Sandra and John Scott

When I was on Pandaw’s Halong Bay and Red River Cruise I truly understood the quote, “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.”

I have watched movies, documentaries, and read books about Vietnam but until I walked down the narrow road of a small, riverside Vietnamese village and could hear the pounding of metal and see the sparks fly did I really feel the pulse beat of the Vietnam people. Small villages along the Red River tend to focus on making one main item be it knives, noodles, bonsai trees, wood objects, bamboo products or rice paddy hats. They make the items the way they have for generations not just for a show-and-tell presentation created for tourists.

In Tien Du village the ladies were making paddy hats called “Non La.” With our guide explaining every step in the process I learned that they start with palm leaves which are dried for about a week, flattened and then fashioned and sewn around a frame. It was impressive. One lady was 80 years old, sitting on a small block of wood, threading a needle and sewing on the leaves. Each lady specialized in one step of the process. They make about one dollar a day. They were working not selling their wares but we also visited a pottery-making village and where there were plenty of shops selling their pottery. A great place to pick up gifts/souvenirs.

Besides learning about how products are made in the traditional manner I learned more about the culture. During a visit to Hung Lo Temple a local group performed a traditional folk song, “Hat Xoan.” “Hat Xoan” is seeking recognition as a world cultural heritage to be preserved. Xoan singing is believed to have been developed during the reign of the Hung Kings (2890 to 250 BC). It has been passed on within certain families for generations. I was impressed with the seriousness of the young boy leading the group.  He was the grandson of the person who is currently the head of the group and some day it will be his job to preserve Hat Xoan and pass it on.

Water puppets and Vietnam are synonymous. I have enjoyed the shows in Hanoi’s puppet theater but seeing the show in Thanh Ha village was special.  Water puppetry dates back to the 11th century when it originated in the Red River Delta villages like Thanh Ha.  The puppeteers stand in waist-deep water hidden by a screen. They control the lacquered wooden puppets by an unseen bamboo rod so that the puppets appear to dance on water accompanied by drums, cymbals, and gongs.  The puppet vignettes relate traditional folktale complete with a fire-breathing dragon plus day-to-day activities such as farming and fishing. The show was schedule for Pandaw guests but it drew the local people also, especially the children who took delight in the unexpected, free performance.  At the end of one of the shore trips we were entertained on the wharf by a lion dance, an integral part of the Vietnamese New Year’s celebration. The Pandaw RV Angkor crew thinks of everything.  They brought chairs from the vessel so we could enjoy the show in comfort.  The lions, two people in one costume, are incredibly agile as they perform especially when the lions, one person on the shoulders of their partner, have to jump “battle” to get the lettuce that is held on a high spot.  It is a traditional part of the dance as it portends good luck for the coming year.

The cruise also included wonderful shore trips that showed off the amazing scenery of the area. The crew had arranged small boats to take us to Stork Island that protects the flora and fauna of the area. One morning we were bussed passed green rice paddies to the area called “Halong Bay on Land” where small wooden boats awaited. For an hour a lady rowed, using her feet, along the stream that passed by towering karst formation through two caves to a pond-like area where we stopped, I thought to give the rower a rest; not so, it was so she could give us a back massage! The cruise around Halong Bay was magical and, once again, the Pandaw crew arranged for a small boat trip in the area, through a cave, and to a place where we were in luck. We saw several of the endangered lemurs flitting from tree to tree.

When we returned to the RV Angkor after a shore trip there were staff members waiting: one with a refreshing lemongrass scented towel, one with a refreshing fruit drink, and one to take our shoes and clean them. How’s that for service? Accommodations, staff and meals were five-star but attire is casual.

There were also onboard presentations: a cooking demonstration, musical presentations, cultural presentations, and in the evening, movies set in Vietnam. Before dinner one of the crew members explains the next day’s tour; along with evening turndown service there was a copy of the next day’s schedule. Pandaw guests get to see and experience things the average tourist does not. Pandaw is the pioneer in the Red River but they offer other cruises in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.

Pandaw has revived Burma’s Old Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. The RV Angkor like most of Pandaw’s vessels is hand-crafted and traditional in design but with all the modern conveniences, accommodations are large, there is even internet connection. The cruise is all-inclusive including the tip – I like that. The average number of passengers is usually in the mid-20s (maximum capcity is 32) most of whom are well-traveled. I was surprised to find that all but five passengers had been on more than one Pandaw cruise, it was the fifth trip for one couple.  There is no better recommendation than that!

If you go: For more information on any of Pandaw’s expeditions log on to www.pandaw.com or call 1-844-361-6281 toll free from North America, or email usa@pandaw.com. Pandaw offers pre- and post-trip extension trips. To visit Vietnam a visa is required.

I have cruised on the Amazon, Mekong, Irrawaddy, the Nile and other rivers around the world but I have not experienced the waterways of New York. I live only a few miles from Lake Ontario and the Erie Canal; and, like many people I have not experienced the unique places near my home. New York State became the Empire State because of its waterways. Explorers and invading armies reached NYS via the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario. During the Revolutionary War the British thought if they would win the war if they conquered New York. It would divide the rebellious New England colonies from the southern ones. Obviously it did not work. After the American Revolution the Erie Canal was constructed this led to the development of the rest of the United States.  I had always wanted to explore the waterways but except for day trips on small portions of the Erie Canal I didn’t think it was feasible.

When I learned about Blount Small Ship Adventures’ “Locks, Legends, and Canals” which covered nearly all of New York State’s waterways I knew I just had to sign up for their two-week trip. It departed from Montreal, went to Quebec, and then up the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario and the NYS Canal System cruising down the Hudson River to NYC. For me it was a dream come true. My home for two weeks was the Grande Caribe, a purpose-built vessel designed to make it through the narrow and shallow waters of canals. The experience turned out to be much more than I anticipated because the adventure included tours stops in Canada, along the St. Lawrence, on the NYS Canal System, and the Hudson ending in NYC.

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In Quebec, the first port of call, I walked along the cobblestone streets of the old city nestled along the river and below the towering Hotel Fontanenac on a guided tour. I felt as though I was in France. The tour included a side trip to the impressive Montmorency Falls that at 272 feet is 98 feet taller than Niagara Falls. There was free time in the afternoon so walked a short distance from the Grande Caribe to the Museum of Civilization. There was a short stop in Montreal where Blount provided a shuttle to Old Montreal I stayed aboard and Chef William showed me how to make a traditional Canadian Tourtiere which was on the dinner menu.

Like a stealth ship, while everyone was sleeping, we departed Montreal and traversed the South Shore Canal’s two locks. The St. Lawrence Seaway system is connected by five short canals that bypass the rapids. They include 15 locks 766 feet in length that are filled and emptied by gravity. During the day we locked through the rest of the Seaway’s locks. The Snell Lock raised us 45 feet. Truly an engineering marvel. Locking through a canal never gets boring. We went through US customs in Ogdensburg, NY which was a no-brainer. The custom agents came aboard and took care of everything while we had breakfast.  The morning tour visited the Frederic Remington Art Museum. Remington is famed for his bronze sculptures of the Old West. The western end of the St. Lawrence is home to the 1000 Islands and Millionaire’s Row. Midday we docked on Dark Island for a taste of how the “Robber Barons” lived with a tour of five-story Singer Castle with 28 rooms and secret passageways. Our last stop on the St. Lawrence was at Clayton’s Antique Boat Museum, a boat-enthusiast’s dream come true with every kind of boat from Native American dugouts to private luxury yachts to Gold Cup Boats. I was surprised to find that Dr. Seuss did the artwork for Esso and that Guy Lombardo love of racing earned him the title of “The World’s Fastest Bandleader.”

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We crossed Lake Ontario during the night and docked in Oswego where the pilot house was lowered so the Grande Caribe could fit under the “low bridges” of NYS’s canal system. What started in 1817 as the Erie Canal grew into the 525-mile NYS system now on the National Register of Historic Places. It was life in the slow lane. As we motored along at five miles per hour enjoying the beautiful fall foliage I would occasionally see people in cars and trains whizzing by never knowing the beauty and serenity they were missing. We made several short stops along the canal with the option of taking a side trip to Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame and The Farmer’s Museum or the Fennimore Art Museum. I was familiar with both so I elected to stay on board savoring the scenery. Our last stop on the Canal System was Troy, NY, home of Uncle Sam. Samuel Wilson was a meat packer and an Army inspector in Troy who supplied rations for the soldiers during the War of 1812. As required, Wilson approved the goods by stamping them “US” and the Uncle Sam legend grew. During the Troy stop the cruise raised the wheelhouse and readied the Grande Caribe for river travel.

The 315-mile Hudson River starts in the Adirondack Mountains and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at NYC. Captain David Sylvaria provided an informative narrative as we passed historic places, lighthouses, other points of interest, and the towering palisades. The weather was glorious and the foliage brilliant. There were two excellent side trips to Historic Hyde Park home of FDR and the US Military Academy at West Point. I love the tidbits that I learn that were not in my textbooks.  When England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Hyde Park they were treated to an American picnic complete with hot dogs which the Queen inquired, “How do you eat these?”  While the King picked them up the Queen used a knife and fork. Dwight Eisenhower graduated in 1915 with an astounding number of demerits – 307!  I wonder if those who served under him in WW II know that.

The views of the Statue of Liberty and the NYC skyline were impressive. On our last full day there was a walking tour that included the High Line, an imaginative linear park built on a disused elevated rail track. In the afternoon I took the city tour that hit all the highlights of The Big Apple including a reflective stop at the 9/11 Memorial.

I have never taken voyage on one the popular, large cruise vessels. I think vessel that has more people on it the number of people in my village of 1200 may not be for me. The trip was value-laden because I visited two countries, three world-class cities, some of the world’s most important waterways, excursions to historic places, along with gourmet meals, informative talks, musical presentations, and for two weeks I only had to unpack once. On board the staff and other passengers created a causal and friendly atmosphere. It was my dream-come true cruise.  Now I hanker to cruise to the other Great Lakes.

If you go: For more information log on to or call toll-free 800-556-7450. “Locks, Legends, and Canals” is just one of Blount’s unique offerings. They also sail to The Bahamas, Lake Michigan, and along the Atlantic Coast. With a maximum of 88 passengers, they advertise that they “Go Where the Big Ships Cannot.”

Myanmar, “The Golden Country,” never disappoints. The country is dotted with beautiful golden pagodas, Buddha statues, and spires. The British referred to Burma, now called Myanmar, as the “Back of the Beyond” – a place off the beaten path and not spoiled by modernity, that also describes Myanmar, yet the hotels, cruises, restaurants, and hospitality rival any well-developed tourist destination.

The “Irrawaddy” is an English corruption of Ayerawaddy, which some scholars translate as “river that brings blessings to the people.” For the people of Myanmar it is a blessing. It is where they wash, what they drink, how they travel, where they fish, and the annual flooding is essential to food production. The river begins in the Himalayas and continues for 1300-miles past snow-covered mountains, jungles and dry flat land to the Andaman Sea. Reading Rudyard Kipling’s “The Road to Mandalay” and George Orwell’s “Burmese Days,” ignited my desire to explore Myanmar and travel the Ayerawaddy River; recently my husband and I cruised from Mandalay to Bagan on the RV Kindat.

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The itinerary included amazing historical sites. In Mandalay I gazed in wonder at the Buddha in Mahamuni Pagoda where the statue has increased many times its original size due the addition of gold leaf tributes. Whenever possible I took advantage of the various ways of transportation to visit the sites. Near Mandalay, while others walked, my husband and I bounced along in the back of an oxcart from the river jetty to the mammoth Mingun Bell (the world’s largest uncracked bell), a mammoth unfinished stupa, and the beautiful white Myatheindan Pagoda. What fun!

One morning I gazed in wonder at 45 Buddha statues sitting in an arc at Sagaing’s Umin Thouzeh Pagoda. One afternoon a colorful horse-drawn cart took us through the countryside to the magnificent teak Bagaya Monastery. That evening was magical.  We watched the ruby-red sun set behind U Bein, the world’s longest teak bridge from a rowboat. Some of the RV Kindat crew brought along and served us Sunset Cocktails. How cool is that?

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In Pakokku we climbed in the back of a tuk-tuk to visit traditional market where our guide, Mr. Ko Ko, bought ingredients for Myanmar Ginger Salad. That afternoon the chef showed us how to make the traditional salad. It was just one of several cultural onboard presentations. Mr. Ko Ko also demonstrated how to make and apply “thanaka” (the pale yellow makeup commonly worn in Myanmar) and how to wear a “longyi” (the wraparound garment worn by men and women). One evening we watched a traditional puppet show and another night we enjoyed a dance presentation.

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In Myanmar products are still made in the traditional way. That will change in a couple years when products will be factory made. There will be people demonstrating their crafts for tourists. In Myanmar it takes a village to make terracotta pots. One of the stops made by the Pandaw Kindat was at Yandabo, a small pottery-making village between Bagan and Mandalay.  I was able to watch the entire pot-making process from taking the clay from the river to shaping it to decorating it to drying it just the way they have for generations.  There is division of labor; each person has their own special expertise. The pots are mainly used for water.  Water stored in the pots is refreshingly and cool welcomed in a village where the temperature can reach 90 and there is no electricity.  The village is also historically famous for the signing of the Yandabo Treaty by both the Burmese and British kings at the end of the first Anglo-Burmese War. Before leaving I accepted a delicious cup of sweet, milky Burmese tea from the friendly villagers.

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Walking along the street in Myat Pa Ya dull thudding sounds echoed through the streets. The gold pounders, using a sledge hammer, pound layers of gold into extremely thin gold foil that is placed on pagodas and statues of Buddha by worshippers. Two hundred pieces of gold leaf are placed between specially made bamboo paper and wrapped for pounding. At the end of five hours of pounding ladies carefully cut them into 1200 pieces of incredibly thin gold leaf. The work day is from sunrise to sunset with scheduled breaks. A half coconut with a small hole in the bottom floats in a bucket of water the coconut slowly fills with water and sinks signaling break time. I was impressed with the strength and stamina of the gold pounders. We also visited several workshops including one where young girls were weaving material on a traditional foot and hand operated loom. We also saw craftsmen making teak carvings, silver items, flip flops, and lacquer ware. I had no idea that lacquer comes from a tree similar to a rubber tree or the many steps necessary to make a piece of lacquer ware.

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We saved the best for last – Bagan, the pride of Myanmar. The ancient city of Bagan built between the 11th and 13th century was the capital of the first Burmese empire. There are over 3,000 temples. Each Bagan temple is different; they are all amazing. Ananda Temple with four golden standing Buddhas is especially impressive. The highlight was watching the sun set from the top of Buledi pagoda. Bagan is still a place of worship unlike places like Angkor Wat.

I had plenty of time between tours to relax and marvel at the ever-changing scenes along as the Ayerawaddy River. From the chair outside my cabin I never tired of watching people working, doing the laundry, bathing, and going about their daily business. The River never disappoints.

If you go: Log on to www.pandaw.com to see the great trips they offer in Myanmar and elsewhere. Myanmar is a very safe, friendly country. Getting a visa is easy; go to http://evisa.moip.gov.mm. It costs $50 and is good for 28 days.  Many places now take credit cards but when using US dollars keep in mind they need to be pristine.

“Everyone smiles in the same language”

 

I have watched scores of National Geographic specials and the ones that intrigue me the most were the river explorations. My adventurous side longed to join such a trip but the sybaritic side wanted the adventure to include excellent accommodations, great food, personal service, and no stress. My voyage on the RV Mekong Pandaw from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Saigon, Vietnam was all of that – a luxurious river adventure on the world’s 12th longest river.

There is something about cruising slowly along a river watching the daily life of the people that I find fascinating. To me it is like a window into their life as I pass by without disturbing their routine.  They may be fishing, bathing, gathering water, or farming along the banks of the river.  The routine life goes on undisturbed by me – I like that.

The voyage started in Phnom Penh located on the Tonle Sap, a waterway that drains into the Mekong River, and then continued on the Mekong River; and, I did it on a beautifully crafted luxury vessel that was built to reflect the traditional teak and brass vessels of the colonial era.

Most of the passengers boarded in Siem Reap, home to the amazing ruins of Angkor Wat. I visited Angkor Wat three years ago so I opted to board in Phnom Penh. By the way, visas are available upon arrival. While most of the guests toured Phnom Penh visiting the Silver Pagoda on the grounds of the Royal Palace, the National Museum, and the Killing Fields, I checked into my cabin and explored the four levels of the vessel.  All cabins are roomy with lots of easily accessible storage space, a desk, and a bathroom with a shower that was bigger than typical on a cruise ship.  I especially loved the chairs and table outside my room on a promenade deck.  I spent hours there watching life on the river.  It never got boring. I started exploring at the top on the Sun Deck which had a panoramic view. There was a hospitality bar next to where the evening cultural shows were held.  The Upper Deck had some accommodations and an enclosed, air-conditioned Saloon Bar. It was plush but I don’t think anyone on our trip used it because the weather was too wonderful to be inside. There were more cabins on the main deck along with the air-conditioned dining room where the chef served gourmet meals and dinner was a white-tablecloth affair.  They had something to please all palates but also some unusual items like the excellent wild boar I enjoyed the first day. The lowest deck, the Spa Deck, had a full-service spa where I relaxed with a foot reflexology treatment. There is also a gym with cardio machines and weights plus a relaxation area with reading material, a fair trade shop and a movie theater.

Crossing the border from Cambodia to Vietnam was a non-event. We stayed on board while the staff took care of all the formalities. While we were waiting one of the chefs showed us how to make spring rolls then demonstrated his skill at fruit carving.

The shore trips were varied and included in the price. Nice touch. Our first excursion in Vietnam was to Chau Doc town where we visited an Islamic Cham fishing village where some of the families lived in stilt houses designed to accommodate the seasonal rise and fall of the river. Our visit did not seem to interfere with their usual activities. There was group of men playing marbles, a young lady weaving, and another was cooking soup. On the way back to the “mother ship” we stopped at a floating fish farm.

That evening we watched the French movie “The Lover” – very adult – in the ship’s movie theater. It is based on the autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras about a young French girl who falls in love with a Chinese man in Vietnam during the 1920s.  The next morning our shore trip included a walk past the colorful and vibrant wet market to the house featured in the movie. The house is nearly 125 years old with a large ancestral altar and period furnishings. It was an interesting contrast between the wooden stilt house we visited the day before. People who were seeing a wet market for the first time were fascinated by the variety of goods for sale including fresh fish, meat, an amazing variety of vegetables and fruits plus many other things including nice plump ready-to-cook rats.

Lunch time in the village

One afternoon we boarded a local tour boat for a ride past the floating market but most of the vending boats had gone as the market is mainly a morning activity. We continued on to a small village where there were many cottage industries. We watched them make a variety of sweets, popped rice, and rice paper at the end of the visit we enjoyed samples of the various sweets. There was also snake wine which some of the more adventurous tried.  A large venomous snake is placed in a large glass jar of rice wine, some jars had other smaller snakes in it, and left to sit for many months. The wine is said to cure just about everything from eyesight to hair loss but is usually promoted as a way to improve health and virility.

On our last evening we were treated to an onboard Vietnamese cultural show which evolved to include modern music with the guests encouraged to join in. There were many things I loved about the cruise: the small number of passengers, the shore trips were included and so were the adult beverages and gratuities, the crew provided excellent service including cleaning our shoes after a shore trip, Internet was available, and access from ship to shore was easy – no steep banks to climb.

The only thing I regret is that I didn’t board in Siem Reap for the whole trip. Even though I had been to Siem Reap before the experiences described by the other passengers sounded unique and wonderful.

For more information on the many cruises offered by Pandaw in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and India log on to www.pandaw.com or call 1-800-729-2651 toll free from North America.

It had been several years since, my husband, John and I had visited Niagara Falls, New York. While it is impossible to improve on the falls they are spectacular we were really impressed with the Seneca Niagara Casino. A winning addition to Niagara Falls. The accommodations are great, the spa is spa-ctacular, but gaming is not the only winning activity. We ate at the Koi, Western Door Steakhouse and La Cascata creating a winning dining trifecta. The winners were the Chang Mai Lettuce Wraps for an appetizer, Seafood Cioppino as a main course, and decadent Peanut Butter Snickers Pie for dessert.
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From the hotel it is only a short walk to Niagara Falls State Park, America’s oldest state park. No visit to Niagara Falls is complete without a ride on the Maid of the Mist. Upon returning from the Maid of the Mist we almost missed the spectacular 40-minute presentation “Legends of Adventure” in The Niagara Adventure Theater, covering the history and legends of the falls with incredibly realistic photography of people going over the falls. Each day we visited a different area of Niagara County: Lewiston, Old Fort Niagara, and the Lady of Fatima Shrine. And, each evening we returned to relax with an excellent meal at the resort.
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I favor Asian cuisine and fell in love with their Koi Restaurant where they had recently introduced a noodle bar but my favorite thing on the menu was the Chang Mai Lettuce Wrap. It makes a wonderful appetizer or healthy light meal.

 

Chang Mai Lettuce Wrap
3 oz chicken breast, minced
1 oz tricolor bell peppers, medium diced
1 oz white onion, medium diced
1 oz Hoisin sauce
2 oz oyster sauce
2 oz dark Soy sauce
a pinch sugar
½ head iceberg lettuce, halved
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
A few bean sprouts and thinly sliced carrots for garnish Sambal oelek and hoisin sauce make great dipping sauces.
Stir fry the chicken at medium temperature, set aside. In the same wok/pan sauté the peppers and onions for 2 -3 minutes until half cooked. Add oyster sauce, sugar and soy sauce in the pan with the vegetables. Mix well, remove from heat. To serve: 1 sheet of iceberg lettuce topped with minced chicken, diced vegetables, bean sprouts, carrots and a touch of sambal oelek. Wrap the stuffed lettuce and it’s ready to enjoy.
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Another evening we dined at the La Cascata Italian restaurant. The menu
has a unique concept with all the soups one price, the same one-price concept continues with the appetizers, salatizers (salads served with a half portion appetizer), pasta bowls, signature dishes, and desserts. The Seafood Cioppino with fresh veggies, basil pesto and fresh mozzarella cheese served with grilled flatbread was John’s favorite.

 

Seafood Cioppino
16/20 shrimp
20/30 scallops
20 littleneck clams,
20 mussels
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced shallots
6 blanched fingerling potatoes, halved
4 blanched carrots, sliced
4 blanched celery stalks, sliced
5 blanched asparagus spears cut in half
1 cup white wine
1 cup tomato saffron broth
2 tablespoons butter
4 leaves, basil, chiffanade
salt to taste, pepper to taste, oil, enough to coat pan
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Add oil to sauté pan. When the pan is hot add the seafood, salt and pepper. Sauté for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and shallots, sauté for another minute. Then deglaze the pan with the chardonnay and saffron tomato broth and bring to a simmer. When broth reaches a simmer add the celery, carrots, potatoes, and asparagus. Cover. When the clams are open and the other seafood is cooked, add the butter and basil and cook until butter is melted into the broth. Serve in a bowl with the vegetables in the middle. Arranging the seafood around the vegetables. Then pour the broth over the seafood and vegetables. Best served immediately.

No meal is complete without dessert and one of the best places for desserts is The Western Door Steak House, one of the few restaurants in Western New York to win the Four Diamond Award. Our dinner was a winning combination that started with Chilled Seafood Deluxe with an amazing array of lobster tails, shrimp, oysters, clams and Alaskan king crab with cocktail sauce & shallot mignonette. All seafood is flown in fresh daily. Luckily we ordered a small because their meals include the highest quality steaks, and something we hadn’t seen on a menu for a couple of decades: iceberg lettuce wedge updated with marinated red onion and blue cheese dressing. But the winner in our estimation was the dessert:
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Snickers Peanut Butter Pie.
2 oz butter
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 ¼ cup peanut butter
Beat butter, sugar and peanut butter until smooth. Add egg and flour. Mix well. Roll out crust, put in pie pan, bake at 275F for 10 minutes. Cool.

 

Peanut Butter Filling
1 pound butter
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add peanut butter and vanilla, mix well.

Ganache
10 ounces dark chocolate
5 oz heavy cream
Simmer heavy cream in a pot. Take off heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir constantly until smooth. If chocolate is not completely melted put back on stove on low heat stirring constantly. Add peanut butter filling layer to the cool crust. Lastly spread the ganache in a thin layer over top of pie. Let cool until ganache hardens, slice and enjoy.

Trifecta dining is a winning combination at the Seneca Niagara Casino and the dining is destined to get even better if that is possible. They have partnered with Niagara County Community College to create the Niagara Culinary Institute in downtown Niagara Falls. For more information check senecaniagaracasino.com and niagara-usa.com.

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“It’s a Fender Standard Stratocaster. I have one of these. It is a perfect reproduction,” exclaimed John, our grandson. Walking from Embassy Suites to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum we stopped to examine the colorful guitars that are part of Cleveland’s street art project. That was when my husband and I knew we had picked the perfect high school graduation gift for John who will be a music major at Le Moyne College in the fall. The gift of travel is one that is never forgotten.

I pointed to the plaque, which explained the artwork. It is called “Singing Legacy” and was designed by the Hungarian Community. “I know you think your ancestry is half Irish and half Italian, but your great-grandmother is half Hungarian. Did you know that?”
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Before entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I asked, “Do you know who I. M. Pei is?” It was obvious from the look on John’s face that he had heard the name but it didn’t register. “Stop. Look at the building. I. M. Pei designed it. He is one of the world’s most famous architects. Many of his buildings incorporate a pyramid, including his famous pyramids at the Louvre Museum in Paris, which you probably saw in the movie “The DiVinci Code.”

In the lobby I pointed to a large hot dog artwork hanging from the ceiling. “I wonder what that has to do with Rock and Roll.”

“It is from a concert by the rock group Phish and those cars hanging over there are from a concert by the Irish rock band U2.”

I knew I had a lot to learn about rock and roll. We started our tour with a cinematic journey through rock and roll history. “Mystery Train” in Theater One, follows the evolution of rock and roll.

“Oh, no,” was the quiet sigh from John when he heard the narrator say, “there was a time when there was no rock and roll.” At the end of the second presentation, “Kick Out the Jams,” in Theater Two the musical journey from the music of the 1950s to today’s music had enlightened the three of us.

“John, look at these quotes. In 1985 a San Antonio Councilman said `The First Amendment should not apply to Rock and Roll’ and J. Edgar Hoover said, `Rock and Roll is repulsive to right-minded people and has a serious effect on our young people.’ Amazing. I find it interesting that when I. M. Pei designed the pyramids at the Louvre many people were just as outraged by his pyramid design as other people were about rock and roll. And, they are both here to stay.”

Most of the artifacts on display had little or no connection to my generation but articles like Jim Morrison’s Cub Scout shirt and Mick Jagger’s American/Union Jack Flag Cape fascinated John. Given the musical generation gap we split up and agreed to meet for lunch and then go to the Hall of Fame multi-media presentation together. My husband and I took a trip through our musical memory lane that included Elvis, Buddy Holly, Les Paul but didn’t progress beyond the Beatles.

Over lunch we discussed the evolution of music which seemed to be encapsulated in the phrase: “Elvis freed the body, the Beatles freed the music, and Bob Dylan freed the mind.” It was a learning experience for the three of us – bridging the generations through music. While John’s music may never be our favorite and our “old timers music” will not replace his favorites, we all learned about the evolution of music and wondered what music will be like when he has grandchildren. Interestingly, I thought CDs had replaced vinyl records but based on the number I saw for sale in the gift shop vinyls are having a resurgence in popularity.
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John played in his high school jazz band, so dinner at Nighttown, Cleveland’s premiere jazz club, seemed appropriate. After dinner, the lights dimmed and the quintet jazzed up Nighttown. Led by keyboardist David Garfield, along with vocalist Alex Ligertwood who was the lead vocalist for Santana, Steve Ferrone on the drums; Kip Reed on the electric bass, and Tony Pulizzi, on the guitar, we listened to music that appealed to the three of us. “They are playing `Babylon Sister’” whispered John, “one of my favorites.”

The next day at breakfast, John’s grandfather asked, “Did you ever have a B-B gun?”

“No, my mom said I’d shoot my eye out! Do you know how many kids never got a BB gun for Christmas because of that line?”

“Do you know what movie that line comes from?”

“Of course! `Christmas Story.’ We watch it every Christmas. It’s my mom’s favorite.”

“Perfect. We are going to the `Christmas Story’ house today.”

“Do I get to buy a Red Ryder BB Gun?”

“No, and we are not going to buy a leg lamp either!”

“Oh, f…duge! to quote Ralphie.”
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Even though Cleveland was not the setting for the Christmas Story it is where the house used in the classic movie based on Jean Shepard’s story was filmed. Our guide, Grace, explained, “The owner loved the movie and when he saw the house for sale on eBay he just had to have it. He bought it for about $150,000 and spent about $240,000 restoring it to look like it did in the movie.” My husband and I felt right at home in the 1940s house. Truly a place that spanned three generations. My husband and I lived the era; the movie was a Christmas favorite for our children and is now a classic for our grandchildren.
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We also visited the Cleveland MetroPark Zoo, the Great Lakes Science Center, and cheered for the Cleveland Indians baseball team at Progressive Field. All are great multi-generation activities.
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I knew the perfect place to end our fun-packed music-laced trip to Cleveland – The Hard Rock Café. As we sat down for lunch, John looked at the video, “That’s Eric Clapton playing `Layla,’ the same song they played at Nighttown.” When the waiter announced John’s upcoming 18th birthday, he exclaimed, “Cleveland rocks!”

My husband and I agreed – Cleveland definitely rocks! And, the best gift is the gift of travel.

 

If you go:
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and museum: www.rockhall.com, 216-781-ROCK
Nighttown: www.nighttowncleveland.com, 216-795-0550
Christmas Story House: www.achristmasstoryhouse.com, 216-298-4919
Cleveland: www.positivelycleveland.com, 800-321-1004
Writer: www.sanscott.com

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“Grandma, this is sweet!” exclaimed 9-year old Jenna upon entering our 70′ Forever Houseboat. This outburst set the tone as three generations of the Scott family from three states set sail into the new year. Jenna and her 7-year-old brother, JJ, checked out the four bedrooms and entered into a debate over whom was going to sleep in which bedroom, at which point I, the matriarch, stepped in.
“Go check the sign on the door. What does it say?”
“Sandra Scott, Captain, and Crew.”
“Right. And who is in charge of a boat?
“The Captain.”
“Correct! And who has to obey all the captain’s orders?”
“The crew.”
“And who is the crew?”
“We are. Does that mean Dad, Mom, and Uncle Jim also have to obey the captain?”
“Of, course.”
“Grandma, are you going to drive this houseboat?” Asked JJ incredulously.
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Good question, I thought. “We will see. The beauty of being the captain is that I get to delegate jobs. Right now the job is to unpack and everyone has to help the captain.”

Many hands make light work. I was glad we decided to take the option of boarding the night before we set sail. Unpacked and dinner over, we all watched the instructional CD and felt ready to set sail in the morning.

On New Year’s Eve morning, after a hearty breakfast that included a family tradition of fried dough covered in cinnamon sugar that my grandmother used to make, Mark, the marina man, gave us an orientation tour and piloted us out to the Colorado River. John, the son, took over the helm, to which JJ queried in amazement, “Daddy, you know how to drive the houseboat?”

Mark had assured us, “If you can drive a car you can drive a houseboat.” However we had been houseboating before and knew it isn’t exactly the same. Our car is not 70 feet in length nor is it 22 feet high therefore it is not affected by the wind. We headed north on the river toward Hoover Dam. The sun gives brilliant color to the rocky landscape sliced between the robin’s egg blue of the desert sky and the blue black of the water. At Owl Point Cove we found the perfect mooring place. The guys tied off the boat to stakes pounded into the ground. It is a critical operation as we learned from previous experience, so they also added an extra tie down from the bow. Once our Forever Houseboat was secure, I told the grandchildren, “After you finish the fire pit, you can go from that point to the end of the beach and climb any of the hills. Be like Christopher Columbus. Explore and report back what you find.” And, off Jenna and JJ went picking up shells and pretty stones along the way.

The tantalizing aroma of our turkey dinner, which had been cooking since we set sail, was finally ready. After our family dinner, the snacks were put out, the satellite TV set to the New Year’s Eve programs, and we started another family tradition – putting puzzles together on New Year’s Eve. Everyone but JJ greeted the New Year Vegas time. He fell asleep shortly before midnight just like his father use to at the same age.
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On New Year’s Day three out of the seven of us joined the Polar Bear Club with a quick dip in the frigid waters of Lake Mohave – obviously I had to stay on deck to take pictures. JJ opted for the water slide. If only I had caught the picture of him bobbing up out of the water with his mouth and eyes wide open in shock but making nary a sound. With his sister and dad, he jumped in the hot tub Uncle Jim had ready. JJ’s voice returned, “We are now members of the Polar Bear Club, aren’t we, Dad? Where is the clubhouse?”

The first day of the new year was one of relaxing, watching bowl games and some serious snacking. Winter is a slow time on Lake Mohave but for us it was wonderful. We had the whole place to ourselves and there was something for everyone to do. The children went hiking with their dad and grandfather. They fished off the back of the boat with their dad, who explained, “Jenna, if you can’t put the sardine on the hook, you can’t fish. That’s the rule.” Uncle Jim went for a long run, which paid off because he saw wild burros. Daughter-in-law, Kim, worked on the diabolic puzzle that seemed destined to take days to finish even with intermittent help and constant encouragement from the rest of us. I preferred basking in the sun on the top deck with a book.
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Time passed quickly as we settled into a relaxed routine. With the early morning sun giving a golden glow to the world, Jenna and JJ started their day fishing, which was more like drowning sardines. Following a hearty family breakfast there was plenty of time to explore. The last day Jenna, JJ, their dad, grandpa and uncle went on a long hike along the ridge while Kim napped on the couch recovering from the strain of completing the “world’s hardest puzzle.” I got in some serious “me” time in the rooftop hot tub where the stark but beautiful scenery diverted my attention from my novel. Lake Mohave is part of the Lake Mead Recreational Area and the lake below Hoover Dam. It offers a variety of boating, camping, hiking, fishing, and other recreational activities. During the summer it is a busy place but from late fall to early spring it is the perfect place to get away from the routine and for us to bond together especially since our family is spread from East Coast to West Coast. There was plenty of time for Grandpa to play his “take no prisoner” style of checkers with the grandchildren and for the whole family to play Uno, followed by soaking in the hot tub.
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Houseboating is a vacation that remains in the memories long after the trip is over, and as added insurance, we continued with another family tradition. Each night every one of us made an entry and drew pictures to commemorate the day in our journal, “Scott’s Family Fun Afloat.”

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“The taro plant is important to the Palauan people,” explained Ann Singeo, our guide, and owner of Sense of Wonder eco tours. ” The legend of Palau is based on food. A simple version of the legend has it that a giant by the name of Uab was consuming all the food so the rest of the people were starving. The villagers placed him on a fire, he exploded, creating the islands of Palau.” Palau is an amazing group of islands and one of the most eco of all locations we have visited.
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Before we set out on our kayak tour of the mangrove, Spis, our other guide picked a sprouting coconut off the ground and split it. The white part had become spongy and Ann suggested we slather it on our exposed body parts, “It will keep away the mosquitoes and prevent sunburn.” Deep in the mangrove we pulled our kayaks up on land and a short hike took us to a where Ann explained another Palauan legend. The taro goddess brought back samples from the taro patches she had created on the various islands. Pointing to upright stones, Ann said that they were the taro plants planted by the goddess, which had turned to stone. We were totally unfamiliar with taro, a root that is an important source of food for Palauns. The taro patches are the exclusive domain of women probably because they have to wade in deep mud, sometime above their waist, to harvest the plants so they often work nude. At the end of the tour Ann had prepared a lunch that included taro soup and taro salad.
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The Rock Islands of Palau is a paradise for divers and snorkelers. John and I were dazzled by the brilliant blue starfish ad the giant clams but the most amazing experience was swimming with thousands of jellyfish, which are virtually stingless. On our return from a snorkeling tour with Fish ‘n Fins the talk turned to food. Tova Harel, the owner of Fish n’ Fins, said if we returned for dinner she and Cesar, her chef, would show us how to prepare fish and some taro recipes. It was an offer we could not refuse.
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Dim sum is uniquely Chinese. Dim sum consists of a variety of dumplings, steamed dishes, and other items often served in individual bamboo streamers. They are similar to hors d’oeuvres but when several are ordered they make a wonderful meal. The words literally mean, “touch your heart.”

I was introduced to dim sum during a visit to Hong Kong several years ago. A friend took us to a dim sum restaurant where a wheeled cart, like an English teacart, went from table to table and, after viewing the picture menu, we chose what we wanted to try. On the back of the picture menu it explained that a demanding empress ordered her royal chef to prepare a special meal for her. Afraid to make a mistake, he made many individual items sure to “touch her heart.” Dim sum was a success and became linked to drinking tea and with travelers journeying along the famous Silk Road.
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They needed a place to rest, so teahouses opened up along the roadside, and after a while teahouse proprietors began adding a variety of snacks in the form of dim sum. My favorite is char siu bao, barbecued pork in a steamed dumpling; and har kau, shrimp wrapped in a light dough fashioned to look like a purse and steamed. I like the whole concept of dim sum. We can order a variety of eats and share. A great way to sample foods without ordering an entire plate of one item.
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I also like the whole concept of the Peninsula hotels where they have The Academy whereby guests can learn about a variety of things from feng shei to how to make dim sum.

On our trip to Hong Kong in April 2009, Chef Wah taught John and me how to make Shrimp Dim Sum and Chive Dim Sum. Basically the pastry is the same, but chive water is used for the Chive Dim Sum. Interestingly, Chef Wah explained, “No matter where you go in the world, the Shrimp Dumpling has a pure style. It always has the same ingredients and shape. You can be creative when shaping the Chive Dumpling.” I found shaping the little purse like dumplings is more difficult than it looks but as Chef Wah explained, “It takes practice. I make 400 to 500 every day.”
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Chive Dumplings

1 pound finely minced shrimp meat
1 cup diced chives
1/2 cup diced Chinese mushrooms
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/ 4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chicken powder
1 tablespoon sugar

Mix ingredients and chill for four hours.
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Dim Sum Wrappers

(It is possible to buy wrappers.)
2 cups wheat flour
3 tablespoon cornstarch
1 3/ 4 cups boiling water for shrimp dumplings
or
1 3/ 4 cups boiling chive water for chive dumplings. To make chive water one must boil three ounces of diced chives in two cups of water until green and then strain and use instead of plain water. Food color can be added if needed.

Mix ingredients, adjusting if necessary to for dough. Form a small ball; roll out until thin; place stuffing on top; press closed to make a purse shape for Shrimp Dumplings or any desired shape for chive dumplings, and steam for 4 minutes.