culinary

Pit Envy


I know you are thinking I’ve gone totally bonkers with a title saying “Pit Envy”.  No, I am not referring to armpits or peach pits or Pit Bulls.  I have a confession to make.  I am a closet bbq pitmaster wannabe.  There!  I said it!  Whew… confession is good for the soul!  Now that we’ve cleared the air about the pits, I have to tell you about an exciting thing that happened on the way home from our short road trip to Austin.  Have you ever noticed that many wonderful things happen when you wander off the beaten path and just go with it?

Food is always a part of my travel plans.  I love searching out local fare and then recreating it when I get home.  I try to always steer away from the chain restaurants and look for something local.  That’s where it’s at!

We were about half-way home when I told Mr. Yapa that I was starving and could we stop and grab something.  It had been such a hectic morning, I didn’t take time to eat and only had a cup of coffee for breakfast.  There was the usual assortment of fast food restaurants then we saw a sign for Schoepf’s in Belton, Texas.  I love good BBQ and I was I was starving afterall.

Best BBQ in Texas!

Notice I said good BBQ.  Being a Texas gal, I am pretty particular about it.  I want the brisket with a good smoke ring, great bark and tender to the fork, not stringy and not greasy.  See, I told you I was picky.  I want my sausage to have a ton of flavor but moist and not dried out.  I rarely order ribs because to be honest, Mr. Yapa makes the best ribs I’ve ever eaten.

We pulled off at the exit and found the restaurant about a half mile to the west.  Even though it was after lunch there was still a good crowd in the parking lot.  That’s always a good sign.  Walking towards the front of the building we got blasted.  Oh my gosh, where did all that heat come from?  It came from a HUGE outdoor area FILLED with bbq pits!  The smell was exquisite!

The Pits!

Oh the things I could do with just one of those marvelous stainless pits…  Oops, there I go again into a case a pit envy!  Once we got past the incredible heat and awesome smoke smell we walked into a room with two guys behind a long counter and behind them was an entire wall full of freshly smoked meats.  They take your order here and place the meat(s) of your choosing on your plates.

The meat guys

From there you walk into a cafeteria type line with all the sides and desserts.  Everyone we encountered was friendly, warm and gracious.  The food smelled and looked delicious and they had buttermilk pie for dessert!  What a treat that is.

Counter for sides and desserts

We both opted for a brisket/sausage combo plate and the buttermilk pie.  We also ordered one additional treat – a quail.  Not just any quail, this little guy was de-boned, stuffed with a half jalapeno, and wrapped in a thick slice of smokey bacon then cooked in one of those awesome pits.  For those of you who haven’t eaten quail, it’s a very small bird without much meat on its bones.  It’s very easy to overcook them and wind up with a dry piece of jerky like meat.  This quail was tender, juicy and had just the right amount of smoke flavor.  The bacon was crisp but not crunchy… just perfect!

The brisket was possibly the best I’ve had.  Very tender, moist and great flavor, just like I like it.  Even though I always try the sausage in a bbq joint, it rarely meets expectations.  This sausage was just right.  It had a crisp casing, moist and juicy meat with a perfect blend of seasonings and a righteous flavor.  I loved everything about this meal.  These folks really know how to use the pits and have a great sense of seasoning.  Yes, I know you are wondering about the buttermilk pie.  It was very, very good.  If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.  It’s a lightly sweet custard type pie and does NOT taste like buttermilk (although I love buttermilk).  It’s not a really sweet dessert but was the cherry on top for this meal.

Unexpected Lunch

Unfortunately, I do not know the name of this gracious lady who waited on us but did get to chat for a minute and ask if she minded if we took a few pictures.  She was incredibly friendly (as everyone there was) and had a great smile.

Our hostess with the mostest!

As I started writing this post, I checked them on the web to make sure I had the name spelled right and nearly fell out of my chair.  These folks are famous.  They have been in numerous magazines and even Food Network.  We thought we had found an undiscovered treasure but the joke is on us!  You can’t keep good food a secret and we should have known better.  Even though I’m not breaking news here, I’m tickled to be able to share this place with you guys.

What started out as a quick stop because I was starving turned into an unexpected treat. So, if you ever find yourself heading down I-35 between Fort Worth and Austin and you see a sign for Schoepf’s in Belton, stop!  Take a moment to stop in have a bite to eat and experience what we believe is the best BBQ in Texas.  We also understand they have live music on Thursday nights too.

Happy travels,

Edwina

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Categories: culinary, Travel | 4 Comments

Galveston, Texas – Not Just a Beach Destination


I had the opportunity last week to spend a couple of days on Galveston Island.  It has been many years since I visited and honestly, did not remember much except for the beach.  You know how I like to explore, so I want to share with you what I found while there.

I really only had one full day in Galveston.  My plan was to visit Moody Gardens to see the aquarium and the rain forest and share beautiful photos with you but I fell prey to the history bug.  Moody is a wonderful place to visit and the experience is one I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Galveston.  The Caribbean exhibit in the Aquarium Pyramid is well worth the admission price.  Being able to walk through an underwater tunnel to view the beauty of the ocean is just unbelievable.  On the next trip, I promise to provide photos of the awesomeness of Moody.

Most folks from Texas know that Galveston is a cruise port.  We watched two Carnival ships and one Royal Caribbean in port during our short visit.  The pier area is also home to an abundance of history and things to see and do.

Carnival Triumph

The cruise pier is right next door to Pier 22 where you can find the Fisherman’s Wharf restuarant.  We stopped in the first night there for dinner and the food was far beyond my expectations.  After trying the sampler appetizer platter (the Shrimp Kisses are a must!), I ordered the crab stuffed Tilapia in a lobster cream sauce.  My mouth waters now just thinking about it.  My husband ordered the shrimp combo and was pleasantly surprised with shrimp cooked perfectly and seasoned amazingly well.  Everything we ordered was fresh and incredibly delicious.  If you are ever there be sure to ask for Cody or Ali.  They were loads of fun, very attentive and knew the menu inside out.

Stuffed Tilapia from Fisherman's Wharf

Shrimp Combo Platter - (after a few bites)

Docked near Fisherman’s Wharf is the Texas Seaport Museum which is home to the tall ship Elissa.  You can see her from the dining room at Fisherman’s Wharf.  She is a sailing ship from 1877 and in beautiful condition.  Here is what she would look like in the open ocean.

Elissa courtesy of Texas Seaport Museum

Among the other exhibits, the museum hosts a film about the Elissa which is included in the admission price of $8 for adults, $5 for kids to 16 and free for children under 5.

Just a short walk further down the block is the Offshore Energy Center which contains the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Museum which may not sound very interesting at first but believe me, it is truly a great experience.  We all know that oil is being drilled offshore, right?  We have all heard about the disasters that have caused the moratorium on drilling too, but what I learned through this exhibit was truly, truly fascinating.  Many of the exhibits are interactive but the really cool part is to walk out the door and step onto the offshore drilling rig.  Realizing that men are out in the middle of the Gulf working on these things is pretty mind blowing when you are standing on it.  I really enjoyed the short tour and the information they provided about how drilling is done and what ecological steps they take in doing so.

Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig

After a brisk morning of exploring, we headed over to a local favorite, Mosquito Cafe, for lunch.  We ordered at the counter and stepped onto the patio for dining.  This is a super little bistro right up the street from the Strand area of downtown.  The food was fresh, very tasty and healthy.  Yes, healthy and tasty can be had in the same meal and they do it wonderfully at Mosquito.

Ok, you know I can’t go anywhere without checking out the shopping scene.  I cannot help myself!  My first stop was the beach scene along the seawall where you can find the always present souvenir shops and beach wear.  I have to admit, there were really cute clothing items in some of them including, Hi 5 located at 1320 Seawall Blvd and my new favorite, Wings Beachwear.  Wings had a nice assortment of casual clothing and really good prices too.

After leaving the beach area, we wandered back down to the Strand historic district located downtown.  Strand Street is located just one block from Harborside Drive which is where the cruise port is located.  The entire area here between Strand and Market streets are laden with boutiques, shops, restaurants and bars.  Here are a few pictures of my new favorite spots.

Large shop with beach wear and accessories.

La Rumba is a huge shop with tons of cute clothing items.  Be warned though, the prices in the historic district are slightly higher than the exact same product in the beach stores.  The benefit is that the offerings, while some of the same, are broader with more upscale lines.

My new favorite boutique. "Yaga"

I LOVE the store pictured above.  The name is Yaga – Mo Betta Threads.  This store has the cutest line of women’s clothing.  The store is small but the lines they carry are perfect for cruising, casual yet refined.  Perfect!

All in all, the stores in the Strand area are a great place to browse, especially if you are looking for that little something extra to take on your cruise.  I saw some brands here that I have not seen anywhere else.

If you tire of walking the historic district, you can always take a ride.

Carriage on Strand Street

The other place I want to share with you about Galveston is the Seawolf Park, named after the Seawolf submarine lost in WWII.  The park has several areas for families, but the main attractions are the USS Cavalla SS-244, a WWII submarine and the USS Stewart, only one of two suriving destroyers.

Courtesy of Seawolf Park

USS Stewart

The park offers access to the submarine and destroyer for a nominal donation.  I have to tell you, I have developed a totally new respect for the sailors whose tours of duty were aboard submarines.  I am not in the least bit claustrophobic but I cannot even imagine living in the tiny, cramped surroundings inside of them for a day, much less for weeks or months on end.  There comes a solemnity during the tours of these two vessels when you start to realize these were the homes of many, many soldiers during war time.  Let us not forget that our freedom has a price and those who pay it for us deserve our respect.  Needless to say, if you are in the Galveston area, I highly recommend taking time to visit this park.  Your appreciation of our men and women in the armed forces will amplify after this short excursion.

After our day of exploring, we went to dinner at Gaido’s restaurant which has been in the same place on the seawall since 1911.

Gaido's Seafood

You cannot miss this sign but in case you don’t see it, just look for the giant crab right next to it.

Gaidos Giant Crab

Seriously, please don’t let the exterior of the building keep you from trying this restaurant.  It looks a little run down but once you walk in, the atmosphere is warm and inviting.  Everything we had was wonderful, I ordered the soft shell crab and my husband had the seafood platter.  The wait staff was very knowledgeable about the menu and the fish in particular.  It is definitely a place we will revisit.

As I left Galveston, I made a mental note to visit again soon.  I will be cruising out of Galveston a couple of times next year, so I’m planning to squeeze in another day or two.  If you are cruising or just heading there for a little beach time, let me know.  I’d love to share more with you.

Happy travels,

Edwina

Categories: Beaches, Cuisine, culinary, Destinations, Travel, Travel, Yapa Now Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Evolution of Travel – Luxevo


As promised, I want to share with you the incredible travel club,  Luxēvo™, our host agency, KHM Travel Group, has put together.  KHM is the host agency I am associated with, meaning they are the travel agency I work through.  They are a very reputable company who strives to create lasting and beneficial relationships with travel suppliers, as well as being very good to their agents.  They are one of the largest and fastest growing host agencies in the country.

KHM mentioned something about this travel club thing over a year ago at a two-day training seminar but like some of the other agents, I didn’t care much for the idea.  Frankly, multi-level-marketing schemes, time shares and vacation clubs all fell into the same category for me.  DONT’S!!!  Yes, there are more scams out there than there are reputable agents, and there are a TON of us but you know I wouldn’t recommend anything to you I wouldn’t stake my reputation on.  Anyway, they mentioned they were working on something but I already had my mind made up that I didn’t like it.  Oh, how wrong I was.

When our fearless leader rolled out the introduction of  Luxēvo™ in a webinar a few weeks ago, I was incredibly surprised.  This was no time share, MLM kind of thing.  This was amazing.

Luxēvo™ is a program that actually SAVES money.  It’s a combination of travel packages (at great prices) and LuxPoints which are rewards based on the amount you spend.  You actually earn $1 for every $10 you spend on LuxCursions.  Even the best ‘cash back’ credit cards do not offer that good of a return.  With membership you also receive the  Luxēvo™  Advantage Benefit Program which offers deep discounts for dining, entertainment, shopping, theme parks and so much more (and the discounts you can take advantage of are unlimited).  You also get your own personal concierge.  It just keeps getting better.

This IS the evolution of travel… to bring the strength of mass buying power and the availability of one-of-a-kind value based discount programs together with personalized service all in one neat little package.  Wow.  I was sold!

I immediately signed up for the training and am now a Certified  Luxēvo™ Agent.  I know this is not something that is for everyone but I can honestly say that if you use the Benefit Program you will save enough to cover your membership in no time.  You will get great deals on travel all over the world, (land and cruise) and you have your own personal concierge plus the discount program!  It’s a great package.

Ok, I know the big question is “How much is it?”.

Club Membership is:

  • One-time Enrollment Fee of $150.00
  • Low Monthly Membership Fee of $25.00
  • No Annual Membership Fee
  • Discounted travel Included!
  • Earn Reward Dollars Included!
  • Advantage Benefits Program Discounts Included!
  • Personal Concierge Included!
  • Personal Certified Luxēvo Agent Included!
  • 30-Day Money Back Guarantee
  • No contracts or term limits
Elite Club Membership is:
  • One-time Enrollment Fee of $175.00
  • Low Monthly Membership Fee of $30.00
  • No Annual Membership Fee
  • Discounted travel Included!
  • Exclusive, Elite-only LuxCursions Included!
  • Earn Reward Dollars Included!
  • Advantage Benefits Program Discounts Included!
  • Personal Concierge Included!
  • Personal Certified Luxēvo Agent Included!
  • 30-Day Money Back Guarantee
  • No contracts or term limits

Did you see the 30 day money back policy?  You can opt out and get your money back if it’s not everything you thought it would be.

If you didn’t fall out of your seat yet, wait til you hear this.  You know that familiar television ad where a well known satellite tv provider offers you $100 for referring a friend?  We do that too.  No, this is not an MLM!!  It is a one-time referral bonus for you for each person you refer.  You do not receive any type of financial compensation for recruiting people.  It is just like the television ad, it’s an incentive for you to share something you do with people who want to travel and enjoy the same discounts you do.

Please take a moment to look over the website if you are even a little bit interested.  Just click the picture below.  There are some great videos to help explain it to you.  I truly am proud to represent Luxēvo™ as a Certified Agent.  And… Yes… I am a member!  I’m already enjoying my discounts at restaurants and movie theaters in my neighborhood, planning our first LuxCursion and you could be too.

The Evolution of Travel

Luxevo ~ The Evolution of Travel

Happy Travels,

Edwina




Categories: all-inclusive, Beaches, Cuisine, culinary, Destinations, Luxury, Tours, Travel, Travel, Uncategorized, Yapa Now Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Yapa Now Travel Bucket List


I have always been an adventurous traveler.  I love exploring on my own and discovering the hidden gems found within a city or area that aren’t common touristy stops.  Friends and family have told me I am fun to travel with because of my child-like excitement when I discover something new.  Yep, that’s me, just a kid in a candy store when I travel.  Who else do you know that would get excited about singing with the guy in the subway who is trying to make a buck?  Oh yeah, I love the subway in NYC but that’s just me.  I’m easily entertained.

Much of my travel time now is spent working.  I am researching, discovering and rating areas, resorts and tour operators so that I offer comprehensive, honest advice to my customers.  I say “much of my travel time” because I cannot go anywhere that I don’t find myself wandering and seeking the new and unusual.

As a travel agent, I am somewhat surprised that until now I have not officially written down a travel bucket list.  Of course, I’ve always had a list of places and things that “must be done” in my lifetime.  While chatting with new clients one of the questions I always ask them is what and where their dream travel experience would take them.  I have recently asked myself the same question and the following is my list of the top ten.  These are not necessarily in order of preference.  Given the time and opportunity, I would jump at the chance to visit any and all of them.

1.  Mexico – Yes, there are still places in Mexico and things there that I have not experienced so it is always first in my thoughts.  Riviera Nayarit tops the list for the luxury resorts and the ruins of Teotihuacan is a very close second.  There are also the culinary tours that beckon me.  Mexico has such a diverse offering of adventures, luxury, relaxation and excitement that it can literally fill anyones wish list.

2.  Dive the Great Barrier Reef – I have a deep love for the ocean and being able to “swim like a fish”.  The beauty of the coral reef and maybe the excitement of a Minke whale trip would be awesome.  I would make this a land and sea package since there are so many unique and fascinating things to see and do in Australia.  I could go into a huge wishlist of things to do but then my list would quickly become an encyclopedia.

3.  Visit the Holy Land- I would love to take a guided tour of the Holy Land.  This is one trip I would probably not explore totally on my own.  There are just some travel experiences that are best planned by experienced tour operators and for me, this is one of them.  To be able to walk where Jesus walked and to see where the roots of Christianity began are the deciding factor for me, personally.

4.  A Castle Tour – A visit to Scotland and/or Ireland with a castle tour is definitely on the list.  Since I was a little girl, I have always been fascinated by castles and the mystery of Scotland and Ireland.  The countryside is beautiful and the people are overly friendly and expressive.  From the pubs and small country inns to the farms and cities, I can’t think of a more fun opportunity to rent a car and take off exploring.

5.  Greece – I can’t wait to plan a tour of the Grecian islands.  From Athens, to Mykonos, to Santorini, to Crete, it would be a whirlwind of beauty, history and incredible food.  Delphi, Olympus, Temple of Poseidon, the Acropolis, the list just goes on and on.

6.  Paris in Spring – Ok, I’m a true romantic and have always wanted to be in Paris in the Spring not that any other time of year would not be just as memorable.  Of course a couple of days at the Louvre and a day trip to Versailles are must-do’s among the million other things to see and do.

7.  Rio De Janeiro for Carnival – I don’t even need to explain this one.  Mardi Gras was a blast but take into account the beauty of Brazil, the beaches the unspoiled forest and then Carnival in Rio.  Wow…

8. Tahitian Islands – Home of the original cabana on the water.  There is just something about being able to see the tropical fish through your living room floor that intrigues me, not to mention having room service delivered via small boat.  The islands are so beautiful and in most cases unspoiled by commercialism.  You can easily island hop from resort to resort to make this a fantastic luxury getaway worth planning.

9.  Tuscany, Italy – I don’t know what makes this addition to the list more impressive, the art or the cuisine.  Imagine being able to see works of  da Vinci, Giotto, Botticelli and Michelangelo in one of the top five rated museums.  For a food lover, the opportunity to learn to cook true Italian cuisine at one of the many cooking classes offered is reason enough to make the top ten list.

10.  Egypt – I know the travel advisories are tough right now but how can you have a top ten bucket list without Egypt?  The pyramids, cruising the Nile and even diving the Red Sea.  The opportunities for adventure are as diverse and the country itself.  I could easily spend a month long holiday just trying to fit everything in.

Thanks for taking the time to share my top ten travel bucket list with me.  I welcome your thoughts and hope that you will share some of yours with us.  You can find me on Twitter and Facebook.  Come on by and say hello.

Edwina Parker

Yapa Now Travel

Categories: culinary, Destinations, Mexico, Tours, Uncategorized, Yapa Now Travel | Leave a comment

Top 5 Reason to Use a Travel Agent


Potential clients often ask me, why should I use a travel agent instead of just booking it myself through (xyz) . com.  In fact, I am asked that question so often I felt I should share my answers with you.

First, with an online travel agency that deals in “last minute” deals or bulk travel, you will get a decent deal for your money but that’s where things start to go muddy.  You have to do all the work researching your vacation destination, then you click boxes until it asks for your credit card.  Once you have completed your transaction, you are done!  Did you know you can get the same great “deal” with a travel agent?  Plus, your agent will do all the research for you, send you quotes with real information about each resort and take care of all the arrangements for you and all at no extra charge to you!  And, that is not even including any special upgrades or extras that they can provide through their relationships with the vendors.

Second, you develop a relationship with your agent.  They will ask questions to get to know you which help determine exactly which destination and resort will be the best fit for you.  Can you imagine a romantic getaway for you and your spouse only to find out the room you booked was in a family resort with a 50/50 split of children to adults?  Not exactly what you had in mind but the pictures didn’t show that, did they?

Third, your agent is an advocate for you.  If there is ever a problem of any kind, whether by your fault (cancellation, change of date, etc.), the airline or the resort, your agent is there to make it right.  Imagine trying to change a vacation you booked online by calling the automated number and hoping to get a real person on the phone who is courteous, caring and works for YOU.

Fourth, your agent is an expert.  Agents spend countless hours in training on the latest products and offerings from their suppliers and countries in which they specialize.  They have received certifications in proficiency and product knowledge.  You may not realize it but agents actually go on site visits to properties they promote to you.  These are not vacations in the true sense of the word.  Sure we get to go to exotic locations and see all the sites, but it is always a learning experience.  We do not spend our days leisurely strolling the beaches or shopping for goodies.  We spend them taking pictures, evaluating the consistency of the resorts, their food and their service, the amenities and locale. (Then we come home and blog about it!)

Fifth, there are no surprises!  Your travel agent will make you aware of everything you need to know before you go.  You will not get to the airport only to find out that the name on your passport is not the exact same as the name on your plane ticket.  Believe me, as crazy as it sounds, if you use your middle initial on your passport do not buy your ticket with your full middle name on it.  When you book that luxury couples retreat, know that you will be in an adult only resort that specializes in romance.

Your travel agent knows that all of these things make your travel much more enjoyable and that is what we love about our jobs.  Please, next time you think about taking a vacation, contact a travel agent and experience the true joy that travel can bring.

On the lighter side of things, I came across this list quite a while back but it is always worth repeating.

Happy travels,

Edwina Parker

Yapa Now Travel

http://www.yapanow.com

Categories: all-inclusive, Beaches, Cancun, Cuisine, culinary, Destinations, Eco, Luxury, Mexico, Tours, Uncategorized, Weddings, Yapa Now Travel | Leave a comment

Food Lovers Dream – Mexico


When we venture into another country or even a new area of our home country, one of the first things we notice is the difference in the food from what we are accustomed to.  I admit it, I am a foodie at heart.  I love trying new restaurants, local cuisines and cooking up a new recipe for the family.

Many of us from Texas and others parts of the US have come to believe Mexican food is equal to “Tex-Mex“.  Not the same!!!  True Mexican cuisine will largely be based upon the region of Mexico in which you find yourself.  Fresh seafood is abundant, as you might imagine, along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts whereas, in the interior of Mexico you will find more land based proteins served with frequency.   You can often find outdoor spots along the coastal roads occupied by a family owned restaurant serving fresh grilled fish with homemade tortillas.  In Mexico, it seems as though the standard has been to use fresh local ingredients.  That concept is now becoming full blown in the US.

Suggested must try’s:  stuffed poblano’s, anything with chipotle (my all time favorite pepper), fresh grilled fish, amazing fruit juices, Mexican breakfast and anything from the small family owned eateries!  Don’t forget the tequila!  There are so many varieties of tequila it is hard to choose a favorite.  If, like me, you don’t care for the sweetness of some of the tequila’s try Mescal instead.  Beware the worm!

Culinary tours are available as part of a vacation package or as an entire experience.  These tours offer a taste of authentic Mexico as well as the opportunity to learn how to prepare the dishes at home.  We have information available for the tours and areas offering them.  Let us know if we can help you plan a culinary adventure in Mexico.

Edwina Parker

Mexico Specialist

http://www.yapanow.com

 

Categories: Cancun, Cuisine, culinary, Destinations, Mexico, Tours, Uncategorized, Yapa Now Travel | Leave a comment

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