On Sunday, we spent a glorious, lazy summer day with our friend Mark at his tiki bar, The Sunset Grill, on the shore of a lovely little lake in Brown County, Indiana. The tiki bar is dedicated to a sense of escape from the ordinary and humdrum into a paradise that those of us of a certain age have populated with common, even if distinct, memories. The tiki bars of our younger days often included a soundtrack of Jimmy Buffet songs, and a kitschy decor of fishnets and buoys and mermaids and drinks with paper parasols. The paradise of the tiki bar is unrelated to anything historically accurate and more like an island nirvana straight out of the imagination. Continue reading
I am an incurable romantic and quite capable of being brought to tears by the most improbable of situations. Today was one of those days where I have been reduced to a melancholy and teary reflection based on a decision that had to be made. Today, I parted company with Big Red, my well traveled, reliable suitcase. Big Red was huge and clunky compared to the standards of today’s suitcases with over 6,400 cubic inches of carrying space. His wheels were worn out, his retractable handle long ago succumbed to the indignity of duct tape and his zipper, twice replaced, had seen better days. His ballistic nylon fabric, once deep red, had faded and he had actually suffered a mysterious burn somewhere and his sides were deeply worn along the edges. After one long flight, he limped off the baggage carousel with a puncture and tear caused by some errant fork lift. It couldn’t be repaired. Continue reading
When it comes to the most beautiful places we have seen in our travels, there is little that can compare to an early July morning in verdant New Hampshire. It was one of the things I loved most about my decades living in the Granite State and it is shear indulgence to be able to selectively return when the climate here outdoes itself feeding the soul. We had booked a full four weeks at Ashuelot River Campground for our summer address and under the caring attention of Chuck and Laura, we are thoroughly enjoying our seasonal home. Continue reading
One of the delights of our travels is we occasionally treat ourselves to eating out and sampling the local cuisine. We are pretty picky in our choices and since Peter is such a wonderful cook, our standards are high. Last fall, we sampled perhaps the best of Southern fried chicken in a funky place called the Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi where the proprietor, Mr. D, comes by occasionally to serenade his stuffed and very happy customers. What made it special? The sheer lightness and crispiness of the batter, which served to lock in the tender and flavorful chicken which was fried hot in a cast iron skillet. This place does chicken right. Our time in Abbeville, Louisiana included some étouffée that was ethereal, so rather than try to compare those highlights, we opened the horizons to new experiences of some traditional dishes with new flair. Here is an eclectic mix of some of the highlights from Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina.
First in Savannah, the crab cakes Benedict were amazing at a place called Belfords on Franklin Square. The crab cakes were moist, perfectly flavored and rich with tender crab meat (very little breading). They were topped with a perfectly poached egg and Cajun remoulade sauce with just a touch of heat. Peter ordered a fried oyster po’ boy, just because, and loved every decadent bite.
I’ve been researching the best buttermilk biscuits, one of the traditional of Southern foods that are hard to get right and easy to mess up. In Savannah, we headed to a beautiful little bakery called Back in the Day. It came highly recommended and so we wandered over one Sunday morning. One of their specialities is buttermilk biscuit breakfast sandwiches and they did not disappoint. The biscuits are perfectly made and light and flavorful. The compact egg frittata, with cheddar cheese, was flavored with a touch of thyme.
Later, I found out that the owner-baker was nominated for the James Beard Outstanding Baker award. In addition to the buttermilk biscuit, the lemon scone topped with pistachios is beyond belief. This place is worth the stop.
As New Englanders, we know a lot about ice cream and Peter will happily remind folks that we native Yankees are known to consume more of the delectable dessert than those in any other part of the country. So when my well-traveled sister (a resident of Connecticut, one of the original thirteen colonies) recommended the ice cream at Leopold’s in Savannah, we paid attention. The ice cream parlor is great fun with movie posters and kitschy decor, including a telephone booth, and the first time we went by on a Sunday, the line was a half a block long and we decided this is why we were staying for four days. We returned on Monday and with no wait.
One of their hallmark flavors is called Lemon Custard, which is rich lemon ice cream with fresh lemon zest and subtle lemon flavor. The winning recipe is unchanged since 1919 and I can see why.
So while we are on ice cream, let me share the experience of the amazing Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Charleston, South Carolina. Located in the hip neighborhood of King Street the store is filled with display cases of the fabulous and very unusual flavors of Jeni Britton Bauer who started making ice cream in Columbus, Ohio in 2002. What distinguishes her ice cream is the unusual combination of flavors, the delectable nature of the ingredients, high in butterfat and low in air, which are creamy and rich and not filled with sugar or thickeners. The flavors change with the seasons as fresh fruits change.
On our first trip (yes, we made two distinct visits!), it was brambleberry crisp which is made with brambleberry jam laced with tasted oat streusel in rich vanilla ice cream. Then it was a smooth lemony, rich cream laced with what I remember as after dinner mints. Oh my. Jeni’s has begun packaging these dreams from heaven in pints which are now available through the country, but I’m not sure if that is good news, or not!
Peter’s quest around the South was for fried oysters and after the po’ boy, it was lunch at Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar in downtown Charleston. These fried oysters were light and tender and there was nothing left over. On a gorgeous, spring day, we walked from the restaurant to the lovely Waterfront Park and its iconic Pineapple Fountain which apparently doubles as a wading pool for residents during the heat of summer.
The fried oyster sampling culminated (at least to date!) at a funky roadhouse called SeeWee Restaurant north the city in Awendaw. The decor alone in this restaurant that’s been serving southern home cooking for decades is worth the trip. The food was up to the locals’ recommendation. The fried oysters were great and my grilled local shrimp on top of fried local grouper was equally tops. So much food was served that we took it home and re-heated for lunch the next day and it was just as tasty.
We headed up next to Wilmington, North Carolina and decided to tour the riverfront downtown along the Peace River. In the process we tripped upon a place called The Peppered Cupcake, which apparently is known for its remarkable tiny cakes. We have a world class pastry chef in the family (one of my sisters) so we are accustomed to some of the best in buttercreams, ganache, and light cakes.
Let me say that this place is amazing. First of all, the little restaurant is comfortably air-conditioned and that is a first clue as to the attention of the owner-baker. Climate control makes for superb buttercream chemistry and texture. Second, the little cakes are gorgeous to look at, each one a tiny masterpiece that one hesitates (but only briefly) to destroy. And third, the taste which is often an unusual combination of ingredients. It’s called The Peppered Cupcake because of the addition of peppers and chilis that are used in some of the recipes. In addition to that, the offerings include coconut buttercreams, and brownie chocolate ganache and the devine rose water raspberry. We fully intended to eat one in the sweet little Victorian shop and take the other two home but the poor dears never had a chance to make the trip after we tasted the first morsels. Besides, it was too warm a day and the buttercream would have been stressed out. Really.
Peter and Liz continue their gastronomic sampling through North Carolina and Virginia as they work their way around the South in their Airstream.
We both needed the four days of delectable sleep and complete rest that we experienced outside of Gainesville, Florida at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. As when waking from a long night’s deep sleep we moved slowly and intentionally, first sitting symbolically upright and then consciously putting our feet firmly on the ground, exhilarated to find all our parts still in working order. Continue reading
Each year, in springtime, I commit to a comprehensive T2 cleaning. It’s usually spread over a few days with Day 1 always starting with the triannual refrigerator defrosting. Perhaps it’s because it is my least favorite cleaning task and I know that once starting it, I have committed to the no-turning-back process. The best part is the ritual that ends with putting the fresh new box of baking soda in place and writing the date on the duct tape patch on the inside the refrigerator door.
A fellow Airstreamer recently posted a blog (Life on the Blue Highways) with a picture of some pottery shards that he discovered in New Mexico. These shards struck me as a metaphor for the past few days at Koreshan State Park. Like the shards, each day offered some unique new element in the whole field of our lives here.
I’m writing this blog on my birthday and I have been given the most exquisite of gifts: a morning of solitude in T2, our sanctuary. I’ve been reading poetry and found two snippets from poems that fit my reflection today. Stanley Kunitz, at the age of 79 mused, “Maybe it’s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I’m passing through a phase…” while Billy Collins, at the age of 70, whimsically observed, “One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago as I waited for my eggs and toast, I opened the Tribune only to discover that I was the same age as Cheerios”. Continue reading
On Friday, February 23, something grace-filled occurred at the Art Hall at the Koreshan Unity Settlement. A little after 2:00 pm, concert pianist Bella Gutshtein, sat down to play the 1885 Steinway piano. Before she put her hands on the keys of this concert piano, she urged her small audience to remember that in the face of whatever darkness we may have in our lives, music and beauty can offer light. Then, she breathed life into a few movements of a Brahm’s piano concerto, and I was aware of the extraordinary gift of grace that I had received. Continue reading
Our eastbound drive from Utah to Florida covered a couple of thousand miles across eight states. We arrived on November 20 and are now comfortably settled into the Volunteer Village at Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida in the warm company of friends we met here last year and of the new volunteers who have come for part of the season. Continue reading