Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beautiful Bonaire -- in the Dutch Caribbean

Bonaire is the quiet sister. Aruba is the party girl, Curacao the business-major. All the girls are charming, in part because of their mingled heritage of European, African and indigenous peoples.

But Bonaire may be the most unique.  A Caribbean dry-forest desert island about 50 miles north of Venezuela, Bonaire's famous treasure is a long stretch of coral reefs along the western shore, close enough for easy shore-diving. And because Bonaire preserved them as a marine park more than 30 years ago, underwater life is abundant.

Even so, you don't have to be a diver to enjoy the island. My husband Denny and I went to Bonaire to dive during the New Year's holidays.  And dive we did. But above the waterline we found beautiful sunsets, an appealing town with delicious dining, daredevil sports, mysterious caves, historical monuments and more.

Most hotels and short-term rental condos are on the western shore overlooking the horizon where the sun sinks behind the sea.

Photo courtesy of Bonaire Tourism; photographer Zsuzsanna Pusztai of Flow Bonaire.  

Green turtles eat algae among the reefs, delighting snorkelers and divers.

Driving south along the shore, stark white hills of salt rise from pink evaporation pools. Salt has been produced there for centuries and is still a major export. The production is also a contributor to the island's breeding population of flamingoes, which feed on rosy shrimp in some salt pans.

Until 1862, slaves worked the salt, sleeping 6-8 in tiny huts.

Windsurfers and kiteboarders fly with the year-round trade winds.

The island's dry-forest desert includes kadushi cactus. Bats eat nectar from the flowers; native parrots and lizards eat the fruit; and the local Cadushy Distillery makes a liqueur from the dried pulp of young branches.

Photo of Washington Slagbaai National Park courtesy of Bonaire Tourism; credit Flow-Bonaire

After which, visitors toast the sunset with a Cadushy cocktail.

Photo courtesy of Bonaire Tourism

Going underground takes visitors to a new dimension.  In one "dry cave", myriad stalactites surround age-old impressions of brain coral heads. And in the Hilltop Cave, a rigorous trek leads to snorkeling among stalactites and stalagmites in crystal-clear water. 

The caves are protected, with visits limited to guided tours of no more than six people. Currently, two companies are authorized to conduct the tours. Our tour with Flow-Bonaire was an extraordinary experience.

At the end of the day, we might not all be lucky enough to dine beneath a full moon, but anyone can reserve a patio seat overlooking the Caribbean at the 4 Seasons Restaurant, for a meal served with cheer and island spice. 

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Bucks have it

Six-point buck, photo taken 1-6-14 in my (then) front yard.  

We moved last May from a country place to a cozy home in a neighborhood where the houses are close together and everyone has a high backyard fence for privacy.  I'm planning gardens now without regard to what dear eat, although we'll still focus on native habitat.  We're happy our landscape won't be on the deer trail; I'm secretly sad I won't look out the window on a sunny morning and see a twelve-point buck grazing.

Twelve-point buck in the (former) front yard 1-28-14.

We thought we'd also be leaving raccoons behind. No such luck. The neighbor across the street feeds a family of raccoons on her back porch. That family soon invited itself to our porch, finding bird feeders full of seed. 

We take the feeders in at night now but our cats watch the windows and tell us when the raccoons stop by to see if we forgot.  Sometimes they score, which says something about which side is more consistent.  

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finchy Days

On chilly winter mornings, the neighborhood house finches flock to our feeders.  I can't help but smile when I see them, so here's a short sequence to bring a smile to your day too.

The boys wear red; girls wear brown to blend in when they sit on nests.  For more info, see All About Birds.

What birds frequent your neighborhood? 

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Aunt Flossie's Carrot Cake

My long-time Hill Country Mysteries friends might remember Aunt Flossie's Jalapeno Cornbread, one of our family's favorites. Since I published that recipe, a lot of other families are enjoying it too, judging by the number of page views here and pins on Pinterest. 

Aunt Flossie was my grandmother's cousin's wife, known in her time as a good cook. When she brought a dish to the church supper, people headed to the line for "Aunt Flossie's __________" and her specialty recipes live on in her name in our family cookbook.

Her carrot cake is still my mother's favorite and I make it for Mom's birthday every year. The presentation would be more impressive if I made it as a layer cake, but a flat pan fits easier in Mom's fridge.

It's easier to cut too, which is good, since Mom eats it for breakfast and sometimes dinner. She's 89 this year and no one is going to tell her she can't have cake for breakfast. 

So I'm sharing the recipe here in case you have a celebration coming up.  I can't guarantee Flossie's carrot cake will take you to a healthy 89, but my mother looks great.

Aunt Flossie's Carrot Cake

1 1/4 cup oil (I use canola)
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups flour (good with regular flour, even better with half & half whole wheat and white whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (a little less than a pound)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a 9x13 pan (or three 9"  layer pans).

Beat sugar into oil, then beat in eggs one at a time. Sift in dry ingredients, then mix in carrots. 

Bake approximately 45 minutes (or ~ 18-25 minutes for layers). 

Cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick softened butter
8 oz softened cream cheese
~ 3 cups powdered sugar (to taste)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans

Cream butter, cream cheese, salt and sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and mix. Spread on cooled cake and sprinkle nuts on top.  Cover and store uneaten cake in the refrigerator.

Don't feel guilty about calling it breakfast.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Altered Direction

I've missed writing Hill Country Mysteries.  Seemed too hard to meet newspaper deadlines and write posts here too...but I miss the blog and you so I'm starting again. This time, more pithy and more pictures.  Same subjects--the idiosyncrasies of Texas life, excitement of travel, beauty of gardens, flora and fauna, and delicious flavors on the table and in the glass.

Gardens are on my mind these days, mostly because of the sweep of dead grass in our backyard.  Denny and I have a plan for the space, sort-of.  We argued until we were together on what we wanted but we're still a ways apart on how to get there--terrace and paths, fountain and raised beds--materials? methodology?  The only thing I really know is the kind of plants I want in the space.  How is it that planning a small space is so much harder than landscaping an acre in the country?

For now, we look at this:

Someday my herbs will have a proper bed. 
And my fledgling border plants, American beautyberry, Turk's Cap, yellow passion-flower, dutchman's pipevine, shrimp plant and red columbine--all chosen for wildlife value--will be lush and full, nourishing birds, bees and butterflies.

For now, we find other beauty.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.