Mar 31 2009

March 31, 2009

Today I am touring the largest living history museum in the United States. During the 18th Century Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, James Madison and dozens more helped mold democracy in this Commonwealth and the United States. Known as America’s Historic Triangle, this is where America began.

Do you know where I am?

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Colonial Williamsburg – this guessing game is closed


Mar 30 2009

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia

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A wander around the fabulous Butchart Gardens is a pleasure any time of year. My first visit was in the dead of winter, and, of course, the place was decked with Christmas decorations that would rival any flowering display. Returning three more times, during summer and back to back spring trips has unveiled the many secrets of the fifty-five acre garden. It’s very hard to say, but the tulip and daffodil displays could have been my favorite. No, the roses. No, the cherry trees in bloom. No, the hostas and hydrangeas. Oh, forget it. I can’t pick. If you’ve been, what’s your favorite display?


Mar 26 2009

New Orleans French Quarter


Mar 25 2009

Tikal, Guatemala

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Traveling to Tikal in Guatemala from Belize is a relatively short trip. We went with a tour group, both so we could have a guide around the ruins, and so we wouldn’t have to do the driving ourselves. There are tensions between the two countries, making the transition from one border to the next a slightly anxious proposition. Nothing happened, but we did get earfuls on either end about how bad the other is.

Tikal was one of the major cultural and populated centers in the Mayan civilzation. Climbing around the ruins (which I am always amazed we are allowed to do) there is always just one big unanswered question, “What happened to the Mayans?”


Mar 23 2009

Tasty Travels

Feeling very much like a ten-year-old child with an allowance to blow, I approached the Toronto airport gift shop counter. One hand cupped a pile of $1 and $2 coin, the other grasped a dozen of my new favorite treat. Rather than exchange my Loonies and Toonies on my way back to the U.S., I was spending them all, and stocking up on the delicious dark toffee, peanut, chocolate, Eat-More bars that are only sold in Canada. Keith could hardly stand to watch, embarrassed that I would actually exchange cold hard cash (or coin) for nothing more than cooked sugar and nuts. But, he’s the one that turned me onto them, and don’t think for a second that when it came time to break into my stash over the next few months, that he ever turned down his half of the treat.

Discovering Eat-More candy bars marks the beginning of a whole new aspect in travel for me. In the last decade I have acquired tastes for foods that I had never before heard of. I’m not just talking about internationally, and it’s not all about candy, either. I know just about anything can be ordered online, but I really enjoy shopping in person. From little neighborhood markets to large chain supermarkets, local stores can be a great way to get to the pulse of a community.

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My pantry is full of regional delights that I have gathered while traveling. I try to use everything in a timely manner so there is no waste. Nothing worse than waiting to cook a “special” meal with unique ingredients, only to find out they have spoiled or turned stale. Some things are really simple, like the no-name mushroom soup sold at the No Frills in Gananoque, Ontario in Canada. Others a bit more unique, like the bread-crumb sized flaky bits of TPAXANAS EYNOS the Greeks use as a soup base. Most prized is probably my 3-liter olive oil from Alassio, Italy, hand poured just for me from a vat the size of a Volkswagen. Every now and again I get a whiff of the smokey dried chipotle peppers that I just had to have from a Super Center in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. They have been shoved to the back of the cupboard and I’ve never used a one…yet.

Last week while shopping at Rouses in New Orleans, I picked up a can of Trappey’s Cut Okra and Tomatoes, not something I see everyday, and a package of local Cajun Gumbo mix. This will go nicely with either the frozen crawfish tail meat or the gator sausage that I picked up at a tiny market while out touring Louisiana Plantations. Another grocery item score was the Acadiana honey, shipped down from Breaux Bridge, LA the Crawfish Capitol of the world. I’d hoped to get up to Breaux Bridge and/or Lafayette while in the area, but I am left to enjoy the honey of the region and put the destination itself back on the list to visit.

One drawback to being exposed to new and wonderful flavors and foods is the risk of being spoiled by them. Some things can not be brought home, so I am left with mouth-watering memories of foods I am lucky to have tasted. Fresh grilled calamari from the Mediterranean has ruined me for all other squid. And, not that I’m a big pizza eater, but what we get here in the U.S. is not even the same dish as what the little standing room only pizzerias in Italy sell. My waistline thanks me for this revelation.

What are some of your favorite foods that you have discovered in your lifetime?


Mar 20 2009

Caves of Toirano


Mar 18 2009

Roadside fruit stands, Mexico

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Within just a couple feet of traffic on the road, these fruit stands line what little shoulder there is before the jungle begins. There really is no where to pull over to buy fruit, the locals probably just slow down. Beyond the stands, little children hang out at the sides of the topes (speed bumps) to sell plastic baggies full of peeled oranges and other snacks.


Mar 16 2009

Brennan’s Original Famous Banana’s Foster


Mar 12 2009

Flaming Bananas and Turtle Soup, Welcome to Brennan’s

One of the first questions I was asked after being seated near a mirrored wall corner of Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans French Quarter was,

“So, are you opposed to eating turtle?”

Without the slightest hesitation I answered, “I have no problem eating turtle.”

As long as we are not talking endangered, and believe me, we are not. Several times during the famous three course breakfast (expected to take as many hours) the meal was referred to as “an experience”, why stop short of trying the rue based turtle soup? Bring. It. On. And so they did.

Ron, our waiter, could just as easily have been a football linebacker. He leaned inward, comfortably filling the space between two in my party like a missing puzzle piece. He was cool, man, and had a stance “Like the Duke” he joked. Meaning Ellington, not John Wayne. In baritone whispers he went through the menu, history included. One thing we were all sure of, we would finish the meal with bananas foster, a world famous dish created right here in this restaurant on Royal Street in 1951. The promise of flaming rum over bananas held strong throughout the experience.

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After the tangy tomato turtle soup appetizer, we were served the main course. I’m an eggs Benedict fan, and most of the entree’s included in the $36 fixed price breakfast menu are Benedict-esque. Unique to Brennan’s breakfast menu, each delicious dish has a suggested wine to accompany it. Both the Eggs Bayou LaFourche, a dish with Cajun andouille sausage, and the Oysters Benedict are paired with a Gerwurztraminer. A Fume Blanc goes nicely with Eggs Sardou, poached eggs on artichoke bottoms and creamed spinach.

From my seat I could see the large pastel watercolor portrait of Owen Brennan, founder of the iconic eatery in 1946. Historically remembered for his warm, welcoming, humorous, good nature, Mr. Brennan would likely be pleased to know the staff in his legacy restaurant treat customers today in the exact manner. Maitre d’ Jorge Blanco, an immigrant from Nicaragua, has worked for the restaurant for more than 20 years. As if we were old friends, Jorge agreed to my request to check out the courtyard. With hints of remorse he pointed out a new magnolia tree, replacing an older more magnificent tree that suffered Katrina’s wrath. We talked briefly of the restaurants come back after the storm. Still not serving quite the number of breakfasts as pre-Katrina, they are recovering.

Beginning to make our way toward the exit, Jorge introduced us to Mario, another long time member of the staff, working 37 years at the restaurant. We’d seen Mario earlier, making jokes to the room full of patrons during Ron’s blazing of the bananas for our desert.

“If you see me running, you run!” He told us.

Jorge pointed to a particular framed photo along the lobby wall, an old image of the Royal Street corner back in 1895 with a small child out front.

“See, here?” his finger tapped a figure of a small child “this is Mario, as a boy” Then he burst out laughing, as did we. These two seem like family, everyone here, in fact, seems to be all part of one fairly large family. There are many words to describe a morning enjoying the famous Breakfast at Brennan’s, but calling it “an experience” does sum it up nicely.

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Brennan’s Restaurant
417 Royal Street
In the French Quarter
New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: (504) 525-9711 | Fax: (504) 525-2302


Mar 11 2009

Nice, France

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I almost missed the Cours Saleya food and flower market on my one day tour of Nice. Exiting the metro station, map in hand, I opted to travel on foot rather than hop the bus. Hardly a better way to get a feel for a city, even if (or maybe especially when?) you get lost. My only concern as I hopelessly wandered, shutter on the camera clicking away, was that the market closes in the early afternoon. True enough, by the time I found it, the fish vendor had nothing left but heaps of ice, vegetable vendors with baskets full of peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, garlic and more were all stacking their goods in small trucks, umbrellas were brought down and packed away. Still, I had enough time to enjoy the fresh and gorgeous flowers – seriously debating on carrying a bouquet around the rest of the day to take back to Alassio. My practical nature prevailed and I continue to enjoy the photos that are the only souvenirs I brought home.


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