For Better or For Worse…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahhh Refreshing

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

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

A Little Wine with Lunch

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

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

The Bread

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

Tagliatelle with Meatballs Pine Nuts and Guanciale

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

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

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

Nutella Cookies

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

A few snaps from the day:

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

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.

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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.

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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!

Devouring D.C.

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

Wednesday Night:

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

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

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Thursday:

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

Friday:

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

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  3. A stroll around Georgetown.

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  4. A stroll around Bethesda.

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

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

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

A Journey of 250 Miles Begins with the First 24 Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gelato2

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

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

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

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

Lovely Lunch

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

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

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

The Best Vacation Ever: Part V

So far, reliving our trip to Maine has brought many smiles to my face as I remember the fun we had and how completely relaxing it was!

You may need to catch up on Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV. Take your time….I’ll wait!

Ok, now that we’re all ready…..

“August 7, 2003

Another early day, but we knew we could be in the car for quite a while on our way to Acadia.  We decided to take a scenic route, which coincidentally was also the route on which the Maine DOT seemed to be doing the most road work!!!  We got stuck in traffic several times, but with a little attitude adjustment we were able to just sit back and enjoy one another and the day ahead.

About three hours after our journey began, we arrived at Acadia Woods Kennel – the destination for Lucky and ‘Kota.  Feeling a little guilty, we left them and drove out Crooked Road to Route 3 and Bar Harbor.

Galyn's

We strolled down Main Street, investigated the shops, made a few purchases and worked up an appetite for lobster chowder, which we were able to satisfy at Galyn’s.  We also shared some steamers and the only moose (mousse) we’ve seen since we got to Maine – Ghiardelli chocolate – mmmmm!! What a nice lunch for our 10th anniversary.  It was late in the day so the restaurant wasn’t too busy and we were able to relax and talk.

Kingsleigh Inn

After lunch we decided we should think about checking into our inn and began meandering toward Southwest Harbor.

We were pleasantly surprised when we reached The Kingsleigh Inn and met Cyd, one of the owners.  [As an aside, I believe the inn has changed owners since Jeff and I stayed there in 2003.] The smell of home-baked, warm chocolate chip cookies wafted through the house as we took our tour through the welcoming rooms.

Southwest Harbor

After bringing our luggage up to Room 4, we set off to explore.  First we walked through town and then we got in the car and began a journey around the island.

We stopped at an enchanting inlet to take some pictures and to breathe in the salt air.  The mist was cool and refreshing.

As we were driving back to the inn, we were trying to decide if we wanted to keep our reservations at Anthony’s in Bar Harbor or if we wanted to stay closer to our home-for-the-night.  This being our anniversary, I wanted to so something special and ultimately, that is just what we did.

We stayed in shorts and sneakers, put on sweatshirts and headed for the lobster pound just up the road – Head of the Harbor [no website].

Head of the Harbor

While we were deciding what to order, the mosquitoes had us for dinner.  We placed our order and asked the woman behind the counter if she would snap a picture to document our anniversary.  She said she’s be happy to, but before she came out, she got from a tank two of the largest lobsters we had seen the whole trip – one for each of us to hold in the photo.  (I guess this was the time I would get over being afraid to touch a live lobster!!!)

Anniversary Dinner

We went inside to escape the feasting mosquitoes and to wait for our dinner, which we enjoyed while laughing at the atmosphere of the place we were happily celebrating our 10 years of wedded…..bliss? Like all marriages, it has been some bliss and some “not so much.” But we’ve made it this far together – we’ve had a lot of laughs, a lot of tears, but best of all a lot of love!!!”

If you’re planning a trip to Maine, I hope these posts are providing you some food for thought!  If not, I’d highly encourage you to add Maine to your list of possible vacation spots!!!

The Best Vacation Ever – Part I

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

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

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

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

August 3, 2003

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Super Duper Weenie

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cornerstone Sign

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

 

Cornerstone's Garden

The Hens and The Cottage

The Cottage

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

 

Inside the Cottage

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In Search of Lobster

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Milestones, Markets & Mozzarella

Friday was the anniversary of the first date Jeff and I shared.  Interestingly enough, for that date HE cooked for ME!  22 years ago yesterday, I drove my little red Dodge Colt to his house in Lawn, PA (one of those don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it towns) for dinner.  If my memory serves me correctly that night was quite snowy, much like the winter nights we’re experiencing this year. I also remember having those excited/nervous butterflies in my stomach – would the night go well?  Was he a good cook?  Would this turn into something?  Ah, youth!

For dinner, Jeff made stuffed shells and a salad.  And for dessert – bananas foster.  I was hooked!  He went to a lot of trouble to make a nice dinner for me.  He didn’t just get take-out or throw burgers on the grill, he actually put effort into it.  And he seemed to enjoy the process, which was something we had in common.

I also remember distinctly while sitting at the table talking after dinner Jeff said to me, “I’m so sorry.  I have to clean up this kitchen or I won’t be able to pay attention to you.”  Holy moly! I wish I could say that the kitchen cleaning OCD has lasted throughout the years, but I would be a liar if I did.  That’s not to say that Jeff doesn’t clean the kitchen – he does. (Typically he gets sick of the mess before I do and even when he’s not cooking he’ll sometimes come into the kitchen and banish me to the living room while he cleans up so I can continue in a clean workspace.)  But his tolerance for dishes in the sink and a mess on the counter is dramatically higher now than it was 22 years ago.

Yep, that’s how long it’s been!  22 years since that first date.  22 years of ups and downs.  22 years of laughter and tears.  22 years of love (and some moments of hate).  22 years of being stupid and hopefully getting smarter when it comes to one another!

Through the years we’ve celebrated our “first-date-a-versary,” our “proposalversary,” and our anniversary many different ways.  The one I remember best was our tenth wedding anniversary.  We were on vacation in Maine (my favorite vacation to date) and were staying overnight at a bed and breakfast in Acadia.  We made reservations at a very nice restaurant in Bar Harbor.  We had spent the day hiking and, separately, we were each kind of dreading getting dressed up and using our best manners.  Almost simultaneously, we each blurted out that we didn’t feel like getting all dolled up to celebrate.  So, in a rare moment of spontaneity for Jeff, we scrapped our dinner reservations at the nice restaurant, threw on shorts and t-shirts and headed to The Lobster Pound where we ate fried clams and fresh steamed lobster with butter dripping down our arms!

Today, we are adventuring through Lancaster.  Our first stop, Lancaster Central Market.  If you’ve been reading the blog from the beginning, you’ve read about this farmer’s market previously.  Although I’ve made several trips to LCM, Jeff’s never been there.  This morning he suggested we visit the LCM and also make a stop at Spring House Brewery and Tap Room.

We got to the market an hour before closing, which was just enough time to make it through all the aisles and to buy the things on our list – and, of course, a few things not on our list.

Part of the reason I like the LCM so much is because the building is beautiful…and incidentally, it has been a market for over 275 years!  That’s pretty cool.  Another reason I like it is that I can find things there that I can’t easily find other places – like micro-greens, a selection of sprouts and every time I’ve been to LCM I’ve been able to find Tuscan kale, which I love!  They also have a great selection of prepared food vendors, coffee vendors and other interesting items as well.  On this trip I found fresh turmeric…I have no idea what to do with it, but I bought some and will learn about it!!!  It looks like mini ginger root, but according to the vendor it is not nearly as fibrous as ginger.

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After marketing, we browsed through some of the interesting shops that surround the market and ultimately we made our way to the Spring House Taproom. We had to wait for seats and ended up at the bar, where we remained for the duration of our stay.  Jeff ordered a sampler, which included healthy-sized samples of 9 Spring House Brewery beers.

The Beauty of Beer

We enjoyed our rare time alone together talking and sipping from the sampler (and me from my Diet Coke with occasional sips from Jeff’s beers).  We also chatted with the bartenders and asked about the interesting names of some of the beers. Among those we tasted were Seven Gates Pale Ale, Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout (which Jeff has had before and really enjoys), She Monster Mango IPA (which has nothing on Alter Ego Brewing Company’s (AEBC) Mango Habanero), Lil’ Gruesome Peanut Butter and Jelly Stout, and Smoked Porter (which smelled amazing – I didn’t really appreciate the taste, but I should let you know I’m not much of a beer person (unless it’s brewed by AEBC)).

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There was so much beer in the sampler that Jeff needed a little something to eat….and, of course, I didn’t want him to eat alone!  So we ordered some Monster Mozzies, which are made in-house (including the mozzarella) and are ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!  They are served with house-made tomato bacon jam, which was over-the-top good!!!

Monster Mozzies

It’s only fitting that we’re celebrating this “versary” with food (shopping for it, buying it, and eating it) since our first date revealed our mutual love of cooking and eating.  Since that fateful evening 22 years ago, we’ve been cooking, eating and entertaining together.  We’ve shared many meals, tried many recipes, and (as our waistlines will attest) we’ve enjoyed a lot of good food.  Most importantly, we’ve been enjoying life together….one bite at a time!!!

Happy Birthday, Pop-Pop!!!

Today is my dad’s birthday.  If my math is correct, it is his 48th birthday, which makes me……uh, that can’t be right…..younger than I was when I got married…..I never have been too good at math.

Even though TODAY is the day, we did our celebrating as a family this past Friday evening.  Jeff and I, my mom and dad, and Laura and Shawn (my sister and BIL) went to DK Dogs on Derry Street in Harrisburg for dinner.  I know to many of you this doesn’t sound like the kind of place you take you father to celebrate his birthday; but for MY dad, it’s exactly THE kind of place! For my dad, the four food groups are hot dogs, ice cream, bread and beer – and you can get ’em all at DK Dogs.

If you go to DK Dogs, don’t expect fancy.  It’s not.  Don’t expect table service.  There isn’t any.  But do expect great food.  It’s abundant.  Now if you’ve been reading for a while you may be surprised to hear me label the food at DK Dogs great since I typically like my foods a little more sophisticated (not snooty).  But when you go into the experience wanting a good hotdog, you will not be disappointed…in fact, your expectations will probably be exceeded!  The difficult thing will be picking which dog(s) you want to order from a varied selection.

DK Menu

Collectively we ordered 3 DK Dogs, 1 Philly Dog, 1 Pittsburgh Dog, 1 Ultimate New Yorker Dog, 1 Chicago Dog, 1 Reuben Dog, 2 large orders of fresh-cut french fries, 1 order of Konstantine Fries, 2 Yuengling Lagers and 2 large bottles of water.  Whew!  And then we waited for our food….

Waiting

The following are descriptions (from the menu) and pics of the dogs:

  • DK Dog – Sharp American cheese, Mustard, DK homemade chili, onionsDK Dog
  • Philly Dog – Grilled onions, mustard, provolone cheese on a pretzel rollPhilly Dog
  • Pittsburgh Dog – Fried bacon wrapped dog, swiss cheese, DK homemade coleslaw, mustard on a pretzel rollPittsburgh Dog
  • Ultimate New Yorker Dog – DK homemade country brown kraut, mustard, sweet relish, New York onions with red sauce

Ultimate New Yorker Dog

  • Chicago Dog – Pickle spears, mustard, onions, sweet relish, hot banana peppers, tomatoes, celery salt served on a poppy-seed rollChicago Dog
  • Reuben Dog – DK  homemade country brown kraut, swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing

Reuben Dog

Although you know what fresh-cut fries are, you may not know what Konstantine fries are.  I didn’t get a pic of the Konstantine fries before they were devoured, so image the picture below smothered with rich gravy and cheddar cheese sauce.

Fresh Cut Fries

After dinner, we all drove back over the river and reconvened at our house for coffee and cake.  It was nice to have a break in the action to digest and to see a beautiful sunset over the river.

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During the day on Friday, in addition to making food for our Saturday kayak trip, I made a Coffee Walnut Cake with Coffee Mascarpone Cream Icing for my dad’s birthday celebration.

The following are some pics of the process of making AND EATING the cake:

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In our family we don’t really need a reason to get together over good food, but it is fun to have a reason for a celebration!  And although we’ve been lax as a family on birthdays this year – giving gifts and cards months late – we did this one right!

Happy Birthday, Dad!  You’ve taught me many lessons over the years.  Some you meant to and some you didn’t – but I learned all the same!  You’ve given me a lot of good advice too.  You may not have thought I was listening; but I was.  Two things in particular come to mind….

  1. You can’t make people respect you.
    AND, my all time favorite,
  2. Take your foot out of the shoe.

What’s the best advice you’ve received from your father?

Can you guess which DK dog I ordered?

You Can’t Win ‘Em All…..or Can You?

Over the weekend my dear friend Holly and I were texting back and forth about how much we miss seeing one another, so we decided to meet for lunch this week.  After a surprisingly short game of dueling datebooks, we landed on Thursday (today).

Since Jeff had invited me to try a new crepe restaurant in Harrisburg for lunch one day this week, I thought I’d combine both dates and hang out with both Jeff and Holly at lunchtime today.  I love it when a plan comes together!

Pointing to JeffWe decided to meet on the early side of the lunch “hour” and it’s a good thing we did.  Au Bon Lieu – on Third Street in Harrisburg – is tiny.  There are only 6 small tables inside and 2 even smaller tables outside.  Jeff and I arrived at about 11:50 and there were only two tables available.  We snagged the one in the window and waited while Holly found a parking place.

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a fraiche perspective

I’ve been fighting a cold for over a week now and as a result I’ve been a little bit cranky.  Let’s be honest – summer colds stink!  I’ve gone from a throat so sore I would swear I was swallowing broken glass to a stuffy head to a ridiculously runny nose to sneezing….I am a walking Nyquil ad!!!  But today I am determined not to let it get me down as it has for the past several days.  If I’m going to have to live with this cold, then it’s going to have to live with me!

Wall of Vendor NamesSo this morning, after much sneezing and using too many tissues to count, I resolved that not only would I drive Macy to her salon appointment (yes, my dog IS at the salon – do you have a problem with that?), I would enjoy the time I had to spend waiting for her.  After I dropped Macy off, I drove aimlessly for a while trying to decide how to use my “free” time.  Since it was after noon and my belly was a bit hungry, I thought about where I could go for a nice lunch – somewhere I hadn’t been before and somewhere I could write about to inform my readers….hmmmm.

Well, truthfully, I drew a blank.  How is that possible?  I write a food blog.  I spent the next few minutes berating myself for not having a list of restaurants to try on days like this.  Then I berated myself for not moving more quickly on my “get a smart phone” errand.  There I was, in the car with no internet access…the horror!

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Trying Something New

We all have our issues. I sure have my share (I know there are those who would argue that I have MORE than my share).  But this morning I am feeling so sorry for my little four-legged girl, Kissy.  Kissy is the living embodiment of love.  She wants 3 things out of life – food, to love, and to be loved.  Like me, she doesn’t necessarily want them in that order every day!  She is sweet and calm.  She is funny and beautiful.  And she has more than her share of health problems.

She had two entropion surgeries in the month before we rescued her.  Entropion is a turning in of the eyelids, which causes the lashes to rub against the surface of the eye. She also has chronic ear infections, severe skin allergies, thyroid issus, chronic eye issues (likely from the entropion), a bum back leg, and an ever-present odor, which we refer to as her “funk.”  Yet she is perfect!

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Happy Birthday, Baby!

Today is my husband Jeff’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Baby – and we found a great way to celebrate!

When I asked Jeff last week what he wanted to do for his birthday, he said he needed time to think about it.  He was mulling over the idea of either going out for sushi or having dinner at home. On Thursday, after getting a recommendation from a trusted source, I called him at work and suggested a day-trip to D.C. for oysters.  Of course, being the king of travel planning, he asked for more information and after I obliged he happily accepted.  He LLLOOOVVVEEESSS oysters!

Union Market Entrance

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Eating My Words….After Eating Some Seriously Amazing Food

Sometimes the most unappetizing thing to eat is your own words!  Especially when you are not shy to share your opinions – like me.  So today, instead of breakfast, I AM eating my own words…fortunately I have a nice cup of coffee to wash them down – thanks, honey!

For quite a while I have been saying that I don’t believe we have any REALLY good restaurants in Central, PA.  That is not to say that there never have been…..some of you may remember The Empire in Carlisle or Brian Kent’s in Hershey….and it is also not to say that there aren’t current restaurants where you can get a good dish (dare I say even a great one), or good service, or nice atmosphere.  The problem I find is that these things rarely come all at the same time in Central PA.

So when I am asked about my favorite restaurant or where I like to eat, I usually preface my answer with something like, “If you don’t mind traveling…..”.  Or, my answer is that I prefer to cook at home.

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Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

The Finished Product w BrushstrokeJeff and I are having some friends over for dinner this evening.  It will be a very casual dinner as I try out some recipes for one of the cooking classes I’ll be teaching at the Kitchen Shoppe in the spring.

I am excited for this new journey and have been learning so much along the way.  Each iteration of a recipe teaches me about the effects of all kinds of things – a change in spices, different cooking times, higher or lower temperatures, fresher ingredients – on the end result.  It has been a fun process and I am thankful for the support of my family and friends – those people who are willing to eat not only the successes, but the failures as well!!!

For dessert tonight, we’ll be having Rosemary Olive Oil Cake.  Some people find the idea of baking with olive oil quite strange; frankly I feel sorry for those folks because they are missing out on some amazing moisture and flavor!

I thought I’d show you the process of making this cake.

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Be It Ever So Humble…..

We just returned from a fantastic weekend with friends in Newport, Rhode Island.  If you’ve been following, you have read of our adventures and have seen some pics of great food.  The food yesterday was no exception!

We began our day later than usual and with a continental breakfast at the hotel (this was not the good food part, but it wasn’t bad); but once we got in full swing, there was no stopping us!  We left the hotel, bundled up and began the Cliff Walk.  The weather was perfect.  The skies were bright blue and although it was a little windy, the temperature was in the 40’s which made for a great walk!

Cliff View

We meandered from Memorial Avenue to The Breakers and back.  Unfortunately, the entire Cliff Walk isn’t open due to some storm damage from Sandy.  We missed what we affectionately refer to as Rice Krispie Beach and we missed our favorite part – walking over the boulders that make up the far end of the “trail.”  We heard from a shop owner (but did not confirm) that it will take approximately $8 million to make the necessary repairs.

Pesce

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S.A.T.U.R.D.A.Y. Night

Yesterday was a wonderful day. To recap, we found a new spot for breakfast because our favorite spot, The Franklin Spa, is closed until February 1st.  The original plan was to do the Cliff Walk yesterday; however it was very cold and windy. So we put it off. Instead we walked around town and shopped and had some drinks and shopped and had some drinks.

We got hungry around 2:30, but didn’t want to eat too much because we were going to see some friends from church who moved to Newport last year and we were having dinner with them.  So we decided on bloody Marys and soup at the Brick Alley Pub in downtown Newport.

The wait was long, but that did not deter us.  We ordered 6 bloody Marys and settled in for our 45 minute wait. Fortunately, a bar table became available and we decided to have our soup shoulder to shoulder.  While we waited we looked at all the interesting things on the walls and, of course, talked and laughed and laughed and talked.

My Kind of Six Pack

My Kind of Six Pack

Words to Live By

Words to Live By (see center)

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Good? Morning…..Yes Indeed

The morning got off to a rocky start. We were all a little sluggish and then when we finally got moving and walked in the ccc-cold to our favorite breakfast spot, we were greeted by a sign that read, “Gone Fishing.  See you on February 1st.” Ohhhhhhh noooooooooooooooo!$*&!

Dejected, we walked back to our “hotel” to regroup.  Never fear, Jeff is here!  He not only has a list of back-up restaurants, he also will talk to anyone and has no qualms about asking a bazillion questions.  I love that about him.  He used this superpower to get a recommendation for an alternate breakfast spot – the Corner Cafe.

With much trepidation, we got in the car and headed to this new restaurant.  Fortunately we were not even a little disappointed! Our first decision was juice.  They had amazing combinations.  Jenny and I shared a Vitamin C Booster and it was d-lish! It was made from orange, cranberry, red raspberry and grape juices. Mmm mmm mmm!

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Salvation

I’m not sure if our souls were saved from sin or if we were led to sin; but dinner tonight at The Salvation Cafe was heavenly!

It’s not that rare to go to a restaurant and have one really good dish on the table. However in my experience it is exceedingly rare to have every dish at the table be exceptional, but that is exactly what the chef at The Salvation Cafe was able to produce this evening.

We ordered a pitcher of red sangria and three amazing appetizers to share:

  • Mussels in green curry coconut sauce with Thai basil.
  • Crispy Calamari with sweet and spicy vinaigrette and wasabi cream.
  • Quattro Formaggi with whole grain crostini.

Mussells CalamariQuattro Formaggi Appetizer

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Getting There is Half the Fun

Today was the first day of my absolute favorite weekend of the year.  Jeff and I take an annual trip to Newport, R.I. and for the last two years we have been going with good friends – the kind of friends who are like family!

Jeff & I and Jenny & Tom met up with Holly & Jeff at Holly & Jeff’s house AT the appointed time – 9:00 a.m.  Anyone who knows me knows it’s miraculous that I was (A) on time and (B) on time in the morning!  But we were.  And it’s a good thing we left when we did because we hit lots of traffic starting around the George Washington Bridge in NYC.

We were slowed to such a rate that Jeff was able to take some really cool pics of the bridge:

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Market Value

Another successful day of farmers marketing yesterday.  Mimi (my mom) and I departed her house at approximately 9:00 am (only an hour later than our designated departure time, which for us is not bad at all) and hopped on the PA Turnpike for an hour-ish ride to Reading.  Our destination – The Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

I did a little research (no, I did not simply throw a dart at the map) early in the week about PA farmers markets and the Fairgrounds Market sounded interesting.  Someone commented on yelp that it is, “not the prettiest or the most eclectic, but for quality of food, it’s the best.”  That review had me expecting a dumpy place – and while it certainly wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Lancaster’s Central Market or the Ardmore Farmers Market, it was decent-looking.  It seemed clean and was well laid out with wide aisles and good lighting.

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