.” I bought her lovely handmade broom from a street vendor for $2. My costume was thrown together in an instant but ended up being the thread that tied our family together. Once Colette saw my face, she changed her mind about the classic witch make-up and opted for a “day of the dead” version instead.

dsc_1156

14611078_10153743239582504_2067636798282633720_n

Snakes and she took off for trick-or-treat rounds with friends and I stayed behind to pass out candy. The good stuff went pretty quickly, but we had plenty of hard candy backups to replenish the bowl. (Sorry late comers!) After an hour my duo was back to rest for a few before heading out on the final leg. Colette carried on with friends but Snakes stayed behind with me this time, defying the steamy Cambodian climate from keeping him from his beloved gorilla suit.

dsc_1196

dsc_1190

dsc_1191

Although he lost a few pounds in water weight, the gorilla’s cameo was a success. But isn’t it always? I wish you all a safe and happy Halloween!

crab market and beyond

As I mentioned in the last post, our family would be perfectly content to fritter away an occasional weekend at the Veranda Resort in Kep with nary a concern for what might lie beyond. Though in the event of a longer stay, like our second visit, curiosity got the best of us and we loaded in to our trusty land cruiser, Old Yeller, to do some exploring.

dsc_1207

The main attraction in Kep is the crab market. Shown above, it is located directly on the Gulf of Thailand, with fishermen/crabbers (?) dragging in their haul by the basketful. There’s a collection of restaurants stretching down the boardwalk serving massive plates of grilled fresh crab for around $5. The market itself boasts an array of seafood, sold by the kilo, and packaged into coolers for safe transport back home. Buyers crowd in to inspect the catch and haggle for the best prices.

dsc_1206

dsc_1212

dsc_1215

This region is also known for its peppercorns. They were widely regarded as some of the world’s best before the devastating collapse of the country decades ago. Kampot peppercorn farms are making a comeback and reclaiming their place on the culinary scene. Vendors sell little bags of dried black, red and white ones and bundles of fresh green ones, still on the stalks. There are farms in the area open to visitors. I’m sure we’ll visit on a future visit and stock up for holiday care packages!

dsc_1196

We had also read about a nearby temple, Wat Kiri Sela, in our Lonely Planet guide. It’s a 30 minute drive from where we were staying in Kep, near the town of Kompong Trach. It was the final weekend of the Cambodian religious holiday, Pchum Ben, Day of the Ancestors. We were thrilled to have this opportunity to visit a temple during a holy time and light sticks of incense, offering prayers for our ancestors.

DSC_1321.jpg

The doorway to the Wat is carved into the foot of a giant limestone karst (a new word for me- bigger than rock, smaller than a mountain). A disco buddha with colorful blinking lights flashes his garish welcome. Once visitors descend into the caves, a well trodden path leads you to a central opening, surrounded on all sides by the karst formations reaching skyward. The air is sweet and hazy with incense.

Around the perimeter are endless caverns, passageways and free-standing altars to explore, with multiple shrines throughout waiting silently for worshippers to pass and offer their prayers, food, or money or add to the firework bouquets of incense. As one might expect with food involved, the monkeys weren’t far behind.

dsc_1364

dsc_1318

We bought a bundle of incense from one of the entrepreneurial local kids. Colette loved to catch the candle’s flame and wait to see it glowing before she’d blow it out and tuck it in next to the others. We said prayers for Grammy and she whispered that she’d really like a pitbull puppy or a kitten or a snail. It was a memorable experience for us all and has piqued my interest to explore temples closer to the city. And a visit to the Wat capitol of the world, Siem Reap, is in our near future (my November birthday!) I can’t wait!

dsc_1347-1

dsc_1357

 

weekends (and worlds) away

dsc_1266

A three hour drive south of the our home in Phnom Penh is Kep, a quiet crabbing village on the Gulf of Thailand. Up until the 70s, it was a thriving resort town frequented by the French and Cambodian elite looking for a break from the city. Though very little of that opulence remains, many resorts and cafes have sprung up in recent years. We hope to make it a semi regular respite for ourselves, visiting on the off months when not much else is planned. It’s affordable and a quick and interesting drive (if traffic is in your favor).

dsc_1298

dsc_1225

We’ve visited twice now, both times to the same resort, La Veranda. Built in stages, it is a collection of villas and spacious hotel rooms each with their own private and generous veranda, interconnected through a series of winding wooden walkways nestled in to the side of the tropical forested hills. There’s a fantastic restaurant, coffee bar, library and spa. Once you’re settled in, there’s really no reason to leave. A choice of two gorgeous pools with entirely different vibes, make it a nice escape for both couples and families. And then, for those of us traveling with littles? There’s “The Happy Hut”.

dsc_1414

Staffed from 9-5, kids over 3 years are welcome to pop in and get their Gods-eye on while parents lounge at the pool with frosty drinks or duck into the spa. Since they consider themselves an “eco-friendly” lodge, nearly all of the craft materials used are natural, recycled or repurposed. Our girl can’t get enough. Every morning at the (free) breakfast she impatiently waits for the little hand to hit 9. “Is it time yet??!? What do you want me to surprise you with?”

Then down the maze of pathways we wander, debating the merits of one more painted shell sun catcher or maybe a laminated monkey mask for her wannabe primatologist father….big decisions when you’re 5. We arrive at the Happy Hut where the ladies are waiting to greet her.

dsc_1431

dsc_1417dsc_1421

Our first visit was for just one overnight. We never left the compound until we were booted at the noon check-out time, stretching it to the last possible minute with Colette crafting and Snakes getting one final 4-hands massage. Normally we prefer to explore while in a new area, but we were absolutely content to stay put.

The restaurant has a menu heavy with fresh, local seafood. (It’s less than a half mile to the bustling crab market which we passed through on our way out of town. But more on that later.) The comfortable space is open to the breezes, facing the sun setting over the Gulf. Reasonably priced food with some splurge worthy items, like decent bottles of wine.

dsc_1175dsc_1172

They offer room service or delivery of food and drinks anywhere on the compound so if the restaurant isn’t your thing there’s a tranquil infinity pool and bar where you can take your nightcap and/or dessert. Any time is a fine one for their selection of sorbets and gelato. Not a bad deal at under $100/night.

dsc_1157

On our return trip, we stayed for two nights. This allowed us to go on some daytime adventures which I’ll fill you in on tomorrow!

 

P.S. Dear readers- Thank you for your kindness and all of the words of encouragement regarding the death of my mom. As expected, life moves on. I’m doing my best to live a good and decent life, curiosity on high, seeking beauty every day and rooting for the underdogs.