It’s the Humidity, You Bimbo….

It is hot in North Carolina and it has been since we arrived.  And, being August, not only is it hot it is also oppressively humid.  My favorite, the double H’s….heat and humidity [she said with sarcasm dripping from her lips and sweat dripping from her brow]!  I cannot express to you with mere words how much I dislike the dog days of summer. And yet here I am in Raleigh in the middle of August.

We’ve been here since Sunday and I’ve been hot and sticky since we arrived.  If it were simply hot, evaporation would help me feel cooler (maybe there is something to the saying, “Yes, but it’s a dry heat”!).  But it’s not simply hot.  So my body (everyone’s bodies in humidity) must work harder to cool off, which leads to excessive sweating, increased rate of blood circulation, and increased respiration.  Hyperthermia [the opposite of hypothermia, about which we are warned in extremely cold weather] can lead to dehydration, fatigue, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, fainting, heat stroke, and – worst of all – bad hair!

Bad hair days can make me grumpy and I’ve had bad hair for ALL EXCEPT approximately 3 1/2 minutes of this trip!!!  The 3 1/2 minutes when I did not have bad hair were yesterday right after my afternoon shower when I only had to walk 7 feet to my car on the way to meet Jeff for dinner.  So, of course, I had to snap a selfie to commemorate the “good” hair.  It was not good hair in the wow-great-hair sense, but rather good-for-August-in-North Carolina!

Strangely enough and in spite of this summer cold that is still hanging on, I haven’t been all that cranky – due in part to having a baseball hat with me at all times, in part to not really knowing a soul and in part to age/wisdom!!!  But I have had ENOUGH of the humidity.  In fact, last night I carefully and emphatically explained to Jeff that I did not want to do ANYTHING outside today.  I made him look at me while I explained it a second time to make sure he completely understood me.  Interestingly, however, I believe he was still surprised today when I asked him to drop me off and pick me up at the door of nearly every place we went. [It’s only fair that I tell you that my dad has done this for my mom for as long as I can remember so I have been conditioned to expect it.  But even with the conditioning, I don’t often ask for or expect it from Jeff].

In case you think I’m exaggerating about the heat, here are a few snaps from the last few days in Raleigh.  They don’t prove my point about the humidity, but anyone who has spent any time in the south in the summer knows I am not misrepresenting facts!

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If you’ve read my last few posts you had to know I was going to rant about the humidity eventually.  If you didn’t see it coming, you need to revisit some of the Raleigh posts!!!

Besides thinking/worrying/complaining about the humidity, what have I been up to since I last posted?

LAKE JOHNSON PARK
After finishing my post and leaving BREW yesterday, I navigated the Raleigh traffic to Lake Johnson Park.  I planned to rent a kayak and explore the lake, but since it was pouring on the way to the park (I kid you not, as soon as I got into the car at BREW it started to rain) I decided that if the rain let up I’d walk the Lake Trail instead of getting out on the water.  Well, the rain did let up and I did walk the 3 mile lake trail and it was a beautiful walk.  Rather than putting in my ear buds and listening to music or a podcast like I typically do on a walk, I used my time to talk with God and to enjoy the scenery. The rain held off until the last 1/4 mile when it began to pour again, but I was so hot [did I mention it’s hot and humid here?] the rain felt amazing!

CANTINA 18
Last night after taking the above selfie I met Jeff at Clouds Brewing.  He was having a farewell drink with his classmates while I was getting ready after my walk.  He met me outside the moment I pulled up and we had a quick conference about where to have dinner.  While he found the address of our destination and typed it into waze, I ran inside and said a quick goodbye to the guys who had graciously let me crash their dinner the night before.

After hopping back into the driver’s seat, I followed waze to Cantina 18.  If you read yesterday’s post entitled ‘Scatterbrained…,’ you know we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at 18 Seaboard on Wednesday evening.  Cantina 18 is owned by the same chef – Jason Smith – that we had the chance to meet when we visited 18 Seaboard.

I ordered a traditional margarita and Jeff ordered a Wicked Weed Pernicious IPA and we decided to share the Queso Fundito to start.  The margarita was DE-LISH – it had the saltiest salt [I realize that sounds strange] I’ve ever tasted on the rim.  And the Queso Fundito (which was flavored with chorizo, grapefruit pineapple salsa, and possibly canela) and warm chips were amazing.  If people wouldn’t have stared, I might have considered licking the bowl!!! Jeff ordered short rib tacos with pickled corn relish and chipotle crema – I ordered the short rib burrito with pickled onions & poblanos, cheese, rice, black beans and cilantro crema (I subbed the cilantro crema for the chipotle crema on the menu). Although the Queso Fundito was the star of the meal, my burrito was very good – the short ribs were cooked to perfection.

While we were eating, I thought I saw the chef walk through the front door.  Jeff asked our waiter if we had seen him and, if we had, he asked if it would be possible to speak with him.  Jason came to our table and we talked about our meal at 18 Seaboard and the meal we were enjoying.  We learned a bit about the ’18’ and about why he was at Cantina 18 – he was there to pick up 5 orders of the nightly special for the cooks at 18 Seaboard since they were starting a busy weekend and ‘tacos make everything better.’  We only chatted for a few moments, but we really noticed again and appreciated even more the spirit of humility Jason displayed during our conversations!!!  We were so full we didn’t order dessert, but were sent a little something from the chef – two delicious bites of strawberry cake!!!

After dinner we checked into our new hotel (I had loaded our bags into the car before I showered) and it is an enormous improvement over the last hotel.  We began our stay at the Hilton Raleigh North and had a less-than-stellar experience there.  Our last two nights (last night and tonight) were/will be spent at the Hyatt House in North Point.  The hotels are night and day in terms of rooms (space, cleanliness, features), service, breakfast, and overall experience!  Bear is much happier at the Hyatt House!

FURNITURE LAND SOUTH
This morning we woke up early, had a quick and tasty breakfast at the hotel and began our trek to High Point.  We arrived at Furniture Land South at around 10:15 and were amazed at the size of the “furniture store.” It was more like an amusement park for furniture lovers!  We saw some cool furniture but no great values that we couldn’t live without, so after about 2 hours of walking through the stores we hit the road for Pittsboro (near Chapel Hill).

How do you know when you’ve arrived at Furniture Land South?  You see this:

ALLEN & SON BARBEQUE
If I haven’t mentioned it previously [sarcasm again – I HAVE most definitely mentioned it previously], Jeff is a barbecue guy.  He would eat it any time of day or night and has been known to eat so much of it he gets what he affectionately refers to as the “meat sweats.”   The best definition I’ve seen of ‘meat sweats’ is as follows:

Meat sweats” is the mysterious condition whereby, after ingesting a generous helping of meat, you begin to sweat like a fat man in a cake shop. First identified by competitive eaters, for whom the malady is an occupational hazard, the meat sweats are thought to be caused by the combination of adrenaline and protein.” ~ from https://www.birchbox.com/guide/article/five-ways-to-conquer-the-meat-sweats

Anyway, as usual, I digress.  We arrived at Allen & Son at approximately 1:00 p.m. and we were hungry from all the walking we had done at FLS!  After perusing the menu, we both decided on The BBQ Plate, which included BBQ (pulled pork), hush puppies and slaw. And, of course, we also ordered sweet tea [a treat since I’ve been off tea for a year]!

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Our waitress brought us each a glass of tea and she also brought a carafe (as big as a 5 gallon bucket) for refills.  It was so tasty – sweet but not diabetes-inducing like the sweet tea we had in Texas!  Our food was delivered very quickly and it smelled so good.  I had a quick debate – add sauce or don’t add sauce.  I decided to start without sauce and go from there.  The flavor of hickory was so wonderful throughout the pork that I initially thought no-sauce was the way to go…that is until I added some Carolina-style sauce. Mmm mmm mmm!!!  It was vinegary and spicy and wonderful.  I still have not determined if the Q was better with or without the sauce.

The slaw was a bit sweet, but fresh, vinegary and peppery – just right as a side to the Q!  The hush puppies – what can I say about the hush puppies?  They were divine.  They had a hint of sweetness, the fresh-fried oiliness that turns bad quickly when food gets cold but is so wonderful in the first few minutes, and were comfortingly crunchy with the other foods.  I was in hog heaven [see how I did that there?]!  Until…….

While cutting into my last hush puppy, it rolled onto the floor!  Noooooooooooooooooooo!  I guess it was the universe’s way of telling me I didn’t need the last one!  Never one to miss a message from the universe, I also gleaned that we should share an order of Banana Pudding!!!!  And we were not sorry we did.  It was warm and had a meringue topping.  The banana flavor was great and it wasn’t too sweet.  I’d say it was the perfect ending to a wonderful Q experience.

SOUTHERN SEASON
Next stop?  Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  Jeff and I decided that the perfect time to stroll through Southern Season was when we had full bellies.  There were so many things we might have purchased had we been hungry.  As it was we meandered through the gourmet food store for about an hour and a half and ended up with A LOT of beer [not all for us] and a few goodies in our cart!!!

GUGLHUPF BAKERY
On the way back to Raleigh we made a quick stop at Guglhupf Bakery.  Jeff, who has a list of every restaurant within 100 miles of wherever we are staying, had it on his list and since we were driving past we stopped.  In addition to the artisan bakery there is a café too.  We spent a few minutes in the bakery – during which time we picked out a cheese, some bread and a sweet treat to nosh on for dinner.

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The last stop of the day was at Whole Foods in Durham for a bottle of Sancere, which we will be enjoying momentarily with our noshing dinner.  At Whole Foods we also added some fruit and a few tiny pieces of cheese to our evening menu. [A special thanks to the Cheese Monger who assisted us with picking just the right ones.]

Here we are, back at the hotel, listening to Pandora, writing the post and getting ready for a quiet evening.  It may be humid outside, but it’s cool in our hotel room and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in this moment than with Jeff in North Carolina in the August heat!!!!

Recuperating in Raleigh

I don’t often accompany Jeff when he travels for work…..mostly because his travel is usually to exotic places like Williamsport, Scranton and Wilkes Barre and partly because the timing often doesn’t fit with my schedule.  But this week is an exception.  Jeff’s travel takes him to Raleigh, NC and my schedule allows me to tag along.

I have a list of places to see, coffee-shops to visit, and restaurants to try.  I have 5 books to keep me company and hold my attention.  And I also have a terrible sore throat, a very stuffy head and a low-grade fever.  Ugh…the dreaded summer cold.  Which is also becoming the dreaded “tagging-along-with-Jeff-on-a-work-trip” cold.  You may not remember, but I sure do….the last time I travelled with Jeff for work was to San Antonio, Texas.  I had a list of places to see, books to read, and Mexican & BBQ restaurants to try AND a terrible sore throat, a very stuffy head and a low-grade fever.

We spent most of the day in the car yesterday and arrived at our hotel at approximately 6:30 p.m. – just in time to check in, freshen up and make our 7:30 dinner reservation.  I was feeling pretty crappy by the time we arrived, but the anticipation of our dinner buoyed my spirits. I recently read the list of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America 2017 and lo and behold one of the new restaurants was in Raleigh!  After telling Jeff about the list, he called immediately to make a reservation at Brewery Bhavana.

The concept of Brewery Bhavana can sound a bit out there and make you think, “huh?” but having been there and seen it and eaten the food I can tell you, it works.  Brewery Bhavana (bhavana is Sanskrit for ‘cultivating’) bills itself as a brewery, dim sum restaurant, flower shop and bookstore/library. And it is all those things. It is also a welcoming, noisy, visually interesting place to hang out. And oh, the service was terrific!

After we were seated, we were given menus and glasses of water and told our waitress, Alex, would be with us shortly.  And she was. I asked about the wine list, which is a bit confusing as the wines are listed as W1, W2, W3, etc. with hip descriptions rather than being listed by name/vineyard.  Alex asked what kind of wines I liked and said she would bring me a few wines to sample based on what I told her.  Jeff asked about a few of their brews and again Alex offered to bring a few samples before he decided on a full glass.

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Jeff and I had looked at the menu several days before our visit to Brewery Bhavana and were excited to try several things from the “Little Somethings” section of the menu; so before Alex left the table, we put in an order for the Char Siu Bao (steamed buns stuffed with Cantonese BBQ Pork) and waited expectantly for our drinks and our bao.

Rachel (more versed in wines than Alex) delivered my wine samples and told me about each one, why she chose them based on the information I had given Alex and told me which was her favorite. Then she departed, giving me time to taste each one and make a decision.  While I was sampling my wine options, Jeff’s beer – well actually not Jeff’s beer – was delivered.  Before he took a sip, Alex came over quickly and told him he had the wrong beer.  She whisked it away and then efficiently brought him the one he ordered in a 16 oz. glass, rather than the 10 oz. glass he had ordered to make up for the error.  With the beer Alex also brought plates for our bao and a “kicked up” soy sauce.  Then the moment of truth came – our bao was delivered and we were in culinary heaven.  The bao was light and fluffy and warm and comforting and flavorful and ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Delicious. The Cantonese pork was moist and tender and perfectly spiced. The addition of the kicked up soy sauce was perfect.

When Alex checked in to find out if were enjoying the bao, Jeff placed an order for Scallion Pancakes with oxtail in bone marrow and coconut-soy jam.  We also asked Alex if it was ok that we order in this disjointed way and she told us it was absolutely fine.  Alex left to place our pancake order and then came back at Jeff’s request to tell us more about Brewery Bhavana.  We enjoyed hearing about the dawning of Brewery Bhavana and sipping our drinks.  We enjoyed a little people watching and reading and re-reading the menu and chatting and soaking up the atmosphere.

And then we thoroughly enjoyed the scallion pancakes.  Oh my goodness…..the pancakes were soft with a crisp outside and, when slathered with the oxtail, were savory with a hint of not-quite-sweetness from the coconut-soy jam.  According to Jeff there was a hint of spiciness (but not too much), however I think my cold was slightly inhibiting my taste buds – which makes me absolutely salivate to try Brewery Bhavana again when I am not taste-compromised!!!!

Next up….Peking Duck Egg Rolls with hoisin sauce.  Delish!  Hot and crispy and savory and enhanced by the slight sweetness of the hoisin.  Of course, I am never to leave well-enough alone so I had to mix some hoisin with some of the kicked up soy sauce and it was the PERFECT complement to the egg rolls.

Although my wine was empty, I didn’t order a second glass because I knew there had to be cold medicine in my future.  Jeff ordered a second beer – Mango Peppercorn (the first was a Passionfruit IPA) and we put in our order for Soup Dumplings (which have the soup on the inside).  We continued to chat and I asked Alex if it would be ok for me to wander around a bit to snap some pics and she told me to feel free to be me!  So I did.

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Our next interaction with Alex was her delivering the bad news that the soup dumplings were sold out (the menu did warn us that there are only a limited number made each day).  Although we were sad, we had a back up plan and decided to see the lack of soup dumplings as an invitation to return!  Instead of the soup dumplings, we ordered the Shrimp & Corn Dumplings.

While we waited we talked about the next few days, I got the lay of the land on a few maps and sadly, I began to fade.  But when the shrimp & corn dumplings were delivered, I rallied.  Although they were our least favorite dish, they were still sooooo good.  They were more like a strudel than a dumpling and they had a warm, creamy filling that had a wonderfully herby hint.

Alex offered us dessert, but we were satisfied with what we had eaten and I was longing for pajamas and a pillow….so we declined. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the slices of banana cake and coconut cake that passed our table did look yummy. Before leaving we took a quick spin through the “bookstore” and “flower shop.”  And we ended the night with a walk to the car in the cooling night air.

Back at the hotel I fell into bed – happy, just-full-enough and in need of rest!!!  My plans for waking up early this morning were squelched by this summer cold and the desire to sleep late!  So here I sit, just after noon, writing this post and lazily planning the rest of my day.  The weather isn’t looking so great – heavy rain in the forecast – but I’m hoping I have enough time for a long walk before the raindrops begin to fall.  And I’m hoping that whatever I decide on for dinner is half as good as our dinner last night at Brewery Bhavana.  Bon Appetit was correct – it is one of the best new restaurants in America in 2017!  Now I wonder what the other 49 have to offer that can top Brewery Bhavana or, in my opinion, Brewery Bhavan-ahhhhhhhhh!

Paris Part III: Beaujolaise!

I know it’s silly; but I’ve been putting off writing this post – the last post about Paris. Somehow this last installment seems like my last connection to our trip to Paris, like if I didn’t write about our farewell we wouldn’t have had a farewell.  But, write I must.  Share I must.  I cannot keep it to myself.  It was too much fun to be the only one to enjoy it…I know you weren’t there, but you can close your eyes and live vicariously through our adventure!

So, here we go:

Day 7: Wednesday 4/12/17 (can it really be that long ago?)

We walked a lot on Day 6 and day 7 was no different.  We started the day by taking the Metro to a stop near La Cuisine Paris (LCP)- our destination for the morning.  I was excited for the day to begin before I even opened my eyes for the morning.  We were scheduled for a croissant baking class.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do; but when in Paris, learn to make croissants!! I mean, seriously, is there a better place in all the world to learn to bake the buttery, flakey pastries than in Paris?

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When we arrived at LCP, we were greeted by the owner – Jane – and one of her employees. As we were the first to arrive (I told you I was excited), we chatted with Jane and I did my best to display a modicum of patience. Finally, after Cam and Katie and Carla and Paige and Gerry and Megan arrived, we were ready to get started.

We were taken to our classroom and met Guillaume, our instructor.  We put on our aprons, washed our hands and began our four-hour tour of all things croissant.  The time flew as Guillaume walked us expertly through the process of croissant making.  We began by preparing the butter block – any pastry that has a ‘butter block’ in it is my kind of pastry! We learned that ingredients really do matter and that the butter you use for croissants should be a minimum of 80% butterfat, which is not easy to find in U.S. grocery stores.  Guillaume’s advice about butter, “use the fattest one you can find.”  Guillaume is my kind of guy!

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Next we worked together as a group as we learned to make vanilla pastry cream (which we would use later in the class).  Then began learning to make the detrempe (the dough).  It was a primitive process that reminded me of watching my grandmother make pasta dough on her countertop with a well of flour and other ingredients.  We learned how to knead the dough using a method that is different from any kneading I’ve ever seen or used.  And we learned to use the ‘windowpane test’ to make sure our dough had been perfectly kneaded.

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While our dough rested in the refrigerator and before we learned about the laminating process – adding the butter block to the dough – we worked with dough that had been previously made for our class through the laminating stage to learn about shaping different pastries.We rolled the dough and first learned about shaping croissants, which involved cutting and stretching and shaping.  Then we learned to form pain au chocolat, which have dark chocolate batons inside them. Next we shaped pinwheels and beautiful windowpane-shaped pastries that would later be filled with jam. We put our pastries into a warm (not hot) oven to proof and made some pinwheels using the pastry cream and raisins and finally used the dough scraps and cinnamon sugar to make some tiny rosettes.

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While the pastries proofed, we double-backed and learned about laminating and properly folding the dough multiple times to create the maximum amount of layers in the finished pastries.  Finally, our creations were baked and it was pure torture to watch them and wait.  I hope heaven smells just like the kitchen at LCP while our croissants were baking.  When the pastries came out of the oven, Guillaume served them with wonderful cups of cafe and we enjoyed as many as we could without getting sick.  Then our group divided the leftovers and we set out to walk off the 86 bazillion calories we had devoured.

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True Confession – I’ve tried to recreate the croissants a few times since we’ve been home with no success.   But judging from the amount of times my dad has asked me when I’m going to have more ‘rejects,’ I’d say the flops weren’t all that bad!!!  I have not thrown in the towel.  I will, most assuredly, try again!

After we left LCP, we decided to walk to some of the places Guillaume had recommended during class and Jane had recommended after class.  We went first to Le BHV / Maraiswhich is described on their website as “a luxury bazaar, where anything and everything can be found. From a Lagostina frying pan, to a SMEG dishwasher, via the latest Bultex mattress. An unmissable destination for aesthetes and hedonists alike…”  We wandered few a while, looking at the offerings and then headed to the Beer Cave that we had tried to visit on Sunday.  While Jeff talked with the owner and picked out some Parisian craft beers to take home I rested my feet and eavesdropped on their conversation.  I was stunned to learn that the Parisians are infatuated with Dogfish Head beers and that Jeff could have made some beer trades had he brought a case of Dogfish Head with him to Paris!

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Our next stop was a store we had learned about when watching The Layover with Anthony Bourdain.  He visited E. Dehillerin looking for a duck press.  We visited with no specific items in mind, but enjoyed looking at all E. Dehillerin had to offer including many gorgeous copper pots.  We ended up purchasing wooden crepe spatulas, which we had seen used in all the crepe shops/stands we’d passed.

As hard as it is to believe, after strolling through shops and making a few purchases, we were hungry despite our croissant binge earlier in the day.  With no plan in mind (I’m sorry hon, I know how much it pains you to operate without a plan), we decided to try Le Relais d’Alsace Tavern and were rewarded with a fabulous Parisian meal.  I ordered Moules a l’aioli with frites (mussels in aioli with French fries) and Jeff ordered Steak Tartar and we both ordered wine, of course!  Our meal was outstanding.  The service was attentive for Paris, we sat outside and enjoyed the warm weather and watching the world go by, and the food was incredible.  I honestly do not think I’ll ever again enjoy mussels as much unless I return to Le Relais d’Alsace Tavern. The mussels were small and so flavorful (and there were soooo many of them) and the aioli mixed in with the white wine and shallots in which they were cooked made a lovely sauce and was delicious with the frites dipped into it. Although I doubt I’d be able to pick a favorite meal from our time in Paris, this one was among the best of the trip!

With full bellies, we next went to G. Dutea for chocolate batons, which I will use once I perfect croissant making. We meandered through Paris with no real destination in mind – through the gardens at Palaise Royale and then back to our hotel for a rest and refresh.

After we caught our breath for a minute, changed shoes and picked up jackets we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower where we ooh’d and ahh’d at the magnificent structure.  We had spent the week enjoying it from afar, but there’s something to be said for standing right under it and seeing with your own eyes what you’ve only seen in pictures. It’s amazing to me how this solid, enormous steel structure can seem dainty and lacey, but it does.  After about a half an hour gazing at the Eiffel Tower, we hopped a boat on the Seine for the 22 bridges ride.  Except for the woman sitting next to us who literally took over 200 selfies and had her boyfriend take over 200 photos of her, the ride was pleasant.  The air had turned chilly so it was the perfect night to snuggle up next to Jeff.  And we snuggled while seeing some of Paris’s most memorable sites – the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, Isle St. Louis, Isle de la Cite, the Pont Neuf and its locks, among many others. While we were cruising the river, the sun was setting and we arrived back at the dock just in time to see the Eiffel Tower begin to sparkle in the dark.  It was magical.

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What a great day.  The only downside (other than sore feet and knees) was the realization that we only had one day left in Paris.

Day 8: Wednesday 4/13/17

So much to do, so little time.

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We began the day at La Pain Quotidien, a ‘chain’ founded in Brussels, for breakfast.  I had a wonderful avocado toast with delicious whole grain bread and a hot chocolate (the real Parisian hot chocolate, not the crap from a mix we get in the states). Since our next activity was a walking tour, I was glad for the fuel from the avocado and whole grain bread and felt no guilt about the hot chocolate!

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After breakfast we hustled to our meeting point for our walking tour through Paris Walks. The walk we chose, which was incredibly suggested by Jeff, was the Chanel Fashion Walk. Our guide, Richelle, shared so much interesting information about Coco Chanel, Paris fasion, the rue St. Honore and place Vendome. We visited the flagship Chanel boutique (Coco Chanel had an apartment on the top floor, although she mostly lived at The Ritz) and the famous Hermes store. (No, not the dentist from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)

When our tour ended, we were very near Lauduree, so we purchased the macarons we wanted to bring home for friends and then we strolled to/through Galeries Lafayette, where we also had lunch.  Galeries Lafayette has a food court (no, it’s nothing like the food courts in U.S. malls) – there is no fast food and all the food is fresh and delicious and beautifully presented.  We ate at Cinco Jotas, a lovely ‘lunch counter’ offering Spanish Iberico ham, delightful wines and other Spanish goodies.  We shared a salad platter with Iberico ham and Ham & Potato Croquettes, along with some delicious Spanish wines. Another heavenly meal – in part due to the food, in part the atmosphere, but mostly because of the terrific company.

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After lunch we went back to the hotel to do some packing and to have a rest for our weary legs.  I can’t ever remember walking as much as we did in Paris and our legs – especially mine – needed a little rest from time to time.  We took our time packing so that our luggage would hold all we had purchased without exceeding the weight limits and so that our carry-ons were not too heavy to actually CARRY!

After a little packing, re-packing and moving heavy things from here to there, we showered and got ready for our final dinner in Paris, at a restaurant recommended by friends who had previously spent some time in this magnificient city.  The restaurant, Aux Anysetiers Du Roy on Isle St. Louis, was small but homey and decorated with a nod to the theatrical.  Our friends who recommended the restaurant highly recommended the Beouf Bourginoine, which Jeff ordered along with a smoked duck salad and a glass (or two) of Beaujolais.  I ordered the French Onion Soup, Sole Meuniere and a glass (or two) of Sancere.  The meal was simple, but delicious.  Every bite was complex despite the dishes being made with only a few simple ingredients.  We topped it off by sharing a delightfully thick and creamy chocolate mousse. Our waiter called a cab for us and we were whisked back to our hotel, where we enjoyed a final drink at the bar and a final glimpse of the glittering Eiffel Tower before falling into bed.

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Day 9: Thursday 4/14/17

If a day can be a whirlwind and go slowly all at the same time, this was that day.  We were up and in a cab to Charles de Gaulle airport very early.  We ate breakfast at Fauchon in the airport and before boarding, I was nervously awaiting Jeff’s return from a shopping excursion at duty-free because I had been the lucky winner of a full bag search by customs, which they wouldn’t conduct until he was there to hold his own bag.  But once Jeff made it to the gate and my bag was searched, the next thing we knew we were boarding a plane bound for Charlotte.

The flight was LLLOOONNNGGG and my legs swelled like balloons despite the gallons of water I drank and the 100 trips to the restroom.  When we arrived in Charlotte we had to go through customs, get our bags from baggage claim, re-check our bags and run to our gate to catch our flight to Dulles.  Upon arriving in the D.C. area we realized how foolish it was not to book another night at the airport hotel!  But we wanted to be home and to see Macy’s sweet face so we hopped in the car and began the drive home.  We made it through Maryland into PA and were starting to get punchy.  My legs were restless and needed to be stretched or walked on, but we just didn’t want to stop.  And I know Jeff was just as uncomfortable and just as ready to be out of the car.  We continued northward and when we realized we were only at the Gettysburg exit of Rt. 15 we nearly wept.  When we reached the main intersection in Dillsburg (approximately 19 miles from our house) Jeff said, “I’m seriously considering getting a hotel room right now.”  And I knew he meant it.  And I honestly don’t think I would have objected had he pulled over and done just that!  We passed punchy and were nearly at “commit me” when we pulled into our driveway.

We had loads of fun in Paris.  We met some wonderful people.  We saw sights we’d previously only dreamed of.  We ate terrific meals and drank terrific wines and champagnes.  But there is so much truth to the famous line from the song Home! Sweet Home! ….. ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.’

Au revoir, Paris.  We love you.  AND we’re glad to be home.  We will meet again!

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Paris – Part II: Bless My Heart

Hopefully you’ve had enough time to read [and re-read] and digest Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?.  If not, I’ll give you a few moments to read it……..Ok?

I’ll pick up at

Day 5: Monday 4/10/17

The day began with a bit of tension.  You see, Jeff has a wonderful sense of direction; but it was failing him. [I later came to realize that this internal GPS malfunction was likely due to the Metro – travelling underground can mess with your bearings, as I believe it did for Jeff – but I digress….]. We took the Metro to Les Halles on our way to O’Chateau – a wine tasting bar.  I know, I mentioned it was the beginning of the day and you’re probably wondering why we were headed to a wine bar at that hour.

To answer the question – we were meeting up with a tour group with whom we would spend the day exploring the Champagne region.  We had this goal in mind as we were aimlessly wandering the streets of Paris before the city had really awakened for the day.  After passing a unique building for the second time [“Big Ben….Parliament” – I know, I know, wrong city] we knew we needed some assistance.  So we hailed a cab and a few moments later we were hopping out at O’Chateau – closer to our hotel than the Metro stop we used!!!  But we made it.

Yes, we made it and were sipping our cafe and eating our delicious pain au chocolat when we found out from our co-conspirators for the day that each group had been told a different arrival time and that we were the last to arrive.  So we hurried through our breakfast, made quick pit stops and were climbing into the van en un rien de temps.

As we zipped through Paris on our way to Reims [grateful for a driver with experience navigating Paris at rush hour] and then as we cruised the highway between Paris and Reims watching the scenery change from bustling city to bucolic countryside, we got to know our travel mates and our tour guide, Richard. Our group consisted of Theresa, Mark, Leslie and Larry (friends from Texas (although Leslie & Larry don’t live in Texas any longer); Tanya from New Zealand and Shyla from Philadelphia (yes, our own backyard) who met running the Paris Marathon the day before; Jeff and me; and Richard.

Richard gave us snippets of information about what to expect from the day, what we would see, where we would visit and a bit of foundational information about champagne – but mostly he saved the champagne talk for stop #1.

We arrived in Reims a few minutes earlier than expected, so Richard gave us a little bit of time to explore the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims – a beautiful structure that elicits feelings of awe and reverence as you step inside.  It is a gothic art masterpiece that welcomes over 1 million visitors each year and is the site where the kings of France were crowned.  And it was a great first stop for our journey.

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Next we headed up the ‘hill’ on our way to La Maison Taittinger – one of the big boys of champagne.  We toured the cellars – which is to say we walked through 4th century chalk mines 18 meters below ground.  As we walked through the cellars we found ourselves both transported back in time and learning about current technologies in champagne production.  We were told about bottle shapes, riddling, disgorgement, aging, fermentation, blending, etc.

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Our cellar tour concluded with a LLLOOONNNGGG trip up a spiral staircase and a glass of champagne in the tasting room.  Richard educated us as we sipped and I learned from a delightful experience that sometimes a BRUT champagne (one to which less (or sometimes no) sugar is added) can actually taste sweeter than a SEC champagne (one to which more sugar – up to 50 grams per liter in the case of a DEMI SEC – is added).

From Taittinger we made our way past Veuve Cliquot to La Maison Penet, which has been family owned for five generations.  The vineyards of La Maison Penet stretch across the villages of Verzy and Verzenay – quaint villages that your mind conjures up when you think about the French countryside.  We sipped a glass [or two] in the cellars at La Maison Penet and then were treated to a fabulous lunch in la maison.  We sat with owner Alexandre and his marketing specialist, Justine.  The dishes served [made by Martine – Alexandre’s wife] were simple but remarkably tasty – a true example of farm-to-table at its best.  I doubt they even use the term farm-to-table in rural France [maybe not anywhere in France] – it’s just the way they eat.  The food is unbelievably fresh and simply prepared in a way that makes even the most humble ingredient a star.  And when paired with Alexandre Penet Extra Brut champagne, Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Terroir Escence Extra Brut champagne and Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Cuvee Diane Claire champange the foods shined [or is it shone] even brighter!

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After lunch we chatted with Justine, Alexandre and Martine, placed our orders for champagne delivery and reluctantly climbed back into the van.  I could have stayed at La Maison Penet for much longer, learning about champagne and local culture and nibbling from the wonderful cheese tray while sipping some bubbly.

Following our delightful stop in Verzy we travelled to Vrigny to our last destination – Champagne LeLarge Pugeot.  The vineyards of LeLarge Pugeot are spread out across three villages – Vrigny, Coulommes-La-Montagne and Gueux.  In 2010, Le Large Pugeot began its shift to organic farming.

I didn’t fully understand the significance of organic farming until we were standing in the vineyard and we asked about the distinct difference between one row of grapevines and the next. We were told that the left side belonged to LeLarge Pugeot and the right to another – non-organic – vineyard.  Right then I could see the impact of organic farming!

After our walk in the vineyard, we sipped and sipped and sipped some wonderful organic champagnes and then we sipped some more!  Then, wonderfully light-headed from all the bubbles, we purchased champagne, said our good-byes and climbed into the van for our final ride….back to O’Chateau.  Along the way we talked and some of us snoozed and laughed and talked and snoozed and laughed.

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Throughout the day we learned a lot of things……some related to champagne and some not…..

  • 80% of the land in the champagne region is owned by small farmers
  • A good champagne is not produced from a single vineyard
  • The eyes should be pleased before the palate [the same is true for food]
  • The riddlers (not from Batman) can turn about 6,000 bottles per hour
  • A meal without wine is called breakfast
  • A fine Texas proverb – “it’s not bragging if you can do it”
  • Champagne makes you happy in 17 minutes, wine in 30
  • The term ‘bless your heart’ (one with many different meanings depending on which part of the American south you are from) is sooooo much funnier when it’s incorrectly changed to ‘bless my heart’ and spoken with a southern drawl by your Chinese tour guide/somelier [I’m almost positive Richard told me he was from China but I was a bit loopy so I apologize if I got that wrong] who has spent many years living in Paris and speaking French!!!!

  • You can have a marvelous time spending the day with new friends from around the globe – particularly if you add champagne!

Unbelievably, by the time we got back to O’Chateau, said our goodbyes and got our bearings, Jeff and I were hungry.  So we walked a bit to stretch our legs and found a chic Italian restaurant – Daroco – where we enjoyed stuffed zucchini flowers, pizza (Jeff), pasta (me) and a thick, decadent mousse au chocolat (Jeff…..but I had a taste…..or two).

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Still a little bit buzzed with full bellies and happy hearts, we returned to the hotel and fell into a deep champagne-induced sleep!  Ahhhhhhh…..

Day 6: Tuesday 4/11/17

After Day 5 sipping champagne and sitting more than walking, we needed a day to blow off the cobwebs and use our muscles.  We began the day with a quick ‘continental’ breakfast at Lauduree and then visited the Palais Garnier.  We strolled through the opera house, snapping pics and marveling at the opulence.

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Next we took the Metro to the Left Bank and then strolled over several bridges as we explored the islands of the Seine – Ile de la Cite, home to Notre-Dame de Paris, and Ile St. Louis.  We had lunch at another of Rebekkah’s suggested cafes – Le Petit Pontoise.

Then, as encouraged by Norb and Cam, we sauntered through the shops of the Rue Mouffetard.  And we finally took a little time to watch the world go by at a cafe [Cafe Delmas overlooking the ‘fountain’ (now under construction) at Place de la Contrescarpe] where Jeff sipped a beer and I sipped a cafe.  We sat at our little table in the sunshine and soaked in the local flavor.

On our way back to our home base, we walked with our dinner [a lovely roast chicken, roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of champagne purchased on Rue Mouffetard] through Ina’s neighborhood. Along the journey we strolled through some pretty gardens and through Place Vendome.  By the time we made it back to our hotel we’d been on our feet for 12 hours and were ready for dinner, a rest, a shower and a long sleep!

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More to come on our trip to Paris – including a day learning to make croissants!!!

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Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten….Part II

If you need a refresher on where the music took us at the beginning of our trip, take a minute to read Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

OK….now that we’re on the same page…

We left off with Jeff, Nate and I on the way to the Embassy Suites in South Portland for showers.  And oh, what an amazing shower it was! So good, in fact, that I posted this on FB:

“I just had one of the top 3 showers of me ENTIRE life and Clairsonic I’ve never been so happy to see you!!!!!!”

While Nate and I each took a shower, Jeff took a quick trip back to Bissell Brothers to see if any beers were still available for the day – the folks at Bissell Brothers are genius….they’ve created a huge demand to go with the limited supply…..they’ve got to be making a fortune! And he also stopped at Foundation Brewing to get some beers to share with his buddy Craig, who appreciates craft beers as much as (or more than) Jeff does.  In case you missed it, I had the opportunity to spend a day learning about the brewing process from Craig – it’s hard to believe that was nearly a year ago!

After we were all clean again we realized how hungry we were!  We had told earlier in the day that he should decide what kind of food he wanted for dinner and that Jeff would find a restaurant.  He decided on Italian and Jeff hopped to and made a reservation; but while he was down in the lobby Jeff asked the front desk staff about local Italian places – they made him a reservation at Espo’s.  When we arrived at Espo’s, we decided it looked like THE place for dinner so Jeff cancelled his first reservation.

Nate went into the restaurant thinking about spaghetti and meatballs, but after perusing the menu and listening to what we were thinking about getting he changed his mind.  He and I both ordered lasagna and Jeff ordered a seafood pasta special.

While we were waiting for our food, we did what nearly everyone does in a restaurant – we gawked at what other people were eating and it was then that we saw something so amazing it almost took our collective breath away.  We saw the biggest meatball EVER. A woman near us ordered the meatball appetizer, which seems like it will be skimpy as it includes only one meatball – but then when you see the meatball your eyes practically roll out of your head.

I know, I know – at this point you likely think I am exaggerating.  But when we asked our waitress about he meatballs we found out that each one is 16 oz. (yes, you read that right – 1 lb.) before cooking and approximately 14 oz. when it is served.  And to top that – the spaghetti and meatballS comes with two meatballs – we saw it delivered to someone’s table!

Suffice it to say, we ended up taking leftovers with us.  One portion of the lasagna could have fed Nate, me and a small African nation.  I swear to you the bag of leftovers had to weigh at least three pounds!  And not only was the food plentiful, it was delicious.  The lasagna had three kinds of meat in it – including pepperoni – and Jeff’s pasta had a generous portion of lobster chunks, among the other seafood.  Our waitress was not only very knowledgeable about the menu and friendly; she also had (I know this is going to sound weird) the most beautiful eyebrows!

While we ate we recapped the kayak trip and laughed until we nearly cried – I’m talking about the kind of laughing that has you uncontrollably making noises you never knew you could make!  It was great!   And on the way out we had to laugh some more when we saw the back of the t-shirt one of the kitchen staff was wearing – it read “the largest balls around.”

The dinner was just what we wanted, but left no room for dessert.  And we were so full when we left that we needed a walk.  So we drove back to Freeport to LLBean – and the beauty of it is that they’re open 24/7 so it didn’t matter that is was nearly 9:00 pm by the time we arrived!  We went through all the shops on the LLBean “campus” and then were so tired from a day of kayaking, yummy pasta, and a shop-a-thon that we quietly drove back to the hotel and practically fell into bed!!!!!

The Boys at The Bean

Day 6:

  • I was grateful for a little grace in the morning.  Although I had been a trooper – getting up early each day until this one, I needed some extra sleep and time to putz around the room before heading out!  Thanks Jeff and Nate for getting breakfast from downstairs and for patiently waiting for me!!!
  • The first stop of the day was, of course, Starbuck’s for a REAL cup of coffee.
  • Next, Freeport FD.  Nate and Jeff went inside to check out the FD and came out with big smiles and a t-shirt for Nate – a successful stop!

Nate Heading into Freeport FD

  • Then we traipsed over hill and dale, enjoying the scenery on the way to Wiscasset.  Of course, there was a long line at our GO-TO stop whenever we’re in Maine, Red’s Eats.  So while Jeff waited in line and caught up on emails and FB, Nate was gracious enough to browse the downtown shops with me.  We met up with Jeff when he was nearly at the front of the line and we had to decide what we wanted.  For me there was no real decision to be made – I wanted the lobster roll – so I went out back and snagged a table.  While I was waiting for Jeff and Nate I got splashed by a flying milkshake – no, I wasn’t angry, I was so sad for the guy who lost his milkshake though!  Jeff and Nate joined me at the table and while we waited for our number to be called I learned that Nate had ordered a burger.  A BURGER! At Red’s!  But after we got our food I quickly changed my tune – his burger looked terrific and he said it was.  In near silence we ate – Nate his burger and Jeff and I our lobster rolls – and we shared an order of the fried clams, which was a first for Nate.  I’m not quite sure he liked them, but I sure give him credit for trying all kinds of new things – lobster, mussels and clams – on this trip.  If you’re going to be adventurous with seafood, Maine is certainly the place to do it!

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  • With full bellies and somewhat heavy eyelids (at least on my part) we got back in the car to explore the “fingers” of the Maine coast and to search for a little oyster shack Jeff wanted to see.  We found the oyster shack and Jeff was going to try some oysters, but I think Nate and I shamed him out of it – we weren’t trying to, but neither of us could believe that he had room to eat another morsel.  So he got some to go.

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  • We continued our exploration, stopping for a few photos and at Bath Fire and Rescue (with their 110 foot ladder) along the way.  I was navigating and I thought we might see some pretty ocean views if we did the loop around Birch Point – but I could not have been more wrong.  Not only did we not see any water, we left paved roads and thought we might be leaving civilization!  However, all was not lost (even though we clearly were) because we did see an owl, a deer, several turkey (one fake, the rest live, including one baby), a dog and Wally the Frog Wizard.  Our encounter with Wally was a strange one.  I was looking at the map, Jeff was driving and Nate was in the back seat.  All of a sudden Jeff started laughing and said “you’ve got to see this” and he started turning around.  Nate was laughing too and they were both uttering things like “you’ll never believe it.”  So I thought for sure I was going to see someone mooning us or some similar sight, but when we backtracked, it was Wally!  And boy did we have some laughs about Wally!

Bath Fire & Rescue

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Wally Front

Wally Back

  • Next we went to Fort Popham.  We explored the Fort, posted some pics on FB (and I learned about interactive pano photos) and took a walk on the beach to stretch our legs – only turning around after Nate saw lightning.

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  • Next we explored Orr’s and Bailey Islands and ended up at Basin Point in for dinner at Dolphin Marina.  From Basin Point we could see Whaleboat Island – one of the islands we kayaked past on our trip.  Although after Red’s I thought I might never eat again, I was hungry by the time we made it to Dolphin Marina, but my body was screaming for veggies so I ordered the roasted veggie wrap and sweet potato fries.

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  • We headed back to the hotel, played a few games of Sequence and called it a night.

Day 7:

  • Sadly, this was the day we left Maine, but not before stopping in downtown Portland, at the Smiling Hill Farm, at Portland Head Light, the Maine Diner in Wells for lunch and in York at Stonewall Kitchen.
  • Around noon we heard about the crane collapse on the Tappan Zee Bridge and began to plot alternate strategies for getting home.  Jeff texted our new friend Lori to see if she had any suggestions – thanks for getting back to us Lori!  Ultimately we decided to stay the course and hope for the best!
  • We had a light dinner in the hotel bar – Nate and Jeff shared some wings and I ordered French Onion Soup – ultimately turning it over to Jeff to finish!  Nate went to sleep early with a headache while Jeff and I quietly played a few games of Sequence, ultimately succumbing to fluttering eyelids and sleep!

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Day 8:

  • In order to avoid the Tappan Zee at rush hour and to give Nate some extra sleep to combat his headache, we decided to sleep late and get on the road around 10 or 10:30.  No one was hungry for breakfast, but we did make a stop at Starbucks for some travelling fuel.

Travelling Fuel

  • We were leery as we neared the Tappan Zee; however I was driving and didn’t even have to tap the brakes once.  It was smooth sailing.  We did see the collapsed crane but it didn’t impede our progress.
  • We thankfully remembered to pick up Jeff’s car in Nanuet (of course, two of the three of us had set reminders on their phones).
  • Back on the road, we decided on pizza for lunch.  We stopped for a quick bite in Jersey – Jeff and I had pizza and Nate had soup.
  • The trip went surprisingly smoothly….Nate split his time between Jeff’s car and mine and it seemed like we were back in Palmyra to drop off Nate in no time.  We spent a little time reliving the trip and catching up with Cathy (Nate’s mom/our sister-in-law) and Ben (Nate’s brother/our nephew).
  • And then, the exhaustion of travelling starting to set in, Jeff and I began the last leg of the trip for home.  We arrived to a wagging, crying Macy who was proud to show us the toy Ashley had given her while we were away.
  • I had our suitcases unpacked and laundry started within 30 minutes while Jeff unloaded the car.

It was a wonderful trip and a great chance to get to know Nate in a way we otherwise would not have been able to get to know him.  I hope he had as good a time as we did.  He was a real trooper hanging out with the old folks for 8 straight days.

Day 9 (bonus):

For Jeff the trip continued into Thursday.  He invited his friend Craig over to share the haul of oysters and microbrews we brought back with us from Maine.  I hung out with them for a few minutes; but ultimately left them alone to have some boyz time!

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It has been great fun reliving the trip today.  I’m glad I waited to document the last half of the trip – it’s like I got to do it all over again.  I’m so grateful that we were able to go on this journey.

Two for One – Restaurant & Recipe Review: Tania’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca

Over the last several years I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Mexican food.  I love the complex, but fresh flavors.  I welcome the contrasts in textures between smooth and creamy (like mole or guacamole) and crisp and salty (like a crisped tortilla, flaky from a little oil and heat). Oh how this comforting food makes me almost sigh, ‘mmm mmm mmm,’ while I’m eating it!

This past Saturday Jeff and I took one of our weekend afternoon rides for produce.  We pick a direction and roam back roads in search of small produce stands with deliciously fresh offerings.  Sometimes we go with no plan in mind and see where the wind takes us; but Saturday Jeff had a little nugget in his hip pocket – Tania’s Mexican Restaurant & Store at 2180 Carlisle Road in Aspers.

In the midst of shopping for fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes (to tide us over until the ones in our garden ripen), cantaloupe, etc. we stopped for a late lunch – that turned into linner or dunch.

Although neither Jeff nor I speaks much Spanish and none of the staff we encountered spoke much English, we managed to order everything we wanted and then some.  Having never had horchata (a traditional Mexican drink made with rice, vanilla and cinnamon) before, Jeff suggested ordering one to share.  It was a good call!  The horchata was like the best rice pudding in liquid form.  And it reminded me a little of chai, which I love.  Being on the sweeter side, we saved it for “dessert” and drank it in the car after we left Tania’s.

While we decided what to order, a basket of warm chips and a dish of thin, tomato-ey, flavorful salsa was delivered to our table.  We nibbled on the chips dipped in yummy goodness as we perused the menu.  Jeff ordered 1 green chicken tamale, beef tacos and a side of guacamole.  I ordered the spicy pork & pineapple tacos and a side of Mexican rice.  Of course, we shared it all and were in heaven as we ate.

I like tamales, but Jeff LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS tamales so I only had a small bite.  It was comfort food in a perfect little package.  Each order of tacos included three 4 1/2″ tacos so I took one of Jeff’s tacos and he took one of mine.  I put some of the spicy red sauce that came with the tacos on the beef taco and it was delicious.  The sauce gave it a nice heat and although there wasn’t a lot of complexity to the beef/onion mixture it was really good.  The flavors were strong and clean and homey.  My spicy pork & pineapple tacos were much more complex in flavor.  The spicy (but not too spicy) rub on the pork was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple.  It was like a taste explosion in my mouth and I really appreciated that the meat in both the beef and pork tacos was cut small enough that you didn’t have the awkward slide of filling onto your chin or down the front of your shirt when you bite into them!

The sides were just as good as the main event.  The guacamole was simple, fresh and creamy, yet it had just the right amount of chunky avocado pieces to make it texturally interesting.  And the rice – oh, the rice!!!!!  You may remember that Jeff isn’t the hugest rice fan – having tasted his attempts at making rice, I understand why!  While he is an excellent cook in so many areas, rice is not his forte.  However, rice making is the forte of whoever makes the Mexican rice at Tania’s!!!!  When you first look at it you may be tempted to think it is going to be dry and boring – but do not rely on this deceptive first impression or you will miss something wonderful.  So wonderful, in fact, that I know in the coming weeks I will wake up in the middle of the night craving the rice.  The grains were moist but not soggy, perfectly separate from one another.  Clearly the grains were not simply cooked in water – there was a great flavor of something lovingly toasted and cooked with chicken broth and/or tomatoes.  And dotting – but not overpowering – the perfectly done rice were garlic, onions, peas and carrots.

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It was an exceptional meal followed by a trip through the aisles of the attached store.  We made our purchases and were shocked at how low the prices of our lunch and grocery items were.  It was a phenomenal value and I would highly recommend it.

Now for the recipe.  On Thursday Jeff and I went to the library for a rare trip where we could spend time between the shelves picking out books and DVD’s without rushing.  Normally we stop at the library on the way to or from somewhere else and just run in for what we need or drop our books in the outdoor book return.  But, I was able to look at books in a leisurely manner and checked out three cookbooks (I know, it’s an addiction – “Hi, my  name is Janice and I’m a cookbookaholic!”).

In preparation for an upcoming Mexican meal, I borrowed the book “tacolicious” by Sara Deseran.  Although my menu is set, I thought I’d get some inspiration from this book and I was not wrong.  One thing caught my attention immediately – Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca.  While on our produce mission on Saturday we found some perfectly ripe cantaloupes so on Sunday I made the agua fresca.

It was scrumptious!  And it was super simple to make. I had ginger in the freezer (as I always do), sugar in the baking cabinet and a lemon in the fridge.  The hardest parts (which were not at all hard) were cutting the cantaloupe and defrosting the ginger.  Once that was done it all came together in a matter of minutes.  The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of sugar so that the agua fresca would taste more like the perfectly ripe cantaloupe and less like sugar.

GCAF

It was a home run! Bright and fresh and a beautiful color. And I am so glad I didn’t put the full amount of sugar in it or it would have been too sweet for my taste.  I will definitely make it again, perhaps trying a little more ginger in it the next time.

I’d give both the restaurant and the recipe (revised to include less sugar) 5 m’s out of 5.

mexican mmm

 

Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

I’ll warn you now…..this is going to be a packed post.  I’m going to try to tell you all about our trip to Maine in one sitting – a big undertaking, but one that will give you all the highlights about where we stayed, what we did and – most importantly – where/what we ate!

My last post was about the beginning of the trip – the first part of Day 1.  But it didn’t give you any insight into the end of Day 1; so I will start there and continue through the end of the trip!

Day 1 (halfway through):

  • after we picked up Jeff in Nanuet we hit the road and made our way to Darien, CT and dinner at Estia’s Back Porch Cafe.  The decor at Estia’s is funky and comfortable and the food is DELISH.  Nate ordered French Onion Soup and a side  of French Fries – he was obviously in a French mood!  Jeff, wanting to recreate the superb meal we had at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Long Island last summer, ordered fish tacos.  And I ordered the MTK Tuna “Burger” that came with a side of spicy Asian slaw.  I didn’t taste anyone else’s food; but I was incredibly happy with my choice.  My sandwich was served on a toasted English muffin and included an enormous tuna steak, crusted with sesame seeds and cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was so big that Jeff had to finish it for me, which I’m sure didn’t disappoint him.  The spicy Asian slaw was the perfect accompaniment to my sandwich.

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  • After dinner we drove to and checked into the Hyatt House in Shelton, CT.  Because we were full and it was on the early side, we needed a walk.  So after a few minutes of settling into our room (which included a bathroom, bedroom and a living room/kitchenette combo with a pull out sofa), we got back into the car for a short drive to the campus of Yale.  We walked around campus and New Haven for about 2 hours – happy to stretch our legs and digest a bit.

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  • My dad has often joked that Jeff needs to eat approximately every 15 minutes, so it wasn’t surprising to me when he wanted to pick up a pizza at Frank Pepe’s on the way back to the hotel.  His reasoning – “I only had fish tacos at Estia’s.”  Clearly he had forgotten about eating half of my sandwich!  But I love his enthusiasm and couldn’t turn him down.  So he went into Frank Pepe’s while Nate and I stayed with the car.  I tasted the pizza, which was lukewarm by the time we got back to the room.  I’d definitely be interested in trying the wood-fired pizza at Frank Pepe’s when it’s right out of the oven – based upon the coolish taste I had, I’ll bet it would be amazing!  After our quick “snack” we dropped into bed with a plan to be on the road between 8:00 and 9:00 am.

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Day 2:

  • Although I am usually hassled for sleeping late, I was up and ready to go by 7:30.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and got on the road.
  • We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (for about 5 minutes) and finally arrived in Maine around noon.  Our first stop, Bissell Brothers Brewery.  Don’t worry, we weren’t corrupting a minor – Jeff just wanted to get some beer to bring back to PA to share with his BFF, Craig.

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  • After a short stop at BBB, we made our way to hotel (The Hyatt Place – downtown Portland) and, although our room wasn’t quite ready, we dropped off our bags and made our way to Commercial Street to wander through Portland.  We strolled through some shops, made a stop at Harbor Fish Market to order some fish to pick up on Tuesday before leaving Maine, and a stop at Nine Stones Spa for me to pick up my birthday gift from my mom and dad.  Thanks for the Kai perfume, Mimi and Pop-Pop!!!!

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  • Next we walked to the Portland Fire Department to see if Nate, a volunteer fire fighter, could get a shirt for his collection.  He struck out on the shirt, but was able to talk with the chief and see the FD.

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  • In need of a reprieve from the heat, we made a stop at The Thirsty Pig for a beverage and a nosh.  Our bellies were getting hungry, but we didn’t want to ruin our appetites for dinner at Fore Street.
  • After a quick snack, we checked into the hotel, showered, changed, relaxed and walked to Fore Street on Fore Street for dinner.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation so we started with a drink in the bar…..Nate had a fizzy blueberry juice, Jeff a Manhatten and me a glass of Albarino.  After being shown to our table and taking a quick look at the menu, we ordered appetizers.  Nate had a salad of mixed greens with a yummy vinaigrette and over the top croutons made from homemade bread crisped to perfection.  Jeff had Wood-Fired Pork Belly with Allium Hush Puppies, Horseradish Mayo and Sunflower Shoots.  I had the dish of the night – Jet Star Tomato Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese & Butter Pastry.  We shared our appetizers with one another, ooh’ing and aah’ing as we ate.  Although I could happily have stopped after my appetizer, I just had to listen to all the recommendations I received from students to try the Wood-Fired Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter – so I ordered those for my entrée.  Nate ordered the Marinated Natural Half Chicken with Duck Fat Fried Sourdough and Wilted Greens, which we all agreed was incredible and still talked about days later.  And Jeff ordered Garlic Scape, Sweet Corn and Ricotta Salata Ravioli with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Smoked Squash, which he billed as very good but not excellent.  He has since told me, “I was jealous of Nate’s chicken to be quite honest with you.”  Because our meals had been so good, we had to try dessert.  Jeff ordered the Mini Ice Cream Sandwich with Hazelnut Coffee Ice Cream and Nate and I shared the Chocolate Custard Tart with Raspberry Coulis and Basil Ginger Ice Cream.  The tart was incredibly rich – just what you’d want when you have a chocolate craving – and the ice cream was a wonderfully interesting combination of basil-y freshness and gingery warmth.  It was a darn-near-perfect meal – the food was inventive and delicious and our waitress was friendly and attentive.  The only thing that bothered me was that our waiter in the bar used phrases like “what are WE having to drink” and “OUR table’s not ready yet.”  That’s just too touchy-feely and a bit condescending for my taste.  But, as Frasier and Niles would say, the only thing better than a perfect meal is a perfect meal with one tiny flaw you can pick at all night!!!!!

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  • After dinner we set out for a walk to aid digestion, but decided to cut it short when it began to rain.  We hit the hay in preparation for another early morning – the start of our kayak/camping trip.

Day 3:

  • After a quick breakfast at the hotel and a quick checkout, we loaded the car, stopped for Jeff’s beloved ice block, made a quick stop for fizzy juice at Bow Street Market and made our way – with much enthusiasm – to LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School for the start of our kayak/camping trip.

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  • We met our guides – Ros and Pete – and our fellow islanders for the weekend, including (I apologize if I spell any names incorrectly):
    • 4 members of a family having a boys weekend – Terry, Bryan, Kiegan and Brendan
    • a couple from the Allentown area (near where I grew up) – Andrew and Angie
    • a couple from New Brunswick – Andre & Johanna
    • three brave women flying solo – Lorri, Ennie & Laurel
  • Including Jeff, Nate and I we made a group of 16 who would partner up and paddle tandem for the weekend
  • We had our orientation, packing session, lunch-making, lessons, stretching and finally headed to the dock to embark on our adventure.
  • After leaving Flying Point we paddled around Sister Island, Upper Goose, and Lower Goose and finally made our way to camp on The Goslings.
  • We chose our campsites, set up tents and “the restroom” and began exploring the island while we waited for dinner.  We had wine/beer/fizzy juices and got to know our travelling companions.  Then we sat down to a yummy lobster and steak dinner – Nate’s first lobster experience.  Except for someone touching his food – he seemed to enjoy it!
  • After dinner, the dishes were done and we trickled, one-by-one, to the beach for sunset and dessert – Pete’s specialty – Pineapple Upside Down ?Pudding?  It was supposed to be a cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven; however the mix was gluten-free, which if you’re not used to it, can mess up your camp cooking skills!!!!  However it tasted great and less-than-firm-texture didn’t stop anyone from eating it! Of course, having it served at sunset on your own private island didn’t hurt either!

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  • Then one-by-one we trickled off to bed – tired from the sun, the wind, the paddling and the early start.

Day 4:

  • Jeff and Nate (and perhaps others) got up early to watch the sunrise.  Except for the pics Jeff shared with me I missed it, but was glad for a little disco nap.  As those who know me might expect, sleeping without air conditioning isn’t my thing.  Combine that with Jeff’s snoring and it’s a recipe for not much sleep.
  • The blueberry pancakes Ros and Pete made fueled us for a long day of paddling.  After breakfast we did the dishes, played some cards, had a little island time, packed our lunches and got ourselves prepared to hit the water.
  • It was a hot, but gorgeous day for paddling.  We left the Goslings, paddled around Little Whaleboat and then made our way across the channel to Whaleboat, where we stopped for lunch.  After lunch we polled the group and decided to paddle all the way around Whaleboat, which is a long, beautiful paddle!  For our hard work, we were treated to an eagle sighting and Nate got some great pics of it!!! After conquering Whaleboat, we took it easy paddling back to the Goslings.

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  • Somewhere along the line, some of the group members started playing cards – Golf – while others hiked the island, hung out on the beach, got to know one another, swam or napped.  Dinner – chicken fajitas – was served, dishes were done, sunset was watched on the beach, brownies were eaten “in the kitchen” and one-by-one we trickled to bed – exhausted from a hot day in the sun paddling our little hearts out!

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Day 5:

  • It was a dark and stormy morning…..well it was!  So dark and stormy that we were instructed to batten down the hatches and stay in our tents until the storm blew over.  After the wind and rain subsided briefly, we broke down our tents, packed our equipment and personal belongings and headed to “the kitchen.”  Pete and Ros served coffee (hallelujah) and began making breakfast.  Some of us played cards while we waited.  Others enjoyed the beach and a swim for the last time on this trip and others sipped their coffee.  Somewhere along the line it started to pour again so we all tried our best to fit under the tarp and stay dry.
  • After breakfast, still riding the storm out, the dishes got done, cards got played (and soaked), camp was packed up and we all readied ourselves for our paddle.  We wanted to be ready to jump  into our boats and paddle like crazy once the rain stopped so that we could make it back to Flying Point before the rain began again.
  • Once the rain ceased, the last step before leaving the island was to dismantle “the restroom.”  That done we all headed for the beach, quickly packing our boats and getting into the water.  By the time everyone was settled and on the bay, the sun was shining brightly so Pete and Ros decided we didn’t have to rush back to Flying Point.  We would keep our eye on the sky and paddle as much as we were able.  We left the Goslings and headed between Upper and Lower Goose Island, then toward William’s Island, detouring around Sow & Pigs to Pettingill for a brief stop, and back around William’s Island to see the eagle’s nest. Finally, we headed back toward Flying Point – the weather still cooperating.  As everyone else was making their way into the dock, Jeff and I stayed further out with Ros and, in the quiet, were able to see a seal pop up very near to us.  He was so close we could see his whiskers.

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  • Just as we were pulling up to the dock at Flying Point, Jeff and I got a terrific surprise!  Kevin, one of our guides from last year’s trip, was paddling near the dock.  We had hoped to meet up with him at the Bath Fire & Rescue, where he works; but weren’t able to make the timing work.  So being able to talk with him for even a few moments was a gift.
  • The folks on the dock who helped us out of the water waited patiently as we caught up with Kevin for a few minutes.  Then we unloaded our kayak, made our way up the dock and back to the Outdoor Discovery School, turned in our borrowed equipment, had our team debrief and ate a quick lunch for the few folks who weren’t rushing to get on the road to home.
  • Finally, happily exhausted and ready for a shower, Jeff, Nate and I began our short trek to The Embassy Suites in South Portland – our home for the next two nights.

While I thought I could get through the whole trip in one post, I am tired from reliving the first part of our grand adventure.  If I got any of the paddling routes wrong, I hope Ros or Pete will correct me in the comments below.  When you’re doing the paddle you think you’ll remember; however we were able to cover so much “ground” (and frankly, I just turned 48 so the memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be) that I may have gotten some of it wrong.

I will catch up on the end of Day 5 and finish our adventure through Day 8 in my next post!  Thanks for reading!!!!!

Eating with Gusto!

As someone who loves to cook, I will tell you that my most favorite thing of all is to cook for someone who loves to eat.  Someone who, when you look at them, you can just tell is enjoying their food.  The look of joy on their face, the “audible eating” sounds being made (the mmm’s and the oh’s), and sometimes even the speed with which they eat give away the pleasure they are experiencing.

Sometimes – depending on the food – I AM that person.  But yesterday, I got to watch that person.  Jeff and I went to Shakedown BBQ (I’ve previously written about Shakedown) with my mom and dad to celebrate Father’s Day.  While we were there enjoying our food, I was seated so that I could see a table at which two brothers sat.  Not too long after our food was delivered, their food was delivered too.

Creepy as it may be, I am a people watcher.  I love to see what’s going on around me – especially in a restaurant. I love to peek at what other people ordered.  From time to time I even like to listen in on other people’s conversations – perhaps I shouldn’t admit this; but if you’re being honest, you’ll admit it too.

The brothers both ordered sandwiches.  I should take a moment to tell you that almost everything at Shakedown is Flintstone-sized.  So when I tell you the sandwiches are big, I am not kidding.  If I had to guess on the conservative side, I’d say the brother facing me had a sandwich that was a minimum of 5″ tall. But more than likely it was even taller than that.

Jeff commented to the tall-sandwich-brother, when he picked up the sandwich confidently to begin eating it, that he was a better man than Jeff – who had ordered a big sandwich and was using a knife and fork to help him eat it!

As I watched (I tried to be discreet) tall-sandwich-brother (whose name I now know to be Zack) eat his sandwich, I knew he was a kindred spirit.  There was a look of pure joy on his face – even while there was barbecue sauce running down his arms.  He didn’t care in the slightest that he was a mess – in fact, the mess may even have enhanced the whole experience for him. I thought for sure he would never finish the sandwich; but as he did I was smiling….thrilled for him that he had!

Just before I looked away, I saw him close his eyes, smile and sigh.  Before he had a chance to clean his hands, I asked him if I could take his photo.  I explained (hopefully not sounding like too much of a stalker) that I appreciated the gusto with which he delighted in his meal and wanted to share it on my blog.

Zack agreed to have his photo taken….so, here’s to you, Zack!  Thanks for being real and letting other people see you enjoy your food!  In my opinion, it was quite a compliment to Chris, the owner of Shakedown, for Zack to unabashedly devour his meal.

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Confucius reminded us, “Wheresoever you go go with all your heart.”  Please, please listen.  Love with abandon.  Laugh excessively.  And eat, like Zack, with gusto!

In Deep Shishito

OK, true confession time…..I began writing this post on December 4th.  I know, I know….it HAS been a while since I’ve written.  But in my defense, Christmas time in retail is REALLY busy!

So let’s pretend it hasn’t been 44 days since I started the post.  I KNOW you can grant me the grace of using your imagination!  Read on – with love and forgiveness in your hearts!

I cannot believe my stomach is actually growling as I type these words – if you had asked me on Sunday, I would have told you I was too full to EVER EAT AGAIN!

Jeff and I were running errands in Hershey after church and we were both hungry…..when he asked me where I wanted to go I told him I was hungry for a burger.  Of course, ever prepared, he steered me toward Grantville.

I know I’ve shared this previously, but for purposes of this story I need to reiterate that Jeff is a BBQ guy.  He LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS bbq. I tolerate his bbq fetish, but do not readily admit to being a BBQ gal.  Oh, I know, I’ve written about bbq – particularly during our trip to Texas (see Always Bet on Blacks) – and I usually enjoy the bbq restaurants I begrudgingly go to with Jeff, but for some reason I have (or more accurately HAD) it in my head that bbq is not really my thing.

Today, in part due to a fabulous burger experience, I am proud to admit that while I wasn’t paying attention I’ve become a bbq gal!

I write all this to explain that I was less-than-enthused when Jeff suggested a bbq joint when I said I was hungry for a burger.  The mean-spirited, hangry part of me wanted to dig in my heels; but the part of my stomach that knows Jeff very rarely steers me wrong when it comes to food won out.

Shakedown Sign

While we were driving to Grantville Jeff explained to me that he had heard that Shakedown BBQ has some amazing burgers.  So I waited to pass judgment until I tasted them.  I passed the time on the ride looking at Shakedown’s burger menu – there were some truly interesting burgers on the menu, but the one that caught my eye was named In Deep Shishito (IDS).  Having just learned about shishito peppers in the last year and being a lover of pickled ginger, the IDS sounded too good to be true.

The description:

“Bacon – Cooper – Shishito Peppers Wikipedia – Grilled Onion – Pickled Ginger – Asian BBQ Sauce – Habanero Mayo – Cilantro – Texas Toast”

I know, it’s not your traditional burger, but my mouth was watering just thinking about it.  So we ordered one IDS and one The 98 to share.

The 98, Chris’s riff on the Big Mac, is described as follows:

“Bacon – Cooper – Lettuce – Tomato – Onion – Pickles – 1000 Island – Texas Toast”

While we were waiting for our food, we introduced ourselves to Chris – the owner – and told him about our BBQ quest in Texas.  He shared that he had been to the same places we had gone and then some – and not just in Texas but across the country.

Chris brought us a piece of Shakedown’s brisket to try and it was heavenly.  Not since Black’s in Lockhart, Texas had I tasted such a wonderful piece of brisket.  It melted in your mouth, had just the right smokiness and the sauce was a perfect complement to the meat – spicy, but not too and tangy, but not too.

The brisket, however, was forgotten as soon as I took the first heavenly messy bite of the In Deep Shishito.  It was the messiest burger I’ve ever eaten – and I mean that as a complete compliment!  It was also the tastiest.  It was like bbq and asian food had a party in my mouth!

The 98 was good – really good – but in my never-to-be-unshared opinion, it had nothing on the IDS!  Had I not tasted the IDS, I would have said The 98 was a great burger (and it would have been a completely truthful description) but the IDS just completely outdid (and outdoes) every other burger I’ve ever eaten.  It is an explosion of flavors – most of them a seemingly unlikely combination of tastes – of the absolute best kind!

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After we finished eating, Chris generously took us on a “tour” to the smokers.  We talked more about bbq and raved about the food.  I told Chris – and I mean it – that often when we go to restaurants we are disappointed because we can make at home what we had eaten and it is as good as, if not better than the restaurant version for a fraction of the price; but that this restaurant visit did not disappoint in any way.  The food was fresh, tasty and passionately prepared.

Fast forward to today (January 17th) and another trip to Shakedown.  Jeff and I took my mom and dad to have the Shakedown BBQ experience.  Of course I raved about the IDS the entire way from our house to Grantville!

We arrived and the first question my mom asked when we pulled into the parking lot was, “This is it?”  Ok, I should explain it’s a tiny place.  And I will also tell you that both times we were there, it was chilly inside – this is not a complaint, simply a note so that you can plan accordingly for your trip to Shakedown.  Today I wore jeans and a sweatshirt and only my hands were chilly.

Of course, once your food arrives and the burger juices are dripping down your arms, you won’t care what the temperature is inside.  And even better, if you order the IDS – which I cannot recommend highly enough – your mouth will be on fire.  The combination of “every 10th shishito is a hot one,” the Habanero mayonnaise and the warmth of the pickled ginger light the best kind of fire on your tongue!

In Deep Shishito

Mimi’s assessment – “unique, juicy, messy, who ever thought of putting pickled ginger on a burger – genius! And French fries – to die for.  Great pulled pork – not too much sauce so you can taste the complex flavors of the smoked meat. The real deal.”  Mimi had the pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on it.

Pop-Pop’s assessment – “among the best burgers I’ve ever had and probably the best French fries I’ve ever had. The only burger I can think of that rivals this one was at The Village Whiskey (about which I’ve previously written) in Philadelphia.  The homemade thousand island dressing was awesome.” Pop-Pop ordered The 98.

Jeff’s assessment – “amazing. Bangin’.”  Jeff had a special – the Reuben.  I will add to Jeff’s assessment of the reuben – truly the best Rueben I’ve ever had – the smoky flavor of the corned beef brisket was delectable.  And – some of you will understand this – this reuben is wwwaaayyy better than Reuben’s Reuben (what happens when you put a narcissist in charge of snack time)!

The fries that we all raved about – beer battered bbq rubbed fries.  Need I say more?

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Of course, Chris came out to the table and chatted with us for a few minutes.  He talked about changing the menu and my heart skipped a beat.  I said, with obvious concern in my voice, “No – not the IDS – please don’t take it off the menu.”  Chris began talking about the limited availability of shishito peppers in the winter and I think I stared to pass out.  If you taste the IDS, you’ll understand why my blood pressure spikes at the idea of not being able to get an IDS when I’m craving one.  It’s a bit of a masochistic experience – a bit of the gratification of the IDS comes from the “painful” heat from the shishitos, Habanero mayo and pickled ginger.

We oohed and ahhhed through our meal – sharing bites of everything on the table. Then when we were finished, we mopped off with wet wipes and dried off with paper towels.  We bussed our table and on the way out I told Chris – with 100% seriousness – that am not above groveling for him to keep the In Deep Shishito on the menu.  Today is the first day of the week and I can already tell you the IDS will be the best thing I eat all week!

Shakedown – follow the smoke to one of the best meals you’ll ever have! And check them out on Instagram & Facebook.

Have you been to Shakedown?  Please share your experience below!  If you haven’t, what are you waiting for – you need to go ASAP!!!

Vacation 2015 Part 1

So Jeff and I are safely home from vacation, but that does not mean the memories of the wonderful time we had have faded…..fortunately!  As promised, I will share the details of our trip with you – in segments.

This is the first installment, Part 1, and includes the first 4ish days of the trip.  We’ll call it Long Island.

Day 1:

We left our house at 10:00 on Sunday, August 2nd and drove about 30 minutes to drop off our beloved Macy, the world’s quirkiest golden retriever.  Jeff’s brother (Mike), his wife (Cathy) and their sons (Nate & Ben) agreed to care for Macy while we were away.  I’m not sure they knew quite what they were getting into, but as they say, “ignorance is bliss.”

The following is an excerpt from our letter to Macy’s caregivers explaining her routine and habits:

“A few things you should know about her [Macy], in no particular order:

 

  • She will probably hide in the bathtub a lot, provided she can get into it.  Don’t worry about her being in there, it’s her happy place!  She likes small spaces – so if she can’t make it into the tub, don’t be alarmed if she wedges herself between the toilet and the wall or behind a chair…..it’s her thing.
  • She may not eat twice a day….in fact, she may not eat at all in the beginning; but rest assured, she will eat when she is hungry.
  • She loves to carry her “babies” [toys] around with her and even likes to take them outside when she goes out to do her business.  And she will rip them to shreds to get the squeakers out.  If you can, please take the squeakers away from her after she gets them out of the toys or she will eat them.
  • When you walk her on the leash, if she gets scared she will try to jump into your arms.  Here are the things that may scare her: people, other dogs, leaves, the wind, etc.  And if she walks too far, she may start to limp.  That’s a sign that she has had enough.
  • She licks her feet a lot – it’s a stress thing.  Don’t worry if she does, but you may have to raise your voice a bit to get her to stop if it is bothering you.
  • She’s a pretty independent little creature and may not hang out with you all the time.  That is normal behavior for her.
  • Her vet is ….

With the exception of the days we are kayaking, we will be reachable by cell phone.  Jeff’s number is (xxx) xxx-xxxx and Jan’s number is (xxx) xxx-xxxx.  Although the above may not sound like it, she is pretty easygoing.  We just wanted you to know all her little quirks so you don’t worry if they surface.”

We spent some time saying our “farewell-for-nows” to Macy and then hit the road.  We drove from central PA to Long Island, which wasn’t too bad a trip.  Of course, we hit traffic around NYC and at the beginning of LI; but that’s to be expected.

Because we wanted to explore both the South Fork and the North Fork of Long Island, we made our base camp in Riverhead.  We checked into our hotel, dropped our bags and got back into the car (yes, we are gluttons for punishment) and made our way ssssslllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyyy to Montauk.  We passed through many towns with many wonderful sights; but because our sights [and our bellies] were set on dinner at The Clam Bar in Montauk we made only one stop to take some photos of a windmill (Jeff really loves it when we pass something and I ask to go back to take pics).

After wending our way through much traffic and many rude drivers, we finally made it to Montauk where we had an alfresco dinner of soup and fried clams.  With full bellies, we ventured to ‘The End.’  The end of the South Fork and the Montauk Point Light.  We arrived just in time to park, walk to the beach and enjoy the sunset.  Sitting on the rocks, listening to the tide roll in and out, and enjoying one another’s company knowing we were still only on day 1 of the trip made all the driving worth it!

That is until we had to get back in the car for the return trip to Riverhead.  The roughly 43 mile journey took much longer than expected….what is billed as a 70 minute trip became more like a 120 minute trip with all the traffic and at least one accident (I told you there were rude drivers).  We endured – it being vacation and all – but fell happily into bed almost immediately upon returning to the hotel.

A little look at Day 1:

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Day 2:

We awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and decided to take a walk in Riverhead before having breakfast and getting all gussied up for the day.  Along the route, we plotted our dinner, which was to be noshes from our travels including a Hampton’s tomato – which are celebrated as THE best tomatoes – of course, we had to test that theory.  So on our walk through Riverhead we stopped to get a small baguette at The Blue Duck Bakery Café.

After we had eaten a quick bite for breakfast, gotten ready for the day and stopped for a quick coffee, our exploration of the South Fork began.  First stop – Southampton.  Specifically Tate’s Bake Shop for chocolate bread pudding, which sadly they did not have.  But we did not let that deter us.  Jeff had read great things about Tate’s chocolate bread pudding so we decided if the chocolate bread pudding was good, the regular bread pudding must be good too.  We got a piece to share for dinner, but of course we had to test it in the car just to make sure we had made a solid decision.  I can assure you, we did!

After our brief interlude at Tate’s we decided to drive through some of the South Fork towns and look at the homes [a favorite pastime of ours]. My goodness, there are some truly spectacular homes in the South Fork towns between Southampton and Sag Harbor.  I don’t know about where you are from, but where we are from there are no helipads in residential areas!!!!  In and among the homes, we pulled into little beach entrances and caught glimpses of the water.

After a few hours of driving, we were hungry again and rather than finish the bread pudding, Jeff turned to his trusty little list of possible lunch spots.  We decided on Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor and I am incredibly glad we did.  We had to wait for a table, but that gave us time to explore the grounds and gardens at Estia’s Little Kitchen – had we not had to wait for our table, we likely would have missed some really pretty scenery!

While we waited and meandered the grounds, we also noticed the wide array of cars in the parking lot – from non-descript Chevys to $100,000+ Masaratis.  In my opinion, that speaks volumes about the food!

And the food – oh, the food – was definitely worth the wait!!!!  We both ordered fish tacos – Jeff’s were off the regular menu and mine were a special, which consisted of grilled striped bass with a mint mojo.  When the food was delivered we each took a bite and knew that no matter how slowly we ate, the food would be gone much too quickly.  Of everything we ate on the entire trip, the mint mojo at Estia’s Little Kitchen was probably my favorite.  It was clean and fresh and bright and sooooooo delish.  I was incredibly hopeful that the mojo would be bottled and for sale; but alas, my hopes were dashed.  The only salvation is that I get to have a lot of fun trying to recreate it!!!!

After lunch we explored Sag Harbor, looked at some beautiful yachts and then began heading back toward Cooper’s Beach in Southampton.  We had decided earlier in the day that we would return to Southampton before sunset to take a long walk on the beach, look at the beach-facing sides of some of the spectacular homes we’d cruised past earlier in the day, and enjoy the sunset.

We made a stop in East Hampton at the Red Horse Market to get some of Chef Pasquale’s famous mozzarella cheese and a few other tidbits for our noshing dinner.  We were pleasantly surprised that we were able to have quite a lengthy conversation with Chef Pasquale about cheese, life in the Hamptons and life in general.  We also met his business partner, Jeff, and enjoyed looking at the wonderful gourmet offerings in their market.

When we arrived at Cooper’s Beach there was a giant inflatable movie screen in the parking lot and all kinds of family friendly activities under way.  We skipped the movie and went straight to the beach for a long walk.  We got our toes wet, talked about life and strolled for a while.  Then we got our beach chairs out of the car and sat for a while enjoying the beginning of the sun set.  About 10 minutes before the sun was ready to dip below the horizon, we raced for the car and headed for a beautiful little inlet we had stumbled upon earlier in the day.  We made it just in time to enjoy a show of spectacular colors in the sky.

Upon return to our hotel, we set out quite the noshing feast and got out our books.  We nibbled and read and read some more – until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.  The Hampton’s tomatoes WERE divine and Chef Pasquale’s mozzarella is a must-try if you ever find yourself in East Hampton!

Snaps from Day 2:

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Day 3:

This was the day to explore Long Island’s North Fork – the land of farms and wineries and much more laid-back people than in the South Fork.  Again, we started with a quick breakfast at the hotel and a stop for coffee.  But rather than heading south, we headed north.  We drove along the water for a while and then through some somewhat sleepy towns (especially in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the towns of the South Fork).

We enjoyed the scenery and the sunlight as it shone through the grape vines.  We stopped at a roadside farm stand and at Catapano Dairy Farm.  I rankled Jeff’s nerves by wanting to stop to take pictures of steeples and various other things along the way; and he indulged me as all good husbands do!

We arrived in Greenport just in time for lunch.  And, true to form, Jeff had a plan.  Unfortunately the restaurant he picked – one that served oysters (one of the few things he really wanted to have in LI) – was closed for a private event.  So we decided explore the town and some of its lovely shops as we came up with Plan B.  We bought a reed diffuser (Lemongrass Kiwi Cassis) in one shop, some Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar at another and browsed through others without making purchases, but still enjoying the wares.

Plan B turned out to be Bruce & Son’s Cheese Emporium in Greenport.  Let me just tell you, it may have been our second choice, but the food was first-rate!  We shared a bowl of corn chowder and each ordered a pressed sandwich.  Jeff ordered the Cubano and I ordered the Pig & Fig. The sandwiches were delicious and so full of flavor; but the corn chowder was life-changing.  It was so fresh and so pure it almost made us weep.  I am not kidding, nor am I exaggerating.  It was quite possibly the best soup I’ve ever eaten.  It tasted like all the best things about summer on a spoon!

Satiated, we returned to the car and continued our exploration of the North Fork.  As we drove we saw a sign for Orient Beach State Park and we decided to check it out.  We wound our way through the park and ended up in a parking lot next to a beautiful beach, where we decided to hang out for a while.  We got out our beach chairs and our books and had a wonderful afternoon walking, collecting rocks, reading and napping on the beach.  It was one of those perfectly unplanned moments in life where everything works out in your favor!  As the afternoon began to turn to evening, we started to get a bit chilly so we decided our time at the beach was through.  We stopped for a quick drink at Orient by the Sea and met the dock dog while sipping our cocktails.

As we were driving back along the North Fork to our home base in Riverhead, we decided we shouldn’t miss the sunset so we pulled into a little parking lot at a little beach on the Long Island Sound and watched another magnificent display of God’s handiwork!

Neither one of us wanted dinner after such a wonderful lunch, but we both had a bit of a sweet tooth so we stopped for a twist cone on the way back to the hotel and called it a day!

A Peek at Day 3:

Day 4:

They say, “parting is such sweet sorrow,” but in truth we were ready to continue our journey.  We awoke early for a second trip to Orient Point – this time to catch the 9:00 Cross Sound Ferry to Connecticut.  A quick shower for each of us, a brief nibble and we were out the door!

We drove back along the North Fork, seeing some of the same sights from Day 3; but also catching new sights along the way.  Of course, we made a quick stop for coffee (actually two quick stops) and we made it to the ferry dock 30 minutes early, as instructed.  We had just enough time to snap a few “usies” and then we waited in the line to load our car onto the ferry.

We had a relaxing, 80-minute ride.  I was going to write my first post about vacation on the ferry; however, God intervened – the battery on the laptop was out of charge.  And does God ever know best – it was a great time for introspection, reflection and conversation with Jeff.

A Little Bit of Day 4:

 

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This is where I will leave you for now.  In Vacation 2015 Part 2, we will pick up with our arrival in Connecticut, the trip to Maine, dinner Day 4 (not to be missed), and our arrival in Portland!!!!!

The Best Thing I Ate All Week

On Wednesday, I had lunch with my mom – Mimi.  She and I met to plan the menu for our Mother’s Day class at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School.

Since she wasn’t exactly sure what time she’d be done with an appointment she had, we met at Sophia’s at Walden – a favorite hangout of mine.  I love to go there because the food is great, the atmosphere is funky and welcoming, and because I can stay all day and write and they don’t kick me out!!!!!

So I hung out there while I waited for Mimi and worked on menus for classes for the spring course catalog, sipped an iced tea and visited with a friend I didn’t know I’d see! I also glanced at the specials board and was intrigued.

When Mimi arrived she asked what I was going to have and I told her there was a special on the board that had piqued my interest. We ordered our lunches and set about our work.  When our food arrived, we set aside our menu planning and dug in since we were both really hungry.

She commented on how good her soup was.  For a change I was nearly silent – I was stunned at how good my sandwich was.  So good that I had to think twice about sharing even a bite with Mimi!  But the share was worth it because her soup was really yummy.  Now when I tell you it was ham and bean, you’ll likely dismiss it as ordinary.  You’d be wrong.  It had a wonderful smokiness and great flavor!

Mimis Soup (2)

Glad for the taste of soup, I turned back to my sandwich.  It delivered everything you want in a grilled sandwich – it had a crisp exterior with a hint of butteriness, a gooey interior and a combination of flavors that both intrigues and satisfies.

OK, I’ve kept you in suspense long enough….the sandwich…….sliced pears with provolone and goat cheeses, bacon and apricot jam grilled to perfection!  Mmm mmm mmm.

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The picture doesn’t do the sandwich justice.  There’s just no way to convey the complexity of flavors in words or photos – you have to taste for yourself!!!

If you haven’t eaten at Sophia’s at Walden, I’d enthusiastically recommend it for lunch.  I’ve never eaten dinner there; so on that I cannot comment.  Although it’s a bit pricey, the rest of the package delivers.  The décor is comfortably trendy with lots of natural light, the service is attentive and the food is yummy 99 times out of 100 (ok, maybe I haven’t been there 100 times, but you get my meaning)!

 

Always Bet On BLACK’s…

Oh my, yesterday was quite a day!  I was feeling a little better in the morning and Jeff was as excited as a girl scout the night before camp!  Yesterday was the day we headed to Lockhart, Texas…..”What’s in Lockhart?” you ask…..

What else?  BBQ.  Now before I get started I should tell you my husband LLLLLOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS BBQ and I, well I eat it every now and again because I LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEE my husband. And sometimes I even “mess with it” – I add an Asian flair to the sauce or something similar that Jeff considers utterly ridiculous to do to BBQ.  But yesterday my thinking was changed.

We left San Antonio promptly at 9:00 a.m. so that we could be in Lockhart by 10:00 a.m., which for most of the world (myself included) seems too early for BBQ….but Black’s BBQ – our first stop of the day – opens at 10:00 a.m. and Jeff did not want to be late!

We pulled onto the main drag in Lockhart at 10:00 and were walking in the door at Black’s BBQ by 10:05 after a short, but pleasant conversation with a local woman out front.

Having never had the Texas BBQ experience, I was a little taken aback by how things work at Black’s.  At the beginning of the line are side dishes and desserts, which are a set price for a 5 oz. serving (but you serve yourself and you have no idea how much your serving weighs).

Then you turn the corner and select the BBQ you want – a smoky, charred (but in a great way) array of meats including beef brisket, sausage (several types), beef ribs, chicken, pork ribs, turkey breast, pork chops, etc.  Again, the serving is by weight so you can have as much or as little as you’d like.

Jeff ordered cole slaw, creamed corn (which is nothing like the creamed corn we are used to in the North….it is way better tasting and probably way worse in terms of calories and fat), a Fred Flintstone-sized beef rib, the blackest cuts of beef brisket he could see and a sweet tea.

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I ordered creamed corn, banana pudding (in honor of my dear friends Beverly and Mark), beef brisket, Hatch’s chili sausage and a sweet tea. We paid for our meals and made our way to the dining room.

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If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you know I love a gourmet meal.  You also I know I appreciate a crisply ironed tablecloth, fine manners, ambiance – including the flicker of candlelight (which makes all women look more beautiful), exceptional service and the list goes on.

I DO appreciate those things; but fortunately for me and my stomach, I also appreciate a down-home, Texas joint – plastic coverings on picnic-style tables, rolls of paper towels and squeeze bottles of BBQ sauce on the tables, and fingers so greasy they leave stains on your iPhone because you couldn’t resist posting pics of the food you were eating so your friends back home would get jealous!!!!  And Black’s BBQ delivered just that…and then some.

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To say that Jeff and I enjoyed our food would be a gross understatement….we oooh’d and ahhh’d and went so far as to fit into Jeff’s and Andy’s category of “audible eating!”  Each and every thing we tried at Black’s was amazing! The meat was sooo incredibly tender I can’t even describe it…..I’ve never had meat that just melted in my mouth like the brisket did…..it was a thing of beauty.  And the Hatch’s chili sausage done in the pit was terrific – so moist and tender – completely unlike any other sausage experience I’ve had.

Part way through our meal Jeff said, “you have to try the sauce.”  It’s funny, the sauce is usually the first thing I reach for when I’m eating BBQ, but at Black’s the meat was so good on its own that it didn’t need anything else – or so I thought…..but the sauce was just the right complement to the meat.  It didn’t cover anything up, it just added a little spice to enhance it.

Now, a word of caution about sweet tea.  I make what I consider to be a really good sweet tea from my mother-in-law’s recipe.  But the folks in the South are not messing around when they call it SWEET tea….in fact, I think there might actually be a diabetes warning on every cup!!!  It was soooo sweet that I had to add a lot more ice and some unsweetened tea to it in order to be able to drink it.  The ironic thing is that my handsome hubby (who drinks his coffee with no sugar and only a drip and a half of cream) LOVED the sweet tea, while I (who uses coffee as a milk and sugar delivery system) thought it was RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY sweet…..ah well….potato/potahhhhhto!

After we ate, Steve (one of Black’s personable employees) struck up a conversation with us asking us how we liked everything, where we were from, etc.  He shared some history about Black’s with us and some information about the kind of wood they use, how long they smoke their meats, etc……Black’s has been in business for 82 years and it shows……they know their way around BBQ!  The BBQ pit/smoker they’re currently using was built in 1949 – yep, 65 years ago – and holds up to 500 pounds of meat at one time.  And the wood they use for smoking????  Post Oak.  Not just any oak….but Post Oak, which is native to Texas and grows so straight that it was often used for fence POSTS.

Not only did Steve tell us about Black’s; but he also gave me a rare opportunity, for which I will be forever grateful.  An opportunity better than backstage passes at a favorite concert……he took me in “the back” to see the pit!  I am amazed that the folks at Black’s can do so much in such a small space, but they sure do!

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Now, to be fair to all Texas BBQ, Jeff and I thought we should give Black’s competition a try too, just to compare.  So, we packed up some left-overs (not that we didn’t want to keep eating our food at Black’s, but we wanted to try Kreuz Market too), ribbed Steve a little – letting him know that we were going to sample the competition and drove a few blocks to give Kreuz Market a whirl.

When you walk in the door at Kreuz’s you see a sign that reads (and you see this on their webpage too): “NO BARBECUE SAUCE, NO FORKS, NO KIDDING.”  And there is no barbecue sauce and there are no forks and there are no plates.  The meat is served on butcher paper, which is expertly folded so nothing falls out.

The set up at Kreuz Market is a little different in that you first go into a super HOT area to select your meats – it’s super hot because the BBQ pits are right there for all to see (which is pretty cool). Then, after you pay for your meats, you go into a smaller (air-conditioned – ahhhhh) dining room where you can order sides, desserts and drinks.

Now I know there is a huge BBQ rivalry and what I write next may spark some serious debate, but that’s the beauty of writing a blog – you get to write YOUR opinion for all to see.  I have to tell you in my opinion there is NO COMPETITION……hands down Black’s is the BBQ winner!!!

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While the BBQ at Kreuz Market was good, it did not have the same intensity of flavor that Black’s BBQ did!  Although it was really cool to be able to see the pits in action, the set up at Kreuz’s was reminiscent of a cafeteria, while Black’s was more of a let-it-all-hang-out JOINT – less commercialized than Kreuz’s.  While Kreuz Market claims they serve no barbecue sauce because they have nothing to hide; in my opinion, I would have preferred some sauce with their Q.  It was at Black’s that I could have happily gone without sauce.  In terms of “kitschiness,” I give Kreuz Market the upper hand…there’s something about the no forks/no plates and having the meats folded in the butcher paper that seems like an authentic Texas BBQ experience.  And they have some seriously funny signs throughout the building!

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that Kreuz Market wasn’t good (if you’ve only ever had BBQ from the North then you’ll likely love Kreuz’s).  What I am saying is that if you stack it next to Black’s BBQ there’s no comparison!

After we wrapped our leftovers at Kreuz’s Market we just had to drive back to Black’s to tell Steve the results (and to pick up a bottle of BBQ sauce)!

With full bellies and greasy fingers, our BBQ adventure was behind us and the open road before us.  We spent the next six hours driving through the beautiful Texas countryside.  Jeff had a route mapped out and we followed it – more or less – enjoying the scenery, the sunshine and one another’s company.

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Finally, after about an hour driving in some pretty intense rain, we arrived at our home-away-from-home for the next two nights…..the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa (or should I say “spahhhhhh?”).

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Stay tuned for details….if you find yourself in Texas, you don’t want to miss this place!

Sooo True

A final word about BBQ….Lockhart, Texas is THE place to go if you want some really kick-ass BBQ!  And if you find yourself in Lockhart, DO NOT MISS Black’s BBQ. When I asked Steve from Black’s if BBQ was a science or an art, I think he summed it up best by replying that it’s a delicate balance of both.

“Well, let me give you a little advice: ALWAYS BET ON BLACK’S!!!”

 

And, of course, a special thanks to Steve from Black’s BBQ for his Southern hospitality and for making our visit to Black’s a memorable one!!!!

For Better or For Worse…..

No, this is not a post about my marriage….rather, it is a post about the second day of our trip to San Antonio!  Unfortunately, my cold is getting worse; fortunately the food is getting better!!!  And that’s exciting because the food yesterday was pretty darn good.

I wish I could say I bounded out of bed this morning with renewed vigor; but the truth is I slept terribly (probably because of the large iced coffee I had yesterday afternoon to try to stay awake), I was badly in need of cold medicine and I really wanted to roll over and sleep until tomorrow….

But I am so glad I didn’t.  After what felt like a really ssslllooowww process of getting ready for the day, I caught a cab to the Pearl Brewery site – 22 acres north of San Antonio that house the Culinary Institute of America, some funky shops and several yummy restaurants as well as the Pearl Brewery.

I browsed the shops and asked for a lunch recommendation along the way…..the young (OK, to me everyone seems young anymore) girl I asked did not hesitate even for one second to point me to Il Sogno Italian Osteria.  She told me her second choice would be Arcade Midtown Kitchen, which serves a “soup of the moment” not a “soup of the day” – my kind of place!!!

I wandered around the area, taking my time in the shops, watching students through the windows at the C.I.A. and soaking up the Texas heat…..and it was HOT – 102 degrees today…..

When my belly started growling loudly enough for others to hear, I decided to find a spot for lunch….I turned the corner and, as if from a dream, right in front of me was Il Sogno Italian Osteria.

I inquired about whether I was too late for lunch…..2:30 is on the cusp…. but thankfully I was just under the wire.  I was shown to my table and given the lunch menu and the wine list.  I decided I’d just glance at the wine list and only order wine if there was a Falanghina on the list – something that almost never happens.

While I looked at the wine list and the menu, my waiter brought me a welcomed glass of ice water, which was made even better by a tray of thinly sliced citrus fruit of varying types that I could choose to flavor my water.  My aqua du jour … lime orange.  Mmm mmm mmm….especially good on a hot day!

Ahhh Refreshing

To end the suspense, there WAS a Falanghina on the wine list and I did order a glass; but when the waiter came back to tell me he didn’t think they had a bottle in stock I knew it was too good to be true.  By that point I think the waiter and I were both invested in me having  a glass of wine, so I asked for his recommendation.  He brought out two bottles for me to sample.

Of the two, I chose the Venica Sauvignon….not the Falaghina for which I had hoped, but still a nice white.  I was torn between several of the pizze options and several of the pasta options.  Ultimately I decided on Tagliatelle with Meatballs, Pine Nuts and Guanciale.

A Little Wine with Lunch

As I waited for my food, I admired the restaurant…..kind of a modern warehouse meets Italian villa décor.  Very comfortable and welcoming.  The tables were set simply with white cloths covered by white butcher’s paper. And the lighting – recycled wine bottles – was quite interesting.

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The bread that was delivered to my table looked DIVINE.  And looks did not deceive…..it TASTED divine too.  It started as a crusty bread, but the crusts were cut off to form a rectangle.  The bread was then lightly oiled (I’m fairly certain it was oil, not butter) and grilled to a crispy perfection.  It was served with a white bean and garlic spread and a drizzle of olive oil.  I could have made a meal of just the bread, but I stopped after one piece….knowing pasta was to come.

The Bread

When my pasta was delivered, it looked and smelled wonderful.  I couldn’t wait to dig in.     The sauce, a lovely red, tasted as though it had been simmering for hours.  The flavors were deep and robust, but the thin chiffonade of basil gave it a lovely freshness.  The meatballs were INCREDIBLE….perhaps the best I’ve ever eaten…..so light and fluffy…almost like eating a cloud….if it were made of meat…..with garlic….ok, I clearly lost the battle with that analogy!  The pine nuts gave a little crunch to the dish and a nice buttery nuttiness.  And the guanciale….oh, the guanciale…..what a nice salty bite!

Tagliatelle with Meatballs Pine Nuts and Guanciale

I truly savored my lunch.  It was not the kind of meal you inhale….I didn’t want to waste a single tasty morsel.  So I lingered with my wine and my book and my pasta.  And no one seemed to care.

The service was wonderful….my server and a few other folks checked on me as they walked past, but they were not intrusive in the least.  After taking away my empty plate, the waiter and I had a nice conversation about places to eat in the Hill Country, where Jeff and I are headed tomorrow.  After a short chat, I was given the dessert menu.

Too full for dessert, but tempted by the panna cotta and the gelato I looked over the menu and ultimately declined.  The waiter – clearly a man after my own heart – brought out two small nutella cookies saying that you couldn’t have a proper Italian meal without dessert.  Along with the cookies he brought another bottle of wine from which he poured me a sample. The cookies were heavenly….they literally dissolved on my tongue with a whisper of nutella.

Nutella Cookies

What a luxurious lunch experience.  The only thing that would have made it better were if my husband, the man to whom I pledged “for better or worse” many years ago, had been able to join me!

A few snaps from the day:

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On the menu tomorrow?  BBQ….don’t miss it!

Devouring D.C.

The rest of our D.C. trip was like a whirlwind….but I can’t resist sharing some of it with you.  I won’t bore you with all the details, partly because I wouldn’t remember them all if I tried!

Wednesday Night:

  1. A movie (The Hundred Foot Journey) at the Angelika Film Center.  Although it was quite expensive – we were there on Date Night so tickets were discounted.  AND, you can get a draft beer and gourmet popcorn to enjoy during the movie! The movie was really good – particularly the cinematography!

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  2. A late dinner at Matchbox, which I would highly recommend.  We had a wonderful waitress from Serbia who, after only 5 years in this country, speaks English much better than some people who have lived here their entire lives.  She was a great server…..attentive, but not overly so.  Friendly, but not overly so.  She made good menu recommendations and was efficient. IMHO, you just can’t ask for more than that!

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Thursday:

  1. Time by the pool and enjoying some of the other hotel amenities.
  2. Leisurely shopping in the Mosaic District.
  3. A glass of wine and a snack at Le Pain Quitodien with a book while I waited for Jeff to return from his meet-and-greet.
  4. A shared entrée at Cyclone Anaya’s – Great salsa.
  5. A stroll around Mosaic.

Friday:

  1. Time by the pool with a book.
  2. A shared lunch at Red Apron Butchery.

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  3. A stroll around Georgetown.

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  4. A stroll around Bethesda.

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  5. A wonderful dinner at Lebanese Taverna – we’ve eaten at their café in Rockville, but never at the Bethesda restaurant so this was quite a treat.  We arrived at the early end of the dinner hour so we got to see the manager/owner (not sure which) doing his dining room inspection and instructing the wait staff.  It was a treat and somewhat comforting – you’ve got to believe that if there are strict standards in the dining room, then there are probably strict standards in the kitchen too!

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  6. Drive home.
  7. Cupcakes with Mimi & PopPop from Georgetown Cupcakes (in Bethesda, where there was no line – as opposed to Georgetown Cupcakes in Georgetown where the line was around the block).

All in all we had a wonderful time devouring D.C.! Now we have to fast until our upcoming trip to San Antonio!!!

A Journey of 250 Miles Begins with the First 24 Hours

Wow!  These last 24 hours have flown past.  It seems like just yesterday at this time that I was in Central PA.  Oh, right…it WAS just yesterday at this time (or roughly this time) that Jeff and I were leaving for a little jaunt to Washington D.C.

We were not looking forward to driving in the forecasted rain showers, but we got lucky and seemed to miss the worst of it.  And after a pretty uneventful car ride; we arrived in D.C. (well, Fairfax, VA) safe and sound.

Our first stop was to check into our home-away-from-home – the Hyatt house in the Mosaic District.  We arrived and were greeted warmly by the front desk staff – in fact, upon giving our name we were wished a Happy Anniversary, which we just recently celebrated!  The lobby is both funky and welcoming – a difficult mix to achieve if you ask me.  Sometimes funky can seem cold and sometimes welcoming can lose the modern edge.  But this extended-stay hotel found the right balance.

Our “suite” is well equipped – full-sized fridge, microwave, dishwasher, 2-burner cooktop, bar sink, sitting area, separate bedroom, vanity area and small bathroom.  The room is nicely decorated in a soothing way and feels comfortable enough for a long stay. Because I am a stickler for the small details, there are two things I would “fix.”

(1) Most of the lampshades and some of the furniture pieces in the room are crooked.  I know Jeff will roll his eyes when he reads this….he always does when I notice these little things; but for me these little things fall under the “attention to detail” heading that many places miss. While I am willing to concede that the lampshades could possibly be off kilter because of the inevitable slamming of the hotel room doors; I doubt the door slamming affects furniture placement!

(2) The television stand in the corner of the sitting area has multiple shelves with nothing on them.  It looks like the designer forgot to decorate that area.  A simple basket or bowl placed on one of the shelves or some books/magazines would finish if off nicely.

Enough griping……On the plus side, the water pressure in the shower is SOOO good that I think I’ve finally rinsed out every last spec of shampoo & conditioner residue from the last 46 years!!!!!

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After we checked into the hotel, we met up with Brian – Jeff’s co-worker and our dining companion for the evening.  It’s always fun to share a meal with someone who is willing to be adventurous!  Together we went to a Korean BBQ called Honey Pig in Annandale.

Being new to Korean food, we relied on the recommendations of our waitress (well, one of them) and recommendations Jeff and I had received from the owner of a Korean market near our house.

We ordered the Seafood Pancake as an appetizer for the table and it was yummy.  Full of veggies and seafood it was crispy, flavorful and comforting.  For dinner, Brian and I both ordered Beef Bulgogi and Jeff ordered the Pork Belly.

Bulgogi is the most popular variety of Korean BBQ and falls under the category of marinated gogigui.  It is traditionally cooked on gridirons or perforated dome griddles, which look a lot like hubcaps!  “Gogigui” is Korean for ‘meat + roasting.’  And it is delicious!!!

Jeff’s pork belly and some tasty veggies/sprouts were also cooked on the dome griddle, which gave the pork belly a nice sear – that yummy crispiness that’s hard to resist.

Also on the table were about 100 small bowls – 3 with rice (one for each of us) and the rest with all kinds of condiments including kimchi (or kimchee) – Korea’s national dish – traditionally made with cabbage and other veggies with a variety of seasonings.  It’s spicy and tangy and mmm mmm mmm!  There was also a cucumber kimchee, an apple salad, sesame broccoli, steamed egg soufflé, soybean soup, fishcake banchan, and some other unidentified sauces and condiments.

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The meal was great – especially the bulgogi, which was so tender it practically melted in your mouth.  Now, it’s only fair that I remind you that I don’t have much experience with Korean food so I don’t have much with which to compare Honey Pig.  But, given the opportunity, I would definitely return.  The funky décor, the communal approach to cooking/serving food,  and the hip vibe made it a relaxed meal!

After dinner Jeff and I walked around the Mosaic District to get the lay of the land.  While we strolled the streets in the warm summer air, passing funky shops and interesting restaurants (including Andrew Weil’s soon-to-open True Food Kitchen) there was a distinct city feel we just can’t get at home. It’s like the air is electric and the sun never really sets!

To cap off the evening, we each got a small cup of gelato – Jeff’s combination was Virginia Peanut Butter and Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry Jam.  My combination was Lemon Ricotta Cardamom (which knocked my socks off) and Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry Jam.  The small cups were just enough for a taste, but not so much that we got full after a meal. It was the perfect little sweet treat.

Gelato2

This morning, Jeff headed out to his training session and I enjoyed a light breakfast at the hotel.  Then I set out for the McCutcheon Mt. Vernon Farmers Market at the Sherwood Library.  Even with GPS I took a few wrong turns, but that was ok with me – I had no place to be.  The farmers market was small, but the sky was bright blue, the sun was shining and there was so much beautiful produce to photograph!

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After I returned from my marketing adventure, I made a quick stop in the room to change into my bathing suit and made a beeline for the pool.   It couldn’t have been a more perfect day….the sun was warm, the breeze was cool and there was no one except the lifeguard at the pool!  I read, answered some emails and swam for about an hour and a half – just enough time to get a little bit of color and a whole lot of relaxed!

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My final stop before beginning this post – Le Pain Quotidien, which means “the daily bread.”  The perfect spot for a quick, nutritious lunch.  Although the restaurant/bakery/café is beautiful, I didn’t feel comfortable sitting in the dining room in my swim togs, so I opted to take-out my salad.

Everything on the menu sounded fantastic, so deciding was a chore.  But I landed on the Tuscan White Bean & Prosciutto Salad and an Iced Tea.  The restaurant’s philosophy is to serve simple, nourishing, delicious food.  And they lived up to that philosophy!  The salad was FANTASTIC!  If manna were like this, the Israelites never would have complained about it! My salad included just the right mix of arugula, parmesan, scallions, white beans, cucumbers (which I could have excluded), fresh croutons and basil vinaigrette.  The flavors of every component shone through so that I could enjoy the subtle nuances of flavor and texture.  The white beans were creamy, the arugula was crispy, the parmesan salty…….need I say more? It truly was a taste treat…..and I’m almost positive I’ve never referred to a salad as a treat!!!!

Lovely Lunch

Do yourself a favor and check out Le Pain Quotidien’s website – not only will you get a glimpse of the location I visited, but you can also get some yummy recipes they so generously share on the site!

I don’t know what the evening holds…..definitely dinner, probably a movie at the Angelika Film Center, and hopefully some quality time with my love!

I try to remember them EVERY day; but on days like these it’s sooooo incredibly easy to count my blessings!!!

The Best Vacation Ever – Part I

I was at church last night with a wonderful group of women I’ve been journeying with for the last several weeks.  We were practicing silence and guided prayer, which I will leave to others much more knowledgeable than I to document.  What I want to write about is where the practices led me.

We were to go, in our minds, to a safe place. The place that came to me was a cottage where Jeff and I stayed when we took a trip to Maine for our 10th wedding anniversary.  It was an absolute oasis where we spent two utterly relaxing weeks.

So this morning I pulled out the photo album from the trip and as I was paging through it I realized that without even knowing it, I was blogging on that trip.  OK, back then we called it journaling; but you know, tomAto / tomAHto!

Although the cottage is no longer available for rent; many of the restaurants are still in business and worth reading about if you’re taking a trip to Maine!  So I am going to share the trip with you in installments!

August 3, 2003

We’re sitting down to a delicious breakfast of homemade muffins, fresh fruit and the freshest eggs I think I have ever eaten.  They are from the hen-house, which is a stone’s throw from our door and which Lucky loves to visit each time he can escape.

 

[Lucky was a wonderfully crazy Golden Retriever with many issues! You’ll read a lot about him and his “brother” Dakota over the next several days.]

 

This breakfast and the beauty of our surroundings eases the “pain” of yesterday…

 

We got up at 3:11 a.m., showered, packed the car and got on the road by 4:46 in an effort to beat the traffic.  Ha!!! The car ride began with the boys [dogs] walking around the back of the SUV and being generally uncomfortable. At our first stop in Lebanon (yes, we didn’t make it very far) I got in the back to lie down with them thinking it would calm the savage beast. It worked for Dakota – he snuggled up next to me and slept.  Unfortunately Lucky continued to pace like an expectant father in the maternity ward.

 

Once back on the road, we sailed through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (which was very interesting) and stopped once in Connecticut.  We attempted to get a Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield (Exit 24 of I-95), but arrived to find a “CLOSED” sign in the window.  It was, however, a great place to take Jeff’s picture and to potty the guys.

 

Super Duper Weenie

Back in the car we headed for Massachusetts.  Once on Route 84 we were in the midst of what we affectionately refer to as the Mass. Turnpike Toll-Booth Parking Lot.  Apparently stopping for 30 minutes to an hour at each toll-booth is a common practice on summer weekends in New England. [Remember, the trip was before the wide-spread use of EZPass]. Let’s just say the second “half” of the trip was L-O-N-G!!!

 

At exit 3 in Maine we became impatient and decided that seeing the back roads would be a nice change from highway driving – or more accurately – “highway sitting.”  Jeff got out the atlas and found our alternate route – Route 202 – which is the one exception to the atlas scale.  For all other routes, the scale is one inch equals five miles.  On Route 202, one inch equals 100 miles – or so it seemed.  At first we didn’t let it get us down because we had visions of passing clam shacks and beautiful Maine scenery.

 

Our visions were slightly skewed – either that or we were driving through the Bronx again!  We passed what seemed like hundreds of pizza joints and literally no seafood restaurants (unless you count the lobster roll at McDonald’s).

 

We also came to realize that several other vacationers to Maine had gotten sick of driving on Route 202, stopped, got out of their cars, slapped ‘FOR SALE’ signs in the front windows and began walking to dinner at a pizza joint.

 

Cars weren’t the only things for sale on the roadside.  We could have bought snowmobiles, trailers, homes, fruit, a tractor-trailer for $8,500, and of course pizza.

 

We were surprised when we passed the most run-down trailer park from the ’50’s.  Where were the New England style houses?  And towns….forget it….on the map, heavily populated areas are shown in orange.  Well, heavily populated areas have approximately 3 homes.  In one “orange” town we saw the most people we had seen since we began our trek on Route 202 – it was what appeared to be a family reunion of 15 of the most frightening people we have ever seen.

 

Finally, we were nearing our destination – Kents Hill / Fayette.  We started to relax and to look for Fayette Corners Road.

 

I think it is important to point out here that we are on a trip celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  Much like a day from our honeymoon trip where we drove around aimlessly through Falmouth, MA looking for Aunt Mitzi and Uncle John, our spirits began dampening when we realized that either Fayette Corners Road does not exist or it is not marked.  We also began to fear that Cornerstone “Cottage” would be an old, leaky Air Stream trailer with no electricity or running water.

 

Dakota and Lucky were so antsy – and who could blame them?  Except for a few rest stops to potty and stretch our legs, we had been in the car nearing 13 hours.  During the trip, Lucky only laid down one time for 10 minutes – by the 13th hour he looked utterly exhausted – his eyelids were drooping and he could barely hold his head up – luckily he was resting it on the cooler.

 

We pressed on though, and after driving the same stretch of road several times and ultimately asking some locals for directions, found Fayette Corners Road.  Interestingly enough, there is a street sign – the only problem is that it is 1/4 mile AFTER you turn onto the road!

 

We easily found Baldwin Hill Road and Ellis Road – our final turn.  Expecting the absolute worst, we saw a beautifully carved rock announcing our arrival at Cornerstone Cottage.  We turned into the drive and all our fears melted away like cotton candy in the rain.

 

Cornerstone Sign

Wildflowers were growing around the beautifully planted garden and the hens welcomed us with a rousing melody.  The sound of gravel crunching under our tires began to seem as relaxing as a mountain stream gently trickling with cool water.  We were “home.”

 

Cornerstone's Garden

The Hens and The Cottage

The Cottage

Eric came out to greet us and show us around.  As we walked into Cornerstone Cottage, we began to notice the fine craftsmanship in the house – however, every time we have walked in since, we have noticed something else.  I think the most obvious touch is the “spiral” stairs that still have tree bark on the faces.  It is so warm and comfortable here.

 

Inside the Cottage

Ahhhhhhhhhh.  That is the sound of our stress melting away.

 

We wandered through the cottage looking at the details and settling in.  Then we headed for the beautiful deck, which of course was hand crafted.

 

While having a lazy conversation with Eric, Jeff began to do what looked like some sort of tribal dance.  This stirred up Dakota, who ran over to participate.  The next thing I knew, they had both been stung by bees.

 

The Deck with the BeeseWhile I calmed Jeff and Dakota, Eric headed under the deck to investigate and found a hornet’s nest, which he said he would dispose of after dark.

 

Bellies empty, we parted company with Eric to begin our quest for lobster.  We went inside where Dakota promptly threw up three times.

 

This initiated a call to the vet in Pennsylvania to make sure he wasn’t having a reaction to the bee sting, which prompted our search for Benadryl.

 

The four of us got back in the car (yes, we swore we would not get back in the car for at least 24 hours) and headed for Hallowell, stopping at the Fayette Country Store on the way for some relief for Dakota.

 

The scenery seemed to magically change.  ON the way to Cornerstone Cottage we were seeing the worst, but now that we had relaxed a bit, we were seeing the best.

 

And the best site of all was Hattie’s Chowder House – our choice for the evening and an entry in Jeff’s “little black book.

 

In Search of Lobster

Not wanting to leave Dakota alone, we ordered our food to go.  We each ordered a lobster roll and we shared some of Hattie’s famous lobster stew and clam chowder.  Sitting on some poorly lit steps in an alley-way, we had an incredible meal.

 

It was difficult to decide which soup was better – just when you thought you had made up your mind, your mouth was teased by the flavors of the other.  I still haven’t decided.

 

We threw away our trash and, with sticky hands, headed back to Cornerstone Cottage for the best night’s sleep in pitch darkness.”

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Best Vacation Ever!!!

In the meantime, what was your “best vacation ever?”

Kayaking & Life Lessons…

On Saturday Jeff and I went on a 19.5 mile kayak trip with our friends Jenn and Brian.  The four of us have been talking about taking a kayak trip together for almost a year, so it was great when we finally got it on the calendar.  And it was even better when it happened!

You don’t set out to paddle 19.5 miles when you have other things to do….it’s a long, lazy day.  That’s not to say that there isn’t work involved….just ask my arms; but it is to say that can be relaxing, slow-paced and a good time for getting to know one another better.

We met at 9:00 am [ok, truth be told we really met at 9:04:57] on the beautiful campus of Messiah College.  We unloaded our boats and gear from the car, packed our kayaks and headed for the water.  I am used to Jeff and I kayaking alone so I must admit that I was feeling a bit spoiled when Brian carried my load in some situations…a girl could get used to such treatment, but then where will I be when it’s back to just me and Jeff and I have no choice but to carry my half of the load!?!

We were anticipating beautiful weather for our float, but when we began paddling the sky was cloudy and there was a very light rain that actually sounded quite nice as it bounced off the water.  And as the day progressed, the weather gradually improved until the sun was finally shining and the sky was a brilliant blue.

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As we paddled I couldn’t help but think about how our behavioral styles (at least mine and Jeff’s) were demonstrated on the water.  If you know anything about the DiSC behavioral inventory or Gary Smalley’s personality inventory (which assigns an animal to your personality type based upon how you answer questions) or even if you’ve just lived for a while  – you know that we are not all created equal.  Each of us has his/her own personality quirks.

Having taken the Gary Smalley inventory MANY times, I know that I am a LION and Jeff is a GOLDEN RETRIEVER.  And if I didn’t know this prior to Saturday, I could have figured it out based upon our behaviors.  The LION is goal oriented, likes to lead and enjoys challenges so it should come as no surprise that I was out in front most of the day – not because of a need to be first or to “win,” just because that’s where I am most comfortable.  Safe or not, I was ready to plunge headlong into most of the rapids without even assessing the current.  The GOLDEN RETRIEVER looks for security, is great at making friends, and works best in a steady situation so I was not surprised to hear Jeff behind me talking up a storm and watch him going last through most of the rough patches – because that is where he is most comfortable.

Our positions changed throughout the float, but I can tell you that I could feel myself getting frustrated when I was at the back of the pack and I could see a bit of anxiety begin to show around Jeff’s eyes when he was at the front or when he wasn’t sure what was coming next.  I love (but don’t always understand) that we are all wired differently and I find it interesting when you can clearly see the “animals” come out in real-life situations. But, the float was not all about personalities…

Although we see Jenn and Brian often at church, we haven’t had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with them – so the kayaking trip was the perfect day for learning about one another.  Floating along at approximately 3 to 4 mph gives you time to tell stories, ask questions and listen!

You also work up an appetite….you didn’t think I’d forget about the food, did you?  We stopped at approximately the half-way point and had a great lunch.  Jenn and Brian brought a variety of beverages and I volunteered to make the food – you know I can’t resist an opportunity to cook for people!

I made the food on Friday and packed it all in containers I thought would withstand a dunk in the water and that were light enough not to sink our kayaks on the way to our lunch spot!  We had quite the buffet when we spread it all out on the picnic table.  Jeff went to Alvaro’s in Harrisburg on his way home from work on Friday to pick up sandwich rolls so that we could make chicken cutlet sandwiches.  I prepped a bunch of things to go on the sandwiches and packed them in small containers so that everyone could assemble his/her own based upon their likes and dislikes.  Our sandwich extras included mayonnaise, balsamic jelly (stay tuned for a post), thin shavings of sharp provolone cheese, arugula with a light lemon vinaigrette dressing, and roasted red peppers with herbs.

We also had chips and citrus marinated mushrooms for the side.  And then, as if that wasn’t enough, I enlisted my mom’s help with dessert (you need a little something sweet when you’re paddling for hours).  She makes some absolutely wonderful chocolate oatmeal brownies and we were fortunate to be the recipients of her baking skills.  When he bit into the brownies, Brian proclaimed, “You can tell some love went into these!”

Not only were the brownies packed in a water-tight container, there was also a note inside – kind of like “fortune brownies” – wishing us a good day of kayaking and letting us know that the brownies with the edges were for me!!!!!  You see, my favorite part of a pan of brownies is the edges – I’d rather eat the edges than the gooey middle part!  And I learned on Saturday that when kayaking on a hot day an oatmeal brownie goes quite nicely with a cold lime beer!

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We spent about an hour total on dry land at lunch time, taking advantage of “the facilities” and following the “old wives tale” advice about not getting in the water for 30 minutes after you eat!!! [Yes, I know it’s for swimming, not kayaking].  With full bellies, we set out for the second half of our float.

Somewhere along the line, Jenn and I got ourselves into a harrowing situation [ok, no one was really at risk, but it sounds so much better than “we got stuck on a rock”].  We were heading for some rapids and rather than leaving a suitable distance between us as we approached as we had become accustomed to doing, the four of us seemed to be upon the rapids at almost the same time.  Jeff went left and cleared the rocks; but I did not and in an instant I saw part of a rock jutting up from the water and knew I wouldn’t have time to correct course.  I got hung up and Jenn, trying not to hit me adjusted course, but not enough to avoid the rocks.  So we were both stuck.

It was clear to me that the only way for me to get “unstuck” was to get out of my boat and pull.  So I did.  Now, if you’ve ever been kayaking you know that when you get out you have to hang on to your boat or the current will take it and you’ll be left walking behind it for the rest of the day!  So I was holding on to my boat and trying to “unstick” Jenn.  The current started spinning my 12-foot boat and I was trying to keep myself upright on the mossy, wet rocks, to hold onto the boat that the water was desperately trying to take from me,  AND to keep Jenn from tipping.

This is where the life lesson comes in…..sometimes you’re so invested in your current situation that you don’t see any other options.  You keep struggling where you are, doing what you’ve been doing (which incidentally is not working really well), and you begin to exhaust yourself.  I could feel myself getting tired, but I didn’t want Jenn to tip and I didn’t want to lose my boat.  I lost sight of the fact that there were other people I could turn to for help.  Although Jeff and Brian were downstream, I didn’t think to look to them for assistance.  Finally they yelled, “let go of your boat.”

Well, for a few seconds that made ABSOLUTELY no sense to me.  But they said, “we’ll get it.”  So I let go of my boat and in that instant, the rushing current didn’t seems so overwhelming.  I was able to get my footing and help Jenn get moving again.  THEN I could worry about getting back to my boat.

Of course, all I was looking at was my immediate surroundings (about 1 foot around me in all directions) and at where my boat was.  So I began trudging forward through deep, rushing water.  But Jeff, being back far enough to see the big picture, guided me to the right where the water was more shallow and the terrain less rocky.  Working together, Brian and Jeff managed to get my boat to me as I walked on more level ground.

Safely back in my boat, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times have I held onto my boat [my plan, my way, my situation] and walked through deep, rushing water because either I thought there was no one there to help me or because I was too proud to ask for help or accept it?  Then I was reminded of how tightly I held onto my former job – not leaving because I couldn’t step back far enough to see that if I just let go of it, I could get out of the rushing current and onto more level ground. I went with the flow because I thought that was what I was supposed to do and I thought it was the only option.

I shouldn’t be surprised at God’s amazing timing, but sometimes I am.  Yesterday’s sermon in church was entitled “Going Against the Flow.”  The main sermon points were:

When I live my life empowered by prayer…

  1. God becomes my anchor against the flow.
  2. I find peace in the turbulence.
  3. I find courage to go against the flow.

WOW!  I love and greatly appreciate it when God provides a smack upside my head.  I know that sounds strange, but you see, subtlety is lost on me.  I am fairly literal and so sometimes I need that extra push.  Standing in the water on Saturday and listening to those who had a wider perspective reminded me that I CAN turn to others for help when the current is raging….I can turn to God and I can turn to those who can see my situation more clearly than I can because I am too close, too scared, too mired in the details, trying too hard to make my way work.

Kayaking is like life…..it doesn’t always turn out the way you expect, it’s more fun when done in fellowship with others, and it can teach you a great deal about yourself and about life!

Where ever you are in your life right now, do you need to let go of the boat?

Monday HaHaHa: The Shed

Did you know that laughter is good for your health?  We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.”  It’s true.   According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, laugher can:

  • Enhance your intake of oxygen-rich air
  • Stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles
  • Increase the endorphins released by your brain
  • Activate and relieve your stress response
  • Sooth tension
  • Improve your immune system
  • Relieve pain
  • Increase personal satisfaction
  • Improve your mood

With that in mind, I must be one REALLY healthy gal!!! Why?  Because last night I had not only the Monday MmmMmmMmm, but I also had the Monday HaHaHa!

You see, Jeff and I were invited to attend a reunion of team members from the missions trip Jeff went on in May of 2012 to Biloxi, Mississippi.  I was not part of the team; however as a spouse of a team member I was honored to attend and to “eavesdrop” on the reminiscing!

Andy, one of the team members, and his wife, Maureen, hosted the group.  The reason for the get-together was the debut of the new food network show, The Shed.  The Shed is a BBQ and Blues joint in Ocean Springs, MS and was one of the stops on the missions team’s itinerary during their trip.  In honor of the debut, Andy and Maureen served some rockin’ Q with some sauces from Central PA and from The Shed.

In addition the beef brisket, pulled pork and ribs, they also served macaroni and cheese, chips and dip, and baked beans.  Being an “outsider,” I came with food in hand to earn my place – I made a new coleslaw recipe.

After a great prayer to kick off the evening, we dug into the food.  There’s something great about the atmosphere created when you serve BBQ and beer.  People seem to roll up their sleeves and automatically relax.  The group talked and laughed and ate and ate and ate.  Once you’ve bonded with folks on a missions trip, it seems you’re no longer self-conscious about eating heartily or shy about taking the last of anything!

Before the 10:00 PM kickoff of the shed, we watched the sneak preview aired by food network on Sunday.  Not only was it a great intro to the show, it was really neat for me to watch the group interact and remember the funky place they had been.  The team members recognized folks on the show, talked about what they ate when they visited The Shed, and laughed about the time they shared as though it was just yesterday.

After the sneak preview, there was still time before the kickoff show aired, so Andy broke out his journal from the trip.  Each team member (and even us non team members) who attended last night’s reunion was interested in hearing Andy’s recorded memories.  It was cool for me to learn that Andy is quite sentimental at heart.  He saved pamphlets and menus and other documents from the trip and carefully shared them with the group.  The following are scanned images of The Shed menu Andy saved:

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Of course, those who were not in attendance were remembered as well! Not only were they fondly remembered, but they were also lovingly teased as well – please remember, I wrote ‘LOVINGLY’!  They were not the only ones who were mocked for their eccentricities – those in attendance took their share of ribbing too!

At 10:00, when Andy tuned into the show, a hush fell over the crowd and all eyes were glued to the television set.  We watched the show and had a lot of laughs.  The Shed (the place) seems like a fun place to work and it seems like the family who runs it is living their passion.  The Shed (the show) on food network is kind of like Duck Dynasty, but with a loose focus on food.  I couldn’t help but think it would be great fun to assemble the group every Monday night to watch the show, but real life will prevent that from happening.

Jobs and kids and commitments will get in the way; but for one night the group got to reassemble and remember – and I was honored to have been a part of it. When Jeff returned home from his trip and told me what an amazing group of people he travelled with, I believed him but had no frame of reference.  Since the trip, I’ve gotten to know some of the team members better and had a little better understanding.  But last night, seeing them in action, I got a first-hand look at how well the team had bonded.

Take a look at some photos of the night:

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It’s interesting that I find myself writing about a place I’ve never visited and that makes food I’ve never tasted (well, that’s not EXACTLY true, I DO have a bottle of Shed Sauce in my fridge).  Typically I write reviews about places I HAVE eaten.

I cannot comment on the food, but I can tell you that the group shared a term with me that they coined at The Shed – ‘audible eating.’  Audible eating would probably give Emily Post nightmares if she were still among the living.  Audible eating comes from using no silverware and eating amazing food – it’s the sound of finger-licking and mmm’ing and slurping.  Perhaps it is the sound of utter culinary satisfaction!

And I can also tell you that the group I hung with last night included many “ShedHeds.”  In fact, this group and other groups from Daybreak Church who have been to The Shed have been known to mail-order Shed Sauce.  Fortunately, it’s now available in our area so that’s no longer necessary.

So I can tell you for certain that if I ever find myself in Ocean Springs, MS, I WILL visit The Shed.  And I can tell you for certain that having a Monday HaHaHa does for the soul what having a Monday MmmMmmMmm does for the stomach.  I hope you have a group of folks with whom you can simply laugh – those rich, deep belly-laughs that will improve your health!

Share a laugh with others…what’s your favorite joke?

Phun in Philly

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What a great two days I have had.  Yesterday Jeff and I, and our friends Christa and Ben, traveled to Philadelphia for a day of great food and a trip to Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phils play.

Of course, we wandered around the Italian Market in South Philly, showing Christa and Ben (Italian Market Newbies), some of our favorite spots….Sarcone’s Bakery for a loaf of seeded bread; Tortilleria San Roman for fresh-made corn tortillas; DiBruno Bros to enjoy the smells, to taste and buy some wonderful cheeses, and to see what’s new; Claudio’s to check out imported Italian foods and to see if they were making mozzarella; and The Spice Corner for spices.

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Souper Bowl MMXIII

Souper Bowl MMXIIIJeff and I and a group of our friends have changed Super Bowl Sunday into Souper Bowl Saturday!  At least we did this past Saturday evening.  No players were injured and the lights didn’t go out, but there was some trash talk!

Veggie & Ricotta Frittata

On this dreary, gray, drizzly morning (almost afternoon), I am reflecting on our competition over a wonderful veggie and ricotta frittata.  Just thinking about all the soups is making me feeI a little warmer.  But I am longing for another cup of coffee, so hang on a moment please…….

OK, I’m back and caffeine is once again flowing through my system. Ahhhhhh!

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