Happy in Homer

I’m now about half way through my Alaska cruise and the next stop is the quaint town of Homer. This pretty place is located on the Katchemak Bay and is noted for an area called “The Spit”, a 4 mile or so strip of land that was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago and now is the main location for Homer’s best restaurants and shops.

Before heading to the Spit though I have a date at Tutka Bay Lodge, a wilderness img_7209.jpgretreat about 25 minutes across the bay from Homer. The scenery surrounding us as we motor on over there is breathtaking. The lodge is on an 11 acre stretch of land with all types of relaxing and luxurious amenities plus, the reason I am visiting, a popular cooking school inside a repurposed crabbing boat, the Widgeon, they fondly call “the ark.”

Before any cooking happens, I am taken by the Chef, Charles and nature guide, Karen to forage for ingredients Charles will want to use for my dish. We head down to the rocky beach and before long our basket is filled with all types of odd looking greens and flowers. I’m given a brief explanation of each one. There’s one called  bladder wrack and it’s particularly strange looking but Karen assures me is delicious in soups and stews.IMG_7243

Back at the ark, Charles sets up a cooking area and proceeds to grill up beautiful looking salmon filets that will be garnished with a salad of our just picked greens. How much fresher can you get than this?

After boating back to Homer, I head to the Spit to meet with Chef Mandy Dixon at her popular La Baleine Café. She tells me she serves a lot of the local fishermen so her portions are quite hefty. To my  surprise, I was served a bowl of ramen noodles (with salmon), a dish I definitely would never have thought would be on a menu here. It was outrageously good. Along side that I had a crab melt that was rich and delicious and more of what I’d expect. What a terrific little spot this was.

77ENow heading off the Spit and into town we make a quick stop at Homer’s local brewery where the owner, Steve McCasland, guides me through a flight of all their brews.

Although there’s very little time left before my cruise ship leaves Homer, I have one final cooking date with Anna at Homer Stay & Play, a bed & breakfast place with spectacular views over the bay and glaciers. Anna and her husband Byron have prepared an incredible spread of food for us and I feel so bad that we have to rush through this visit. We still manage to whip up some tasty purple potatoes with goat cheese and “nesto” a pesto made with nettles and have a few bites of their delicious display.20170613_163953

It’s back onboard the MS Amsterdam and on to Kodiak with a full and satisfied belly and some wonderful new friends.

Cheers,

Zita

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Anchorage Adventures

Anchorage is the next stop on this 2 week inside passage cruise. Since I had such great food experiences in Juneau, I am now quite eager to see what Alaska’s biggest city has to offer. Having over 40% of Alaska’s population, Anchorage is popular for fishing, hiking and I am certainly hoping, for eating.

I made a plan to meet  Jack from Visit Anchorage who has made a few dining arrangements for me. We hop into his mini van and drive to the “south side” of town and  stop at what looks like an out of business strip mall.  There’s not another car in site and while I’m a bit confused about this location, Jack gets out and walks to one of the doors and assures me that the Southside Bistro is one of Anchorage’s neighborhood gems. A uniformed Chef greets us and brings us inside. What a surprise to find a 20170612_105541.jpgbeautifully decorated and inviting space with an open kitchen and 2 warm and comfortable dining areas. I’m told they have one of the best wine and beer lists in the city too.  The restaurant is noted for its fresh and fun food and Chef Travis creates different specials on a daily basis. Today, he wants to  make a salmon with cherries and lentil dish and has a gorgeous 20 pound king salmon already waiting to be prepared.  He does all the hard work and then we sit down with a glass of pinot noir and this amazing dish. The wine and the salmon are just a perfect pairing and I’m feeling more excited with what’s yet to come.

We drive back into “town” and the main street of Anchorage where there are numerous vendors behind hot dog carts selling their popular reindeer hotdogs. Of course, I have to try one so Jack brings me to his favorite. It seems these are eaten all over town, even for breakfast, and I love mine loaded with spices and this vendor’s very own, special sauce called “the boss.” I loved it!

So now we go from street side hot dog stand to elegant, upscale dining just around the corner at Marx Brothers Café. This restaurant is an unquestionable treasure in the Anchorage dining scene located in a pretty little house with only 14 tables. They are known for some of the most innovative contemporary food in Alaska and I find this out for myself as Chef Jack promptly brings out 3 outrageously gorgeous looking dishes. There’s a king salmon with sorrel sauce and mashed purple potatoes, a macademia crusted halibut with coconut curry, mango chutney forbidden rice and grilled Japanese eggplant and  neopolitan seafood mousse with smoked salmon, smoked halibut, and maine lobster with brioche toast points and caviar. Yes, all that for me!  The Chef explains that he loves when opposing flavors can come together on a plate. He also said this is Alaska so you can’t get too crazy with ingredients and ideas. We finished with his special birch syrup butter pecan ice cream. This meal was as extraordinary as it sounds.

We have one more place to go in one of Anchorage’s oldest neighborhoods. This time it’s for scones at the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. I have to work for my scone as Rachel shows me the process in creating these multi berried beauties. Needless to say I was a bit too full to eat a whole one but thankfully,  Rachel let me take some with me.

There’s still a little time left before I had to get back to the ship. I certainly couldn’t eat any more so Jack drives to one of his favorite spots, Chugach State Park.  The views are simply breathtaking and while I didn’t see any moose or other wildlife so prevalent there, I  was able to take in some of the natural beauty surrounding this part of Alaska and even managed to hike around a bit and work off some of that food.

Anchorage might be the biggest city in Alaska, but it definitely has small town charm and I’m happy to say, the nicest people and extraordinarily good eating.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Hiatus

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Hello! So sorry for not continuing to blog about my Alaskan adventure. As I live in South Florida, I had to prepare and then evacuate for Hurricane Irma. Fortunately for us all here, we were spared the devastation that so many suffered in the Caribbean.  But, still, we have some damage and have needed to address the water intrusion that occurred. I’ve not had access to many things in my home and also have been helping other family members with their damage as well so have been away from the computer and my blog until now. So, look out over the next day or so as we travel on to Icy Strait Point, Alaska!

Cheers, thank you and all the best,

Zita

 

Catching Fish in Ketchikan

I have finally made it to Alaska and the first town on this inside passage cruise, Ketchikan. This place is mostly known for fish and my plan for the day is to head out on a boat and, hopefully, catch some lunch.20170607_163646

Once again, I am fortunate to have sunshine on my side in yet another place where it usually always rains. I’m quite thankful as the thought of going out on a boat in the rain is not something I’d be looking forward to doing.

My team and I are met at the port dock by Chuck Slagle, owner of Baranof Fishing Excursions and our boat guide/Captain Todd who is extra happy to take us as it’s on20170607_145959ly his 2nd day back in the water this Spring season. They walk us over to the boating area where I am suited up in rubber overalls and handed the coolest pair of Xtra tuff boots to wear. (I find out  later that they are a gift for me!)

The water is quite calm and it’s an easy ride to our first stop where we throw in some crab pots to be picked up later on.  As we carry on to our fishing location, we see eagles and a couple of sea lions and then Todd spots some whales. He cuts the engine and we wait  for the whales to  “bubble”, This is when whales form a circle to catch prey by blowing bubbles as they swim to the surface. The bubbles trap small fish, plankton etc. for the whales to devour. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen but we did get to see a couple of whales breaching.

As soon as we get moving again, the boat is surrounded by a family of  porpoises jumping and zipping all around us. It was really incredible but they were too fast for anyone to get any photos.

Eventually we made it our fishing location and I  was handed a rod and instructed to let the weight stay at the bottom of the ocean and as I felt it move, reel out a bit more to keep it there. My husband was also fishing and within minutes caught the first fish, a rockfish. He then caught what we think was a flounder.  I also caught a rockfish  and then an even bigger yellow eye rockfish. Since none of us were catching any halibut which is what we were hoping for we moved to another spot and with Captain Todd’s fishing rod  caught a 42 inch ling cod. We had to let the smaller fish go and then went back to pick up our crab baskets. Although full, Todd had to  measure each crab and see what we could keep, Not too many in the end.

When we got back to the dock, we were met by Paris, the Chef of Alaska Fish Company who wanted to see what we got since he was planning to cook up our catch after Todd gutted and cleaned them. He was so thrilled to see we had a ling cod that he said is one of his favorite and tastiest fish. I was really looking forward to this meal.IMG_6574.JPG

The rockfish was battered in panko and fried to perfection and the ling cod was served 2 ways. The first was with a simple dill butter sauce and the second was blackened with special spices. Although we didn’t have enough crabs for a meal, Chef Paris added some other ones so we could get a taste of those as well. I enjoyed all of this with a flight of delicious Alaskan beers.  As it turns out, Chef Paris didn’t use all the fish we caught so they planned to ship the rest home for me. I was excited to share that with all our friends and family back in Florida.

This was such a fun day and I have to admit I’m ready to get my own fishing rod and see what I can catch back home.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anchors Away to Alaska

Hello everyone,

Well here I am back from another amazing expedition for our show, “All the Best with Zita Keeley”. Starting and ending in Seattle we cruised through the inside passage of Alaska with some amazing stops in Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Sitka and Victoria BC. Not to mention, the beautiful Tracy Arm Glacier and Hubbard Glaciers.

I have so many photos to sort through (over 3000) and stories to write about so keep a look out. At this time, I want to shout out to all my wonderful new friends on the other side of the USA for their unbelievable generosity, kindness, fun, time and delicious food. I will acknowledge each of you in my individual blog posts.  I also want to thank Holland America Line and all the staff of the MS Amsterdam who helped us along the way.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

A Miami Moment

I live in South Florida and only about an hour’s drive from Miami. But, somehow, I don’t get down there much. For some reason, the hassle with traffic to get there always seems to stop me. But, there are always great events going on and my friends convinced us to join them for this Art and Chocolate show last week that was taking place in the Wynwood Arts District.

We decided to stay overnight and make the most of our trip. I’m so glad we did. We found a terrific place to stay just 4 blocks from the venue for the show. Check in time was 3PM but we got there at 1PM. Since we were told we’d be charged an additional $39 if we wanted to check in early we left our luggage and went off to find a place to eat.

How fortunate that just across the street was Beaker and Gray, a place I had actually read about as one of the neighborhood’s best. It’s situated in an old factory and although there are outside tables, the Florida steaminess lured us in to the cool inside. The décor is basic and rustic with exposed brick walls, concrete floors and old wood beams on the 20170518_141012ceiling but it is still quite cozy.  Although they are known for amazing cocktails, it was a bit early in the day so I chose a refreshing glass of rose wine to start. The server explained the popularity of their “bowls” that can be interchanged with different proteins (octopus, skirt steak, chicken, shrimp.) I needed to eat light so chose the house salad with avocado, hearts of palm, queso fresco and the most delicious dressing (cilantro lime.) My husband and two friends each had a bowl, one with octopus that is prepared sous vide prior to grilling. Amazing. While we ate, the heavens opened up and we were happy to be inside after all.

We quickly made it back across the street to the hotel and while we hoped to spend some time at their rooftop pool, instead we sat in one of our suites and shared a couple of bottles of wine that we each had brought with us.

We had a couple of hours to relax before heading to the show and hoped that the relentless rain would stop. Thankfully, it did for the walk there. But, as we waited for the late opening of the gate, the rain began again and we had to yell to get in.20170518_200913 Once inside, we were surprised to find that there really wasn’t much happening. There was a long bar where you could buy drinks and then a hallway that led to one large room and one smaller room that had the artwork on the walls. As far as the chocolate, there were displays being set up as we walked around and a chocolate fondue fountain that wouldn’t be ready for another half hour.  It took us about 15 minutes to look at the paintings so once the rain had stopped (not too much longer), we left.  It wasn’t the type of show we expected but we figured we’d make the most out of being in the area.

Being hungry again and wanting a drink we came to Wynwood Kitchen and Bar. This is another one of the neighborhood’s gems. Our server explained the Latin influenced small plate theme and gave us some pointers for what to choose. My friend and I had their super tasty “Shot of Love” cocktail, a blend of Peruvian Pisco, Lychee, lime juice, mint and hibiscus and we ordered a whole bunch of different dishes to share. Each one was better than the one before. We had roasted beets with blue cheese, valencia orange and an incredible vinaigrette, grilled pork belly skewers with a brown sugar/soy glaze  and baby octopus skewers with lemon and garlic,  braised short ribs with a boniato mash, crispy pork with white cheddar chipotle grits and the pan seared fish with a corn salsa.  Hungry yet? This really was a fantastic restaurant and will be worth making a return trip.

The next day we had one final delicious meal sitting on the porch at Morgan’s where I had an incredible breakfast burrito filled with pork, cheddar cheese, rice, black beans, avocado, fried eggs and salsa. Good thing I shared this one with my husband or I don’t think I would have been able to move. Great fresh and natural ingredients are used here so I don’t feel that guilty. 20170519_110523

I have to admit that even though we made the trip for an art show that was quite a disappointment, we certainly made up for it with the great food and company. I now can’t wait to go back to Wynwood.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

 

 

A Bit from Barcelona, Spain

Here’s a little bit (or bite) from our Barcelona, Spain segment from All the Best with Zita Keeley. We had such an amazing day filming with Yves Nicolier.

It was a great ending to our Holland America Line Mediterranean cruise on MS Oosterdam.

Enjoy and cheers,

Zita