Our time here at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in Alamogordo, New Mexico is flying by. As I write this, we are just over the halfway mark of the ten weeks we are here serving as camphosts. There is one other couple here sharing the daily assignments with us in this 44-site campground. And for those inquiring minds out there who remember reading about our summer camphosting on the Cape, thankfully, cleaning bathrooms is NOT one of our responsibilities here! Continue reading
One of the most mysterious effects of being in one place for a long time is how time folds in on itself and neatly puts itself away. We’ve been in Estero, Florida for nearly five months and in that time, Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, we witnessed what south-Florida calls the seasons – winter (temperatures in the high 40s); spring (temperatures in the mid-70s); and currently, summer (temperatures in the mid-80s). We pulled together a wedding reception for two of our fellow volunteers here at the park, complete with a cake and champagne toasts. We made a quick trip to the deep and frigid north for a wonderful family weekend, we celebrated a reunion dinner with Triangle X friends who winter here in Florida, met up with people we met on the road in Ann Arbor, and enjoyed a reunion with our first Airstream friends who met in the panhandle of Florida in 2015. We continue to delight in the company of our Koreshan State Park fellow volunteers following our official fourth anniversary living full time on the road.
Returning to Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida on November 2 felt like a homecoming. There was much that has changed since we left the park in April (more on that later) but somehow time compresses itself in the familiar and it seems like merely weeks since we were last here.
First, news about where we are living. Our new site this year in the Volunteer Village is our favorite of all three years here. We are up against the fence which means we are closest to the very busy Tamiami Trail but the huge advantage is we have a really lovely “front yard”, a place to securely store our bicycles and no neighbors on our front door side. Plus, we are removed from the center of the very busy Village, the bathhouse, and the Rec Hall. The morning sun streams in the kitchen windows and the afternoon sun hits the back of T2, keeping things much cooler than last year when we faced straight into the afternoon sun. We are next door to some friends from last year who are easy to be around. It’s all good.
Life on the road is full of unexpected occurrences. There are the happy ones, like discovering the creamiest and richest peanut butter ice cream we’ve ever had (more on that later), or the warm hospitality of strangers (we’ll cover this below), to the stamina-building mechanical breakdowns like the one we experienced upon pulling into Paris, Tennessee. Yes, gentle readers, we had an “event” and we continue to see how blessed we are.
The morning of September 6 broke hard, clear, and cold as we headed north from Colorado Springs on the final leg of our trip to Wyoming. Pikes Peak was dusted in snow from a brief encounter with winter, a prelude of things to come. At Fort Collins, we were at 5,000′ elevation but our ascent would continue as we headed north. As I learned from John McPhee’s Rising from the Plains, southeast Wyoming is a tipping point of geological wonder, higher in elevation than the plains of Colorado to the immediate south and higher than the northern part of Wyoming. Continue reading
We have had a love affair with New Mexico since we first came here thirty years ago, and crossing the border this time felt just as remarkable. There were specific things we had on our itinerary and first was a trip to the town of Las Vegas, in the northeastern corner of the state where we were in search of a very special building.
The story is that years ago, in our life back in New Hampshire, we had purchased a large oil painting by a Massachusetts realist painter named Randall Deihl. For a decade, “Big Cowgirl” hung on the wall of our high-ceilinged condominium in Keene, reminding us of all things about the west that we loved. There were lots of stories about the painting that had developed over time, but what we did know is that it was painted when the artist lived in Santa Fe in the 1990s, because he was inspired by a mural on a building in Las Vegas, New Mexico and we were on a quest to see if we could locate it. Continue reading
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
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