When was the last time you went on a relaxing beach vacation? Maybe it is about time to plan that next excursion! How about a visit to Orange Beach where the Southern hospitality is as warm as the sun?
David (my husband) and I recently visited Orange Beach – my third visit and his first. I was born and raised in Mississippi and love returning to my roots in the deep South. You gotta love a place where several times a day you are addressed as “honey,” “sweetie,” “sugar,” and told “bless your heart” in a friendly Southern drawl. Doors are held open for you, strangers strike up conversations, grits are a staple, and butter is served at every meal (whether you request it or not).
sunset on the ocean
Orange Beach is located on the Alabama coast between Mobile and Pensacola, just down the highway from Gulf Shores. These beautiful beaches were a well-kept secret for many years but now more and more people, developers, and businesses have discovered this great little vacation spot. I guess it was just too difficult to keep Orange Beach’s 32 miles of pristine white-sand beaches and turquoise waters hidden for too long. The soft white sand that makes up the beaches here looks and feels like powdered sugar. (It is made up of quartz grains that washed down from the Appalachian Mountains hundreds of thousands of years ago.) These beaches are absolutely gorgeous and are now considered some of the best in the United States.
white sand beach
On our most recent visit this February, David and I spent one morning at the Alabama Point East State Park. This park was located at the Perdido Pass Bridge and had plenty of free parking, picnic areas, restrooms, etc. What attracted us was the 6,000 feet of wide, white beaches and four boardwalks that led you over the sand dunes and sea oats and out onto the beaches. The sand, clear water, and unspoiled natural beauty of this area was breathtaking. One could spend hours or days here – loved it!
a morning walk
Another big perk about visiting Orange Beach is the wide variety of delicious food at your door step. Every season, there is some fresh catch-of-the-day being served! Choose from shrimp, crabs, oysters, grouper, flounder, or snapper just to name a few. Here are some of the places I have dined at in the past and enjoyed: Cotton’s Restaurant is well-known for steaks and fresh seafood. It is located on the main drag in an old 1950’s wood-paneled, former beach house and has water views. Cobalt is located under the Perdido Bay Bridge with great views of the bay. They have tasty seafood dishes and are well-known for their creative happy hour drinks. Enjoy a meal or cocktail on their expansive patio located near boat slips for those coming by sea. There are some great sunset views here in the evening. Cosmos is one of my favorite restaurants in this area. It is located a little off the beaten path and not near the beach, but is well worth the drive. Cosmos is an art-filled restaurant with outside bar, gift shop, live music and serves fancy Southern fare in a casual setting. Lambert’s, just a short drive to Foley, is another area restaurant popular with locals and tourists alike. I can best describe it as “Cracker Barrel on steroids”. Lambert’s serves down-home Southern vittles with a flair. Fresh, hot baked rolls are thrown to your table from passing carts (or in Southern speak – rolls are “throwed” at ya!). Fried okra is spooned onto your paper towel and servers pass by your table serving up black-eyed peas, fried potatoes & onions, macaroni & tomatoes, and boiled cabbage as your side dishes. Other servers pass by with buckets of sorghum molasses and apple butter for your rolls. It is a meal and entertainment all in one!Another Broken Egg and Brick and Spoon are both local, casual chains and are a “must do” for breakfast or brunch. They have wonderful service and top notch egg dishes, biscuits and gravy, French toast, beignets, and many other dishes with a Southern or Cajun-Creole fare. Both had delicious brunch drinks including Mimosas, Bellinis and Bloody Marys….yum!
fried green tomatoes & shrimp salad
Orange Beach can appeal to old and young, couples or families. There seems to be something here for everyone to enjoy. There are several hiking trails, bird-watching areas and state parks in the area for those who want to get close to Mother Nature. There are dolphin tours, deep sea fishing charters, golf courses, biking trails and boat rentals. Families with children can spend time at the water parks, miniature golf courses, and adventure parks. You can’t throw a shoe and not hit a T-shirt shop, beachwear boutique or souvenir shop for those who love shopping!
sunset view at Cobalt
My favorite memories from here are the days just spent on the beach with no plans other than reading a good book. My “happy place” has always been sitting in a beach chair with an umbrella over my head and my toes buried in the sand. I can sit for hours listening to the sea breezes and the crashing waves on the shoreline. I love walking up and down the beach searching for the perfect shell and laughing when a rogue wave tries to knock me down. I always enjoy seeing the pelicans flying low over the waves and watching the speedy little shore birds looking for their next meal in the surf. In my opinion, days just don’t get much better than this. 🙂
Hope to see you on the beach soon. The “Redneck Riviera” awaits!
One of my favorite all time “go-to” restaurants is The Grape. Located on lower Greenville in Dallas, this restaurant was opened in 1972 and my husband and I have been patrons since the early 1980s. We have seen several chefs come and go – but the service and food has remained impeccable throughout these past thirty years.
The Grape is a little difficult for me to describe. It is a great place to take the family for a weekend brunch. It can be the perfect spot for a romantic dinner and a couple’s night out. It also fits the bill when dining with friends before a play or event in downtown Dallas. The cozy interior dining area is very charming and can take on a romantic vibe without feeling stodgy. The covered patio is perfect for brunch or a more casual happy hour visit.
The menu changes monthly, though some of the long-time featured items remain. Food selections range from European bistro, to New American innovative, to down-home style. A couple of their signature specialties are the Mushroom Soup (the best ever!) and the Brunch Burger (voted one of the best in Dallas). The Cheese & Charcuterie boards are always unique and tasty. Their featured fish dishes have been some of the best I have ever had. The various steaks, Shrimp & Grits, Portabella Wellington, and Coal Miner’s Pasta are just a few of the “stand-out” dishes that I can remember. For those with smaller appetites, you may order small (or half) portions of many salads and entrees on the dinner menu. The wine selections and cocktail lists are always impressive.
On our last visit to The Grape with friends, I had a Pear Prosecco cocktail – which was a great start to a wonderful meal. I then had a small cup of Mushroom soup, because it is just too hard to resist! Next came the Courtney Salad which is another one of my favorites – with fresh butter lettuce, sunflower seeds, carrots, cherry tomatoes and blue cheese vinaigrette dressing (served with a warm bread basket and fresh butter). My entree choice was the Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Lemon Parmesan Risotto and Broccoli Rabe. I then chose the Banana Fosters Bread Pudding for dessert. Other members in my party had the Bacon Cheeseburgers, the Mustard-Crusted Salmon entree, and a Brandied Cherry & Dark Chocolate Terrine for dessert. Everything was flavorful and delicious! The wonderful ambiance, the great service, and the exceptional food and drink made for another perfect evening meal at The Grape.
small Courtney salad
Braised short ribs
Banana Fosters bread pudding
The Grape’s Saturday and Sunday brunches are highly rated and offer more wonderful food options. I hope you get the opportunity to dine here in the near future for either brunch or dinner. Both menus are hard to beat. A final selling point – there is complimentary valet parking at the front door!
cherry & chocolate terrine
All of this reminiscing about 30+ years of great meals at The Grape now has me ready for an encore. I hope to see you there!
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Hopefully many of you are starting to plan trips and adventures for this next year. Check out Sedona – it may be just the place for you!
My husband and I visited Arizona this past year and flew into Phoenix, rented a car, and drove through the scenic Verde Valley into Sedona. Nestled among striking red sandstone formations and surrounded by pine forests, steep canyon walls, and red rock buttes – the first views of Sedona will take your breath away. This area is well-known for majestic crimson and orange rock formations, a mild climate, lots of natural beauty, and strong energy forces (vortexes). Sedona had lots to offer and you can easily fill each day of your stay with a variety of activities.
The town itself is filled with restaurants, art galleries, New Age shops, spas, and shopping areas. It was mostly the variety of outdoor activities that attracted us to this area. Visitors to the Sedona area can run, hike, mountain bike, camp, rock climb, and off-road all around this vibrant, stunning landscape. We enjoyed a jeep tour, hiking trails, a psychic reading, and visited a popular energy vortex. We also used Sedona as a base for visiting The Grand Canyon one day.
Some of the places we enjoyed on our trip included:
Chapel of the Holy Cross – a small chapel built in a remarkable, surprising location. It juts out of the mountain, on top of a red rock butte, with gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding area. Be forewarned! This was quite an uphill hike from the parking lot to the chapel….gasp….but well worth the views.
Cathedral Rock – a famous, huge red rock formation and one of the most photographed sights in Sedona. This place is very popular with experienced climbers and hikers. We enjoyed a scenic hike along the base of the rock and crossed dry creek beds, walked amid boulders, and saw all types of wild animal tracks.
Bell Rock – an upside-down, bowl-shaped rock that is very popular with the outdoor crowd. Trails run around and up into the sandstone formation. This location is frequented by the more advanced hikers and can be quite dangerous.
Honanki Ruins– We took a Pink Jeep Tour to view the cliff-dwelling remains of this ancient Pueblo sight. The ruin dates back to the 12th-14th centuries and has some stunning rock art and pictographs. Our tour was most enjoyable and our guide made the trip even better. He was very knowledgeable about the sights, the land, and the history – it made the visit much more interesting.
Airport Mesa – this is a hiking loop around Table Top Mountain that gives you spectacular panoramic views of Sedona below. Hiking trails meander through basalt boulders and red rocks and end at a point where the strongest vortex in the United States is thought to be. This was one of my favorite hikes of our trip! Not only were the views fantastic, we met some really friendly locals and learned a little more about these mystical vortexes (which we never felt!).
McDonald’s – Sedona has the ONLY McDonald’s that does not have golden arches! What? I know!! The city government decided that the yellow arches clashed with the red rocks, so McDonald’s caved and allowed them to have the only restaurant with turquoise arches. You gotta love a color-conscious, artsy city who stands their ground.
We thoroughly enjoyed getting red dirt on our hiking shoes every day and exploring a few of the trails around this area. There are countless trails all over Sedona and the rock formations that range from leisurely jaunts to long, challenging, backpack treks. Most of these areas have ample parking, restrooms, and well-marked trails. It truly is an outdoorsman’s and nature lover’s paradise.
One final word of advice if you plan a trip to Sedona – do not wear white shoes.
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!
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.
bread, butter & oil
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.
Goat cheese salad
Shrimp in phyllo salad
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.
David enjoys his wine
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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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.
on the road from Sedona
on the highway
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!
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!).
My first view
Desert View Tower
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.
Colorado River below
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!!
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.
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.
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°C 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!
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!
ready for harvest
October day in Napa
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!
Parmesan Garlic spread
Fresh bakery items
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.
Mushroom sculpture garden
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!
bubbly and snacks!
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’.
Sunflowers and wildflowers
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.
at Frog’s Leap Winery
sampling a rose’
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!