Category Archives: USA
Newport, Rhode Island
Some notable highlights for good Rhody food include a hidden delight, Belle’s Cafe, at the Newport Shipyard with really good lobster rolls and an interesting setting featuring many of the yachts and sailboats in the area. Relax and enjoy all the activity around you.
Flo’s Clam Shack (in Middletown), is a local favorite for fresh fried clams and fried everything else! Best fried clams I’ve ever had. Bring your appetite.
Bodega Bay, Northern California
The Russian River flows into the Pacific on the Sonoma Coast and much of the coast is part of the Sonoma Coast State Beach. Highway 101 runs along this dramatic, protected area. We drove the stretch between Bodega Bay and Jenner. It was uncrowded and seemed so remote, with wild, uncorrupted beauty. There was no cell service.
All this scenery and wine tasting made us hungry and we headed back towards Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds) and the Spud Point Crab Company. You don’t come here for a luxury setting, comfortable chairs (picnic tables outside), bathrooms (across the street at the marina), or heat (it was cold and windy); what you will get is terrific crab, shrimp and clam chowder. They have won awards for the best clam chowder on the Pacific coast and I can taste why, it was wonderful. Service was fast and friendly and we were soon on our way to San Francisco.
Key Largo, Florida
Alabama Jacks has the best conch fritters ever. We can’t even remember how long we’ve been coming to this great South Florida spot – at least 25 years, and it is always consistently fun. First, let me say, the food is great. The Conch Fritters are incredible, actually one large mound, not wimpy, little bite-size croquettes like most places. Other favs include the smoked fish pieces, fish spread, and peel & eat shrimp.
The setting? Well, it’s special too: all the way down deserted-looking Card Sound Road, right where Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties meet, on a permanently anchored barge, with a water view on the Gulf side.
It’s casual, very casual; a weekend-bikers destination that attracts boaters who dock, as well as a mix of locals, tourists, kids, Coast Guardsmen, red hat ladies, and every type of person you can imagine. From tattoos and designer shorts to sunburns and square-dancing costumes, nothing is out of place. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons they play host to a country music band, and patrons will be even more entertained by the friendly local clogging crowd.
Alabama Jacks is the way Florida used to be and has a vibe far too few get to experience these days. So, when you’re in Miami/South Beach for a visit, keep driving south and see what Florida is really about.
Pensacola is pleasant, walkable and friendly. We were visiting on a Monday and the historic tours weren’t operating, but on the plus side, Monday is 25 cent oyster night at Atlas Oyster House. So, that’s $3 for a dozen terrific, plump Louisiana Gulf oysters! I think we ate about three dozen.
The South has some legendary grand hotels, and many Southerners would love to keep them all to themselves. These are five of my favorites, all elegant, renovated, and award-winning:
The Hermitage Hotel | Nashville
The Hermitage Hotel is really the grand dame of them all. The architecture and décor are the very best of Southern elegance. From the minute you step into the beautiful lobby staff is attentive and friendly. Our room was lovely, spacious and totally modern in every amenity and function. We started the evening with local friends in the hotel’s iconic Oak Bar (with a quick side visit to see the famous Men’s Room). Then out the door of this conveniently located hotel to hit some of the cities great nightspots and hear some excellent music. Read the rest of this entry
These days our country is divided politically, pretty much 50/50 and friends and family with opposing viewpoints cannot seem to have a civil discussion without breaking down into name-calling. I keep hearing people say “it’s never been this bad” and “I’ve never seen our country so divided”.
In the context of our short U.S. history, nothing could be more divergent than the War Between the States, fought from 1861 – 1865. Keeping it in perspective, the stunning loss of 622,000 lives was almost more than our losses in all other U.S. wars combined. Based on population percentages, that’s equivalent to 6 million today. It was a war in which family members were often on both sides of the battle and I can see that clearly reflected in my own ancestry research.
The battlefields are now national parks, under the management of the National Park Service and while Gettysburg may be the most famous there are many others. On this trip north, we stopped to visit Manassas National Battlefield Park. Up until this battle, the general population was treating the warlike performance art theater, riding in from cities with picnic baskets packed, to watch. The battle at Manassas ended that trend as the violent, bloody battle and death toll of young soldiers from both sides sent the observers into a fast retreat. The First Manassas Battle is more commonly known as the Battle of Bull Run and it is considered the first major battle of the war, fought in July 1861. A second battle was fought in the same area in August of 1862.
Today the pastoral setting has been beautifully maintained and buildings restored. There is a nice Visitor’s Center with interesting exhibits and a well-done movie explaining the battle. Rangers lead informative tours and hikes. Located near Gainesville, VA, the park is bisected by US Highway 29.
Some might wonder who won this battle, but from my point of view, no one wins a fight with his brother.
Nalls Produce in Alexandria VA has the best pumpkin patch I’ve ever been to. And, imagine my surprise to end up chatting with one of the owners. Valerie Nall was wearing a “Robert is Here” cap. For those lucky enough to be in the know, Robert Is Here is a wonderful produce operation in Homestead, FL, not too far from where I live.
Valerie told me the Nalls Produce enterprise was started by her father from a card table set-up to sell produce; I should’ve found out how many pumpkins they had – it must be in the thousands.
They came in every color range possible: white, bright orange, mottled, and striped. In every possible size, they had big pumpkins, GIANT pumpkins, record-breaking pumpkins, tiny pumpkins, fairy tale pumpkins, and gourds in every crazy shape and size.
We had a great time with our baby granddaughter and enjoyed trying to get her to sit still for one of the many great photo op locations. Older kids were having a blast running around bales of hay, crawling through “tunnels” and picking out pumpkins. Parents were pulling red wagons with piles of gourds and pumpkins. Most sales are by the pound, but some items are individually priced, like the tiny perfect pumpkin our daughter bought for our grandbaby. Nall’s wall of pumpkins was an art installation all by itself. Check it out if you are anywhere in the DC area.
Take the Moonshine Express run of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and I promise you will not be disappointed.
After booking our tickets online, we picked them up at 9:30 the morning of the trip and boarded the Carolina Shine car around 10 AM. Before we even started rolling, we were served three of the seven moonshine flavors we tasted. Starting with the basic White Lightening, we moved quickly on to Apple Pie and Cherry. Our second flight featured Peach, Blueberry, Pina Colada, and Salted Caramel. Peach and Apple Pie were my favs . . . and I did try them all. Heartier souls can order all sorts of shots and/or moonshine-laced cocktails in addition to wine or beer from the well-stocked bar. It was a happy train car.
We rolled out of the Bryson City, NC trainyard under diesel power about half an hour into our five-hour experience, on a route along the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. Our energetic, funny host, Steve, kept us entertained with all sorts of historic facts and trivia as we chugged along about 20 miles per hour through forests, around lakes, and over rivers.
A tasty BBQ lunch was served before our hour-long stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. At the Center, you see some beautiful (and scary-looking) class-5 rapids, as well as a kayak training course used by Olympic athletes. There are ample restrooms, a restaurant/bar, and a shopping area focused on active outdoor clothes and accessories (think wetsuits and paddles).
The best meals are not always the fanciest, most expensive, famous, or easy to access. We always make the effort to find out the local specialties and tap into local sources for getting to the right place. Join me as I recall a few of my favs:
Breaking from our usual frenetic pace we enjoyed Geneva as the locals do. Under the tutelage of our good friends, Geneva residents Eva and Bob, we are seeing some sites, relaxing, chatting, and enjoying views of the tranquil lake. A highlight for us was visiting the nearby country village of Hermance and enjoying some of the fabulous local perch prepared the typical Swiss way (with a butter sauce), at La Croix Federale. No trip to this part of the world would be complete without sampling this delicious local fish. Good company, blue skies, perfect temperature, the harmony of the migrating songbirds, and cold white wine combined to create a day of really special memories.
My husband and I love oysters and make it a point of trying them wherever we travel. I don’t know how it took us so long to experience these delicious bi-valves in a state we both love. The Narragansett Indians inhabited this area and called it Matunuck meaning “lookout”. Maybe the name reflected a need for security, or maybe it was the view. But the real stars here are the oysters.
University of Rhode Island aquaculture grad Perry Raso farms the delicacies close by on Potter Pond. His pond-to-plate concept at Matunuck Oyster Bar is a winner and his restaurant is on our must-visit list whenever we are in Rhode Island. Three varieties: Matunuck, Rocky Road, and Wild Goose. So sweet and tender. Rocky Roads are our favs. Go Rhody. Read the rest of this entry
September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and so it is only fitting for this week’s post to celebrate that great Kentucky whiskey:
Our whirlwind Bourbon Tour involved 3 other couples, a rented van, and a lot of details, but it was worth every second of the planning. We had great weather and in just four summer days drove through beautiful horse country, ate incredible meals, and tasted some mighty fine bourbon. Our travels took us from Buffalo Trace (home of Blanton’s and the famous Papy Van Winkle), to Woodford Reserve (official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby), Makers Mark, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam (where my favorites Basil Hayden and Knob Creek are distilled), and last, but not least to the Craft Distillery, Willetts.
21c Museum Hotel | Lexington, Kentucky
The 21c Museum Hotel is a great hotel with a contemporary vibe and a focus on historic preservation and art; what a winning combo. And yes, there is an art museum. This is one of several art museum/hotels in renovated sites by this innovative company. I loved the rooms in this repurposed historic bank building. I particularly enjoyed the fun the designers had with color and art. Bright colors were used as accents in the rooms and public spaces, and photography by one of the owners was beautifully featured in the room.
The room was comfortable, bed great, shower excellent. We had no trouble getting feather pillows. Our corner room was on a high floor and the views of the city were terrific. I arranged the trip for a group of friends and we enjoyed the bourbon package. Breakfast was excellent and our bourbon flight was a lot of fun, with a super bourbon steward. Valet was efficient and the staff was very friendly. The only hitch was check-in which was very slow and disorganized, a contrast to everything else about the hotel and our stay.
The Brown Hotel | Louisville, Kentucky
The Brown Hotel was a real step back into another era. We loved the hotel’s colorful history. We were traveling with a group of friends and enjoyed the Club Level service – it proved very convenient, and was more than adequate for breakfast and afternoon wine, beer, (no hard liquor) soft drinks and snacks.
Our Chef’s Table dinner in the kitchen of the English Grill was a wonderful and memorable occasion. Under the direction of English Grill Manager (and Sommelier/Bourbon Steward extraordinaire) Troy Ritchie and Chef Dustin Willett, we enjoyed a first-class event. I had worked with Troy in advance to put together the details and he was delightful, creative, and very easy to work with. Read the rest of this entry
If you enjoy the quirky side of Americana you will love the House of Mugs (aka The Collettsville Cup House). Located in Collettsville in rural western North Carolina, near the Wilson Creek Recreation Area, about 12 miles from Lenoir. The house is a testament to something – I’m just not sure what.
It’s estimated there are 25,000 mugs covering the house, fence, and arch; feel free to bring one along to add to the collection. It’s free and there is a guest book to sign. We didn’t see anyone around when we visited and it doesn’t look like anyone actually lives there. It’s a really nice country drive and we crossed at least three single-lane bridges until we reached the lovely setting along a pretty riverbank. Read the rest of this entry
It’s pretty easy to get to the highest point in the eastern US; visit Mount Mitchell in western North Carolina and most can easily maneuver the 285 yards paved Summit Tower Trail to the top observation deck. It is handicap accessible. But be prepared for chilly weather with temps about 20 degrees cooler than lower elevations, experts say the climate is more like Canada than North Carolina. At 6,684’ you will be rewarded with a 360-degree view for up to 85 miles of the surrounding Black Mountain Range and the Pisgah National Forest. There are many trails of varying levels throughout the Park and several easy trails from the summit. The informative signage about wildlife, plants, and geology make it a particularly enjoyable, educational experience for families. Read the rest of this entry
This post marks the first time I have ever uploaded copy I did not write. After reading an email from my friend KC, I thought it was just too good not to share. KC and her husband are life-long friends of mine and he is a serious golfer, she doesn’t play but knows her stuff. Together they raised three children who all became golfers at the University of Florida. So, you get the picture, they know golf. Enjoy the read.
If you haven’t yet played golf in Wisconsin at Erin Hills and/or the Kohler courses (site of the 2020 Ryder Cup), I can vouch for both that they are fabulous. We read that the lodge at Erin Hills is in the top few lodges for golf in the country and we found it to be nice, though not extraordinary. Our room was minuscule and had no internet access, though it was well decorated and nicely appointed. There was much needed bottled water on tables in the hallways, in the rooms, and elsewhere around the resort for guests to take as needed. This was definitely appreciated as the sun was surprisingly intense and there is limited shade, so even with relatively mild summer temperatures, we felt parched.
We stayed only one night and that was plenty given the small room and limited non-golf activity options. King beds are a rare find here. For larger groups, there are some cottages with multiple bedrooms and a common area. We arrived the day before hubby’s tee time and he played the warm-up holes (Kettle Loop) in the late afternoon. We both tinkered around on the putting course, and had a delicious dinner and chatted with a lovely family at the table next to us.
The staff at the resort was wonderful – friendly and helpful and good at their jobs. We almost felt like we were visiting the home of a very gracious and hospitable friend. Erin Hills is out in the middle of nowhere and a bit pricey for the room we had and lack of amenities beyond golf-related activities, but there aren’t very many other options nearby except lower end hotel/motels some 8-15 miles away. However, the entirety of Erin Hills is like a giant playroom for those who love golf with a brand new cool 12 hole putting course, a 5-hole warm-up course, a great practice area, and the course itself, which has hosted multiple USGA championships in recent years. The course looks like the moon with grass on it. You will walk many miles up and down hills to play or observe and there isn’t a tree in sight! Hubby’s caddie was a darling girl whom we just loved having with us on the course. Caddies generally pull a double loop unless you request a caddie for a single. Read the rest of this entry