Sunday, October 07, 2012

Argegno -- A+

Jack and I just got home earlier this week from two weeks in Italy capped off by a four-day visit with daughter Zoe and son-in-law Simon in Argegno on beautiful Lake Como.  I'm not caught up -- barely uploaded my photos, let alone sorted them  But Zoe and Simon are still in Italy and Zoe is dinging me to update this blog -- so, Zoe, this is for you -- even though this is only a teaser and I'm starting at the end of our trip rather than the beginning!

Zoe and Simon found our B & B two years ago on a trip they made.  It's in the little town of Argegno (Are-gin-yo) on the west side of the west leg of Lake Como.  Owned by artist Paul Wright and his partner Nicole Andrew, it is perched on the side of the mountain and features the spectacular view of the lake you see above.

Perched is the right word -- I wish I'd had wings to get up the stairs, 87 of them from street level to the level of our room. 

The whole B & B had balconies stretching across the front of each level.  Our room had a smaller balcony with a view up the lake.  I loved the sleek, contemporary style of the B & B and enjoyed Paul's artwork on our walls.  You can see one of Paul's watercolors of a lakeside village on one wall and his colorful collage above the bed.

I'll be writing more (and sharing more photos) in the future but for now I'll close with a shot of one of our favorite restaurants and one showing the reason it was good that I had to climb those stairs so many times!

This is the wonderfully tasty Quattro Formagi pizza at the Hotel Argegno.  It's topped with taliggio, gorgonzola, fontina and mozzarella cheese.  Yum!  Many thanks to our favorite waiter Lorenzo Carrer for great food and super service.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Here's to Harley

I have to admit I wasn't overly excited at the prospect of visiting the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.  Biker chick I am not -- I like to think of myself as more of a limo lady.  So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed our tour.

The company started with a couple of boys and a backyard shed.  Arthur Davidson and Bill Harley experimented with putting an engine on a bicycle.  The 1903 Serial Number One machine above is the oldest Harley-Davidson in the world.

Once they got their company off the ground, they looked for new ways to adapt motorcycles and expand their markets.

The museum has hundreds of vehicles which it rotates through the displays.  Styles, colors and even tank decals changed with the years.

 Just trying one for size!

Lunch in the H-D Motor Bar and Restaurant was a real treat.  Highlight?  That Wisconsin snack of choice -- fried cheese.  If that doesn't harden your arteries, dip it in ranch dressing.  Then order your custom-built Harley with a double-wide seat!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I Heart Milwaukee Art

The Milwaukee Art Museum is perched on the shore of Lake Michigan.  From the side, it looks like a sleek sailboat.  The architect was Santiago Calatrava -- just how Spanish a name is that! 

We arrived early and took photos on the grounds.  Then, just before opening time, we climbed the stairs to the deck where we could get a good view.  Because at opening time, two giant wings come out of the building and suddenly, from a sailboat, the structure is transformed into a swan about to soar above the lake. 

Inside the building, light and shadows create intricate patterns.  The walls are poured concrete, smooth as silk and pure white.

Our excellent docent described Calatrava as a biomorphic architect -- and you can see the influence in this -- calling it a structure is inadequate, it's a work of art!  These rib-like constructions line the corridors which link the new part of the building to the older section which was designed by Eliel Sarinen and completed by his son, Eero.

The only color in the vast entry hall is this Chihuly piece.

Looking straight up -- I wondered what it would look like with the wings folded in.

Smoothly sculpted skylights provided illumination and interest.

The museum's collections range from antiquities to contemporary pieces.  I particularly liked this Renaissance creation -- late 16th-early 17th c, Flemish or Southern German.

I was surprised at the number of O'Keeffe paintings -- most of them were given to the museum by  Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley who had a personal association with the artist.  O'Keeffe, was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and attended high school in Madison.

Among the contemporary works, I was fascinated by this one by English artist Cornelia Parker.  Called "Edge of England," it is made up of chunks of stone which fell from the White Cliffs of Dover.

As usual on press trips, we literally ran through the galleries, unable to take time to really savor the experience.  Next time, rather than getting just a taste of this treat, I want the entire meal!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Texas Tavern -- Deep in the Heart of Virginia

The Texas Tavern is an icon in Roanoke, Virginia, and about the last place name I expected to encounter on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Of course I had to know why.

I didn't find out why this sign was relevant but here's what I learned about the Texas Tavern.  It was started in 1930 by Nick Bullington, who, while scouting for Ringling Brothers Circus, ate some pretty good chili in a hotel in San Antonio.  Nick was from Indiana so he could have called his place Indiana Tavern -- but, face it, Texas Tavern was more euphonious -- and that was where he got his chili recipe.  It's been modified over the years for the more gentile Roanoke palates (less chile in the chili) but it's made with fresh (never frozen), lean ground beef and it's pretty darn good. 

A sign on the wall says "We seat 1000 people, 10 at a time."  That's how many stools there are -- and people are frequently lined up three or four deep to sit on one.  More than that and the line goes out the door!   Texas Tavern is open 24 hours a day every day of the year except Christmas.

The menu's up over the counter and the prices are astonishingly low.  Ads flank the menu items without regard to delicacy of placement!

With such low prices, you forgo the frills -- like plates.  But who needs one?  This is your basic $1.25 hot dog with chili, onions and Texas Tavern homemade relish (cabbage and mustard base).  Admit it, no matter how high-fallutin' your taste, you can't beat a great hot dog!

And a little eye-candy for dessert.  This is owner Matt Bullington, great-grandson of Nick, not only carrying on the family tradition but looking cute to boot.

Our group drove by at 11 one night and, sure enough, the Texas Tavern was still going strong.  Here's to another 82 years!

Saturday, May 26, 2012


 I just spent five days in Pittsburgh and I haven't been able to stop talking about how much I enjoyed my stay.  What was it about Pittsburgh?  I loved the city with its mix of old and new architecture.  I was impressed with the cutting edge attitude toward incorporating environmentally-friendly practices towards development and construction.  I ate fabulous food -- a great deal of it fresh, locally-sourced and organic.  I enjoyed a wide variety of cultural experiences.  But, thinking back, the icing on all this wonderful travel cake was the people of Pittsburgh.  In my part of the country, we pride ourselves on friendliness but I learned that we don't have a corner on the commodity.  The people I met in Pittsburgh were not only friendly, they went above and beyond to extend hospitality.  What great ambassadors for a great American city!  Here are just a few of Pittsburgh's best --
 Larry Lagattuta owns Enrico Biscotti Company.  Employed in the tech industry, Larry gave up a corporate career to embrace skills he learned from his mother, aunts and grandmother.  In addition to the bakery, he has a charming little restaurant (with a winery in the basement) in The Strip -- a warehouse district that has become a popular spot for its great ethnic shops and cool eateries.
 Cartoonist and collector Joe Wos turned his childhood passion into an attraction to share with the world -- the Toonseum.  Here he's sitting at a drawing table from Walt Disney's first studio.  It belonged to Paul Satterfield, animator, who was one of the directors for "Fantasia" and "Bambi."
 Now HERE'S a photographer!  Larry Roberts is a staff photographer and visual columnist for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  I caught him on the corner of Fifth and Smithfield photographing a group of Mennonite youngsters who were doing some street corner evangelism.  He was proudest of a great shot he got of several of the young women with their long skirts and neat caps being passed by a Muslim mother in her long, dark outfit and hijab pushing a stroller.  "They probably won't use it," he told me.  "They'll think it is too controversial."  He was right.  The next morning's paper had one of his pictures -- a group of girls crossing the street.  Good shot -- but not as interesting as the one he liked best.
Mancini's Bread Company was just steps away from my hotel and I stopped in to learn a little more about it.  Owner Nick Mancini Hartner told me he was a third-generation baker on one side of his family and fifth-generation on the other.  The family business was founded in 1926.  He turned the shop over to one of his assistants and took me down the street to Market Square to point out interesting and historic businesses there. His great-grandfather had had a bakery here.  Before I left, he gave me a wonderful loaf of bread filled with pepperoni and cheese and accompanied with a container of marinara sauce.  All my Weight Watchers' habits went out the window and the warm bread went right in my mouth!  Over the next day and a half, I ate the whole thing!  I stopped back by my last afternoon in Pittsburgh and got a pepperoni roll to take on the plane.  I'll be working off this particular orgy for the next couple of weeks but it was worth it!
This is just a small group of the great staff at the Fairmont Hotel.  You know you're in a great hotel when they anticipate your every need before you even have a chance to ask!  It's good to be home but I miss sweeping the curtains aside revealing a floor to ceiling view of downtown and the Monongahela River; checking out the New York Times and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and going downstairs to be greeted by name by some of the nicest people in town.  I know it's their job -- but I felt, like Sally Field -- they liked me!  They really liked me!  And I LOVED Pittsburgh!

P.S.  The picture at the top of the post -- taken from the Duquesne Incline.  That's the Allegheny River on the left, the Monongahela on the right.  And where they meet -- viola! the Ohio River.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

You Are What You Eat

Lisa and Sam Bracken own The Canebrake, an upscale eco-resort on Lake Fort Gibson near Wagoner. They're not just hands-on owners -- like the hokey-pokey, they put their "whole selves in."

Jack and I were there this week as I was researching for an article in an upcoming issue of Slice Magazine. I'll be writing about the wonderful facilities, the spa, the yoga classes and much more there -- and I'll get to write about the food, too, but space for both text and photos is limited so I wanted to share what Sam and his staff prepared for us for our evening meal.

My favorite feature of the dining room was the open kitchen -- we sat at the counter where we could watch the action and visit with Stacy Jordan, the garde manger, Sarah Leavell, the sous chef and Chef Sam himself.

Sam graciously fixed us small plates of a number of menu items starting with a salad of chablis-poached beets, house pickled red onions, baby spring greens, carrot curls and balsamic vinaigrette. Stacy proudly told us, "I worked eight months perfecting the brine for the pickled onions!"

The Canebrake specializes in local and organic products and is vegetarian-friendly. The vegetarian soyrizo empanadas featured a veggie-based chorizo substitute and queso fresco baked in pastry accompanied by a grilled fruit-habanero salsa (with just the right amount of heat) and lime cilantro crema.

Rather than the regular ten-ounce serving of Oklahoma steak, Sam sized ours down! The meat, cooked just like we like it, was served on grilled asparagus with crispy, thin-cut pomme frites. That's not a slice of salami on top, although that was my first thought; it's a round of cabernet-roasted shallot butter, good on both steak and asparagus.

This was followed by a single lamb chop (an entree-sized portion features a whole rack of juniper-rubbed, roasted lamb), roasted sweet potato mash and crisp fennel and snow pea saute. Sarah put a new spin on the usual mint jelly accompaniment to the meat -- she created fennel and mint preserves, a fresh idea, great taste! Sam used the bone sticking out of the chop to serve as a skewer for some delicate, fried onion rings.

Stacy was responsible for the rich clover honey-pistachio tart and she garnished it with a twist of blood orange, fresh whipped cream and blood orange creme anglaise.

Since we were served different desserts, Jack and I split and traded so we each got to sample two sweets. His was an apple trio -- apple cider sorbet, warm apple cinnamon oat crisp and apple cranberry pie served with a butterscotch sauce.

We were full and happy campers -- until I hit Weight Watchers this morning. Even with small portions, the calories can add up! Even a taste goes to the waist! But it was worth every bite!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Royal Winter Send-off for Spring Break

I'm loving the 70 degree weather, nodding daffodils and blue skies out my window. Meanwhile, my son, daughter-in-law and three grandsons are keeping their fingers crossed for great skiing in New Mexico

And it looks good. All four of the ski areas I visited last month are open now with ample snow -- all trails are open and no snow-making machines needed!

My family is headed to Angel Fire -- staying in the lodge. It's so convenient just to walk out the door and you're ready to go. Angel Fire has the easiest check-in of the four places. They have computer terminals to enter your height, weight, shoe-size -- and, if you're a regular -- that information comes right up.

I have to admit, my skiing days are now behind me. I discovered I could still ski a bit after a 35-year hiatus -- but the lift totally conquered me! I spent some quality time in the Stray Dog Cafe adjacent to the ski area and browsing in the gift shop in the lodge. I also toured the property -- there are some gorgeous homes here and, in summer, golf and horseback riding.

Ski Santa Fe has great facilities for serious skiers. I played around on the baby slope for a while -- but there were too many babies and not enough slope (and I'd given up on the lift by the time we got here -- our third stop). There were plenty of places to sit and watch the action and the facilities are expanding to accommodate more guests inside. This ski area is strictly that -- so if you're not a skier, stay in Santa Fe!

I loved Taos -- very European-looking! This was our last stop and I'd given up even pretending to ski and concentrated on apres-ski! The day was gorgeous and it was comfortable sitting in the sun and watching others negotiate the slopes. And I met this nice guy with the most precious little husky puppy!

I'm very nostalgic about Red River -- it was the last place my family skied years ago -- back when I could actually get off the lift by myself. And it was the first place we skied on this press trip. The first afternoon we took beginners' lessons and I was rockin'. It was the next morning when the lift was added that things began to look bleak for my career as an antique Olympian. I couldn't stand up fast enough. First trip up the lift -- pow, I hit the snow. The next few times, the instructor boosted me off. After that, I'd just shout at the attendant, "Watch out, here I come!" And he would grab my hand and pull me off. Humiliating! Fortunately, there are other things to do and the moonlight snowmobile ride we took was a super experience -- full moon and snow-covered pines looking like they belonged on a Christmas card. The town has such a great family feel -- very laid-back.

In spite of not being the skier I'd hoped to be when I signed on for the trip, I had a great time. Now I'm going to breathe deep and enjoy the pollen-laced spring air here in Oklahoma!