Saturday, November 28, 2009

Best of Both Seasons

Bellingrath Gardens is gorgeous any time of year but on our recent trip, we got to sample both the fall chrysanthemum extravaganza and the Christmas display (as they tested the lights). There were still quite a few roses in the Rotary Rose Garden. The rose below is called Dream Come True.

Mums were everywhere -- in borders, draped over the balconies of the Bellingrath home and

cascading fron the bridge over Mirror Lake.

We got to the Gardens early enough to see the mums in daylight then, as darkness fell, to enjoy the many lights. Scenes ranged from a Christmas living room scene

to an undersea fantasy.

These poinsettias were among my favorites.

Bellingrath Gardens is one of Alabama's true treasures!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Family Feasting

Now for something completely different. I'm thankful for so many things but top of my list is family and I'm looking forward to seeing almost everyone on Thanksgiving Day. We're missing Zoe and Simon -- doing their own version of Thanksgiving this weekend in England. I mailed cans of pumpkin so Zoe could make a pumpkin pie. Not sure what they'll do about turkey since they are vegetarians. Anyway, Thanksgiving here will be great with Jay and Carolyn and the boys (several years younger in the picture above), Carolyn's mom and sister and niece Alyssa. We're hoping Jack's 96 year-old mother will feel like joining us.

Nobody in my family likes dark meat so I'll be fixing two large turkey breasts. We'll have dressing and gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, a jello salad and sweet potatoes. I love my sweet potato recipe because it has all the taste without a lot of calories. My gift to you is my recipe:

Canned cut sweet potatoes to equal about 5 cups

! cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 egg yolk

2 egg whites

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tbs. all-purpose flour

2 tbs. chopped pecans

2 tbs. margarine, melted

10 servings -- approximately 210 calories, 2 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber

In a food processor, blend sweet potatoes, applesauce and vanilla until smooth. Add spices and egg yolk and continue to blend until smooth. Spoon into a large bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir a third of the egg whites into the sweet potatoes then gently fold in the remainder.

Spoon into a 1 1/2 quart souffle dish which has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Combine the melted butter, brown sugar, flour and pecans and sprinkle over the top. Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 35 minutes or until set.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ghosts of Old Mesilla

I LOVE Mesilla, New Mexico, a little town just south of Las Cruces. The first permanent residents settled here in 1848. Thanks to a mistaken Yankee mapmaker, Mesilla was in "no man's land." When most of the state was ceded to the U.S. by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, it was discovered that the depiction on the map was wrong and a little chunk of southwest New Mexico and a slice of southern Arizona were unaccounted for. The Gadsden purchase in 1853, settled the boundary dispute. The old town clustered around a central plaza -- a defense against raiding Apaches. Many of the buildings here date back to the 1850s.
Our group was led on a walking tour of the historic district by Preciliana, an enthusiastic and voluble guide dressed as an "adelita" -- a female "soldier" in the army of Pancho Villa.

She regaled us with stories of Old Mesilla and ghosts of days gone by. One of her best stories concerned the building that now houses the Double Eagle restaurant. Though not approaching its current opulence, the home was large and impressive for its time. The matriarch of the Maes family, the owners, had grand plans for her son Armando -- no local senorita was good enough. Armando, however, fell in love with Inez, one of his mother's maids. When Senora Maes discovered this, she drove Inez from the house. But not from the arms of Armando. One afternoon, returning earlier than expected, Mama Maes found Armando and Inez in an intimate situation in Armando's room. Grabbing her sewing scissors, she stabbed Inez. In the struggle, she also stabbed Armando -- killing the two lovers. The star-crossed specters still inhabit the property.
Today the highly popular restaurant has a reputation for fine cuisine -- and they make a mean Margarita. There are a number of dining areas -- from the twinkle-light-bedecked enclosed patio to the elegant gold Maximillian room with its Baccarat crystal chandeliers.

There are two chairs in the corner of Carlotta's Room (once Armando's bedroom) said to belong to the ill-fated couple. Superstitious people refuse to sit in them. I am not one of those people. No shrieking shades followed me into the night and my slumber was undisturbed.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Naked Truth

European massage -- how do I say this -- observes a different standard of modesty than American massage. Thank goodness I've had a lot of massages and thank goodness for the kindness of Donna Long who'd had one before and clued me in before the experience.

And thank goodness for Norma, the grandmotherly manager of the spa, who hailed from Birmingham, England and spoke English. Otherwise I might have wound up putting my paper panties on my head. Yep, we were each handed packets containing a shower cap and a pair of (Norma's term) paper panties -- more like a strip of gauzy paper on a rubber band!

I carefully arranged myself on the massage table, covering as much of me as possible with the towel I found there. I needn't have bothered. Let's put it this way -- my first panicked thought was "I should have checked to make sure I don't have belly-button lint!"

What the heck, it was a great massage; the masseuse was a professional and, well, I suppose if you've seen one, you've seen them both!

And, in case you wondered, that's me in the Niagara bath -- a jetted tub full of spring water with clay and minerals.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stuffed -- Like a Spanish Olive

Eating was a significant part of my visit to Spain and we had the opportunity to sample many of the local delicacies during our stay. Fish and seafood make up a big part of the Galician diet -- unfortunately for me, since I'm not a big fish fan. I did find some real favorites, though. These scallops -- in "Albarino Wine Sauce in its Shell and on a Bed of Salt" -- really hit the spot. And the setting, the 600-plus-year-old Pazo de San Lorenzo certainly added to the enjoyment!

Another night we visited a tapas bar and tried a number of items. I loved these prawns.

I took this picture in a fishmonger's window. Octopus, or pulpo, is as common as hamburgers in Edmond.
Here's a dish of pulpo at the tapas restaurant. And yes, I did try it. It wasn't bad but falls in the category of "Okay, I ate it once, don't have to do it again" along with raw oysters and rattlesnake.
I've already written about the amazing hot chocolate but haven't mentioned the Tarta de Santiago. This is a sweet almond cake topped with powdered sugar and the cross of St. James.

I really fell in love with Galician cheeses -- they make some wonderful ones. My favorite was Tetilla. I'm not sure if it's called "titty" cheese because it wound up looking like a woman's breast or if the cheese makers had a little too much Albarino and said "Let's see if we can make these cheeses look like boobs." Whatever, it's a beautiful, creamy, mild cheese.

The toughest thing about eating in Spain was the late dinners. Everywhere we went, people graciously fed us copious amounts of food -- two hour lunches were standard. So it was almost bedtime before we wanted to even think about eating more. And that was time for the multi-course feast that also lasted two to three hours.

Everything was beautifully presented. The tables gleamed with crystal and silver. No one could have been more charming or welcoming. You'll be proud of me -- I did my best to show my appreciation by eating as much as possible!