Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Boston, MA First Installment

I visited my son, Greg, in Boston for five days.  It was not my first visit and he and I were considering some of the sights we should see.  Of the offerings we found we had already done the Freedom Trail, the "Pru" and the Common, so finding new things to experience was the challenge.  Even shopping on Newbury Street and seeing the JFK Library had been accomplished in past visits, so we really had to dig deep!

I arrived early in the afternoon on a somewhat on time flight and after getting rid of the car we loaded our T passes with money for riding and headed out!  After a simple lunch of Pizza at Upper Crust on Harvard Street at Coolidge Corner we sauntered down to Serenade Chocolatier for some chocolate.  Serenade is in Brookline Village and is known for  hand made confections in the Viennese style.  We went in for a "piece" of candy and were tempted by the idea of a chocolate dipped Oreo ice cream bar.  It was explained that the ice cream was that of a local purveyor, JP Licks.  Decadent is the only way to describe this treat.
We then hopped on the T and went to the harbor area.  A walking tour included seeing Faneuil Hall and the somewhat new Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. The Greenway, as it is known to the locals, is a mile long strip between the city and the harbor in the downtown area.  When the elevated highways of the area went underground in the Big Dig project, the area was renovated by the Conservancy.  It is 15 acres in size and rambles for a mile.  The goal of the the Greenway is to bring together the diverse neighborhoods of Boston with a public space to be enjoyed by all.  There are festivals and parties throughout the year.  The landmarks include a carousel, a rose garden and a unique fountain where kids of all ages can take off their shoes and frolic in the Boston sunshine.  It was entertaining to watch the children play and enjoy the space.
The highlight of the day was a sunset harbor cruise.  There are several companies that offer these adventures, but we selected Boston Harbor Cruises which operates from revamped Coast Guard vessels. The ninety minute excursion was narrated by a loquacious guide.  He pointed out the buildings of interest and told us several historical anecdotes about the harbor.  On this day there was a Spanish tall ship anchored in the harbor and we were able to get some great photos.  The tall ship is on a training maneuver and will be in the harbor for most of the summer.  What a beautiful sight, indeed!  Another exciting part of our cruise was watching and listening to the retirement of the colors on the USS Constitution that is docked in the harbor year round.  Our vessel stopped close enough for us to hear the bugle and hear the commands.  I was interested to know that every day at sunset on every US Naval vessel this same ceremony is observed.  A cannon is fired and the display is spectacular!
The sunset cruise left us hungry.  There must be something about a cool breeze on the water that stimulates the appetite.  We walked to Legal Seafoods where we shared a large stuffed, baked lobster.  Side orders included the polenta and broccoli with cheese.  A lovely bottle of wine complemented our meal.  Good thing that we shared as we had a hard time consuming this gastronomic delicacy!  I passed on the clam chowder  but normally I like to order that, too!  Legal Seafood has been serving fresh seafood in Boston since 1950.  Fresh is the key word here.  I try to get to Legals at least once when I visit.
It was a day filled with new experiences, delicious food and excellent company.  I always enjoy my time with my son.  This is the first of several posts about my trip. I am sharing more of the photos here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

At the Beach

It was a mid-week outing for three friends.  We had not seen each other in a year, but when we were together, it felt as if we had never been separated by time.  Our destination was Gulf Shores, Alabama and the beach.  We had several beach trips during the years that we worked together as teachers, but it had been many years since our last trip. Needless to say, there were lots of things to discuss.  Rain was predicted and the Alabama shore was threatened by "The Worst Oil Spill in History," but we didn't care.  Our trip was more about friendship and total relaxation. The rain and the oil held off long enough for us to enjoy our time together.  We were lucky!

On the way we made a couple of stops that were tradition to us.  First, there was the stop in Loxley, Alabama for the Burris Farmer's Market.  This is where we picked up tomatoes and fruit for our leisurely "at the beach" dining.  We made mental notes of which veggies were available and planned to stop back by on our way home.  The market is on the highway and a huge inflatable peach marks the spot.  Behind the market is a bakery and they also serve plate lunches, but the real appeal for us is the produce that is stocked fresh daily.  Silver Queen corn, Kentucky Wonder green beans, Yellow Crookneck squash and Calhoun County peaches were the outstanding picks of our stop.  We hoped they would be available when we returned a few days later. I purchased some of the peaches on the return trip and made a delicious cold peach soup this weekend.  I am posting that recipe.

Another traditional stop for us is Dick Russell's Bar-B-Q Restaurant.  We decided to have lunch there on the way back home.  The menu changes a little each day, but there is always a plate lunch that includes barbecued pork or beef, two sides, bread and dessert.  The price is less than $6.00.  When we did stop on the way home, I ordered a vegetable plate of turnip greens, fried okra, a baked sweet potato.  It was accompanied by corn bread and a slice of luscious bread pudding.  My bill totaled $5.45. I don't know anywhere else that has such good down home food and cheap prices as Dick Russell's.  It's not a fancy place, but if you like fried dill pickles you can find them on the menu.  The service is friendly and quick.  People are normally lined up out the door waiting for a table at lunchtime.

There is also a huge outlet shopping mall on the way to the beach.  We each picked a store that we would like to visit, but we did not linger since the beach was calling us.  We did manage a bit of retail therapy, but....we could always stop by there on the way home, too!

Our condo was conveniently located just off the main highway into Gulf Shores.  We rented it through Brett-Robinson Vacations and were pleased with the location and amenities of Island Winds East.  There was ample parking close to the building.  Unloading our stuff was easy as there were carts and luggage racks readily available.  We were also happy that our "premium" rated unit was clean and stocked with hotel sized toiletries and a starter kit for the kitchen.  We had brought paper towels, garbage bags, etc.  but there were some there.  This is good to know the next time we book through this company.  For our short stay, we could have avoided bringing all the extra stuff since it was provided. We had a two bedroom/two bath apartment that was furnished tastefully, was very very clean and it overlooked the beach.    Good friends and a good place to stay...What more could one want from a vacation?

Our view from our Gulf Front home away from home was breathtaking.  The beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama are some of the prettiest in the world in my opinion.  The clear water and powdery white sand is the stuff of memories.  When our children were small we spent many summer vacations on these beaches and those of the nearby Florida panhandle.  Our all-time favorite spot was Navarre Beach, Florida.  Navarre was a very small community with out -of- the- way beaches before it was discovered.  Many years ago there was one Holiday Inn with a covered swimming pool and an arcade for the kids.  There was also one apartment complex, Navarre Towers, and a few ramshackle beach houses.  Now Navarre is dotted with motels, tall apartment complexes and luxurious beach homes.  Hurricanes Gustav, Ivan and Katrina made their marks on these beaches, but all have recovered nicely.

I have digressed.  My friends and I rented chairs and umbrella for our time in the sun.  We basked in the pure glory of sun, sand and friendship.  We reminisced and laughed as though we were children.  The relaxation and togetherness are to be treasured.  We brought food so we would not have to take time to "go out." I brought creamy enchiladas  that I had learned to prepare in a class at Beth Burleigh's Simply Southern Cooking School.  With Beth's permission, I am posting it for you. I promise that it will become a favorite if you try it.

We also feasted on peach daiquiris (with and without alcohol) made with the Calhoun County variety, fruit salads, guacamole, warm bean dip, sliced tomatoes and Pretzel M & M's.  We also had cheese spreads, sandwich fixins' and breads...but we couldn't eat everything! This trip was also about the food, in case you haven't gathered that!

We hated to leave on the third day, but the rain was rolling in as we pulled out of the parking lot.  That was on Thursday.  On Friday morning, news reports stated that oil had arrived on the Gulf Coast.  What a disaster for such a beautiful spot!  Hopefully, this won't be the last time we get to enjoy Gulf Shores.  I am praying that the spill will not cause lasting damage.  We have vowed to take more beach trips in the future and not to let time and distance prevent us from enjoying our valued friendships.

Simply Southern Cooking School Creamy Enchiladas

1 pound cooked chicken in pieces (may use deboned rotisserie chicken)
8 oz. sour cream
2 cans cream of chicken soup
small can chopped green chiles
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
4 green onions, thinly sliced
12 to 14 soft round 8 inch flour tortillas
2 cups grated Pepper Jack Cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together sour cream, green chiles and soup.  Add chicken, cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper and 1/2 of the green onions.  (May add a bit of milk if the mixture is too thick.)
3. In a baking dish spread 1/2 cup of the mixture over the bottom.  Place about a 1/3 cup of the filling on a tortilla, rollup and transfer to the baking dish with the seam side down.
4. Repeat the process for the other tortillas.  Pour any remaining mixture over enchiladas, spread to coat all of them.
5. Sprinkle with grated cheese over the top.  Prepare up to this point if you desire to prepare in advance.
6. Bake for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining chopped green onions and serve warm with tortilla chips.  8 generous servings.

Cold Peach Soup

1 pound ripe peaches, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon
dash grated nutmeg
1/2 cup sour cream (not low fat variety)
1/2 cup cream sherry

1. Combine first four ingredients in a medium size saucepan and heat through.
2. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth.
3.  Chill.
4. Before serving, fold in the sour cream and cream sherry.
5. Garnish with mint leaves and cinnamon. 4 appetizer servings