Friday, November 11, 2011

Upbeat and Down Under

No, not Australia. I'm in New Zealand -- which I will never again think of as an appendage to the larger country. New Zealand may be smaller in size but it totally rules in beauty of landscape, variety of terrain and the kindness, generosity and friendliness of the Kiwis -- what the locals call themselves. And they have a cheekiness that is irresistible. New Zealand is the Michael J. Fox of nations -- not large but so appealing!
We've seen everything from glaciers to forest glades (where we had a proper tea), driven in one rushing river and jetboated up another one. Last night's Gala closing dinner for our Society of American Travel Writers Conference (why I'm here) was amazing and I have the pictures to prove it -- just have to get home and upload the 600+ photos I've taken in the last nine days. Shameless, I got down on the floor to get the right angle on the Black Tower of Isengard

and Jack and I posed (several times) with a couple of Orcs. If you're not a Lord of the Rings fan, this will mean nothing. If you are -- be damned impressed!

Yesterday was a wine tour -- and we also did an olive oil tasting. Lunch at the Coney Winery was superb -- needless to say, lamb here is excellent. The Martinborough Vineyard is noted for its pinot noirs -- but I was most impressed with the flowers, both wild and cultivated.

Tuesday afternoon we visited a spectacular garden -- 400 rhododendrons in bloom -- and me without a camera! I left the battery in the hotel room in the charger. RATS!
This morning the whole event was capped off with a champagne brunch sponsored by Air New Zealand. Wonderful food and the most delightful program by the "Cuddly Cook" Annabelle White. Talk about high energy -- and funny -- but you had to be there.

I'm going to miss New Zealand. There's so much we didn't see -- it would be worth the butt-busting trip to come back again -- but only if I can fly Air New Zealand!

Monday, October 31, 2011

My White Knight

Chivalry did not die with Don Quixote. If you read my blog a couple of days ago, you read about my losing my hat in a ravine. I took this picture the next day -- when it wasn't raining -- and you can see the bridge I was standing on and the gorge it crosses. I really hated losing that hat. Imagine my surprise the next day when we were about to get on the bus and leave; Richard Frisbie, who shall forever be my champion, presented me with the hat. It was totally soaked but none the worse for wear. Richard had gone for an early morning walk and climbed down into the gorge and retrieved it!

That was not his only act of kindness. Throughout the trip he was unfailingly cheerful and never lost patience when one or the other of us got a little tired and cranky -- or just plain diva-ish. Then at our dinner the last night, he noticed I was shivering because the private dining room where we were going to eat was chilly. Next thing I know, he's talked the waitress out of a tablecloth and is draping it around me. And I was cold enough that I wore it all through dinner. I have no pride where my comfort is concerned! I called Richard my knight -- but I was wrong. He's absolutely a prince!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just Desserts

Oh, my gosh, I´ve just had heaven on a plate! The food in Spain is amazing and the quantities they are serving us would feed a small -- or maybe not so small -- army. We are in the parador in Almagro, a charming and beautiful town. For lunch we were served a local specialty for an appetizer -- pickled eggplant stuffed with pimiento and garlic. The dish dates back to the Muslim tradition -- the Moors occupied Spain for several centuries. The first course was cod topped with julienne vegetables and "foam of potato" -- sort of a thinned mashed potato thingie. Totally full -- and having left a lot of food on my plate -- I made the mistake of looking at our menu only to discover that a second entree was coming. The pork plate, with potato and vegetables, went practically untouched. I played with my food so it would look like I´d eaten some! Then came dessert -- fritters of Calatrava with bitter almond sauce and quince sherbet. It was fabulous.
We´re off to the town where it is tradition that Cervantes was imprisoned and where he began his masterwork. Bet I sleep on the bus!!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Rain in Spain.....

Is not only on the plain. Yesterday it was in the hilly country between Alcala de Henares and Cuenca. I loved Alacala de Henares -- not far from Madrid, it was the birthplace of Miguel Cervantes. And the point of this trip is to follow the route of Don Quixote (which I am reading on my Kindle every chance I get). The weather was lovely the first day and our walking tour around town a delight. The parador is the newest of the 90+ paradors owned by the Spanish government. I´ve stayed here before and it was like going home -- to the most technically up to date, comfortable room -- except it´s built around a centuries-old convent.
Last night we stayed in the parador in Cuenca -- it, too, was a convent. While it has all the conveniences, the decor is more traditional and I felt like a Spanish princess when I opened the shuttered window to see, across a deep gorge, the "hanging houses" of the old city.
It rained most of yesterday -- the wind broke my umbrella and sent my rain hat (a special souvenir of a very windy day in Oxford) over the bridge and down, down, down into the gorge. Still, it was worth it to see this beautiful old town.
The rain stopped late in the day and the lighted, wet streets made colorful photos - which, since I left my large camera in the room and carried my point-and-shoot, will probably come out fuzzy. You´ll have to take my word for it.
The food ranges from excellent to "interesting" and there´s way too much of it. It´s going to be hard holding on to my old-girlish figure on this trip!
Must fly -- time and the bus wait for no one!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Wow! I can't believe how long it's been since I've blogged. (Though those of you who check my Traveling Teddy's blog -- -- know that the bear has checked in a bit more often.) I've been on the road BIG time. And I'm fixin' (that's how we get ready here in Oklahoma) to hit the highway again. So here's a quick catch-up on where I've been since the first of September.

Jack and I (with our dog, Roxie) made a road trip to Ennis, Texas to experience some Czech heritage. The picture above is a beautiful costume (called a kroj, pronounced kroy) at the Sokol Hall museum -- one of several Czech dance halls. And, of course, we had some great Czech food. Sweet kolaches and spicy klobase were big favorites.

The Travel Media Showcase -- a kind of speed-dating for destinations and travel writers -- was held here in OKC and I played tourist. We started with a trip to eastern Oklahoma to explore the Cherokee heritage there. In Tahlequah, a number of the street and road signs are bi-lingual.

At the Ancient Village at the Cherokee Heritage Center we watched demonstrations of native crafts and skills. Scott Ennis posed with Batman (yep, that's what the kids named the bear).

Jack and I made a quick but fun-filled trip to Fort Worth. We traveled down on the Heartland Flyer -- I heart the train. We had a great dinner with McKenzie Zieser at Reata.

We spent a lot of time on our feet the next day -- four museums after lunch. So I was ready for some pampering at the spa at the Omni. I'm getting my toenails painted with OPI's "It's Totally Fort Worth It."

Last week I spent four days in Florida. Though Apalachicola was the main destination, I stayed in a beach house on St. George Island. It was gorgeous -- right on the beach -- and I slept with the balcony door open so I could go to sleep with the sound of the surf.

The seafood in Franklin County is the best! I'm not a big raw oyster fan but I'll eat them here. They're unbelieveably fresh and good. It didn't do a lot for my appetite, however, when our guide at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve told us that the oysters are still alive when we eat them. Ugh, I ate that little oyster when its teeny heart was still beating! I had no such qualms when Chef Brett Gormley served bacon-wrapped grouper stuffed with fresh crabmeat.

It was wonderful to get up early and watch the sun rise over the ocean. I really like this shot -- I think it looks almost like an abstract painting.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Paging Dr. Warner

For years, Wisconsin remained a state I hadn't visited. Finally, in 2008, I made it to Door County. Since then I've been back twice and every time I find more and more to like about the state. I love the lovely green landscape, the passionate Cheeseheads -- and their amazing headgear -- the cheese and so much more. And like so many places with impressive attractions, it also has some little, quirky treasures. I'd have to say the National Mustard Museum heads that list.

It's located in Middleton in the metropolitan Madison area. Barry Levenson is the founder and chief cheerleader. An attorney, he's a former assistant state's attorney general and an adjunct professor of food law at the University of Wisconsin. And he has a wild and wicked sense of humor.

The Mustard Museum features over 5000 mustards from every state in the union and more than 60 countries. The museum store carries mustards from many of these places -- and features a mustard tasting bar.

The museum itself is an exploration of mustard history and includes displays of antique mustard pots, advertsing and actual jars of the condiment. Guests can view a video in the Mustardpiece Theatre. It's also a seat of higher learning with school songs like "Roll Out the Mustard" and university fight songs. And I, myself, received a diploma from this institution.

As you can see, I am now a D.D.S. -- Doctor of Diddley Squat. And my alma mater -- Poupon U.

After receiving my credential, I headed for the school store for memorabilia. Here's one of my favorites.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Swiss Is More Than Just Cheese!

This is Chef Roland Furst at the New Glarus Hotel in New Glarus, Wisconsin, preparing cheese fondue. I'll put the printed recipe in this post -- but notice that he varied it by using several different kinds of cheese and he also added dill. In additiion, he had prepared an entire Swiss meal for us:

jaegerschnitzel, wienerschnitzel, geschnetzlets, roesti, spaetzli, salad, hot rolls, and, for dessert,

Napoleon topped with fresh strawberries. The meal was wonderful; the atmosphere authentic Swiss (the town was founded by 108 Swiss immigrants); and we ate to the accompaniment of yodeling and an alpenhorn.

Here's the New Glarus Hotel recipe for Cheese Fondue
1 clove garlic

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/2 pound Swiss cheese

1/2 pound Gruyere cheese

1 rounded Tbsp. flour

Pepper and nutmet to taste

2 loaves crusty Italian or French bread

Grate the cheeses and dredge with the flour. (You can do this in advance and keep refrigerated in a tightly closed plastic bag.) Cut bread in one-inch cubes. Each cube should have crust on one side.

Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the cut garlic clove. Heat wine in a the pot over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Add lemon juice. Add cheese by handfuls, stirring in pepper and nutmet to taste. Bring to a boil, then remove from the stove and place on a lighted fondue burner on the table.



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Maine-ly Lobster

It has a face only a mother could love -- the rest of us love it for other reasons. And the best place in the world to eat lobster is on the coast of Maine. Our press group had ample opportunities to try this indigenous delicacy and we got a great lesson in lobster lore from Buddy Hall, owner of Anglers in Searsport, Maine.

Here Buddy is giving us a tutorial in lobster sexing. I promise I will never be trying it out myself -- all those creepy claws and legs will keep the lobster's secrets secret. Female lobsters can carry their eggs up to two years -- the last half of the time they are glued to the underside of her tail. When a lobsterfisherperson (yes, there are lobsterwomen) catches a female with eggs, he cuts a notch in her tail and tosses her back so if she gets caught again, she will be released. That keeps the population going.

In young lobsters, the claws are about the same size but as the animal grows, they differentiate into the larger crusher claw and smaller pincher claw.

The lobster's face is interesting. I could identify the eyes easily enough but I'm not sure I could find the mouth. Buddy did -- and, wh0 knew -- lobsters have teeth!

Here's a sampling of lobster dishes we tried: lobster salad,

the ubiquitous lobster roll,

and the whole lobster. I deliberately chose a small lobster (notice the claws) because I discovered that, with my braces, lobster takes a lot more chewing than without them. I managed to get through both claws and about 1/3 of the tail about the same time everyone else at the table was finishing dessert!

This is part of the group the night we ate at Weathervane in Belfast. Are we having fun yet? You bet!

Tip to tourists: in choosing a place to eat lobster, look for one that has a pound. This is a tank that circulates sea water around the lobsters. Buddy also told us you could tell how long a lobster had been held in a tank because they start to bite off one anothers' antennae. Avoid the stumpy antennae!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Take Me Away!

I got a nice break from the oven that is Oklahoma with a trip to Maine. Above is a picture of my snug little cabin in the woods at Lookout Point Resort. Below is the bedroom area of the cabin which had a neat little kitchen and a wonderful screened-in porch.

The resort sits on almost 400 acres of woods sloping up from a small strip of beach. I walked down the hill from my cabin to check out the water. I think it was about 1/2 to 3/4 mile down to the water.

This great dane was having a super time retrieving sticks from the surf. I must be getting old -- I think this is the first time in my life that I've been on the ocean (okay, technically Penobscot Bay) without actually sticking a toe in the water. I just couldn't stand the thought of walking back up the hill with sand in my sandals. And I swear it was five miles back to the cabin -- uphill the whole way!

On one of our outings, we went sailing on the schooner Olad, out of Camden. I'd never been on a sailboat before -- I loved the quiet.

We sailed by this picturesque lighthouse on Curtis Island at the mouth of the harbor.

We were out almost two hours but headed in as we watched the rain moving in. We weren't the only ones headed for harbor.

The rain just missed us and the sun was shining when we docked. Camden is such a pretty town and their harbor is beautiful, too, don't you think?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Going to Waist in Wichita

I'm eating again! This time in Wichita. I was there working on an assignment about meetings and conventions so I spent a lot of time doing site visits. I did get to see some of the beautiful attractions, though. And talk about feeling pampered -- Carol Jones and the sign at the CVB -- Go Wichita -- couldn't have been more welcoming. My host, Ken Vandruff and his co-worker Rachel Janes took me to lunch at a neat Latin American American restaurant, Sabor, in Old Town. I tried to go light with a wonderful soup -- Sancocho Soup -- a chicken broth (the red color is from a chile paste) with chicken, corn, onion, peppers, plantain, potato and avocado. Not so light -- the appetizers included fried calamari with a pepperoncini garlic mayo and a white cheese queso with corn and roasted tomato served with flatbread triangles!

More site visits after lunch then dinner at Hangar One Steakhouse. I'm not eating steak these days because of my braces but there were several other good choices including the one I ordered -- L-Bird Chicken Pepper Pasta -- diced chicken, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, lemon pepper pasta and a light wine sauce. I righteously rejected any suggestion of dessert!
After dinner, Ken took me out night shooting. The iconic image of Wichita is the Keeper of the Plains which stands on a rock promentory above the Arkansas River.
There's a pedestrian bridge which crosses the river there -- the design reminiscent of native bows -- most attractive.

Breakfast this morning was at the Hyatt where I was staying. Rachel and I split a breakfast burrito. It came with salsa verde, queso, grated cheese and a stuffed mushroom. The burrito was super and the salsa much bolder than I expected. Most restaurants outside the southwest in general and New Mexico in particular just don't "get it." This one did!
We toured the Hyatt and the adjacent convention facilities -- pretty amazing -- then flew by the River District museums -- Botanica, the art museum, the science museum, the American Indian museum and Old Cowtown -- looking, again, at meeting spaces.
And it was time to eat again. This time we pigged out at Pig In Pig Out. The chef-owner, Derek Cochran knows his 'cue -- the walls are covered with ribbons he's won at BBQ competitions. Again, the braces kept me from attacking everything -- but the chopped brisket and the pulled pork worked fine -- and I wound up bringing home containers of both the hot and mild sauces. I'd have brought meat -- but several hours in the car without a cooler seemed a little risky to me.

Wichita was wonderful. I couldn't believe how much is going on there -- lots of cultural opportunities, entertainment and great attractions. Can't wait to go back and play tourist!