I wrote this article for CityPalate Magazine this summer after trying to find these elusive berries. Have a read. -Erin
“Have you seen any of these?” Like a culinary detective hunting an elusive suspect, I flash a photo at a clerk at the market. “Sorry, no.” I try again next door. “I’m looking for these. Know who’s got any?” “Can’t help you.”
I get similar reactions from people all over the market until I run out of fruit stands. Yes, fruit stands. I’m looking for a berry, and though it’s said to be one of the most prolific in Alberta and western Canada, I’m met with inquisitive looks every time I ask about it. Continue reading “Hunting the elusive Haskap berry”→
It’s the bluest blue water you’ll find, on the softest white sand beach. The water here is so shallow you can walk out almost a quarter mile and still only be shoulders-deep. I’m bobbing lazily on a pool cushion in saltwater that’s so warm, I haven’t the slightest chill, and in fact when some ocean water does splash on my skin, it’s refreshing. Opening my eyes to gaze back at the beach, it’s not crowded, and palms and coccoloba or ‘seagrape’ trees are speckled here and there providing cooling shade as the heat rises.
After several years of more active vacations like road trips and traveling to Europe, my husband and I decided it was time to slow down and plan a do-nothing holiday.
With the Caribbean in mind, we chose Jamaica as the destination, but which resort to pick? I’d been to Couples Negril more than a decade ago for a wedding and it was, at that time, the finest resort I’d ever been to. I remembered its gorgeous, endless beach, and marveled at the small size of the resort while it still had amazing service. The food was also absolutely delicious, well off the charts for the average all-inclusive.
Wanting this to be an easy vacation both to take and to plan, my husband and I chose Couples Negril again, hoping we’d still find the same level of service. Of course, we checked online reviews, and found the resort still ranks highly among beach vacationers. Confident, we booked it.
Book Club Mobay for Arrivals and Departures: Fast and Easy
We used a travel agent for this trip, something we don’t usually do, but she earned her commission when she recommended we book into a service called Club Mobay at Jamaica’s Montego Bay airport where we’d be flying in via Toronto.
Club Mobay is a lounge where travelers can find comfy seats on arrival (and departure) while waiting for ground transportation, our agent explained. She also told us (though I’ll admit I wasn’t fully paying attention to this part) that we’d receive priority access to immigration and customs on arrival.
Skip the Lineups by booking with Club Mobay
When we landed a lovely young lady met us at the gate holding a sign with our names on it. She immediately whisked us through the airport, dodging lineups of passengers as we went instead through special access points. When we arrived at the customs and immigration lineup, it was a sea of humans and their luggage. What a mess! We figured we’d be an hour getting through the line, but our escort led us to another priority access point where we were the only ones in line. In about 3 minutes we’d cleared customs, and been led to a lovely private room where she brought us rum punch.
The Club Mobay lounge was comfortable and not crowded, but had the latest Jamaican newspapers, some sandwiches and snacks, as well as drinks and TV. We were only there about 15 minutes before we were told our bus was ready, and we were again led through the airport, to the correct bus. About 25 minutes after landing, we were en route to our resort.
Couples Negril is about a 2 hour bus ride from Montego Bay, but it was a great people and scenery-watching trip. The highway runs along the water so there’s beautiful views of azure ocean nearly the whole way. The bus chugged through small villages and bigger towns and looking at the variance in homes and architecture was amazing. While small corrugated metal shacks lined the highway, as the structures climbed up the hillsides, they got increasingly more elaborate and colourful.
The bus seemed to speed its way along, and I wondered why the drive would take 2 hours. That’s about when we arrived in Lucea. Lucea is the capital of Hanover Parish and was founded in the 1700s. It’s a tiny town that clings to the shore, and it’s very crowded and very busy. The highway attempts to wind through it, but when the buildings close in on the roads, and Jamaicans dash across constantly, our travel grinds to a crawl.
Nearly 2 hours later (though it feels much shorter thanks to the people watching) we arrive at our destination and are greeted with glasses of champagne and cool citrus-scented towels. A light breeze is fluttering the palm leaves and I’m instantly relaxed. Check-in is fast since there are only 3 couples in the bus, and we’re whisked to our rooms with bags in tow. The young man who helps us waves off a tip, and we’re immediately on the balcony, overlooking the ocean from our 3rd floor room.
Spacious room, with a (nude) view
The room is open and airy with cool tile and a king-sized bed. The sliding balcony doors open wide to let the breeze in and we have a nice view of both the water and the nude beach! The nude beach is a mandatory fully-nude beach, screened with hedges, with its own bar and swimming area. Not our cup of tea, but it was quite well-attended each day.
Our minibar was stocked with pop and beer, and the gentleman who’d brought us to the room explained that if we wanted anything else for the fridge, to fill out a card and it would be restocked as we wished each day.
We requested some vodka and some wine, expecting airplane bottles, but instead, the next afternoon we found a full size bottle of each waiting for us. Bottle service to the room! This was a new highlight!
Negril’s Best Beach, and no fighting for loungers!
The beach at Couples Negril is fabulous. It’s raked and tidied daily, while others long this strip appear not to be, and are littered with leaves and seaweed. While the ‘natural look’ isn’t bad, the extra effort at grooming really adds to the beauty of this little section.
There are lounge chairs aplenty, unlike most all-inclusive resorts where you need to get up early or bribe a staff member to snag you a spot. The staff take time to arrange all the chairs in tidy rows, each with its own cushion, and there’s always enough for everyone with plenty of extras so you can come and go as you please.
For the security conscious, it’s worth noting there are guards at either end of the beach, as well as a lifeguard in the middle. A small group of peddlers walks the beach, hawking parasailing and tubing rides, as well as coffee and other things, but they’re not bothersome or aggressive.
It was funny to note that almost all the hawkers “represent Bob Marley” which is code for they’ll sell you pot or hash or presumably whatever other drugs float your boat. While some of them are charmingly subtle about it, other will just full on offer you dope and flash the good for inspection. Fortunately, they take no for an answer pretty easily.
The occasional musician will play for tips at the water’s edge too. The staff distributes flags to folks on the beach, and when you’re ready for a drink, you just stick your flag in the sand, and someone is quickly at your feet taking your order. Again, unlike most all-inclusives, here there was no expectation of tips.
We alternated days at the beach and at the beautiful tree-lined pool. Here too, loungers were plentiful, and we could seek shade from either the trees or the umbrellas provided. The main pool (there’s another pool on the north side of the resort, but it’s mainly for scuba training) is a sapphire-hued two-tiered oasis with a waterfall in between that spills into the swim-up bar area. It was so relaxing being able to sit in the shade of the bar’s palm roof, listening to the waterfall, and sipping Appleton rum or cold Red Stripe beer. When we tired of the pool bar, we could also visit the beach bar/grill, or the main bar in the reception/restaurant building.
Yes, it will probably rain. Learn to like it.
I’ve been to Jamaica twice now and on both trips it rained at some point each day. Sometimes just for 30 or 40 minutes, other times for a couple of hours, and on one day there was a helluva storm which led to significant water pooling everywhere. While some vacationers may find this upsetting (how dare it rain on my holiday!!) we found it nice. After spending hours on the beach or baking at the pool, the rain was cooling, and it broke up the day. We found ourselves heading to the beach grill, sitting at the bar and playing scrabble or backgammon while sipping cold beer, or just going back to the room, throwing open the balcony doors and napping to the sound of a tropical rainstorm.
The food is great
Most people I know don’t go on all-inclusive vacations to eat well, but fortunately at Couples Negril, you will anyway. There’s always fresh baking on hand, whether it’s breakfast pastries, dessert, or the cookies that you’ll find at several of the bars and in the lobby. The day we arrived it was lobster night and we were treated to fresh grilled lobster tails with butter. Another night there was both tenderloin and lobster on the menu at a special dinner for “repeaters” or returning guests. I’m guessing the food is just one of the things that keeps people coming back to this resort, as the repeater crowd was quite large, about 60 or so. Everything we ate, from the buffet, to meals at the easy to book fine dining restaurants was fresh and deliciously flavourful.
It’s the little things
There were so many other nice small touches that made our stay so memorable; the fresh cookies and the new veggie bar that’s just opened. It features juices, veggie tips and dip, as well as grilled sandwiches. There was nightly turn-down service and towel changing. An ice bucket and water pitcher in the room were constantly full and cold. The staff are friendly and say hello as they pass. It was also nice to be able to trade our towels in as often as we liked, without a special ticket required.
Even on our last day as we waited in the lobby for airport pick-up, one of the staff members was dressed as an elf trying to cheer us up, as a small band payed goodbye songs for just 6 of us who were departing. Nice touch.
Overall this vacation was amazing. It ticked all the boxes for us; great beach, delicious food, not crowded, lovely people. I can highly recommend both Negril and the Couples resort here for a fun and relaxing getaway.
This is not a sponsored post. My review is 100% my own thoughts and experiences at this resort, paid for with my own money. If you’d like more info, check out Couples.com
I’ve had the great fortune to test some of the best and most-coveted tech gadgets this year. I’ve reviewed a lot of devices, but only these make my top 10 list for 2015. My criteria? They have to be easy to use, perform as promised – or better – than the companies advertise, they have to be useful, practical, and well made. It has to be something I’d actually buy for myself, and there’s also bonus points for coolness.
Here’s the list, in order.
10. Belkin Mixit Charging Cables
With the battery life of many phones in a sad state, it’s imperative to carry extra cables or a portable battery pack. But they can be heavy, or clunky, or get tangled up inside your bag.
Belkin has come up with a WAY better option that I think is going to be a huge hit. There are three smart additions to their MIXIT line of cables.
Made from natural leather, the MIXIT Lightning to USB Tassel is a chic handbag charm that hides a premium metallic charging cable in its tassels. Belkin says, “its fringe design takes a purse from bleak to chic, keeps the cable tidy and prevents it from getting tangled.” I also love the chic lobster clip that makes it easy to attach and swap it from bag to bag. Read the full review HERE.
9. Vitamix Blender
I like using frozen fruit and fresh kale in my smoothies, however my blender will only chop the hearty greens so well. Inevitably I’m choking down tiny kale fibers, or having them get jammed in the straw. Oh, and there’s usually some giant pieces of frozen fruit left in the bottom too.
Not with the Vitamix. This blender is able to absolutely liquefy its contents, usually on just one blending cycle. That means no bits of kale, and no frozen chunks. I was sceptical at first, but I can attest the Vitamix is on another level when it comes to blending. Full Review HERE.
8. Biolite Campstove
The BioLite CampStove was the company’s first production piece. The concept is simple and genius at the same time: the CampStove creates a smokeless campfire that can cook meals and boil water in minutes. Setup is easy, fuel is free, and the company says, “flames are hyperefficient with performance on par with white gas stoves.” Then at the same time, the stove’s heat generates usable electricity for charging LED lights, mobile phones, and other personal devices. The stove’s USB connector will charge up most devices, and every twenty minutes of charging with a strong fire gives you about an hour of talk time on most smartphones. Probably more than you need out in the bush! The stove can also boil a litre of water in about 5 minutes in the small, Thermos-sized kit. I tested this gadget on a summer camping trip and it was compact, easy to use, produced a lot of heat, and gave me juice on the go. It’s a must-have for the serious camper. I love Biolite’s NanoGrid light kit a lot too. Read about both HERE.
7. Phonesuit charging case
Are you the type who always runs out of juice on your device? The Phonesuit Elite battery case will keep you going all day long. On its own, it protects, then when you need the extra hit of power, you just turn it on, and it gives you an additional 120% charge. The beauty of these cases are they recharge in 2 hours, and are quite slim, considering all the power it packs. I liked these cases because they’re really durable, they recharge quickly, and the deliver that extra power punch quickly. Read how to get one, and about some other great case options HERE.
6. MyFox Security Camera
A small oddly-shaped camera, but it works like a dream. A beautiful HD video picture, and set up is super easy. With the free app downloaded, I was able to set up the account in no time, and the camera was fully operational in about five minutes.The MyFox camera is without a doubt the easiest camera with the best video quality for your home secutity dollar. Read the full review HERE.
5. Fujifilm Instax Share Photo Printer
Wondering what to do with all the digital photos that sit on your device for years and years? Start printing the best ones!
The new Fujifilm Instax Share printer is truly pocket sized, but it operates basically as you might remember a Polaroid camera operating; it spits out a small photo instantly that takes a couple minutes to fully develop. The result is retro-cool prints in an instant. The printer is easy to operate, and makes great quality prints.
Read more about the Instax printer HERE.
4. Felony Case
I only picked two cases as tops this year, and this is one of them. These plastic shell cases from Felony Case are definite winners for most eye-catching. The 3-D raised texture on the Kaleidoscope case is stunning, but the softness of the design means it’s comfortable to hold, despite looking menacingly like a torture device. In gold, rose gold, black and white, these cases are stunning accessories. Not to mention the case is barely a millimeter thick, so it adds absolutely zero bulk to your device. While the business-types have been coveting the Moshi cases and the hipster are after Fuz, the fashionistas all want my Felony Case! Check out the full write-up on Felony Case, as well as som other great options HERE.
3. Osram Lightify Flex
I’m sure under counter lighting is going to be a hugely popular use for this product, but you could see getting really creative with it too: lighting around a mirror, a headboard, under a glass table top, or stone bar. There are endless possibilities because this lighting is ultra thin and completely bendable. The Flex kit is super easy to install, and gives you the option of turning the lights different colours. I absolutely love changing the look and mood of the room with coloured light, and Flex makes it easy and chic. Learn about the Flex kit HERE.
2. Qwerkywriter Bluetooth Keyboard
Qwerkywriter is a solid aluminum metal (but not heavy!) keyboard that connects wirelessly via Bluetooth to iPhones, iPads, iMacs, MacPros, Macbooks, Android Tablets Devices, Windows Tablets, and more. It also has a functional carriage return bar that works as an ENTER key.
I absolutely love the feel of the industrial strength mechanical switches that give the device a unique clacky feel and sound. Punching typewriter keys requires just a touch more force than a younger generation will be familiar with, but those old enough to appreciate Mr Dressup reruns will love the stress relief properties.
Read all about Qwerkywriter on my blog HERE.
1. Ring Video Doorbell
It’s a simple gadget that’s infinitely useful. Ring is a video doorbell that lets you respond to visitors remotely via your smartphone from anywhere. Got a package being delivered and you’re not home? Use Ring to answer the delivery driver’s call and instruct him to leave the package with a neighbour. Annoying salesperson? Know before you open the door and get stuck in conversation. Ring is ultra-easy to use and get set up and has a sharp HD camera and high quality 2-way voice interaction. Added motion-detection alerts can also keep you safe from people lurking around or casing your place. I have Ring at my house and love it.
Read the full review HERE.
Have you got a gadget you think deserves top billing? Is there a gadget I should look at for next year’s list? Let me know in comments, below.
As a camper who’s also a cook, I refuse to make hotdogs when we’re out in the woods. We have 2 large bins of kitchen gear, plus a stove, and we use it all. It’s definitely a pain in the neck to carry all that stuff back and forth. But now, a pair of Albertans have come up with what I think is a genius way to run your camp kitchen; the Camp Caddy.
The couple has invented a kitchen on wheels; it comes with cupboard space, tabletop, racks for hanging towels, a slot for your campstove, and even pop up legs so you’re not scratching around at dirt level.
The genius of this isn’t just in what it holds, it’s that it’s pop up and pop down, and it fits in your trunk. I’d love to try it to see how much gear it will truly store, but even if I still had to lug one other bin along, being able to pull up the telescoping handle and pulling this one into place makes so much sense. It’s one of those ideas that makes you wonder “why didn’t I think of that?”
Check out the Camp Caddy Kickstarter Campaign, and check out their video below. They’re about $200, and there’s a price break if you pledge to buy 2! Camp Caddy says it will ship in May 2015 if their campaign is funded.
He wasn’t serious of course, but what prompted his question was the black bean soup I’d made for lunch and reheated in the office microwave.
He had bought lunch from some fish and chip joint, and all the greasy goodness had made him feel quite lethargic. So rather than get back to work, he decided to corner me with questions about how much money it must be costing me to cook meals EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I explained that I can shop for a week’s worth of food, and three weeks worth of cooking staples for just over a hundred bucks. That includes things like fruit or cereal for breakfast, leftovers for lunch, and full dinners. I asked what he spent for a week’s worth of takeout. He mumbled something in response.
What he did verbalize was a lament about only having the same limited choices when eating out: pizza, fried chicken, burgers, subs…you get the idea.
So I asked him what kind of stuff he LIKED to eat. Meals he maybe hadn’t had in a while…pick anything.
He told me about a stew his mom used to make. He really liked tacos. I lent him a cookbook and he also picked out a pasta dish, a stir fry, and meatloaf.
I challenged him to make those five meals for himself. And pledged to be there for moral support.
I copied the five recipes for him, and went over how they’re made. Truth be told they’re all quite simple. We made a list of all the ingredients he’d need, and I took him to the grocery store for supplies.
The first night I got a call. How thick is the stew supposed to be? I explained that’s up to the chef. If you like it thick, let it simmer. If I gets too thick, add a little water.
“Really, I can do that?”
“You’re the chef, you can have it any way you like.”
The leftovers appeared the next day. And he was proud, showing off his creation to the ladies in the office. They were proud too.
That night was taco night. No phone call.
Pasta night sparked a semi-frantic ring. He forgot to buy mushrooms.
“What else is in the fridge?”
“Uhh… carrots, celery, peppers…”
“Just chop some peppers and throw them in.”
“But the recipe says mushrooms.”
“It’s called improvising. You could use canned mushrooms too.”
After a week my friend was pretty impressed with himself. He’d fended for himself for 7 days, hadn’t gone hungry, and had just realized his food options were not limited to the Yellow Pages.
I got him a cookbook for his birthday. As he’s learning, there are definitely more pages to pick from than he thought.
Kids don’t like a lot of things. Knowing that, I don’t get why people allow their kids turn their noses up at whatever’s on their plate. I know parents who don’t even feed their kids vegetables AT ALL, since they figure if junior isn’t going to eat them, why bother?
Here’s the problem with that. Besides bringing up kids who only want to eat McNuggets, or stuff that comes wrapped in paper, it’s unhealthy.
My mother had a rule about dinner. You had to eat at least one bite of whatever it is you THINK you don’t like. One bite. Chewed and swallowed. No spitting it into the napkin, or burying it under the mashed potatoes.
Growing up, I couldn’t stand tomatoes. Now, ketchup was fine, so was tomato sauce. But as soon as there was an identifiable bit of ACTUAL TOMATO!!! on the plate, I was done.
I also hated liver. I mean really. The taste, the texture…knowing I was eating internal organs. It didn’t matter how much I hated something, or for what reason. Under my mother’s law, I still had to cut off a fair sized bite and taste it. After that single bite, if I was still sure I hated whatever it was, I could leave the rest of the serving on the plate.
If I tried to protest, it didn’t matter. I could sit at the table for hours, not allowed to leave until I’d tried. A couple late nights, sitting in my chair long after the others went to watch The Dukes of Hazard (the original run) taught me it was better to take that bite, and get it over with. many people may think that’s horrible, but IT WORKED.
This rule was adapted from a rule of my mom’s childhood. Dinosaur times when money was tight and you cooked what you had, cleaned your plate, and liked it. My grandfather would insist we ate stuff we didn’t like because that’s all that was being served. There was none of this frantic hand-wringing a lot of parents have over their child missing a meal, or two. The way my grandfather saw it, either you were grateful to eat what was served, or you saw it put in front of you for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner again. There’s a story in my family that famously makes the rounds every time a cousin, niece or nephew begins to turn up their nose. The time my aunt sat staring at a plate of cold baked beans, through 5 meals, or a day and a half, before she broke. My mom took a slightly less authoritarian spin on this. Thankfully.
As an adult now, there’s almost nothing I don’t like, or won’t eat. I also try to try everything; and that’s led me to some amazing culinary treats on my travels of the world; chicha morada in Peru, a purple corn-based drink the looks like Kool-Aid. Tiny coconut crepes from a street vendor in Thailand (though I had no idea that’s what they were when I asked to try one!), Kushari, a traditional Egyptian chickpea stew that’s delicious. Or the vile-looking electric-green Calaloo soup that is creamed with coconut milk and greens that tastes amazing.
As it turns out, I like tomatoes now. Liver too, although I prefer it in an appetizer called rumaki; wrap the liver in bacon, throw a water chestnut in the centre, and broil until it’s crispy and golden.
This blog entry is not meant to preach to parents about how to raise your kids; no, you can find plenty of other places to get that. This is simply about what worked in MY family, in hopes it may inspire you; after all, if you’ve come all the way here, you might be looking for some suggestions, non? This post merely goes to show you tastes change. If I’d been allowed to have my way, I probably would have a much less adventurous appetite. Hopefully it also shows you getting your kids to take chances is definitely not biting off more than you can chew.
The other day I brought lunch to the office. It was leftover pasta–penne with tomato basil cream sauce and fresh parmesan from the dinner I made the night before.
After re-heating, I carried it to my desk, and opened the lid. The smell brought colleagues sniffing around wondering what I had ordered in that smelled so good.
When I told them it wasn’t take out, they were shocked.
I’m young, enjoy going out, and have enough disposable income to dine out when I want. And most people assume that I do—all the time. The truth is, I feel like I’m somehow cheating myself if I *don’t* do most of the cooking.
I grew up in a family where restaurant dinners happened maybe once a month. It was just cheaper to eat at home. But as I got older, I realized it wasn’t just about the cost. It was about how empty a lot of fast food or even some restaurant food made me feel—and by empty, I don’t mean hungry.
So I started paying attention to what was going on in the kitchen.
And I learned young that people appreciate homemade. I also learned people appreciate dessert most of all. So for family gatherings, I put myself in charge of the last course. I tried cheesecakes, then pies, cakes and soufflés. I graduated to sweet-tart Cherries Jubilee, and the wonderful warm orange flavour of Crepes Suzette. I loved making people happy, and in truth it was easy. Both mother and grandmother were excellent cooks. And they were there to tell me if a batter was too runny, if meat was verging on overdone, or if the cake batter I’d prepared was supposed to be that colour.
I cannot think of one dish either my mother or grandmother made that we turned our noses up at. (Admittedly we snubbed certain vegetables…and liver of course.) Although sometimes we would complain about the evening’s dinner choice. Not because we didn’t like it, but because we wanted something else. So my mom responded in a way I now realize was the epitome of clever, “If you don’t like it, YOU cook what you want. For all of us.”
So I stepped up to the challenge.
If I felt like lasagna, instead of stew, the next day my mother would buy the ingredients for lasagna, and I became the chef.
A vacation to Mexico became the inspiration for another meal I’d prepare for my family; Chicken fajitas. I looked it up in a cookbook, and realized it wasn’t so hard; chicken, peppers, onion and some spice. On an exchange program, I learned the Spanish rice dish paella with it’s delicate saffron-seafood flavour. I started building my repertoire.
I realized I really liked seeing people enjoy my labours. But it never felt like work. It was pure praise.
When I moved out on my own it was a thrill to walk through the grocery store and select anything I wanted for my meals. It’s a joy that hasn’t worn off. I take my time preparing dinner after work, sipping a glass of wine and chopping vegetables, stirring sauces, shredding salads or just toying with ways I could tweak a recipe to make it my own. And the leftovers were always perfect for the next day.
One of my co-workers complained the other day about how her kids were snubbing what she prepared for them. I imparted my mom’s wisdom on her. Now she gets a couple nights a week off duty. And the some savoury leftovers for the rest of the office to envy.
Want to whip up something that will make perfect leftovers? Try our Family Recipe Potato Salad; we’ve been makin’ it like this for over 40 years!
Family Potato Salad
4 c cold diced potatoes
1 ½ c diced celery
2tbsp finely chopped onion
2tbsp finely chopped parsley
Dressing: stir together:
¾ c mayo
1 tsp mustard
Toss the potatoes and vegetables with the dressing. Add sliced hard boiled egg on top, and sprinkle with paprika. Let sit, refrigerated, for 4 hours or overnight if you can. It’s even better the next day!
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