Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cabo goes gourmet

Diners enjoying Don Emiliano's Restaurant
in San Jose del Cabo

If Mexican food to you means fajitas and burritos, be prepared for new taste sensations at Don Emiliano’s Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.  Chef Margarita Carillo de Salinas prepares the best of traditional Mexican fare from old family recipes.  But she goes a step further by creating a new gourmet Mexican cuisine with flavors best savored slowly. 

You won’t find tacos on the menu, but instead try the slowly pit cooked lamb, served with green salsa and sea salt.  On first glance it may look like a mini taco, but that’s where the similarity ends.  Bean soup may not sound cosmopolitan—until you’ve been served Salinas’s grandmother’s recipe.  Thick, hot bean broth is ladled into a pilsner glass garnished with avocado, fresh cheese, and julienned tortilla.  It’s a tantalizing taste sensation, a delectable marriage of colonial origins with contemporary sensibilities.  And you’ll rave over the grilled scallops with white mole made from pine nut, almonds, and agave juice.

Chef and co-owner Margarita
Carillo de Salinas
Widely acclaimed as the best restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, Don Emiliano’s provides a memorable dining experience—and an education in authentic Mexican cooking.  Margarita (who could forget that name in Mexico?) reinvented the restaurant and its cuisine with her insistence on cooking the dishes she grew up on.  “My parents, wherever they are, are looking at me and are proud that I respect Mexican tradition in cooking,” she says. The current menu embraces the great diversity of aromas, tastes, and colors of Mexican food.

Still, she’s not afraid to experiment.  One of her appetizers, featured in Williams Sonoma’s cookbook, uses raw jicama, a root plant that is usually cooked.  Served with fresh tomatillos, aged cheese, and chipotle dressing, simple but subtle flavors honor Chef Salinas’s heritage.

Salinas was recruited to Don Emiliano’s after she had spent seven years in Japan preparing Mexican food for dignitaries.  Trained at Le Cordon Bleu, Salinas has dedicated more than 25 years of her career to researching, studying, teaching and cooking Mexican cuisine. Along with her husband and three sons Chef Margarita co-owns and is the Executive Chef of Don Emiliano in San Jose del Cabo, Casa Mexico in Mexico City and La Colina in Tokyo.

She is the leader of the Slow Food movement in Baja. Slow Food promotes appreciation of fine cuisine using regional foods, served in an unhurried atmosphere where visitors can relax and enjoy life in the slow lane, which is exactly the philosophy of Don Emiliano's. A delicious Slow Food entrée is the Filete Nicolasa, a juicy tenderloin of Chihuahua beef prepared with a seared crust of dried chiles. It comes centered on a platter of red hibiscus flower sauce garnished with apple slices sautéed in tequila caramel. Another favorite is the Espiral con Mole de Pollo de Pistache, a delicious dish featuring Chicken crepes in a tantalizing pistachio mole.

Shop at colorful neighborhood markets in San Jose
before dining at Don Emiliano's 
Not one to bury herself in the kitchen, Salinas roams the modern open air dining area, chatting with guests and sharing stories about her recipes.  Her presence, together with excellent food and service, makes dinner a history lesson as well as superb culinary experience.  Complement the food with wine from the large selection of Mexican wines, many from Baja California’s emerging Valle de Guadalupe winery region.

Entries range from $20 to $36 U.S. dollars; appetizers, soups and salads are $7-$20.

Photo credit: Larry Burmeier


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Valentine's Day romance in Branson, MO

Chateau on the Lake Resort in winter
Looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day retreat? Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa, a European style retreat with an unforgettable location overlooking Table Rock Lake, just outside of Branson Missouri, is offering a new romantic escape.

The Chateau’s Valentine Package includes a one-night stay in a king bed guestroom, a bottle of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries delivered in-room, four-course haute cuisine menu in the Chateau Grille, plus a Spa Chateau pineapple and pear signature fragrance gift set. This romantic escape is priced starting at $319 a night per couple (subject to availability, restrictions, and includes taxes and gratuities).

For those who want to extend their stay, a 15% discount is offered for additional nights.  That allows plenty of time to take in attractions and shows in Branson.  Couples who enjoy this Valentine’s Package will also be eligible to win a gift certificate for a Lakefront Ambassador Suite, complete with breakfast. 

Spa Chateau
From its location on a scenic Ozark mountaintop, Branson’s only AAA Four-Diamond Hotel, Spa, and Convention Center overlooks the pristine waters of Table Rock Lake. It includes a full-service marina with jet skis and ski boats (great in spring or summer) and the indulgent new 14,000 square foot Spa Chateau (perfect for your winter getaway), where a stunning floor-to-ceiling Swarovski crystal chandelier  greets guests entering the spa.   

Of course, romance doesn't begin or end with dinner, no matter how special and delicious, so enjoy a hand-holding moment at the 10-story atrium complete with koi pond, meandering streams and towering trees.  And if you get snowed-in, who cares?

For reservations or information call 1-888-333-LAKE (5253) or visit
Information provided by Nina Zapala of Anson-Stoner
Photos courtesy Chateau on the Lake

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Beautiful St. Lucia has it all--beaches, mountains, valleys, volcano

Raw cocoa beans
I took one of the raw cocoa beans from the shell in our guide’s hand and sucked it as she said children do, for the sweetness. But the large white bean was slimy and tasted nothing like the chocolate I knew.  It was a long way from being ready for consumption—a process that involves drying, stomping, crushing, and drying again, eventually resulting in a chocolate powder or log that can be grated and used in recipes.

We were touring Morne Cubaril Estate, the oldest plantation on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, which still raises cocoa beans, coconuts, and sugar cane. This was the noon stop on our all-day tour and the place we would be served a sumptuous Creole buffet lunch.  But first we sampled fresh coconut meat and coconut candy and drank coconut water (sweet and thin).  We sipped juice from sugar cane, squeezed out by a donkey working an old-fashioned sugar mill—all of which made us appreciate the pork and chicken meal even more.
Overlooking scenic Marigot Bay
This was our first visit to St. Lucia, and we hoped to discover why it’s considered one of the most beautiful and romantic Caribbean Islands. So we booked an all-day shore excursion from the Emerald Princess cruise ship to get a good look at this lush volcanic island.  From a steaming crater to golden sand and green rainforests, the views were stunning at all points.

Some say Christopher Columbus discovered St. Lucia, but it hasn’t been proven.  Regardless, it was fought over by the British and French--changing hands and rulers14 times before the island was ceded to Britain in 1814. But French influence remains strong—a broken French dialect is very prominent, and the staccato cadence is quite difficult to understand even though English is the official language.

Poinsettias bloom half the year
Our tour started in the capital city of Castries, the busiest and most efficient port in the Eastern Caribbean. From the north side of the island we traveled west, viewing abundant fields growing grapefruit, sour and sweet oranges, golden apples, limes, coconut, and bananas.

Open air market at Anse La Raye
A high point overlooked Marigot Bay, a beautiful location featured in several movies.  We passed Rosa Valley, the largest banana plantation on the island, and drove through six small fishing villages. The first, Anse La Raye, has a large West Indian influence.  While checking out the scenery, I ventured into the open air market and bought a set of lacquered bamboo baskets. Homes in Canaries, another fishing village, are colorfully painted red, yellow, blue, green, and pink—matching the bountiful blooms on the island.

Magnificent Pitons on the water's edge
We passed damage on roads and bridges wrought by Hurricane Thomas in October 2010 as we headed east toward the rain forest, a tangled mass of thick green vegetation. Bougainvilla in pink, purple, and orange grew wild.  Giant ferns up to 25 feet high hung over the road like umbrellas. Many hairpin curves, steep inclines and declines kept us swaying from side to side in the mini-bus as we motored toward the historic coastal town of Soufriere (Sou-fray).

Suddenly, the dramatic Pitons or Twin Peaks, appeared to rise up from the water’s edge.  Although they aren’t the highest points on the island, they are the most photographed sight in the Caribbean.

Mineral water is said to
have healing properties
Three centuries ago the volcano imploded and left a caldera around the area.  Three pools of simmering muddy water have been bubbling from the barren earth ever since, spewing clouds of steam 50 feet into the air. At the volcano's edge we walked down slippery steps for a better view of the waterfall's sparkling cascade and mineral pool.  Public therapeutic bathing is allowed in the 80 degree water.  A strong sulphur smell hangs in the air from gases being released.

Back at Souffiere we boarded a catamaran for sailing to a beach.  Swimming in pleasantly warm water and drinking multiple cups of rum punch convinced us that St. Lucia is truly an island paradise.

Photos: Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, January 21, 2011

When trouble stalks your travel plans

Generally, when we travel we try to find the most economical way to arrive at our destination.  That usually means booking our own air rather letting a travel agent or tour operator do it.  We made an exception to that rule recently after signing up for a cruise leaving from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

When sailing from an East coast port, many people arrive the night before—a good plan since air travel can be uncertain, and the change from Central or Pacific time doesn’t allow for delays.  But this time we decided to try flying in the day of departure.  Knowing that choice could be risky, we opted to book our air through the cruise line—a hedge against unexpected problems.

Princess Cruises has a new program that is more flexible for choosing flights than previously, with costs only slightly above tickets found on consolidators.  That’s a program we were thankful for when we learned upon arrival at the Austin Airport that our original flight had just been canceled.

Ships leaving Fort Lauderdale
Photo by Larry Burmeier
Instead of arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 2:30 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. sailing, we were booked on an alternate flight scheduled to arrive at 4:30.  Even if it was on time, we still had to claim our luggage and get from the airport to the dock (a 20 minute taxi ride), check in, and board the ship before departure time.  All during the flight we were mentally formulating alternate plans to get to Antigua, our first port, in case we missed the ship. 

But here’s how it played out: A strong tailwind pushed us along in the air, so that the plane arrived 25 minutes early—a stroke of luck.  I called Princess immediately when the plane was on the ground, and they assured us a representative was waiting at baggage claim and a bus would transport us quickly to the dock where check in would be expedited.  Because the cruise line facilitated the process, we stepped onto the ship just before 5:00.

Had we missed the ship, the insurance we purchased would have covered expenses such as a hotel in Fort Lauderdale and flight to Antigua, but we would have traded two relaxing sea days for a hectic race to the island.  As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary, but it reaffirmed why we always buy trip insurance.  The best scenario, as with home or auto insurance, is to never need it—but we believe it’s important to have it just in case. (I’ve only had to make a claim once, for a camera that was stolen in Africa, and the insurance completely covered costs of camera, battery, and photo card).

As the saying goes, all’s well that ends well.  We had a fabulous 10-day cruise in the Eastern Caribbean, with stops at six islands.  But we’ll continue to plan for unforeseen situations that can happen any time you travel.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Learn about Tudors on cultural and heritage excursions in England

by guest contributor Robin Dilley 

When Ambient Tours, a division of UK based Ambient Events Limited, decided to develop a range of tours for baby boomers, they discovered a great interest in the culture and heritage of the Tudors.

The Tudor period was one of the most influential in England’s long and turbulent history. Not only do the exploits of the  Tudor kings and queens continue to enthral, as demonstrated by many recent films and a TV series but also the rich cultural heritage of many other famous Tudors can be seen in the fine castles and country houses that they built and lived in, the discoveries they made and the battles they won. The art that they created and the books and plays that they wrote are still admired, read and produced all over the world.

After two years, thousands of miles travelled, scores of hotels, restaurants and historical venues visited, specialist guides interviewed and historic documents consulted, the On the Trail of the Tudors concept finally emerged with four uniquely themed tour packages giving visitors an authentic flavour of England during Tudor times.

Tours include visits to the actual places where the key historical events took place. 

  • One tour relives the scandals and intrigues surrounding the Tudor Monarchs
  • Another explains more about the Influential Tudors whose decisions and actions shaped history. 
  • A third tour tells the stories of fortitude that drove the Tudor Adventurers and Explorers to defeat their enemies and discover new lands. 
  • The final tour examines the lives and times of the Tudor Poets and Playwrights at the places they lived, studied, performed and wrote their great masterpieces.
Itineraries allow time to relax and enjoy the scenery, either when travelling in luxury, air conditioned coaches, or on reaching the final destinations. Hotels, restaurants and bars have been specially selected because of the ambience of their surroundings, the excellence of their service and quality of their food.

On the trail of the Tudors packages are designed to appeal to groups of couples or single people who are interested in cultural heritage and want to improve their knowledge of Tudor times while travelling through the beautiful English countryside. Group sizes range from 20 to 30 people.

Tours start in March 2011. More information on content of each tour, prices, online brochures and itineraries and booking forms can be found on the Ambient Tours web site.

For more information contact Ann Herdman, Ambient Tours

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Puerto Vallarta hotel offers luxurious recovery spot for medical tourists

With medical tourism expected to be a $100 billion industry by 2012, Casa Velas Hotel and Ocean Club is expanding its medical program, combining the most advanced elective procedures with a luxurious recuperation stay.  The adults-only all-inclusive boutique hotel in Puerto Vallarta works in conjunction with board-certified, bilingual doctors of Amerimed, a network of hospitals in Mexico adhering to US healthcare standards.  Elective surgeries and cosmetic procedures such as facelifts, tummy tucks, rhinoplasties, mammoplasties and gastric bypass, botox, varicose vein treatments and much more are available.  (

After any of these procedures, Casa Velas provides a restful and relaxing retreat for recuperation where patients receive personal attention 24-hours a day from the staff as well as visits from qualified medical personnel to attend to post-surgery needs.  Fresh, creative, and nutritional cuisine comes from the resort’s on-site garden, which holds over 30 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Meals and personalized diet plans, comprised of all-natural ingredients, are created by Casa Velas’ Wellness Chef Fernanda Rábago, who attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. 

For overall health and wellness, Casa Velas features the Week of Wellness Package, which includes a medical consultation and physical exam upon arrival, two acupuncture treatments, Yoga sessions, curative spa treatments, and unlimited use of the spa’s hydrotherapy area. The package also provides personalized holistic menus to heal, rejuvenate, and energize the body and mind.

The package, which requires a minimum stay of four nights, starts at $285 per person per night based on double occupancy.  Pre- or post-surgery accommodations start at $210 per person per night (double). Casa Velas all-inclusive rates include spacious luxury accommodations, a la carte gourmet dining, premium beverages, 24-hour in-suite service, in-suite minibar, private roundtrip airport transportation, and all taxes and gratuities.  For more information on the medical procedures available, please contact Dr. Marcelo Bialek at +52-1- (322) 429-5157 or

A Leading Spa of the World, Spa Casa Velas offers more than 70 holistic treatments ranging from massages and acupuncture to body wraps and facials for additional relaxation.

Casa Velas is nestled on the greens of Marina Vallarta’s 18-hole golf course. The resort is a member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World and a recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award.  Located five minutes from Puerto Vallarta Airport and 15 minutes from the popular downtown area, art galleries and “El Malecon” (the boardwalk), the hotel features 80 suites, some with private pools and Jacuzzis.  Emiliano a la carte fine dining restaurant, serving Mexican and international cuisine, is led by one of the area’s outstanding  chefs.

Information courtesy of Megan Sterritt, KWE Partners

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge hosts world-class ice carving competition

World-class professional ice sculptors will compete at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee this month as part of the museum’s kick-off to 2011.  This unique, family-oriented special event at the World’s Largest Titanic Museum Attraction is free of charge.

The Titanic Museum Attraction will host the outdoor ice carving competition on Saturday, Jan. 22 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Visitors should arrive early for the best views of all the ice carving action.

“This exciting one-day event will be produced by Titanic Pigeon Forge under the auspices of the National Ice Carving Association,” said John Joslyn, owner of the Titanic Museum Attraction.

“Visitors will be invited to come to Titanic’s outdoor staging center and watch professional and amateur sculptors turn 250-pound blocks of ice into frozen works of art. Kids and parents can view sculptures in progress, talk to the artists and learn the secrets of championship ice carving from the most accomplished ice artists in the entire world.”

Professionals and amateurs will compete for prize monies ranging from $500 to $2,000. The official NICA Judging Panel will announce the competition winners and award prizes at 3 p.m.
“After watching these artists at work, people will want to stick around to see if their favorite sculptor is the big-prize winner,” Joslyn said.

Although it has been open less than a year, the Titanic Museum attraction already is recognized as one of the Great Smoky Mountain Region’s top attractions; it draws approximately 100,000 visitors every month.

Joslyn said. “Each of our special events in 2011 has been carefully selected for their entertainment and educational values as well as their ability to tie into and enhance Titanic’s rich legacy,” Joslyn said.

The Titanic Museum Attraction is open daily at 9 a.m.  Reservations are strongly suggested (many days sell out), or you may purchase tickets online at or by phone at 800-381-7670.
Information and photo courtesy of Rick Laney, Ackermann PR, 865-584-0550