Wednesday, June 19, 2013

5 weeks...

So, we have now owned this business for five weeks.  To be exact, five weeks and three days.  I had hoped that by this point I would be able to write a post about how much I have adjusted to living on an island that is not quite 20 square miles and has a population of roughly 4,500.  I had hoped that I would be able to tell you how things have gotten so much easier and how I actually wake up feeling confident and excited to go to work.

That post will have to wait.  There have been so many times since we got here that I wanted to quit.  I have had d-bag customers tell me to my face that I'm a failure as a manager because we were out of stock of an item.  I have heard from our attorney that several of her friends have been into our establishment and complained to her about being "unhappy".  We have been sucked into bureaucratic red tape at nearly every attempt to situate ourselves here.

 
However, we have also met some amazing people.  That horrible customer who reamed me out? The next day, one of our new friends who was in the store and witnessed me breaking down and running into our back office informed me that he chased that customer down to the parking lot and told him that there was no need to treat me like that.  He told him that if he wanted to give someone a hard time to find someone else to pick on.  I was speechless. This is a man who I had known for barely a month, and haven't socialized with at all outside of his daily visits to our store, and here he was defending me - certainly something that he had no responsibility to do.

In the process of trying to unload our shipment of things from NH that finally arrived, E was making countless trips from the warehouse to our house and back while I was at the store.  I mentioned this to another one of the friends that we have met since being here and he offered his time, his truck, his help AND the help of several of his friends to get everything to our house in one trip so that E could stop the back and forth.  Amazing.

We have been invited to countless social events and casual beach get-togethers.  We have been introduced around by the staff at our store to so many wonderful people. We have enjoyed (and at times, perhaps overindulged) in many welcoming drinks and meals, being accepted and assisted by people who didn't even know we existed 6 weeks ago.  We have been made to feel like part of a community, and encouraged to participate in local events, etc. Last weekend for example we had a great day hiking in the morning and attending the 1st Annual "Iron Bartender" competition with our kitchen staff in the afternoon, followed by a few hours of beach time.  How can you complain about that?

 Last week we closed on the sale of our home in NH.  My father in law attended it on our behalf since we obviously weren't about to travel for it.  On the morning of the closing, my mother in law was there doing some last minute cleaning.  I don't know what she was thinking,but she sent me some pictures of the house completely empty and cold looking.  Of course, I broke down - again. Seeing our house - our home - looking so completely lifeless was hard.  I know that change is a positive thing, and this was a necessary step, but I really wish I didn't have the pictures pushed in my face! The fact that I'm not at all in love with the house that we are renting here made me even more nostalgic for our house in NH.  Such is life, I guess!

So, after five weeks in, I feel more conflicted about this change than ever.  There are days when I know that it will work, days when I know that it won't, and days when I feel like I don't have the energy to care.  I do know that I cannot live here forever. I am just not an island girl at heart.  I still long for Starbucks, Target, farmer's markets, etc.  Life is all about choices, and I am going to choose to make the best of this!

Until next, time, I've finally managed to transfer some of the pictures from our first month...


Two dogs...one cat...one LONG flight later - we all safely arrived!



Barge ride from St. Thomas to our new home on St. John

Our own car finally arrived...only 3 weeks late.  It looks so strange without the NH plates!
One good thing about our rental - walking distance to a dog beach!
Happy Hour!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The move - Part 1

Soooo...you may or may not know this about my husband and me, but we recently realized that we are completely crazy :)  Ever since we went on our honeymoon in the British Virgin Islands back in 2005 we have had the Caribbean bug.  We started dreaming about one day owning our own business and working for ourselves instead of for someone else's dream. Over the past 8 years we made traveling   exploring the world a priority. We have been able to explore Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and various countries in central America. We looked half-heartedly at some B&B's for sale in Europe but never seriously considered those real options.

This January we saw a real estate listing for a deli/provisioning business on St. John in the US Virgin Islands. We were intrigued and asked our realtor friend down there for some more information, and the rest, to use the horrible cliche, is history!

Long story short, we decided now was the time, before we were too old, so we went for it and here we are! We listed our house and one week, 12 showings and 3 offers later we were under contract.

For the sake of skipping a lot of what would likely bore you to death, I will skip ahead a bit! Since we have two big dogs that we had NO intention on abandoning, our only flight option was for them to fly in the cargo hold. Not ideal, but we had no choice. After doing exhaustive research, we found out that the total weight of each dog WITH their crate cannot exceed 100 lbs. Our lab/rhodesian mix is 81 lbs. and our yellow lab is 60 lbs. We bought TSA approved crates for each of them and called it good. To avoid having to transfer planes and to decrease the potential misplacement of the dogs, we opted for a direct flight from NYC to St. Thomas, instead of flying from Boston, since that would involve a layover.

Our flight was a 7:00 am early bird, so we left our home in NH around 1:00 am on Friday May 10th. It was bittersweet for me after all of the hard work and memories of the past 8 years. Sparing my hubby the cry-fest that I felt coming on, I said goodbye and tried to look ahead to the future we were creating.

Fast forward 4 hours and we arrived at JFK, with both dogs  and our cat in a carrier that would come with us in the cabin. The plan was for E to drop us all off curbside and we would wait while he parked. Yeah, not so much. The asshat curbside attendant at the US Air gate said we would not be allowed to "loiter" and insisted that the pets and I begin the check-in process alone. I asked for his help getting the dogs into their crates and he said no, I would have to walk with them to the ticket counter, wheeling the crates (and the cat) on a dolly beside me. I was terrified, since both dogs were way over-stimulated and were pulling, etc. but it seemed I had no choice. When it was my turn, I walked with the dogs to the counter of the (excuse my language) biggest absolute asshole US Air agent ever to wear the uniform. After he gave me the dirtiest look and asked why the dogs were not crated, he asked why I was traveling with them alone. I tried to explain that E was parking the car and that I was just doing as told by the curbside agent. During this exchange, our 11-month old lab wiggled out of her collar and ran into the agent area! The agent YELLED at me to get her, and since I was still holding the other dog, I had to drag him with me behind the ticket counter while I tried to get the puppy. The agent at the next station then started yelling at me as well, and saying that the dogs should have been in their crates. WTF US Air, I was doing what I was told!

After the horrific counter experience, security was next. A very nice porter pushed the crates while I walked with the dogs. As soon as I got to the TSA agent who checks IDs and boarding passes before security, the older dog squirmed out of HIS collar and took off running. I wish I could make this up. He ran through the X-ray machine and was heading for the gates. I  was immediately and harshly told by a TSA agent that if I attempted to chase him I would be tased. Thankfully a very nice young agent went after him and was able to bring him back. I then had to have him hold the dogs while I took the cat out of his carrier to go through security. As soon as I opened the carrier I could smell instantly that the cat had freaked out and peed on himself and all over his carrier. Having no other choice, I took him out, holding him beyond tightly, and walked through with him. Once his carrier came through, I put him back and had to walk back and go through the x-ray machine a second time, bringing the dogs with me. After that, the porter brought me their crates, and our older dog was more than happy to hop right in. Madie on the other hand was not having it. It took me 10 minutes of pushing and cramming to get her in the crate - all the while other travelers going through security were commenting "don't hurt her", "be careful!", etc. Note to those people: F you. I didn't have one person offer to help, but everyone was happy to give me their opinion.

With the digs safely crated, I secured the crates with the required zip ties and happily sent them on their way with the porter. At this point, I was texting with E, trying to let him know that we were through security and that I would meet him at the gate. With barely enough time to get to the gate, I was quickly making my way when the shoulder strap on the BRAND NEW cat carrier broke and the poor little guy tumbled to the ground. Thankfully there was a lot of padding in there and he was fine, but I was definitely holding back tears at that point. I made it to the gate and sunk into a seat. Luckily E was only a few minutes behind me. As soon as I saw him I lost it and tried to explain everything that had happened. He was beyond pissed off, but we decided it would be best to wait until after the flight to complain.

As we were about to board, I was paged to the counter. I was convinced something else horrible had happened with the dogs, but thankfully it was just a very thoughtful baggage handler who wanted to let me know that he had personally loaded the dogs onto our plane and that they were doing great. I was, and am, so thankful for him, he was the only positive part of the entire experience!

I have a lot more to share as we start our new life here, but had to get that awful travel experience out before we can move on to the good stuff! If you made it this far, thank you  - and stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sesame-Wasabi Seared Scallops for 2

Happy New Year!  I hope everyone had a safe and happy new year’s celebration.  We are not big on going out for new year’s eve festivities, we would much rather spend the night at home and avoid the crowds and this year was no exception.  We decided to make a bunch of appetizers to munch on throughout the night, instead of one large meal.  It worked out perfectly, we were able to nibble our way through the night while researching some day-sail options for our upcoming annual pilgrimage to St. John. 


Everything was great, but these scallops that E made were definitely my favorite dish of the night.  They came together in less than five minutes, and could be easily adapted to other flavors, depending on your preference.  We have an obsession with all things spicy, so the wasabi drizzle was perfect, but if that’s not your thing, I think that an avocado sauce would be great as well.

Sesame-Wasabi Seared Scallops for 2
Source: A Traveling in the Kitchen original
Serves 2 as a small appetizer

Ingredients
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large sea scallops (with the connective “foot” removed)
2 Tablespoons wasabi powder
2 Tablespoons raw sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

For garnish:
Pickled ginger (available at the sushi counter of most grocery stores)
Micro greens or finely minced parsley or cilantro
Black sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

Add the oil to a cast iron skillet and heat on high until the oil is shimmering (about 1 minute).  Season the scallops with salt and pepper to taste.  Put the sesame seeds on a small plate or in a small bowl.  Brush one side of each scallop with the sesame oil, and press into the sesame seeds, pressing to adhere the seeds.  Place the scallops, sesame seed-side down into the skillet and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the seeds are golden brown.  Flip the scallops and cook on the other side for an additional 1-2 minutes, depending on your desired doneness.  Our scallops were huge, and we like them on the rare side, so we cooked them for 3 minutes total. 

Transfer the scallops to your serving plate.  Reconstitute the wasabi powder with enough water to make a sauce (start with 1-2 tablespoons and keep adding water until you are happy with the consistency).  Drizzle the sauce over the scallops, and the plate if desired.  Place 1-2 pieces of pickled ginger on the top of each scallop.  Sprinkle with a few micro-greens or minced herbs, and the black sesame seeds (if using) and enjoy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Part Two: Bordeaux and the Dordogne Valley

This was definitely the biggest splurge of our trip.  Being huge winos wine lovers, we were looking forward to exploring the Bordeaux region and learning more about their wine.  The last time we were in France we visited the Chateauneuf-du-Pape area and had a great time, so we were pumped for this.  But...given the limited knowledge (i.e., none) that we had about Bordeaux wines, we decided to book a tour with someone who knew what the heck he was talking about, and could take the hassle out of touring by scheduling all of our winery visits for us.  Visiting wineries in France is very different than visiting wineries on the west coast of the US.  You can't just show up and expect a tour and tasting, you have to schedule in advance, and the places we went we would have never been able to set up on our own. 

Our personal tour guide was Bruno from BD Wine Tours.  We found him by scouring Trip Advisor and the reviews were all top notch.  We took the 6:30 am high-speed train from Paris to Bordeaux, arriving a little bit before 10:00. Bruno met us right on the platform and we were off.  Bruno had an ambitious schedule for us, with the first tour and tasting at Chateau Rauzan Segla at 10:30.  Mmmm...nothing like a nice glass of red wine when I'm usually sitting down to my morning oatmeal.  I love Europe. 

We arrived a little late due to our later than scheduled arrival in Bordeaux, but we were the only ones touring so we were quickly shown around the estate and got to see all of the production and aging areas, followed by a tasting.



After the first tasting, we took a pit stop to grab lunch in St. Julien.  I really wish that I could remember the name of the restaurant where we ate because it was fantastic.  It was great to have Bruno there too, he had great recommendations for wine pairing and the man just has so. much. knowledge. of Bordeaux wines it's amazing.

Next stop was Chateau Picon Longueville Baron. I highly recommend clicking on that link if for no other reason than to see a much better picture of the amazing chateau.

That reflection pool?  That's not just for looks on the outside, underneath it is one of the estate's cellars.  How cool is that?  This was definitely one of the most unique and beautiful properties I've ever seen.  We got to walk through the vines and learn about what they are doing to keep them warm through the winter.  It may look like there is no activity in the vines right now, but trust me there is a lot to do in the winter months, and they must do it well because this was my favorite wine of our two days.  On our second day, we really earned our wine by doing a walking tour through the vineyards and ending up in St. Emilion.  Even though it was gray and sprinkled a little bit, the experience was amazing and I am soooo glad we did it!


In addition to a stunning walk leading up to the village of St. Emilion, the town center itself was beautiful, and the sun even came out for us for a few hours.


Our third and final stop for the day was at Chateau Leoville Barton.  This was unique because their fermentation and aging is all still done in wooden tanks...no stainless steel at all here.


After spending two days being shuttled around and drinking wine, it was time for us to pick up our car and head south.  The plan was that we would spend 2 nights each in Sarlat-la-Caneda and Limoux.  Sarlat because of it's location, being surrounded by castles - and Limoux for the sparkling wine and location near Carcassonne, one of the best-preserved fortified towns.  Our first stop was Sarlat.  We were the last guests of the season at La Lanterne, a cute B&B in the perfect location near the old town center.  On our way there, it was recommended that we stop in Beynac to take in the view of the Dordogne.  The city itself took my breath away, and the trek to the top of the castle was well worth the huffing and puffing.


One thing that we had read all about and were told was a "not to miss" experience, was the Saturday market in Sarlat.  The entire town bustles as vendors set up stalls with everything from fruit, to meat, to cheese, to bread, to clothes and ceramic.  It was truly unique from other markets that we had been to in France because it wasn't limited to just one part of the town, it was literally the entire historic core, covered in vendors.  We were fortunate to be there on Saturday to walk around, and we picked up some provisions for our road trip to Limoux. 


I'm not sure what I was expecting from Limoux, as it had been E's pick.  He was mostly interested in checking out Carcassonne, and since we good word that they make a pretty amazing sparkling wine here, we decided to use it as our base.  It was a pretty sleepy town and I'm not sure that we would stay here again, but our B&B was definitely worth it.  We stayed at La Cortanela, a truly boutique (one room!) in the home of Chris & Tricia Wheatley.  They were away when we arrived, but we were warmly greeted by their son Tom and their Australian Shepherd, Ben.  We decided to make the most of our location and visit some of the Cathar Castles, and Tom recommened that if we only had time to visit one, we make it Ch√Ęteau de Peyrepertuse.  After a windy, white-knuckled (to say the least) drive, we arrived and knew right away we made the right choice.  It's a quick hike from the parking area to the castle, and I don't think there are any words that accurately portray the enormity of the castle.  Even in its current state, it'a amzing to think that the original lower part was constructed in the 11th century.


Since we spent nearly all day visiting Peyrepertuse and some other castles, it was going to be a nighttime visit to Carcassonne.  Unfortunately, we arrived just after the castle closed for the day.  Poor E, it was really high on his must-see list, but it just wasn't in the cards.  We were able to walk around the old part of the city, but it wasn't quite the same as being able to go into the castle.  On the bright side, going at night gave us some gorgeous photos!


Up next, the second country of our trip - Spain!!  We spent two nights just over the French boarder in Girona, then ended our trip in Barcelona.  We have been to Spain before, but never to Catalonia, so it was great to get a feel for a different region.  We also snuck in a pilgrimage to visit the former restaurant of one of the most innovative chefs of our generation...more on that in the next post!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Part One: Paris

In keeping with tradition, my husband (E) and I took our “big” trip of the year during the two weeks over Thanksgiving this year.  We’re all for family and togetherness, but when your respective families live four hours apart and visiting everyone for each holiday is not an attractive option, we’re happy to take one holiday out of the equation.

We got a great deal on open-jaw tickets on Aer Lingus (bonus, it’s only a 5 hour flight to Dublin from Boston – it flew by…pun intended) into Paris and out of Barcelona two weeks later.  We spent three nights in Paris, two in Bordeaux, two in Sarlat-la-Caneda, two in Limoux, two in Girona and three in Barcelona.  It makes me tired now just typing all of the places that we stayed, but hey – you’re spending big bucks for airfare so you’ve got to make the most of it while you’re there and cram in as much as possible.  That’s our philosophy anyway, and seeing as there were no beaches to lounge on for days on end, I was okay with the ambitious schedule.

Having already been to Paris, we didn’t feel obligated to do the typical must-do things, and instead decided to just enjoy the city and try to experience it as a Parisian.  Since we were there in mid-November, we weren’t expecting perfect weather.  It was pretty cloudy and grey almost the whole time we were there, but temps were in the low 50’s (being from New England, that’s almost tropical) and it didn’t rain.  Good enough for me, especially because the last time that we went to Paris was E’s first time and to say that he was underwhelmed would be a fair statement.  It was cold, it rained, things were closed, we didn’t see out good food and therefore had nothing remarkable, etc. 

This time I was determined to change his mind.  We rented a studio apartment in the St. Germain area, which was a perfect central base.  After dropping our packs off at the apartment we rented, we immediately headed off in search of lunch, which we found nearby at Peres et Filles (Fathers and Daughters).  It was loud and cramped - always a good sign.  We had the best onion soup of the trip, a duck terrine with pistachios that was wonderful and E had the classic beef bourguignon - he was a happy man!

After lunch a long walk was in order, and there was one place in particular that I hadn't managed to visit during previous trips to Paris


It might look like just another building, but that, my friends, is where Mrs. Julia Child resided during the majority of the time that she lived in Paris.  Seeing as I may never have been interested in food (or France for that matter) without Julia, it was only appropriate that I pay tribute to her at her former home.  It may sound silly, but just walking down the street and thinking about how these were the same streets she had walked, no doubt lugging huge bags of groceries, it made me feel...connected. 

We really didn't do much else while we were in Paris, other than eat and walk!  We wanted to visit the Catacombs, but sadly they were closed when we got there.  Oh well, that's what next time is for I guess.


For the rest of our stay in Paris, we pretty much spent the days walking and eating...and drinking!

Quick pit-stop to warm up with an espresso!

It was cloudy and gray, but I think that just added to the romanticism...or maybe I just really love Paris.

Laduree, obligatory macaron pilgrimage

Entrance to the Louvre plaza
In the next post, I'll tell you about the next stop on our trip, Bordeaux.  Let me just tell you this - hiring a guide who knows what the heck he's talking about and is willing to drive you around to gorgeous chateaus while you drink wine is money well spent.