The Glassblower, London

The Glassblower

The Glassblower

On a freezing cold, wet and breezy December day in London, nothing is better than ducking inside a local pub for hot fish & chips! When planning my trip to London, there were two recommendations that I received time and time again.

1- Attend live theater because it is the best in the world!

2- Order fish & chips at a local pub. I had heard that traditional fish & chips may be severed with smashed peas also known as mushy peas. I had never heard of smashed peas before and they did not sound appealing, but when in Rome……

What is the history behind smashed peas? Mushy peas are part of traditional British cuisine, made up of dried marrowfat peas. These peas are pre-soaked overnight in water along with baking soda, rinsed and then simmered with a little sugar and salt to create a thick, green, lumpy soup. They are often served with fish & chips in Northern England  and the Midlands. In Northern England, you may see mushy peas on the menu as an entrée called Pie & Peas. Fish & Chips have been one of Britain’s favorite dishes since the 1860’s.

IMG_3383The Glassblower is located between Regent Street & Piccadilly Circus at 40 to 42 Glasshouse Street, which is walking distance from the Le Meridien Piccadilly where we stayed. The pub was originally a Victorian workhouse. Earning its name, The Glassblower was a place where workers spent their day blowing glass.

I always pictured a brew pub in Europe as a noisy establishment located on a busy street corner with dim lighting, dark wooden floors, bar stools, tables crowded together, lively atmosphere, men in coats and scarves, a long oak bar with several brews on tap and people crowding all around trying to order. Well guess what? It was exactly as I pictured! Upon approaching the pub, we could hear all the loud voices each time the front door opened.

There’s something to be said for a brew pub in the winter. Looking around, I took note of the coat racks and everyone who walked in. I observed as they took off their jacket and scarf and hung it on the rack. The cold temperatures could be felt from the windows as we sat inside. The smell of hot fish & chips filled the air each time the waitress passed the table. You’ll hear the sounds of clanking dishes, constant chatter in various languages, and a lot of cheering. Waitresses were making their way up and down a narrow staircase, which led to a smaller bar area.

The Glassblower appears much larger on the outside than it truly is on the inside. Are all pubs located on a corner? There is a story behind that. Landowners in London controlled large pieces of land which were available to developers via leasehold. Before the developments began construction, pubs were built to feed the workers. The corner location allowed the pub to stand out on a block of businesses. It’s also more convenient to be dropped off on a corner than in the middle of a street. After completion of the developments, the pubs remained on the corner and became a point of social focus. Some developers were not thrilled with pubs in their area so they offered them large amounts of cash to move out.

The menu includes traditional British entrées such as Lamb & Sweet Potato Pie, Pastrami Burger, Chicken & Chorizo Burger, Ploughman’s Tart, Sausage & mash, and Chicken Chardonnay Pancetta Pie! The Ultimate Fish & Chips are hand-battered cod fillets served with your choice of mushy or garden peas, pickled onions, bread & butter, curry sauce and tartar sauce. The Glassblower offers a nice selection of international bottled beers and an array of craft brews on tap. Butcombe’s Bitter and Shepherd Neame’s Whitstable Bay to name a few.

$$ Saving Tips: The Glassblower is a little pricey which is to be expected for Central London. I highly recommend sharing a platter. The portions are huge and we should have really split the Fish & Chips. Fish & Chips platters start at £12.69 which is approximately $19.50 going up from there and a pint of beer is £5.70/$9.00.

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Ocean Vodka Tour, Maui

Hawaii Sea Spirits

Hawaii Sea Spirits

IMG_3049Setting out for a day of exploration on Maui, we stumbled upon Ocean Vodka. Our guide at the Surfing Goat Dairy tour informed us that Ocean Vodka Distillery was located next door. Hawaii Sea Spirits has created Ocean Vodka and, more recently, Wave Rum which was introduced in September 2013. The first thing you will notice when pulling into the 80 acre property is the still distillation with columns soaring to 60-feet.

Sugar Cane

Sugar Cane

The tour starts off as guests take a seat on the picnic tables overlooking the gorgeous grounds while the guide describes the hand processing of the 27 different native Polynesian varietals of sugar cane grown on property. Ocean Vodka is grown in volcanic soil and certified organic, which means the sugar cane is pesticide and herbicide free. Consumers can find Ocean Vodka in 36 states, Washington DC, and Canada.IMG_3050

IMG_3019Next, we walked along side the sugar cane as the guide described how the sugar cane is harvested and the process by which it is added to the vodka. We asked a lot of questions and he was very patient and informative with his answers.

Heading over to the garden area, where an event was taking place later that day, our guide described the distillation process and green manufacturing. The facility opened in 2013 and was designed to support a ten-fold increase in business with opportunity to include whiskies. Notice the solar panels which line the roof of the warehouse. This allows Ocean Vodka to generate 100% of the power that they use and then a little extra for their community.

Warehouse

Warehouse

Take a walk inside the 6,000 square foot solar-powered warehouse and bottling center where you may just spot Master Distiller, Bill Scott, working on production of the spirits.

IMG_3046Sample time!!! Just what we have all been waiting for, sampling of the vodka and rum. What better way to sample than in an outdoor, open air sampling room where the guide explains the art of spirit sampling. We were fascinated by the process in which the vodka is made with deep, ocean mineral water.

Gift Shop

Gift Shop

At the end of the tour, IMG_3307wander on over to the air-conditioned gift shop to pick up your complementary shot glass souvenir. You will also find Ocean Vodka logo wear, Vodka, truffles and other fun gifts.

First, sample the water and then move onto the vodka and rum. During your spirit sampling, take small sips to allow the flavors and smoothness to set in. I found the second and third sip to be much less intense than the first. Enjoy!IMG_3030

The family friendly tour is $10 per person. Tour includes a sample of vodka and rum or a truffle for those under 21. Complementary shot glass souvenir. Call 808-807-0009 for more information.

Steelgrass Chocolate Farm Tour, Kauai

Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish

IMG_0791While visiting the Garden Island of Kauai, escape the traffic in downtown Kapaa and drive up to Steelgrass Chocolate Farm nestled in the hills above on Kauai’s Coconut Coast. You will enjoy a 3 hour chocolate farm and botanical garden tour

Papyrus

Papyrus

which is spread over 3 acres consisting of 25 types of palm trees, 30 varieties of fruit trees, 24 types of hardwood & flowering trees, 24 different tropical flowering plants, 26 varieties of bamboo and 13 Hawaiian plants. Our tour guide was really funny, high energy and most of all, very informed on all of the plants, foods and gardens. Steelgrass Farm tour is educational and fun! Sample 10 varieties of the finest chocolate and up to 20 types of tropical fruit depending on what’s in season. I have lived on Kauai for 12 years and still never heard of, much less tasted, many of the fruits which were available during the tour. This is a family-friendly, interactive tour and involves a bit of walking. There is a vehicle available to transport guests who have difficulty with walking on some of the steep parts of the trail. Be prepared to touch, smell and sample produce along the way.

As you arrive at the beautiful farm, staff will be present to assist with parking vehicles. I highly recommend bringing your own bottled water as it can get hot and there is a bit of walking involved. Definitely bring a camera! The grounds are absolutely breathtaking and a great place to snap a few family photos along the way. Much of the trail is shaded which is nice and there was a breeze the day we toured; however, it is a great idea to apply sunblock beforehand. Bug spray, all natural of course, is provided throughout the tour.

Sugar Cane

Sugar Cane

I thought it was fascinating to learn that Hawaii is the only state where chocolate trees grow. In the beginning of the tour, we sampled a stick of sugar cane (KO in Hawaiian) served with a Tahitian lime wedge to rub on the cane before indulging. It was so good and not overly sweet or splintery.

Walking tour

Walking tour

Next, we followed our tour guide 400 feet along a shaded trail passing rare black bamboo, papyrus plants, exotic orchids, vanilla vines and much more. I stopped to take pictures along the way. The guide stopped in front of most of the tress, plants and fruits to talk about what they were, where they originated from and where are they found today. There’s nothing more refreshing than stopping along the trail, in the shade to sample fresh lychee! Yum! In the picture at the top of the page, you will see the watermelon radish which is gorgeous to look at. The taste is intense, as most radishes are, but the Kauai red salt on top took away that strong bite and we went back for more! The funny thing was to watch some of the people on the tour actually eat the radish slice like a watermelon, leaving the green outer rim. I highly recommend using this radish, thinly sliced in a garden salad. Plus, it is just gorgeous to look at. The colors are so vibrant.

Lychee

Lychee

The tour guide led the group to an area in the middle of the botanical garden with benches to sit down and listen to the presentation. He described the various fruits and then passed them around while he spoke about them. Guests were encouraged to ask questions and come up for seconds. It was a true paradise in the garden. Nice and cool and every time the wind swept through, you could see and hear the trees swaying.

Soursop

Soursop

There were some rather unusual fruits to sample on the tour. One of my favorites was the soursop AKA Custard Apple. Not exactly an appetizing name, but it was surprisingly very sweet and soft. The next fruit which was equally unusual was an Ice Cream Bean which many people on the tour were familiar with. The Ice Cream Bean was almost a furry, fuzzy-like texture but the flavor was sweet. I really appreciated seeing what the fruit looked like with the skin on prior to seeing it cut up. Now when I go to local farmer’s markets, I will know what the fruits are and how they taste.

Chiku

Chiku

Ice Cream Bean

Ice Cream Bean

The fruit that just blew me away was the Chiku AKA Sapodilla. I have not seen, heard of, nor tasted this fruit before. It looks a little unappetizing, brown and mushy but tastes like apples marinated in cinnamon. I couldn’t believe it! There are so many more fruits that we sampled during the tour such as longan, starfruit, guava, jabong, Ka’u orange, acerola cherry AKA Vitamin-C Tree, lilikoi and dragonfruit. The nice thing is that each guest will leave with a print out of what fruits and chocolates were included in the tour. Then you can go home and research the areas and seasons the fruits can be found in.

Presentation in the garden

Presentation in the garden

Cacao Trees

Cacao Trees

cacao pod

cacao pod

The tour is called CHOCOLATE FARM tour, so let’s shift gears and start talking about chocolate. The chocolate portion of the tour takes place after the fruit & farm tour. The guide handed us off to a member of the Lydgate family who is the farm owner and well versed in the process of International chocolate production. First, he talks about the cacao plant, then breaks one off of the tree, cuts it open for everyone to see and passes it around. Did you know that cacao has the highest concentration of antioxidants in any familiar food? Yes, more than broccoli, alfalfa spouts, plums, spinach, acai berries and even kale! Milk chocolate contains 6,740 units per 100 grams and dark chocolate is 13,120 units.

Next, we move over to a covered area where Mr. Lydgate offers an hour-long presentation, along with 10 chocolate tastings from around the world. Each guest is given a sheet to jot down the notes that he/she tastes in each chocolate such as dried herbs, earthy, roasted, molasses, honey, berries, caramel, woody, citrus, etc. At the end of the presentation, the chocolate types are revealed. It is similar to wine tasting. A children’s tent is available with activities such as tattoos and coloring for those who don’t want to sit for an hour. All of the chocolates are gluten-free and do not contain any nuts. The presentation was very educational, learning that chocolate made with high cacao % is actually much healthier than the fillers used in the store-bought milk chocolate candies. Most of the chocolates in the tasting contained 60%+ of cacao and many of them were more than 70% cacao. The milk chocolate contained 50% and the white chocolate is 32%. We learned about which chocolates are commonly used by pastry chefs and why. We learned why some chocolates are gritty while others are not. There are a total of 13 samples of chocolate between the tasting tent and the welcome tent. At the end of the tour, there is an opportunity to purchase some of the local chocolates and other products. You can also find cacao nibs which are bits of the cacao bean that can be added to salads and used in various other recipes. In fact, they provide a free recipe book for the nibs. Unfortunately, the Steelgrass chocolate bars are not available on-line nor sold anywhere else. If you enjoyed the Steelgrass chocolate samples, be sure to purchase them at the farm!!!!

Local Chocolates

Local Chocolates

The chocolate farm tour is available M, W & Friday for $75 per person, 12 & under free. Reservations are required. Call (808) 821-1857 or visit info@steelgrass.org for more information.

 

 

Explore the Garden District of New Orleans

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Robinson House (1862-66) at 1415 3rd Street

Waiting for the St. Charles Line

Waiting for the St. Charles Line

New Orleans has so much to offer tourists!!! Where do you begin? After exploring the French Quarter which is both exciting and little crazy, it is fun to step away from the madness for a bit and see other parts the city. We hopped on the St. Charles Line for $3 round trip and headed to the Garden District where we embarked on a free, self-guided tour down the narrow sidewalks. Hop off at the St. Charles Ave. and Washington Ave. stop to see the Garden District. Step off to your left, cross St. Charles Ave. and head 2 blocks down Washington Ave. where you will run into the beautiful, sea-blue, two-story house with white trim restaurant called the Commander’s Palace. The Commander’s Palace is famous for their 25₵ Martinis! Sadly, we were not dressed for the event and were not able to dine. However, it is a great place to take pictures in front of and a fabulous place to dine for lunch. Be sure that you plan your day accordingly and are dressed the part if you wish to stop in for lunch. Shorts, flip-flops, and non-collared shirts are not permissible. They do not accept reservations and there was a line of people waiting out front. Step inside the Commander’s Palace and pick up the free pamphlet about the Garden District which includes a walking map.

Commander's Palace

Commander’s Palace

The Garden District was laid out by an architect named Barthelemy Lafon. It is a very old neighborhood located right off of St. Charles Ave. bordered by 1st Street, Magazine Street and Toledano Street.  The neighborhood has beautiful, large trees consisting of oaks, magnolias, and pines throughout the streets with elegant homes and gardens. The homes in the Garden District include Spanish, French, English and Greek architectural influences. Many of the homes have 20-30 bedrooms with hand painted murals, hand carved banisters, winding staircases, verandas and Italian marble mantles. 

Step back into 1832, when the first Americans settled in New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase. It is considered to be one of the most well-preserved collections of historic Southern estates. Prior to the development of these homes, the area was made up of plantations. Wealthy Americans purchased this land as an alternative to living in the French Quarter. The Garden District officially became part of the city of Lafayette in 1833 and part of New Orleans in 1852. The new Americans built their own community in the Garden District to include a church, a grand hotel, cemetery, theater and a railroad.

IMG_9897When the Garden District was first designed there were only a couple of homes per block and each one was surrounded by a large garden, thus earning the name. Some of the lots were subdivided in the late 19th century. As a result the style of the homes vary, some are early 19th Century while others have the gingerbread Victorian appearance. Many of the homes in the Garden District today are owned by the descendants of the original owners.

Many famous people have called the Garden District home. Some of them include Drew Brees, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, Mos Def, John Goodman, Gloria Henry, Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Lola The Vamp, Peyton Manning, Trent Rezno, Anne Rice and Sean Yseult.

The Women’s Opera Guild owns the home with grilled ironwork fencing and large, white columns pictured below. The home was built in 1859 for an American merchant and is open for tours today. The architecture of the home is influenced by Italianate and Greek Revival styles. The grilled ironwork on many of the homes was a sign of wealth.

2504 Prytania Street, Owned by Women's Opera Guild

2504 Prytania Street, Owned by Women’s Opera Guild

Probably the most famous of the Garden District, is the Nolan House located at 2707 Coliseum Street. The Nolan House is known as the “Benjamin Button” House as it was featured as the nursing home in the move “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. The house was built in 183 and was home to three generations of the Nolan Family, one of whom played the role of the doctor in the movie. The Garden District is a family friendly, free, stroll at your own pace, activity. We loved viewing the homes and walked down St. Charles Ave. afterwards to grab some oysters on the half shell at The Blind Pelican!

2707 Coliseum Street AKA the "Benjamin Button House"

2707 Coliseum Street AKA the “Benjamin Button House”

Maui Wine on Ulupalakua Ranch

 

Maui Wine

Maui Wine, King’s Cottage

Hula Circle

Hula Circle

While visiting paradise on the island of Maui, take a scenic drive up to Ulupalakua Ranch to tour Maui Wine sitting at 2000 feet above sea level, established in 1974. IMG_1287On the drive upcountry, take in spectacular views of the the islands of Lanai and Molokai. There are several overlooks where you can pull aside and take pictures. Each winery is unique in their own way and at Maui Wine they are known for their pineapple wines! 30 minute tours for the whole family are offered daily at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

The tour begins

The tour begins

We decided to tour in the morning since it was in June and we thought it may be cooler. It was the perfect day trip as we dined for lunch and stopped off at a park afterwards. There is a designated parking area at the winery where you will see the King’s Cottage built in 1870. In the picture above, notice the Hula Circle created by cypress trees for King David Kalakaua as a designated area where he could watch hula dancers. The trees are over 150 years old and have since been cut way down and carved. Look very closely to determine what each carving displays.

Hula O Maui, pineapple wine

Hula O Maui, pineapple wine

The tour began in the historical room in the King’s Cottage with a complimentary pour of sparkling wines. First we had a glass of the LokeLani, Hawaiian Sparkling Rose Wine and a glass of Hula O Maui, Pineapple Sparkling Wine.

Family Friendly

Family Friendly

You will be greeted with the fresh pineapple aroma prior to taking your first sip.  Listen as Auntie Em (Emily) describes how the property started out as a plantation, then moved to ranching and most recently, wine making. Take your time looking around at all of the sepia pictures hanging on the wall displaying the ranch families. The historical information is great for all ages. Our kids really enjoyed learning about the ranch as well as the production of wine. The tour is only 30 minutes, short and sweet for all ages.

Make your way from the King’s Cottage to the production area via a pathway along the beautifully manicured property. The 10:30 a.m. tour was nice and cool, a little overcast with ocean views. UlupalakuaIMG_1273 is the perfect place to take pictures and spend time walking around. We made our way down to the production area with the first stop at the machine which skins the pineapples for Maui Wine’s pineapple wines. These wines are unique because they use pineapple rather than grapes. It was our first experience in sampling wines and sparkling wines infused with pineapple. The pineapple wines are made with Maui Gold pineapples. Next stop, the production plant where Auntie Em explains the process of wine making. It was fascinating to find out that Maui Wine does not use any wood barrels to process their wine as it is not conducive with the Hawaii climate and wood eating bugs.

IMG_1270Maui Wine has a fantastic wine tasting bar and gift shop. Kids are allowed in the tasting room but not up at the bar. Our kids enjoyed exploring the gift shop while we took in our 3 samples of complementary wine. I loved the white wines while my husband preferred the estate red wine. All of the wines are for sale at the winery. We left with two bottles of wine and a “Maui Wine” etched wine glass to bring home as a souvenir.

Tasting Bar

Tasting Bar

If you are tasting wines with someone else, share the samples so that you can actually sample 6 varieties. The staff are very knowledgeable about the wines. They even informed us as to which wines are for sale at our local Costco and which wines are sold only at the winery. The information provided by the staff helped us in choosing which wines to purchase and bring home. We signed up for their mailing list to receive information about upcoming events such as parties, holiday festivities and local music.

Ulupalakua Ranch Store

Ulupalakua Ranch Store

After wine tasting, walk across the street and have a bite to eat at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. Located in a green, plantation-style house with a lanai to sit and dine at Paniolo style. Choose from Maui Cattle Company’s slow roasted cattle brisket, Upcountry Caesar salad, Elk or the famous Ulupalakua Lamb Burger. If you like sauces, you will love dining at the Ranch Store!

Brisket wrap

Brisket wrap

Each table has house made BBQ sauces to choose from and some are really spicy! You will smell the BBQ smoke while touring Maui Wine. The best part is that the Ranch Store serves only Maui grown produce! While waiting for your food to grill, shop around the store which features local artisan products.

 

King's Cottage

King’s Cottage

Open Monday- Sunday 10 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.

The Blind Pelican, New Orleans

Chargrilled Oysters

Chargrilled Oysters

The Blind Pelican- New Orleans

The Blind Pelican- New Orleans

We hopped on the St. Charles streetcar and headed for the Garden District. After touring the beautiful estates, we discovered The Blind Pelican while in search of oysters! The Blind Pelican is located at 1628 St Charles Avenue. Walk up the steps into a lively environment with a large bar in the middle of the restaurant and patio seating with a view of St. Charles Avenue. We opted for the open-air patio seating, partly because we are a loud group. Stopping in just for a snack before dinner, we got a little excited about the menu. Never before have I seen alligator hash on a menu! We ordered truffle fries, fried green tomatoes, chargrilled oysters and raw oysters. For some in our group, it was the first time eating a raw oyster. My advice, put lots of sauces on it to ensure it slides down!

Truffle fries

Truffle fries

The Blind Pelican has Happy Hour from 4-8 p.m. where you can find $7.50 chargrilled oysters and $3 raw oysters. Nothing goes better with oysters than a beer! The Blind Pelican offers over 30 beers on tap. I recommend the local brew, Abita.

How to eat an oyster~ Oysters should always be served on crushed FullSizeRender(2)ice. Hold the shell level so that the juices remain inside and face the smooth part of the shell towards you. You don’t want to put the sharp end in your mouth. Tip the shell and let the oyster and juices slide into your mouth.  Some prefer to chew the oysters while others like to let it slide right down.

Raw oysters

Raw oysters

Why eat oysters? Oysters are consumed all over the world. They are organic and super healthy, loaded with minerals, vitamins and nutrients! The benefits of eating oysters are endless. To name a few, oysters can assist with weight loss, boost metabolic activity, increase tissue repair and growth, lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, improve immune functions, aid in wound healing, improve blood circulation, and increase bone strength to reduce osteoporosis. Did you know that some minerals varieties are in their highest content in oysters?  This is true for zinc, iron, copper, manganese, and selenium. Oysters contain 1500% of the daily requirements of zinc in a single serving. Oysters also have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good forms of cholesterol. Oysters are also a powerful aphrodisiac, but we won’t go into that….

The face right before they go down

The face right before they go down

The Mausoleums at Lafayette Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery

IMG_9879A cemetery is not usually top of your list for sight seeing while on vacation. However, we stumbled upon Lafayette Cemetery while strolling through the Garden District in New Orleans and found it to be quite fascinating. Named after what was once known as the City of Lafayette, the cemetery dates back to 1833. 613 of the people buried at Lafayette passed from yellow fever in 1847. In 1853 yellow fever took the lives of 8000 people and many of their bodies were left at the front gates of Lafayette Cemetery. Located in the heart of the Garden District at 1416-1498 Washington Avenue, some of the mausoleums date back to the 19th century. This will go down on my list of “firsts”. I had never seen a mausoleum in person. Mausoleums are above-ground graves in areas which typically flood or are below sea level.

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The cemetery consist of 500 wall vaults which have been sealed.

Entrance to Lafayette

Entrance to Lafayette

Since we stumbled upon the cemetery, we toured it ourselves without a guide. There are guides within the cemetery for a fee of $5.00. They walk around announcing when the tour will begin. There were also several organized tour groups within the cemetery. It was very interesting to walk around and look at the dates on the tombstones. I was astonished at how many people are buried in the same tomb. There are quite a few which are crumbling and decrepit, while others are robust, made of granite and marble. Use caution as the walkways are broken, raised and very easy to trip over.

Many of the tombs list the cause of death such as yellow fever, apoplexy, and even rare instances of being struck by lightening. The cemetery includes veterans from the Civil War and French Foreign Legion.  Brigadier General Harry T. Hays of the Confederate Army is buried at Lafayette. One of the tombs features Judge Ferguson of the Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate-but-equal” case. The cemetery represents immigrants from 25 different countries and natives of 26 states.

You may have seen some of the Lafayette mausoleums in movies filmed in New Orleans such as The Witching Hour, Memnoch the Devil, Interview with a Vampire, Double Jeopardy in 1999 and Dracula 2000. LeAnn Rimes and the New Kids on the Block filmed music videos in the cemetery.

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Sadly, many of the tombs were destroyed by vandalism and have since been restored and preserved.

There are about 1,100 family tombs and more than 7,000 people buried in Lafayette I, a single city block.

Hours:
Monday – Friday: 8:00 am – 2:30 pm
Saturday closes at noon
Closed most major holidays