Puerto Rican Paraíso

Enjoying “Hot Tamale” in Puerto Rico

When a friend suggested Puerto Rico as a vacation destination, I balked at first. After hearing about the island’s financial woes and the devastation wrought by hurricane Maria in 2017, I worried about what we’d find. But after reading multiple recent good reviews of hotels on Trip Advisor and hearing Lin Manuel Miranda’s entreaties to support the island’s economy, I was intrigued. The quick 3.5 hour flight from New York or Connecticut (and that we could avoid the headaches of passing through immigration and changing currency) cinched the deal.

Puerto Rico did not disappoint. There still is hurricane damage, for sure- on the way home from a rainforest tour, we passed row after row of dilapidated structures, mostly consisting of modest no-longer-habitable homes.  In contrast, the touristy Condado beach neighborhood and Old San Juan have been fully restored, and they offer plenty of activities and food options for visitors.  I hope that our tourist dollars contributed to the gargantuan task of getting at least some local families back on their feet. 

While the touristy sections of Old San Juan have been restored, numerous modest homes remain devastated


Boating was at the top of my list of must-do activities—even if I visit the landlocked desert, I’d bet that I could work a boat into the trip somehow.  Luckily, San Juan had plenty of boat-centered recreational options.  We rented a snappy red Yamaha jet boat- aptly named “Hot Tamale”- from San Juan Boat Rentals.  After visiting Castillo San Felipe del Morro on land, we got to see it as the 17th century Spanish sea captains did.  Instead of scanning the horizon for pirates, however, we worried only about avoiding novice jet-skiers and towering mega cruise ships.  We anchored in a calm inlet near the city walls of Old San Juan and swam in the warm turquoise-blue waters, followed by my daughter’s first time on a wakeboard (she’s now hooked). The highlight, of course, was when I got to take the wheel and zoom across the bay—a welcome dose of medication for my boat fever.

Another highlight was a tour of the El Yunque Rain Forest, which we arranged through the tour desk at our hotel.  El Yunque is a world away from Puerto Rico’s sandy Caribbean beaches.  It is lush and green, and filled with dazzling waterfalls and mountain views. Our guide, Janilla, was comedian, historian, naturalist, photographer, and mother-hen all rolled into one, informing us about the local flora and fauna and island culture and history, all the while keeping us on schedule.  She also guided us to a roadside stand for lunch, where we enjoyed conch fritters, roast chicken, and pasteles, which is a Puerto Rican Christmastime treat of root vegetables, meat, and plantain, all wrapped in banana leaves.  

Wining and Dining:

Excellent food options abounded.  Highlights included a chocolate brunch at Chocobar Cortés, which features Caribbean-farmed chocolate in every dish.  We devoured the chocolate French toast, churros with chocolate sauce, and I treated myself to chocolate milk spiked with Puerto Rican rum (yum!). For dinner, most of our best meals were a quick Uber-ride outside of the touristy Condado beach neighborhood.  Musa Gastro Pub features a wide selection of delicious cocktails and gourmet riffs on traditional Puerto Rican fare. It was also kid-friendly with excellent service.  Asere Cubano was in a vibrant neighborhood filled with bars and live music. The chef served up a whole fried red snapper, killer empanadas, and coconut flan for dessert.  Oceano was memorable for its food, service, and atmosphere.  We sat on a terrace overlooking the ocean, watching the glittering lights of cruise ships travel east along the Puerto Rican coast.  Enjoying Atlantic shrimp while listening to waves crash on the shore and breathing in the salty ocean air was my version of perfecto.                         

Travel Tips:

If you’re staying in the Condado beach neighborhood or Old San Juan, there’s no need to rent a car at the airport.  Everything we wanted to see and do was a quick, reasonably-priced cab or Uber ride away, and parking on the beach strip was expensive- $25/day at our hotel.    

Eating out three meals a day will kill your vacation budget.  We stayed at La Concha in one of the tower suites.  Although the room was slightly more expensive, the kitchenette allowed us to buy groceries locally and eat breakfast in the room.  I also packed our suitcase with breakfast and snack staples from home, including chocolate-chip banana bread, homemade focaccia, and Clif Bars. Some days, we also reheated our dinner leftovers for lunch, and we bought a tub of ice cream at the grocery store, instead of buying ice cream for the kids at restaurants.

La Concha was a great place to stay, with two infinity pools (one was adults-only) overlooking the ocean, and a wide expanse of beach just steps from the pools.  In the evening, there was live music at the hotel bar and a DJ.  La Concha was also a short walk away from groceries, coffee houses, pharmacies, and multiple eateries.

All-in-all Puerto Rico offered an excellent balance of beach-time, hiking, food, culture, and history (as well as a welcome respite from the cold, dark environs back home).  Adiós San Juan . . . at least until next time.             

Sea-less in Seattle

My high school best friend lives in Seattle, and every few years I fly out for a visit.  We fall back into the same old routines, jokes, and escapades, despite time and distance.  I’m fortunate to have old friends like Debs, and this summer, in particular, I welcomed a much-needed (albeit brief) respite from all the drama and uncertainty back home.

This time, I introduced Debs to my new-found love of boating.  I reserved a boat out of Carefree Boat Club’s Fishermen’s Terminal dock, and we headed east through Lake Union to Lake Washington.

It was my first time boating in freshwater.  Boating on Lake Washington was very different because lakes don’t have tides, and the currents were much weaker than I’m accustomed to. I checked out our anchor and it looked as if it had never been used. Then, when we stopped for lunch on the water by Seward Park, I realized why.  We turned off the engine, and the boat stayed put!  I also found that I could go much faster on the lake than on the ocean, which was awesome.  (Debs will vouch for me having a lead foot from the day I began driving).

We watched seaplanes land on Lake Union and checked out the houseboats.  On Lake Washington, we did a loop around Mercer Island and saw the Boeing Factory.  Heading back, we caught a great view of the Seattle skyline, and I had another new first: filling up the tank.

I still prefer the ocean to lake boating- there’s just something about that ocean air, but it was so fun to try something different and to explore Seattle with Debs from a brand new vantage point.

Swimming and Szechuan Food in Milford

Recently, we cruised out of Carefree Boat Club’s Milford dock and headed northeast on a picture-perfect afternoon.  After anchoring off the coast near one of the Milford beaches and enjoying a swim, we meandered back toward the harbor and watched sailboats catching the sea breeze and late afternoon sun.

We ate dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.  Believe it or not, you can get authentic Chinese food just a few miles away from Port Milford Marina.  Lao Sze Chuan (1585 Boston Post Road, Milford) has the real-deal New York City Chinatown fare I ate as a kid with my grandmother.   It doesn’t look like much.  It’s in a strip mall next to a billiards hall, and the décor is bare bones, but the food is authentic and delicious, and the price is right.

If you’re looking for seafood after spending time on the water, I recommend the steamed whole sea bass, which is prepared in a ginger and scallion sauce, as well as the squid with pepper spiced salt.  If you enjoy spicy food, try the twice cooked sliced pork with Szechuan Jalapeno and chives or the prawns with garlic sauce.

Be forewarned that spicy means spicy, and the whole fish and shrimp arrive whole with heads, tails, and all.  You’ll also find some truly out-there dishes on the menu, including jellyfish, tripe, and sea cucumber (sea cucumber is an acquired taste- I tried it once as a kid, and that was enough).

Island Girl

I was born and raised on an island–well, technically, at least.  Manhattan is surrounded by water, but you can easily forget that.

Today, I am a true “island girl.”  Every summer, we look forward to vacationing with 
friends on Martha’s Vineyard.  We split a rental house with another couple to keep it affordable, and we truck in as many groceries as possible in car trunks and coolers, including BJ’s-sized  cartons of blueberries, grapes, and cherries, as well as parmesan cheese, spices, and sauces.  Groceries that are expensive on the mainland are astronomical on the island.  Our
friend, who is a year-round islander, supplies whatever we forget.  Most nights, we sip wine and cook dinner as a team, and each couple watches the other couple’s kids for a “date night” at one of the high-end restaurants.

We love the Vineyard because it is one of the few remaining places where life slows down.  Cell reception is spotty so you can’t check your work e-mail at the beach, and the kids are forced to unplug and enjoy the outdoors.  The island has only a handful of chain stores or restaurants.  Because island access is controlled and the Vineyard has miles of beaches, they tend to stay pristine and uncrowded, even during peak months.

No trip to the Vineyard would be complete without a visit to Larsen’s Fish Market in Chilmark.  Larsen’s makes some of the best clam chowder I’ve ever had.  I also recommend the fresh oysters and steamed mussels and clams.  Larsen’s is rustic-
you eat on benches and crates right next to the dock, but it’s difficult to find fresher seafood.  The fishermen pull up right behind the market to unload the morning catch.

Just watch out for opportunistic seagulls.  I had to stare this guy down—a useful skill I learned dodging cab drivers on that other island of mine.

Girls’ Night Boat

Working moms are natural multitaskers- it’s an eat or be eaten survival skill.  I wanted to arrange a “girls’ night out” for my friends, and I’m also constantly looking for ways to spend more time boating . . . hmm.

Eureka! We’d have a girls’ night out on a boat—Girls’ night boat.  Other contenders were “Girls (Boat) Trip” (for all you Tiffany Haddish fans) and “Bad Boater Moms.”

We left the harbor and spent the first 40 minutes just relaxing and decompressing in silence.  We listened to Death Cab for Cutie and other faves on the Bluetooth: “I want to live where soul meets body, and let the sun wrap its arms around me, and bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing . . . and feel what it’s like to be new . . .”

Traveling down to Westport, we admired the seabirds, the endless sky, and even caught sight of a rainbow over the water.  We chatted and gawked at the beachfront homes—some were architectural masterpieces, others were ostentatious McMansions.  On the ride back, I pushed the throttle forward . . . woo hoo; enough said.

We disembarked and enjoyed fried seafood platters, live music, and plenty of white wine at Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport—if you offer to take friends boating, someone else will gratefully serve as designated driver for the ensuing festivities!

Sunset over the harbor, a second glass of Chardonnay, and it’s a wrap (at least until next time).  Us moms deserve to have fun.