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Friday, October 7, 2022
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MOTHER'S DAY BRUNCH

If I didn't have one, I would invent one. Mother, that is. What a perfect day on St. Thomas. Temperature in the 80s, clear sky of blue, gentle breeze out of the north, and an advertisement for "Mother's Day Brunch at Caneel Bay." It doesn't get much better than this.
My love affair with Caneel Bay Plantation began in 1964. My wife and I were teaching at Ramey AFB in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, when we spied an ad for a getaway weekend at Caneel Bay from Prinair Airlines.
We had married at the end of our sophomore year in college, had the first boy a year later and graduated with the second on the way. After several years working our way through graduate school, we had taken a job teaching for the military and were living on the Air Force base with a first-class baby sitter complete with good parental backup. Time for our first-ever vacation alone with each other.
Arriving at Red Hook, we were rebuffed at the boat. Seems Prinair didn't send in our deposit, the Plantation was full of paying guests, and we were out of luck. Thanksgiving 1964, the island of St. Thomas was totally full of tourists. There were no vacancies anywhere. The Department of Commerce was pleading over the radio for Virgin Islanders to offer rooms in private homes to tourists stranded on the island with no place to stay.
Dick Erb, general manager of Caneel, took mercy on us and cleared out his Conference Room, leaving two day beds and the executive bathroom to our use the first night. The second night he moved us into an empty room.
Caneel Bay was heaven on earth, the food was simply the best, everyone treated us like royalty, our kids were out of mind, and we enjoyed each other as behooves two adults in love. We were forever hooked on the Virgin Islands, Red Hook area and Caneel Bay.
Since then we have enjoyed Caneel Bay every time we have the opportunity. When I read the advertisement for Sunday Brunch, it was one of those no-brainers.
And what a brunch it was. First course at Caneel should always be the cold soup. Sunday it was mango/passion fruit. Creamy and sweet, yet just a bit tart, keeps the taste buds in synch.
The first time I took my father to this den of delightful eating, he was taken aback at the price and couldn't bring himself to accept the knock-down gorgeous setting. He was the truck-stop specialist of the family. When my mother told him she was going to pay the tab, he decided to take her to task by pigging out. Damn the torpedoes, full gluttony ahead.
The cold fruit soup that day was strawberry. A dynamite blend of frozen strawberries (with sugar of course) and apple juice to cut the sweetness. Want it sweeter, add strawberries; more tart, add apple juice. Since my dad was a strawberry freak, he immediately succumbed to the soup and all we heard were moans of pleasure throughout the meal. Caneel simply has that effect on diners.
Next I headed for the seafood table piled with Alaskan king crab legs, shrimp, sea bass in a pumpkin stew garnish and eggs Florentine. The crab legs and shrimp were just right, firm and a tad salty with a crisp horseradish/tomato sauce on the side. The sea bass was most tender in a delightful light batter, which complemented the fish without overriding it, and the pumpkin/bean stew provided a most complementary flavor bouquet.
The eggs Florentine is simply not an easy presentation. If I could make one recommendation, it would be to serve the components separate and leave the marriage to the buffet gatherer. Prepared eggs Benedict, Florentine, whatever, is a tough act that usually results in hard muffin, hard egg, melted hollandaise and dried out meat and spinach.
On the other hand, a basket of muffins in a napkin will remain tender without heat, a small pan of bacon and another of eggs can be kept warm and moist simply from the heat of the sun on the pan, the spinach in a light sauce will keep well, and the hollandaise simply must be replaced relatively often in small quantities. Not only will the marriage of the ingredients produce a more palatable product, but I can swipe some of the hollandaise for the asparagus (see salad).
Depending on one's preference, there is a great cheese and tidbit shelf, salad shelf and hot item grill. I opted for the salads next.
There was a classic romaine bowl and a mixed greens bowl. Having been raised by a Danish mother who thought wild dandelion greens were the height of gourmet, I always go for the mix. Now for the accoutrements. Chopped green onions, thin-sliced Bermuda onion, tiny Italian cherry tomatoes, beef steak mushrooms, pickled pumpkin, pickled squash, pickled broccoli, snapping baby green beans with sautéed onion, and cold asparagus — all topped off with a piquant Caesar and sprinkles of Parmesan. To die for.
OK, before meltdown, we must try the cheese tray. I don't know what it all was, but some of it was simply — rotten. The cheddar was nice and dry with a sharp flavor that's hard to come by in Pueblo, Plaza Extra or Cost U Less. The goat cheese was absolutely the goatyest. There was a pale cheese with green veins which looked like some kind of Kiwi fruit blend, but simply tasted very fine and cried out for apple slices. The smoked cheese was good, good, good and complemented the desserts to perfection.
On the same shelf were chunks of cold salmon, good oily lox, smoked fish, smoked turkey and at least half a dozen assorted relishes. So much food and so little time.
The first table beyond the check-in podium was solid dessert. I am sure this placement was to remind the patrons to save room for ecstasy.
Taking this in good heed, I opted out of the hot dish buffet, but did snatch a good look. Pancakes, omelets with an infinite variety of possible accoutrements, steak-kebobs, ham, bacon, eggs to order and several other hot dishes awaited the diner's pleasure.
Probably the best indication of the entire meal was watching the wait staff clean the tables and remove the used dishes. The amount of food going back to the kitchen as waste was simply negligible.
After a good hot cup of coffee — I understand a jolt of caffeine helps with the digestion when one has eaten too much — it was on to the dessert table.
Ice cream that is truly iced cream, awaiting doses of hot chocolate, strawberry sauce, nuts, real whipped cream, chocolate morsels, etc., was a good starter to sort of settle the stomach. Then it was on to the miniature eclairs, tarts of all sorts, macaroons, sugar swirls, assorted cakes and brown/ black/blond brownies. I opted for the peanut/almond/pecan sesame stick tart, black brownie, blond brownie, a couple sugar swirls (which are simply a bit of flour to hold the butter and sugar) and a macaroon. Heaven.
Thank you, Judy, mother of my sons and grandmother of my grandsons. Without you I might have missed Mother's Day Brunch. With you, I have been many times blessed.
Oh, yes, I have a definite suggestion for Father's Day.

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