One of the joys of sailing around the world was shopping at ethnic markets and trying out new recipes.  During the time we spent in Australia, I was treated to this marvelous dessert twice.  The first time I encountered it was in Bundaberg, Queensland—in a beauty shop, of all places! I was having my hair colored and cut, and while I was there, a lady came in cradling a box from the local bakery. “Pavlova!” my hairdresser shouted.

“Lois, have you ever tasted this?” she asked. I shook my head no. “You must have a piece. It’s like manna from heaven!”

Not having any idea what manna would taste like (I always thought it was a kind of bread), of course, I agreed to try it.  The soft, sweet meringue melted in my mouth. The fruit provided a tangy contrast. Those tastes—combined with rich whipping cream—indeed tasted like a slice of heaven!

Pavlova is an authentic Australian specialty, so claim the Aussies. This dessert was created in honor of the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, after her tour in 1926 through Australia. But this dessert is also one of the national symbols of New Zealand.  Anna toured both countries that year. So was this recipe was created in 1929 in New Zealand or in 1934 in Australia? The two countries have even taken the fight to court. The controversy makes Pavlova all the more mouth-watering.

I made the dessert for “the kids” last Sunday when they came to our house for dinner. My daughter-in-law, Sabine, guessed that it came from Austria. That’s where Google comes in! All agreed that my version of Pavlova (see below) was lip-smacking good.

Recipe for Mixed Berry Pavlova
1 Pavlova shell
6 cups mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.) cut as for fruit salad and mixed with a pinch of salt and superfine sugar to taste
2  pints best-quality vanilla ice cream or 1 pint fruit sorbet and 1 pint ice cream (optional; not always  included in a Pavlova, but very good)

Whipped Cream
Whipped Cream Topping:
1 cup very cold heavy cream
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the Pavlova shell on a cake plate. Soften the ice cream and/or sorbet (if using). Spread first the ice cream and then the whipped cream over the shell and top with the berries. Slice into wedges or just heap into a bowl.

Pavlova Shell
4 room-temperature egg whites
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tsp. white vinegar
2 tsp. cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment and draw a heavy 10-inch circle on it. Turn paper over.

2. With the whisk attachment in place, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer set on medium-low speed. When frothy, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the whites form soft peaks.

3. About 2 teaspoons at a time, add sugar while continuing to beat. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff and glossy. Beat in vanilla, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch.

4. Spoon meringue into the traced circle, smooth with a spatula and shape like a shallow bowl.

5. To cook: Place in the middle of the oven and reduce heat to 250 degrees. Bake for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven. Leave the meringue in the closed oven for at least 4 hours. Leave the meringue in the turned-off oven to cool, preferably overnight. Should end up crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle.

Pavlova Shell

Adding Sorbet

Pavlova with fruit added

Pavlova, Ready to Serve

Happy Guests

My birthday present from my husband, Gunter, was a 9-day trip to Belize.

Belize was a great getaway for the two of us.  The choice of Capricorn Resort on Ambergris Caye  http://ambergriscaye.com/capricorn/index.html was a good one. It allowed us to be laid back in a boutique resort where it was quiet and we didn’t have to do anything if we didn’t want to!  The resort consists of three private cabanas facing the sea and the second-largest reef in the world, next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The resort has a large, attentive staff and fantastic food; in fact, the restaurant is known throughout the island of Ambergris Caye (a 15 min flight from Belize City).

During our stay, we took only one tour, the jungle river trip to Lamanai. It was one long day: we flew out of the San Pedro airport to the Belize City municipal airport, then took a van ride through the rural areas of Belize and finally, a 31-mile jungle wildlife river tour (by boat) to the Mayan Ruins of Lamanai, situated on the banks of the New River Lagoon. These are the most well-kept ruins in Belize. While traipsing through the jungle paths leading to the three archeological sites, two howler monkeys roared on and on, announcing their territories.  The eerie sound was a fantastic backdrop to the Mayan ruins. I took some camera videos to catch the sound; I hope it worked.

There in the jungles of Belize, I am pleased to report, Gunter and I actually saw a black howler monkey for the first time!  In the first book on our circumnavigation called MAIDEN VOYAGE, on page 161, I describe the first time we had experienced that same sound, while anchored in an uncharted bay in Panama:

“I awake with a start. The sound is like nothing I have ever heard, a kind of braying, like that of a hoarse donkey. The guttural sound comes again, clearly from the jungle.  I listen more closely. It seems like more of a throaty, pulsating roar than a bark. Do they have wolves out here in the tropics? I don’t think so. Gunter is now wide awake as well. Because we can’t identify the sound, we decide to retreat into our cabin to shut it out. We remain there all night long.”

Our determination to find the source of that sound is recounted in the story: “In Search of the Howler Monkeys,” Chapter 10, page 168 of my book when we take an ecotour of the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. There, we hear the black male that makes that sound, but we see only the brown female, rustling the treetops high in the jungle canopy.

While “on vacation,” I found that my creative energy—which seemed stifled by the holidays— did come back. Sitting barefoot at a teak table at the back of the thatched roof restaurant, I made some terrific progress on Book 2, which will be called SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC.  I am in the middle Chapter Six now.  I returned back to San Diego rested and with renewed energy.

Yemen is reportedly the least known region in Arabia. But it wasn’t always this way. King Solomon knew of this legendary land long before the Queen of Sheba visited his court with her gorgeous gifts. Yemen, along with Oman, is known for its rich resources of frankincense, spices, and myrrh. Great empires emerged there centuries before Christ. Here the Biblical Noah launched his famous ark. Yemen is still called the “Pearl of the Peninsula.”After Gunter and I and our crew, Chris, arrived in Aden and secured Pacific Bliss in the “safe” harbor in Aden (where the U.S.S. Cole was bombed) we left inland to tour Sana’a, Yemen’s 2500-year-old capital in the mountains. Old Sana’a is a UNESCO heritage site, one of the best preserved in the whole of the Arab world.

Morning in Sana’a, Yemen

What you may not know about Yemen is that the entire country chews an intoxicating leaf called

Qat.  And if foreign diplomats want to do business or strike a deal there, they will have to conduct their afternoon meetings in a qat room.  The following is taken from my journal at http://pacificbliss.com/journal164_a%20yemen.htm :

“See,” our Yemeni driver said as we left Aden for the countryside, “they bring qat from plantations to suq. Picked fresh this morning.  Lunchtime, men go to suq to buy. Then go home.”

Most work in Yemen stops at lunch time.  This is the main meal, heavy, consumed with lots of fat to fortify the digestive tract against the onslaught of the bitter leaf.  After lunch, the men go to the market to search out the best product within their budget; the longest branches, with tender light green shoots, are the most prized.  On average, a Yemeni can spend half his daily income on qat, so the selection process is crucial.  Depending on its quality, the price of a qat rubta (bunch) needed for one “sitting” ranges from 100 to 5,000 rials (50 cents to $25.00).  It is nearly impossible for the uninitiated to understand the difference between a bunch of leaves that sell for cheap and another that costs 20 times as much.  The qat comes in different varieties, shapes and shades of green.

Once they make their purchase, there comes the inevitable discussion among friends about whose home they will go to chew the qat.  Those whose homes have a big mafraj (top story room for entertaining)—or at least a large diwan (sitting room) are the most popular.  Each guest is expected to bring his own qat.  The host then provides the mada’a (tobacco water pipe) and drinking water, soft drinks, or tea.  Chewing is very dehydrating, so these liquids are essential.

The chewers use their teeth (or a small gadget if they don’t have any left) to grind the leaves into a mulch, which is then stored in the cheek.  After a couple of hours of stuffing the mouth, the mulch grows into a rather large ball from which the user extracts the juice and allows it to enter the digestive system.

This scenario is repeated across the country, every day, in the homes of the rich and the poor.  Chewing isn’t just an addiction or a way of passing time.   In Yemen, it is a way of life.

Qat Chewer at the Suq