Friday, February 26, 2010

Carribean Cruise - At sea

Day 6 - At sea
We were at sea today and had our brunch and dinner at Grand Epernay.  The brunch on Grand Epernay was magnificent. It was decorated with ice sculptures.

Brunch at the Grand Epernay Restaurant
 Dragon Ice Sculpture
 Salad Table
Cocktail shrimp on the ice sculpture
Over view of the Grand Epernay (usually had formal table setting for sit down meals)
Since we had spent so many days in the regular dining rooms and wanted to try something new.  There was really no charge for anything we ate.  But if you want to try the specialty restaurants,,  there are some cover charges that are specified and you get to eat everything from the menu.  We were told to make a reservation early to the specialty restaurant since it fills up fast. We went to the Murano the second day we got on the ship, and the reservation was already filled up, so there was only one available on the 4th day at 9:00pm.  The coverage fee was $35 per person, but it's more expensive than other specialty restaurants because it served French Cuisine.  We were not able to go on that night and had to cancel at the last minute.

We did go to this restaurant called Bistro on Five to try the crepes for a late lunch on that day. We paid $5 per person for this particular restaurant and ordered anything we wanted from their menu. We each ordered the German crepe and a chicken panini. Then a spanish crepe and chocolate crepe for dessert.  They were just so delicious and that I think I will try and make them at home sometime.

Bistro at Five  - Only served crepes and panini

Afterward we stayed in the room and enjoyed our sunset while sitting on the balcony with some afternoon tea we got from the Oceanview cafe.

Sun set view from our balcony

Then we watched the movie in the room and got ready to our second formal evening dinner. After dinner, we needed to burn off all the calories we consumed  and climbed up to deck 14 to my favorite place of the ship, the Sky Lounge where the night life began. We danced a bit and then sat there enjoyed the live music there.

At Art Gallery with one of my formal wear:
  Day 7 - At sea

There were many activities that I wanted to attend.  I went to the seminars on how to take better pictures, make a cake, make a scrapbook, cooking show, salsa and meringue dance,jewelry show and art auctioning,. Each and every one of the shows are only 30 minutes long.

The boutique shops on the third deck was the place we went everyday before dinner.  Today we had nothing to do, so we just went  to the shopping boulevard again. There were only a few boutiques for jewelry,clothing, gifts, and wine shop. These were all upscale and duty free stores.

It was in one of the boutiques where I heard a familiar southern accent voice and saw Paula Deen there.  Wow, an actual celebrity on Celebrity Cruise!  I couldn't believe myself and I had to go outside to grab my husband to confirm it. Fortunately he had the camera with him.  That was the high light of my entire trip.  I later realized she must be hosting the celebrity tours for the cruise.

Paula Deen and I in Moda boutique shop

I was not able to take all the pictures and you can get  more inside views of the ship. It was just so luxurious and really worth to go on this trip.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Caribbean Crusie - Basseterre, St. Kitts and Philipsurg, St. Marteen

Day 4 - Basseterre, St. Kitts

We docked at the port of St. Kitts and hired a local tour guide who had a van with air conditioning (it was very hot there) and traveled with few more tourists to go on an island tour.   St. Kitts was founded  in 1627 by the French.  It later became a British colony shortly after America gained its independence from Great Britain, and it gained its own independence in 1983.  It remains a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth and still holds on to its British roots. The tour guide told us there were five medical universities on the island. The island had a volcano which was no longer active. The island was small and took about two and half hours to complete the island tour.  We only had two stops (see below for pictures for one of the stops) and the other was a private garden which had a gift shop that sold handmade batik fabrics, clothing, and accessories. The weather was very warm so we didn't want to stay outside too long.  Once the tour was over, we went back to the ship and had a late lunch and started our routine life at sea.
Volcano Rock- Aberdeen jewelry was easy to find everywhere on the island

Man who tried to catch fish with a net

Day 5 - Philipsburg, St. Maarten

We docked at this port the next day.  This island is the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two different nations.  It is  owned by France and the Netherlands (a treaty signed over 350 years ago). The southern part is ruled by Dutch (called Sint Maarten), the northern part is by French (called Saint Martin). The French territory covers about two thirds of the island and is technically a part of Europe.  The Dutch side is a member island of the Netherlands Antilles and part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  We were advised not to go to the French side because it took two hours back and forth to the port.  We were afraid the traffic would be bad that we couldn't get back to the ship on time since the ship would be departure at 6pm that evening. We just went to the Dutch side. There were mainly jewelry shops there and not much to see. We were back on the ship about five o'clock.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carribbean Cruise - San Juan, Puerto Rico

Day 3 - San Juan, Puerto Rico

We docked at Puerto Rico.  We had signed up for the shore excursion walking tour on the ship.  The cost was $47 per person for a two and half hour walking tour. The weather was warm but breezy, nice enough for a walk on that day. Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth of the U.S. for many years, but the influence has not changed the inherently Spanish nature of the island. English is spoken and understood in most of San Juan; on the rest of the island, Spanish is still the main language.  San Juan has two distinct personalities: there's the modern port city and then there's the historic colonial outpost first conquered in 1508.  The Spanish influence is evident everywhere in fortifications, museums and cathedrals throughout the city.  The streets were narrower. The buildings were so colorful. Here are some of the pictures I took.

 San Felipe del Morro (close up view)

 Exterior view of San Felipe del Morro
 Surrounding view
 America's 2nd oldest church since 16th century
Colorful buildings and narrower street scene

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carribbean Cruise - Celebrity Solstice

We flew to Fort Lauderdale, Florida from the San Francisco airport and arrived late that evening and spent the night there.  We checked out of the hotel before noon and hired a shuttle van to take us to the port in Florida.
Night View of the Ship

Day 1 -Check in with Celebrity Solstice

We were on the ship by 12:30pm. and had lunch at the Oceanview Cafe where they always have buffer service 24 hours a day.  It had a casual chic atmosphere of the European marketplace and offered extensive menus of international food here. The buffet always came with a variety of gourmet salad, soup,hot food, fruit and desserts.

Oceanview Cafe
I only took a couple of pictures of  what I had on my plate at Breakfast buffet: Muesli (left), different kinds of egg benedicts (bottom):
Variety of Desserts:
Tea time snacks in the afternoon
The ship left the port at 4:30pm local time.  We were signed up for late seating for dinner at 8:30pm every night, because we knew there would be so much food to eat on the ship that we would not get hungry until then.  After we settled down inside our cabin, we headed up to the Grand Epernay Restaurant on deck 3 for our first sit-down dinner.  We were assigned to sit at the same table for dinner every evening.

Our room - Stateroom Balcony

Dining room - Grand Epernay

We then went to the Solstice Theatre to watch our nightly 1 hour live musical show afterward.
Solstice Theatre
Day 2 -  At sea

On  days we were not docking at any port, we usually had our breakfast buffet at the Oceanview Cafe, and sit-down lunch and dinner served by the waiters at Grand Epernay Restaurant.  There were many activities on the cruise ship, such as a cooking show, art auction, crafts, healthy and skins care seminars, classes for taking pictures, golf, exercise programs, glass show, shopping at the boutiques shop ,late night comedy show or a movie to go to.  There was a casino you could go to and dancing clubs at night at different lounges in the late evening. The ship was so big that the elevator could go up to deck 14 where the Sky lounge and Oceanview buffet were located. It's amazing that we didn't even feel we were on the ship but in a glamorous hotel. 
 All kinds of live music could be heard outside every cafe or restaurant
 Cooking show - how to decorate a cake!
Cooking competition
 Blow glass show
 Finishes product - Turtle from an eggshell

The formal evening was set on day 2 where the captain welcomed everybody on board with free champagne at the theatre before the show began. All the guests and cruise members were in their formal wears. They had professional photographers to take pictures on these formal nights. The food there was just amazing. Here are some of the food we ordered from the menu at Grand Epernay Restaurant:

White Fish
Rack of  Lamb
Stuffed Guail
Cheese Cake

Monday, February 22, 2010

Packing for Cruise

I recently went on a 7 days Caribbean cruise. My husband said try to fit everything in a carry on luggage so that we would not have to waste time to wait for our luggage to be unloaded when we arrived Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I was thinking how it was possible to fit 2 formal evenings, 5 evening plus daytime clothing in this little luggage?

I know I have to bring 2 formal outfits for formal evenings.  That alone already set the theme color of the clothes I will be wearing - Black! Don't all formal attires always come in black? Then I knew for sure I would have to bring my glittering shoes for those dresses. Of course, I had to have a formal evening bag as well.

Now I had to start coordinate my clothes around these formal evening dresses.  I tried to incorporate the separates from the formal evening outfits. Here is what I packed for the trip.  These include the clothes I wore on the airplane on both days I traveled to and from the airport.

 1  Black formal dress with bolero
1 Black Shell with long skirt
1 Casual Sweater
1 Black Blazer
2 pairs of dress slacks, 1 pair of blue jeans
2 Long sleeved blouses
2 Short sleeved blouses
2 Dressy blouses
3 Short skirts and 1 white short sleeved sweater
Jewelry for both day and evening
1 pair of formal evening shoes
1 pair of dressy shoes
1 Formal evening purse
1 Evening purse
Toiletries (not shown)
8 days of Undies (not shown)
1 tote bag (not shown)
2 Ziploc bags
2 Trash bags

I always wore the more bulky clothes and a pair of comfy shoes with socks on the days of my flights, so that I could free up some room in the luggage and still kept myself warm in the airplane. I carried a big carryall bag for sightseeing.  The tote bag was just in case I had too many souvenirs to bring home. The ziploc bags were in case I wanted to pack for something that would spill in the luggage later on. The trash bags were for dirty laundries. Those did not take up any room.

I knew the temperature in Florida would be humid and warm, but it was still cold here in the San Francisco area.  So I wore layers of clothing before we arrived in Florida.  From past vacations,  I have learned to bring a structure jacket which has room to fit a sweater underneath in case the weather suddenly changes.  I remembered when I went to New Orlean, the weather was really warm at that time. I only brought some clothes that were light weight and a thin brown blazer because I was going to a convention.  But the weather suddenly changed to windy and cold one night while we were going to dinner at  the French Quarter.  Fortunately I had brought a brown sweater with me to wear in the airplane.  The most important thing was I still looked presentable in a jacket and was still able to attend some evening functions.

There's a dress code that flip flops are not allowed in any dining rooms and theatre.  For the two formal evenings, I wore the glittering shoes ( I called them my glass slippers) and the satin black purse. I was able to change into different outfits for the rest of 5 evenings for dinner with the black slacks and black skirt. I wore the black shoes and used the small black purse every night. I had enough blouses to rotate and wear during the daytime for sightseeing or for while we were at sea.  The white short sleeves was light weight enough to wear or stuff in my bag during the daytime.

Most of my clothes were planed to go with black color.  I feel like it was too dark of a color to bring to a fun trip.  I threw in a red and white striped sailor top for nautical looks. I also had a black and white floral prints scarf, but I did not need to use it.  I purposely packed skirts to go with all my tops so I could rotate some of them for dinner.  I had 3 sets of jewelry, one for formal evening, one for dinner and another set for daytime.  I often over packed my luggage since I was always afraid I would get too hot or too cold that I don't have the right clothes to wear.  This time I felt good that I packed adequately, so I like to keep a record of what I did for future reference!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shark's Fins Soup

This is a soup only served on special occasions.  Here's how I prepared the soup:

2 Dried Shark's Fins
2 Scallions
5 slices of ginger
1 pot of boiling water to prepare shark's fins
1 whole chicken
1 6 oz. pork
2 slices of Smoked Virginia Ham
1 pot of cold water to make chicken stock
4 Shiitake Mushrooms
2 Dried scallops
2 Slices of dried abalone
1 Tbsp of cooking wine


To prepare the shark fins:
  1. Add 2 slices of ginger and 2 scallions to a pot of boiled water.
  2. Place the dried shark's fins in and boil for 10 miniutes.
  3. Turn the heat off, cover and let it sit until next day.
  4. On the next morning, recook for 10 minutes and let it sit until needed.
  5. Discard the water and take care not to break the fins when transferred to the chicken stock to cook.
To make chicken stock:
  1. Remove the chicken skin and add the chicken into a pot of cold water, bring to a boil to clean out the raw juice from the chicken, then drain and discard the water and refill with fresh pot of clean water.
  2. Add in pork, ham, and 2 slices of ginger in the fresh pot of water with chicken.
  3. Let the chicken cook for 2 hours, discard the ingredients and preserve the soup and let it cool off  first before putting it in the refrigerator.
  4. Skim fat off before using it to cook with the shark's fins.
 To start making the shark fin soup:
  1. Bring the chicken stock to a boil.
  2. Add in ginger, shiitake mushrooms, dried scallops,wine, abalone and the soaked shark's fins.
  3. Turn on high heat to bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low or simmer, cover and cook for 5 hours. 
  4. Serve the soup individually in a small bowl with a red vinegar ginger sauce on the side.
  5. Salt is not needed as the ham, scallops and abalone were already preserved with salt.
Shark's fins are delicacies. When handle shark's fins, try not to break up the fins since it's supposed to serve with the fins still intact as much as possible.  People usually add in some red vinegar ginger sauce in the soup before eating.  It was not recommended to add the red vinegar so you could taste the original flavor of the soup.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Poached Grass Fish with Sweet and Sour Sauce

I had a request from a reader to write this recipe after reading the post about the Chinese New Year Feast.  I usually steam fish and this was the first time that I poached the fish.  It turned out the meat was soft like tofu and it was so simple to make!

1 Fish Fillet (rinse and dry with paper towel)
2 slices of Ginger
1 stalk of Green Onion
1 Tbsp of cooking wine

For Sweet and sour sauce:
1 Tbsp of cooking oil
1 to 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
3 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tsp of wine
1 tsp of cornstarch
Some water
3 Tbsp red vinegar

  1. Boil a pot of water, water level should be enough to cover the fish fillet.
  2. Add gingers and green onion to the boiled water. Add in the cooking wine.
  3. Turn to low heat, make sure the water is not vigorously boiling, wait until only tiny bubbles rise up.
  4. Add the fish fillet, cover and let it cooks for 15 minutes.
  5. While the fish is being cooked, heat a small sauce pan with 1 tbsp of cooking oil.
  6. Add soy sauce, sugar, cooking wine, and cook for 30 seconds.
  7. Mix cornstarch with some water, then add to the mixed sauce and stir to thicken the sauce.
  8. Immediately scoop out the fish carefully with a slotted spoon after 15 minutes and place on a serving plate.
  9. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve while it's hot.

The water temperature is the key in this recipe. The heat must be low and take out the fish right away when it's done.  A smaller size of fillet requires less time to poach. You can substitute any type of fish and adjust the soy sauce to your preferred taste.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Home on Lunar New Year's day

We did not go anywhere for the New Year, but watched tv and ate all day with the kids in the past few days instead.  I remember we usually visited the relatives and friends on the first and second day of the Lunar New Year.  People do not make any visits on the third day, and the fourth day is the day merchants usually start to run their routine business. The stores and streets were quieter because most of the stores are closed and merchants do not do business during the New Year days until the fourth day of the New Year.  Schools would close for the fifteen days of celebration of the Lunar New Year.

We kids were very happy during the Chinese New Year since this was the only time we would not have homework from school.  I went to a year round school and we always had homework whenever we had  long school breaks.  We loved Chinese New Year break because we never needed to look at our text books and stayed up as long as we wanted. Most of all, we got to eat whatever sweet snacks we wanted from the table and never got scolded from our parents. During these days, the movie theater was one of the most busiest places. Most families would take their kids to the movies because this was the most relaxing time since most Chinese worked all year long even on the weekends. Kids would play with fire crackers and games on the street. Here in the America, I tried showing the traditions to my kids through the food I made and stories I told them so that they could understand some of the traditions of the Chinese culture.

Red is the color for good luck. When friends and relatives visit us with bag of gifts, a red envelope, some oranges and tangerines are also included.  Red envelopes were also given to the kids.This is a tray of sweet snacks we usually served to friends and relatives with a pot of fresh brewed tea. My little daughter loves to put all the New Year snacks in this Chinese serving box that also plays music when you turn it on:

Traditional snacks like peanuts, candies, melon seeds, cookies.
We also served other baked goods along with a traditional sweet steamed glutinous rice cake (Nian Gao).  Nian Gao is a must have in Chinese New Year. I usually bought it from the store instead of making it myself.  My older daughter baked these delicious cupcakes: Blueberries,Orange and Mini cupcakes.
I bought these flowers from the Flower fair to decorate the house:

Close up view of the flower and little hanging decorative item on the mirror (these are new):
I had volunteered at my daughters' schools when they were little kids.  I often got invited to speak to the class about Chinese culture at their class during multi-cultural week and Chinese New Year.  This is the lantern I learned to make from my friend and was able to teach the kids how to make it with red envelopes.  I taught my younger daughter this year since I have many left over envlopes from the previous years:
I am happy to be part of a culture that is very family oriented and was able to share what I know with the kids about Chinese culture. They are also very happy to learn about how I spent my childhood during the Chinese New Year. I am glad the kids had no school and was able to share and learn what I do at home fully during this Chinese New Year.  I hope to give them as good of  a childhood memory as much as I have of Chinese New Year.