Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Hungry? The Food of Jamaica

Before I get too deep in this post, I know that little of what follows would be considered true Jamaican cuisine. It's just a tour of the selections we had while on an "all-you-can-eat" vacation with no limits on when or where we could dine.

Starting off in the buffet, we could mingle with the proletariat in the main buffet or stick with those in our wing in the Palmyra buffet.  On arrival, that's what we did...go to the Palmyra for dinner.  The nicer, a la carte restaurants would come later.

Breakfast was at the main buffet, which had a vast array of selections with an equally vast number of guests with large appetites. Beware if you get get behind the Russian guests when they put out the bacon tray, they can clean it out in about 30 seconds. Never seen such mounds of pig flesh on one plate in person before.

Still, the eggs were good and occasionally they would put out an offal dish (kidneys, hearts, livers, etc) that Letty enjoyed on the side.  The breads and donuts were also pretty delicious but watch out for the corned beef hash.

Lunch usually meant the snack bar at the beach.  Another extensive buffet awaits here, steps from the sand.

While you can munch to your heart's delight on burgers, hot dogs, and other usual suspects, the main attraction here is the jerk bar where you could get the juiciest jerk chicken and pork, with your choice of three sauces to put on it. While the crawfish looked real good, they weren't so good upon opening. Still, a lot of great food here. Jerk and rice were outstanding.

Although we had unlimited a la carte dining, we were only to make it three nights during the week. These are the nice, sit down and waiter serviced restaurants as opposed to the buffet. Each has a theme like Italian, Japanese, etc.

First was Dolce Vita, a long walk down to the beach from our room nextdoor to the jerk bar. The food was great, such as the saltimboca I had, above, which was more like a good steak with sauce.

Letty and Tim were fine with their pasta dishes.

Next up was Picasso, which was just downstairs from our room. The lighting wasn't as good for pictures of our entrees and neither was the food. While serviceable, it wasn't as good as Dolce Vita but the desserts were outstanding, like this cream puff dish Tim ordered.

The highlight of the week, though, was the Don Pablo restaurant. It's the gourmet selection of the a la carte lineup. They were a bit late in opening, however, and Tim and I had to wait outside until the staff decided to open up.

Once there, all was forgiven. The food was outstanding.  The talk of the resort was the incredibly delicious Chateaubriand that was carved table side and served with your choice of Roquefort or peppercorn sauce. I ordered mine rare with the peppercorn sauce. I still dream about that dish. 

For dessert I got the bananas flambe, which is prepared with a flourish tableside.

I'm not really a dessert person but I ordered it mainly for the show. On the other hand, I've had bananas Foster before but they are only a dim comparison to the sweet, rummy sauce burned up to perfection to go with that unbelievable warm banana taste. This was another outstanding dessert from an island full of them.

So, as you can see, you needn't worry that we'd be going hungry in our time on the island. While there were a few less that great food options here, they were easily avoidable and we had a great time feasting on Jamaica.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2014-Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 29, 2021

Trying to Get to Jamaica is Trying

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  Twenty five years ago, my beautiful wife and I traveled to the island of Jamaica. Tim, being all of two years old at the time, stayed behind with my parents.

Watch the Video!

We went to Eden II, and all-inclusive that was eventually bought out by the Sandals chain. The particular property is today part of the Jewel family of resorts.

Back then, all-inclusive not only meant all the food and drink you could absorb but also tours, golf outings, and more. The entertainment offerings were endless (see our picture of Toga Party night, above. That's Letty and me on the right) and "no tipping" meant that the staff would actually refuse your offer of a gratuity.

It was a wonderful trip.

A quarter century later, we're returning. This time, Tim is now a Caribbean veteran but making his first landing on Jamaican soil.

While years ago, we could take a nonstop six and a half hour flight from LAX to Montego Bay, today it's a five hour layover in Miami before a hour and a half jump to the island (I was offered a 30 minute layover, which might have worked, but it's not prudent to actually plan for such a short change over) on American Airlines.

Arriving at Sangster International Airport, it's nice to see that the airport has installed jetways. It makes getting Tim off the plane and into his wheelchair easier.  A porter is assigned to take us through immigration.  Tim and Letty are allowed to bypass the line (one person can go with the wheechair) while I had to stand in the half-hour long line and face a very dour immigration examiner.  Don't really know what this achieves since we already have to wait for everybody on the plane to disembark before us...everybody else already has an advantage over us because of that.

Finally, clearing immigration we're ready to go!  Until we see the line for customs. Fortunately, this one moves faster and we're off to claim our rental car from Hertz.

There are wheelchair accessible taxis you can book ahead of time but there is a significant extra charge for an accessible taxi over a regular one.  It's also more expensive to hire one for an accessible tour over regular tour operators. In the end for us, it's about the same amount to rent a car. We do this so we can make our own tour and not be at the mercy of anyone else for transportation.

Here are two wheelchair accessible taxi and tour operators for you:

Ken's Wheelchair Service and Tours

Jamaica Exquisite Tours

It takes us just under an hour to arrive at our hotel, the Luxury Bahia Principe at Runaway Bay (LBP). The LBP is an annex to the Gran Bahia Principe that offers extra amenities such as butler service, unlimited a la carte dining, separate beach and pool facilities, private wifi lounge, and separate bar and buffet dining facilities to mention a few.

By the time we arrive, it's been about 20 hours since we left our home in California. We're tired, a bit cranky, and in need of showers and rest.  I just want a key to our room and to lay down.

That wouldn't be the LBP way, however. We paid for the Don Pablo experience (as they call it), by gosh, they're going to make sure we get it whether we want it or not. 

We're told to wait in the lobby for an escort. Twenty minutes later, the same guy says he can't find one so he escorts us to the exclusive LBP welcome center. There, we wait until there are five parties waiting to check in.

Champagne is handed out and a smartly fitted out representative shows us a package that we will get in our room. A printout of all our amenities and a map of the property will be given to us. Then she proceeds to read each one at a time, and explain each one. 

Really, I just want to go to the room. I can't even get my brain to sort out anything she's saying. Finally, she's done.  Now it's time to go to the room?

No...go into the adjacent lounge, have a cocktail, and someone will be along to escort you to your room shortly.

About ten minutes later, finally, a bell woman shows up with our luggage and takes us up to our room, only she takes us to a lesser wing with sub-par views. 

"This isn't the room we booked."

"It's all we have, we're all booked up."

"It's the nadir of the low season, it doesn't look to be that crowded. Surely, something else is available."

"You can request to be moved back downstairs."

When we get in the room, I tell her to just sit the bags down. I am not going to unpack until we get this straightened out.

Going back downstairs, I log onto the hotel's website while we're waiting to talk to somebody. I put in a request for 4 rooms (the maximum) for tonight to see what would happen. They have plenty of space available.

I bring this up to the rep, she says I'm wrong.  She shifts us to the reservations manager, who also says the same thing. My wife gets a little perturbed and says she feels like we're getting the run around. The manager assures us that she is doing her best to make us happy.

"It sure doesn't feel like it," comes the curt reply from my normally quiet spouse.

"Come back tomorrow morning at 10:30 to 11:00 and we'll see if we can find a better room for you."

Back upstairs, we find that in addition to the view, the shower drain is loose (creating an injury hazard), the shower door won't close (flooding the room when you took a shower), and the balcony door wouldn't lock, In addition, they outfitted the room for two guests instead of three (two towels, two washcloths, etc.).


One of the perks is unlimited dining at the themed a la carte restaurants. These are sit down, waiter served dining experiences as opposed to the buffet. You have to adhere to a dress code and many guests consider this a highlight of the trip.

"As a courtesy, we have made reservations for you for each night," we were told at check in.

They did, but not at times that were good for us so we went down at 8:00 the next morning, as instructed, to make changes that would suit us better. 

Those changes were made with no problems, then the woman said "you're the family that wants to be moved, correct?"

We affirmed that we were. "We have a room for you that is much better with the view you're looking for."  

Great! When can we move in?

"Change into your swimwear, bring your luggage down here, enjoy the day at the pool, and come back at 3:00."

Well, wasn't really planning to spend the whole day at the pool but we'll comply and see what happens.

At 3:20, we return. Damp, a bit sunburned, sweaty, and in serious need of a shower.

"The room is not ready yet."

"You said 3:00."

"Please...sit in the lounge, have a drink and we'll be with you shortly."

So three transient-looking people saunter over to the lounge among the newly arrived to wait for the next step. 

At 4:00, I wander back over and stand in front of the rep's desk. After a few minutes of pretending I'm not there, she asks if I'm waiting for her.

"I've been very patiently waiting for our new room all day. I think it's time something happened."

Without another word...not one...she picks up the phone, dials and asks "is 603 ready yet?"

When she hangs up, she says we'll be shown up to our room now.  

Finally, we're taken up to our new room, with a beautiful view of the pool and beach.  We unpack, shower, and get ready for our first dinner at the Italian a la carte restaurant.  It's been a long, trying 36-or-so hours since we left our house and gotten the room we paid for.

Stay tuned to see how the rest of the trip will shape up.

Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved
Darryl Musick

Photos Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved
Letty Musick

Sunday, March 28, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Tequila Old Fashioned

Here's a real easy and real light cocktail for you.  It's basically a whiskey old fashioned recipe but using tequila instead.

Watch the Video!
We'll make a couple of very slight adjustments for the taste of the tequila and to shave a few calories.  Total calorie count - 100.

Here's the recipe (one drink):

1.5 oz. tequila
2-3 oz.soda water
1/2 packet sweet 'n low
dash of bitters
1 pineapple chunk or spear

Put sweet 'n low in an old fashioned glass followed by a dash of bitters.  Pour just a splash of carbonated water on that.  Fill glass with ice.  Pour in tequila and fill to top with the carbonated water.  Put in a wedge of pineapple and enjoy!

Hand Picked Wines straight to Your Door- Exclusive member discounts

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Day Out: The Huell Howser Archives

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Joits under CC BY 2.0 License

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  If you're a Californian, you know who Huell Howser is...or was. Sadly he passed away of prostate cancer in 2013.

If you're not from this state, Huell...although not a native to California...could be called 'Mr. California. A reporter originally hailing from Tennessee, the very friendly and folksy Mr. Howser took his camera to every nook and cranny in this state and celebrated every inch and person in his various shows on PBS, such as California's Gold, Visiting, California's Golden Parks and more (see bottom for how you can stream all these shows on your PC, you won't regret it, perfect for binging).

It may be harder to find someone who didn't meet him here than someone whose path he never crossed. We met him twice while dining at one of his (and our) favorite restaurants, Philippe's in Downtown Los Angeles.

Someone at Chapman University had the bright idea of inviting Huell to speak at their commencement, an act that impressed him so much that he willed his entire estate to the school. This included not only all of his shows, money, and personal belongings but also two houses in the desert that the university eventually sold to endow scholarships in his name.

Today, we're trekking down to the City of Orange (in the heart of Orange County, natch) to see what they've got. Although 'museum' might be a stretch, there is a big museum quality to the Huell Howser California's Gold Exhibit in the campus library's basement.

Mr. Howser was quite a collector of found art (a more charitable term for 'junk') and as you exit the elevator on the basement level, you'll see much of it hanging on the wall. Right as you walk out, you'll see a right-angled piece of rusted metal with light sockets hanging on the wall. This is part of the letter 'L' from the original Hollywood sign that Huell found lying on the ground when he did a show on it. He took it with him since no one else seemed to want it.

There is an old radiator, some corrugated metal, interestingly shaped pipe, and more from his kitschy collection mounted on the walls.

In the door, the docent...Tommy...comes rushing over to welcome you. He's a font of Huell knowledge although he is the rare Californian that never got to meet the man.

We see a wall highlighting his three cameramen...never seen but very familiar to viewers ("get a shot of this, Louie!")...Luis Fuerte, Troye Jenkins, and Cameron Tucker. There are knick knacks scattered around, gifts from those he visited and highlighted on the show such as a wall clock from the Carmelita Chorizo factory, a die cast wagon from See's Candy, a figurine from Phillipe's and much more.

A Simpson's script, autographed by creator Matt Groening and the cast sit in a case. The Simpson's used to roast him mercilessly but the good-natured Howser gladly took it in stride and even provided his voice to the show when they satirized him again. This script is from that episode.

His office furniture and editing dock have been arranged in a recreation of his office and the over 1,800 books he collected are available for browsing.  Two computers are set up to watch episodes of his shows.

It's only two-rooms and a hallway but very worth visiting.

Afterward, we had planned to have an early dinner at Cafe Felix in downtown Orange but we're not too hungry yet so we head north on the 57 freeway to Pomona.

Old Stump Brewery sits in a former factory on Bonita, just west of Garey.  There is somewhat of a beer garden set up in the back parking lot.

They seem to specialize in blonde ales here so we try a few.  They're very good and refreshing but we're still not hungry enough to partake in the tri tip being barbecued outside.

The Huell Howser California's Gold Exhibit and Archives are located in the basement of the Leatherby Library Building, very close to the Lastinger Parking structure on Walnut Street in the City of Orange, California. It's on the campus of Chapman University. There is no admission fee but there is a small parking fee on campus.  Find out more at this link: California's Gold Exhibit and Huell Hoswer Archives

There is very handy handicapped parking in the bottom level of the structure which is right across a sidewalk from the library. An elevator across from the circulation desk at the entrance will take you down to the exhibit. Accessible restrooms are available as well.

You can stream almost every show he did from the comfort of your own computer at this link: Huell Howser Video Archives

(NOTE: The Huell Howser Archives is currently closed to visitors during the Covid-19 pandemic)

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Potatoes: The Go-To Potato Dish - Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Meat and potatoes, the ultimate protein and starch. Here's a really easy and delicious recipe that is v ery hard to mess up.


1/2 pound fingerling, golden potatoes.
olive oil

I like to use the small, fingerling, golden potatoes that I can buy for about two dollars a pound in my area. They are forgiving if you leave them cooking too long...they won't turn to mush like other potato varieties will.

Cut the potatoes into small, bite size portions. Depending on the potatoes you buy, that might be in half, thirds, or even quarters.

Put into a leak-proof plastic bag (I save bread bags for this this reason), put in a quarter teaspoon of salt and a couple of shakes of pepper. Twist the end of the bag closed and shake vigorously to distribute evenly. Put in half a teaspoon of olive oil, twist and shake again.

Dump out onto a sheet of foil paper and close the foil around the potatoes.

On the barbecue or in the oven (300 deg.), cook at lease 20 minutes before you start to cook anything else. Leave on the grill, on indirect heat but close to the coals while you cook everything else...about another 20 minutes.

Once everything else is done, then remove the potatoes and serve.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 22, 2021

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library - Simi Valley, California

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  As we are trying to see every Major League Baseball stadium, I have a friend and former colleague that has the goal of visiting every presidential library and grave site. Thinking about this, we have started to include them in our travels. We started off with our closest one, the Richard Nixon library in Yorba Linda, then the Harry Truman library in Independence, Missouri, and now our latest addition, the Ronald Reagan library just over the Ventura County Line at the far edge of Simi Valley.

It's a lazy Saturday so I pop the idea to Letty and Tim to take the little-over-an-hour drive to get there. They are both game so off we go.

It's a rare light traffic day and we make good time via the 118 across the top of the San Fernando Valley. I'm pointing out the rocks in Chatsworth to them where many westerns were filmed and Charles Manson based his cult when he went on his murderous spree.

On a happier note, we know we've arrived in Simi Valley when we see the happy face carved into the hill, welcoming motorists into this town.

Watch the Video!

The drive up the hill goes past 45 banners, one for each president from Washington to Trump, until you arrive. If you need handicapped parking, you want to continue past the main parking lot to a smaller lot set aside for placard and plate holders closer to the entrance.

Admission prices vary due to special exhibits that sometimes come to the library like the recently closed Titanic exhibit. When those are here, admission price can almost double. We avoided the special exhibit and were able to get in for the normal admission price of $16.

There is a way to flow through the museum, sort of like when you're at IKEA and they make sure you see every room. Starting off with this posable statue of Ronny and Nancy, you go into a theater to see a video setting you up for the rest of the tour.

It's a bit of a hagiography, not too much of the controversy of President Reagan's career is mentioned or, if it is, it is mostly to put a positive spin on his actions. Still, there is much to see and learn such as his negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the assassination attempt by John Hinkley.

The gun Hinkley used is on display and I was quite surprised at how small it was.

There are exhibits on the Reagans ranch up above Santa Barbara and a recreations of his oval office. The highlight of the tour comes halfway through, the Boeing 707 that served as Air Force One. If you're able bodied, you can go in the front, walk through...checking out the communications nook, the president's private office, the medical unit, and the press section...before exiting the rear.

If you're in a wheelchair, a lift will take you level to the front hatch. If your chair fits, you can roll in where you can get a good view of the flight deck, the com nook, and some of the galley before you have to roll back out.

Then, you can access the back hatch where you can see where the reporters sit but it is too small to go any further.

There is also a helicopter here, that is inaccessible to chairs, which served as Marine One during President Reagan's term in office.

It's a good place to take a break as there's a cafeteria and a faux Irish pub called the Ronald Reagan where you can have a snack and wash it down with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.

We have a beer and some cookies under Air Force One with an expansive view of Simi Valley.

After our break, we finish the tour which exits through the gift shop where the cash registers pop up with the message "trust but verify" while they are processing your credit card.

Outside, there is a section of the Berlin Wall.

Beyond that, you can reflect on the beautiful view of Thousand Oaks and the Conejo Valley next to the graves of President Reagan and his wife Nancy.

Finished with our visit, we head down the hill looking for a place to eat. We find a shopping center where had told us was a steakhouse that looked good to try.

There's the steakhouse but there is a deliciously strong odor of garlic wafting about and it's not coming from here. Looking around, we see an Italian place across the parking lot called Viva La Pasta.

Why not?

Letty has this delicious seafood risotto...

...Tim goes with the bake mostaccioli...

...and I get this very tasty veal saltimboca.

It's all delicious and fortifies us well for the long drive home.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018

Sunday, March 21, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Hot Pink Lemonade

Just a quick note, some of our Cocktail Hour fans have asked about the shaker we use. It's a glass shaker, with steel cap, and a silicone gasket that keeps the lid from getting stuck.

Now, back to this week's drink...

Here's another drink I came up with while playing with the chemistry set known as my bar...

Watch the Video!

Cranberry and lime are two of the most versatile mixers you can have in your bar.  Just a bit below lime, I'd throw in lemon.  This week's cocktail goes with the lemon to provide a delicious, refreshing, powerful, low calorie drink.  Our Hot Pink Lemonade tastes like a hard lemonade...harder than Mike's...and only packs around 130 calories.

1 oz. - tequila
1/2 oz. - amaretto
3 oz. - cranberry cocktail
3 oz. - diet sparkling lemonade

Fill a highball or pint glass half full of ice.  Pour in all ingredients and stir.