Provo Ponies

Ever wanted to go horseback riding on the beach? The sand beneath the hooves, wind blowing in your hair, ocean spray teasing you and your trusty steed?

Well today I crossed this off my Life List. I’m in Turks & Caicos, and not once but twice now I’ve taken Limbo for the task of surf, sand and horse.
Provo Ponies is located on the southeast end of the island of Providinciales in Turks & Caicos and owned by Camille Slattery. Started as a rescue operation, Camille and her family now include 21 horses and ponies amongst their friends. The horses are trained, exercised and conditioned to be completely relaxed with all levels of rider from beginner to advanced. That being said, Camille and her staff match ability to horse personality. Having ridden a few times, I was given Limbo; a friendly, high spirited 11 year old who loves to run down the beach and enjoys a good swim. Needless to say, my shoes and pants were thoroughly soaked.

The ride took 90 minutes, plus the getting mounted / started and the dismount / hose down. There are two rides per day; one in the morning and one in the late afternoon in order to avoid the hottest times of the day. I did the late afternoon rides, and the sun was just starting to dip when the horses turned back for home.

If it seems the ride back to the stables is faster than the ride out, it’s because it is. These horses all know their way home and what awaits them once they get there: a cool refreshing shower and a well-earned meal followed by a night’s rest. I could pretty much have let Limbo take the lead, save for the fact that he would run home and I was set on having a relaxing ride.
The first time out, I forgot to check my camera settings, and all the images were completely washed out. Of course, I didn’t realize this until we were back at the ranch and dismounted. Thankfully, I had the second trip already booked and the guide made sure I had several good photos. Book early, these trips fill fast since there are only two trips per day, and only about 12 to 14 spots per time slot.
The experience was a great one, and if I am ever lucky enough to find myself in Turks & Caicos again, horseback riding on the beach as the sun begins to go down will be on the agenda.

Coyaba Restaurant - Turks & Caicos

I am always skeptical of restaurants that come attached to hotels or resorts. But after several recommendations by other travels, a thumbs up by Frommer’s and a big sign on their door boasting Fodor’s top pick on the island for 2010, I decided to give it a try.

The garden setting was warm and inviting. I was greeted at the door by Chef Paul Newman (no, not THAT Paul Newman, the other one). He directed me to a hostess, who took me to a table and tried to jokingly chide me for dining alone. Please note: when someone is dining on their own, it is not their fault and they do not want it to be pointed out. Yes, I dine alone. Yes, this means the bill size will be smaller.

Even before I sat down, the wine steward was hovering. He approached the table and I asked if he had prosecco by the glass. He told me he didn’t. He pointed out the half bottles of Moet & Chandon. I told him I was more interested in prosecco. He then confirmed that if I really wanted a glass of prosecco, that he would open a bottle for me. I asked him “Really, you would do that for me? Oh, that would be lovely!” I asked him to leave the wine list for later and off he went to get my bubbly.

Another gent promptly arrived at the table and without preamble read the daily specials off his note pad. Now, where I work this would be grounds for a week’s suspension. Servers are to arrive with enough time before shift to familiarize themselves with the additions and unavailable items. To not do so is to not be prepared. To not be prepared is to not instill confidence in your guests.

I ordered the bacalhau (a salted cod and potato dish, traditionally from Portugal), followed by the coconut breaded prawns and then the penne pasta with prawns, crab and artichokes. When the server confirmed “two appetizers?”, I said no, I wanted them coursed (the bacalhau first, the prawns as a mid-course and the pasta as my main). But alas, the two appetizers arrived together. As both were hot items, I had to choose which to eat first. I went with the bacalhau, which was exceptionally good. Nice blend of sauces and basil oil with a light pesto and oven dried tomatoes sitting delicately on top of each. They were quickly gone.

The coconut breaded prawns were also very good. There were three large prawns perfectly cooked with just enough sweetness in the coconut breading without being overly sweet. Three dipping sauces; a light barbeque, a honey rum and a delicate soy sauce. I tried one prawn with each sauce, and I have to say the soy sauce was the most enjoyable. The balance of salty from the soy with the gentle sweetness of the coconut was quite clever. The fried linguine was a nice twist and I broke it into smaller shards and dipped it into the soy sauce as well. The tempura fried celery heart I tried but gave up on. The middle was a bit soggy and the outside was now cold since it had been sitting while I enjoyed the bacalhau. Cold tempura is not my friend.

Once these dishes were cleared, a palate cleansing strawberry sorbetto arrived, just enough to refresh my mouth before moving on to the pasta. Sorbettos and granitas in between courses are always welcome.

Now, having reached the end of my glass of prosecco, I would have enjoyed either another glass of the same or a glass of the Duckhorn Decoy Sauvignon Blanc. However, the wine steward was not to be found. The gal that did approach, I enquired if he could come visit me because I wanted to purchase the remainder of the bottle he had so kindly opened for me. I would then have a second glass with my meal and ask to label and store the remaining bubbles for the next night. He never showed and so I ate my dinner without a beverage. No one came by to quality check my meal, and hence I didn’t get the opportunity to ask for something else to drink, nor for a sauce or gourmet spoon for the pasta sauce.

Dessert was pre-ambled by a little poof of strawberry mousse. The coconut macaroon cake with passion fruit sorbet was nice enough but after being spoiled all these years with the wizardry of Chef Theirry Busset, it just didn’t wow me. The tartness of the sorbet played nicely with the cake, but two things confused me about this dish: the seeds from the passion fruit left in the sorbet were a distracting texture (whenever I bit down on one I has to pause to make sure it didn’t get lodged in my teeth); the whipped topping on the cake did not taste like fresh whipped cream and was heavy (I have to surmise that it was either over whipped, too much gelatin, or exactly what it tasted like: store bought).

When the bill came ($133.10 US for little ol’ me) I noticed that I had been charged $25.00 for a glass of processo. The full bottle was $50.00, so I called a server over and told her that if this was the case, I would buy the full bottle. She came back and said she didn’t quite understand . . . did I want to buy a full bottle plus the glass I already had? So I explained that I had had one glass. The bottle was $50.00. The wine steward had opened a new bottle for me. If he was going to charge me $25.00 for one glass out of a $50.00 bottle, then I would purchase the full bottle. She said she understood and would be right back. I sat for another 7 or 8 minutes waiting. Finally she came back and said ‘He said that is the price of one glass”. Seriously !?! Lemme get this straight, it’s $25.00 for one glass from a $50.00 bottle, but $25.00 for a half bottle of Moet & Chandon, which is a superior bubble?? AND it turns out what he had done was poured off a glass from an already opened bottle which was being used to make champagne cocktails and so he hadn’t really opened a new bottle as he claimed. Which means I was not able to purchase the reminder of the bottle to take back to my room. By this time I needed that second drink. I detest when people piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. The credit card slips arrived with the gratuity already added to the bill. Fine. But at least give me a pen that works so I can sign the receipt.

I really wanted to like this restaurant after so many good recommendations and the warmth of Chef Newton. Sadly I was left under whelmed, under served and over spent.

Scrumptious Soaps

soaps come in all shapes and sizes, not to mention scents. Here are a few that look (and smell) good enough to eat.

These tasty looking cinnamon bun soaps (right) are from Aubrey Elizabeth Apothecary of Winchester Center, CT. Flecked with cinnamon and dripping with white icing, they indeed look very edible.

Another great sweet treat soap set (below) are these brightly coloured macarons by Jakeala from Norfolk, VA. Not only can these be made as a body soap, but also as a shampoo bar or shaving bar in a variety of scents and colours.

And what about these caramel latter cupcake soaps (above) by GlowBodyandSoul from Portland, OR. !?! so decadent looking, with all that glossy caramel drizzled down the sides and the perfect coffee beans on top. A real pick-me-up in the morning without the caffeine.

Sure to surprise and delight, these fun soaps would make for great hostess or teacher's gifts, or for that special aunt who's hard to shop for (nudge, nudge . . .wink, wink)

L is for Lamingtons . . .

Ah . . . lamington. The word makes me smile. I just enjoy the sound of it. Fun and sophistication all rolled in one.

Which is exactly what a lamington is. It’s the rogue sister to the French petit-fours. Still retaining some elegance, but saying . . . “Pwaa!!! Who needs pastel pink and green and yellow fondant with teeny tiny flowers when you can be bathed in chocolate and coconut like me?” Or something to that effect.

A lamington is a little dessert cake which has its origins in Australia. It’s made up of squares of sponge cake that are coated first in a layer of chocolate icing and then lightly rolled in desiccated coconut. Sometimes (like when I make them), the squares are cut in half lengthwise and a layer of lemon curd or strawberry or raspberry jam is snuck in the center before the chocolate bath. I’ve also taken a little melon baller and hollowed out the center so there is more room for the filling. I know. I’m a rebel.
The chocolate coating is a thin mixture, and is absorbed into the outermost layers of the sponge where it sets. The cubes are then covered with coconut and left to set.
Most believe lamingtons are named after Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901, and resemble the homburg hats he favoured. It is thought Lamingtons’ chef Armand Gallad (who was French-born and missed his beloved petit-fours, was woken in the middle of the night to provide something to feed unexpected guests. According to the local newspaper at the time, Chef Gallad cut up some leftover French vanilla sponge cake, dipped the slices in chocolate and set them in coconut. Before Federation in 1901, coconut was not widely used in either European or Australian cooking. But Chef Gallad had a secret weapon. His wife was from Tahiti, where coconut was a common ingredient. Lady Lamingtons’ guests, ever enthralled with anything exotic, asked for the recipe.
The alternative claim is that Gallad, still half asleep at being woken so abruptly …. accidentally dropped a block of sponge cake into a dish of chocolate. It was later discovered that desiccated coconut, sprinkled over the top, made the cakes more appealing.
Ironically, Lord Lamington was believed to have hated the dessert cakes that had been named in his honour, referring to them as "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits".
Today lamingtons are sold in Australia and South Africa by youth groups in much the same way Boy Scouts and Girl Guides sell cookies in North America, and are called “Lamington Drives”. They are also sold at church bake sales and school fundraisers. The packages are usually boxes with a dozen squares.
Friday July 21, 2006 was designated as National Lamington Day in Australia.

·         2 cups of all-purpose flour
·         2 tsp of baking powder
·         1/4 tsp of sea salt
·         2 large eggs
·         1/2 cup of room temperature butter
·         3/4 cup of white sugar
·         1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
·         1/2 cup of milk
·         2 cups of icing sugar
·         1/3 cup of cocoa powder
·         3 tbs of butter
·         1/2 cup of milk
·         lemon curd (optional)
·         strawberry or raspberry jam (optional)
·         whipped cream for serving

Make the sponge cake
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F (180° C).
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
  3. Whisk cream and sugar. Beat eggs and add, one by one, together with a tablespoon of flour each time.
  4. Fold in remaining flour.
  5. Transfer batter to a prepared 8” square cake pan. If you divide the cake dough between 2 smaller pans it will bake faster.
  6. Bake in middle shelf for minutes to 1 hour to 1¼ hours - 45 minutes to 1 hour if using 2 pans.

Make the icing
  1. Sift sugar and cocoa into a small bowl.
  2. Add butter and water and mix until smooth.
  3. Stand the bowl inside another larger bowl with hot water until the butter has melted and the icing is fairly runny.

Finish the cakes
  1. Cut the sponge cake into squares.
  2. Refrigerate the squares for at least two hours so that they become firm. If filling with jam or lemon curd, fill squares before refrigeration.
  3. Coat the cake squares with icing, then roll in coconut.
  4. Let them cool on a sheet of grease proof paper.
  5. Store in an air tight container for up to five days.
Or, if you are short on time, you could follow the Quick & Easy Lamingtons recipe over at Coles Australia. 
And isn't this Lamington Express train adorable for a little tyke's birthday party?