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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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]!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!!!!

Scatterbrained…

There are so many things I’m thinking of writing about at this moment – and none of them are connected to the others.  So I apologize in advance if this post seems like one long, frightening stream-of-consciousness exercise!!! After reading the first draft of this post, I decided that section headers were definitely in order!!

The following is an abbreviated list of topics rattling around in my brain: what I’ve been doing for the last two days, my first nitro cold-brew experience, the horrific sound my laptop is making, last night’s dinner, why I hate humidity, noosa yoghurt, the benefits of iPhone reminders, what to do today…… Ugh, sometimes I wish I could reboot my brain!

LAPTOP
I’ll start with the horrific sound my laptop is making.  Approximately every 25 seconds it sounds like my laptop is slogging up the hill on my most challenging walking route carrying 500 extra pounds!  It’s kind a high-pitched whine of exertion that lasts about 15 seconds.  I fear this, coupled with the fact that the laptop no longer holds a charge, means I’ll soon [or NOW] be in the market for new technology.  New technology IMHO is a double-edged sword.  It’s exciting…..shiny, fast, light, small…..but it’s also sad….saying goodbye to this laptop that has served me well – we know one another’s idiosyncrasies, I know exactly how far I have to stretch my left pinkie finger to hit the [ctrl] key and I could identify it with my eyes closed because of the double-sided tape residue on the top!  It’ll be like a melancholy goodbye when you drop a friend off at the airport knowing you won’t see them for a long time AND the excitement/expectancy of a first date all rolled into one!

NOOSA YOGHURT
Ok….on to noosa yoghurt! I’m sure there are some of you out there that have known about noosa for years, but I am relatively noo noosa lover.  The first noosa I tasted was Key Lime and it remains my favorite; however I also like the raspberry and coconut A LOT!  Last time I went to the grocery store I bought the noo apple flavor by mistake – it’s in the same color packaging as the Key Lime.  I’d say to date, the apple is my least favorite flavor but it is good and if I had to choose between noosa apple and a different brand of yogurt, I’d choose the noosa. Although I haven’t noticed them in stores, I just discovered on the noosa website that they make two interesting flavors I’ll now be on a quest to locate – blackberry serrano and raspberry habanero!!!  So why do I like noosa? It’s sooooo creamy (mouthfeel really does matter when it comes to enjoying food), it’s not too sweet and the 8 oz. size makes a great meal that keeps you full.  But, never fear, they do offer smaller sizes as well and they offer plain noosa in a 24 oz. container!  Something for everyone.  To learn more about noosa, visit their whimsical website!

WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST 2 DAYS –  MY FIRST NITRO COLD-BREW EXPERIENCE – LAST NIGHT’S DINNER
Now I’ll tackle: what I’ve been doing for the last two days, my first nitro cold-brew experience, and last night’s dinner.  Ready?  Let’s go….

NITRO COLD-BREW
Tuesday I woke up with a craving for coffee [I am fully aware that I wake up with a craving for coffee every morning; however I do not indulge it every morning] and a plan.  I showered, dressed, ate a noosa (I’m not kidding) and hopped in the car.  I set waze to take me to BREW.  [I could go on a rabbit trail here talking about how helpful waze has been on this trip; but I’ll resist the temptation]. Incidentally, I am here at BREW again writing this post!

I arrived at BREW and was lucky to get the last available table – throughout the time I lingered at BREW people came and went, but the tables were always at a premium. There are several outdoor tables, however I did not choose to take one of those [this might be a great place for rant about why I hate humidity – but I will spare you].

Nitro cold brew (NCB) was my drink of choice.  It was my first nitro cold brew experience and was inspired by their menu, which reads, “Iced Nitro Cold Brew – Cannot be described with words.”  I’ve heard about nitro coffee, but haven’t had the opportunity to try it until Tuesday. Nitro cold brew is cold brewed coffee charged with nitrogen to give it a rich, creamy head – similar to a nitro draft beer like Guinness.  The nitrogen effect cuts the acidity of the coffee and [because of a lot of sciency stuff about the size of the nitrogen bubbles] gives the coffee a thicker mouthfeel (it is a strange coincidence that I’m writing about mouthfeel again)!  The coffee tastes sooooo smooooooooth.  So smooth, in fact, that I drank the first one without cream or sugar, which is somewhat miraculous for me.  Yes, I did write FIRST ONE.  It was so good that I had a second one, which I regretted at 1:00 a.m. when I wasn’t sleeping.  So today, I’m enjoying a nitro cold-brew again, but I’m drinking it earlier in the morning and only having one!!!

CAMERON VILLAGE
After the second NCB and a shot glass filled with salted mixed nuts I embarked on a shopping adventure.  I strolled through several shops at Cameron Village, the first shopping center between Washington D.C. and Atlanta which opened in 1949.  Of course it has evolved over time, but it has always included apartments, homes, retail, office buildings and grocery stores.  Although it was really hot and humid [this might be a great place for rant about why I hate humidity – but I will spare you] I enjoyed a leisurely afternoon at Cameron Village. When I left Cameron Village I had not completely scratched my shopping itch, so I took a quick ride to the North Hills area (where I walked on Monday) and hit a few shops there too.

POOLE’S DOWNTOWN DINER
Although I was invited to join Jeff and his cronies for dinner, I opted to keep shopping and find dinner on my own.  And I’m glad I did.  I took the opportunity to try Poole’s Downtown Diner.  ‘Diner’ alone is not a fair, complete description so I’ll borrow the description for their website and hope that it gives you a truer glimpse into Poole’s…’A modern diner with reimagined comfort food.’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Poole’s started as a pie shop in 1945 and due to customer demand quickly began offering savory options. Eventually the pie shop moved out and the location morphed into Poole’s Luncheonette.  Although Poole’s still embraces its double-horseshoe lunch counter, it has a modern, hip, dark vibe. And I love that “Don’t forget kindness” is stenciled on their front window!

I read the chalkboard menu (I wish there had been a handheld version of the menu, but understand the kitsch) with an open mind, but the review that I had read about their macaroni au gratin repeated in my memory.  Ultimately I decided on a glass of Albarino, the macaroni au gratin and haricot verts with shishito peppers, lemon and fried garlic.

I enjoyed a book, some people watching and my wine while I waited for my food.  And by the time the macaroni au gratin and haricot verts arrived I was really hungry [no, the food didn’t take too long, I took too long to decide where to eat].  The first thought that went through my mind when the waitress set down my food was, “I’m going to eat every last bite.”  HA!!!!  The portions were generous, but the reason I couldn’t eat every last bite was the richness of the macaroni au gratin.  It was incredibly comforting, smooth, and gooey with a just-right crispy cheesy crust on top. The haricot verts were the perfect complement to the mac-&-cheese, although I thought they would have been better without the butter.  In fact, had I known they were finished with butter I likely would not have ordered them as my side – I would probably have chosen the roasted beets with summer melon.  But they were DELIGHTFUL – the garlic was fried to perfection and added a wonderful nuttiness to the dish, while the lemon added a periodic burst of freshness.  I would have liked more shishitos because they added an unexpected flavor to the dish. My glass of Albarino was cold (but not too cold) and crisp with the perfect sharpness against the creaminess of the macaroni au gratin.

Poole’s was an excellent choice!

By the time I got back to the hotel, Jeff was there.  He was tired from a long day of training and a yummy, filling Italian dinner.  So he decided to read and I, after taking a little time to digest, made my way to the fitness center to walk off some of the creamy goodness of my dinner at Poole’s. About an hour later I returned to the room, showered and fell into bed – only to toss and turn for a while with my eyes wide open and my brain spinning from the NCB!!!!!

RALEIGH STATE FARMERS MARKET

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yesterday I did not indulge the coffee craving…..I needed to detox from the caffeine overload on Tuesday.  But I did have a noosa for breakfast!  After breakfast I threw on some workout clothes, a baseball hat and sneakers and jumped in the car for a quick drive to the Raleigh State Farmers Market.  My first stop was Market Imports – a large shop on the market grounds that sells everything from garden art and planters to furniture, reclaimed architectural pieces and home and garden accessories.  I had fun wandering through the “aisles” and looking at all the interesting offerings.  Then I went through the market stalls and enjoyed the aroma of fresh peaches and other produce in the air.  I admired lots of native plants and relived a frightening memory of the pineapple peppers I purchased at the RSFM last October.  The signage on the pineapple peppers indicated in October (and still does today), ‘sweet and spicy.’ I take issue with that description.  In fact, if I had to describe them I’d choose, ‘lip-meltingly hot…hazmat suit required.’  But, as usual, I digress!!!

HISTORIC OAKWOOD CEMETERY
Wanting both a nice walk and a bit of local culture, I opted next for a stop at the Historic Oakwood Cemetery.  It may sound strange, but Oakwood Cemetery is listed in the guidebooks as a must-see in Raleigh and it was the perfect place for a peaceful walk. And as an added bonus, Tom Unger and Mark Shuey, it is an historic confederate cemetery!!!  I spent about an hour at the cemetery – sometimes briskly walking and others studying the tombstones and snapping pics of the beautiful surroundings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After my walk I was craving something nutritious so I typed the address from the Cold Off the Presses website into waze and began my short drive – or what I thought was my short drive.  When waze announced, ‘you have arrived’ I was in front of a pile of rubble.  I drove around the block twice but wasn’t able to locate my destination.  So I pulled over and typed ‘Cold Off the Presses’ into waze and found a different address.  So I followed the path and again was promised, ‘you have arrived,’ which I had not.  Again I circled the block to no avail and finally gave up (not my usual MO), drove back to the hotel and ordered what turned out to be a sadly ordinary (maybe even less than ordinary) room service salad.

I was again graciously invited to join Jeff and his cronies for dinner and decided to do just that!  I spent the rest afternoon reading in the air conditioning and taking my time getting ready for dinner.  I even took the time to do my nails, which ended up bubbling [this might be a great place for rant about why I hate humidity – but I will spare you] but at least were polished.

18 SEABOARD
With the address for the restaurant in waze, I left to meet the guys for dinner and arrived moments after they did (had it not taken so long to make a left onto Peace street I would have arrived at almost exactly the same time)!  Interestingly enough, 18 Seaboard (our dinner destination) is right across the street from BREW.

18 Seaboard serves contemporary Southern-style dishes with over 60% of ingredients sourced from North Carolina farms, ranches, fishmongers and dairies. And it does so quite well!  The group shared several appetizers including: Crispy Pamlico Sound Shrimp with Texas Pete Aioli, the Heirloom Tomato Sampler with goat cheese and balsamic drizzle, Fried Oysters with a delicious herb pesto, and Fried Okra.

Everyone in the group tried the Sneads Ferry She-Crab Soup, which was really yummy, but not nearly as good as the she crab soup at the now defunct Market Inn in D.C.  Oh, what I would give for a bowl of that soup and a tiny pitcher of sherry!!!!  Anyway…..for my entrée I had the hardwood fired trout with charred peach vinaigrette, cheddar grits and grilled asparagus. Oh my goodness!  Not only was the restaurant perfumed with the aromas of oak and hickory (two of my favorite scents), but the trout was enveloped in those flavors as well and the smoke profile was just right….I could easily identify the smoke, but could still taste the freshness of the trout.  The grits were cooked to perfection and the asparagus was grilled exactly to my liking – still al dente, but definitely not raw – also had a hint of smoke and tasted great with the peach vinaigrette.

Jeff ordered a wonderfully chocolately dessert…..a chocolately chocolate cake in a mug, with a warm fudgy sauce and a scoop of bruleed marshmallow fluff!  Since I was already so satisfied from my meal, one bite of dessert was enough.

The service at 18 Seaboard was spot on – attentive and friendly, but not intrusive.  Our group was visited and modestly thanked by chef/owner Jason Smith, who also sent out a plate of tiny chocolately brownies dusted in powdered sugar and topped with a drop of caramel sauce.  I enjoyed the food and getting to know some of the guys from Jeff’s class and am humbled to have been invited to join them.

Note: Being with a new group, I did not feel comfortable snapping my usual pics during dinner.  

THE ENDING
I am happy to report that my laptop did not die…YET.  Although I didn’t cover all the topics whirling through my brain when I started this post, I do feel less scatterbrained.  I still haven’t decided what to do today, but my knee is stiff from sitting so long and my coffee is precariously low [perhaps I can attribute the ‘less scatterbrained’ to the low coffee] so it must be time for a long walk.  While I’m walking I’ll think about how I’ll spend the afternoon after a refreshing shower!  There’s lots of Raleigh that I haven’t seen yet.  And there’s Durham.  The world is my oyster……did someone say oyster? Maybe still a little scatterbrained!!!

Taking Time to Smell the Roses….Sort Of

If you read yesterday’s post, you know I’m fighting a summer cold.  I don’t want to belabor the point, but I remind you of this so you can understand why I had much more trouble than usual getting moving yesterday morning….and I did!

I woke up between 8 and 9, but felt absolutely ghastly.  I thought about spending the day in bed, ordering soup from room service and feeling sorry for myself; but that thought was fleeting because I’m in a new place and there is much exploring to be done!

So I indulged my inner child and stayed in bed long enough to write yesterday’s post and watch a few episodes of NCIS, but then I got up and decided I’d try to sweat the cold out.  I threw on some workout gear and a baseball hat, brushed my teeth and headed out in search of a nice, safe neighborhood to take a walk and gawk at southern-style houses.

I decided to try the North Hills area, which was a short drive from our hotel.  I explored the area and finally decided on a beautiful neighborhood called Reedham Oaks.  Since there was nowhere safe to park in the neighborhood, I found a nearby church with an empty lot, parked the car and walked from there.  It wasn’t too hot and although there was rain in the forecast I had time to get in some steps and sweat out some of this cold.

While I was walking I listened to a podcast that Jeff and I recently discovered.  It’s called Marriage to the Max (MTTM) and is about healthy marriage – something to which Jeff and I certainly aspire!!!  Not that we have an unhealthy marriage; but anyone who has been married for 24 years (last week was our anniversary – happy anniversary, baby) understands that if you aren’t working toward improving your marriage, you may be giving satan a foothold.  I find MTTM very informative and encouraging.  There are some ouchy moments listening to it, but those are the moments I really need to pay attention and adjust my course.

I worked up a good sweat and a little bit of an appetite, so I started to head back to the car.  And incidentally, it was just in time as it began to sprinkle as I was making my way back to the church parking lot.  Next stop, Target.  Our cooler leaked on the way down so I wanted to replace it and I thought I’d pick up something other than the Sudafed I’d been taking since Saturday night – since it didn’t seem to be helping.

My quick stop at Target included a brief conversation with the pharmacist, who – after asking about my symptoms – steered me toward a quick release, extra-strength pain reliever rather than the Sudafed. And boy was she right.  I feel oh so much better taking the pain reliever rather than the Sudafed.

The long walk and shopping trip to Target turned ‘my bit of an appetite’ into a ‘wow, I could east something substantial.’  Knowing that Jeff was having dinner out I decided to get some takeout to bring back to the room so I could eat in comfort and then get a shower.  I opted for The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar.  Although I love sushi, it was not calling to me in the moment, but a burger was.  Sitting in the Target parking lot, I pulled up The Cowfish menu online and began the difficult task of choosing a burger from their extensive list of burgerliciousness.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After much deliberation, I opted for the The Local Yokel.  The menu describes The Local Yokel as follows:

“Half-pound beef burger.  Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese, fresh basil, fried cherry peppers, Abbott Farms F.R.O.G. (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) jam reduction, brioche bun.  Choice of side.”

I used ChowNow (an online ordering system) to order my food and then put The Cowfish into Waze and navigated the late-afternoon traffic to The Cowfish.  I parked in their convenient 10 minute parking and waited for my food at the bar.  In no time, my order was ready and I was on my way back to the hotel.

I dug into my food and was treated to a taste explosion.  The beefy burger was nicely balanced with the tanginess of the goat cheese, the slight sweetness of the F.R.O.G. and the occasional spiciness of the peppers.  The fries were well seasoned and, had I not transported my meal for 15 minutes, would likely have been just the right crispness. I must confess, I was so hungry when I got back to the hotel that I didn’t take any pics of the food…….so sorry!

After I ate, I decided that I didn’t want to be holed up in a hotel room for the remainder of the evening so I set off for the JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State.  Parking was easy and there is no admission per se – but donations are appreciated. And you’ll want to make a donation when you see how pretty the grounds are.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I wandered through the arboretum for about an hour – taking this windy path and then that.  And as I wandered, I realized it is true what THEY say….”not all who wander are lost.”  It was so relaxing just soaking in the beauty of nature.  After walking the grounds, I took some time to sit on a glider near a lovely fountain wall and listen to the water as I watched the evening light change my surroundings by degrees.  Evening light is my favorite – it’s golden and what I call “juicy.”  At this point in the post, I wish I could tell you about the epiphany I had or the philosophical thoughts that went through my mind; but in truth I enjoyed a few moments of NOT thinking.

Finally, as the light began to change from golden and juicy to fading, I made my way back to the hotel and to a well-deserved, much-needed shower.  Although it had felt good to sweat out some of the yuck, it felt even better to wash it away and slip into clean pj’s.  By the time I was done drying my hair, Jeff was returning from his dinner and we spent some time talking about our respective days and just enjoying one another’s company.

I got my pics into yesterday’s post and published it.  And I got my pics ready for this post too – even though I hadn’t written it.  Then we climbed into bed with our books.  I pretended to read for about 5 minutes and gave into the heaviness of my eyelids.  I don’t know how long Jeff stayed up and can only assume he left this morning around 7:15 a.m. since I wasn’t up to say goodbye (sorry honey).  But I did get up around 9:00 and got ready for my day.  First stop, BREW….stay tuned for more!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Save

Friendship, Food & Farmers’ Markets

One of my first posts was about how food connects and over the last few weeks I’ve had evidence of it!

Last week I received a text message from my friend Tracee which got me thinking about writing this post.   Her text began, “Holy early good morning!!  Sorry to message you so early but…”  OK, let’s stop here and analyze the beginning of her message – she completely understands that for me 7:48 am (her time) and/or 9:48 am my time is early!!!  She was off to a great start!  The message continued, “I am at this awesome produce market in Ft Worth Texas and I thought of you…”  Now some friends would think of you when they hear your favorite song, or watch your favorite t.v. show, or see you favorite flower; but a good friend knows – and understands that – you have a passion for produce markets and thinks of you when she’s looking at fresh fruits and veggies!  She went on to write, “…need anything you can not find in pa?”  A seriously great, true friend would travel from Texas to Pennsylvania with produce in tow if you asked!!!!

I replied to her, “Happy Friday!  You know me well….I love a good produce market!  I’m good [meaning I don’t need you to bring anything back] but send some pics!”

Her reply? “OK will do.  Great stuff!  I knew you appreciate interesting ingredients.”  She then proceeded to send me 14 pics – with captions!  You gotta love a friend like that!

The following is a slide show of Tracee’s pics (some with captions) with her permission to share!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This text exchange also got me to thinking of a recent trip I took with a different friend (no, I’m not bragging / yes, I am blessed) to Roots Country Market & Auction.  I’ve written about my friend Tammy in previous posts (in fact, one of her delicious recipes made one of my “Best Thing I’ve Eaten All Week” posts).  Tammy is another friend that falls into both the “friend that gets me” and “true friend” categories.  She’s a gem.  In my mind, I equate Tammy with Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) [the glamorous Hungarian wife of Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert)] who is dragged unwillingly from an upscale Manhattan penthouse apartment and the city life she adores to a ramshackle farm.  You see, Tammy is a beautiful, put-together woman who at first glance seems like she might not be tough enough for life on a farm; but if you think that of her, you’d be underestimating her strength – both physical and mental.  In fact, she now lives on a farmette and raises chickens.  Anyway….as usual, I digress.

Tammy and I travel well together and enjoy the same kinds of experiences.  So when she suggested a trip to Roots Market on our most recent day together, I was fully on board.  And I was armed with a restaurant to introduce her to.  We left around 8:30 (early for me and late for Tammy) and started at Roots Market.  I’m so glad Tammy drove and knew exactly how to get to Roots.  You see, she and her hubby frequent the auction to purchase produce for “the girls.”

We zig-zagged our way through the market looking at fresh produce, baked goods, fresh meats, etc.  We plotted our purchases and had to backtrack to a few stands once we’d made our way through the whole market.  But, we’re not just about produce markets.

When we left Roots we headed for downtown Lancaster and shopped at some cute boutiques, home stores, and an olive oil tasting room. We looked at shoes, clothes, jewelry, home items, soaps, lotions, hats (lots of cute hats), coffee, tea, etc.  In doing so, we worked up an appetite.

Being married to Jeff has prepared me well to have a restaurant in my hip pocket for nearly every occasion!  On this day the restaurant was Hunger-N-Thirst Craft Beer and Provisions. I made a quick stop in the bottle shop to see if I could get any HopSlam for Jeff (alas, I could not), we made a pit stop and then made our way to the dining room.  We each ordered a glass of wine (red for Tammy  / white for me), we shared the shrimp cocktail appetizer and ordered our entrees.  For Tammy, the BLT Panino.  For me, Veggie Panino.  The shrimp cocktail was not your mama’s shrimp cocktail!    It is described on the menu as “Chilled Horseradish Dusted Shrimp / Herb Puree / Pickled Vegetables / Crostini / Tomato Jam” and it was D’lish!  I didn’t taste Tammy’s panino, but mine was an odd choice for me.  I typically would not order a veggie sandwich at a restaurant.  I would eat one at home, but would typically find many other things on a restaurant menu that appealed to me.  In this case, however, the combination of “Sweet Potato / Kale / Red Onion / Smoked Provolone / Maple-Sage Aioli” was too interesting to resist.  And it was quite yummy!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We were too full for dessert and Tammy had to hit the road to make it home in time for a class so we got back on the road after lunch.  But the day of adventuring was wonderful.  A time to REconnect, REfuel and RElax!

So next time you’re thinking about a friend, head to a farmers market and send them some pics or, even better, take them along!

And a special thanks to all my friends who “GET” me!

And because they’re so darn cute – here a pic of TyDy connecting over food earlier today!!!

tydy

Save

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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!!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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!!!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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!!!!!

The Journey of 1,044 Miles Begins with the First Hot Dog

Vacation is FINALLY here!  I’ve been packing for three days – at a leisurely pace, mind you – and am finally on the road.  My travelling companion for the day?  Not Jeff…..don’t worry – we’re on our way to pick him up……our nephew Nate.  And so far Nate has been a great companion.

We are heading to Freeport, Maine for another kayaking adventure on the Casco Bay.  And to say we’re excited is an understatement. But first we have to get there.  Right now, as I type, Nate and I are sitting in a Starbucks – perhaps in NJ, perhaps in NY (it’s too close to call) – waiting for Jeff to finish his training at Crestron.  He should be done in approximately 1 1/2 hours; so for now, we wait and I write.

To recap the day:  Our adventure began at about 11:30 this morning when I picked Nate up at home.  We wound our way around Palmyra, Annville, Lebanon, etc. to get to 81 and “set sail” when we hit the highway.

Our first stop was Yocco’s “The Hot Dog King” – a Lehigh Valley tradition since 1922.  Nate ordered a cheese dog and I ordered a chili-cheese, both to go.  We hopped back in the car and tried our best not to get dirty as we enjoyed our dogs.

Next stop, Bloomsbury, NJ for gas – gas is much cheaper in Jersey and they pump for you.  After that quick stop, we got back on the highway and navigated our way through NJ, around NYC traffic and onto the Palisades Parkway.

We made a quick pit stop at a scenic overlook to see the Bronx and Manhattan and to stretch our legs.  Finally, we drove past Volvo US Corporate Headquarters and Crestron and finally landed at Starbucks to chill until Jeff calls for a ride.  I don’t want to jinx things; but, except for one congested intersection, we made great time and hit very little traffic.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tonight’s dinner will be at Estia’s in Darien, CT.  Jeff and I ate at Estia’s Little Kitchen on our trip to Long Island last year and are excited to see if Estia’s in Darien lives up to the excellent meal we had in LI.

Then tomorrow we hit the road again and travel to Portland, ME for an overnight stay and dinner at Fore Street (which has been recommended by several of my students).  Stay tuned and I’ll let you know about dinner at Estia’s and Fore Street. Then we’ll be “off the grid” for three days while we kayak the Casco Bay.  Not sure where the wind will take us after that, but I’ll let you know!!!

A special thanks to Kara, Ashley, Mimi, Pop-Pop, Rob, Casey and Reagan, who are holding down the fort and catering to Macy’s every whim!!!!

Philadelphia in 36 Hours or Less

I cannot believe it’s Saturday already.  I’ve been wanting to write this post all week, but I’ve had a busy one so I’m just getting around to telling you about the trip Jeff and I took to Philly last weekend.  We went to celebrate my birthday (happy birthday to me – several days late) and to visit our still-really-new niece and nephew (congratulations to Vanessa & Justin on the birth of Tyson & Dylan).

Our journey began on Sunday morning after I finished making a lovely French country pate.  We hit the road at about 10 am and were making our first stop in Philly for lunch.  Jeff has been wanting to try a restaurant called South Philly Barbacoa and, since he never steers me wrong when it comes to food, I happily agreed to go.  Jeff read about South Philly Barbacoa in the May 2016 issue of Bon Appetit.  Adam Rapoport wrote about his recent trip to Philadelphia in an article entitled 32 Hours in Philly

SPB Storefront

We were pretty lucky finding a parking place only 1 block from the restaurant.  The restaurant is located in an area with all on-street parking so finding a space can be hit or miss.  The address for South Philly Barbacoa is 1703 S 11th Street, Philadelphia.  As we walked up to the restaurant, I knew from the whimsical exterior that I’d love it.

And I wasn’t wrong.  The restaurant is bright and cheery, but doesn’t have enough tables for the demand so we had to wait.  I’m not sure if ordering is always done at the counter or if we ordered that way because we happened to be waiting by the counter; but either way, standing near the counter built great anticipation for our taste buds and allowed us to peek at what was going on in the back.  Orders were being filled, tortillas were being made and there was much bustling of the staff.

We each ordered two small pork & lamb tacos and we added some condiments at the counter before proceeding to a finally-available table.  When we sat down, we got a glass of delicious a pineapple juice to share.  After snapping a few photos, we dug into our tacos.  As I was eating the first one, I was thinking that if I could only use one word to describe them, it would be delicious…no, it would be heavenly…..no, it would be comforting…..Clearly, they cannot be described with just one word.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I took the first bite of the second taco, I realized that there is a single word that could describe them……and that word it……..”holycrapthat’sspicy!”  I believe it was the pickled onion/pepper condiment that was the culprit.  I had just a bit of the condiment on the first taco and significantly more on the second one. After just one bite of that second taco I was sweating, trying to catch my breath and, to quote Cam from Modern Family after he tells Gloria he can spice her under the table any day, “I feel like I ate the sun!”  Even though it took a considerable amount of time for my tongue to return to normal size and to stop throbbing, I really did love the food at South Philly Barbacoa and will definitely give it another try!  I barely tasted the sweet tamale that Jeff ordered, so next time I’ll eat that before I burn off all my taste buds!

After lunch we wandered through the Italian Market – stopping at some of our favorite IMG_4048shops and enjoying one another’s company.  From there we headed to the hotel for check-in, which we were disappointed to learn would be delayed by at least an hour.  So we ran (ok, walked) a few errands – Jeff wanted to stop at The Art of Shaving to get some shaving cream and I needed to do an exchange of MAC lipstick at Macy’s. Then we went for a drink at the hotel bar.  Finally, after Jeff calling the front desk twice, we were able to check into our room with just enough time to shower and get dressed for dinner.

JamoneraSince it was technically my birthday celebration I was able to choose the restaurant.  (This is not a complaint, simply a fact – it usually has to be my birthday for me to get to choose the restaurant)  Initially I picked Barbuzzo (my favorite in Philly); but then I decided to really branch out and try one of their sister restaurants – Jamonera.  Being a Sunday evening, we were able to select their Sunday Tapas Tasting Menu.

If I’m being honest, after the first two dishes arrived, both Jeff and I were skeptical about whether the tapas tasting would fill us; however by the sixth dish we were slowing down and still expecting 4 more dishes.  The following is a list of what was offered for Tapas Tasting on our visit:

  • Charcuteria – cantimpalo chorizo, pickles, baguette
  • Grilled Ramps – salboxtada, spring onions, grilled bread
  • Manchego & Marconas – membrillo, marinated sheep’s milk cheese, pimenton
  • Scallop Crudo – pickled rhubarb, orange, Thai chilies, baby fennel, housemade lavash cracker
  • Cherry & Jamon Ensalada – housemade maraschino cherries, jamon Serrano, arugula, basil miticrema, marcona almonds
  • Papas Fritas – smoked garlic aioli, brava salt, housemade sherry vinegar hot sauce
  • Cantimpalo Tortilla – potato and egg omelet, mustard aioli mesclun greens
  • Crispy Calasparra Rice – sugar snap peas, manchego cheese, pickled mushrooms
  • Almejas – grilled Manilla clams, chistorra chorizo, saffon broth, local greens, parsley-almond picada, pickled ramps, grilled bread
  • Grilled Gulf Shrimp – gallega spice, castelvetrano olive puree, grilled plums, haricot vert, lemon

Wow!  What a menu.  The flavor combinations were unexpected, interesting and delicious.  In my opinion, the best dish of the night was the Crispy Calasparra Rice with pickled mushrooms – true comfort food.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The service was attentive, but not intrusive. And a special thanks to our The Companyserver for running across the street in the rain for my favorite dessert – it’s a birthday tradition. The cocktails hit the spot. But the company – oh, the company was the best part!!!

Monday morning we got up early for room service coffee followed by a steamy walk in the city – can you say humid?  We persevered through the sticky streets, got a little exercise, snapped a few photos and found a cute spot for take-out breakfast.  I still cannot believe I was able to convince Jeff to order food from P.S.&Co., a vegan and gluten-free coffee-house/bakery.  P.S.&Co.’s website explains that they “aim to provide the cleanest, most delicious food that helps you feel incredible.  Our chef-driven menu is healthy in blueprint and decadent in taste.  No multisyllabic additives or peculiar preservatives.  We hope you’ll find our delicious, plant-strong food and beverages as a gateway to feeling and living your best life.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My first priority was a coffee – cold-brewed with filbert nut milk.  Then we got down to selecting breakfast.  I ordered coconut yogurt and a nut & seed bar.  Jeff ordered a breakfast sandwich and a brownie.  We walked back to the hotel to enjoy our breakfast and shower before driving to West Chester to see Vanessa, Justin and the babies.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I put sugar in my coffee (insert gasp here!).  I tried to go without, but that’s a habit that will be VERY hard (if not impossible) for me to break. Other than the coffee needing sugar, the rest of our purchases were delicious.  The coconut yogurt was not actually yogurt but a fauxgurt made from coconut and it was really yummy.  The seed and nut bar was quite tasty, if a little crumbly.  Jeff’s breakfast sandwich (on gluten-free bread) was really yummy and I have to admit that even the bread was good.  And the brownie – although not quite the texture of a typical brownie – hit the chocolate spot!

Shortly after breakfast, Jeff posted the following to his Facebook page – “Breaking news……I just ate a gluten free, vegan breakfast AND I actually lived to tell about it. I don’t see this being a trend, but baby steps are important. Now, onward to find a steak for lunch.”  He did not, in fact, have a steak for lunch!

Excited to See the Pak PackAfter a quick shower and repack, we were excited to get on the road to see the twinies.  There is truly something soothing about holding babies! And with twins it’s “two babies, no waiting!”  After ooh’ing and ahh’ing over Dylan & Tyson and switching who held whom, Justin returned from a morning of golf and we were all out the door for ‘dunch,’ or was it ‘linner?’

Jeff and I offered to bring food to the Pak pack, but they were all ready to get out of the house.  So we loaded into two cars and drove the short distance to Iron Hill Brewery.  We had a nice, quiet meal and then took a drive to see the not-too-distant-future home of the Pak pack.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally, with full bellies and temporarily satisfied baby-holding-desires, we began the journey home.  All in all it was a wonderful, if short, trip to Philadelphia.  We ate some wonderful food, got our city-fix and spent time with one another and the Philly-pham.  Less than 36 hours later we were back at home!

A Day Out

Jeff and I love meandering…..and we love it even better when our friend Ron comes along!  So when we found ourselves with a free day on Saturday, rather than spend the day inside doing housework (which trust me our house could really use) we decided to take a ride.

We didn’t really have A destination in mind.  One of my regular students recently told me about a newish brew pub she’d been to so we made the Rusty Rail Brewing Company in Mifflinburg a stop on our itinerary and planned the rest of the day accordingly.

After a less-than-smooth start (tires needed air, car needed gas, etc.) we finally got on the road.  When we set off on these adventures, we typically stick to back roads – winding through the countryside allows you to get some amazing pics and gives you a lot of time for conversation – and Saturday was no exception to that rule.

Our journey on Saturday included a small grocery store, a winery, a greenhouse, a cruise past Middleswarth Potato Chip Factory in Middleburg, a deep-discount grocery (think scratch-and-dent), the brewing company, Peight’s Country Store in Belleville, a side-of-the-road pumpkin stand (or two), and miles of beautiful countryside!!!

The following are some of the pics from the adventure!

SHADE MOUNTAIN VINEYARD & A PUMPKIN STAND ALONG THE WAY

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE RUSTY RAIL BREWING COMPANY

We ate lunch at the Rusty Rail Brewing Company.  We shared an order of onion rings, I ordered a bowl of chili with cornbread croutons, Ron ordered the appetizer portion rib, and Jeff ordered a roast beef sandwich with French fries.

The food was good, but not quite great.  It has the potential to be great but needs a little attention to detail.  The sandwich needed a little oomph (sauce or a condiment of some sort), the chili needed a little less sugar and the rib (according to Ron) was on the dry side.

The service was mostly good, although when we asked to switch tables – because the one we were seated at was quite wobbly – rather than moving us to one of the many empty tables around us, the hostess and waitress tried several things to un-wobble the table and were marginally successful.  But other than that, we were well taken care of.

The décor was quite fun – theme-y and historical but it still felt current.  There was plenty of natural light and lots of interesting things at which to look.

And Jeff really enjoyed the sampler of beer he ordered.  I – not being much of a beer person – had a few sips from the flight and liked what I tasted!

With a few tweaks, The Rusty Rail Brewing Company could get an A from me!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ALONG THE JOURNEY

After lunch, as we continued our sojourn, we came across a field of wildflowers that reminded me much more of spring than of fall.  We stopped for a little while so Ron and I could snap some photos.  Then we continued on a little ways and came across a pumpkin stand at which we could not resist buying a few pumpkin to add to the decorations on our front porch.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We took a very remote, very scenic road through Bald Eagle State Forest and, although I was widely criticized for how slowly I was driving, I enjoyed being in the mountains and seeing the sights!  There’s something about the air up that high that clears your head and makes you forget everything below.

We ended the day in The Big Valley – a regular stop on our journeys with Ron.  We drove around the valley and enjoyed seeing the sights in the somewhat dreary weather. It’s funny, we anticipated a warm, sunny trip but we hit everything from rain to snow to some bright, juicy sunshine along the way. But no matter the climate, we enjoyed one another’s company.  A day with friends is a great day in any weather!

Vacation Part 3: Kayaking & Camping

So much to write, so little time……

I put up a mini post about the kayaking and camping trip while we were still on vacation, but I wanted to give you more details….so here goes!!!

We started our kayaking adventure at the LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School at 8:00 am on our 22nd wedding anniversary.  My idea of celebrating does not include getting up early, but for kayaking I made an exception!!!

Our Arrival

Our Arrival

Although we had no idea what to expect, we were so excited to finally be there and so ready to set out on this journey.  We met up with our guides and our group in a conference room in the Outdoor Discovery School.  The school itself looks like a lodge and is quite welcoming so being in their conference room was nothing like being in one at work!

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

Our guides, Kevin and Bob, were so organized and put us all at ease.  There were 10 people in our group, including Jeff and me.  There was one other couple, two sisters and the rest were singles – a great mix.  Luckily our group had an even number of people because we learned we would be travelling by tandem kayak.

As soon as I heard the words “tandem kayak” I broke out in a sweat.  Shortly after those words were uttered, we were asked to introduce ourselves, sharing our name, what we hoped to get out of the weekend and if we’d ever kayaked before.  When it was my turn, I said something like:

“Hi.  My name is Jan.  I’ve been kayaking for about 12 years and I hope to still be married at the end of the trip.”

Of course, that got everyone’s attention and I went on to explain that 12 years ago, when Jeff and I first began kayaking, we rented a tandem kayak.  We got it into the water, situated ourselves and began paddling.  We then proceeded to spend three hours going in a circle and cursing at one another.  That day we vowed – for the health and longevity of our marriage – to never get in a tandem kayak together again!!!!  Oh, but God has an amazing sense of humor!!!

When it was Jeff’s turn to introduce himself, he told everyone that we were celebrating our 22nd anniversary and reinforced what I had shared by saying that we’d made it this far because we had honored our promise to never again get in a tandem kayak!

Our guides were not swayed by the idea that our marriage was in jeopardy.  They still moved us forward with the tandem kayak.

Bob & Kevin - Orientation

Bob & Kevin – Orientation

The next bomb they dropped on us was that each person would have two dry-bags in which to carry their belongings for the entire trip.  If it didn’t fit in the dry-bag, it stayed in the car.  Seriously?  I thought, “I cannot pack for three days and two nights in two tiny bags – it just cannot be done!”  After they dropped the bomb, they passed out the bags and sent us to our cars to rethink what we needed to take with us.  One salvation was that if we had wine or beer to bring it would be taken by boat (not our kayaks) to the island on which we would be camping. The wine and/or beer would not have to occupy any precious real estate in our dry-bags.  That made things slightly better, but I was still worried about what I would have to leave behind.

In the end, it seems I worried for nothing.  I was able to fit my toothbrush and other toiletries (a few – not the usual makeup, essential oils, hair products, etc.), pajamas, clothes for 3 days of kayaking, clothes for at the camp site, a pair of camp shoes, and a raincoat into the two dry-bags with a little room for air!

Having a little extra time, we made a quick run to the closest grocery store for a bottle of wine and some beer.  When we got back from that run, we packed our lunch for day 1 from the array of lunch items LL Bean provided.  We each made a sandwich and packed some other snack goodies.  We filled our water bottles, slathered ourselves with sunscreen, and headed downstairs where we were given our paddles and life jackets.

Then we had a few minutes of paddling instruction and stretching and we were headed for the dock by about 10:00 am.  We were assigned boats, stowed our gear, received some instruction and were launched by 10:30.  Then the fun began.

The day was a windy one so there were waves on the bay that made for challenging paddling in some spots, but I was loving being on the water with the salty wind in my face and the sun on my shoulders.

What I wasn’t exactly loving was sharing a boat.  You see, for 12 years I’ve been paddling solo.  That means I know exactly which way my boat is going to go when I make a stroke with my paddle.  I know how to turn, how to stop and how to adjust course for myself.  But God clearly had other plans for me.

Throughout the weekend He revealed to me that in 12 years I’d learned a lot about kayaking, but I hadn’t learned squat about cooperation!!!!  A lesson, really?  I wanted to have a relaxing weekend.  But God knows that what I need is infinitely more important than what I want.  So He continued to whisper to me throughout the trip. Each time I got frustrated because we weren’t going the way I wanted to go, He reminded me that kayaking is like marriage.  He showed me through paddling that without communication we can veer quickly and far off course.  He showed me that being a part of a team – a real team that is working together, not working at cross-purposes – would build a stronger, healthier marriage.  He reminded me that I cannot fix everything by myself – that I had to rely on Jeff to steer us, even when I didn’t want to submit to Jeff’s way. Oh, He is an awesome God!

Now I don’t know if I was the only one of the group having these revelations.  And truthfully it doesn’t matter.  I’m glad I was having them.  Clearly I needed and still need them.  And the trip was the perfect time to hear from God because I wasn’t so distracted by a million things – I was really listening!

One of the very best parts of the trip for me was having no access to technology. Oh, I know we say we’re going to unplug – we go on Facebook fasts – but we still have television and kindles and cell phones,etc.  On this trip I had no phone (at least while we were paddling – when we were at camp I turned my phone on once a day to snap some pictures), no television, no radio, nothing electronic to mess with my reception.  There were no distractions between God and me. And what a blessing that was because I was able and willing to simply listen!

On the first day we stopped for lunch around noon and then paddled for about 3 more hours.  We arrived at “our island” around 3:30, set up our tents and other gear, chatted with our group members, were given a lesson on the “bathroom” and were treated to a fantastic dinner.

Setting Up the Tent

Setting Up the Tent

Home Sweet Homeish

Home Sweet Homeish

Around Our Tent

Around Our Tent

Out Our Tent Window

Out Our Tent Window

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The menu – lobster or steak, fresh corn on the cob and salad.  We were all starving and it seemed like the meal went so quickly, but not without many ooh’s and ahh’s and mmm’s.  After dinner, several of the group members worked together to do the dishes camping style – in three buckets of boiled water – one with soap, one to rinse and one with bleach for a final rinse.  By the time the dishes were all done and put away dusk was beginning to settle over our little island. Bob invited us all to the beach (a small sandy area that grew or shrank depending on the tide) for brownies that he had baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven.  And not only did he have brownies, but he also had whipped cream.  I’ll tell you, LL Bean doesn’t miss anything (except bathrooms with running water)!!!!

Sunset Night 1

Sunset Night 1

We all turned in early with the promise that we would have a leisurely breakfast before setting out for another wonderful day on the water.  Unfortunately, turning in early did not mean I slept.  Although it wasn’t hot out, it was moist and I’m an air conditioning girl all the way.  Not only that, but Jeff was sleeping so soundly that he was snoring – snoring so much, in fact, that I was glad we had chosen to set our tent up on the opposite side of the island from the majority of our group.  Needless to say I was a little cranky in the morning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But, the coffee flowed freely and that helped make up for my lack of sleep.  Kevin made pancakes and Bob made sausages, fresh fruit was served and soon we were cleaning up the dishes from breakfast and packing our lunches for another day of adventuring.  We were instructed to use the “bathroom” one last time and to pack up what we needed for a day on the water.  Next thing we knew we were in our boats again and I was feeling incredibly free.  No schedule, no to-do list, no agenda…..ahhhhhhh!  We paddled and enjoyed the scenery, including some really cute seals (which Kevin described as resembling yellow labs without ears – and he was right) in the water!  We paddled for a few hours and then stopped for lunch, where we stretched our legs, sunned ourselves on the rocks and filled our bellies so that we’d be ready for several more hours of paddling.

If you’ve never been kayaking, you should give it a try.  It’s a great way to see the sights.  It’s different from being on a boat because you are really, really close to the water level – so you have a unique vantage point to take in what is around you.  And you can get into small spaces that many boats cannot go.

Kevin and Bob enhanced the trip with their knowledge of Casco Bay, its islands and the native wildlife.  They shared many interesting factoids with us and kept the group together and moving forward – no easy job, I assure you.  Our group had new paddlers and veteran paddlers, young folks and older folks, in-shape folks and not-so-in-shape folks.  It had rule-followers and those of us (myself included) who view rules as arbitrary guidelines that apply to other people.  But, everyone was respectful of one another and of our guides and we all did our best to overcome our challenges to stay together as a loose unit.

Several hours later we returned to camp for some R&R.  After a sleepless night, I was ready for the first R and was grateful that we had some free time before dinner – I used mine to change out of my salty clothes, into some clean camp clothes and to have a nap.  I didn’t sleep long, but I sure slept hard.  Then Jeff and I took a little walk around Gosling Island  (it’s a little island).  And by the time dinner rolled around I was refreshed and hungry.

Dinner on night two was chicken fajitas with all the fixin’s.  There’s something about spending time on the water that makes everything taste great – and it certainly didn’t hurt that Bob and Kevin have some mad skills when it comes to camp cooking.  Dinner was followed by dish duty and conversation with our fellow campers.  Then we had our evening treat – gingerbread from the cast-iron Dutch oven and I should tell you that I am a sucker for gingerbread.  Although I don’t have it often, when I do I think of fall and chilly weather and sweatshirts.  From now on I’ll also think of kayaking and beautiful sunsets!!!

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Sailboats at Sunset

Sailboats at Sunset

Reading

Reading

After we had our treat I browsed through the “library” – a plastic tote containing a few books – and picked out a book called Into the Wild. Unfortunately I got sucked into the book but didn’t have enough time to finish it before the end of the trip so now it’s on my library list!!!

Knowing that morning was coming more quickly than I would like, I turned off my headlamp, put in my earplugs (thankfully I remembered they were packed in the dry-bag) and actually slept!!!!  This may fall under the heading of Too Much Information, but getting up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break is a whole new thing when you do it in the woods with no actual bathroom!!!! Enough said!

Morning 3 = made to order omelets! I was the last one up, but thankfully there was still coffee!!!  Breakfast was delish and not only fortified us for a day on the water, but also for breaking down camp.  Whoever designs the bags that sleeping bags and sleeping pads and tents come in has a great sense of humor – and apparently some high level degrees in engineering.  I had been worried about setting the tent up, but that turned out to be a breeze.  What I should have been worried about was getting it back into the bag.  If this turns out to be something we do again, I’ll have to take a course in re-packaging – which incidentally I could use at work too for getting small appliances back into their original boxes!!!!

With camp tidied up, all our belongings and our lunches packed, and our bellies full we headed out for the last day of kayaking.  I have to tell you I was a little sad.  I was looking forward to the day on the water but I didn’t want the trip to end.  Oh yes, I really wanted a shower!  And yes, I was soooo looking forward to indoor plumbing.  But I wanted to spend more time on the bay exploring the islands and seeing the sights.

We enjoyed our last day immensely.  And, as if by magic, Jeff and I seemed to be really in sync when it came to paddling – apparently we could conquer the tandem kayak.  If Glenda the Good Witch had been there, she’d have told us “you’ve always had the power.”

As we paddled I thought about the lessons I’d learned on the journey.  God had spoken to me about marriage and cooperation and submission.  Good lessons to be sure.  I also thought about how the first day I was paddling so hard – trying to get the tandem boat to do what I wanted it to – that my shoulders were sore after about the first 30 minutes.  I was reminded of a weekend hiking /camping trip I’d taken several years ago on the Appalachian Trail when I hiked so hard for the first 30 minutes that I got dizzy and had to sit down, then when I started up again I had to continue to remind myself that I didn’t have to do the whole hike in one step.  The third day of kayaking I was reminded that I didn’t have to cross the entire bay with one stroke. I have a tendency to take on challenges with this mindset – finish the whole thing immediately, do it all NOW….but most of the fun is in the journey so I need to enjoy sitting back and seeing the sights, I need to pace myself so that I have stamina to finish and I need to set smaller, more realistic goals so that I don’t burn out before the end of the adventure!

No matter how badly we wanted to shower, we were so sorry for our trip to end.  When we arrived back at LL Bean, we unpacked our boats, cared for our equipment, made a beeline for the indoor plumbing, said our goodbyes and hit the road.  Parting IS such sweet sorrow!

This past week I was asked, “what was the highlight of your summer?”  Far and away, the 3-day, 2-night kayak/camping trip on the Casco Bay through LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School was the highlight of my summer!!!

What was the highlight of yours?

(Just a note – Jeff and I each used our cell phones to take pictures and we shared our little camera, so I cannot tell you with any certainty who took which pictures!!!!)

Some snaps of the trip:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vacation Part 2

I’ll give you a minute to catch up on Part 1 if you need it………….OK, so we arrived in Connecticut via the Cross Sound Ferry , found our car below deck, waited our turn to disembark and set out on the highway for Maine!!!!!

It was so nice to take the ferry…..we could stretch our legs, soak up some sunshine, breathe in the salt air, feel the wind in our faces, and enjoy one another’s company.  The weather was beautiful so we spent the majority of the 80-minute ride on the top deck taking in the sights.  I realized as we rode that taking the ferry levels the playing field of travelers…..how so, you ask?  Well, there’s no first class on the ferry.  Everyone travels at the same speed; everyone’s vehicle, if they brought one, is below deck so there’s no posturing; you all have access to the same concessions with no reservations; and everyone arrives at the same time!  It’s kind of nice.

In addition to enjoying the scenery, I enjoyed people-watching and listening to snip-its of the conversations of other travelers.  There were people who were obviously commuting for work, other vacationers, folks out for a day of fun with their grand kids, a group of folks travelling by motorcycle who were obviously enjoying the time for face-to-face conversation and the common denominator was the everyone looked pretty darn relaxed.  I wish I could travel by ferry more often!

While enjoying the ride, I also had time to slow down and think – without worrying if we were going to miss our next turn or find the right route.  For a while I was mesmerized by the wake behind the boat and realized that memories are like that wake.  When events, good or bad, are directly behind you they’re still obvious – you can almost see them like the distinct pattern in the water the boat has made.  But as time passes and you get further away from the event(s), the edges blur a little – you can still see them in your mind, but the edges become fuzzier and they begin to blur into other past events.  And when you are far enough away, you can no longer see them.  You know you were once there, but the evidence is gone.  I got to thinking how handy that is – especially when the events are not-so-pleasant ones; but the sad thing is it happens with the happiest of memories too.  You know you were there but you can no longer remember all the details and you can no longer see the evidence of them……but in the end, I concluded that it all balances out and that although all memories, happy or sad, fade it doesn’t change the fact that we were there and that the wake of the best memories stays with us, even if we can no longer see it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anyhooo……..not surprisingly, I digress!

Back to the trip….at some point, after driving for a while through Connecticut, I needed a rest stop and we got off the highway.  We drove for a little bit and passed a DSW – you know, the shoe store.  I’m sure it seems strange that I mention a shoe store in the midst of this post; but just that morning before we left the hotel to catch the ferry, Jeff had to say a sad goodbye to his favorite flip flops.  He reluctantly left them in the trash can as we rolled our suitcases out the hotel room door.  Those flip flops had served him well for 3 or 4 years and he was sad not to have them for the duration of trip.  So after we had our potty break, I suggested we go into DSW to look for some replacement flip-flops.  I could only imagine how badly his feet needed to be liberated from the Vans he wore.

The End of the Flip Flops

On our way through the sliding doors into DSW, Jeff looked a bit forelorn, like Eeyore…..but amazingly he found exactly the same brand and style of flip-flops that he’d discarded just hours before!!!  He IS Even Steven! Let me tell you, this NEVER happens to me.  And I’m shocked that after 3 or 4 years he was able to find an exact replacement.  But on the way out the door, Eeyore was gone and there was a big smile on Jeff’s face!  Mission accomplished.

IMG_2758

Bladders empty and feet free, we got back on the road determined to make no more stops until we reached the state of Maine.  We were both expectantly awaiting our arrival at the next destination – Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. On our last trip to Maine – for our 10th anniversary back in 2003 – we ate at Red’s on the last day and we vowed that we would return!  And although it took 12 years, we were headed there next!  Our bellies were getting empty and our our excitement was mounting.  You see, Red’s Eats makes THE BEST lobster rolls ever!!!!  I can be a stubborn girl at times, but often I come around to someone else’s way of thinking with enough persuasion.  On this matter you can debate me all you want , but if you think anyone makes a better lobster roll than Red’s Eats you are wrong!  Period.  Case closed.  No more to be said.

IMG_2760

IMG_2762

OK, maybe a little more to be said about Red’s.  The line is usually long and Day 4 of our trip was no exception.  Below are some photos and tweets from my time in the line!

IMG_2765

“Words cannot express how flippin’ excited I am right now….”

IMG_2767

“Quivering with excitement….”

IMG_2769

“Feeling sorry for the people eating across the street….”

IMG_2771

“Considering hurting the people in front of us in line….I’m sure they’re perfectly nice people, but they’re standing between me and my lobster roll….”

We waited patiently….or not so patiently….for our turn.  And when we were just a few people from the front of the line, I went around back to get us a table on the deck.  As I waited for Jeff to arrive with our food, I drooled a little while looking at what other people were eating.  Fried clams, lobster rolls – some with melted butter and some with mayo, fish and chips, crab cakes….the list is endless.  While I peeked around not-so-subtly at other people’s food, it began to drizzle.  But there are umbrellas over the tables so I wasn’t worried.  Jeff came around the corner and asked if I wanted an umbrella from the car, which was parked just up the hill from Red’s. I said, “sure,” and was glad for that decision when the rain picked up a bit.  Just as Jeff arrived with the umbrella, our number was called and the sky opened up and started to dump rain on Wiscasset and on us.  He grabbed our food (which they had lovingly packed in to-go containers even though we had indicated we would eat out back) and we ran for the car.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We were soaked, but thrilled as we ate.  We shared an order of fried clams and we each got a lobster roll.  O…….M…….G…….we were in heaven.  The fried clams were huge and juicy and sweet……mmm mmm mmm.  But the lobster rolls were the stars of the show.  Each sandwich contains more than one whole lobster that has been cooked with precision and chilled until it is perfection on a buttery, toasted bun.  Then, as if the lobster needs anything more, the lobster rolls are served with either drawn butter or mayo – we got one of each and shared.  There wasn’t much conversation going on in the car as we ate, but there were a few mmm’s and ah’s and yeah’s – what Jeff and his buddies would call “audible eating!”

When we finished our amazing lunch/dinner (linner?), we wiped off our hands and arms, wiped as much of the butter off the center console of the car as possible and pointed the car in the direction of Portland, which would be our home-away-from-home for the next two nights.  We made one quick stop to buy some tiny, flavorful Maine blueberries for our breakfast the next morning and arrived in Portland in no time.

We checked into the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to a suite.  The room was modern and spacious and clean and we were sure it would be a fine home for a few days!  After a bit of unpacking, we decided to stroll around Portland for a while to work off some of the food we had eaten.  After a bit of strolling, we would up at The Thirsty Pig for some beers and WiFi.  I spent some time making notes about the first few days of our trip and downloading pics off my camera while Jeff surfed the web.  It was a mellow end to a mellow day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 5 – I awoke in our spacious room to the sound of Jeff coming through the door – he went and picked up a Starbucks’ coffee for me….the man knows the way to my heart.  I brushed my teeth, scrounged up some clothes, threw on a hat and we left to explore Portland….it was a No-Makeup Monday, only it was Thursday! We had a great time being out of the car, wandering through shops, gazing out at the water and enjoying our time alone together.  Of course, we had to make a quick stop at Holy Donut to try the donuts Jeff had read about.  Jeff ordered a Cheddar Bacon Donut – yes, you read that right – and I ordered a Sweet Potato Ginger donut, which I ended up sharing with Jeff.  It was delish, but I knew good things were coming later in the day so I didn’t want to eat a whole donut.

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

After a few hours, we were a little parched so we stopped at Sebago Brewing Company where Jeff ordered a beer sampler and I ordered a cucumber cooler from the non-alcoholic beverage menu.  The bartender – a smart gal – told me the cucumber cooler is great with a shot of Hendrick’s gin in it.  She explained that Hendrick’s is infused with a bit of rose and cucumber and therefore was a nice complement to the drink.  Well heck, I was on vacation, so how could I refuse?  She was not wrong…..it was delicious.

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

After re-hydrating, we wandered the town some more and then began to think about dinner.  We knew we had to wake up early for our kayaking trip the next morning and we didn’t want to be out too late. So we walked back to the hotel where we noshed on some snacks from our cooler, read for a little while, showered and got dressed for dinner.  We strolled through town to The Top of the East (in the Westin Hotel) for a cocktail. Our timing was perfect – the sun was just beginning to set and the view was incredible.  It was a great place to toast 22 years of marriage, which we would be celebrating the next day.  We lingered over our drinks and then decided to find a spot for dinner.

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

Not knowing what we’d be in the mood to eat, we didn’t make a reservation, which made finding a spot for dinner a bit challenging.  But we persevered!  We tried a few of our top choices including Fore Street, Eventide, and Honey Paw – all of which had very long waiting lists.  Knowing we needed to be up with the sun, we opted for The East Ender and were not disappointed.  Jeff ordered a cold-smoked burger which was sensational and I order soup and an appetizer.  The soup was not only delicious, it was also a work of art!  It was Chilled Spring Pea Soup with Parmesan & Pickled Red Onion.  Bright green with spots of pickled onion and a floating cloud of parmesan foam – stunning!  I should have known better than to order the appetizer I chose – Maine Mussels with Ginger & Anise.  While it was good, it wasn’t great and I only ordered it because what I really wanted to try was Fore Street’s Wood Oven Roasted Maine Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter. A student in one of my recent classes had recommended Fore Street to me and specifically had recommended the mussels.  I should have held out, which is not to say that we didn’t enjoy our meal at The East Ender.

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

As we made our way back to the hotel, we were tired – both from a long day of walking in the sea air, from the cocktails we drank and from our full bellies.   So we hit the hay and dreamed of being in our kayaks on the bay……

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 Most Comfortable Bra I’ve Ever Owned….Seriously!

OK, there are those who will read the title of this post and think, “Well, she’s finally gone over the edge.”  And there are those of you who will read the title and think, “Bra, did someone say bra?” (These will probably be the guys and just mentioning the word ‘bra’ means I’ve lost their attention).  And there will be those of you who think, “No way!  There’s no such thing as a comfortable bra!

Well – I don’t think I’ve gone over the edge YET and those of you whose attention I’ve lost are best left to their private thoughts and I would have agreed with you about there being no such thing as a comfortable bra until I found this one!

In the last week I’ve had to transport food a few times and I have relied on this bra for assistance.  Stay with me here…..I promise I haven’t lost it and I will make a connection.

I’ll use this as a shameless opportunity to remind you that I recently became a great-aunt to THE CUTEST BABY IN THE UNIVERSE.  And as a result I’ve made a discovery…..if I bring food to the new parents, I get uninterrupted baby time!!!  It’s a great discovery. Most assuredly not a new discovery; but one on which I fully intend to capitalize!!!

The Cutest Baby in the Universe

The Cutest Baby in the Universe

I also had the pleasure on Sunday of hanging out with friends (some long-time friends and some new friends – and I’m blessed by all) in the woods.  We met at our friends’ “cabin” and everyone brought a dish to contribute to the feast.  We had a great time eating and talking and hiking in a beautiful setting provided by gracious hosts.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For all the food transport I did, I put into action a great little tool – the PotBra.  It’s such a simple device that you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it.  The PotBra is a silicone band designed to “keep your lid on tight!”  And it delivers on that promise.

I used it to transport chicken soup in a Le Creuset French oven.  Because the PotBra does not create a seal on the vessel, I covered it with plastic wrap before placing the lid on top.  I easily secured the PotBra to the lid and the handles of the French oven.  I put the pot on the floor of my car and drove about 20 minutes (some over hill & dale and some on the highway) to my destination.  I did not lose even one drop!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also transported a Baked Potato and Bacon casserole in my small Nesco Roaster.  This time, because (1) I had already seen the PotBra in action, (2) I was transporting something thicker than soup and (3) the interior roasting pan was hot, I did not cover the roaster with plastic wrap.  I simply put the lid on and secured the Pot Bra to the lid and handles of the roaster.  Again, I had no spills or messes in the car!!!

I would highly recommend this product for several reasons:

  1. It’s compact and easy to store.
  2. It is silicone and therefore can withstand heat and is easy to clean.
  3. It delivers on its promise.
  4. It’s made in the U.S. – in Texas.
  5. It stretches to fit many sizes and shapes of cooking vessel.
  6. It is truly the most comfortable bra I’ve ever owned!

Amberdonia

This past Friday Jeff was heading to Scranton for work and invited me to ride along with him because I had the day off.  I took him up on his offer and we had a nice time journeying on a beautiful fall day.

We left central PA at about 10:00 am and headed up Rt. 81N.  Along the way we got to watch the colors of fall leaves whirring past our windows.  And we marveled at the shadows of clouds on the mountains.  And we spent uninterrupted time talking and reminiscing and laughing.

The Sign Outside

 

When we arrived in Scranton, I dropped Jeff off at the courthouse and made a beeline for a bakery Jeff read about – Amberdonia Bakery. Not knowing that they had two locations, I set out for their Farr Street shop.  Fortunately I had my GPS and followed the turn-by-turn directions.  Although I must admit that once I turned onto Farr Street I was convinced my GPS had gone haywire!

You see, Farr Street is in the heart of an old-school, residential neighborhood. I was driving up a lllooonnnggg hill, past row homes and NO COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES.  But I persevered. And boy am I glad I did.

When I finally found the bakery, which was right where my GPS told me it would be, I felt like I had been transported back in time.  It reminded me of a South-Philly Italian neighborhood of days gone by!

I walked into the bakery and was met by some truly wonderful aromas. Brewing coffee, pastries and the slightly charred smell from the wood-fired oven. A wonderful perfume if you ask this foodie!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I perused the pastry offerings in the case, I kept my camera close at hand, snapping photos of the beautifully decorated treats.  The man behind the pizza counter, who I later discovered is the owner (well, co-owner along with his lovely wife), asked if I was from the newspaper.

I explained that I am a food blogger and we struck up a conversation.  After I ordered a small pastry and a cup of coffee, he invited me to come take some pictures of the pizzas he and his wife were making.  And once I got behind the counter, I was hooked.

Building a Wonderful Pizza

 

Shaping the Warm Mozz Marvelous Mozzerella Ball

These were no ordinary pizzas…..they were works of art.  I found out that the mozzarella on them is made in-house and I was even given the opportunity to snap some photos of the cheese-making process.  And better yet, I was offered samples of the fresh mozz – both when it was still warm and after it was cooled.  Oh, what a treat!  The warm mozz had a lovely saltiness and a silky smooth texture that won my heart.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then….then one of the pizzas was gently slid into the wood-fired oven to bake for 1 minute.  Yes, you read that right…..you see, at 1000 degrees F it doesn’t take that long for a thin crust pizza to bake. When I caught sight of the bubbling crust with gorgeous slightly-charred spots, I knew I’d be ordering a pizza to go!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I returned to my table, my steaming cup of coffee and my minimisu.  Now, I must – in all fairness – remind you that my husband, Jeff, makes the best tiramisu I’ve ever eaten; so it was risky for me to order tiramisu.  There was every likelihood that I was going to be disappointed….but I wasn’t.  While the minimisu was a different style of tiramisu than the one Jeff makes, it was delicious.  It has a wonderful essence of espresso, a terrific creamy texture and a surprise on top.  On top was a small piece of a ladyfinger (one of the essential ingredients in tiramisu) that had not been soaked in the classically tiramisu syrupy mixture – often a combination of rum and espresso.  The ladyfinger on top was crisp and light and gave a nice contrast to the ladyfingers inside the minimisu that had been soaked and were now soft and flavorful.

While I enjoyed my coffee break, I also enjoyed the conversation with the owners – Butch and Aida (I hope I spelled that correctly). We chatted about food, their business, places to live, what I do, raising families, and so much more.  I learned that they relocated from Brooklyn (although I pretty much figured they were from Brooklyn when Butch told me they had another location across from the “MAWL” [uttered in that distinct and endearing Brooklyn accent]) to Scranton about 8 years ago and started their business about 2 years ago.

I can tell you, they’re doing something right!!!! I am often skeptical when I go into a bakery or restaurant and see beautiful desserts.  Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’ve had my fair share of desserts over the years that have looked great but have tasted just ok or worse.  I was pleasantly surprised by my minimisu and thoroughly enjoyed the goodies that were lovingly packed for me to take home. In addition to the chocolate peanut butter cupcake I chose for Jeff, my new friends also packed some samples for Jeff and I to enjoy – a piece of Italian rainbow cake, another minimisu and what I’m guessing by process of elimination was either a LuLu or a Lafayette (whatever it was called, it was a sinful combination of chocolate and peanut butter).

I did not taste the cupcake, but Jeff – a chocolate peanut butter cake connoisseur – said the cake was exceptional, but the icing could use some more peanut butter in his opinion.

As I mentioned earlier, I ordered a pizza to go.  Butch told me it would reheat well at 500 degrees F for a minute or two and he was not wrong.  The pizza was fabulous – I can only imagine how much better it would have been had I not lugged it around Scranton for a few hours and then home in the car!

The Reheated Pizza

The crust was thin and crisp with patches of brown, wood-fired “char” that lent a smoky taste to the pizza.  The sauce was very light and “tomatoey.”  There were small leaves of basil tucked here and there that provided unexpected bursts of “licoricey” freshness.  And the cheese – oh, the cheese – was smooth and salty and cheeselicious.

I would highly recommend a trip to Amberdonia Bakery if you find yourself in Scranton, PA!  I enjoyed the old-world charm and the low-key vibe.  I cannot express thanks enough to Butch and Aida for treating me royally…..like family only better!

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.

a

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.

aaa

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?”).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Prickly and Sticky in San Antonio

Day 1 in San Antonio is 99 degrees F with approximately 1,000% humidity…..suffice it to say it’s HOT! Of course, to hear the locals tell it, 99 degrees is a cold-front compared to last week’s temps of 105.  But any way you slice it, and the humidity is so thick you CAN slice it, it’s HOT!  I mention this because (1) it’s a fact and (2) I am NOT a hot weather girl…..not by any stretch of the imagination.  And to top it off, I have a pretty bad cold….the kind with chest congestion, a runny nose and a headache from all the stuffiness.  BUT, I am still having  a good time!

I’ve been medicating regularly with Alka Seltzer cold medicine, staying hydrated and getting rest.  We arrived at our hotel after 11:00 San Antonio time last night and pretty much did a quick unpack and then hit the hay (for some reason that sounds better when you say that in Texas).  I didn’t set an alarm and woke up – a little dazed and confused – at 9:30 this morning.  I drank some Green Machine juice while I got ready and then headed for the River Walk.

What a great way to meander and see the sights.  And as a bonus, Jeff met me for lunch.  I didn’t expect to see him until after his training, but the timing and location worked in our favor.  We went to a place he remembered from his last trip to San Antonio in 1999 – boudros Texas Bistro. Wow!

Jeff steered me toward boudros’ signature drink, the Prickly Pear Margarita, and he was not wrong. Of course, when it comes to eating and drinking, he rarely is! Through the years, Jeff has also talked about boudros’ guacamole, which is made table-side – so we ordered that too. HOLY GuacaMOLE! It was wonderful – a great balance of silky avocado, smoky fire roasted tomatoes, crisp Bermuda onions, fiery hot peppers and tangy citrus juice. The only change I would make would be to add a little of the zest of the lime and the orange. But you know me, I can’t leave well-enough alone.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We also shared the Texas Tapas appetizer. It was a nice mix of flavors – grilled pork tenderloin, smoked duck leg, sausage w/BBQ sauce, corn pudding and marinated veggies. As you would expect with tapas, there were small bites of each item – enough for both of us to taste.

Our waiter, a polite young gentleman, was quite attentive but not in that overly fussy way. He mixed our wonderful guacamole, made suggestions from the menu, and asked if I NEEDED another margarita. Let me tell you, I would have loved another margarita or 10, but I didn’t think more tequila would mix all that well with the cold medicine, so I refrained. (I know, no guts – no glory!) But, there will be a chance for more margaritas between now and Friday.

After lunch we strolled along the River Walk until Jeff had to get back to class, then I explored La Villita – Historic Arts Village, which was one of San Antonio’s first neighborhoods. It’s a little touristy, but there are a few gems among the faux stones! I especially enjoyed shopping in Angelita – great jewelry and natural fiber clothing. It was quite unusual. And I loved the jewelry in Equinox – A Jewelry Metal Gallery. There were so many wonderful one-of-a-kind pieces (hint, hint honey) that I could have bought for myself and/or that would make excellent gifts. My favorites were the mantra rings.

After La Villita I strolled more of the River Walk and took some photos. Eventually, however, a combination of the heat, my cold, and the cold medicine and margarita wearing off got the best of me. I headed back to the hotel. On my way up to the room, I got an iced coffee to keep me awake while I write this post. Next on my agenda is a nap before Jeff gets back from training.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tonight we are going to explore Market Square and hopefully find some amazing Mexican food. Tomorrow, who knows….there are several things on my list of things I could do – we’ll see where the wind (God, please let there be some wind – at least a breeze) takes me!

For now, I’m going to close the blinds and catch some z’s. Had I brought my book along when I left the hotel this morning, there is an excellent chance I’d still be drinking prickly pear margaritas at boudros! Ah well, maybe tomorrow!