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Showing posts from April, 2009

Tea Trippin'

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I am an American anomaly. I do not do coffee. In this land of latte-laced days and frappachino-fueled nights,I prefer the gentle ritual of tea. Not the Brisk or Lipton nonsense but aromatic, expertly blended leaves and spices in a decorative cup. The tea should be preferably accompanied by cinnamon scones with heaping dollops of Devonshire cream and melodic classic jazz but that's besides the point. I have a cabinet dedicated to my tea habit and it holds at least 50 varieties. I lean towards Indian teas and herbal tisanes that aren't technically tea at all. My favorite is Madagascar Vanilla Red tea. It's a deep burnished red color layered with vanilla and rooibos flavor. Rooibos is a South African plant that's also called red bush. It's noted for it's healing properties and antioxidants but I just love the rich flavor. Red Chai Masala is another stand-out for me. It's chai without the caffeine, loaded with ginger,nutmeg, clove, chicory and black pepper

Dominican Divas and One Divo

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You can't explore Dominican culture without mentioning the island's influence on fashion. In an industry that's rigidly European-centered, the Dominican Republic has managed to make a strong enough impact to be dubbed "the next Brazil." Brazil has been supplying the industry with a bevy of supermodels lead by Giselle Bundchen, for the last ten years. All the Brazilian beauties display the requisite pale skin, flowing hair and Anglo features but the Dominicans are adding much needed visibility for models of color. Sesilee Lopez, featured above with Tyra Banks, has been splashed all over Italian Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle and American Vogue for the last two years. Known for her pout and sassy Dominicana attitude, she's just signed a Calvin Klein fragrance contract and has been listed as a top model to watch by industry insiders. Arlenis Sosa was discovered on the streets of Santo Domingo a few years ago and has quickly blazed a fierce fashion trail th

Afro Cuban Azucar (CD/DVD Giveaway)

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In honor of my 60th blog post, I decided it was time to celebrate! For me, celebrations always include music and one of my favorite genres is addictive,hip-swinging Cuban music. The Cuban sound draws much of its foundation from complex West African rhythms, with Latin melodies layered on top. This creates a joyful and sophisticated blend of music that is instantly recognizable. I've never heard anybody represent the music as vitally as bandleader, producer and musician Juan de Marcos and the Afro Cuban All Stars. As the man behind the Buena Vista Social Club, he skillfully demonstrates the vast generational appeal of Cuban music. You get stylish jazz melodies, funky beats and hot, soulful singing all at once. The CD and DVD set, Absolutely Live, was re-issued to promote the group's 2009 Spring American tour, the first since 2002, when Cuban musicians were routinely denied work visas for U.S. tours. That's changed now as we look forward to a new era of U.S. and Cuban cul

Santo Domingo Sci Fi

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Literature always provides great insight into a culture. As I've explained before, reading a book by an author representing the destination is an essential part of my travels. Besides Julia Alvarez, Junot D`iaz is the Dominican Republic's most notable author. I snapped up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao long before it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. I was familiar with Junot's kinetic, brash, writing from his short stories and decided that I would read his first novel on the beach of La Romana. Despite an array of engaging characters, Oscar Wao is not easy-going beach reading. In fact, I would not have been so puzzled and thrown off by Dominican culture if I had read this book before I visited the island. Junot created his first novel to represent the chaos, fragmentation and romantic illusions of the Dominican Republic. Therefore, Oscar Wao is a chaotic and fragmented read, with characters and history and story lines whipping around with the force of the Caribbea

Ethical Travel

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The thing about me and the Dominican Republic was that I was initially very leery. I had consciously avoided the island because the country has been charged with many human rights violations, not to mention forced slavery of Haitians working on plantations. That's not the kind of scenery that I want my kids exposed to. I feel very strongly about supporting abusive governments with travel dollars. So I never considered traveling there until I kept hearing about all the new construction. Besides scads of new hotels and resorts, the Dominican Republic is constructing a commuter train system. New developments typically mean a rise in the standard of living for many people living in the booming areas. But does that mean the abuses have lessened? I checked the latest Amnesty International reports and the findings for 2008 appeared to better than 2007. There was no mention of slavery and assaults and violence against women had decreased. But I was still skeptical. When we traveled t

To Die Dreaming

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Dominican food is famous for it's tastiness. I've inhaled quite a few Dominican dishes in New York but it rose to a whole other level in La Romana, Dominican Republic. First of all, the sheer freshness of the ingredients made the flavors dance. Dominican cuisine is a mix of Taino Native American, African and Spanish colonial influences. This is a combination that you find on a lot of Caribbean islands but Dominicans put their own spin on it. The dish pictured above is mangu , which is mashed green plantains served with onions,avocado, fried eggs or salami. We found this dish everywhere we went and it's an important staple for the Dominican diet. This meal is so rich and so filling, that I never seemed to finish it. La Bandera , pictured above, is the national dish and earns such an essential place in the Dominican diet that most eat it for lunch five times a week. It features stewed meat, rice, beans and plantains or salad, arranged to resemble the red, white and blu

Diving Into Dominican Culture

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My idea of a family vacation always involves some cultural immersion. I don't go for that walled resort, only guided tours, eating -the-same food-you eat-at home stuff. You never get a true sense of a place if you only experience it from such a limited perspective. So I was pleased as I watched my 11-year-old daughter splash around in Dominican turquoise water with a new friend. They jumped out of the sea and decided to hunt for seashells. Next, they head to the hotel's theater to watch movies. It could be a typical family beach vacation except that my daughter's new friend Madeline is from Lyons, France and doesn't speak a word of English. Neither do most of the staff at the Oasis Canoa Resort in La Romana-Bayahibe, Dominican Republic. My daughter and the rest of my family were forced out of our cultural comfort zone and into the welcoming aura of Dominican friendliness. Nestled into the Southeastern corner of the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic, La R

Taste Trippin' Part Dos

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I've been hanging out in Spain and the Mediterranean region lately. Nothing captures me like a rich culture full of history displayed with vivid visual and musical traditions. I love flamenco, tangines and kebabs so I headed to Alhambra Palace with my friend Avis and her crew of Florida explorers. I don't mean the historical landmark in Granada, Spain. I'm referring to the grand, 1000-seat restaurant/theater in Chicago. Alhambra Palace boasts marble archways, ornate Spanish tiles and hand-crafted furniture imported from Morocco, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. With spice-colored,velvet curtains draped over entrances and hookahs hanging from the bar, the place drips with drama. We sat in the dimly lit main floor, close to the stage. The menu offered typical Middle Eastern dishes like Baba Ghanoush, Dolmesh and Falafel. I sampled spiced olives, lentil soup and chicken kebabs served over rice sprinkled with pistachios, raisins and toasted almonds. The kebabs were marinated with