About Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.


Latest Posts by Jessica Festa

Chocolate, Pumpkin & Cocoa Recipes for Halloween

October 31, 2014 by  

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Chocolate is deeply embedded into Saint Lucia’s culinary culture. It’s said that ancient Aztecs and Mayas were the first to grow cacao, touted as “The Food of the Gods“; however, when Spaniard explorers went to Mesoamerica they brought the cacao back to Spain, where it spread through Europe.

The British held control over Saint Lucia for different periods of time throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, bringing with them cacao in 1660. Saint Lucia’s hot yet wet climate paired with its soil rich in nutrients allowed the cacao to prosper, and today you’ll find chocolate plantations all over the island.

While there’s really no bad time to savor chocolate, Halloween is especially perfect. Chocoholics seeking a cocoa-infused menu for this year’s holiday will be inspired by recipes that incorporate chocolate into both sweet and savory dishes. Saint Lucian-born Chef Nina Compton, also a “Top Chef New Orleans” alum, has created a menu of chocolate recipes that are not only fun and delicious, but highlight Saint Lucia’s most notable food.

Says Chef Compton, “Cacao has been cultivated on Saint Lucia for hundreds of years. It is one of the island’s most notable foods and it’s extraordinarily versatile. Saint Lucians use the spice in everything from cocoa tea for breakfast, to a rub for fish and meats. I love stumbling upon customary dishes that feature new flavors and locally grown ingredients. It’s a melding of tradition and exploration.”

Cocoa Tea Martini

4-6 servings

1 cup of water
½ cup of grated cocoa (from cocoa stick)
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of milk
Sugar to sweeten (optional)
1 cup Chairman’s Reserve
1 tsp chili powder

Method: In pot, bring water, grated cocoa, cinnamon, and vanilla, to a boil. Boil for approximately 3 minutes. Add milk, chili powder, and sugar. Strain and chill. In a shaker, combine cocoa mixture, rum, and ice, shake and pour into a chilled glass. Top with shaved chocolate.

chocolate recipes

Photo courtesy of Ilja Generalov via Shutterstock

cacaoPumpkin Arancini & Cocoa Nib Aioli

4-6 servings

1 cup Arborio Rice
1 quart white chicken stock
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup diced pumpkin, sautéed
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/8 cup dry white wine
Olive oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Method: Sweat the onion in the olive oil until translucent, add rice and gently stir to coat the grains, keep stirring for about one minute to toast the grains. Add wine and reduce heat, add 1/3 quart of stock, stir until most of the liquid is absorbed, repeat the process until the rice is cooked through, season with salt, remove from heat, add pumpkin and cheese, and season. Spread on a lined sheet. Cool. Once cool, mold mixture into 1.5 tablespoon-sized balls. Set up the standard breading procedure in bowls (flour, beaten egg with milk, crumbs). Dredge each arancini ball in flour to evenly coat all sides. Tap off excess flour, roll in egg wash, roll in panko bread crumbs, covering it completely. Refrigerate until ready to fry.

Cocoa Nib Aoili

4-6 servings

1/8 cup cocoa nibs finely chopped
1 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
1/2 bunch chives

Method: Combine all the ingredients and put aside.

Chocolate BBQ Meat Balls

6-8 servings

BBQ Sauce
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 ½ cups ketchup
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup brewed coffee
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. cayenne

Method: Melt butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions; cook until soft, 4–6 minutes. Stir in chocolate, ketchup, brown sugar, coffee, honey, vinegar, cocoa powder, Worcestershire, mustard, chili powder, salt, pepper, coriander, and cayenne; cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 3 minutes.

Meatballs

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1 onion, minced
4 tbsp. milk
1 garlic clove, microplaned
1 oz. bread
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk

Method: Soak bread in the milk until almost falling apart. Mix all ingredients. Season with salt. Fry meatballs. Toss in BBQ sauce. Serve with side of plain yogurt.

chocolate recipes

Photo courtesy of Shebeko via Shutterstock

Cocoa Dusted Tuna Tataki In Mango Emulsion

6-8 servings

Mango Emulsion

2 cups ripe mango, diced
¼ cup lemon juice
Olive oil, as needed

Method: Puree mango and lemon juice. Emulsify with olive oil, strain, put mixture aside.

Pickled Mango Gremolata

1 small green mango, diced
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/8 cup champagne vinegar
½ cup parsley, chopped
Zest of one lemon
Olive oil, as needed

Method: Heat vinegar, add garlic. Pour mixture over diced mango. Strain, put aside.

Plantain Chips

2 green plantains, peeled
Salt

Method: Slice plantains thin, fry until golden brown. Season with salt.

Tuna

1 lb sushi grade tuna center cut
1 cup cocoa
olive oil
Malden salt

Method: Dust the tuna in the cocoa and sear in a hot pan on all sides. Slice paper thin.

To assemble: Place one piece tuna on plantain chip. Top with pickled mango gremolata and mango emulsion.

Spiced Chocolate Soup With Foie Gras & Baby Vegetables

4-6 servings

Spiced Chocolate Soup

1 Ancho Chile
2 medium plum tomatoes, cored
2 white onions, julienned
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 bunch thyme
1/2 bunch rosemary
1 cup white wine
1 cup celery, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 qt. chicken stock
1 oz. cocoa powder

Method: Sweat onions. Add garlic, celery, herbs, spices, and tomatoes. Season with salt, simmer for 5 minutes. Add wine, simmer for 5 minutes. Add cocoa powder and stock. Simmer vegetables until soft. Puree until smooth; strain through a chinois.

Baby Vegetables

6 baby heirloom tomatoes, blanched with skin pulled back
1 tbsp. chopped oregano
olive oil
1 candy beet, sliced paper thin
1 baby radish, sliced paper thin
6 pcs baby radishes, confit
6 pcs sugar snap peas, blanched and split
2 pcs pumpernickel, sliced, toasted, ground, and retoasted
2 rainbow baby carrots, confit

Method: Combine ingredients.

Foie Gras

1 lobe grade B foie gras
4 tbsp. cognac
4 tsp. heavy cream
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method: Temper foie gras. Devein. Season with cognac, salt, and pepper. Marinate overnight. In food processor fitted with a metal blade, puree foie gras until smooth. Add cream; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour mixture into cryovac bag and seal. Blanch in hot water for 20 seconds. Strain through a tami sieve. Season; quenelle when ready to serve.

chocolate recipes

Photo courtesy of Dan Kosmayer via Shutterstock

Cocoa Braised Shortribs, Polenta & Baby Vegetables

6-8 servings

2 oz. lardons — pork fat (strips or cubes) or pancetta batons
8 4-oz. boneless short ribs (marinated in 4 cups of red wine and garlic overnight)
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup cognac
2 bottles red wine
2 qt. brown chicken stock
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs thyme
1 cup tomato paste
8 pcs button mushrooms trimmed and halved
8 cipollini onions or pearl onions, trimmed and peeled

Method: In large chef’s pan or dutch oven, fry lardons over medium heat until fat has rendered (but not until it’s crisp). Transfer lardons to bowl with slotted spoon. Generously salt and pepper short ribs; place in hot pan, skin side down. Leave undisturbed for 6-7 minutes or until skin is golden brown. Flip, allowing second side to brown lightly. Transfer short ribs to bowl containing lardons. Sauté chopped onion, celery, and garlic, until soft, scrapping fond off bottom of pan. Add tomato paste, red wine, and chocolate, cook on low for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, ribs, mushrooms, onions, and herbs. Cover and finish on low heat or in oven at 325°.

Polenta

80 oz. milk
96 oz. cream
1 lb. Bramata Polenta
Salt
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup butter

Method: Heat the milk and cream together, season with salt. When hot, add polenta and stir until thick. Reduce heat, cook for 3 hours stirring periodically. Remove from heat. Finish with parmesan and butter.

Pumpkin Budino with Salted Caramel Sauce & Chocolate Crumble

4-6 Servings

Chocolate Crumble

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup high-quality cocoa powder (such as Vahlrona or Callebaut)
1/4 cup clover honey
1/4 cup granulated cane sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon pure coconut extract
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup raw whole almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coconut chips, coarsely chopped

Method: Adjust baking rack to the middle rack. Preheat oven to 275°. Brush half of a sheet pan with coconut oil. In a small saucepan, heat remaining coconut oil over medium heat. Whisk in cocoa powder, honey, sugar, and salt. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly until smooth and sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in coconut and vanilla extracts. In separate bowl, combine oats, almonds, and coconut chips. Add cocoa mixture to oat mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined. Transfer mixture to sheet pan and press into an even layer. Bake for 50 minutes. Turn off the oven and let sit in the warm oven for 30 minutes longer. Remove to a baking rack and let cool.

Budino

3 cups whole milk, divided
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup water
5 large egg yolks
3 tbsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. dark rum
1 cup of pumpkin puree
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
4-6 jars/bowls

Method: In small bowl, whisk ½ cup milk and cornstarch until smooth. Set aside. In small saucepan, heat remaining milk over medium heat until mixture begins to simmer. Set aside. In heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water.

To make the caramel stir the sugar and water together in a heavy saucepan set over medium heat until all the sugar dissolves. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, cook without stirring until mixture reaches between 210-215°.
In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk 5 large egg yolks. Gradually add in hot milk, whisking continuously. Add cornstarch mixture, continue whisking. Slowly add caramel. Return mixture to saucepan, cook over medium heat, whisking until thick and temperature reached 175° (approx. 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat. Whisk in the butter, rum, salt and pumpkin puree. Pour into heat-proof pitcher. Pour 1/2 cup of the budino into jars. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 3-5 hours.

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 cup granulated sugar
6 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Extra coarse sea salt

Method: Place cream in a small pitcher. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Set aside. In a heavy saucepan, add sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Once sugar melts, whisk in individual pieces of butter until each piece melts. Add vanilla cream mixture slowly. Whisk until smooth. Add salt, whisking to combine. Strain into a heatproof bowl; let cool slightly. Spoon 2 tbsp. caramel sauce over each budino. Sprinkle with chocolate crumble.

Which of these chocolate recipes do you think you’ll try this Halloween? Please share in the comments below.

Top Photo courtesy of Shaiith via Shutterstock.

5 Fabulous USA Yoga Experiences For Your Must Do List

October 26, 2014 by  

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When we think of yoga, most of us think of relaxation, inwardness and meditative states. We think of balance and stretching, being centered and strength. Yoga is all these things, and there are many vacation retreats in beautiful places around the world that can give you that kind of rejuvenating experience.

But what about those yoga lovers among us who are looking for something a little more exhilarating?

A vinyasa session followed by a surfing class, for example, or a little zip lining after your morning stretch? If the combination of yoga and adventure, or even extreme sports, sounds like your cup of tea, then read on. The following are some of the world’s best yoga vacations for adventure seekers.

1. Bike Ride From A Volcano To Beachside Yoga In Maui, Hawaii

Nestled on a tropical beachfront on the Hawaiian island of Maui, this yoga vacation is run by Fit and Fly Girl, a yoga and travel company which offers women’s-only yoga and adventure trips around the world (other destinations include Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, the French Riviera, Ibiza and Uruguay). This retreat combines daily yoga with cardio workouts, as well as surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking and snorkelling. You can also learn to hula dance, plus each booking includes a complimentary 60-minute massage. But the most unique offering on this Maui trip is the opportunity to bike ride at sunrise downhill from Haleakala Volcano, all the way to the beach.

yoga adventures

Photo courtesy of Sacred Earth Journeys

 2. Man A Sailboat Between Yoga Sessions Off The Coast Of Maine

Odds are you’ve never combined yoga and sailing, but there’s a first time for everything. Spend three days aboard the 95-foot Windjammer Angelique, sailing off the coast of Maine. Help in all aspects of sailing the ship, while also taking calming yoga and meditation classes on deck. And don’t worry, this isn’t a huge operation with hundreds of passengers; you’ll be joined at most by 28 other people. You’ll even get to go ashore to dine one night on a deserted beach. This experience specifically caters to vegetarians and pescatarians.

yoga adventures
Photo courtesy of Prana del Mar

3. Yoga, Surfing And Kayaking In Baja, Mexico

Head to the tropical beaches of the Prana del Mar resort in Mexico, outside of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific coast, to experience beachfront yoga at its finest. Prana del Mar is very eco-friendly; the resort is powered by solar, the restaurant sources many of its ingredients from the in-house organic vegetable garden, and even the yoga studio mats are hand woven from bamboo. But the highlights of this yoga trip are the many additional activities available. Yoga is the focus, but you can also make use of the beautiful nearby beach to surf, kayak, snorkel, hike and even horse ride along the shore.

For more information, click here. Most retreats sit at around $2,000 per person but vary according to the trip.

yoga adventures

Photo courtesy of Langua Travel

4. Rock Climbing, Yoga And Nature Hikes On A Southern Arizona Ranch

In the eternal sunny, clear atmosphere of southern Arizona, a stone’s throw from canyons and the Santa Catalina Mountains, lies the 150 acre Canyon Ranch, a health resort offering a plethora of adventure activities. There are both individual and group yoga classes available, with group sessions located in a dedicated yoga meditation dome. Combine your yoga experience with nature hikes, rock climbing, zip lining, horseback riding or a high ropes course. Canyon Ranch even includes massage and metaphysical therapies to counter all that physical exertion.

yoga adventures

Photo courtesy of Red Mountain

5. Horseback Yoga In Utah

Surrounded by the beauty of Snow Canyon State Park in Utah, all red rock and open spaces, this four-day retreat combines spiritual yoga practice with horse riding. Run by both equestrian and yoga experts, the retreat focuses on relaxation and mindfulness, as well as building a connection with your horse. When it comes to rejuvenation, the trail rides through stunning natural vistas certainly don’t hurt, either.

Top photo credit: Photo courtesy of Sacred Earth Journeys.

Tasting Gin After Gin On the Open Sea

October 24, 2014 by  

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“Have you ever realized you could put a slice of ginger in a gin and tonic? Well, you can.”

I’m currently in the Herrenzimmer aboard Hapag-Lloyd’s MS EUROPA 2 luxury cruise ship partaking in a gin tasting experience. Led by Erik Schutze, the ship’s Public Room Manager, the class allows up to 25 guests to have a unique tasting experience you won’t find on many other cruises. Moreover, as the EUROPA 2 features the world’s largest gin collection at sea — 35+ popular and rare gins in total, compared to five or six on most ships — it’s the perfect place to do this.

As soon as I walk into the cozy yet sleek venue, with its chocolate-brown leather chairs, fiber optic fireplace and pale green walls adorned with modern art, I’m handed an aperitif, a “Monkey Sloe Fizz” made with Monkey 47 Sloe Gin, lemon, sugar, soda water and a dash of Angostura Bitters. It’s refreshing and invigorating, awakening the palate. Right before the bar a wooden counter showcases high-quality gins and bowls of spices and garnishes like juniper, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaf, curry, star anise, pepper and clove, to name a few. The bar itself is beautifully stocked with 265 different spirits, including a premium small-batch Blue Gin, enticing guests with their shiny bottles.

saffron gin

Specialty gins and spices at Herrenzimmer . Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Gin History

After some sipping and mingling the group eventually sits down to begin the tasting. First, a bit about gin itself. According to Schutze, gin originated in the Netherlands in the 1600s when people were distilling juniper, although most gin today comes from England. As stated by The Guardian, gin has had an interesting history, with public perception surrounding the spirit changing dramatically over the years.

In in the late seventeenth century gin became popular for its ability to be mixed with water and easily produced, as well as the fact it was cheaper than other spirits; however, this led to widespread alcoholism and depression in the proceeding century.

Luckily, the nineteenth century brought advances in technology that allowed for higher quality gins and a more regulated industry — plus, the addition of tonic water for gin and tonic cocktails allowed for a health boost, as the mixer contained quinine that fought malaria. It’s also worth mentioning that during The Plague in the mid-1300s people used juniper elixer as a cure and preventative against illness. By the Jazz Age, gin cocktails were perceived as being glamorous, and even today there is a fascination with this mysterious spirit.

juniper

Juniper berry tree. Photo courtesy of Ken Bosma.

Gin Alcohol Content & Classification

That being said, it is not like Champagne or Madeira where it can only be produced in one region. Gin can be made anywhere in the world. It is based on neutral alcohol flavored with grains, botanicals and juniper, the main flavor component which is often what leads people to have a love/hate relationship with the spirit. Gin is also high alcohol, with typically 37.5% ABV or higher.

“Alcohol content affects the flavor of the gin, so that every Master Blender decides for him or herself what alcoholic strengths is best for their gin so that the gin can develop its full flavor,“ explains Schutze.

Gin can be classified into four categories. London Dry Gin, the most common type of gin, is not necessarily produced in London, but has a 37.5% ABV or higher, a maximum of 0.1 grams per liter of sugar (dry) and a maximum of 5 g/hl. Then there’s Plymouth Gin, which is made in Plymouth and has 40% of higher ABV. With Sloe and Damson Gin, there is a 25% ABV. And when people talk about Old Tom Gin they mean it is sweetened.

gin and tonic

Gin and tonic. Photo courtesy of Global Jet.

Gin Tasting

The tasting begins with a “50 Pounds Gin” from England’s Thames Distillers, distilled four times for a full-bodied gin with balanced essences of juniper, spices and citrus. We first sample it pure, before trying it with an ice cube and orange peel — not the common lemon wedge — garnish, as Schutze believes this will help to bring out the spirits’ fruit flavors.

“To properly taste the gin there is a four-part process,” explains Schutze. “One must first smell the gin and then taste it. This process is then repeated after adding an ice cube — the ice cube ‘breaks’ the gin. The process is then repeated a third time after adding the zest — the ingredients, lemon and lime. The final try, the end product gin and tonic, is tasted after the tonic water is added. Tonic won’t mask the flavor of the gin, and reduces the alcohol to release the flavors of the botanicals.”

Next we’re on to the “Monkey 47 – Schwarzwald Dry Gin” by Black Forest Distillers in Germany, containing 47 different botanicals — like slow, fir and honeysuckle — hand-picked from Germany’s Black Forest. Crafted from an old family recipe, the gin is aged for 100 days in an earthware container before being diluted. As they make only 1,000 bottles each year, this is a rare offering — as well as the EUROPA 2’s most popular gin used for the traditional at-sea cocktail, the gin and tonic. This gin is more fruity than the first with a black pepper finish, and is also served with an orange peel twist.

gin

Gin tasting. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

I’m beginning to realize gin and wine tasting have a lot in common. Like wine, gin can have a vintage (although, unlike wine gin does not get better with age, although the quality ingredients and tools used used may vary depending on the year). Moreover, the tasting process involves using all of your senses, first noting the gin’s color as the light hits it, as both the botanicals used and the maceration process — where tannins, color agents and flavors compounds are leached from the grapes skins, seeds and stems –affect the hue. Next, you swirl the liquid and allow it to open up, the aromas floating to the rim. Now inhale the fragrances, wafting the glass past your nose and smelling the fruit, spices, wood, citrus and earthiness. Lastly, you sip, moving the gin around your palate and seeing how it affects your taste buds and receptors.

For our final tasting, we savor a Darnley’s View Spiced London Dry Gin from Wemyss Malts in London. It’s traditionally distilled five times in a pot-still process. There are 10 botanicals included in this gin: juniper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cassia, Guinea pepper, ginger, cumin, clove, coriander and angelica root. On its own the first thing I think of is Christmas, as the sweet spices bring images of spruce trees with dangling gold balls, roasted chestnuts and cocoa in front of the fire. It would be the perfect gin to sip on a cold winter day. Once the tonic is added it’s garnished with a slice of ginger, which softens the intense cinnamon while adding another spice to the mix for complexity.

Erik Schuetze

Erik Schuetze showing off his gin collection. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

The Cocktails

After the class, my curiosity about the cocktail menu and its gin offerings is piqued. I take a look through the menu, perusing the many options. When I ask Schutze what the strategy is for coming up with a gin cocktail for the bar, he smiles, “Try out, taste. Try out, taste. Try out, taste.”

Well that doesn’t sound too hard, although after partaking in the gin tasting — not to mention going for my sommelier certification — I know the world of alcoholic drinks can be more complicated than people think.

Some cocktails of note on the menu include a “Singapore Sling” made with Gordon’s Gin, Cointreau, Cherry Heering, DOM Benedictine, grenadine, lemon juice, pineapple juice and Angostura Bitters and a “Tarragon Smash” with Gordon’s Gin, passion fruit nectar, tarragon, lim juice and sugar. You can also tell the bartender what types of drinks and flavors you like to have a cocktail custom crafted just for you.

 

Saint Lucia For Foodies, From Festivals To Exquisite Dining

October 23, 2014 by  

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Saint Lucia has a rich culinary history and culture. A blend of West Indian, African and French cuisine, as well as a landscape that features fertile soil and a tropical climate, visitors can enjoy spicy stews, fresh fruits and flavorful curries. That being said, visiting the island is more than just eating food, it’s experiencing the cuisine. To help guide you, here are five must-have St. Lucia food experiences.

Indulge In Their Chocolate Culture

Cocoa was once Saint Lucia’s most important export, and still plays an important role in their culture today. There are many ways to experience this sweet heritage, including plantation tours, making your own chocolate, cocoa-inspired spa treatments and adding chocolate to your meal.

Plantations like Marquis Estate, Anse Mamin Plantation, Emerald Estate, Morne Coubaril Estate and La Dauphine Estate offer tours, as does Hotel Chocolat’s Rabot Estate which offers a “Tree-to-Bar Experience” allowing visitors to make their own chocolate. Additionally, spas like Ti Kaye Village Resort & Spa and Kai En Ciel Boutique Spa at Jade Mountain Resort combine chocolate’s indulgence with its health benefits through cocoa-inspired massages, body wraps and scrubs. And if you’d simply like to eat chocolate, head to Boucan Restaurant for dishes like Cacao Gazpacho and Tomato, cacao-infused chili and Cacao Ravioli. Cap Maison also offers a “Study on Chocolate” which features a mix of indulgent chocolate desserts.

rum

Photo courtesy of My Aching Head.

Take A Rum Tour

The Caribbean is renowned for producing high-quality rum, and Saint Lucia is no exception. To truly experience the island’s rum culture, opt for a “Sugar to Rum Revelation Tour” with Island Routes. Visitors are taken to the Roseau Valley which was once used for sugar cane production but is now Saint Lucia’s largest banana plantation before being brought to the restored Sugar Mill at La Sikwi.

Also included in the experience is the chance to learn about sugar in a museum, as well as the main event, touring a distillery and sampling locally produced rum. If tours aren’t your thing, head to the nearest bar and order a typical rum cocktail like a “Saint Lucia Rum Punch” which blends lime juice, orange or pineapple juice, Angostura Bitters, sugar and rum, or a “Banana Daiquiri” with banana, banana cream and rum.

green figs

Green figs. Photo courtesy of Carodean Road Designs.

Sample Saint Lucia’s National Dish

Most people attribute “Green Bananas and Salt Fish,” sometimes known as “Green Figs and Salt Fish,” to being the island’s national dish. The meal combines Saint Lucia’s number one export, banana, with salted cod fish and local vegetables. While the banana and cod are boiled the vegetables are sauteed.

The fish is then broken up into pieces and mixed with vegetables to be served over the banana. While you can order it at almost any restaurant, some that are known for making it especially well are Coal Pot Restaurant and the traditional lunch buffet at Morne Coubaril Estate.

roti

Roti. Photo courtesy of gogatsby.

Explore Castries Market

Located in Saint Lucia capital, the bustling Castries Market offers handicrafts, souvenirs and local foods and spices. The market has resided in the same building since it opened in 1894. Along with taking in the unique sights and smells of the attraction, visitors can sample local fruits like bananas, breadfruit, soupsop as well as spices including cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg. Sample fresh seafood from fishermen just back from a day at sea, as well as typical dishes like roti stuffed with curried vegetables, potato and meat in a flour pancake or baked breadfruit stuffed with sauteed onion, tomato, garlic, ham and minced meat. While the market is open everyday it is at its liveliest on Saturdays.

oysters

Photo courtesy of Alpha

Celebrate At The Dennery Seafood Fiesta

Every Saturday at 4pm to 2am the fishing village of Dennery hosts their Dennery Seafood Fiesta. Seafood is a big part of Saint Lucia’s culinary culture as it an island with access to some of the freshest food items. Dozens of tents line the beach, allowing attendees to enjoy fresh fish, crab, conch, lobster, shrimp and authentic Creole dishes. There is also an array of music — soca, zouk, reggae, dancehall, country and more. Sample an array of local dishes while dancing on the beach and watching the azure waters lap up onto the soft sand. This is a great way to experience not only Saint Lucia’s food culture, but also its music and dance while meeting friendly locals.

What’s your favorite Saint Lucia culinary experience? Please share in the comments below.

Top photo: Photo courtesy of Eric Hossinger.

 

8 Great Mobile Social Travel Apps

October 22, 2014 by  

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social travel apps

Social media and apps have drastically changed the way people travel. No longer are vacation-goers privately booking their flights, grabbing their guidebooks and sharing their trips only through photo albums. Nowadays, it’s all about sharing trip details, seeking help from strangers and interacting as much as possible along the journey. The following apps are especially designed to make your trip more social, before, during and after.

wehostels

Accommodation

WeHostels

Like Facebook for hostel and budget hotel booking, WeHostels is one of the top social travel apps allowing travelers to interact with hostelmates before leaving home. With over 50,000 accommodations across 800 cities, you’ll open the app and choose your city to be brought to a list of top-rated hostels and a map with their locations. When you click a hostel you like, you’ll be able to view photos, information and reviews — as well as a limited view of who will be staying there when you are. Once you book, you’ll be able to open these potential travel friends’ profiles to browse their interests and send them messages to plan meetups and potential day trips. It’s a great tool for solo travelers to have in their app arsenal, not to mention groups who want to branch out. Price: Free to download + hostel booking fees if used.

Lyft.jpgTransportation

Lyft

Lyft isn’t your normal car service, but a ride-sharing app where drivers are community members offering affordable rides in their own cars. As of now it’s available in about 70 cities, and users are encouraged to sit up in the front and become friends — not just passengers — of the driver. Charge your phone, adjust the radio and share stories with a local — or even take things off the road and grab a bite to eat, as this is what Lyft is all about. Bonus: Drivers are encouraged to really show their personality with themed rides or “Lyft Creatives,” some of which currently include HipHop Lyft, DiscoLyft, Harry Potter Lyft and Cookie Wars Lyft. Price: Free to download, but you’ll pay for your ride.

Pinterest

Travel Planning

Pinterest

While many know Pinterest for its ability to help people share high resolution photo-centric content, it also has aPlace Pins feature that allows travelers to discover, share and save travel ideas on a map to create a custom trip guide. This map can be pulled up on your phone, as well as shared with friends, who can also add recommendations. Otherwise, you can simply search what other users have come up with and borrow their inspiration. Price: Free.

stranger

Ask A Stranger

According to the team at Ask a Stranger , people are 30 to 60 percent more likely to have a future experience accurately predicted by asking a stranger than by using research and inner speculation alone. Travelers can use this brand new app to ask travel questions, that are sent out to knowledgeable locals who earn points incentives to provide answers, with more points awarded to quicker answers that receive positive feedback from askers. The more points collected, the more money earned from the community pot, as askers are charged a small fee to collect credits to put toward questions (50 credits is 99 cents, and you receive 100 free just for signing up). Each question costs 10 credits from the asker. A private chat feature also allows travelers to make friends with locals and even meetup to explore together. While the app is available in beta right now with over 2,000 users, it will officially launch to the public in early November. Bonus: Anyone can sign up to answer and/or ask questions, and answering can be a fun way to make a bit of extra cash on the road. Price: Free.

Travefy

Travefy

This simple-to-use group trip planner allows groups to coordinate travel details on a single online page. A coordinator sends invites to group members. From there, the attendees can have discussions, share ideas, post group polls, search and save activities, restaurants, vacation rentals and hotels, and build an itinerary. There’s also an expense manager so you can track who owes who money. Price: Free.

SpeakingPhoto

Staying In Touch

SpeakingPhoto

The aptly-named SpeakingPhoto is exactly what it sounds like: an app that allows you to create photos with audio narration. You’ll be able to take a new photo or use an existing one to add narration, a great way to create you’re own travelogue or interactive travel story — without having to be proficient in video. Once you’re finished with your creation, tap the screen to share it on Facebook or Twitter, email to loved ones or send it via text message. Price: Free.

cruise

Cruising

Ship Mate Cruise App

For those interested in mingling with new travel companions before the cruise even begins, Ship Mate Cruise App is a must-download. According to the app, they are the “world’s largest mobile cruise community,” with over 1 million users. With the app you’ll be able to connect with other passengers before, during and after the cruise, with some features including a Ship Info section that tells you about your ship (there are 200+ in their library), the ability to track different ships, a cruise photo sharing feature with enabled comments, member-generated cruise reviews, and, possibly the most exciting feature, a dashboard that stores your personal itinerary, excursion options and ship info and the chance to chat with other cruisers. Price: Free.

travel buddy

Travel Partners

Travel Buddies

For those who don’t want to travel solo but have nobody to join your trip, Travel Buddies helps you find trip partners by posting trips in your profile or on the Public Wall, filtering member searches to find travelers with similar interests and searching for travel partners by destination heading to, age and sex. During a trip, the Member Nearby feature allows you to see the profiles of nearby Travel Buddies users are near to connect via email or chat. Bonus: Even if you’re not traveling you can use the app locally to make new friends. Price: $0.99.

What’s your favorite social travel app? Please share in the comments below.

First photo courtesy of Mr.TinDC a/ his post was originally published on US News Travel.

Sustainable Stay: Buckland Studio 5 in Victoria Australia Touts Alpine Luxury

October 19, 2014 by  

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Modscape is known for its innovative architectural projects that defy widely-known concepts of building and green design with sustainable modular architecture. Located in Bright, Victoria in Australia you’ll find one of their newest projects: Buckland’s Studio 5.

A one-bedroom bed & breakfast retreat, Buckland is designed to allow guests a comfortable indoor retreat with spacious rooms, a fireplace, and an open plan kitchen, living room and dining area that flows into an enormous outdoor deck. From each room, expansive views of the surrounding alpine countryside can be enjoyed, allowing guests to feel like they’re a part of the landscape.

In true Modscape fashion, it’s also eco-friendly, showcasing a mix of old and new with elements of local natural stone, bamboo flooring, plantation timber, recycled steel, a solar-heated water system and Australian corrugated iron — all with a 6-star energy rating.

Explains Modscape managing director Jan Gyrn, “The design forms part of a larger development which involved three additional luxury cabins designed and built on the property as part of the operating accommodation business. The structure is deliberately kept as one simple element so that the focus is on the surrounding landscape including the views of Mount Buffalo.”

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*All photos courtesy of Modscape

Favorite Coffee Picks in the Big Apple

October 19, 2014 by  

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It won’t be surprising to hear that New York City is one of the most complex and diverse metropolises in the world. Food, fashion, architecture, history, culture…NYC is a hub for all of them. So too for coffee, especially in the last few years, as a host of gourmand caffeine purveyors has cropped up in the city, from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again.

Here are five New York coffee shops to add to your itinerary:

1. Black Brick

new york coffee shops

Photo courtesy of Black Brick

New York City’s geographical heart may be Manhattan, but Brooklyn is becoming more and more of a New York cultural hub every day. Just off Williamsburg’s shopping thoroughfare Bedford Avenue, Black Brick is one of the best coffee spots in the borough. A den-like ambiance, communal tables and exquisite lattes make Black Brick the perfect stop for a caffeine hit and a Brooklyn moment. 300 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn

2. Oro

new york coffee shops

Photo courtesy of Oro

Easily miss-able on the calm end of Broome Street, Oro is a quiet highlight on the New York coffee scene. The coffee is strong and creamy, the juices are fresh and flavorful, the granola is house-made fruit-and-nut heaven. Do yourself a favor and hit Oro up for breakfast one chilly New York morn. 375 Broome Street, Manhattan.

3. Café Gitane

new york coffee shops

Photo courtesy of Café Gitane

With its curved silver bar, mirrored walls and little circular tables, Café Gitane’s name (meaning “Gypsy”) is far from the only French thing about it. Nestled in the midst of super cool Nolita, Café Gitane is like a little French oasis in the middle of NYC. Make like a Parisian and people watch over a simple espresso and mini tablette of bittersweet dark chocolate. 242 Mott Street, Manhattan

4. Konditori

new york coffee shops

Photo courtesy of Konditori

I like French coffee, I really like American coffee and I love Australian coffee, but there’s just nothing like Swedish coffee. So hot, so strong, so dark, so not made for sugar or milk. I’ll never forget the insomnia I experienced after my Swedish friend brewed me a mug of black coffee so strong my heart was jumping about for hours. Much milder than that fateful mug, but still in the Swedish style, Scandinavian café Konditori is one of my favorites in NYC. There’s a little one near the Bedford Ave subway stop in Williamsburg, but I love the Manhattan Avenue one in Green Point. 687 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn

5. Ruby’s

new york coffee shops

Photo courtesy of Ruby’s

The pretty, buzzing Nolita streets around Prince, Mott, Elizabeth and Mulberry, with their many boutiques and eateries, are coming to be known to some as Little Australia. Indeed, my fellow expat Aussies have truly made their mark on this tiny corner of Manhattan, not least in the Aussie coffee institution, Ruby’s. A true favorite for locals and expats alike, Ruby’s is like a slice of Melbourne in New York. 219 Mulberry Street, Manhattan

What’s your favorite coffee haunt in NYC? Please share in the comments below.

- By Gemma King

Top Photo courtesy of George Dogikh via Shutterstock

A Whole Lotta Mexican Magic at Horchata in Greenwich Village

October 19, 2014 by  

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Horchata. A milky rice-based drink sweet spiced with cinnamon and chilled over ice. Horchata is also the name of one of New York City’s newest Mexican Restaurants, opened in Greenwich Village in May 2014 and serving a number of innovative horchata-based cocktails, among other interesting drinks and bites.

Explains Manuel Trevino, executive chef at Horchata NYC, “We really loved the idea of naming the restaurant after a drink that has been around for ages that has a lot of meaning to those who grew up drinking horchata. Recipes for horchata are usually passed down generation to generation and are often regarded as a family treasure. The idea behind the traditional horchata beverage was always super intriguing to us due to the its long and cross-continental history.”

While the exact origins of this drink are unclear, one thing is for certain: it’s a hit with almost everyone who tries it. Say the name “horchata” to any of your friends who have tried it and you’ll almost definitely receive an enthusiastic reaction.

Horchata - New York, NY

Horchata offers the chance to enjoy Mexican dining with festive food in an equally festive atmosphere. You’ll find authentic Mexican cuisine at the heart of the menu — with Tex-Mex and New York influences throughout — served in a shareable fashion to encourage conversation.

Make your way through the dimly-lit restaurant, with exposed brick adorned with book shelves and colorful woven artwork, Mexican baubles and Day of the Dead statues littering the space. Reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda, the restaurant makes the atmosphere even more authentic by sourcing almost all of their decor from Mexico and having tables custom designed to replicate the traditional Mexican Otomi pattern, which you can also see on an enormous round tapestry on the back wall.

HORCHATA - New York, NY

Speaking of art, several walls feature one-of-a-kind murals by New York-based artist RJ Raizke, known for his pattern work in downtown hot spots. A custom entryway created by CONFETTISYSTEM is the first U.S. restaurant installation for the celebrated artist-design firm, who have also worked with Beyoncé, Opening Ceremony and MoMA PS1.

At Horchata you’ll also find a bit of New York downtown flare, with bare bulbs dangling from the ceiling, exposed brick walls and a reclaimed wood bar lined with cacti, fresh squeeze juices and skull bottles. You can choose to sit at this bar or one of the candle-lit tables where you’ll be greeted with a shooter of mezcal mixed with one of their homemadeagua frescas, fruits, seeds and spices blended with sugar and water.

While it’s traditional to pair your food with a drink, this is one place where you may want to consider your beverage first. We recommend going straight for the horchata. Each cocktail begins with a base of classic horchata, a mixture of almonds, rice & cinnamon. From there, additions like cactus flower, espresso and rum create atypical but delicious options. Their most interesting offering is a “Funky Monkey Signature Horchata,” made with horchata, Malibu Rum, Stoli Vanilla and Kahlua, served in a monkey cup.

Horchata - New York, NY

Says Trevino, “We look at the profile of the horchata itself and complement it by sending the flavor in different directions. For example, horchata with espresso is reminiscent of a Mexican coffee with the cinnamon and coffee flavors, add rum and you’re taken to a Mexican beach . The “Funky Monkey” is our version of a tropical “White Russian,” by adding the horchata instead of milk and adding Malibu Rum we give a more tropical feel.”

It’s a Mexican restaurant, so of course you’ll also find tequila-based cocktails and quality mezcals. Margaritas come in flavors like Blood Orange, Hibiscus and Jalapeno-Cucumber — spicy and refreshing — and are made sans-sour mix, an unfortunate rarity in New York City.

Once you’ve navigated the extensive drink menu it’s time for some grub. While at first glance it seems like you’re typical Mexican fare: tacos, quesadillas, guacamoles, toastadas, enchiladas. Look closer, however, and you’ll see Chef Treviño — who was born in the border town of Laredo Texas and grew up with Mexican food and culture — puts his own unique spin on the classics. Start with a guacamole trio so you can sample the classic version, a garden-style guac with apples, cucumbers and tomatillo, and a spicy kind with chipotle and habanero chile, before moving on to tuna “quesadillas.” These quesadillas are unlike any you’ve ever seen, tortilla-crusted tuna rolled up in a wrap sushi-style sitting in spicy Sriracha aioli that pays homeage to easy-to-hold street foods. Braised pork belly with pineapple and chipotle aioli works well as a taco, as does the braised short rib with red pickled onion and tomato jalapeno salsa. Mezcal-cured or tamarind-glazed salmon, house-made chorizo, grapefruit salad with chocolate vinaigrette and citrus-roasted chicken with cilantro chimichurri are just a few of the many other tastes to be had at Horchata.

Horchata - New York, NY

The whole Horchata concept is a pretty sweet idea.

Speaking of sweet, at Horchata dessert is a must, especially the “Pastel de Chocolate,” a moist slice of chocolate cake infused with ancho chile and topped with spiced whipped crema. There’s also a dreamy “Capas de Crepes Tres Leches” featuring multiple layers of crepe sliced between Mexican vanilla cream with tres leches poured on top.

*Photos courtesy of Noah Feck.

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