Beautiful Ruins

Continuing with my book reviews, here’s my next pick…

Beautiful Ruins, a New York Times Bestseller, immediately caught my eye (I was judging a book by its cover, literally.) But who can blame me with that magnificent photo of the Italian coastline. I figured this was something I would be interested in as I have a slight obsession with Italy. This was the first novel I’ve read by Jess Walter, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I must say I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading a few more of his books. Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962…and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later. This book has romance, drama, a beautiful setting, and tells a great story.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (synopsis from Goodreads)

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.

Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

Well, there you have it…so, pickup a copy of Beautiful Ruins or download it to your e-reader, and enjoy this great story.

Have you read any good books lately?  I love suggestions!

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Sanibel Shopping

Sanibel is one of my favorite places to visit for a quick, relaxing vacation.  Living in Miami, we have the luxury of being less than a 3 hour ride away, so we take advantage of this, and spend many weekends (sometimes even day trips) in Sanibel. If you’re not familiar with the area, Sanibel is a barrier island located near Fort Myers off the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast. The island has a laid-back tropical, Caribbean feel that also offers breathtaking sunsets, great eateries (my favorite being The Island Cow) and fantastic shopping.  It’s no wonder Sanibel was recently named the #1 family-friendly vacation spot in the country during NBC’s Today show.  We love everything about the island and while we also enjoy visiting Naples and Marco Island, Sanibel remains our favorite.  It’s so relaxed and cozy, I just love to spend my days on the white sand beaches collecting shells or riding bike through the adorable streets with the beautiful houses, and finishing off the day with a great meal and some fun shopping. And if you’re looking for beachy themed and preppy stores (think Lily Pulitzer, Vineyard Vines and Spirit Jersey), look no further. On our last trip it rained pretty heavily, so I had hubby take me from shop to shop (after all, I had to make use of my time there). Here are my favorite stores on this amazing little island.

FantaSea
2075 Periwinkle Way, #37
239.395.3300
www.fantaseasshells.com

This has to be the store that I loved most on my last trip.  Everything in this shop is beach themed, including gorgeous bedding, scented candles, bath & body products, clothing, home accessories….you name it.  Simply gorgeous, both the items sold and the store layout.  Trust me, once you walk into this place, you will convince yourself you need to by a beach house and completely decorate it with items found here.  Take a look at these…

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I just had to buy the wooden sign and add it to my beach life collection on my windowsill.

I just had to buy the wooden sign and add it to my beach life collection on my windowsill.

Naples Soap Company
2075 Periwinkle Way
239.312.4236
www.naplessoap.com

So lately I have been coming across so many new soap, bath and body products stores (I have blogged about a few already).  And I can’t help it, I love them all.  On this last trip to Sanibel I came across The Naples Soap Company, offering all sorts of sea salt scrubs, bath bombs (I love those), olive oil soaps, body butters and shampoo and conditioner bars.  Their soaps are all hand made in the US, and they use quality ingredients, which are all vegan-based, eco-friendly, and never tested on animals.  Well, all of this sounds terrific, but all I know is that I bought my daughter a lavender lime bath bomb, which was literally…the bomb.  The scent was amazing and she loved her bath. I also splurged on a Lavender Vanilla Sea Salt Scrub, which I just fell in love with.

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 Sand Castle Gifts & Gourmet
2075 Periwinkle Way, #20
239.472.2201
www.sandcastlegiftsgourmet.com

When you walk into Sand Castle Gifts & Gourmet you are immediately drawn in by the spicy scent, a result of their Sand Castle Seasonings, party dip mixes and seasoning blends, made in small batches on Sanibel, and sold exclusively in this store. This terrific little shop also sells many other Floridian treats like coconut patties, salt water taffy, Tortuga rum cakes, local honey and drink mixes in beautiful gift packaging.  They also sell adorable coastal themed home accessories and gifts such as tumblers, kitchen towels, mugs and beach bags.  You can’t miss this place.

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I had to by one of these starfish kitchen towels, so cute!

Gifts for all!

Three Crafty Ladies
1628 Periwinkle Way
239.472.2893
www.threecraftyladies.com

OK, so I am super crafty, but sewing and knitting have unfortunately never been my thing.  I can barely sew a button on.  However, when I came across this beautiful shop, (the name of course caught my eye), I just had to stop in.  The store had an incredible and unique selection of quilting fabrics, sewing notions, cross stitch patterns, scrapbooking papers, paints & canvases, arts and crafts supplies and so much more! They specialize in high-quality cotton fabrics, including a large selection of batiks and tropical prints. And if you have time and love to craft, drop by and create one of their Make-it-and-Take-it Souvenir Crafts, available most Thursdays from 10:00-4:00!  I actually found some very unique Sanibel and Captiva scrapbooking papers that I had never seen anywhere else.  Definitely a place to make a stop at, especially if you enjoy sewing.

My daughter, being the crafter that she is, loving this store!

My daughter, being the crafter that she is, loving this store!

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Sanibel Island Bookshop, Jewelry & Boutique
1571 Periwinkle Way
239.472.5223
www.sanibelbookshop.com

The Sanibel Island bookshop carries a large selection of books, many by local authors, of which I picked up a few and can’t wait to read and review on the blog soon.  They also carry some exclusive lines of jewelry, including Trollbeads, Kameleon and Lovelinks, as well as, Lindsay Phillips switchflops, Spartina bags, candles, toys and stationery items.  Definitely a very unique bookshop, as their tagline says “A Great Place To Be Stranded”. Also worthy of a mention is MacIntosh Books & Paper.

Beautiful notebooks and journals for sale.

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Many books by local authors.

Fresh Produce Sportswear
2075 Periwinkle Way, #33
239.395.1839
www.freshproduceclothes.com

This is one of the many locations of Fresh Produce Sportswear stores, offering fun, coastal designs and also a great selection of jewelry and Vera Bradley products (you know how much I love VB).  Make sure to check them out when you’re visiting all of these great stores of Periwinkle Place. Also worth a mention, Simply Boutique, a few doors down from here, selling Lily Pulitzer, Spirit Jersey and various other accessories and clothing.

Great Vera Bradley selections at Fresh Produce.

Jerry’s Foods
1700 Periwinkle Way
239.472.9300
www.jerrysfoods.com

This is a charming grocery store, which anchors Jerry’s Shopping Center, also on Periwinkle Way, (most everything in Sanibel is located on Periwinkle Way), and it’s only one of two supermarkets on the island.  The shopping center has a pretty courtyard, which offers outdoor seating for the eateries and also houses some gorgeous tropical birds in some very large cages, which attract a ton of attention from the tourists.  You will also find some great shops in here, but the market is the main attraction.  Oh, and inside the market, there is a café, serving local favorites such as the Grouper Sandwich. But what cannot be missed is their famous Jerry’s Key Lime Pie, voted the best in all of Sanibel, and trust me, I tried it and it’s got my vote as well.

The courtyard with outdoor seating in Jerry's Shopping Center

The courtyard with outdoor seating in Jerry’s Shopping Center

One of the many tropical birds outside in the courtyard.

One of the many tropical birds outside in the courtyard.

Jerry’s Cafe Interior; the best Key Lime Pie in Sanibel!

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H2O Outfitters (Jerry’s Shopping Center)
1700 Periwinkle Way, #2
239.472.4717
www.beachstuffinc.com

Conveniently located inside of Jerry’s Shopping Center you will find H2O Outfitters, carrying a complete collection of apparel, accessories, swimwear and jewelry.  Some of the premier clothing lines include Tommy Bahama, Tori Richards, Columbia, Billabong, Quicksilver, Life is Good, and the famous Spirit Jerseys (my daughter loved her Sanibel one).  Definitely stop in if you’re looking for some good quality t-shirts and beach accessories.  Owned by the same company, check out Beach Life in Chadwick’s Square, directly across from the South Seas Island Resort in Captiva, for additional brands from Lily Pulitzer and Vineyard Vines.

H2O Outfitters, photo courtesy of Beach Life.

H2O Outfitters, photo courtesy of BeachStuff Inc.

Sanibel Spirit Jersey

Sanibel Spirit Jersey

No matter what you like to shop for, I am sure you will find it in Sanibel.  Have you ever visited Sanibel?  I’d love to hear which shops you enjoyed most.

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Pasteis de Belem

My family and I recently visited the gorgeous Portuguese capital city of Lisbon on our summer vacation.  I promise a full post on this stunning place very soon, but today I would like to share one of our favorite memories from this trip….the cream custards found all over the city, the famous pasteis de nata.   Let me start off by saying that we all love sweets in my family, but oh my….the moment I tasted these warm custard mini pies…I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Being Cuban, I have had my share of pasteles in my life, but I guarantee you, these were something quite different.

The yummy pasteis de nata

The yummy pasteis de nata

Pasteis de nata, traditional Portuguese custard tarts, are everywhere. All the cafes and bakeries have them, and in both of the hotels where we stayed at, they were a staple in the breakfast buffet.  It is a common sight to see the locals enjoying their pasteis with their cafe in the morning. However, if you are looking for the absolute best ones in town (even considered the best by the Portuguese themselves, as our taxi driver was telling us), you must pick up some pasteis at Pasteis de Belem, a bakery in nearby Belem that’s been making these treats since 1837 when monks from the neighboring Mosteiro dos Jeronimos started selling them as a means of making money (their history is quite interesting and can be found on their website). The cafe is usually bustling with tons of tourists just waiting in line (yes there is a line outside most of the time, but it moves rather quickly), to order their delectable pasteis. Once I tasted these, I understood what makes them so famous. While most of the other pasteis throughout the city were also delicious, (they truly are sold everywhere), these were simply perfect. The flakiness and crispiness of the crust combined with the smooth, warm and creamy egg flavored custard was just divine. Oh and if you first look at them and think you got a burned one, do not worry, the tops are slightly burned so the sugar caramelizes. Some folks like to sprinkle cinnamon or powdered sugar on top, but I just ate my plain, I truly wanted to savor the flavor of these heavenly tarts everyone was talking about.

The lines of tourists and locals outside ...

The lines of tourists and locals outside of Pasteis de Belem in Lisboa…

All I can say is thank goodness we walked for miles everyday in Lisbon, because we were eating these pasteis on a daily basis, and boy are we glad we experienced that slice of heaven.

Other delicious pastries and snacks sold in the cafe.

Other delicious pastries and snacks sold in the cafe.

Pasteis with a cafe.

Pasteis with a cafe.

Pasteis de Belem, Lisboa

Pasteis de Belem, Lisboa

Interior of the cafe. Photo courtesy of Maisturismo News.

Interior of the cafe. Photo courtesy of Maisturismo News.

Have you ever tasted the famous Portuguese pasteis de nata?  I would love to know your thoughts.

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Best Cuban Sandwiches in Miami

If you are from Miami or a few of the other Cuban neighborhoods throughout the country, then you are most definitely familiar with the very famous “Cuban Sandwich”. Being Cuban-American, having grown up in a very Cuban area of NJ, and living in Miami for over 25 years, I have definitely had a “few” Cuban sandwiches in my life.  But as with most things, not all Cuban sandwiches are created equal.  Here in Miami, you can find Cuban sandwiches almost everywhere, but beware, there are big differences between the pre-made bargain sandwiches found at many lunch counters and coffee windows, and the delicious fresh made to order ones found at restaurants and cafes.

You will also come across places which like to experiment and add mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pastrami, sauerkraut, salami, and even Thousand Island dressing, or their own version of a secret sauce. While some of these concoctions are really tasty with a twist on the original version, the classic Cuban typically consists of a toasted buttered Cuban roll, with fresh sliced pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles (some folks include mustard too).  So for those of you that may be clueless as to where to find the best Cuban sandwiches when you visit Miami, here is a quick list of some of my favorites:

Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop
186 NE 29th St.
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 573-4681

You know this has to be a good pick when it’s the #1 place chosen by Zagat in Miami for Cuban sandwiches.  This little hole-in-the-wall, located in the Wynwood area, is a local favorite.  And if you’re looking for something really special, try the Cubano Preparado Con Croquetas, basically a version of their Cuban, stuffed with their yummy ham croquetas.

Cuban Sandwich at Enriqueta's

Cuban Sandwich at Enriqueta’s

Little Bread Cuban Sandwich Co.
541 SW 12th  Ave.
Miami, FL 33130
(786) 420-2672

This is probably my current favorite.  Owned by Alberto Cabrera, (whom I have blogged about before, with his amazingly delicious restaurant, Bread & Butter), at Little Bread, fresh-baked baguettes with a good crust get transformed into a Cubano with pork belly rillette, ham, salami, house pickles and red wine mustard. The restaurant’s culinary director, Richard Torres, explains that the secret is in the homemade bread that the restaurant uses and “not pressing the sandwich twice” like many places do.  The result, in my opinion, delicious!

The Cuban at Little Bread

The Cuban at Little Bread

Islas Canarias
Various Locations
(305) 649-0440

You know you’ve made it when Anthony Bourdain instagrams your sandwich (in this case another version of the Cuban, called Media Noche) with the hashtag #miami. The secret to their sandwiches is simple….they bake their bread fresh every day in their bakery.

Cuban sandwich at Islas Canarias

Cuban sandwich at Islas Canarias

Latin American Cafeteria & Restaurant
Various Locations
(305) 267-9995

Luis Galindo’s Latin American Cafeteria & Restaurant, named for the brother of Cuban sandwich patron Raúl Galindo, is owned by Elias G. Elias, a Lebanese-Syrian man raised in Cuba. It makes one of the city’s best Cubanos. The perfect press crisps the bread’s crust, slightly warms the interior, and compresses the whole thing without flattening it into a cracker. This place has been around forever, I remember eating Cuban sandwiches here, when I used to vacation in Miami as a young girl, before I even lived in Miami!

Cuban sandwiches at Latin American

Cuban sandwiches at Latin American

Ball & Chain
513 SW 8th St
Miami, FL 33135
(305) 643-7820

So, I have not actually eaten here…yet!  But a few friends have highly recommended this restaurant, and because their version of the Cuban is so original, I just had to include it on my list.  Ball & Chain serves Cuban Spring Rolls…a twist on the obvious sandwich.  They claim that being located on famous Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street), where there are numerous restaurants serving the traditional Cuban sandwich, they were needed to come up with something that would make their sandwich stand out among the rest.  The result…roasted pork, ham, and pickles wrapped in a spring roll with Swiss cheese, served alongside faintly spiced mustard aioli, perfect for dipping. I must try this one soon!

Cuban Sandwich Spring Roll at Ball & Chain

Cuban Sandwich Spring Roll at Ball & Chain

Well, as you can see there’s a Cuban for all tastes!  Have you ever tried a Cuban sandwich?  If you have, which one has been your favorite? I’d love to hear…

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