Category Archives: Destinations

A Santeria ritual in a Havana Rainforest

On a panoramic tour of Havana, we were taken to a rainforest. I knew Cuba was lush and tropical but I didn’t really expect to see a rainforest on our culture and arts itinerary. The drapery of emerald green swags billowing from the tree limbs was magical. The rushing waters of the river were captivating at that time of the day as it was almost dusk and the lighting was surreal. The waves were steadily and aggressively lapping up which created an incredibly romantic and haunting tone. As we descended some rugged terrain into the riverbank area, I noticed three people at the water’s edge. I could tell these locals were involved in something authentic. 

There were some challenging areas to sidestep as we navigated down the steep hills and stones to reach them. (photo below by Rebecca) Once I reached the shore, I didn’t have any time to really focus my camera on the best settings but I just started shooting! Fortunately, the light was so unbelievably perfect during these “magic hours” for photos. I snapped away, knowing I’d read up later and study what it was I witnessed during this lucky timing.

My pictures revealed that two chickens (or a rooster) were rubbed on the lady’s body and possibly on the younger girl, too. There was a cup collecting drained blood, possibly from a decapitated chicken but I’m not completely sure that is what happened during this specific ritual. When I studied up on Santeria spiritual cleansing rituals, later, this is what I learned:

The Santeria church of the Orisha uses this ritual as a catharsis of negative energies and disturbances. They also use egg cleansing, spiritual baths, and sarayeye which is a ceremonial cleansing that uses bundled herbs or the rubbing of a feathered animal over a person’s body.

Magic spells and rituals sometimes include blood sacrifices. In certain voodoo practices, the use of life forces offered up in sacrifice revitalizes the spirits. In another article I read, I learned about a Cuban healer who slits rooster’s throats with a butcher knife and lets the blood (and absorbed evil) splatter at the person’s feet.

The origin of such rituals came from the time that these practices were brought to the Caribbean by West African slaves. In order for Santeria to survive in the time of  plantation-owners and Spanish missionaries, Santeria adopted elements of Catholicism by incorporating their idols and renamed African gods within the images of Catholic saints. The Yoruba gods (orishas) were merged with the saints in this fusion of religious traditions. The latter allowed them to adjust  to the religion of their masters.

African animism blended with Catholic saints and contributed to the recognition of St. Lazarus being their patron saint of healing. Formerly known as Babalu Aye, this orisha (spirit) was associated with disease and healing.

In the rainforest, we found a chicken skeleton and goat’s skull on the ground. Reportedly, the carcasses of the animals are sacrificed as gifts for the gods. This thicketed forest happens to be a favorite setting for Santeria devotees to practice their ritual. An exotic bird, which resembled a vulture (but pretty), soared around the river and landed to rest. Even a Cuban vulture is more flamboyant and exotic! It swooped and dove in and around trees and seemed to skitter across the water. The vultures are sniffing out the freshly sacrificed animals as the life force (ashe) is given up to the gods of Santeria, leaving the carcasses behind for the predatory birds.

These are only a few details of spiritual cleansing rituals and I’m curious to learn more. My tour guide thinks the reason I may have been permitted to get this close to take photos is because I was coincidentally wearing an all-white outfit which happens to be the folk dress of the Santeria religion. He believes that the people may have thought I was “one of them”. I don’t know if that is true but I felt fortunate to witness their ritual. For the sake of privacy, I am somewhat relieved the photos have dark shadows so that their faces aren’t directly exposed in the photos I’ve included here. I have other more detailed photos with graphic details but for the sake of introduction and general information, I am only including these photos. This landmark with its exposed spiritual practice remains one of the most powerful images I saw and experienced in Cuba. To see this live rather than only read about it or see representations in museums made our Cuba experience very authentic and alive.

photos by Gina Kingsley

A Magic Carpet Ride

       A Magic Carpet Ride is a travel book about family travels and personal journeys.

“It was hard to comprehend how blue the ocean was on these Rodos beaches. We parked our rental car on the side of a village road to take photos. Outside of a restaurant called Panorama Cafe, we stood there in disbelief to absorb the panoramic view. It was at that moment that I first realized that the ocean water in Greece has layers to its hues. Closest to the shore, the water is clear, then green, then Mediterranean blue, then navy blue and then, miraculously, purple. Together they make that Grecian blue but if you look closely, it’s layers of blue except on the island of Lefkada, where it is solidly the most turquoise blue the eye can absorb. It was opaque, thick, sensuous and shockingly turquoise blue.

On the boat cruises through the Ionian islets off Lefkada, all I can remember feeling is ecstasy of physical feelings of happiness and peace. The body was totally consumed with the feeling of happiness, separate and together with the mind and soul. Every fiber of my being was out there in that sea of turquoise, lapping up every breeze, every wave crashing, every beam and ray of sun shining on us.”

Click on link to order.  You can read the first chapter as well the back cover. Profits go to various charities. www.amzn.com/069271393X

from internet
Rhodos from internet
from internet

In writing this book, I learned even more historic facts about the various countries we visited. There are recommended hotels, restaurants, excursions and recipes  included as well as cultural nuances and historic factoids.…for those who are interested! There’s also a lesson plan for children illustrating how to implement itinerary building collaborations.

Click here to order the book : https://www.amazon.com/dp/069271393X/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

© Gina Michalopulos Kingsley

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Qutb Minar in Dehli, India

Mughal architecture is astounding. Color tones, textures, optical illusions…..are some of the many distinctive details. The 13th center “tower of triumph” as it’s called is still the tallest free-standing minaret in the world, according to an India travel guide book. The sandstone facades and arches (without any mortar) were built in the typical Indian dry masonry technique. The Arabic inscriptions and ornate details , carved inscriptions and geometrics in the patterns convey such diligence and artisan discipline but also have a subtle blending in to the rich, earthy tone of the buildings.

Qutb Minar (also spelled Qutub), was built by the first Muslim sultan of Delhi as a triumphant celebration of victory over the Hindu kings. It’s often referred to as the” tower of triumph” or “tower of victory.”  The cupola, which was originally on the very top, was destroyed by a 19th century earthquake. A nearby mosque on the grounds is believed to be the oldest in India, built with parts of demolished Jain and Hindu temples. There is also a 4th century iron pillar on the courtyard which impressively has never shown any signs of corrosion.As we walked the grounds and viewed the splendor of this architecture, we enjoyed seeing the people in their colorful Indian clothing. Our guide told us many facts and stories about this site which was on the first days of our itinerary. I can’t say that I remember them all because we were still quite tired from traveling long hours to reach Dehli, India. Although I wasn’t as alert to absorb the history and information of this site, I have fond memories of the sunny day and the intense earth tones of the sandstone amidst the landscape.All of the temples, forts, and monuments we toured in Delhi were powerful and fascinating. I can definitely understand how the “Golden Triangle” got its name. Getting to the sites among the busy and noisy streets, highways, etc. required energy and patience; especially on restless sleep. Devote time to each destination on the Golden Triangle, if you go.photos by Gina Kingsley

Evolution of Mannequins

Alluring, eccentric or creepy? Window dressing, retail, medical and even military uses are all reasons why mannequins came into existence. Decor or festish? A famous celebrity who people named “Wacko Jacko” was known for having mannequins in his home. I actually have a few, too, for decoration purposes. I love to photograph mannequins in vintage stores. Sometimes, I inquire about purchasing one of them but so far, they haven’t been for sale. I decided to read up about the history of mannequins and whenever I find something interesting, I start to wonder if my blog readers will think it’s an interesting subject, too. So…here we are….the evolution of mannequins.

Mannequins have had various purposes through the decades; fashion dolls, CPR/first aid dummies, and even 1950’s nuclear test dummies to help demonstrate the effects of nuclear weapons. “Mannequin” is a French word for an “artist’s model” and it’s also a Flemish word “maneken”, meaning “little man or figurine.” They originated in the 15th century when milliners’ mannequins were used for fashion displays. They’ve ranged from wickerwork to wirework models in the 18th century, approximately. The first mannequins were constructed from paper mache in France in the 19th century. Later, they were made of wax and then plaster in the 1920’s. Over the decades, the mannequins evolved from having small or average bust size to the newly manufactured bustier and bodacious sizes.

In the 100 year span of 1900-2000, mannequins went from being headless dolls to fully complete human form due to the industrial revolution. This was the dawn of “window shopping”. The original 300 pound mannequin had false teeth, glass eyes and real hair but eventually became much lighter in weight. Victorian styles (at the turn of the century) were conservative and censorship of the female body drew protests and bans against store mannequins displaying corsets, etc. There were even laws passed in some cities forbidding the dressing/undressing of mannequins openly in store windows. They required that the windows be covered first. Believe it or not, this law lasted until the 1920’s. During Victorian times, exposed knees and ankles were frowned upon but in the 1910-1920 decade, mannequins exposed those body parts. During the flapper phase, (1920-1930), the more slender figure of a flatter bust and androgynous, athletic, boyish body was more in vogue during this Art Deco style phase. The mannequin became 100 pounds lighter and made from paper mache. During the Great Depression (1930-1940), mannequins had a metal skeleton with material that resembled skin. The incorporation of high cheekbones and oval faces became important  features.  WWII (1940-1950) was a somber time, obviously, and the window dressing took on a serious tone. Patriotic attitudes and muted tones were at the forefront. The commercial boom of the 1950-1960 decade reflected the popularity of Marilyn Monroe with her shapely body and curves. The overtly sexualized body image bothered some people and reportedly, nipples were shaved down, temporarily. In 1959, the invention of the Barbie Doll celebrated the curviness and mannequin nipples returned for the 1960-1970 decade. However, this was the Twiggy generation so skinny, fiberglass mannequins came to be. Petite mannequins were introduced as well as faceless mannequins in the 1970-1980 decade. The 1980-1990 decade celebrated health and fitness with a boom in aerobics. The next decade (1990-2000) included plus sized models even though the beginning of the decade featured waif and heroin chic models. Now, in this decade, we are seeing more mannequins size 6 and above.

As I write this blog, I just remembered an experience I had as a teen in the 1980s. My best friend and I were hired to be live mannequins in a store window of a popular mall. We were modeling sportswear and stood there as stiff, non-blinking mannequins. It was fun but hard work. It definitely drew attention from mall walkers and customers. One fiesty boy came up to the window, stared at us and exclaimed, “KISS you? I don’t even KNOW you!” and walked off.  My best friend lost her composure and collapsed into a fit of giggles and side splitting laughter. The contagious humor of the situation had us both erupting in laughter. We got the job done which was to attract attention to the store and model sportswear. We’re mid-lifers now with this sweet and funny memory of our teen years. Maybe my fascination with mannequins has to do with my experience one afternoon as a live mannequin in a mall window. Not plastic, fiberglass, metal or paper mache but celebrating fashion, nonetheless! Not Victorian, stick thin Twiggies or Barbies but taking part in the evolution of fashion, retail and art!

photos by Gina Kingsley

pictures taken at KC’s River City Market Antiques and Wonderland

International Symbolisms of the Marigold

Sacred. Medicinal. “Mary’s gold”. After attending a wedding in India, so many new rituals and symbolisms inspired me to study these provocative traditions. The marigold leis (and other garlands) used in the Indian wedding we attended peaked my curiosity when I looked at my photos, off and on. Like many international symbols and rituals, several cultures share similar features and concepts. Nomadic exploration introduced and cultivated certain traditions from land to land.

As I wrote in another blog regarding the Baraat ceremony, “When we reached the meeting point of both families, approximately 45 minutes later, the bride’s procession was just as moving and spine-tingling as the groom’s procession. Garlands were draped on the bride and groom. The groom is given the marigold garland (like a lei) as are some of the family members. The marigold garland, reminiscent of a Hawaiian lei, (which is also presented at times of welcome), is a symbol associated with the vibrancy of the sun. The marigold is also referred to as the “herb of the sun” representing passion and creativity. In terms of the wedding celebration, the marigold is used as a love charm and a sign of a new beginning. It is also considered a sign of purity in Hindu festivals and worship ceremonies. When it’s presented as a welcome gesture at homes or hotels, (as it was to us whenever we arrived to each hotel) it is used as a sign of respect and honor. I felt this symbol of honor when I saw the marigold leis bestowed upon the families joining together in the wedding ceremony as the Baraat procession was completing and entering into another ceremony.” Since the Indian marigold garlands reminded me of the Hawaiian lei, I started to explore this connection. I learned that there are many international symbolisms having to do with the marigold and that one explanation stated that the Portuguese introduced marigolds into India. Marigolds are referred to as “Mary’s gold” which was derived from the practice of early Christians placing flowers (as an offering) on Mary’s altar instead of gold coins. Marigolds are used in various festivities that honor Mary. The marigold is referred to as the “herb of the sun” for various reasons and one of them is because the flower petals are open when the sun is out.

The marigold is also used as “love charms”. It was believed that the water from the marigold was rubbed on peoples’ eyes to supplicate psychic visions of fairies. The Aztecs treated the marigold as a sacred floral and used it in ceremonies, medicinally. They believed the marigold treated the hiccups and that it was a cure for people who were struck by lightning.  In the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), marigolds were used to commemorate the lives of the deceased. The Mexicans believed the souls of the deceased visit the living, so marigolds served as a way to guide them towards the altar. Apparently, the pungent scent of the marigold attracted the dead. The latter is why burial sites are often adorned with these flowers.

As often as I have had these flowers planted in various gardens over the years, I simply didn’t appreciate (or know) their historic symbolisms. Had it not been for traveling to India and attending such an unforgettable, extraordinary wedding, I would not have become interested in the marigold flower and its symbolisms. Now, a simple flower has the words “sacred” and “medicinal” attached to it. It opened up my eyes like the marigold’s petals open to the sun!

photos by Gina

Stories like this can be found in the book, A Magic Carpet Ride on link below.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/069271393X/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

Part 1 (The Baraat ceremony and the processions involving marigold leis), etc. is found on the blog below.)

India- Exotic Land of Ceremonies

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The Hip Cooper Young District of Memphis

Memphis is known for its iconic Beale Street, Graceland and Peabody Hotel ducks but did you know it has other eclectic and charming districts that tourists should definitely check out? One of those districts is the hip Cooper Young area.  Our Air BnB was located within the Cooper Young area and we were able to stroll through our quaint neighborhood onto the intersection of shops and cafes.

One particular restaurant and bar was called The Beauty Shop which used to be just that!- a beauty shop that was actually the first co-ed beauty shop and barber shop all in one. Now transformed into a restaurant with the hairdryers still in place, we got to sit in the booth where Priscilla Presley used to get her beehive coiffed.

The menu was impressive and the ambience was purely retro. Totally fun! After a glass of rose wine and a healthy salad and yummy sides, we took a short stroll through the area and back to our Air BnB. Victorian houses, craftsmen bungalows and other charming houses filled the neighborhoods.

A short ten minute or so uber drive to Beale Street made this a nice area for lodging. Overton Square is another revitalized area to check out. For my second trip to Memphis, these “finds” were nice to add to the famous Beale Street. Check them out!

 

West Bottoms in Kansas City

It keeps happening. Every time I visit KC, I fall more in love and discover more unique areas to explore. I have heard about the West Bottoms but put it on the back burner because there are always so many other KC rituals that I like to fit in on my visits there. A colleague of mine knew how much I like antique stores and vintage shops so he directed me to the West Bottoms.

As soon as we crossed the bridge to enter the area, I was gasping at the old architecture. We found a place to park and started strolling not just store to store to admire the antiques  but also to study the structure of the buildings. Beauty and decay colliding into one… Artistic details on the facades and yet, birds flying in and out of holes in the rafters of some back alleys.We talked to merchants and soon found out that West Bottoms has its own first Friday crawl event. It is also known for having the scariest haunted houses in the U.S., according to one saleslady. (those start in September)Coffeehouses and decor shops were the majority of the businesses there. We found the old stockyards and bars nearby. A fashion shoot was going on under the gorgeous old bridge. 

Naturally, we became curious about the history of West Bottoms. It was originally called the French Bottoms due to its history of being a trading site between French trappers and Kansas Indians. Its location near the Missouri River made it a port for receiving goods from steamships when western immigration and Santa Fe trails trade took off. It had a definite feel of the industrial era.

The birth of the railroad brought about even more significance to this area and by 1871, the city grew around the introduction of the stockyards. The original Union Depot was built here which ushered in restaurants, hotels and bars. 

A majority of KC’s value was found in the West Bottoms (according to some info)..until 1905, when a catastrophic flood occurred. The stockyards seemed to flourish until the 1940’s  when WWII ended. The hardships of the economy caused a huge loss of jobs when military construction stopped. A few years later, a flood in 1951 caused more damage. Reportedly, in a few short years, the combination of the latter two events caused 50,000 lost jobs (approximately). In 1974, the building of the Kemper Arena hoped to revive the area. The 1976 Republican National Convention was held in the Kemper Arena. Now, the area flourishes with home decor boutiques, coffee houses, etc. Event venues were alive on a late Saturday afternoon and we even saw a bride in a warehouse window getting ready for her wedding photos.When you are in downtown KC, cross over the bridge into this time capsule of history. Take your camera.Next time we go, we are checking out the Stockyard brewery. Bottoms up!

Photos by Gina

https://www.visitkc.com/interactive-map#sm.000005bdla88tqcyhwm1xhnz9syu6

(click on Get Started and then the West Bottoms graphic for a listing of events and stores)

Losing a phone when you’re out of town…and what to do about it.

I was in Memphis, enjoying Beale Street with family, when I noticed that my cell phone was missing from my bag. We had just exited an Uber van and were seated at a table with a pitcher of margaritas….ready to relax!  I searched my bag for my cell phone to take a vacay pic of my siblings, stepmom and me and noticed the phone was gone. I retraced my steps mentally…..”I know I had it in the uber because I called my teenage son back home to check in on him…..It’s still in the Uber! It must’ve fallen out of my backpack when I was struggling to get out of the van.” I remember pulling my sister or stepmom’s purse strap from around the headrest of a van seat and that’s what must’ve jostled my cell phone out of its place in the backpack pocket. Yikes.

My first thought was “Is there a 1-800 number for calling Memphis Uber drivers to locate my phone?” I could call my middle son (from my relative’s phone) who seems to know these kinds of things. Meanwhile, I directed my sister in law to try to contact the uber driver on her phone since she ordered the uber for that ride. Sometimes, uber drivers call you to find your exact waiting locations. This one had not. I told her that uber would’ve sent a receipt to her email so maybe she could find some way to contact him on that email. She tried for the next half hour or so to send a message via email and wait for a reply.

When I called my son ( back home in Oklahoma) to ask him what to do (these millennials are advanced with this kind of technology), he said, “Mom! I am tracking your phone right now! Remember? We have tracking and GPS on Life 360.” Of course we do! I didn’t think about that. My son, at a lake in Oklahoma with his friends, could track my phone by looking at our Life 360 app. I had recently put my three sons and myself on the Life 360 app because all three of them were in three different states that summer and I referred to it only when needed. I don’t really have any need to know all the details of the app but it even tells you their driving summary  for the week and their miles per hour! I only needed it for overall safety tracking. I had never thought about the fact that it could be useful for tracking me! I actually like the idea of this because on road trips where I am driving alone, I like the idea that my kids could have a way to locate me and communicate this to my husband (who doesn’t have a cell phone and doesn’t want one.)

My son came up with a plan. He told me where the uber (with the phone inside it) was moving to…..”it’s on 2nd street, now it’s on Beale, now it’s …..” Ugh. This was teasing me. At one point, I spotted the uber driver in his van, driving up our street.  I exclaimed to my brother (standing by me outside of the restaurant)…..”There he IS!” My brother proceeded to chase the van three blocks down this  busy tourist street. I was shocked and laughing. My son said he’d call my cell phone so the driver would hear it. I told my son that my ringer doesn’t work, therefore, noone is going to hear it. He said he’d call it anyway because eventually a passenger will see it in the van and pick it up or see “Missed Call” and know to call it back. (Is this a millennial thing? probably) Sure enough, his plan worked! Mark called the phone, a passenger saw “Missed Call” and Mark told him what happened. Mark called me back (I’m on my stepmom’s phone this whole time, communicating with him) and said, “Mom, call your phone, now. A guy in the van has it.” I called the phone, the guy answered and I told him, “Please tell the uber driver to bring my phone to the restaurant where he dropped us off and I’ll pay him for the drive.”

Crisis solved! After some time, the driver found me and I got my phone back! My brother was somewhat fascinated with this turn of events and the whole Life 360 app which played a part, somewhat. He suggested I blog about it because it is part of traveling and it was an adventure! It took teamwork and my sister in law also finally received some communication from the Uber email. (I don’t remember now what the details were of that). Technology does help! Uber emailed receipts and Life 360 tracking devices all worked together in this mishap to confirm that my phone was still, in fact, in the Uber van and not lost on the ground somewhere in Memphis. Granted, without the Life 360 app, I could’ve still called the phone to see if anyone would answer it and ask the driver to bring it back to me. But it was reassuring to be able to track it….  My son was also able to see how much battery I had left on the phone which would let us know if someone was going to be able to see the incoming call. Life 360 tells you how much battery you have left and sends reminders to charge it up.

This is an unusual travel blog for me to write but hopefully a useful one to someone out there reading it! (See Life 360 app link below). Travel is disorienting and there are many details to keep on top of but this tracking app definitely came in handy for me!

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Lost Canyon Trail at Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, next to Big Cedar Lodge, has marvelous attractions. This clifftop Eden of an Ozark resort is every bit the valley of excitement. One of the attractions up at Top of the Rock is the Lost Canyon Trail which is a tour of a four story cascading waterfall. Driving your own golf cart through the trail lasts about 45 minutes long as you stop at waterfalls, drive through a big cave (with a beverage bar inside) and cross over a Amish covered wooden bridge.

our sons ahead of us
our sons ahead of us
our kids golf cart
our kids golf cart

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k5khgr3rwucveqz3nxka_thumb_1515fThe paved road is easy to maneuver through as you enjoy limestone, glorious foliage and breathtaking vistas.unadjustednonraw_thumb_15171It’s so relaxing to let your mind and vision wander, taking in the  natural beauty and not having to process anything other than what legacy natural history leaves us….like the erosion of rivers, hot springs, rain, wind  and streams over time as they carved and formed the existing rock formations. It’s a bonus for me to have a husband who majored in GeoPhysics and a son majoring in Geology along for the ride to impart their geological knowledge to the rest of us!

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Inside the cave, we saw stalactites and more waterfalls.

stalactites
stalactites

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sinkhole that is leading to possible connectedness to the Lost Canyon cave system
sinkhole at Top of the Rock that is leading to possible connectedness to the Lost Canyon cave system

When we finished the Lost Canyon Trail golf cart ride, we departed to a fabulous lunch at Arnie’s Barn. The view of the Top of the Rock site from Arnie’s barn rooftop balcony is thrilling. You will definitely want to make a day out of visiting there. The sinkhole update below on video and on the website link is fascinating and possibly connected to the Lost Canyon cave.

www.topoftherock.com/sinkhole

photos by GIna Kingsley

 

My friends’ favorite wines

What are the favorite wines out there? I went to the source…..my girlfriends! When you know your friends’ palettes, you’ll be well stocked for the next time  you go to their house or they come to your house! I like to update this list, periodically. Here’s the results:

  • St. Supery Meritage
  • Stags Leap
  • Calistoga
  • Mazzei Philip Cabernet
  • Big Red Monster
  • Jordan Russian River Valley
  • Kono Sauvignon Blanc
  • Faust Wines
  • Joel Gott Cabernet
  • Faust Wines
  • Lesse Fitch Cabernet
  • Rombauer
  • Kendall Jackson Chardonnay
  • Silver Oak
  • Sterling
  • Apothic
  • Honig
  • Sean Minor
  • Earthquake Red Zinfandel
  • Saldo Red Zinfandel
  • Far Niente

Typically, I don’t believe in wine pairings with food. I mix whites and reds with different meats sometimes. However, I always like white wine with sushi. I always like red wine with…..I always like red wine! With everything!  Here’s some good info about wine pairings, though.

http://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/15-rules-great-wine-and-food-pairings/7

Gina’s easy bruschetta  to serve with wine:

make your own crostinis or buy them. If you make them, slice a baguette or buy crostinis and brush butter, olive oil, garlic and chives or your favorite herb and sea salt. Bake until golden.

mix Harissa Salsa from Trader Joe’s with Bruschetta toppings like Red Pepper Salsa, Artichoke and Olive Tapenade salsas.

Salud!