Monday, October 18, 2010

Absolute Heaven on Earth!

SHANGRI-LA

1: a remote beautiful imaginary place where life approaches perfection : utopia

2: a distant, idyllic & secluded hideaway of great beauty and peacefulness.

Shangri La in the Maldives sure lives up to the description! If there is a more beautiful place on earth someone please tell me where it is!

We recently spent our second week in the Maldives at the Shangri La. While we really loved our first week at Alila it just can't compare to the Shangri La as it's honestly one of the most incredible spots we've ever been fortunate enough to visit. We went last year for my husbands 50th and loved the Maldives so much we ended up coming back.



We went to Shangri La last year and were among the first guests at the hotel for it's opening week. At the time it was almost flawless with just a few slight imperfections that quite honestly we expected being the first week and all. They told us to come back in a year and see how they could improve things to perfection. So we did :)


After leaving the first resort we saw many other couples going to other resorts that we hadn't visited yet and were lamenting and wondering if we should have tried something different as we rarely go back to the same spot twice. (too many resorts, too little time) All of those worries went away as we stepped off the jetty and were greeted by the friendly smiling faces of Jens the Manager, Raja & Barbara who we had met last year and were wonderful!! They welcomed us back and we felt like we had come home! They very generously offered to upgrade us to a tree house suite and it was completely amazing!! The villas and rooms at Shangri La are among the nicest we have ever seen anywhere!

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Above is a video of our to die for treehouse with views of the amazing Indian Ocean and the sound of crashing waves on the beach. Sheer unadulterated bliss :)


private pool with tanning shelf...

Our villa host Iman was completely amazing and catered to our every whim all week long. I can't say enough about him and all the staff at the resort. Many remembered us from the previous year and we just felt very special and pampered all week long. They even gave us a cell phone to call Iman anytime we needed anything from anywhere on the Island.

Iman and Raja picking us up at our water villa to take us to the spa...

The spa was out of this world! My husband couldn't stop raving about his massage and my treatment was incredible as well. I did a yoga session in the morning in the beautful air conditioned yoga pavillion overlooking the ocean and the treatment in the afternoon. I've never been so relaxed and felt so peaceful and tranquil.








As much as we loved the tree house villa we wanted the chance to experience the overwater villas too and moved to one for the last two days of the stay. It was completely amazing as well.

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They are on the lagoon side of the Island so you have the incredible turquoise waters and sunsets every night. Also, there is a wonderful day bed under a covered patio where we loved spending time day and night.






Sunsets from our deck in the overwater villa were stunningly gorgeous!






Each villa has it's own bikes and definitely part of the charm is riding them to breakfast, the spa or gym but you can also take buggies if you prefer. The buggies were everywhere and even waiting outside the restaurants when you leave like taxis in case you didn't want to walk or ride your bikes.


Hitchhiker on my bike after breaky :)


Last year when we went, I went on the Dolphin Cruise and it was one of the most amazing experiences ever. Completely beautiful and surreal as hundreds of dolphins swam with our boat the entire time. They were so incredible and words can't describe it. They are spinner dolphins so they jump out of the water a lot and spin in the air. They love swimming with the boat and playing in the waves. My only regret was that my husband had missed it, so of course this year I was dying to go again and have him see it for himself.

The weather wasn't great as it was quite windy so it got postponed a couple of times. Then when we finally went they really couldn't guarantee that we would see them which is understandable and obviously not something you can control. After about 1/2 hour of searching for them I was so disappointed as we didn't see any and last time they had already been swimming with the boat for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Then, we saw one jump so we headed in that direction and bingo, dolphins everywhere!! It was so beautiful and we got so lucky as there were hundreds again and they stayed with our boat the whole time until we finally had to go back...

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Some videos of them jumping, spinning and swimming with the boat.
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Everything about this resort is completely top notch and the food is no exception. Chef was so nice and we managed to get a few recipes from him too to add to our repetoire plus some extra couple of pounds to take home as well :) I think half my pictures from this resort are of food! Thank goodness for the amazing gym or we would have been even larger when we left.






We found another perfect spot to watch sunsets in front of the bar on the beach. 






. I honestly can't think of one bad thing to say about this place as no detail has been overlooked and although we very rarely go to the same place twice we were so glad we went back here and would even consider going a third time as well!! If we thought this place was flawless the first time it's now a well oiled machine. If heaven is better than this then boy are we in for a treat! :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ultimate Barefoot Luxury!!

We are back in the Maldives and just reconfirming that this has got to be the most beautiful place on earth!! Our first resort we visited was Alila Villa http://www.alilahotels.com/hadahaa It takes so long to get to but it's ultimately worth it. Arriving in Male from Singapore we had to take another short domestic flight to a tiny little Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean where the resort picked us up from there for another transfer via speedboat to Alila. All of the resorts in the Maldives are on their own Island so each one has representatives that pick you up at the airport and handle all the logistics for you. Sitting in the speedboat on our way to Alila I couldn't get over how amazing the air smelled. It was like fresh cut flowers and we were in the middle of the Ocean? I wish I could bottle that scent!!


Upon arrival you are met at the Jetty by a team of representatives to grab your luggage and whisk you into a golf cart to transport you to your villa.


The Island is absolutely breathtaking and the villas were so beautiful! Island contemporary chic is the best way I can think to describe it. We had a beach villa right on the lagoon with a small infinity pool decked out with all the luxury amenities such as vaulted ceilings, canopy draped bed, ipod docking station, bose surround sound system, espresso machine, flat screen TV etc.







We were so tired that we just dropped into bed right away. It took us a few days to recuperate from all the travelling as we had major jet lag. It rained the first few days and we didn't mind one bit as we just took the time to relax. The tropical monsoon rain was really cozy and bounced off our pool. It was so warm we still walked to breakfast, lunch and dinner with bare feet. I think that was one of my favorite things is that we were literally barefoot all week!



What an incredible feeling walking in sand that is pristinely white and more like icing sugar than sand with the clear turquoise lagoon. It's an ultra sensory experience. The only time we put on shoes was to go to the gym...

Speaking of the gym, it was a necessity due to the amount of absolutely incredible food we were feasting on. Last year when we first came to the Maldives we were pleasantly surprised to find the quality of the food at the resorts was amazing! We have had some of the most incredible meals ever here and Alila was no exception. Chef was awesome and came to our table every night to make sure everything was perfect (and it was) and address any needs etc. He even gave me the recipe of the most amazing pasta dish ever!! Even rivals my Italian mother in laws amazing homemade pasta dishes!! Sorry Mom :) It was called Tagliatelle Prawn Thermidor and was to die for! I even took a picture. I haven't made it yet as we are still in the Maldives but if it turns out as incredible as it was there I will post the recipe later...

Indulging like this daily we were bursting at the seams in no time. Our amazing villa host Hussein shocked my husband and I one night as he asked if we would like a scale in our room to weight ourselves. Angelo had just said to me that morning that he wished we had one in the room so when Hussein asked us we thought he was either psychic or there was a bug in our room! In hindsight I realize our rapidly expanding girth may have prompted his question. When we finally stood on the scale we were shocked again and were at the gym every day after that :) We even brought the scale to the gym with us to see if it was correct by putting one of the free weights on it. LOL Unfortunately, it seemed to be right but it's a glowing testament to the food at Alila. We are huge foodies (read gluttons) and amazing food is majorly important to us on holidays.


The Island itself is very small (you can walk around the entire thing on the beach in about 1/2 an hour) and intimate. Basically the resort had everything covered. Incredible villas, awesome food, the spa was amazing as well and we indulged in several treatments that were heavenly. Also most resorts in the Maldives are as environmentally friendly as possible as they have to be but Alila Villas Hadahaa is the first resort in the Maldives to adhere to the standards for Green Globe certification in the construction stage and resort operations.

The house reef is one of the best we have ever seen!! We didn't even feel the need to go scuba diving as the snorkeling was so beautiful. I have never seen that many fish in my life and the colors were crazy!! The coral reef was stunningly gorgeous too and we went out everyday just in complete awe. I felt like I was in "Finding Nemo"...

The guys at the dive center said many guests see sharks, manta rays, dolphins & turtles but we didn't see any during our stay. The fish were so amazing though it didn't really matter as it was like being in a giant aquarium.


Another one of our favorite things was the service!! The General Manager Greg and his team made sure that we felt right at home and were pampered. From Kamal and everyone in the restaurants to Raj in the lounge where we would have an amazingly delicious concoction while swinging in the comfy lounges and watching the sunset with warm ocean breezes.



Our villa host Hussein was incredible and he absolutely made our stay. His courteous professionalism, warmth and positive happy, attitude was so nice and we felt so relaxed and taken care of. Hussein even performed a wedding ceremony on the beach that was beautiful for a couple from Germany with traditional dancers and drummers.



Everyone there really takes pride in their work and goes out of the way to make sure you are happy and blissed out!! Mission accomplished guys!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wonderful Won Ton!!

Nothing says love like a huge bowl of won ton soup! In my quest for the perfect won ton soup I've started making it at home and it's been a huge hit with all who have tried it! I thought I would post the recipe as so many people ask for it. I make it so often my hubby is getting sick of it but I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and sometimes do :)


Broth
For the chicken broth I make it just like my normal chicken broth but add some pork too for extra flavor. You can substitute your favorite chicken broth recipe of course...
 I prefer to use pre-roasted chicken from the store to save time and use some of the meat for adding to soup later or sandwiches etc. You can use raw chicken as well but if just gives a more subtle less rich flavor.
1 roasted chicken 1/2 meat removed if desired 
1-2 lbs. pork bones with meat on them
1 onion peeled & quartered
3 carrots peeled and cut in half
2 celery stalks cut in half
2 bay leaves
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 beef bouillon cube
 3 or 4 canned Italian tomatoes (optional but adds nice flavor)

Always use cold water to make soup (and cook with in general) as it's fresh and hasn't been sitting in a water heater. Fill large stock pot with water and add roasting chicken & pork bones. Bring water to simmer as you don't want to boil the soup because it can make it cloudy. Simmer for approximately 1/2 an hour and remove foam as it comes to the top with a spoon. Once foam begins to subside and liquid is clear add vegetables and rest of ingredients. Simmer broth for several hours until desired intensity is achieved. I like making this 1 day ahead and letting sit overnight with meat and veggies and it tends to intensify the flavours as most soups & stews tend to taste better the next day. You can then strain the soup for immediate use or freeze it once it's cool for soup any time of the day or night. I like having frozen broth in my freezer all the time as you never know when you are going to want or need it for a recipe etc.


Wontons (aka pillows of perfection)
1 package of wonton wrappers
1 lb. ground turkey (preferably dark meat)
2 egg yolks
3-4 green onions chopped
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Take several wonton wrappers and lay them out on your surface. Using two spoons put approximately one level tsp. of meat in the middle of each wrapper. You don't want to put too much as when you are folding them the meat will come to the edge and won't allow for a proper seal. Have a small bowl of water ready and with your finger brush two edges with water. Bring two opposite corners together to make a triangle around the filling. Press the edges firmly together to form a seal and make sure the seal is good otherwise they will open when you are cooking them. Hold with the short side of the triangle facing down, moisten one of the long corners with the water and bring other long corner to meet and press together to make a seal gently pushing down on middle if necessary. There are several ways you can fold wontons and this is just one way. They look like little tortellinis this way. For other ways to fold them and video demonstrations search "folding wontons" on you tube. Continue on with rest of package and this recipe tends to be enough filling to do one whole package of wrappers. It's makes about 70 or so depending on the amount in the package and you can freeze whatever you don't use for future use. I place them in the freezer flat on a cutting board until they are frozen so they don't stick together and then put them in zip lock freezer bag in portions. You can also half the recipe if you like and just freeze whatever wrappers you don't use...



Boil fresh wontons for 4-5 minutes in salted water and frozen 7-8 minutes. You can remove one and cut it in half to make sure they are cooked through and there is no pinkness left. Add wontons to broth and enjoy! You can also add chopped green onions, spinach, broccoli, reserved chicken meat or whatever you desire to the soup. The best thing about this recipe is you can do whatever you want! You can substitute the ground turkey for ground pork if you like and sometimes I add shrimp too but our favorite variation is the turkey.

P.S. I've seen some recipes say to cook the wontons in the broth but the cornstarch from the wontons which keeps them from sticking together makes the broth cloudy so I don't recommend doing it this way...

recipe adapted from www.epicurios.com