Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Big Trip 2009

We normally take one big trip each year. This past summer we booked a Tauck Tour of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We like this tour company because you write one check and it’s all taken care of for you. No big decisions left to make except what to order at the restaurants along the way. We joined a group of about 30 people for our “tour”.  By the end of the twelve days we would be great friends. 

The adventure began with an uneventful (our luggage was not lost and there were no delays) flight to Salt Lake City. Having never been there, we were curious to see the town. Our hotel was in close proximity to Temple Square, so we walked there. The Mormons are very proud of their properties. All of the properties are staffed by volunteers who are doing their required church service. The place is fascinating and we had a guided tour of the site. No money has been spared for the buildings. It’s a very holy place in their religion and many young people flock there to get married. We saw no less than 6 wedding parties in the two days we were in Salt Lake.

It was a real treat to attend a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Air Force Band was performing with them. It was to be a Memorial Day radio broadcast. When we entered the free event I gasped at the sheer beauty of the place and the sound. Suffice it to say, it was magnificent and I will never forget it.

We entered the Family History Library out of curiosity and ended up spending the greater part of a morning researching our own families in the vast data bases accessible there for free. If I ever need another hobby, I may get into genealogy. It’s fascinating. I found out that my grandfather was named after Theodore Roosevelt and that my mother had a brother whose real name she never heard.

Contrary to what some may say, modern day Mormons do not practice polygamy. We did, however, tour the home of Brigham Young who had lots of families! What we found is that they are a very devout people with strong beliefs.
Salt Lake City is not a place for those who enjoy drinking alcohol. It’s dry. The only way to drink wine, beer or hard liquor is to be a “member of a club”. We found out that our hotel was considered a “club” so we were able to have a cocktail in the evening.

Day three found us in Utah for breakfast, Idaho for lunch and Wyoming for dinner. We spent some time in famous Jackson Hole and spent the next couple of nights in Lake Jackson Lodge right in the middle of the Grand Teton National Park. The view from the lodge dining room was spectacular and we were able to see some deer, a bear and some wolves. I kept pinching myself to see if the view was real or a dream.
Rafting the Snake River was a highlight. I use the word, rafting, but in reality it was a pleasant float trip down the river. The tour folks had us very scared of getting wet and drowning. We were made to don serious life jackets and wear raincoats. In truth, no one got wet. What we did do is see beautiful waterfowl and amazing landscapes on our 2 hour float.

The picture at the top of my blog is Lake Jackson. I am not a good photographer, and my photo does not do it justice, but the mirror image of the mountains was worth trying to capture.

The next several days were spent touring Yellowstone National Park, home of Old Faithful. We felt really special since our hotel room overlooked the most famous geyser in the world! Old Faithful Inn is a grand old place with distinctive old style architecture. The inn has been restored to its former rustic grandeur and was in itself an attraction worth seeing.

On another day we were in the other side of the park in the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. This grand old place featured a view of the lake (thus the name and the paint color) and had a sun room that featured live piano music during the cocktail hour that, by the way, starts early on vacation.

Yellowstone is a geothermal world that did not disappoint. The eruptions were surprising even though the geologists are able to predict the times with some accuracy. The fumaroles, bubbling mud pots and steaming waters were foreign to this Louisiana lowlander. I have seen the Grand Canyon but was equally impressed by the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

I have to mention that the buffalo, or bison, roam freely out west.  We saw our first ones when traveling through Idaho and were so excited to see them.  After several days we became accustomed to  the seemingly gentle giants, but were warned not to get too close.  In the geyser area they got very close to us.  I was very careful to give them their space.

My husband wore his LSU hat and shirt on many days of the trip. We were very surprised when hiking to view a geyser to hear someone chanting: “Geaux Tigers! LSU, LSU”!! A fellow LSU alum was in Yellowstone with us! The LSU clothes gave us away as Tiger Fans. This also happened to us in Florence, Italy the year before…but that’s another story. The world is too small!

The rest of the tour included visits to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and a Wild West show in Cody. Also on the itinerary were Crazy Horse Monument and Mount Rushmore.  Every American should see Mount Rushmore. We took a snapshot to show the enormity of it. Everything seems big and open in the American West. We ended our touring with an overnight stay at a dude ranch. We skipped the horseback riding to enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the patio of our private cottage.  Rapid City was our departure city and we were sad to end our adventure.

Our memories of our “2009” big trip will stay with us for a long time. We were lucky to meet some super people (even if some were Florida fans) and have also been lucky to hear from Edie, Dan, Barry, Susan, Shirley, Bill, Shelley and Tony during the fall via Facebook and emails. Miss you guys, but Yay for technology to keep in touch.   Kindred spirits, all!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Third Tuesday Book Club

I orignally stated this blog would be about reading and so far I have discussed some travel and some cooking.'s the reading part.
I joined a Book Club and we call ourselves the Third Tuesday Book Club.  Guess what!  We meet the Third Tuesday of each month in the afternoon.  There are eleven of us.  On the 12th month, we go out to lunch together at a really fancy restaurant and enjoy each others company.  (can't get away from the food!)
Our format is simple.  Each selects a book for her assigned month.  We go alphabetically so there is no confusion on whose month it is.  Here is what we are reading this year:
  1. The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  2. The $64 Tomato by William Alexander
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson
  4. The Help by Katherine Stockett
  5. The Stars for a Light by Lynn and Gilbert Morris
  6. Once Upon a Town:  The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen by Bob Greene (not Oprah's Bob Greene)
  7. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  8. Kane and Abel by Jeffery Archer
  9. The Camel Club by David Baldacci
  10. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
  11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
There is quite a variety of genres and some fiction and nonfiction.  It should prove to be an interesting year.
Oh by the way...Each hostess must prepare one item for refreshment.  Only one is allowed.  Don't want this to become the read and eat club.  If you have an interest in the books, please let me know.  My favorite place to get the copies I need is

My Favorite Cranberry Relish

When not traveling, I like to dabble in the kitchen.  Since seeing the movie, Julie and Julia, I have begun to wear my pearls while cooking.  You would be surprised how much better the food tastes!
 I wish I could take full credit for this recipe, but I must confess that my friend, Sherry, gave it to me a long time ago.  Sherry and I both were teachers in the middle school at Episcopal for more years than I wish to count.  She had the knack of finding unusual and delicious ways to prepare old favorites.  She also gave me a wonderful Cauliflower Soup recipe.  Also, her chili recipe cannot be beat. 
The secret ingredient in this recipe is a cup of bourbon.  Once I served this recipe to several teetotalers along with their Thanksgiving feast.  They all exclaimed it was the best cranberry sauce they ever had.  I didn't tell them it was laced with the forbidden bourbon! 
I have shared this recipe with several people who have reported great success at serving it.  It's versatile and goes well with most roasted meats and especially with turkey and ham.  Don't wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas to try this one.  I hope it will become your favorite!

Cranberry Bourbon Relish
1 cup bourbon
1/4 cup minced shallots
Zest on an orange (or lemon)
1 (12 oz) package of fresh cranberries
1 cup of sugar
1 heaping teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1.  In a small saucepan, combine the bourbon, shallots and orange zest.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Lower the heat until the bourbon is reduced to a syrupy glaze on the bottom of the pan.  (about 10 minutes)
2.  Add cranberries and sugar, stirring well.  Reduce heat slightly and simmer, uncovered until most of the cranberries have burst open.  (about 10 minutes)
3.  Remove from heat and stir in the pepper.  Cool and refrigerate until serving time.
4.  Serve in your prettiest crystal bowl.  Waterford is recommended.

Note:  This is best if you taste the bourbon before adding it to the saucepan.  It may take a couple of sips to make sure it is OK to add it to the cranberries. 

Natchitoches Getaway

 Natchitoches, Louisiana was the destination for our latest rambling. It’s the oldest town in Louisiana. The history, area plantations, water sports, and Northwestern State University are all good reasons to visit Natchitoches, but, no doubt, many will remember the city as the locale for the filming of “Steel Magnolias,” and the Festival of Lights each Christmas. We had seen the town at Christmas, but had never in the summer. For lodging we chose the Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast. When browsing the internet we found the Queen Anne and fell in love with the 1905 building and the charming interiors that were pictured. Another plus for this Be & Be is that there was ample parking for us to bring our small boat.
Natchitoches is a (leisurely) three to four hour drive from Baton Rouge. From I-49 take the Natchitoches exit (Highway 6) and proceed into town where the Queen Anne is located on Pine Street.
This B&B is a great example of architecture common in the early 1900’s. The home has seen several uses and restorations in the last hundred years, but the owners have restored it to its original elegance. The paint colors and furnishings were authentic to the period.

The Queen Anne offered a multi course breakfast served in the dining room that featured a crystal chandelier. Our room had complimentary wine, chocolates and luxurious bath products. The Jacuzzi tub was a real treat for tired travelers. The gallery was a perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening and coffee in the morning.
For boat owners an excellent public launch is located right outside town. We had so looked forward to some leisurely boating on the Cane River. The Cane River, we discovered, is not really a river. It’s actually an oxbow lake formed when the Red River changed its course a long time ago. The water level of the Cane is controlled and about 25 miles of the waterway is navigable, down (south) to a little past Melrose Plantation. On our boat ride we saw both fisherman and pleasure boaters. We had a perfect afternoon that was overcast and there was a cool breeze on the water.

Nothing compares to seeing this area from a boat. While we had been to Natchitoches before, we had never been on the lake. Our ride revealed the landscaped yards of the residents of the waterway. We even saw a wedding taking place in someone’s back yard as we drove leisurely downstream. Facilities are provided in the center of town for boaters to tie up and enjoy the local shops and restaurants.

And, Natchitoches has many shops and restaurants. For dinner we chose The Landing, located on Front Street and a five-block walk from the Queen Anne. This restaurant is known for its seafood, steaks and jazz music.

The food was excellent. The appetizer sized meat pies were to die for! The grilled shrimp and the ultimate steak dish were divine. The grilled shrimp speaks for itself, but the steak requires an explanation. It was an 8 oz. filet atop layers of creamed spinach and garlic potatoes. Several succulent fried oysters surrounded the dish and all was topped with a béarnaise sauce. Sooo good!
Our waiter, a Northwestern student, recommended the bread pudding for dessert and we ordered one with two spoons. The pudding was warm and topped with baked meringue and a rum sauce. We enjoyed our meal with the wine that was complimentary with a coupon we received at the bed and breakfast.
On our walk back to the Queen Anne, we passed by two historic homes that were the sites of wedding receptions. Natchitoches in June seems to be a popular wedding destination. The historic district, with its manicured riverfront park and wrought iron ornamentation, is magical with twinkle lights at night.
The breakfast the next morning was served in the fine dining room of the Queen Anne. We started with a large serving of mixed fruit, an exotic juice that we were told was orange and cranberry mixture, and coffee. The second course was an upside down blueberry pancake. We also had sausages and there was a fruit garnish. The hostess, Cathy, kept the coffee and the food coming as we dined and chatted with the other guests.
Cathy was kind to share the blueberry pancake recipe with us. We are hoping to recreate the dish at home. It won’t be the same as eating it at the Queen Anne, but maybe the taste of it will jog some good taste memories.
Before our trip back to Baton Rouge we made a stop at nearby Melrose Plantation. Melrose was the home of the Clementine Hunter, a descendant of slaves who became a famous folk artist of the area before she died at the age of 101. Melrose has become a national historic site and is being preserved by the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches. The plantation is Creole in its history, and the tour came with the fascinating stories of all the previous owners.
Our guide was a descendant of the original owners and she was delightful. She was a Katrina transplant who made her way back to relatives after being displaced by the storm. We were allowed to take photos and enjoyed seeing some original Hunter art.
Then it was back to Baton Rouge until we get the urge to venture out on another Weekday Rambling.

The Beginning

In retirement, my husband and I enjoy short-destination, middle of the week trips. We began to schedule these "Weekday Ramblings" because of the ease of preparation (packing), avoiding traffic and congestion, and easier (often less expensive) availability to attractions, lodging and restaurants. Our planning time is now, often, a discussion over morning coffee, a few phone calls or internet surfing and stopping for gas on the way out.