Monday, August 30, 2010

Dreaming of Seychelles

Exotic Seychelles, located off the coast of East Africa, is the ninth smallest country in the world. A pilot friend of mine once referred to it as Europe’s Hawaii, and said its dramatic geography takes your breath away. From the photos I’ve seen, he’s right!

Seychelles (pronounced say shells) is an archipelago of 115 islands
in the Indian Ocean. Just over 80,000 people call these islands home. Most of the islands are granitic (a new word for me). They have huge granite boulders like those seen in the photo. These boulders, combined with the lovely sand, colorful flowers and pristine waters combine to make Seychelles’ beaches among the most stunning in the world.

As you might imagine, Seychelles is a diver’s paradise. The island reefs are blessed with prolific marine life including Butterfly, Angel and Soldier fish, as well as octopus, spiny lobster and a plethora of nudibranchs, such as the Spanish Dancer (see photo). Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of a nudibranch. I’m a diver and wasn’t familiar with the term either. It’s a shell-less mollusk, like a snail without a shell. They can be flat or rounded like a worm and come in amazingly brilliant colors.

The land has many types of wildlife as well. In fact, the island of Aldabra has the largest population of giant tortoises in the world. Amidst the islands you’ll also find some of the rarest flora and fauna on Earth!

All this writing is making me hungry. Time to turn to FOOD! Here’s a great banana-type dessert for those of you with a sweet tooth. (The black things in the photo are vanilla pods.)

Daube de Banane

* 1 vanilla pod, split
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 ½ cups coconut milk
3 cinnamon sticks
3 large ripe plantains
3 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Peel the plantains, cut in half and then half again lengthwise. Place the cinnamon leaves or sticks in the bottom of a pan. Place the cut plantains on top (with the cut side uppermost) then sprinkle the sugar, salt and nutmeg powder on top. Add the split vanilla pod (see note) then cover with the coconut milk. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for a further 35 minutes. Arrange on a plate and serve.

*Note: I don’t know how easy it is to find a vanilla pod in U.S. stores. I may be tempted to substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Belgium's Bruges

My last post featured author Maureen Lang, whose new release, Whisper on the Wind, is primarily set in Belgium. For a chance to win her book, leave a comment on this post or the previous one by Friday, Aug. 13 – maybe this Friday the 13th will be your lucky day! And speaking of winners, Lynda Schab won the copy of Lost Island Smugglers by Max Elliot Anderson!

Now….more about breathtaking Belgium!

Belgium is made up of three regions:

Brussles is the diplomatic center of Europe, as it is home to both the European Union and NATO.

Flanders is flat and home to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
Wallonia contains the Ardennes Mountains with extensive forests, rolling hills and age old mountains. This area is also home to the Ardennes horse, one of the oldest breeds of draft horse. Just look at the muscles on that beautiful creature!

As in any country, there are so many wonderful places to visit in Belgium, but today I’m going to focus on just one – Bruges, considered by some to be the “Venice of the North.” With it’s picturesque canals, historic Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), cobblestone streets and medieval structures, Bruges is a tourists delight. I like that you can get around without a car – walking and boating is really all you need in this very popular and pretty city. If you go, don’t miss Belfry Tower (88 steps to the top!) in the Market Square, and romantic Minnewater Park. Also in Bruges you’ll find the famous Church of Our Lady where you can view the painting of the Madonna by Michelangelo and the Gothic tombs of Burgundy. You gotta love Gothic tombs!

And what would a post on Belgium be without a mention of chocolate? To many, Belgium chocolatiers make the best in the world. Try this recipe from Wittamer Chocolatier in Brussles. And if you go, be sure to take a chocolate tour. Your concierge can arrange one for you. Would that be awesome, or what?

Wittamer's Belgian Hot Chocolate
Four to six servings
Use real Belgium chocolate for best results.

Adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate

1 quart half-and-half or whole milk
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
tiny pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Warm about one-third of the half-and-half or milk, with the chopped chocolates and salt, stirring until the chocolate is melted.

2. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk, heating until the mixture is warmed through. Add the cinnamon.

3. Use a hand-held blender, or a whisk, and mix the hot chocolate until it's completely smooth. Serve very warm.

At Wittamer, it's served with a poof of whipped cream and chocolate curls.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Breathtaking Belgium

Beautiful Belgium is the setting for a new release by Maureen Lang, author of 7 books including one of my favorites, My Sister Dilly. (Check it out, you won’t be sorry!) Slated for publication next month, Whisper on the Wind takes place in Brussels at the height of World War I. A small, underground newspaper is the only way for the frightened people of this occupied city to receive news of the war, but publishing it is a dangerous pursuit for Edward Kirkland. When Isa Lassone, a Belgian-American socialite, tries to rescue him, she is drawn into his world, as well as his heart.

Note from Maureen: Technically Whisper on the Wind is the second book in The Great War series, but after deciding to take the cover art for the series in a new direction, we’ve pulled the first book, Look to the East (winner of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Contest and finalist in the Carol Award). So for the time being Look to the East isn’t available, at least until we design a new cover -- but it will be re-released late next year after Springtime of the Spirit, the next book in the series. Each book is an entirely independent read with a new set of characters, making all of this possible. I guess you might call Look to the East with its upcoming new look the 3rd book and this one, Whisper on the Wind, the new first!

Q. Maureen, did you travel to Brussels to research this book? If so, please tell us a bit about the city and some of your favorite spots.

A. I was thrilled to go to Belgium a couple of years ago when I was in the editing phase of writing this book. Walking the same steps my characters would have walked was unbelievably exciting! But it was also practical, because it gave me such a strong sense of “place.” History is a huge factor over there, and they certainly haven’t forgotten this period. There is a number of WWI monuments, and the people we spoke to very knowledgeable about what went on during the First World War (1914-1918). So much of their country was occupied, and so many battles were fought on their land—so many lives lost—that they will probably never forget.

I have so many favorite memories of my trip there, but I would have to say one of my favorite spots was the center of Brussels, the Grand Place. In my story, the Germans make their headquarters right here. It was easy to imagine the sound of German boots on the cobble stone, lines of soldiers snaking through the narrow arteries leading to this lovely square—so full of dramatic history. I loved it, and from the pictures I’m sure you can see why.

Speaking of how the Belgians recall First World War history, this is a picture of the Menin Gate in the city of Ypres (pronounced E-pra but I also heard it called “Eeps” by at least one local). Every single night of the year they gather to remember those who gave their lives on Belgian soil to defend Belgian’s right to independence. A ceremony every night of the year! Buglers play, soldiers march, and descendants of those who died place a wreath of poppies on the monument. It’s incredibly moving.

Q. How many books will there be in The Great War series? Do you have them all planned out?

A. As mentioned above, we’ve done a bit of juggling so Whisper on the Wind unveils the new look for the series. The next book is titled Springtime of the Spirit and is set just after the war has ended, and then we’ll backtrack to Look to the East with its new look (yet to be designed). So there will be a total of three books in the series, each book containing a stand-alone story.

Q. Tell us about the main characters in Whisper on the Wind. Why is Edward willing to risk his life to publish the newspaper, and what is Isa’s motivation for rescuing him?

A. Although my character Edward wasn’t born in Belgium, it’s been his homeland for most of his life. When Germany invades Belgium on its way to conquer France, Edward wants to join the fight—but not being a citizen, he’s prevented from joining the small Belgian army. Germany, of course, completely overwhelms the Belgians and one of the first things the Germans do is take over all of the newspapers. Edward joins a small group of patriotic Belgians to produce a lone voice of opposition, one that gives the Belgian people hope and basically thumbs its nose against the German army. What makes this story so special to me is that it’s based on an actual newspaper of the time, La Libre Belgique (Free Belgium) which is still in print today.

In the story, my heroine Isa was taken to America just before the German invasion, and it takes her two years to smuggle herself back into the occupied country to bring Edward and his mother out. But while Edward wants his mother to go, he refuses to leave because he won’t give up working on the paper. It’s dangerous and few people will risk so much for it Isa soon wants to join him. Of course, being the heroine, she won’t take no for an answer. Together they risk their lives to offer hope to an occupied country, and Edward finally sees Isa for what she is: all grown up and in love with him. It doesn’t take Edward long to realize just how grown up —and irresistible — she is.

Q. Can we get a sneak peak at the next book in the series?
A. As I mentioned, Springtime of the Spirit is the title of the next book, which will release in the spring of 2011. Being German myself, I’ve always wanted to write a book where the Germans are finally the sympathetic characters. At this time in history, just before the brief German Weimar Republic was established, all of Germany was in terrible turmoil. They basically had to redefine what kind of government they wanted, and as with many power shifts of history, this one came with bloodshed. Basically my heroine is torn between a communist revolutionary and a soldier who only wants what’s best for her—but because of the guilt she carries from her father’s war profiteering, she isn’t sure which man can bring her happiness—each with such different politics and faith. The story was not only a fun challenge to write, but I learned a lot!

To find out more about Maureen Lang and her books, go to

Q. Do you have a Belgium recipe to share with Taste the World readers?

A. I found this recipe online, and added some notes and modification. It’s certainly tasty, but in the end I did have a little trouble cutting the slices. I admit I’ve never called myself a great cook, and I firmly believe there is an art to candy making (a gift I evidently don’t have!). But I thought the name was so fun I had to share!

Blood Sausage Candy
1 pound of milk chocolate (I used Dove because that’s my favorite)
1 square of unsweetened baker’s chocolate
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla, but use 1½ if using imitation flavoring
1 cup chopped nuts, I used regular peanuts for a familiar candy-bar flavor but if you have a favorite type of nut, go with that
2 cups powdered sugar, approximately

Melt chocolates together; years ago I lost my double-boiler in a move, so I improvised and just used two different-sized sauce pans. In the larger one I added some water, then placed the smaller pan on top, one big enough to fit like a double boiler (so the water won’t bubble up around it or get into the chocolate). The size of your small pan will tell you how much water to use; the point is you don’t want it to boil over the sides. It doesn’t take much to provide the heat you need to melt the chocolate. And of course, if you have a double boiler, so much the better!

In a separate bowl beat the egg and add to melted chocolates. Add the teaspoon of vanilla, nuts, and powdered sugar. Mix in enough powdered sugar to make the dough soft, but not sticky, and not so much that it’s dry (or it will crumble when you cut it later). Hand mixing (literally) to work in the powdered sugar works best.

Roll into logs, about an inch around. Roll into wax paper and refrigerate until firm. Slice thinly or into bite sized chunks. Can be frozen. Laugh over the name, then enjoy!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Island Dreams

Want to buy an island? Florida boasts 10,000, many of which are for sale. In fact, if you want to check out the prices of islands throughout the U.S., it’s kind of fun to go to this website:

But if you’re like me and can only afford to visit them, here’s the scoop on three popular Florida islands. I’ve intentionally left out the famous Keys for two reasons. 1) I could do a whole week or two just on the Keys; and 2) I’m saving them in hopes my novel set in the Florida Keys grabs the interest of an editor. It was just completed a couple of months ago after a year and a half of blood, sweat and tears…and prayers, of course.

So off we go to three absolutely beautiful tropical venues on our lovely but oil-damaged Gulf of Mexico. And if you haven’t read my previous post yet, scroll down for an interview with author Max Elliot Anderson and a chance to win his latest book for boys, Lost Island Smugglers. Comments must be posted by midnight, Friday, Aug. 6.

Marco Island (pictured above), famous for its fabulous sport fishing, is located off Florida’s southwest coast. It’s the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands (has anyone actually counted them?) and offers nearly four miles of sweeping sands and aquamarine waters, including inland waterways that are home to thousands of exotic birds. If you go, check out Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center which offers tours of research labs, a huge auditorioum, visitor’s center, 2,300 gallon aquarium, nature reserve, gallery and picnic area.

Sanibel is considered North America’s shelling capital, with more than 400 species of shells that wash up on its beautiful beaches. Conch shells are the most common, but shellers like me delight in finding many rare varieties too, like the Lion’s Paw (pictured at right). When you’re tired of shells, dine in some of the excellent restaurants, go golfing, play tennis, fish, bike or canoe – there is no lack of things to do on this gorgeous island. And somewhere on Marco there’s a place that sells awesome gelato – it’s the first place I ever tasted what has become one of my favorite desserts. If you go, Fly into Fort Meyers International Airport. It’s just a short drive from there.

I’ve never been to Anna Maria Island, but you gotta love the name. It’s not famous for spectacular beaches or the most recreational opportunities, but Anna Maria will provide beautiful ocean sunsets and secluded beaches, peace and quiet. One of the cool things about this island is that it doesn’t have any fast food or convenience franchises, chain stores, high rises or a stoplight…and the community intends to keep it that way. Favorite activities include boat charters, ultralight air tours, kayaking and parasailing. You’ll find Anna Maria just south of Tampa Bay and west of Bradenton.

Enjoy this recipe from Andy’s Island Seafood (pictured at left), located in Matlacha (pronounced "MAT-la-shay"), an old fishing village on Pine Island (near Fort Meyers), chock full of art galleries and island charm.


1 ½ lbs. wild Florida shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup diced pineapple
½ cup diced water chestnuts
2 Tbs. fresh Florida lime juice
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. Florida honey
1 Tbs. minced garlic
2 tsp. soy sauce.

Combine all ingredients and toss well. Chill for 2 hours. Drain and place on broiler pan. Broil 3-4” from heat source for 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are opaque and pineapple
begins to brown.