A day on the ranch…..with LBJ
February 7, 2012

This was a common sight at the LBJ ranch back in the 1960's....

Ok, last week in Austin…I rented a car one day, and decided to make the trek out to the old LBJ ranch(now a national park)…for those of you under a certain age…LBJ is Lyndon Baines Johnson. The man who took over the helm after President John Kennedy’s assasination. The man who steered/bulldozed civil rights legislation through Congress.

LBJ called it "Air Force One-half"....

The runway on which Air Force One landed was just a strip in the middle of a field (which is still there), and it landed there pretty often, as LBJ spent 1/4 of his time at the White House, in Texas on his ranch.

Lovely shot of LBJ and Lady Bird....back in the day...

It’s where he and his grandparents and parents before him were raised, on the Pedernales River….out in the beautiful Texas hill country.

The entrance to the ranch that LBJ designed.....

And the entrance that LBJ added(always a flair for the dramatic), included a trip over/through the river, and while the roadway through the river is still there, no one drives over it, but this is what it looked like when you did…

Actually looks like fun, doesn't it?

And while the first lady Lady Bird Johnson had a guest book…the President had a different way for his guests to be remembered at the ranch..they signed their names in concrete.

Astronauts Gus Grissom and Alan Sheppard.....

The house has been preserved just as it was when the Johnsons were in residence…he donated the ranch to the National Park Service, to go into effect after Lady Bird died(in 2007).

LBJ's presidential office on the ranch, just as it was...

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the 1960s, and the volatile, crazy time it was, with civil rights, assassinations and the Vietnam War all playing on stage. I didn’t realize that Johnson died when he was only 64, just a few years after announcing that he would not seek another term in office.  He’s also buried at the ranch. The park service does an amazing driving tour(diy-you get a cd and it tours you around with commentary and info. If you ever get out that way, don’t miss it!



Vacation cooking….southern food, mountain style!
June 16, 2011

Pan-fried okra...one of my favorite dishes!!

I don’t think it’s wrong to start this post with a big skillet of pan-fried okra….which is in my mind, the only way okra should be fried. Yes, restaurants always batter and deep fry it…but take it from me…this takes away the flavor of the okra, and makes it too bready(and fattening). Just toss it with some plain cornmeal, and pan-fry it in a small of vegetable(or olive) oil. You will need to add a little oil as you go along….salt and pepper….done. Some people like it darker(burned), like my sister…I prefer mine a little greener, as above. Either way, you’ll love it.

from left: my sister Jan, the lovely Jennifer, my precious daughter, me, my sister Audrey, and my son!

And we cooked a lot in North Carolina….and why not? We had a huge, killer kitchen with a large island(and a 6 burner stove), so lots of people could prep(aka stand around drinking wine and peeling and inhaling 5 pounds of gulf shrimp my sister hauled from Gulf Shores-that’s what my son is doing in the picture)….and socialize at the same time, of course. My fav way to prepare a meal…not alone! Occasionally we did eat out….

Hey, can I borrow that lip gloss???

Watch the roux, or it will burn, baby!!

We made a fabulous gumbo one night….with chicken, Andouille sausage and shrimp…in a big pot. But of course you start with a roux(oil and flour cooked to a carmel brown), and add the peppers and onions and garlic..the step you see above.

Serving up bowls of gumbo, Paul Prudhomme style...

We listened to Clifton Chenier during gumbo prep…..love NOLA music…

Dinner on the porch(right after I check my Blackberry)my bros-in-law Jack and George in foreground...

How lovely is that??

Our VRBO house thru the trees….as we called it, our “big-ass house”!
Highlands….you’ll love it!

Tomorrow….”cake surgery” on a birthday cake that…ummmm….wasn’t up to code!

Techie update….Donna gets some new toys….
May 16, 2011

All those lovely little icons mean something, I think...

Ok, some of you know I have joined the iPad revolution(which is a good thing right now as my computer at work is currently kaput)….and I really do love it. As my son(who’s had the iPad for a while)pointed out, it doesn’t do everything perfectly(no Adobe flash video, for example), but it is a terrific gadget, and

popup keyboard...

I use it much more than my laptop these days, unless I want to write something longer, and then the popup onscreen keyboard is too small for much typing(certainly not accurate anyway…some things I write occasionally look like jibberish). 

Wireless Keyboard for iPadSo, for Momma's Day, my son and the lovely Jennifer sent me Apple wireless keyboard...it is super light and super thin(see pic below) so it travels easily with me to work.super thin...

As long as it’s within 30 feet of your Mac or iPad, it works, so it can be in your lap, or on a table, or whatever…nice. I really like it. And it has a “smart” battery system so when you’re not using the keyboard, it automatically powers down. The instant you start typing, it turns back on! What??

And here’s another gadget that the New Yorkers brought as a gift when we all went to South Carolina for family vaca in April….it’s called the Jambox. SO cute.

So small, but terrific sound...

Made by Jawbone, the Jambox  uses bluetooth technology…after it pairs with your iPad(or smart phone or computer), you can cart the little speaker around with you….out on the porch, in the kitchen and listen to tunes from, say, iTunes, or  Pandora Radio(another great Ap to have on your iPad or computer) wherever you are, without having to have your iPad in the kitchen or in the bathroom. To give you an idea of how it works, and all the things you can use it for,check out this video-here. Very, very smart device. On the way home from Charleston, we had downloaded free podcasts of  This American Life…(if you’ve never heard of it, look it up-one of the best radio shows ever), and played them thru the Jambox sitting on the dashboard. Made the 8 hour drive, almost seem shorter!

Football and Ice…..I flew all the way south, for this????
January 10, 2011

Covered in a sheet of ice.......note the license plate-war eagle!

Ok, here’s the thing…a while back(when it was determined that the Auburn Tigers would be in the national championship game)that we all get together to watch it. You know, it’s fun to watch a big game in the company of people who understand the significance of the event.

And while we knew there was a little weather headed to ‘bama…ummm…we didn’t quite understand the signifcance of the event.  Yeah. So we are all iced in at my sister’s house, just hoping we can get our flight out tomorrow, and thought it would be ironic(among other things) if I had come to the only place in the country I couldn’t see the game if the power went out! Right now we are watching pictures from the Birmingham airport where lots of disappointed would be fliers are sleeping on the floor. At least I have a bed.(My sister Jan just walked by and said, “Tell everybody hey!”

Now you stick that where, and then do what??

This morning she and her husband Jack were struggling to light their little used fireplace….it is ‘bama after all…which gives off a nice warmth. He said something like, ” This is the reason we had a $320 gas bill a few years ago.” But to his credit he got it going.

Wait, that's a lemon?

I will tell you we are eating well…too well….pork tenderloin for dinner last night with sweet potatoes roasted with Granny Smith apples...that was an inspired combo.

We definitely need more baked goods....

And the pic above is of one of a bunch of lemons my other sister Audrey hauled up from Gulf Shores along with a cooler full of other food…they grew on Ft. Morgan road and they ripen this time of year. I’ve never seen any lemon so….. large…so orange-like…it’s bigger than a baseball.

Garden gates on the ceiling...who woulda thunk it?

I did get out to an interesting restaurant, before the ice man cometh, called the Urban Standard. Very warehousy, artsy….great food(pork hash that was fab)…..and they have these rusted garden gates hung on the ceiling…love it. Oh, red velvet cupcakes to die for, with a touch of almond in the icing.

Tommy the dog in Auburn paraphanalia.....

But of course the big event is tonight…the Cam Newton show. Will the Auburn Tigers defeat the  Oregon Ducks? Well, I’m afraid they will, with apologies to you Oregon fans…I am truly sorry for what will happen to your team tonight. And we’re having duck for dinner!! Quack.

Back from Chucktown….re-entry day….
April 26, 2010

Dinner on the Porch, Charleston style...

Yes, we arrived fresh from a warm and altogether fabulous week  in Charleston…to a rainy and chilly welcome home in Baltimore….not the greeting I was hoping for, but perhaps apropos of saying goodbye to vaca. I always call today….your first day back at work…re-entry, as in re-entry to real life. It can be a little tough, I won’t lie to you, and a little sad. Laundry that needs to be done, grocery shopping list waiting, an email box at work that I still haven’t finished clearing out…you know the drill.

But, it was a wonderful week in Charleston…which I noticed the NY Times touted this past Sunday as a great place to go in April and May. Well, duh, and I’d add March to the list. Spring there is splendid…not humid or hot, just sunny and so, so pretty. The house we stayed in this year was dubbed by the lovely Jennifer, as…”our rock star pad“.   And I can’t disagree. You can check it out on VRBO right here.  The picture above was taken one night before dinner, out on the porch overlooking the Isle of Palms marsh. While we ate dinner out several nights, we found we were happiest cooking and eating at home….so relaxed, and such a gorgeous view. We cooked shrimp and grits(of course), had delish carry out pork carnitas from Caviar and Bananas(a Dean and Deluca like food emporium), made shrimp risotto another night….the local shrimp are so good. And we loved just hanging out….we don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like.

view from loft bedroom window seat...

Hey, who would not be happy here? And you know I’m a VRBO girl all the way, when it comes to family travel. To have an actual house to stay in…where everyone has their own bedroom and bath, but we have a communal gathering space for tv, or games or dinner…is perfect. And we love to cook on holiday. And this house had a great kitchen in which to prepare meals, and had the most wonderful selection of pots and pans, utensils and dishes…seriously, it had everything. And nice stuff too.

boardwalk over the marsh leads to the beach!

Great  living room with comfy seating for all five of us, a huge projection screen tv that came down from the ceiling, glass all around, porches with dinner seating and getaway spots for reading, beautiful bedrooms with pretty views….it had it all. It was designed by Peter Bohlin, who is (evidently) a famous architect who designed part of the Bill Gates house. Pete…good job.  Best vacation house ever.

Get your Fly-Boy on…..
March 11, 2010

early morning at a Pensacola marina....

OK….as my daughter said whine-ily(not a word, I know)  to me some years back as we were on a flight to vacation that would cost us time and money…”What are we gonna DO in San Francisco??” And you may wonder why I suggest Pensacola as a vacation…”what are we gonna DO in Pensacola?” Well, my friends, beside the food, which as I have explained, is kickin’…a bit more on that today. But first…activities!!

Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels...

How about one of the world’s largest aviation museums, which  is right there…with more that 150 restored aircraft from all eras….and more than 4,000 artifacts representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviationThe National Navy Aviation Museum is simply fantastic and get this …it’s free.  This is a place where one could easily spend a whole day…or even two, touring the base and the museum. I took waaaaay too many pictures of all the restored planes in there…and don’t forget, this base is home to the flying Blue Angels…..who practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays….what an incredible sight that would be.

Float planes, bombers, biplanes...they have it all...

Many of the planes in the museum were recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan. You may wonder how on earth did they get there. here’s what happened….during WWII, they built the deck of a carrier on the lake, so that pilots could learn to land and take off from a aircraft carrier….always a risky proposition. Many of those planes went over the side in aborted attempts….and no effort was made to recover them, until they realized it was a goldmine of war planes for the exhibit…..none of which still existed anywhere . They were pulled up and restored by volunteers….took about 5 years a plane. Incredible.

And you can stay in Pensacola the city….like we did…or stay in Pensacola Beach, which is over the 3 mile bridge to the long slender island which is where the beachfront is…..tons of houses and condos to choose from. As you know, I like to do that instead of a hotel if I’m there for more than a few days…because you can cook, and you have a living room in which to gather the family and hang out….VRBO…remember?

And you gotta go to  …..oh, there’s too much to say today and no time left….tomorrow….I’ll wrap up this Pensacola saga….and as a teaser, I’ll tell you where you can order fresh Gulf shrimp, 9-12 size(big), heads on….for $4.50 a pound. Don’t believe me? The source for seafood ….Friday right here.

No Grits, No Glory…….
March 9, 2010

The Fish House in Pensacola....

This past weekend I was in Pensacola Florida for my nephew Quint’s wedding(congrats Quint and Julie)….and not having really spent any time there(except for a hot, week long childhood vacation), I didn’t know much about the place. This I will put out for your consideration….think about going there for a vacation. Seriously. The numerous reasons why I will share with you this week….but let’s start with the obvious…food. You cannot have a good holiday in a town that does  not have good cuisine. You just can’t. And Pensacola has it goin’ on, in that category.

Grits a Ya Ya at the Fish House....over the top!

I decided to do …let’s call it…an informal grits competition….the various ways one can prepare grits. Without a doubt, the most over the top version was at a highly recommended restaurant at a marina, called simply enough, The Fish House. Its humble weathered grey facade conceals the look within….lots of large beautiful aquariums scattered about the room and white table cloths…that kind of place. And on a Sunday night ,we had to sit at the bar it was so crowded, but that’s fine with me. The tuna and salmon sashimi  was impeccably fresh, but the reason I was there was for their famous Grits a Ya Ya….a dish in which grilled gulf shrimp sit atop a saute of spinach, portebello mushrooms, applewood smoked bacon, garlic shallots and cream, over a heaping bed of smoked Gouda cheese grits. Need I say more? One order was plenty for the two of us..it was just that rich…and at $19.95, a relative bargain. Oh, and I found a recipe online that claims to be Grits a Ya Ya….here’s a link….and when you read the ingredients you’ll want to sit down. Oh, ya ya.

The Coffee Cup....slinging grits since 1945....

I had read about a famous dish in Pensacola called Nassau Grits. I had no idea what that was, and it wasn’t easy to find someone who did know….however, in the article about “greasy spoon” restaurant…the Coffee Cup Restaurant was evidently the place that served Nassau grits  by which all other Nassau grits in Pensacola grits are judged(since 1945).

Finally, I've found the elusive Nassau grits...

And as someone else says about the Coffee Cup…..” it’s the place where cops and attorneys, drywall hangers and artists, dilettantes and debutantes gather to eat grits and eggs in the morning“….good enough for me. We cruised by Sunday morning….no luck… closed tight. But never one to be deterred so easily from grits at least, we were back Monday before a flight home….and  in luck. Even at 10 am, the place was packed….and of course nothing would do, but Nassau grits…plus a couple of eggs over easy, and a nice slice of Southern ham. Oh, and easily the best cathead of the trip(cathead is what my late Dad always called biscuits).  When the grits arrived…those suckers were red. Clearly, tomatoes were involved.

Ever had some red grits? Me either.....

Oh, the places you could go....

When I asked the waitress what was in them, she replied a touch wearily, as though it had been a long morning with yahoos like me around…but said, “Tomatoes, onions, green peppers, hot sauce and ham“. They were deliciously different….and just in case you want to make them yourself…here’s  recipe for Nassau Grits. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

Sometimes the simplest is the best....depending on the time of day....

But it was hard(impossible?) to beat the simple grits preparation at The Seville Grill in Pensacola. I ordered the pesto, spinach, mushroom and swiss cheese omelet…with grits, naturally….and they nestled up to one of the best omelets I’ve ever tasted…in their little white stoneware bowl. The waitress had asked, “Do you want cheese in ’em?” After only a moments hesitation, I replied in the afffirmative.  They were topped with cheddar and a diet devastating dollop of butter. In all honesty, you can gild the lily in many, many ways….but stone ground grits(which these clearly were) with butter and a little cheese is ….well…to me at least…a simple dish of true perfection. It was a great breakfast at the Seville. Tomorrow…more on Pensacola and why you should be planning a trip there, right now.

Organic movement alive and well in Mexico…
September 21, 2009

View from sidewalk cafe at the Jardin...

View from sidewalk cafe at the Jardin...

When asked where I went on vacation, and on being told San Miguel de Allende, most look a little puzzled and ask, “Where is that?”   That’s ok…For those of you who have also never heard of it, San Miguel or SMA for short, is in the central mountains of Mexico, about a 4 hour drive north of Mexico city, and sits at an altitude of 6000 feet. So the weather is never very hot in the summer, nor is it very cold in the winter….a lovely temperate climate that has attracted quite a sizeable American expatriate community. Some 8,000 or so Americans make SMA their home. I can understand it…the cost of living is so much lower, while the quality of life is very, very good. I’m sure it’s pretty complicated, making a foreign country your residence, but it’s attractions, I get. And some of those expats have joined with Mexicans to bring some new ideas about things to  San Miguel…including organic farming. It has brought a whole new lucrative market to small Mexican farmers, who like small American farmers, can find it tough to make a living without a niche. So when we stumbled across Via Organica, I was thrilled!

Yummy organic bread.....

Yummy organic bread.....

A lttle panaderia there sells the most fabulous croissants( I was skeptical of a whole wheat croissant, but it was divine) and lovely breads of all sizes and shapes. And just across the street is Via Organica, whose cafe  is run in part by an American woman who moved to SMA about 15 years ago. She told me that she always knew she wouldn’t want to be idle, and would want to work at something….but what? “In San Miguel, it just comes to you…I don’t know else to explain it, ideas just come to you. And here is mine!”

Breakfast al fresco at Cafe Via Organicos...

Breakfast al fresco at Cafe Via Organicos...

There’s a sweet little outdoor restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch…that’s my breakfast you see in the picture…fresh papaya, and eggs al queso(cheese), served in a whole wheat tortilla cup. Yummy.

And they have an amazing selection of organic vegetables there that are grown on the Via Organica farm just outside the city…one day I saw a woman buying these larger than plate size, flat green leaves…I asked what they were and what she was going to do with them…..She said, ” I really don’t know what they are, but I’m using them as placemats on the table tonight.”  Shoot, I thought, I can do that…and I did….they were lovely.

The fresh orange(naranja) juice here was amazing...

The fresh orange(naranja) juice here was amazing...

And Via Organica also sells organic agave nectar…that is the foodie’s latest darling sweetener…that supposedly doesn’t spike your blood sugar like regular sugar. I have bought it at Whole Foods, but let me tell you, in the land of  native agave, it was a load cheaper in Mexico.

A roomful of holistic medicines is available for whatever might  ail you, be it depression or menstrual troubles, or zits…oh, and on that subject, you may wonder…did I ever suffer from turista? The answer is mostly, no. I was told to be on probiotics before I left….and I had been anyway from my long stint on antibiotics…I never went off. That held me in good stead..I had one bout of upset stomach, nothing serious, for one day, and then it was gone. The house where we stayed, which I’ll tell you about tomorrow, did have its own water purification system, which helps tons..of course. But you can’t always be at the house, now can you?

Gratitude and Envy…how to feel both at the same time!
August 4, 2009

I picture the villa like this(in my head)....
I picture the villa like this(in my head)….

One of my favorite co-worker/friends is back from vaca…she traveled with her entire family…parents, husbands, and kids in tow,  to France. Provence to be exact. How idyllic is that? They stayed in a fabulous country villa decorated in shades of grey and white, drank white wine, made daily visits to the village fromagerie and boulangerie, and days trips to Arles and Paris, and the best part…at least one of the best…her parents footed the tab, I mean hosted the trip. That’s…just…not…fair.
All of us here were alternately pea green with envy and wildly curious for all the details. “How cold was the white wine?” “How fresh was the bread?” “How long did you sit on the terrace overlooking the vineyards?” You know what I mean.
We couldn’t get enough, like thirsty stragglers on the desert. If it had happened to someone I like less, it would have been truly painful. As it was I was able to enjoy it vicariously, as a really thirsty straggler, who has not been on holiday all summer, and will not be on holiday for the dog days of August.
One reporter here, who I shall not name, asked, “Your whole family was there, and there wasn’t any drama at all??” When she assured this person that there was a wee bit of drama, and indeed, when is there not on a family trip, they breathed a tiny sigh of relief.  OK, there’s the envy part of my day. To hell with France.
The gratitude part? Well, there are two parts to it. The first..I gota call last night from myson in New York. As you may know, this is not an everyday occurance. The lovely Jennifer will call me, and sometimes at the end of our convo, she will say to my son, who is also in the room, “Do you want to say hi to your Mom?” I can almost feel the resigned look he gives her, which is to say, “What else can I say now…no?” So he he replies with somewhat forced enthusiasm, “Sure!”  Perhaps I imagine all this, but still, it is nice when he calls me, because I know he wants to talk to me. And he called with good news about his new wife of whom he is understandably proud. “Jen is gonna be an American Express Featured Card Holder!” Honestly I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I knew it had to be good, and quite an honor for her fledgling business to be included, so I though you might also enjoy it. Here’s the link!

Not my dog, but cute nonetheless....
Not my dog, but cute nonetheless….

And the other gratitude I pass along compliments of Ojas Yoga…my yoga place, that comes from their monthly wellness newsletter, about how we can all take a lesson in life and happiness fromyour dogs. Enjoy…ruff.
When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.
Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
Take naps and stretch before rising.
Run, romp and play daily.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back in the grass.
On hot days,  drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout. Run right back and make friends.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Eat with gusto and stop when you’ve had enough.
Be loyal.
Never pretend to be something you’re not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. (Like a holiday in Provence!) XOXO