Blog :: 09-2020

LAND OF THE ANCIENTS

Gal�pagos Giant Tortoise"This animal is over 125 years old, weighs 500 pounds, and is super slow, so be patient as it will take him several minutes to move past us,” says our naturalist guide. Like a good student, I stay still, Keens cemented to the dirt beneath them. Goosebumps rain down my arms and I feel each individual hair stand at attention. Everyone on the trail senses that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but thankfully not a fearful one. The prehistoric-looking shell slowly crawls by at a height equivalent to a dining room table, and in a way, it looks oddly like a very slow-moving, thick piece of furniture.  Poor-sighted, the Galápagos Giant Tortoise holds its head high on its outstretched neck, sniffing its surroundings. With awe-inspiring sightings like this one, you half expect a director in the background to shout, “Cue the dinosaurs!” as if on a Jurassic Park movie set.
Similar unusual wildlife experiences occur at every turn in the Galápagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in South America, which sit smack dab on the equator and three major tectonic plates. Considered a hot zone due to seismic and volcanic activity, the Galápagos consist of an ancient, volcanic archipelago spanning 17,000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean where three major ocean currents also converge. It became Ecuador’s first national park in 1959 and a marine reserve in 1986. Home to endemic species only seen here and on channels like National Geographic, these islands were born three million years ago, and many of their inhabitants look like it, too. As remote and primitive as one can get, being here feels like stepping back in time before humans ever existed.
The Galápagos Islands were left mostly undisturbed for millions of years until they were literally put on the map by naturalist Charles Darwin back in 1835 while sailing around the Americas on the HMS Beagle. They are an explorer’s dream where one can find a living museum of iconic animals like the giant land tortoise described above and the rest of the “Big 15”, including penguins, flamingoes, fur seals, sea lions, land and marine iguanas, and several species of birds. In total, there are 26 species of native birds, 14 of which are the Darwin finches living only on these islands. The finches are what spurred Darwin’s theory on natural selection and led to his famous book Origin of Species, written in 1859. Off land in the water, you will also find a variety of marine life, such as oversized green sea turtles, golden rays, and sharks. 
Like Darwin, the 170,000 tourists that visit the islands annually find the best way to see them is by small cruise ship or sailboat, spending up to 14 days in the hopes of seeing the "Big 15". While these well-preserved islands are teeming with marine and wildlife, they are thankfully carefully regulated so boats and tourists are at a minimum to preserve the park and its inhabitants. 
Our group chose the 48-passenger motor yacht called La Piñta for our six-night, seven-day exploration, visiting five out of the top 13 most popular islands. Our days were filled walking through wild animal habitats, snorkeling coral reefs, kayaking rocky shores scouting for playful fur seals and sea lions, and swimming off beaches of all colors including red, black, white, and olivine-crystal. Ecuadorian law requires all activities to be led by certified expert naturalists who carefully curate the experiences. And since Galápagos animals have no fear of humans and get quite curious around tourists, the question of who is studying who here comes to mind.
Our first stop on our journey to the large seahorse-shaped island of Isabela gave us the opportunity to see many of the "Big 15" including the flightless cormorant, the only existing marine bird in the world other than the penguin that at some point in its past changed from a flying bird to a diving bird to adapt to a new habitat. Over a million years old, six volcanoes, five of which are still active, created this island through eruptions, uplift, and erosion. While Isabela is on every Galápagos tour itinerary in order to witness the giant tortoises, its landscape of volcanoes that dramatically rise out of a lush yet rugged terrain of black lava is another reason for Isabela’s popularity. Although tourists are required to keep a six-foot distance from the animals, it is not uncommon to have an inquisitive mockingbird alight next to you or a Darwin Finch land on your shoulder. Living in harmony with other wild residents, the Darwin Finch is often seen grooming other animals of insects and regularly perches on the vibrantly colored land iguana. While Isabela’s rocky shores are populated with Galápagos penguins, Nazca boobies, marine iguanas, and sea lions, its waters are filled with thousands of green sea turtles and rainbow-colored parrotfish.
Second on our itinerary was the island of Fernandina, one of the most active volcanic islands and the youngest at just one million years old. White sand, black lava, and mangroves make up the interesting topography and allow for an easy walk among teams of friendly (and lazy) sea lions lining its beaches, many of them pups, as well as colorful red Sally Lightfoot crabs. Our group witnessed a singular National Geographic moment as a stunning juvenile Galápagos hawk, just thirty feet away from where a sea lion pup was posing for photographs, flaunted her keen ability to swoop down and capture her iguana lunch with her long, sharp talons. Just off the beach, we could watch hundreds of marine iguanas at work diving from their warm black lava beds into the ocean to feed on aquatic plant life and then swim back to shore, often climbing over a sea lion or two to get back home.
One of my favorite islands on our tour was the tiny Red Island, officially named Rábida. This island is a land of contrasts with its red sand beaches created by iron-rich lava flows juxtaposed against vibrant green topography. This is nesting territory for the beloved blue-footed booby, identifiable by their big blue feet which stand out like beacons against their beautiful grey and white feathers. In addition, the first-class snorkeling found here is spectacular as you swim along a red ocean floor enhanced by clear blue waters among curious sea lions and gorgeous tropical fish. 
A visit to the island of Santa Cruz offers an important historical tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station as well as a conservation and tortoise breeding center. The final island on our journey was Floreana, famous for its historical Post Office Bay. The story of this site dates back to 1793 when a group of whalers put a wooden barrel on the beach and aptly named it The Post Office. Those traveling by the island would routinely stop at the “post office” to drop and pick up mail for delivery that might be marked with destinations along their route. This post office barrel is still in use today as island visitors drop and pick up mail regularly. Further adding to Floreana’s interest, the Devil’s Crown is a volcanic crater that serves as an excellent snorkeling site filled with king angel Fish, balloon fish, hawkfish, yellowtail Grunts, tiger snake eels, gentle black-and-white-tipped sharks, eagle rays, various wrasses, and sea turtles.
While the Galápagos attract nature lovers and followers of Darwin, the experience is rewarding for active people of all ages and interests. Year-round daytime temperatures average 72 degrees making it easy to travel any time of the year. The Islands’ depth of flora and fauna is overwhelming, but photos and travel journals help to keep the day-to-day discoveries mindfully collected and provide for a lifetime of memories. Above all, a visit here will deepen your perspective of life on Earth and the theory of evolution. To learn more before you go, seek out the numerous documentaries on Netflix, the BBC, and YouTube. •

 

 

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Aperol Spritz

Aperol SpritzThere is something about the orangey glow of an Aperol Spritz, Italy’s famous warm-weather sipper, that brings happiness. Originating in Italy in 1919 from the Barbieri brothers, Aperol can be the perfect added touch to just about any cocktail, but the Aperol Spritz is its most famous offspring. 

Not only is this spirit chic, like everything Italian, but also it is the trending aperitif of the season. Chilling out on a lazy sunny afternoon with an Aperol Spritz in hand will soon become a ritual. And when sharing your newfound joy with friends, the spirit of the Aperol Spritz “sparks nothing but good times, one orange sip at a time.” 

Preparation Time: 5 min

Fill a wine glass with ice

Combine Prosecco (or other sparkling white wine) followed by Aperol in equal parts 

Add a dash of soda (which keeps the Aperol from settling to the bottom of the glass)

Garnish with an orange slice

Written by Kristin Bowen
Recipe by Gruppo Compari, makers of Aperol
 

get to know your shellfish

ShellfishLobster, specifically cold-water American lobster, are found in the Atlantic Ocean all the way north of Newfoundland to the Carolinas, the vast majority coming from Canada and New England. This is the type of lobster you generally see in restaurants, as well as grocery stores and specialty fish markets. Warm-water lobster tails, also called Caribbean lobster, are also a staple in many grocery stores, but the flavor isn’t nearly as good as their northern cousins, and given the choice, most opt for North Atlantic lobster or Maine lobster over their southern cousins. As for spiny lobster—sometimes called rock lobster—the clawless species are harvested off Florida’s coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean, and can be found on menus in the southern states when in season. And though American lobsters are not native to the Pacific, there is a California spiny lobster—the demand, however, is small here in the U.S. and most are exported so it’s unlikely you will ever come across one in the store or restaurant.
To purchase live lobster, look for ones with a curled tail and pick those that are active in the tank. Lobster is best broiled, steamed, baked, or grilled. Lobster tails should be steamed one minute for every ounce. So a four-ounce tail takes four minutes in the pot. For whole, live lobster, steam 13 to15 minutes for a one to one-and-a-half-pound lobster; 17 to 18 minutes for a two-pounder. As for the tomalley, yes, some people do eat it. I don’t. And I wouldn’t recommend it—tomalley is actually the lobster’s liver and pancreas and therefore, carries the creature's waste. Enough said.

 

Crawfish run rampant throughout the U.S. with more than 300 varieties found everywhere from rivers and lakes to smaller tributaries and even swamplands. Also known as crawdad or crayfish, they are the smaller cousin to lobster and average three to seven inches in length. Right around 90 percent of all farmed and wild-caught crawfish come from Louisiana—no wonder crawfish boils are so popular in the South! The nutritional value is similar to lobster as are cooking methods; the most common being boiled in large pots with Creole seasoning. They’re also great in etouffeé and jambalaya. When purchasing live crawfish to cook at home, similar to lobster, they should be active and have a tail that curls when cooked.

 

Crab is easily considered a delicacy and a special treat for many, yet most have tried it at least once. The species you’ve more than likely had is often dependent on where you reside, as different crab hail from different coastlines. The most common types of crab in the U.S. are Dungeness, snow, blue, stone, and king.
   Dungeness crab is a West Coast staple and is sold live up and down the coast but often times can be found stored over ice in specialty stores throughout the country. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one that’s been previously frozen, boil it for about 20 minutes then immediately dunk into cold water to stop the cooking process.
   Snow crab is found in the Bering Sea and is readily available in the frozen section of most supermarkets—just be sure to look for the bluefish seal from the Marine Stewardship Council before purchasing. Cook as directed on the package, but typically they’re best when steamed or boiled.
   Blue crab is commonly seen in restaurants, sometimes as hard shells, sometimes as soft shells. A soft shell blue crab is one that’s been harvested before molting, hence the softness. Lots of restaurants and pubs fry them, shell included, in a sandwich. 
   Stone crab is caught in the south Atlantic and warm Gulf waters. They’re a highly regulated species as legally only the claws can be harvested. Fishermen remove the front two claws, then return the crabs to the water where they regenerate. 
   King crab is probably the most sought after, thanks in part to their flavor, but also to the huge success of the TV show, Deadliest Catch. Caught in the Bering Sea, this cold-water species can have a leg span of up to six feet—so unlike many smaller crab species, you don’t need many legs to fill up. When cooking the legs at home, it’s best to steam them in a large pot, but if you don’t have one try this: put water on a deep cookie sheet, cover it with a rack and place crab legs on the rack. Place in a hot oven and let steam for about 20 minutes. Be careful taking it out as the water is boiling. Serve with a little bit of drawn butter and a smile. Enjoy!

 

"Shrimp" not "shrimps," not ever—the word “shrimp” itself is both singular and plural, so please, don’t ever say “shrimps.” (Lucky you, you get to learn about crustaceans and have a grammar lesson, too!) There are hundreds of different species of shrimp, both saltwater and freshwater. But the most common varieties throughout the U.S.—ordered in restaurants and cooked at home—are Gulf, rock, pink, black tiger, and Pacific white.
     Gulf shrimp are found up and down the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, from Southern Florida to the Yucatan. Gulf shrimp are not farmed (yet) and can be nearly 10 inches in length from tail to head. There are brown, pink, and white Gulf shrimp.
   Rock shrimp are much smaller than Gulf shrimp and are best suited for adding to dishes rather than on their own. Great for salads, to top off pizzas, or tossed into pasta.
   Pink shrimp are found in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, and in many other waters throughout the continent. Pink shrimp are about half the size of Gulf shrimp, and like rock shrimp, are best suited for add-ons rather than as a main course.
   Tiger shrimp, aka giant tiger prawns, are the largest of the species and are excellent grilled. Most of the tigers you see in the U.S. (restaurants and grocery stores) come from Asia.
   Pacific white shrimp are excellent in shrimp cocktail, or cooked “peel and eat” style. Nearly everyone who’s ever had shrimp has eaten this variety as it is the most widely harvested variety in the world.

 

A rose is a rose, but is a shrimp a shrimp? A prawn a prawn? And what exactly is scampi?

Here in the U.S., most people call small and medium shrimp, “shrimp” and refer to the larger, jumbo variety as “prawns” or even “scampi.” But many purists insist the term “prawn” should only be used when referencing the Dublin Bay prawn, also known as langoustine. However, the species isn’t found in Dublin Bay, rather, they live off Ireland’s west coast, as well as the Irish and Celtic Seas. Unlike shrimp, langoustine have pincer claws—similar to lobster only much smaller—and are almost always cooked in their shells with heads intact. Stateside, they’re rarely found in grocery stores or even specialty fish markets, but they are served in a few upscale, American restaurants.
     As for scampi, in Italy, they call Dublin Bay prawns “scampi,” and other shrimp, simply “shrimp.” But in both Canada and the U.S., the term “scampi” is generally associated with a specific dish; jumbo or giant shrimp (aka prawns) sauteed with garlic and butter, sometimes tossed with pasta. So what is the ever-popular dish “shrimp scampi”? Depending on where you are, “shrimp scampi” could be considered a redundancy as it’s a bit like ordering “chai tea” as the word “chai” means "tea" in Indian. But to each their own. Because asa rose is still a rose by any other name, shrimp scampi is still delicious no matter if it’s being made with shrimp or prawns.
 

Bugatti

La Voiture NoireFrench luxury carmaker Bugatti has been perfecting its craft of making sophisticated automobiles for 110 years. To celebrate their history, this year they unveiled a futuristic supercar that is hailed as the most expensive new car ever. Recently selling for close to $19 million including taxes at the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland, this sleek-like-a-panther coupe is a juiced-up one-off, meaning it is bad to the bone and there is only one like it. Paying homage to a 1930’s Bugatti classic called the Type 57SC Atlantic originally designed by Jean Bugatti (only four were ever made), this reinvented masterpiece named La Voiture Noire has a handcrafted body made of carbon fiber which is five times stronger than steel and twice as stiff according to engineering experts. Its glossy design and silky smooth exterior reminiscent of spilled ink gives this sports car its modern look. “Bugatti is bringing the speed, technology, luxury, and aesthetics of an icon into a new era” with this new introduction. The recent buyer in Geneva remains a mystery, but the exclusive hyper sports car possesses an impressive 16-cylinder engine, six tailpipes, and 1500 horsepower.  

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