Lavendou Bistro

Plano, Texas

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When you write dining and travel blogs, your friends start giving you all kinds of great advice and suggestions on places to try. I am so glad that they do! Two different people had mentioned Lavendou Bistro for me to try. After a little research, I was intrigued with this little French restaurant. It was time for me to check it out on my own. Date night!

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Let me first alert you to Lavendou Bistro’s “unusual” location. It is located in a strip center just a few doors down from a condom shop, a massage parlor and a vape shop (I guess this would make a great date night for some people!). This was not at all what I expected from this highly-rated French restaurant, but I was keeping an open mind. Thankfully, this questionable locale did not deter us and we walked in to a quaint little European-style restaurant with inviting decor and French charm. The interior, with exposed brick walls, was very warm and welcoming. The blue, yellow and white color theme was authentic French country-style. The ambiance, decor and lighting were romantic and unpretentious. 

 

The service we experienced was friendly and attentive. Our French-speaking server was very helpful with both wine and meal choices. She suggested a French red wine for us that turned out to be an excellent choice. A bread basket was quickly brought to our table  – complete with fresh butter and an olive tapenade dipping oil that was most enjoyable.  We both enjoyed our salads. My salad was the Croquant de Chevre Chaud sur son Lit de Jeennes Pousses, otherwise known as mixed greens with goat cheese balls, parma ham and pine nuts. The breaded goat cheese was delicious! My husband had the Crevettes en Feuille de Brique salad which had the mixed greens with shrimp (stuffed with spinach and pine nuts) then wrapped in phyllo pastry. The house-made vinaigrette salad dressings were full-bodied and flavorful. 

So far….so good. Now we were on to the main course!  I ordered the Dover Sole with Lemon Sauce which turned out to be one of the best fish dishes that I have ever been served in a restaurant. The sole was lightly browned on the outside and literally “melted” in my mouth. The lemon, butter & wine sauce elevated it even more. The fish was served with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables and was beautifully plated. My husband ordered the Blackened Grouper (an evening special) and it was cooked to perfection with with just the right amount of seasoning.  The grouper was served with micro greens, poached pears and mixed vegetables. The portions were quite large and I actually had leftovers to take home and enjoy the following day. 

The highlight of our evening was the dessert portion of the meal. I ordered the Chocolate Souffle and my husband ordered the raspberry version. These souffles were perfection! They were light, airy, and perfectly cooked. The accompanying sauces were thick and full of flavor. We both commented that these souffles were some of the best we have ever eaten. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

If you find yourself in the mood for casual, country-style French cuisine, look no further than Lavendou Bistro. There is no trendy “fusion” food here – just excellent wine, gracious service, exquisite food and perfect ambiance. I hope to be returning soon, so maybe I will see you there. There is a chocolate souffle just waiting with my name on it!

 

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Grand Canyon

Arizona – South Rim

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My first view of the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list. It wasn’t until some close friends went a few months ago that the urge hit me again. Their photos were spectacular and I wanted to see it up close and personal for myself.

My husband and I planned a trip to Sedona, Arizona for a few days and decided this would be a great opportunity to drive on up to the Grand Canyon for a day. I had knee replacement surgery a few months ago and realized that days of hiking, riding burros, or camping overnight in the bottom of the canyon would not be for me. A day trip seemed to be the perfect option and it really was the right choice for us.

We had taken a Pink Jeep Tour to some ancient ruins on our first full day in Sedona and we had a wonderful tour guide named Stephen. He often drives tour groups into the Grand Canyon for the day and gave us some great pointers and advice. His suggestion was to drive into the park’s east entrance and return to Sedona through the south entrance, which is extremely busy and crowded. In other words, we would go against the traffic and crowds. It turned out to be great advice. 

The drive north from Sedona was quite scenic and enjoyable. It was a two hour drive with hardly any traffic. We drove through pine forests, curvy mountain roads, sparse desert mesas, and the flat red lands of the Navajo Nation. As we entered the Grand Canyon National Park’s east entrance, there were only two cars ahead of us. What great luck – thank you for the advice, Stephen!

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Our first stop was at the Desert View Visitor Center. This was a great spot with few visitors, ample parking, restrooms, restaurant, and a gift shop. There is a tall stone tower (modeled after ancient Puebloan towers) and an overlook with fantastic views of the Grand Canyon. This is where I walked up and got my first look at the majestic canyon. I will never forget that moment and readily admit that photos do not even come close to doing it justice. We stood for several minutes taking in all the colors, the expanse, the depth, and the silence. This was most certainly a true “pinch me” moment. There were some great views of the Colorado River from this overlook (over one full mile below us!).

We took our time here and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out towards the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the south entrance. We stopped at several of the overlooks and pull-outs that our tour guide had suggested for us. Each stop gave us different views and a different perspective of the canyon. Mather Point, Navajo Point, and Grandview Point were a few of the stand-outs. The scenery was spectacular and there were only a few people at each of these stops. It was a most enjoyable day with almost perfect weather. 

 Later in the day we arrived at the South Rim Visitor Center. It was packed with tourists, tour buses, shuttle buses, and cars. Luckily we found a parking spot relatively close to the center and we found our way to the overlook area. Once again, the views were spectacular but there were so many people that it was difficult at times to get to the railing to take good photos. We then explored the area and it was expansive: restrooms, snack bars, gift shops, movie theater, information & education centers, bike rentals, shuttle stops, etc.  The most exciting thing about this stop was getting to see two elk that had wandered up to drink from the water fountains! 

Everyone has a different agenda when visiting the Grand Canyon and for us – one full day was enough. It was glorious, spectacular, breath-taking and immense.  David and I lucked up and had perfect weather this particular day. We enjoyed every minute of it and the images will be embedded in my mind for years to come. If you have never made this trip, I hope you will make plans. It was well worth the effort.

Check this one off my bucket list. It is done. Now on to my next adventure!! 

 

85°C Bakery Cafe

Richardson, TX

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I am lucky enough to have a very diverse group of  “foodie” friends who love trying new foods and eating at new places. One of my friends recently introduced us to a Taiwanese chain of coffee shops and self-serve bakeries that she was familiar with in California. A new location of 85°C Bakery Cafe just opened three months ago in Richardson and it was our choice for a ladies’ lunch – and what a GREAT choice it was!

This location in Richardson is part of a new strip mall dedicated to Asian stores and eateries. The huge statues of warriors, poets and philosophers that line the entrance are pretty good indicators that you are in the right place! If you can locate parking near the statue of Confucius, you will be close to the bakery. 

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Confucius say…….

As we stepped through the doors of 85°C Bakery Cafe, I noticed this place was approximately twice the size of a Starbucks, but with the same relaxed coffee house vibe. The left side of the bakery was dominated by numerous self-serve cases of baked goods.  The right rear area housed the counters where you order drinks and check-out.  Various sizes of tables and chairs were scattered throughout. The entire place was casual, bright, modern, and extremely clean. The staff was extremely helpful and friendly.

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This location serves tasty breads, cakes, pastries, teas, slushes, smoothies, and coffees. The “bakery & cafe” combination is certainly not a new idea, but at 85°Bakery Cafe, this seems like a very new and fresh concept – and they do it quite well! I really loved the self-serve aspect. (The name is a nod to the ideal temperature of brewed coffee.) 

After I walked through the door, everything was very visual. I grabbed a tray, a sheet of waxed paper and a pair of tongs and let my eyes dictate my choices. Each item was well-marked with signage indicating name, price, and what ingredients were used. Nothing was over $3 (most were $1 to $2 each) and the portions were not small! There were savory breads & rolls and sweet pastries. I actually picked out three savory rolls – a cheese dog, a potato & cheese croissant, and a ham & cheese roll and I could not finish all three. Other savory choices included: Hawaiian chicken rolls, Teriyaki chicken rolls, egg tarts, cheese tarts, salty butter rolls, red bean bread, squid ink rolls, taro rolls, and calamari sticks (for those more adventurous that I am!). Sweet pastries included: cinnamon rolls, fruit turnovers, chocolate croissants, cookies, brioche bread, coconut twists, mango tarts, sweet snow bread, cream puffs, fruit panna cotta, mocha rolls, etc. There were also prepackaged displays of cookies, macaroons, sliced egg bread and moon breads. As we were making our selections and placing them on our trays, staff members were periodically restocking items shouting “Fresh bread! Fresh bread!” as they brought out warm trays or more baked goods. Decisions, decisions……

Located near the checkout counter were refrigerated cases (not self-serve) that contained full-sized cakes, individual custards & tarts, mousse, and all types of single cake slices. I saw a range of flavors including: black forest, cheese cake, red velvet, creme brulee, chocolate, taro, lemon, almond, mango, vanilla, etc. They were all decorated beautifully and were well-packaged for eating in-house or taking out. (check out all the photos for more details)

We made our choices, paid, then sat and ate our savory selections. They were all light, flaky and delicious! We then wrapped up what we couldn’t finish (in clear cellophane bags that are provided) and took the leftovers home. Dessert came next! Once more, we grabbed a clean tray and pair of tongs to choose our “sweet” selections – some to eat while there, others to take home. Needless to say, every sweet pastry was fresh and tasty. This may be a Taiwanese bakery, but you will swear you at eating dessert in a very fancy French patisserie. (Note: the staff does a great job of wrapping bakery items for carry out and placing in small individual boxes, bags, or cardboard boxes.)

I would highly suggest checking this place out if you are in the mood for something different! We had a great experience and truly enjoyed all the food here – nice quantities, top quality, and good value. What’s not to like?!

Note: This is a chain restaurant and other nearby locations are in Carrollton and Plano.  85°C Bakery Cafe was started in Irvine, California in 2003.

After dining here, be sure to walk a few doors down and check out the Good Fortune Market, a Chinese supermarket. There are produce items, seafood, and boxed goods that are well worth viewing. I saw things that I have never seen before!

 

Yountville

Napa County, California

 

The town of Yountville, California will always hold a special place in this girl’s memory. This little intimate community is home to my very favorite hotel and one of my favorite restaurants.

Yountville is located in the very heart of Napa Valley wine country. This quaint, manicured town was named for early pioneer George Calvery Yount who was responsible for establishing the first vineyard in Napa Valley in 1867. I wonder if he ever knew what he was setting in motion? Great foresight there, George!

 

Today Yountville is known as the “Culinary Capital of Napa Valley.” Bouchon Bistro and The French Laundry are both Michelin-starred restaurants. Redd, Ad Hoc, Lucy and Bouchon Bakery are all first-class eateries with world-renowned chefs. One of my favorite restaurants was Bottega, where my husband and I had a delicious four-course meal and first fell in love with the Napa Valley “buttery” chardonnays. My memory of our dinner here was of impeccable service, elevated Italian cuisine, a stunning wine list, and a delectable parmesan-garlic spread to enjoy on their fresh-baked ciabatta bread. My dining experience at Bottega was a love affair from the first bite! 

 

Not only is Yountville full of world-class restaurants, there are gourmet shops, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, top-notch accommodations, and incredible natural surroundings – all in the immediate area. You can casually stroll down the main drag of oak-lined Washington Street and find almost every kind of shop, restaurant, bakery, and spa within walking distance. Be sure to keep your eye out for the over 40 works of art and outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the beautifully landscaped scenic downtown area. 

 

For some day excursions, how about golf, a wine tour, a hot air balloon ride or a bike tour? David and I took off on our own and toured some of the local wineries. Domaine Chandon (owned by French Champagne Moet and Chandon), Frog’s Leap and Goosecross Cellars are all located in close proximity. It is not a far drive to most of the Napa Valley wineries or vineyards from Yountville. Most Napa wineries close at 5:00 p.m. so enjoy your winery visits, have a nice lunch, and come back to Yountville. You can then park your car and walk to one of the 15 tasting rooms. No need to drive any more – just stroll and sip!  

 

If you are wondering where to stay, there are plenty of up-scale hotels, quaint country inns and a few bed & breakfasts. My favorite hotel “of all time” was the Bardessono, located in the heart of Yountville. This was an excellent hotel for location, service, and amenities. With automatic blinds and toilets, a jacuzzi tub, a steam shower, and an outdoor shower on our private patio – I did not want to leave this hotel! The entire place was very “Zen-like” with beautiful flora, fruit trees, fountains, gardens and art work at every turn. The entire Bardessono property was very peaceful and quiet – with the exception of the lively bar, outdoor fire pits and the Lucy Restaurant in the evenings. We also enjoyed the lovely pool and private cabanas a couple of afternoons after returning from our winery expeditions. There may have even been a nap or two in those relaxing roof-top cabanas – just sayin’.

 

This stay in Yountville was one of those trips that we keep saying we want to repeat – and that doesn’t happen for us too often. We visited in October and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Combine the wine, the weather, the hotel, and the meals we enjoyed – and it makes perfect sense why we want to return.

 

My suggestion – set a date, plan ahead, book a couple of restaurants on Open Table and mosey over to Yountville for a great Napa Valley getaway! We may see you there. Cheers!!

For you foodies, here is the recipe for the Bottega Parmesan Garlic Spread: 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, 1/2 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well chopped and combined. Spread on fresh ciabatta bread and enjoy!

Abacus

Dallas, Texas

I look forward to August every year because that means Dallas Restaurant Week is here! For a certain week(s) during August, many prime Dallas restaurants will offer a price-fix menu and give proceeds to the North Texas Food Bank. It is a great way to try new places and sample their menus (at a considerably lower cost) and it helps benefit a very worthy cause .

One of my restaurant choices this year was Abacus. I have heard about this high-end restaurant for years but never had the opportunity to dine there. Luckily I got reservations on a weekend evening and anxiously looked forward to our visit.

From the moment we stepped into the foyer, I was impressed. Two friendly hostesses greeted us and we were seated at a romantic table for two with a white tablecloth and napkin, candle, fresh flowers and a beautiful place setting. The noise level was energetic, but not too loud, as most of the sounds were coming from the open kitchen and bar area. Our waiter was very professional, friendly, and provided just the right amount of attention. I was very impressed with his knowledge of the menu and the wine list.

The restaurant’s ambiance is sophisticated and romantic. The upscale decor, music, lighting, and art all spell out “fine dining.”  There were many couples dining out this particular evening as well as large groups and a few families. It was perfect for a date night but not too stuffy for a business dinner or a nice dinner with friends or family. 

We began with a couple of the Abacus signature cocktails. The Lucy in the Sky was a fruity, champagne drink and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Gin Basil Gimlet was very tasty and refreshingly good. We were brought a nice bread basket with 3 choices of freshly baked breads and seasoned butter. All were delicious, especially the raisin & nut bread!

Our menu for Dallas Restaurant Week offered a choice of a small plate or appetizer, an entree and then a shared dessert. We opted for the Crispy Coconut Rock Shrimp and Texas Melon plate for our starters and both were great choices. The rock shrimp had a crispy tempura batter and was served with sliced jalapenos, toasted cashews and a mango and red curry sauce. The Texas Melon appetizer was a tasty as it was colorful. Chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon were arranged in a circle around shaved hearts of palm. It was topped with queso fresco, red onions and a cilantro and lime vinaigrette dressing. This was my favorite dish and the combination of colors, textures and tastes was sheer perfection. Delicious!

Next, our server brought over a complimentary Watermelon Mojito Mint Shooter to clean our palates between courses. It was served in a shot glass and tasted like watermelon juice with minty tapioca balls. Loved it!

We both ordered the Blackened Sockeye Salmon for our entree and it was cooked to perfection. The portion was quite large (2 fillets per plate) and the salmon was well-seasoned, but not overly seasoned, as I prefer for blackened dishes. Each entree was beautifully plated with the fish being served over blue corn grits and a red pepper butter sauce. Once again, the dish was visually appealing as well as being satisfying to our taste buds. Our server had suggested a perfect Merlot wine-pairing for this dish and it was spot-on. 

Dessert consisted of a shared plate with small servings of a chocolate and caramel torte, a scoop of chocolate chip mint ice cream and a fruit tartlett. Each one was enjoyable and ended up being a perfect end to a perfect meal.

We had a most pleasant dining experience this particular evening. I am always impressed when you get high quality food, top shelf spirits, innovative dishes, unique flair, and stellar customer service all at one time and in one place. Dining here is certainly not cheap but when all expectations are met, the cost seems justified. 

If you are interested in dining at Abacus, check out their diverse menu on-line. They have a wide variety of menu choices including fresh sushi, lobster shooters, buffalo tenderloin, and black truffle risotto. Monday through Thursday evenings they offer a 5 or 8 course Chef’s Tasting Menu with or without wine pairings. I hope you get to check it out!

Abacus is located in the Knox-Henderson area on McKinney Avenue. Complimentary valet parking is conveniently located out in front of the the restaurant.

Mount Roberts

Juneau, Alaska

 

 

I was so glad that I finally got to check Alaska off my bucket list. We went on an Un-Cruise adventure a few summers ago and it was one of my most favorite travel experiences…ever. We arrived in Juneau a couple of days prior to our cruise and had lots of fun touring the downtown area, riding up Mount Roberts and exploring the Mendenhall Glacier (see earlier blog posts).

 

 

The Mount Roberts Tram near downtown Juneau was built in 1996 and travels 1,800 feet up through the tall trees of the mountainous rain forest. The ride is very smooth and only lasts a few minutes. Each car carries up to 60 passengers but we were the only passengers onboard the afternoon that we booked our trip. The expansive views as you ascend up the mountainside are spectacular!  The main streets of Juneau, the cruise ship docks, Gastineau Channel, the thick evergreens, and eagles sitting in the treetops are just a few of the sights we saw on this clear summer day.

 

 

The tram car docks at the Mountain House and Nature Center, about halfway up the mountain. You quickly disembark and have the opportunity to visit a gift shop, grab a snack, shop in the art gallery, or use the restrooms. We stopped by the Nature Center and saw a couple of live eagles – one named Lady Baltimore (pictured above) is in permanent rehab here due to an almost fatal gun shot wound. There is plenty of educational info detailing the geography, history, wildlife, plants, and the Native Americans of this area. We also found information about the hiking trails and located maps that helped us decide which route would be best for our ability and time allotment.

 

 

Most of the hiking trails were very well-marked and considered a “moderate” level due to slight inclines in certain areas.  The trail we explored took us by wild-life viewing platforms, colorful wildflowers, gorgeous views, and native tree carvings. We walked through mountain meadows, hiked up dirt paths into the forest, and walked single file along trails that hugged the side of the snow-topped mountains. One of our destinations was Father Brown’s Cross, a very scenic stop with amazing views of Juneau below. This cross is a replacement for one placed here in the early 1900’s by a Roman Catholic priest who made Juneau his home.

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Photo op at Father Brown’s Cross overlooking the Gastineau Channel and Juneau docks

Mount Roberts Tram is the most popular tourist attraction in southeast Alaska with over 200,000 visitors each summer. It runs May through September and tickets are $33 per person. In my opinion, it was worth every penny! Don’t miss these spectacular views and gorgeous hiking trails if you have the opportunity to visit Juneau.

 

 

 

Crumbzz

Forney, Texas

This little European-style bistro is located in the heart of historic downtown Forney.  Open since 2011, my girlfriends and I have made several visits to Crumbzz for breakfast and lunch. I recently took my husband David there for brunch and decided it was time to let other foodies know about this little hidden gem.

The interior resembles a little chic, uptown Dallas cafe. There is seating along the Italian marble bar where you may sit and watch the live action in the open kitchen. The front area has several cozy round-topped aluminum tables and comfy leather chairs. The decorative ceiling, slate floors, succulents on the tables, and stage lighting add to the ambiance. The walls are usually lined with nature photographs or colorful paintings by local artists. 

I highly suggest that you not be in a “fast food” frame of mind when you dine at Crumbzz. All of the food is made to order and takes a little time. Order a cup of their delicious custom blend coffee or iced green tea and sit back, relax, and chill for a few minutes. Chef J Stephen Sadler will proudly tell you that every item is fresh, prepared on site and made from the finest natural ingredients. Most of his butter, eggs, dairy products and produce comes from local producers. Many of his spices and flavorings are imported from all over the world.

When David and I dined here for brunch a couple of weeks ago, we started our meal with a delicious, very smooth, vanilla latte (notice the cool asymmetrical coffee cups). Our first order was the Taylor Ham & Egg Sandwich which was delicious. Taylor Ham comes from New Jersey and is similar to the country ham I grew up eating in Mississippi, just not as salty.  The eggs were cooked to perfection and the fresh ciabatta roll and melted Gruyère cheese made this breakfast sandwich a hit.

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Gaufre Liege Waffle with Cinnamon Streusel Butter

Next up was one of my favorites – the Gaufre Liege Waffle. This is not your normal waffle-maker waffle! This is a dense and rich waffle that is made from caramelized brioche-based dough. It is chewy, tasty, and no topping is necessary – but  fortunately, it is served with a cinnamon streusel butter that melts as your spread it on the waffles and elevates this dish even more. Yum!

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Gruyere Egg Souffle

The entree that keeps me and my gal pals coming back to Crumbzz is the Gruyère Egg Soufflé. It takes a little longer to cook, so order this first thing. This soufflé is a light and airy, golden-colored delight. The Gruyère cheese gives it a rich saltiness and parmigiano-reggiano enhances the flavor. The fluffy, cheesy bites literally melt in your mouth. 

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Tomato Basil  Soup & Sandwich

If you are not in the mood for breakfast foods, try one of Crumbzz’s house made soups. The Tomato Basil and the French Onion are standouts. I have also enjoyed their Tuna Salad and Fribourg Grilled Cheese. There are several lunch specials that include soup, half of a sandwich or salad. The menu seems to have something for everyone.

Chef J Stephen, owner and executive chef,  frequently comes out of the kitchen and visits with patrons. He seems to enjoy his customers and is a joy to talk to.  He has made a name for himself and gained notoriety for his crumb cakes. These tasty cakes are made to order and ship nationally and internationally. This crumb cake recipe is a 400-year-old Sadler family recipe! When dining at Crumbzz, there are usually five flavors available each day: cinnamon, raspberry, apricot, chocolate, and a “flavor-of-the-month.” The fresh crumb cakes come in several sizes, so save room for one of the small individual sizes for dessert before you leave. Or better yet, take home one of each flavor to sample!

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Ladies enjoying lunch with Chef J Stephen Sadler

 

 

Chautauqua

Boulder, Colorado

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Chautauqua National Historic Landmark sign at the park entrance

If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself near Boulder, Colorado with some free time, make your way to Chautauqua National Historic Landmark. Located in the shadows of the Flatirons on the southwest side of Boulder, you will find picturesque views, hiking trails, a dining hall, and over 60 lodges or accommodations for overnight stays.

This is a favorite place for locals and visitors alike. There is a Visitor’s Center at the park’s trail head where you can learn about the plants and animals in the area and also pick up a map showing the 151 miles of trails. There seems to be a trail for every level of hiker. Most of the trails start out on the large meadow in front of the Visitor’s Center and go up into the Flatirons. You can hike for 30 minutes or all day. Some trails meander along the base of the mountains through dense forests. Other trails have moderate to steep inclines and wind up well into the Flatirons for breathtaking views. Trail markers are visible all along the way. According to the season, you may see many types of flowers, flowering trees, tall pines, boulders, streams, cacti, birds, chipmunks, deer, and sometimes – black bears.

Chautauqua is where the locals go for their daily exercise. While many “flat-landers” like myself have to stop every few yards to catch their breath in the higher altitudes, locals come running by or hurriedly walk past with one baby strapped on their front and a toddler on their shoulders – moseying along like it takes no effort whatsoever. Really?! Embarrassment on the trail is when a couple, likely to be in their eighties, scamper by at a quick pace and smile at you as you sit on a boulder gasping for air. I do admit, as hard as some of the hikes have been – it has ALWAYS been worth it!

Another thing I love about Colorado and Chautauqua in particular – it is a dog’s paradise. All the trails are dog-friendly and you see all shapes and sizes of canines. All the dogs seem to be smiling, have pep in their steps, and are loving every minute of their life!  We actually parked by a “doggie van” last time we were there that picks up dogs at their homes and then takes the dogs for hikes or runs at Chautauqua. What a great idea for “doggie day out!” This could easily be my dream job….if I was in a little better shape.
Not only humans and canines enjoy hiking up Chautauqua. On one visit, I actually saw a guy coming down from the Flatirons with a big ole yellow tabby cat riding on his shoulders. Yep, it is the truth….only in Colorado.

We have been to Chautauqua during all seasons. In summer, you need to get an early start before the sun beats down on you. In the spring, the wildflowers are glorious and the trees and grass are all shades of green. In the fall, all the trees turn golden yellow, orange or red and the views of Boulder from the mountain are a burst of colors. In the winter, the snow turns the Flatirons into a silent, winter wonderland (and people are still hiking!).

Chautauqua actually became a place of refuge for me several years ago. My son, a CU college student, had spinal surgery and I lived with him in Boulder for several weeks following his surgery. When he was well enough to return to classes, I would drop him off at campus and head directly to Chautauqua. Most times I hiked short distances- other times I sat on rocks and reflected, prayed, read books, or just enjoyed the solace. It became my calming getaway and will always hold a special place in my heart.

I recently came across a travel magazine article on Chautauqua that explained in detail the history of this wonderful place. It seems there is a very strong Texas – Colorado connection. Who knew? In Austin, Texas in 1897 the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua Association began. Its purpose was to conduct a summer school for Texas school teachers. Boulder, Colorado was chosen for the location due to the cooler summer temperatures. A $75 fee covered the 6-week session for each teacher. The tuition included room and board, lectures, entertainment, and round-trip rail fare from anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Ft. Worth. The “continuing ed” for these early teachers included cello, guitar, mandolin, piano, vocals, math, chemistry, botany, physics, psychology, education, English, Latin, Greek, French, German and English Literature. When not in class, the participants enjoyed symphonies, motion pictures, burro rides, horseback rides, hikes, and stagecoach rides. This association was very active for over 30 years before the attendance began to decline. If you go on the property today, you see many of the original buildings from this era. The Dining Hall has many old photos depicting some of the summer sessions – very interesting for history buffs.

For those of you who are wondering, “Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with a few meanings— “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together,” and describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York. This area was the setting for the first educational assembly (Chautauqua Institution) and provided the name for the movement.

I hope you get the chance to visit Chautauqua one day and enjoy it as much as my family does. Go early, dress comfortably, and take plenty of water to drink along the way. Enjoy your hike and then afterwards, have a meal at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Ask to sit out on the veranda and have a great meal while overlooking the park.  Order the “Rachelette” and tell them Southern Savvy sent you!

Sixty Vines

Plano, Texas

I had the opportunity to dine here for a friend’s birthday brunch and we had an amazing time and a delicious meal. How had I not heard about this wonderful place? Sixty Vines is located in Plano off the tollway next to Whiskey Cake. I would describe it as a “casual American / Italian kitchen meets wine bar meets Farm-to-Market.” Now that I have you totally confused, I will try to describe it more accurately!

When I first walked in, I noticed how welcoming the interior was. There are high ceilings, many windows and lots of greenery. It is very spacious, clean and modern and I would describe it as “fun, vibrant and chic”. The entire place (and menu) remind me of  the Northern California wine country and that local cuisine. The decor works perfectly with the wines and style of food they serve. The kitchen, wood-fired oven, and charcuterie bar are all open-viewing.

The centerpiece of Sixty Vines for me was the entire back wall. There is a huge line drawing (made with one line!) depicting the farmers, the grapes, wine making, farm animals, etc. The more you look at it, the more items you see. Underneath the drawing are 60 spigots – each labeled with the 40 wines and 20 beers they serve on tap…hence the name “Sixty Vines.” The slogan on their wine menu is “C’mon, get tappy!” 🙂

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There is quite a variety of seating options. Choose from communal tables, high tops, secluded sectionals, greenhouse, patio, bar or the charcuterie bar to dine in or out. I can imagine dining here on a date, for a business dinner, for a family meal or with a group of ladies enjoying brunch – like we did. I would like to note here, the food is a little “adventurous” and maybe not for the picky eater (leave them home this time)!

My group of ladies started our meal off with Mimosas and Bloody Marys – both were made with wine and tasted quite delicious and refreshing. We enjoyed the Wood Fired Cauliflower, an entire head with pesto, parmesan and a lemon dill yogurt dipping sauce…yum! We had the Roasted Beet Salad with gorgeous red, pink, and golden beets. Next up was the Butcher’s Brunch Pizza with prosciutto, provolone, mozzarella, soppresseta, and over-easy eggs (one of my favorites this day). The Egg White Frittata with goat cheese, mushrooms and spinach was also enjoyable.

Next came the desserts – my favorite part of the meal! The Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes were AMAZING. Words cannot describe how fluffy and delicious they were. (There is no photo because we devoured them so quickly.) The Angel Food French Toast with fresh berries and whipped cream was light and sweet. The Texas Olive Oil Citrus Cake was our birthday girl’s choice and she seemed to enjoy it.  The Sweet Board was another favorite of mine. It had sea-salt shortbread cookies, chocolate ganache, pistachio cookies, brie, walnuts, pear butter, and matcha cake. There was not one bad dish our entire meal – everything, and I do mean “everything” – was eaten in its entirety!

I felt that I would do a disservice to Sixty Vines without trying some of their wine. I had watched other patrons tasting their wine flights and enjoying their wines by the glass, so I gave in finally and ordered a “Vine Hugger” (their house brand) rose’. The glass of rose’ was served at the perfect temperature and was crisp and delicious. I plan to return soon for dinner and give some of those other wines a try. (Only 39 left to sample!)

From beginning to end, we had a wonderful experience at Sixty Vines. The service was very attentive. The quality of the food was perfect. The food selections were plentiful. The ambiance was most enjoyable.

Anyone up for a night out? I know just the place!

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Fun birthday brunch!!!

Cosanti

Scottsdale, Arizona

When an opportunity presents itself to see an art gallery – count me in! On a girl’s trip this past year with my daughter and sister-in-law to Scottsdale, my research kept turning up a place called Cosanti – a Paolo Soleri Studio. This artist’s studio is internationally known for lovely bronze windbells. I had never heard of the place, but I was sold.

Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) was an Italian born architect and craftsman artist who came to Arizona as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. Soleri popularized the term “arcology” – architecture and ecology as one. His Cosanti gallery and studio near Scottsdale is an Arizona Historic Site and a perfect example of his innovative architecture.

As I first entered the studio property, my first thought was – this is very different. It was a unique and imaginative environment with an almost “enchanted” vibe.  Odd shaped domes, columns, arches, pathways, native symbols, etc. give the whole place an other-world feel. Words really cannot describe it – my best analogy is a cross between a giant Smurf’s habitat and Luke Skywalker’s home planet! It is not large, but spacious enough to display hundreds of gorgeous bronze windbells that hang in domes, corners, and alcoves throughout the property.

Not only is Cosanti visually stimulating, but the sound coming from all the windbells is unforgettable. Some bells had deep, base tones – others were light and airy. Some were quite loud, others were very quiet and delicate. All around us, a light breeze stirred the windbells and the sounds were amazing – an unrehearsed, impromptu concert in a very fitting environment. 

On certain days, visitors can actually see the bronze bells being poured in the on-site foundry. Unfortunately, we arrived late one afternoon and did not have the opportunity to see this. Visitors can witness the silicon bronze ingots being melted in the foundry’s furnace and and see the melted bronze poured into reusable bell-shaped molds (each bell-piece was originally designed by Soleri). The Cosanti Hallmark design is then pressed into each bell impression to make it authentic. When cooled and removed from molds, each artist then creates their own personal designs. Each bell is unique – some have an oxidized bronze finish while others  have the greenish, patina finish. Approximately 50,000 of these windbells are hand-poured each year. (Prices ranged from $30 – $7000.)

Since 1956, Soleri windbells have been hung on patios, in courtyards, and gardens throughout the world. I can attest that two of these beautiful bronze windbells now hang on a back porch in Rockwall, Texas. I will never tire of their clear, peaceful notes and will fondly remember my visit to Cosanti Studios.

Check out this gallery if you are ever in the Phoenix or Scottsdale area and have a few minutes. Pick up a nice windbell souvenir for yourself…..or better yet – bring me another!!

Ham Orchards

Terrell, TX

After Mother’s Day rolls around every year, my thoughts turn to driving out to Terrell, Texas to Ham Orchards. Let’s just say I may have a small, peach ice cream addiction – nothing life threatening – just a need to satisfy my sweet tooth with fresh, homemade peach ice cream a few times throughout the summer months. Ham’s is the place for me  to satisfy this craving!

Ham Orchards is located east of Terrell and resembles the country stores of times gone by. One can buy ice cream, fresh produce, jams and jellies, pickles, and BBQ sandwiches. In other words, there is something for everyone. This business started in 1979 and through the years has grown to 5 orchards, 10,000 fruit trees, and covers 100 acres.

When you drive out to Ham’s, you will notice three main buildings on the property surrounded by the orchards and fields. The first is the largest building and is the Farm Market. Behind the market is a small BBQ place and restrooms. Past those buildings is a large covered pavilion that comfortably seats 200 patrons who want to eat their ice cream or BBQ sandwiches in the shade. There is plenty of parking in front of and to the side of these buildings.

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fresh peach ice cream

The Farm Market is where you line up to buy the ice cream. There are two flavors: fresh peach and fresh strawberry. You can buy a cup or cone on-site or buy frozen pints to take home and enjoy later. People drive from all over the Dallas metroplex to rural Terrell for this frozen treat and I certainly understand why!

Take time to grab a cart and shop in the rest of the market. There is a fudge bar with all types of flavors. There is a bakery aisle with homemade scones, fried pies, cakes and fruit pies. Check out the freezer and refrigerated cases for salsas, spreads and dips, and delicious frozen casseroles (chicken pot pie, Mexican beef casserole or chicken spaghetti). There are many shelves filled with cider, honey, salad dressings, pickles, sauces, relishes, jams & jellies, and marinades. I love the Bread & Butter pickles, pickled okra and blackberry jam!

A large portion of the market contains all the locally grown produce. Fresh tomatoes, onions, squashes, cucumbers, melons and berries always seem to be available. Large boards list all the types of peaches and when they will be available.  This past weekend when we were there, “Flavor Rich” was the type of peach that was available. 

As we were leaving Ham’s this last time, we decided to order  BBQ sandwiches to take home with us for dinner. I have heard how much everyone loves the Peach Pulled Pork sandwich, but we opted for the plain BBQ Pulled Pork. (I am not a big fan of “sweet” with “savory!”) The bun was fresh, the pulled pork was tender and delicious and I really liked their tangy BBQ sauce. Very nice!

If you have some free time, drive out to Ham Orchards for some ice cream, fresh produce, and BBQ. Ham’s is open 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (closed on Sundays). They are only open mid-May through mid-August so don’t delay! They are three miles east of Terrell on Hwy 80.

Enjoy!!

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Water Mill, NY

The Hamptons

After watching several television series and movies that featured The Hamptons and Long Island, I was ready to check this area out for myself. After a bit of research, I settled on staying in Water Mill, NY.  This little village is a hamlet of the Town of Southampton and was settled in 1644. It was the perfect location from which to explore East Hampton, Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, Montauk and Sagaponack – all just minutes away.

My first bit of luck was choosing The White Fences Inn. This was a wonderful little Bed and Breakfast with a perfect location. Liz and Eric were most hospitable hosts and their goldendoodle Bailey stole our hearts!  The White Fences Inn was originally built in 1740, and the new owners did a fantastic job renovating and remodeling this historic home. It was cozy, comfortable and had all the latest modern amenities. We were served a delicious three-course breakfast every morning on the back patio (weather permitting) or in the lovely modern dining room. We had a great stay here and especially enjoyed getting to know our hosts and meeting some of the other guests.

Just down the road from The White Fences Inn sat what looked like a most unusual and very long barn. This just happened to be the Parrish Art Museum. Being an art major and having free passes from our B&B, we decided to check it out. This unique building houses a very nice modern art collection. I do admit that the building’s architecture – interior and exterior – was as interesting as the art collection. We enjoyed our morning visit here and saw some very thought-provoking paintings by local artists.

This area of Long Island is very beautiful with its green rolling hills, floral gardens, corn crops, and meticulously planted vineyards. It is very similar to Tuscany and Napa Valley. Who knew that this area of the country was known for winemaking? I certainly did not!

There were several wineries and vineyards in this area, and we visited three of them during our stay. Our favorite was the Wolffer Estate Vineyards down the road from us in Sagaponack. The main Wolffer Estate building was quite elegant – built in a Mediterranean style with lush landscaping and stone terraces. We sat on the back patio terrace on a lovely afternoon and enjoyed a Tuscan board with artisan cheeses, breads, fruits and nuts. We sampled several of their chardonnays, rose’ and red blends. The wines were all delicious and we purchased several bottles to take back home with us. This area of New York is known for their award-winning rose’ wines and now after drinking a few, I can attest as to why!

Another thing that surprised me about this area was the lovely beaches. Our B&B gave us parking passes to the local Flying Point Beach just minutes from where we stayed. Our hosts loaded us up with towels, chairs, umbrella, drinks & snacks and sent us on our way. This beach was gorgeous – fine white sand, sand dunes, sea oats, and more sea birds than people! We had such a quiet, relaxing day here and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was an absolutely perfect day at the beach.

At the end of each day we would go back to The White Fences Inn, clean up, and drive a few minutes into the downtown area of the Village of Southampton for dinner. This neat little town had clothing shops, chic cafes, fancy restaurants, cheese shops, bakeries, delicatessens,  and coffee shops. We had some delicious meals each evening and really enjoyed the local seafood. One night we dined at the Red Bar, a favorite restaurant of the locals, and sat a few tables over from Howard Stern and his wife! You never know who you will see here since so many famous actors, designers, musicians, models, etc. have homes here and live a relatively quiet life. Water Mill, NY is the 14th most expensive zip in the U.S. with the median home price at $2,965,000. I don’t think we will be relocating any time soon.

We had an absolutely wonderful time in The Hamptons and were pleasantly surprised by all there was to see and do.  An earlier blog of mine covered Montauk and the Montauk Lighthouse which is just a few minutes drive from here also.  There were antique shops, old churches, ferries, charter boats, stables, horse shows, pumpkin farms, historical museums, art galleries, sailing, surfing, beaches, etc.  – literally something for everyone. It was a great vacation destination and one that I had not heard much about. After we spent a few days here, we then drove the two hours back into NYC for the second leg of our trip. Great time – great memories! 

 

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Kenny’s Wood Fired Grill

Dallas, TX

This restaurant is one of Dallas’ best kept secrets. It is located in a commercial strip mall next to a Jason’s Deli and you would never guess from the outside what a little jewel this is on the inside.

You walk in the front door into a “chophouse” setting – well-lit bar, dark woods, cozy booths and tables, and low lighting. It is a classy, warm, and relaxed atmosphere. Kenny’s offers a very nice setting without being the least bit stuffy.

There are three things that make Kenny’s one of my favorite places to dine. Number one: when you make reservations, your server promptly addresses you by name…”How are the Brysons this evening?” I was impressed! Number two: you can order anything on the menu in any amount. You want to try just two coconut shrimp appetizers instead of six? You may.  Do you care for only one grilled oyster to taste? Just ask. I love this idea! Number three: When you are halfway through drinking your martini, your waiter comes by and pours the remainder of your drink into a new ice cold glass. Are you impressed yet?

We have dined at Kenny’s for both brunch and dinner and both are equally good. Our very first visit was for dinner. After our waiter discovered that this was our first time to dine at Kenny’s, he brought us two artichoke wontons, two coconut shrimp, and two tenderloin crostini as free appetizers. What a great way to get a customer hooked! Next we were served their fresh popovers with butter. These big warm rolls are certainly not the most attractive things but they are light, airy and delicious. Ask for two!

There have not been any dishes that we did not enjoy at Kenny’s. The Grand Marnier French Toast and Eggs Benedict were both delicious brunch dishes. The Eggs Benedict entree is served with either salmon, steak or a crab cake. For dinner, the French Onion Soup and Wedge Salads were both very good choices for appetizers. The Wood Grilled Oysters were fantastic – smoky and well-seasoned. The Pork Ribs were PERFECT – meaty and fork-tender with a great BBQ sauce. We are not usually huge meat fans, but the large pork chops and thick steaks being served all around us looked quite appetizing. The Brussels Sprouts and Bubbies Potato Cakes were great sides.

This is one of those restaurants that keeps you coming back. The impeccable service, the great food, and the friendly and attentive servers make for a perfect combination. Check it out!

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Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs, CO

Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is a great place to spend part of a day or a full day. You can choose to hike, go rock climbing, bike, ride horseback, or take a leisurely drive (like we did). There are 15 miles of well-marked trails (22 total) throughout the park.

We began at the Visitor & Nature Center and Museum at the park’s entrance. This is a wonderful building with geology, ecology, and cultural history exhibits. (Be sure to read about the 125 million-year-old, one-of-a-kind dinosaur fossil found here in 1886.) There are many hands-on exhibits and activities for adults and children. The visitor’s center also houses a gift shop, restrooms, a cafe, theater, and an information desk where you can pick up a free full-color trail map of the park. Step out of the center onto the observation deck for spectacular views of Garden of the Gods. This is the perfect spot to take a photo of the dramatic 300′ towering sandstone formations with the foothills of the Rockies and Pike’s Peak in the distance.  What a backdrop!

When you leave the visitor’s center, the entrance to the park is across the highway. There is not an entrance fee – the park is free. 

All the roads, trails and parking areas are well-marked and easy to find. Each turn seems to bring a different, amazing sight. All these rock formations were created by a geological upheaval 300 million years ago. The bright red, pink, gray and white rocks are various shapes and sizes – all motionless and silent. Many were tilted vertically and formed into “fin-like” spikes. Others have been toppled, slanted, pushed around, overturned and eroded.  Most of the rocks are sandstone, limestone or conglomerate and each one is a true masterpiece of Mother Nature.

As the road winds through the park, you can stop for photo ops and explore “Balanced Rock,” located right next to “Steamboat Rock.” Cathedral Valley houses the “Three Graces,” “Gray Rock,” “Sleeping Giant,” and “Kissing Camels” to name a few. There are plenty of pull-offs and parking areas throughout the park. We actually stopped at one trail head and hiked a short distance before having lunch at one of the many picnic areas. There are many trails for easy hikes if you want to check out all the natural flora and fauna. There are also more difficult trails for the athletically inclined people who want to do some actual rock climbing. 

We chose to drive the park on our own this particular day. If interested, there are several other options for exploring the park: private car tours, bikes, jeeps, segways, ATV’s, luxury buses, or horseback. The Park Program also offers 45-minute Nature Walks and Nature Talks daily through the Visitor’s Center. Your call!

We truly had a wonderful day here and I will always remember the sight of those gigantic rock formations. The colors, shapes, and prehistoric-looking landscape will be difficult to forget. It reminds me of how powerful this earth can be, how old this planet actually is, and how land is constantly changing. I sincerely hope you have the opportunity to visit Garden of the Gods.

 

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Toulouse Cafe & Bar

Dallas, Texas

If you are anything like me, when you hear the words “French restaurant”…..it conjures up thoughts of snooty waiters, expensive wines, and icky snails floating in a butter sauce. That is what I always thought until I found Toulouse Cafe and Bar in Dallas. Luckily, after dining here I have a whole new appreciation for French cuisine.

Toulouse is a French bistro located in the trendy Knox-Henderson shopping area. There is convenient valet parking located right across the street from the restaurant. Once you enter the main doors, you can choose to sit in the covered patio area or inside in the casual dining room. The patio area is all draped with bright red fabric and was very quiet and relaxing – that is where we chose to dine on this particular evening. The cane-back chairs, the black & white floor tiles, the small table candles and the patrons with their dogs table-side all enhanced the feeling of dining in a cafe in Paris.

Service was really attentive and we felt like we were well taken care of this entire evening. We started with a couple of  featured cocktails – a Chanel No. 6 Champagne Cocktail and a Mint/Cucumber Gimlet. Both were very nice and quite refreshing. We ordered the Cheese Board as an appetizer and it was exceptional. There were four types of imported artisan cheeses, fresh honeycomb, fruit, prunes, candied walnuts and grilled baguette slices. We followed up with French Onion Soup which was one of the best I have ever had. The Gruyère cheese was thick and lightly toasted and the overall taste was delicious – good to the last drop. 🙂

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Short Rib Bourguignon with noodles

We were almost too full to eat more at this point, but decided to keep going….the food was just too good not to! My husband ordered the fish special which was an Alaskan Halibut with Beet Risotto and Brussels Sprouts. The fish was very nice and cooked to perfection. I ordered the Short Rib Bourguignon which was absolutely “mouthwatering” delicious. I am not a huge fan of meat and I honestly ordered this dish for the carrots, onions, mushrooms and wide butter noodles. I was really surprised; the ribs were red wine braised and cooked for hours until fork tender – great taste and great texture. I ate what I could and had the remainder for a really fancy lunch the next day!  

Though being completely full and satisfied at this point in the meal, we had souffles served to us. We had ordered souffles for dessert at the beginning of our meal since they take some time to cook. Who cannot make room for dessert….right?!  The Chocolate Souffle and the Grand Marnier Souffle were both extremely light in texture and in taste, the perfect finale to this excellent meal.

Overall we had a most enjoyable evening with good service, delicious food and drinks, and a nice ambiance. If you would like to dine at Toulouse, they are located at 3314 Knox in Dallas, just a couple of blocks west of Central Expressway. This is a great place for a date night – casual but very nice. Bon Appétit!

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What have you got “to lose?” Get it?!

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The Freedom Trail

Boston, Massachusetts

If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Boston for a day or two, the Freedom Trail is a “must see – must do.” Just follow the red brick line on the sidewalks throughout Boston and you be led on the 2.5 mile tour of 16 American Revolution sites. This is a great outdoor activity perfect for most ages and especially suited for history buffs. Just wear comfortable shoes and plan on spending 2-5 hours walking, exploring, visiting historic sites, and best of all – getting to know the city.

They are several ways to enjoy the Freedom Trail. My suggestion is to do it on your own so that you can spend as much or as little time as you choose at each location. If you get too tired the first day, stop. Pick it up the next day where you left off and do different parts on different days. For the techies, there is a phone app you can download ($4.99) that can be very helpful. There are also paper maps (for us old folks) that you can get from stops throughout the city or from your hotel. The National Park Service has a visitor’s center at Faneuil Hall where they offer tours and give out free maps. There are also several independent tour companies that offer 1-hour guided tours, private tours with a driver, or photowalks. (Photowalks are led by someone helping you capture each historic site in the best light and from the best vantage point.) You will see various tour groups at several of the stops. They are hard to miss since the tour guides are dressed in period costumes, wigs, stockings, shoes, tricorn hats, etc. 

My husband and I have always preferred walking the trail on our own. That way, we can stop for a lobster roll, a bowl of clam chowder, and maybe even a pastachio cannoli  – whenever the mood strikes! The trail takes you by some fabulous places to eat or stop for a “spot o’ tea”, a cup of coffee, or a cold brew. We actually had lunch with Benjamin Franklin one day! How many people do you know that can say that?

Most of the Freedom Trail guides will start you at Boston Common – America’s oldest public park and in front of the gold-domed Massachusetts State House. It will end at the Bunker Hill Monument. You see famous sites, old buildings, interesting people, the North End (Little Italy), the financial area, markets, eateries, churches and graveyards. Some of the streets are very quaint and narrow since they were first made in the 1600’s for horses, carriages and wagons – not the heavy city traffic we all know today. All of the historic sights are very well conserved and attended. Thirteen of the sixteen stops are free, and three require a small admission fee (Paul Revere’s House, the Old South meeting House and Old State House).

If you only have one day, be sure to see the Old North Church, the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s House, Faneuil Hall,  and Granary Burial Ground. The last time we stayed in Boston, our hotel was right across the street from the Granary Burial Grounds. This cemetery is one of my favorite places in Boston. It dates back to 1660 and houses the remains of Samuel Adams, victims of the Boston Massacre,  Peter Faneuil, Mary “Mother” Goose, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. If you remember your history lessons, only 5 civilians were killed in the Boston “Massacre.” The Revolutionists’ great PR team made it seem a much more tragic event to play up the role of the evil, murdering British. 

There is a small pub across the street from Granary Burial Grounds. We were told by our Duck Tour guide that “this is the only place in Boston where you can drink a cold Samuel Adams while looking out over a cold, dead Samuel Adams.” Tasteless – but still kind of funny!

There is SO much history in Boston. Take it all in. It makes you proud of those early Americans who rose up against a mighty nation and demanded their rights and civil liberties. Walking the Freedom Trail puts it all in perspective – at least it did for me. It is hard to stand on the hill in the North End and look up at the tall steeple of the Old North Church and not think about Paul Revere and his midnight ride….”one if by land, two if by sea.” When you walk the Freedom Trail, you are truly walking in the footsteps of our forefathers. Walk tall and walk proud….and please do not forget that cannoli!

 

 

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Dalrock Diner

Rowlett, TX

This is a nice little diner located near the intersection of Highway 66 and Dalrock Road in Rowlett, Texas. It feels like you step back in time when you enter through the front door. This old-school diner has the black & white checkered floor and red & white booths that take you back to the 1950’s. Everything is very clean, neat and intimate.

I have dined here several times now and have really enjoyed it each time. Dalrock Diner serves American homestyle breakfast, lunch and dinner. The surprise for me was the Greek influences throughout the menu.

The menu is quite varied – with breakfast foods, sandwiches, salads, and “down home” foods. Breakfast choices include Tex Mex migas, omelets, pancakes, fried chicken & waffles, breakfast skillets, and a gyro breakfast. Their burgers and sandwiches are all delicious and come with French fries. (The Yankee Ruben is my favorite!) They also have a few seafood and cajun options, which are very good. The Greek salad (with gyro, grilled chicken or grilled shrimp), the gyro sandwich and chicken souvlaki are especially tasty and a welcome change when in the mood for something different. The meat is very tender and perfectly seasoned. This diner also serves the usual comfort foods – chicken fried steaks, chili, smothered steaks, fried chicken, and a variety of homemade country vegetables and sides. The food is served in a timely manner and is always piping hot. All the meals have nice-sized portions and are very reasonably priced.

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Chicken Souvlaki

Each time we have dined here, the service has been very attentive. The servers are very personable, helpful, and are on hand to refill your drinks and check on you. The owner is present most days and personally greets patrons and visits with regulars. Dalrock Diner is definitely a little neighborhood gem and is perfect for dining solo, couples, or families.

Be sure to check out the glass display up front when you enter or when you pay your check. It is filled with all types of delicious house-made pies and cakes. Have a slice for dessert or buy a whole one to take home. 

Dalrock Diner is simply good food at good prices – nothing fancy – no more, no less. Check it out.

 

Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau, Alaska

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Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

 David and I had the opportunity to go on a small Alaskan cruise (Un-Cruise) two summers ago and this trip remains one of my all-time favorite vacations. We flew into Juneau a couple of days early to do some exploring before setting off on our adventure cruise. One of the excursions we took while staying in Juneau was to the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier. 

On a gorgeous morning at the end of May, we loaded up on a city bus and rode the 12 miles from downtown Juneau to the nearest bus stop for the Mendenhall Glacier. From the bus stop, we walked approximately one mile to the entrance to the park. This was a very easy walk and we enjoyed it. We saw beaver dams, thick alpine forests, mossy boulders, and scenic views all along the way leading up to the glacier. The weather was perfect.

We soon  arrived at the entrance of the U.S. Forest Service’s historic Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. There is an upper entrance with a ramp and lower entrance with elevators. The views from here were stunning! There are many viewpoints on the outside of the center where you can observe the marvelous river of ice, the alpine ridges, Mendenhall Lake and floating icebergs – all in the distance. 

The Visitor Center was very nice and was well worth a visit. There is an educational movie every 20 minutes (very informative), exhibits, rangers, maps, and a bookstore. One of my favorite exhibits contained photos of the glacier and its progression/recession throughout the years. There is also a glacier bear (taxidermy) which was very unique with its pale blue/silver color – most unusual. Mother Nature adapted this color change to camouflage these brown bears who live on the ice. Very interesting.

We looked at the area maps and picked a couple of trails to explore. We chose Trail of Time and Nugget Falls Trail – both of these trails were easy to walk, took us through a segment of the forest and meandered along the lake. We followed the trails through moss & lichens, skunk cabbage, blueberry & salmonberry bushes and beautiful flowering plants. Our goal was to end up at the base of Nugget Falls. 

After walking a half-mile or so, we started hearing the roar of the falls in the distance and were anxiously anticipating seeing it “up close and personal”. We soon did!

The sight of Nugget Falls cascading down the mountainside near the glacier was breathtaking. The sound was immense! We were dwarfed in comparison to the size, scope and power of these falls (see photo below). We approached the falls, got covered in the cool spray and took lots of photos. As we walked along the rocky beach – we had even better views of the glacier, ice caves, and small icebergs floating in the lake all around us. This was one of those special “pinch me” moments!

We took our time and explored the beach here for awhile. The weather and the scenery were both perfect and we knew we needed to treasure this moment and imprint these sights & sounds in our memory. We collected some small glacial rocks. We pulled icebergs (“bergies”) out of the water and played with them. We watched a group of canoers paddling out to the glacier. We watched small areas of the huge glacier “calving” and releasing more small broken chunks of ice into the clear blue, icy waters. We spotted turquoise blue ice caves at the glacier’s edge. This was Mother Nature at her best.

Experts tell us that by the end of the century, the Mendenhall Glacier will no longer be visible from the current Visitor’s Center. This 13 mile long glacier is melting at a rapid rate due to global warming. Decades ago, there was not even a Mendenhall Lake – this lake was formed due to the glacier ice melting and receding. I highly suggest that if this is something you would like to see, go sooner rather than later! You can visit on your own as we did – or book a guided solo trek,  a helitour, a guided walk or a canoe tour. It is truly a fantastic place to experience first hand. Photos and words cannot do it justice. See it for yourself!

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Sassi

Scottsdale, AZ

Sometimes you manage to stumble across perfection without any effort. That is exactly what happened to me on a girls’ trip with my daughter and sister-in-law a couple of weeks ago when we visited Scottsdale. A friend has texted me the name of this restaurant and bragged on the beautiful views. I checked reviews on Trip Advisor – all were fantastic, so I made reservations. Why not?

Sassi is located in North Scottsdale in the Troon area. It was just a 20 minute drive from our hotel near Old Town. The building is beautiful and you feel like you have arrived in Tuscany when you drive into the parking lot. The sunset was breathtaking and I wish we had arrived a few minutes earlier to see Pinnacle Peak and the beautiful backdrop it provided. Everyone highly suggested having drinks on the patio but it was closed this particular evening due to cool winds and inclement weather. I bet it is a sight to behold. The sunset photos I included in this article were actually taken by me from the parking lot before we went inside the restaurant.

The interior of the building is traditional Italian. We were told by the friendly hostesses that it was modeled after an Italian farmhouse – a very nice one, for sure! We were greeted warmly and seated in a lovely room with a large-topped corner table and a roaring fireplace on one end of the room. The lighting was low and the ambiance was quiet and serene. Our server Maureen was wonderful! She walked us through the specials, drink lists, and menu items. The menu is set up for an authentic Italian meal with several courses. We had eaten a late lunch and were not terribly hungry at this point, so she helped us with items to share to get a true taste of their foods. It was a perfect suggestion.

First of all, the wines were amazing! (see my smile and rosy cheeks?!) We were soon served warm mixed nuts and fresh baked Italian bread. Both were delicious. We shared two appetizers: a caprese salad and a prosciutto plate. The caprese salad consisted of lovely heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, and a ball of Buffalo mozzarella flown in that day from Italy. The prosciutto was thin, lean, flavorful and very close to what you get in Italy. It was served with halved red grapes that were seasoned with orange, olive oil, salt and pepper and were a most delicious accompaniment to the salty meat. Loved it all.

My sister-in-law ordered the grilled octopus with microgreens and olives and I must say, it was very tasty. I am not an octopus fan (mind over matter), but this was very tender, smoky and well-seasoned. My daughter and I actually split a pasta dish, Sassi’s Orecchiette. It had small cup-like orecchiette pasta shells, housemade sweet/spicy Italian sausage, broccolini and pecorino. It was FABULOUS!  For dessert, we had the most wonderful cappuccinos, almond biscotti, and a butter pear cake.

The company, the views, the ambiance, the excellent service, and the impeccable food was sheer PERFECTION.  We had a truly amazing night.

One of the best parts of the evening was when my daughter stopped stressing over the food to serve at her wedding this summer and decided this was it….Italian it is! Sassi is now her menu blueprint and this proud Momma could not be any happier.

This is a first for me in my blog, but I am including the wonderful recipe for the pasta we enjoyed so much. Try it….you will not be disappointed.

 

recipe

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Sonoran Desert Tour

Scottsdale, AZ

I just returned from a wonderful four-day weekend to Scottsdale, Arizona and the highlight of my trip was an ATV tour of the desert. After doing a bit of research before I went, I chose a tour close to Scottsdale where the company actually picked us up from our hotel in a very nice Mercedes van.

There were plenty of independent tours to choose from. Some used dune buggies, four-wheelers, three-wheelers, jeeps, hummers, segways and even hot air balloons. This Green Zebra tour I picked was 2.5 hours long, with only  a 30 minute drive from our hotel to the starting point, and provided us with water and a colorful bandana. It sounded like the perfect plan for us. A morning tour of the desert left us with plenty of time for a late lunch and shopping in the afternoon!

We dressed in closed-toe shoes and grubby clothes, grabbed our sunglasses and hats, and were ready to roll. Our driver/guide Mike picked us up from our hotel and we drove through Scottsdale towards Fort McDowell. Mike explained many of the sights along the way. Our starting point for the tour was actually on tribal land belonging to the Yavapi Indians. We pulled into the main facility (which reminded me a little of the Alamo!) and unloaded. We used the restrooms, donned our bandanas, and listened intently as Mike gave us our instructions for the trail.

The TomCar ATVs were gas powered, military grade and did not have power steering or power brakes. There were two-seaters and four-seaters. We elected my daughter Rachel to drive our four-seater with me in the back and my sister-in-law in the front passenger seat. Luckily, the TomCars did had “over-the-shoulder” harness type seat belts (to keep you from bouncing out) and windshields (to keep a large percentage of red dirt and dust out of your face!). The main rules were to stay on the trail behind the guide and to stay 1-2 car lengths behind the car in front of you. We had this!!

The scenery along the way was gorgeous! The Sonoran Desert has heavy rainfall in the summer and winter and it was more lush than I had imagined. It was rugged but very beautiful. Our TomCars drove through brush, climbed rocky hillsides, and bumped along through dry rocky riverbeds and canyons that showed evidence of flash floods during the rainy season. Our excursion took us from rushes of adrenaline to quiet peacefulness in this remote landscape.

Our first stop was a high overlook at the Verde River. We actually talked to an Arizona Fish & Wildlife employee who had set up cameras at this location to study nesting bald eagles in the large trees down below. The scenery here from this high vista was amazing. We saw Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, and Phoenix in the distance. We could see how the Verde River split the tribal lands down the middle. Mike pointed out the Yavapi’s reservation housing and their expansive acreage. The Native Americans farm citrus groves, pecan groves, alfalfa, and other grains for their vast livestock. When investors wanted to dam the Verde River miles upstream decades ago to create luxury waterfront real estate, the presence of bald eagles here (then on the endangered species list) kept this from happening and the Yavapi kept their lands fertile with this water source. They are presently a very wealthy and prosperous tribe.

Our next adventure took us through dense mesquite groves, where we saw recent evidence of a herd of wild horses. The trail ended at a low spot by the Verde River, so we stopped and got out for a water break. Mike then explained all about the mesquite trees and how important they were to the Native Americans. The wood was used for firewood and smoking meats. The flowers and pods were edible. The “peas/beans” were a source of protein in lean months and could be dried and ground into flour. The sap was used as a hair product. These mesquite trees are much larger than the scrubby ones we see in Texas.

Our third and final scheduled stop was to check out the cacti near the trail. This huge saguaro we examined was over 200 years old. Mike also pointed out many other plant and cacti species that thrive in this desert climate. He talked about the geology, history, and wildlife in this area – it was very interesting. He also had a killer John Wayne impression! We then found several kangaroo rat burrows, but unfortunately – no rats. They were wise and stayed hidden from us (as did the rattlesnakes). Mike told us these desert rodents live their entire lives and never drink water (they get moisture from the seeds and vegetation they eat) and instead of urinating liquid, they excrete a small drop of yellow paste. So being the mature adults we are….we then spent the next five minutes looking for mustard colored kangaroo rat droppings, but never found any.

This was a such a fun and educational experience! My sister-in-law Linda is not the most adventurous type – but even she enjoyed the tour and got out of her comfort zone a little (okay… a LOT!). My daughter was completely in her element with this excursion and loved driving our TomCar. We were covered in dirt from head to toe when we finished and our clothes were a dusty mess. It took a couple of showers and many kleenex and Q-tips to erase all the “evidence” of this adventure – but it was well worth it! We made wonderful memories on this morning and I hope you have the opportunity to do the same one day.

If you would like, please leave me comments or additional information relating to this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts on this trip and your own experiences. I highly enjoyed this brief trip to Scottsdale and urge anyone to visit – especially if you enjoy excursions like this. Please subscribe to my blog for more travel and dining updates. Thanks!

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the beautiful Sonoran Desert on a warm, cloudy morning

Mercat Bistro

Dallas, Texas

Mercat Bistro is located in Uptown Dallas but feels like you are dining at a little sidewalk cafe in Paris, France. It is tucked into a little building off Harwood and is located on the corner next to St. Anne’s Cafe. This small eatery serves contemporary French and American cuisine and is now one of my favorite brunch places. It is an intimate venue that is perfect for couples, friends or family. The noise level is energetic and the service has been very attentive when I have dined here.

The main dining room is quite small with very cozy marble-topped tables. The artsy, hand-lettered menu is located over the bar. The decor is European modern with touches of antiques and recycled items throughout…I feel safe calling it “French Charm.” There is an outside covered patio that truly looks as if it is steps away from the Metro in Paris. The metal scrollwork and open air dining is very indicative of an authentic French cafe. There is a beautiful view of Uptown from the patio as you overlook a spacious lawn, shady trees, fountains, strings of lights, etc.

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delicious Peche Mignons

The cocktails at Mercat Bistro are magnifique! You can order delicious Mimosas by the carafe. On my first visit, I enjoyed the Santa Rosa – a very refreshing cocktail made with St. Germaine and champagne. The “star” for me was the Peche Mignon (pictured above). Champagne was poured over a frozen fruit ball made of muddled berries, orange juice, pineapple, peaches, and Creme de Violette Liqueur. It was light and delicious and as the fruit melted – it sweetened the dry champagne. Be sure to ask for a spoon to eat the remaining ice ball when your glass is empty….it was yummy!

The menu had a nice selection of pastries, salads, sandwiches, wraps, egg dishes, crepes, quiches and desserts. Their Ricotta & Honeycomb dish was my favorite appetizer. It consisted of creamy ricotta cheese, a fresh honey-filled honeycomb and crostinis. My only complaint was that I wanted more! The Green Chile Crepe was also impressive. It was a thin crepe filled with scrambled eggs, green chiles, cheddar cheese and herbs with a creamy mornay sauce and was served with roasted fingerling potatoes on the side. The Strawberry & Mascarpone Crepe was so light and delicate that it literally melted in my mouth. One word -DELICIOUS!

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Strawberry Mascarpone Crepe

For those of you looking for a cool new brunch place to try and would like to experience a little piece of Paris, put Mercat Bistro on your list. Portions were on the smaller side but the quality was top notch…I guess this just gives you an excuse to order more! 

Valet parking was available in front of the restaurant and across the street. I am looking forward to returning and trying out lunch and dinner. They have a wonderful dinner menu and also feature live music a couple of nights. I hope to see you there. Au revoir!

 

One World Observatory

New York City, NY

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If you have the opportunity to visit New York City in the future, be sure to put One World Observatory on your “must see” list. 

The building itself is a breathtaking site as it rises 1776 feet up from street level. The One World Observatory is located on floors 100-102 of this beautiful new One World Trade Center Building. On a sunny day with blue skies, this reflective building is even more impressive. It proudly claims the title of the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building.

I was recovering from knee surgery when we visited NYC this past summer, so we booked our visit online and paid extra for the VIP “Skip the Line” Expedited Entry tickets. These upgraded tickets were a god send! Instead of standing and sweating outside for hours with hundreds of others, we bypassed all the general admission ticket lines and were ushered right in. We entered through the front doors, cleared security and walked directly to the elevators. We were inside the Observatory in less than 5 minutes. The VIP tickets were a little costly but they were worth every penny to me.

The 60-second ride in the elevator to the 100th floor was very smooth. The elevator walls were LED screens that illustrated 500 years of NYC’s past history as we ascended to the top floors. When the elevator stopped, we stepped out and saw the skylines and city scenes that awaited us. (Near the elevators, you can rent iPads that actually label the sights you are viewing.) The Main Observatory had outstanding panoramic views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and all surrounding areas. On a clear day like we had, we could see 50 miles out in every direction. Fantastic!

In the center of one area was the Sky Portal. This is a large glass disc that you can walk across or stand on. It shows the actual street 100 floors below you and was a little scary for me. I did not care for standing on glass and seeing people, cars and taxis moving below me in real time…..a little unsettling, to say the least.

 As we walked around the circular site, all the area views were spectacular from this vantage point. We saw something different in every direction. We spotted the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, the NYC bridges, the rivers, barges & boats, Time Square, the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Chrysler Building and the 9/11 Memorial next door – just to name a few. It was a very neat experience and something I will never forget. 

The observatory itself was quite open and spacious and there was plenty of room for everyone to get great views. The elevator rides are conveniently timed to keep crowds evenly dispersed. We never felt crowded or unable to see what we wanted. There were restrooms, restaurants, a gift shop, and various speakers scattered throughout the 360 degree site. You choose to spend as little or as much time here as you prefer.

When you decide to leave this building, you are merely steps away from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It was somewhat mentally difficult and quite emotional for me at times being in this building on this very sight. More than once, I stood and gazed out at the horizon looking for airplanes and imagining that horrific day that will forever be locked in my memory.

This sight has so many memories for all of us and I think NYC has done a tremendous job with the One World Observatory. Please visit if you have the chance – it is very worthwhile. If you have visited, please leave your comments below. I would love to hear of your experiences.

Rest in peace, all those unfortunate souls who lost their lives here on 9/11. Your spirits live on.

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Ida Claire

Addison, Texas

When I first heard of this restaurant called “Ida Claire,” I knew instantly that this was for me! While growing up in Mississippi, I know I heard my grandmother exclaim, “Well, I declare!” hundreds – if not thousands – of times throughout her life. With this phrase meaning “I am surprised to hear that” or “my goodness!”, those words brought back memories.  This was definitely a restaurant calling me back well south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Ida Claire is located in Addison off Beltline Road and the Tollway. The building itself is the warehouse style that is quite popular now. The interior is very open and welcoming. The noise level is energetic. The design and upcycled decor can be described as quirky and/or funky. There are beautiful hanging lamps, bird cages, decorative plates, blackboard signs, open books nailed to the wall, an Elvis bust and Buddha statues. Right outside the front door is an Airstream trailer used as a cozy “hippie-esque” dining space. There is also a well-lit outdoor dining area with tables and umbrellas. It is quite eclectic and very appealing.

The two times we dined here the service has been really impressive. We had brunch the first visit and dinner the second time. The cocktails were very enjoyable. The Bloody Mary, Pear-fect Martini, Margarita Julep and Hurricane Punch were all cold, strong, and delicious. For appetizers, we sampled Ida’s Biscuits (with butter & jam and bacon gravy), Fried Green Tomatoes (with lemon herb dipping sauce) and the Low Country Chopped Salad (fresh butter lettuce, okra, pickled peppers, boiled egg, bacon and a honey mustard dressing). All were delicious, but this Southerner will readily return for the fried green tomatoes – perfection!

We enjoyed sharing the Coffee Crumble Pancakes for brunch and did not leave one single bite. These pancakes were light & fluffy with a blueberry & cardamom topping, maple flavored butter, whipped cream and toffee crumbles. Delicious! The Muffuletta with sweet potato chips was very good. The Wild Isles Sea Trout was very similar to salmon and was served with yellow and red roasted beets. The Nashville Hot Fried Chicken was my favorite entree. The chicken was moist and very flavorful (think Buffalo style) and was served with pimento cheese toast, pickled cucumbers and onions. The smaller brunch portion was also served with a crunchy okra salad. The chicken was quite spicy…..thankfully I had plenty of ice cold rum punch to cool my mouth off. 🙂

For dessert we ordered Ida Claire’s special Vice Cake. Wow! It consisted of a huge slice of stout cake, layers of coffee buttercream icing, and chocolate ganache topping. It was decorated with a piece of candied bacon (yep….I ate that too!).

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Vice Cake

If you are looking for a new place to have brunch or dinner, I hope you will try Ida Claire’s. They do have a bit of a limited menu, but what we have tried so far has been delicious. The restaurant also serves burgers, shrimp & grits, sandwiches, turkey & biscuits, crawfish beignets, etc. They have definitely taken Southern food, updated it and added a twist. I think there is more of a Louisiana feel to their dishes – rather than just pure ole “Deep South” cuisine.

Both of our dining experiences here were quite enjoyable. More fried green tomatoes and okra, anyone?

If you have eaten at Ida Claire’s, please share your experiences in the comment section. I would love to hear from you! If you enjoy reading my dining and travel blogs, please subscribe in the upper right hand corner.  Thanks.

 

Amelia Island, Florida

 

A few years (and several hairstyles ago!) David and I took a great little summer vacation to Amelia Island, Florida. I had not heard much about Amelia Island prior to our trip but wanted to get away from the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys since we had already visited these areas. We wanted something new and different this time. So we flew into Jacksonville, rented a car, and began our adventure.

Amelia Island is an Atlantic coast barrier island on the northeastern corner of Florida, very close to the southeastern Georgia border. It is the perfect place for anyone wanting luxury resorts, golf courses, sandy beaches, shell collecting and small crowds. It is also very rich in history and has been under Spanish, French and British rule at one time or another.

We stayed at the wonderful Elizabeth Pointe Lodge located right on the beach. Our room was perfect and we kept the windows open every night and enjoyed the calming sounds of the ocean. The owners David and Susan (coincidence, right?!) had a wonderful staff and we had 24/7 room service available. We enjoyed  fantastic breakfast buffets every morning and a Happy Hour every evening with wines, cheese & fruit trays, and heavy appetizers. Drinks and snacks were always available throughout the day. The owners and manager were always available for a chat, to give suggestions for restaurants or activities, or to book reservations for dining or excursions. One of the best things about Elizabeth Pointe Lodge (besides being adults only) was the gorgeous private beach and the complimentary chairs and umbrellas – all just steps away from our room. You gotta love a hassle-free vacation!

The drive into town from the lodge only took a few minutes and there were so many things to see on the way. We actually began our first day at the Amelia Island Museum to understand more about this area and the history. We explored Fernandina Beach’s historic district and found neat little artisan shops, boutiques, and bistros. We drove to the Amelia Island Light which is the oldest existing lighthouse in the state of Florida (built in 1838). David and I noticed there were no chain restaurants and we enjoyed trying several of the small local eateries – many that served fresh seafood that came off fishing boats from the harbor that very day. We had some wonderful food!

We dined on fresh seafood at Brett’s Waterway Cafe (at the main harbor) where you board the fishing boats or sightseeing cruises. Manatees were spotted here regularly, but we were not lucky enough to see one this day. We had a wonderful lunch at Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro another day after shopping in some of the little downtown shops. One of my favorite meals was a dinner at Espana Restaurant & Tapas where we sat at the bar and drank some fruity sangria and ate some very unusual and wonderful seafood-inspired tapas. We ate fresh crab cakes another night at Lulu’s, a New Orleans inspired restaurant located in a cozy old coach house. On our final night, we dined at David’s Restaurant (yet another David!) and had some of the best cucumber and basil martinis ever. They served a fantastic baked brie with homemade bread (in a little wooden chest) with pesto and oil & vinegar for dipping….Yummy! Every meal we ate was fresh, delicious, reasonably priced and was indicative of the local fare.

We booked two excursions while on Amelia Island and they became the highlights of our trip. The first was a boat ride on Amelia Cruises with Captain Pajama Dave. This Capt. Dave was exactly what his name promised! He was a big ole red-bearded guy who wore funny printed pajama bottoms and had an over-the-top personality to match. He told jokes, stories, and was the perfect source of information regarding the history, sights, and wildlife in this area. We sailed from the harbor at Amelia Island up the Cumberland River and off the coast of Georgia to the beautiful Cumberland Island.

We saw the house where Pippi Longstocking was filmed. We sailed past Fort Clinch and had a great view of this well-preserved Civil War fort, complete with a sea wall and cannons. We sailed west of Cumberland Island and saw dolphins, sea birds, and wild horses on shore. We glimpsed the historic Greyfield Inn, mansions, campsites, and the place where John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette had their secluded wedding next to a pig farm. It was a most interesting and very enjoyable day with smooth sailing the entire way.

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Fort Clinch, the old Civil War fort

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a herd of wild horses on Cumberland Island

The second excursion that we enjoyed was a segway tour. Ecomotion Segway Tours of Jacksonville had a wonderful tour of Ft. George Island and Kingsley Plantation that turned out to be such a fun day and a unique way to explore the island off the beaten path. We joined a couple of other families and had a group segway lesson learning how to operate, steer, and stop our vehicles on a practice field with traffic cones. (I almost flunked out and got placed at the back of the line with someone to watch over me!) Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have issues with balance. Unfortunately for me, riding a segway is all about balance and I am lucky that I did not end up in the ocean, a swamp or a ditch! When all was said and done – I must say that I did quite well. 🙂

These segways were specialized vehicles with huge all-terrain tires that certainly came in handy later when we traversed the roots, logs, rocks, sandy hills, and “jungle” type trails we explored.  We wore ear pieces under our helmets and our leader was miked to communicate with us. He was most informative and relayed interesting facts about the area and the history of the island as we rode along. He also pointed out local plants and wildlife we came across on the trail. We rode single file through dense forests and dodged Spanish moss hanging from branches. We saw tortoises, butterflies, gorgeous flowers, sea birds and spiders. We came across a baby tortoise crossing our trail. We stopped and watched a gopher tortoise furiously burrowing into the sand. We ventured to Kingsley Plantation where we rode past the slave quarters, each formed by hand and decorated with sea shells. We took a break off the segways to explore the plantation house, the surrounding buildings, barn, gardens, and the waterfront where porpoises were playing close to shore. I highly suggest this tour for anyone, any age. It was a remarkable experience and I am still alive to tell about it! Yay!!

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Kingsley Plantation house

Nearing the end of our trip, we explored some of the luxury resorts on the island. We had drinks at the Ritz and booked a massage at the Amelia Island Plantation. The resort hotels and golf courses here were gorgeous and covered lots of prime real estate. All the resorts had private beach property, large pools, playgrounds, bars & restaurants, etc. and were more family oriented. The landscaping and lush floral plant life in this resort area was a sight to behold and everything was meticulously cared for. It was all very beautiful and very expensive!

We spent most mornings in the ocean, had a late lunch in town, then spent the afternoons exploring. The sunsets were beautiful and we spent several evening on the beach (photos below). There was so much to do and I am certain we only scratched the surface of all this area had to offer. You could do as little or as much as you want to do here and have a great time.

This was a most enjoyable trip and I highly recommend visiting Amelia Island for anyone who enjoys the beach, ocean views, quaint restaurants & shops, and a bit of history. We could have found much more to do and more places to explore if we had had more time. We just may have to go back one day…..

 Please feel free to leave comments and let me know of your experiences if you have been to Amelia Island or if you would like to visit. Happy travels!

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Dushanbe Teahouse

Boulder, Colorado

Boulder is now one of my favorite cities! You drive through the town and see mountains in one direction and modern buildings in another. There are trendy restaurants, open shopping areas, parks, creeks, evergreen trees, and sculptures scattered in between. It is a sensory overload for me. Love it!

One building that stands out from all others is the elaborate Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. Photos do not do it justice. It is an artistic structure designed in bright blues, yellows, greens, reds, golds, etc. and the more you gaze at the details – the more you see. No two panels or cedar columns are alike. The entire place is handcrafted, carved, and painted with beautiful intricate patterns that are traditional in Persian Art.

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handcrafted ceiling & cedar columns

Dushanbe is the capital of Tajikistan and this teahouse was actually constructed there and sent as a gift to Boulder, their “sister city.” It was completely built by hand without the use of any power tools whatsoever. It was finished, disassembled, crated up and sent to Boulder to be rebuilt. The teahouse stands today as a symbol of friendship and to remind the citizens of Boulder to value cultural diversity, global cooperation and international friendship. 

Besides just being a gorgeous building, Dushanbe Teahouse is one of my absolute favorite places to eat when visiting Boulder. I have never found iced chai tea anywhere that can compare to the spicy deliciousness of the ones served here. I have had the privilege of dining here for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner and have sampled many of their tasty and somewhat unusual dishes.

You can choose to be seated indoors and enjoy the building’s architecture and beautiful plants and fountains. You can also choose to be seated outside under flowering trellises or canopies and enjoy the outdoor sights. The teahouse is a work of art to enjoy either way.

The menu is very diverse! Try Kookoo Sabzi (a Persian omelette with baba ghanoush and rice), a Honduran Beleada (tortilla, black beans, eggs, cheese, and avocado), Chickpea Kufteh (chickpea croquettes with Persian tomato sauce, greens and pomegranate) or maybe delicious Indian Samosas (with  spicy potatoes and peas). 

For the more traditional diners – try the Hummus, Whole Wheat Chai Pancakes, Russian Beet Salad, or American Breakfast (complete with a homemade pop tart). There is also a wide variety of sandwiches, salads, and pastas on the menu but I am always game to try something new and different. The desserts have always been especially good with my favorites being their Tangerine Tea Gingerbread and Mexican Chocolate Cake (which packs quite a chili pepper punch!). 

Their drink menu is extensive with wines and cocktails but I keep going back for the chai tea…..it is just too delicious to pass up. If you want something different, try one of their Blooming Teas – where a flowery dried tea ball is actually dropped into your clear glass of hot water and the artisan tea literally “blooms” as it steeps. It is quite an unusual drink, to say the least. 

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blooming tea

One of my favorite trips to Dushanbe Teahouse was last October when the Boulder Farmer’s Market was being held on a gorgeous Saturday morning. The whole area in front of and around Dushanbe is filled with booths and stalls selling various products: plants, flowers, granola, fruits & vegetables, soaps, jams & jellies, honey, goat cheese, breads, artisan crafts, T-shirts, etc. It is truly a sight to behold! My morning was filled with sights, sounds, scents and tastes from this wonderful market. What a fantastic and memorable way to spend an autumn day in Boulder – a stroll through the Farmer’s Market and then brunch at Dushanbe with good friends and family. Life doesn’t get much better.

I also learned a very valuable chemistry lesson once while dining at Dushanbe Teahouse. While enjoying a wonderful brunch here and dining on French Toast stuffed with Orange Cream (fantastic dish!), I decided to stir a little pack of sugar into my mimosa for added sweetness. What came bubbling out of that champagne flute looked like a third grade volcano science project! Warning: NEVER add sugar to champagne and then stir. Lesson learned.

If you ever have the pleasure to visit Boulder, please make it a priority to visit Dushanbe Teahouse. I do not think you will be disappointed. And if you have visited before, please leave your comments on this blog page. I would enjoy hearing about other’s experiences. 

I hope you enjoyed this article. If so, please subscribe to this blog and read more of my dining and travel experiences. Thanks!

Montauk, New York

This past summer I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City for the first time.  I knew from past trips to NYC what a crazy, hectic, crowded, hot, horn-blaring experience the “city that never sleeps” really is and wanted to add a some relaxing days to this trip to maintain my sanity!  I had enjoyed several television shows and movies that filmed in or around Montauk and decided this was my destination. We would be in the vicinity……so why not?

My husband and I flew from Dallas to La Guardia and rented a car. The trip from the airport to our wonderful little bed & breakfast in The Hamptons was a 90 minute drive. The roadways and traffic were not bad at all and I decided our 2:00 p.m. arrival time had been a good choice. 

We actually stayed east of Southampton in the little village of Water Mill, NY and drove to Montauk (30 minutes away) on a beautiful weekday morning. Montauk is actually 110 miles from NYC and on the very east end of Long Island (and the two places could not be more different!). Due to its location, nicknames such as “The Living End” and “The Last Resort” make perfect sense.

The scenic drive to Montauk took us through Sagaponack, Wainscott, East Hampton, Amagansett and Bridgehampton. We passed lovely little towns, vineyards, cornfields, antique stores, watermills, plant nurseries, historic sites, riding stables, coffee shops and trendy little restaurants. We drove past church sites, cemeteries, and villages that had been around since the 1600’s. As we got further out on Long Island, it became more of a natural setting and much less populated. We stopped at one of the first overlooks (pictured above) that is one of the six state parks in Montauk. There were a few cars in the parking lot but we never saw another soul.

There are actually very few hotels or bed & breakfasts in this area. The “permanent” population of Montauk is actually only around 3,000 people. That doesn’t dissuade people like me from wanting to visit Montauk though! The beaches, hiking trails, wineries, restaurants, fishing, whalewatching, shopping and even surfing make Montauk a wonderful place to visit and explore.

My main focus on this day of exploration was the Montauk Point Lighthouse. This beautifully colored lighthouse was commissioned in 1797 by none other than George Washington. It was the first lighthouse built in New York state and is the 4th oldest working lighthouse in the United States.  It is quite a majestic site as you drive up to the point!

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The Montauk Point Lighthouse National Park

There are several large and very convenient parking lots – complete with restrooms, a children’s play area, a restaurant and several look-out points.  It is a short, very scenic walk to the park entrance and the admission tickets are inexpensive ($4-$10).  In addition to the lighthouse itself, there is a maritime museum, a gift shop, memorial sculptures, and gorgeous scenery. You may also climb the 137 steps to the top of the lighthouse for even better views. On clear days, you can see the Connecticut coast which is only 20 miles away. To the south is a wonderful view of the rocky coast and Ditch Plains where surfers ride the huge waves coming in off the Atlantic Ocean. Photos do not do this huge lighthouse justice and the 360 degree view is breathtaking. 

After exploring the lighthouse, we headed back into Montauk and visited Gosman’s Dock. This is a wonderful little area with restaurants, shops, food trucks, boat docks and a harbor. We wandered around and watched the expensive yachts, commercial fishing boats, and pleasure boats arriving into the harbor or leaving on sightseeing excursions. There is also a large fish market where you can purchase the freshest seafood that has just come off the boats that day. It was a great place to spend as little or as much time as you choose to. Unfortunately, our hunger got the best of us and we were off to a lunch place that we had already picked out on the way into Montauk.

Okay, I readily admit it……I love the show “The Affair.” It is set in Montauk and I was so excited to personally see several of the places that I had seen on this series. One of the main story lines revolves around a roadside restaurant called The Lobster Roll and I knew this was where I wanted to eat. This was where the sordid “affair” actually started on the show. Lo and behold, hundreds of other fans showed up there for lunch this day too! After quite a long wait, we were seated and dined on fresh fried oysters and of course – the famous lobster roll.  It was quite tasty and I enjoyed eating the fresh local cuisine. 

We had such nice weather and had a wonderful day exploring Montauk. It exceeded all my expectations.