Friday, March 24, 2017

Norwegian Escape To The Caribbean

Recently returned to Canada after a vacation excursion via the Norwegian Escape cruise ship to the Eastern Caribbean. It sure was good to experience some sunshine in the month of March and get a base tan instead of sporting the usual Canadian "fish belly white" winter pallor.

The Escape

The Escape is one big ship! Seventeen decks and akin to a floating city with all kinds of shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Commissioned in 2015 she is a relatively new boat in Norwegian`s fleet of cruise ships and can carry in excess of five thousand passengers and crew.

 The Destination

Cruising the Eastern Caribbean we visited the US/ British Virgin islands and Bahamas on a seven day cruise. One day of (some) rain and cloud but otherwise perfect weather. An easterly cruise meant we skirted the Atlantic ocean so there was some chop but nothing to severe as to cause any seasickness.

The Accommodation

 I had booked an Oceanview stateroom with a window view of the bow of the ship. It was quite suitable for two guests with lots of storage space, a large bed and a decent sized bathroom. Balcony rooms are nice but who wants to stay in a stateroom when you have the entire ship as your oyster?

The Food

We had three specialty dining opportunities as part of our package but the Garden Cafe buffet was well appointed, clean, comfortable and the quality/variety of the food very good. One could have easily eaten quite well without specialty dining. Le Bistro was a French specialty restaurant and was very good. Teppanyaki was a Japanese venue which I enjoyed, including the challenge of using chop sticks. Cagney`s steakhouse saw me consume a thirty two ounce bone in medium rare rib eye with a glass of Shiraz and sautéed mushrooms. It was fabulous and a highlight of my cruise!

The Drink

 I really like the fact the ultimate drink package and gratuity was built (up front) into the cost of the cruise so there were no $ surprises upon disembarking. I walked off the ship only owing about $150 CDN primarily the result of my spouse`s bingo expenditure, a few top shelf drinks and a one litre bottle of rum purchased from the duty free shop. There was an excellent variety of beer, wines and spirits to choose from and if you opted for the ultimate drink package beverages were unlimited. Any drink over the $15 package price was available - you just paid the difference from the list price. Top shelf spirits could be had for a few extra dollars billed to your shipboard account. Lots of bars,lounges and pubs to choose from and something for everyone. From the mid ship Atrium to Margaritaville, to O'Sheehan`s Irish pub there was something for everyone.


All kinds of entertainment available on board including live music and theatre. We saw the shows After Midnight and Brat Pack in the ship`s theatre and both were excellent musicals. I highly recommend both shows.

The Crew

The service on the ship was outstanding for the most part. Very friendly. Take some dollar bills with you and tip the hardworking waiters, stewards and bartenders. They work long split shifts for months at a time. Our star of the cruise was Rowena; a waitress in the Atrium bar. It was our meeting spot and "go too" lounge. She became friends with our group, knew all our names and even our beverage preferences. I`d nod over the crowd and had my Michelob Ultra or Myers rum in short order.

The Excursions

 Lots of excursion options to be had on the cruise. Best to book in advance to ensure your ticket.

The ship visited St. Thomas AVI, Tortola BVI and Nassau Bahamas with shore excursions available in all three places. We beached it in both Virgin island locations that included a tour of the islands en route to the beaches in open aired modified truck style busses. Steep narrow roads were sometimes not for the timid or faint hearted but the scenery was both rustic and beautiful. You`re definitely not in Kansas or Canada anymore....!

Did a walkabout in Nassau picking up some souvenirs and searching for that elusive bottle of local rum. Did not find that top shelf sipper I was looking for in Nassau but had purchased a bottle of Botany Bay in St Thomas (after a tasting) and a Dominican Republic offering upon the ship. Reviews to follow.

It was a great vacation. Highly recommend Norwegian cruises.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Rum - Grog!

Nowadays known as a general reference to any alcoholic drink the term Grog was actually the British naval slang for rum and water. In an attempt to stretch out the rum rations for his sailors Vice Admiral  Edward Vernon commenced the practice on August 21 1740 while commanding a squadron in the West Indies.

"Vernon's 1740 order that the daily rum issue of a half pint of rum be mixed with one quart of water and issued in two servings, before noon and after the end of the working day, became part of the official regulations of the Royal Navy in 1756 and lasted for more than two centuries."

Contrary to popular opinion the addition of citrus to Vernon`s grog was not done to prevent scurvy in his sailors. He did suggest to his officers that the men could trade some of their salt and bread rations for sugar or lemons to improve the taste of the rum/water ration if they chose to do so. That said it was later surgeons and officers of the Royal Navy who made the connection and knew that citrus could help keep the crews scurvy free despite the rebuttals of the medical establishment of the time. By 1795 the Admiralty was issuing lemon juice and sugar as part of the sailor`s rations. When the lemons became unavailable due to an alliance between Spain and France limes from colonial possessions in the West Indies were substituted and henceforward British sailors were referred to as "limeys".

The term grog can be traced to Vernon's nickname of "old Grog" that itself came from the material of his cloak.....

"Grosgrain....a type of fabric characterized by its ribbed appearance. In grosgrain, the weft is heavier than the warp, creating prominent transverse ribs. It is called a "corded" fabric since the weft resembles a fine cord...."

History lesson aside with the approaching Spring I`m already looking forward to a March cruise of the Eastern Caribbean and another summer on the deck. My previous visit to the Caribbean a couple years ago instilled in me a newfound appreciation for rums, a more complex and diverse spirit than I ever expected. Makes for some excellent sippers! In truth rum is now my preferred drink of choice (with all due respect to the Nobel Grape) but I am now at loggerheads as to how to best enjoy rum, especially deck side under the sun either here in Nova Scotia or in the tropics.

 I enjoy lesser quality rums, specifically young or spiced versions, mixed with coke, ginger ale and ginger beer. What I don`t like is the excess calories and the crappy nutritional values of sodas . Options?

Rum and Water

In search of the quaffable rum beverage less the excess sugar of sodas and cocktails I began to experiment with grog -  rum and water. The addition of citrus in the form of lemons and limes is easy and often compliments the palate of the rum. I prefer to use fresh citrus, a slice in the glass and a wedge squeezed over ice. I`ve tested a variety of spiced, ambers and dark rums using this simple recipe and each drink is somewhat unique based upon the inherent flavors of the rum. It was not a stretch for me as I already am a proponent of the benefits of citrus water.

Sidebar - I did pick up a bottle of Real Lime to substitute for fresh limes. It is an option especially if you are in a situation where fresh limes are scarce or unavailable. I do prefer the real fruit without the added preservatives found in the commercial product..

Other options exist including the use of coconut water which would definitely impart an appropriate  "island" feel to your beverage....."Coconut water stays true to rum’s roots without being too tropical and abrasive.  Lime brightens it up and holds it together". Note to self - testing required.

Another option is the use of club soda or tonic water. Toss out the gin and add rum.....
"Rum and tonic make fast friends when accompanied with ice and lime — and their harmony comes across with the first sip".

Tonic waters do have soda pop equivalent calories so, in essence, its no different than using coke or ginger ale. I`m thinking one could substitute seltzer or mineral water. In fact brands like Perrier often offer citrus flavored sparkling waters that may very well be suitable. Note to self - testing required.

Update-using Perrier's sparkling lime water mixed with a nondescript spiced rum resulted in an excellent beverage. Perrier also offers waters with lemon, orange and grapefruit which depending upon the nature of the rum would add some variety. Might just be my mixed rum drink of choice. Very nice.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rethinking Legumes

For no other reason than to revisit my current way of eating and add some variety I have decided to reintroduce additional legumes back into my diet. I have always eaten green peas(yes they are a legume) and in season fresh yellow/green beans. I have not adhered to strict Paleo for some time as I now use it more as a guideline for eating a simple traditional diet. I find the foods that work for me and eliminate/ limit those that do not. Its time to revisit the bean and see if other legumes have a place in my diet.

Over the last couple months I have essentially stopped consuming potatoes. I can tolerate the tuber occasionally but do much better without them. As a result I have been eating a little more rice as compensation but I do tire of that grain.

It then occurred to me to re-evaluate legumes. Not only do they compliment rice (the classic rice and beans combo) but they offer fiber, some proteins and nutrients. Add to that fact they are relatively cheap to procure and possess long shelf lives. Little did I know that even within the nutritional world that some advocates of ancestral diets were softening their anti- legume stances. It does remain a bone of contention. Do the nutritional qualities of legumes trump the problematic anti-nutrient issues?

What is a legume?

"The legume family consists of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside...."

The paleo view of legumes and the inherent issues.

 Chris Kresser has published a pretty decent rebuttal article here...

"To be clear, I would eat beans and lentils even if they weren't part of ancestral hunter-gatherer diets, because they're inexpensive, nutritious, I like the taste, and they were safely consumed by many traditional agricultural populations probably including my own ancestors."

For the record I enjoy beans, especially the traditional East coast Canadian baked bean variety. My issue with them was they often caused me some digestive issues; bloating and gas. Probably the result of poorly absorbed carbohydrates known as Fodmaps. The severity of the symptoms often depended upon the type of legume and how it was prepared.

Sidebar - I consume unpasteurized sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar on a  daily basis to help support good gut health. Optimal gut flora levels are gained through the beneficial qualities of traditionally fermented foods

  Begs a question - will a healthy belly help mitigate/ limit the usual Fodmap digestion issues associated with the consumption of legumes? I am going to test that assumption.

Canned beans are generally precooked so they are an easy option. It`s still a good idea to rinse in a strainer before preparation to help limit the amount of residual anti-nutrients. Canned baked beans will obviously contain added sugars(molasses/maple sugar) and tomato sauces so are less healthy. Dried legumes will need to be properly soaked and cooked prior to ingestion.

The intent is not to make legumes a dietary staple but rather a supplement to my current diet that allows some variety but still limits wheat(gluten) and potatoes.