Thursday, May 16, 2013

Block Party

A cool, rainy spring blew eastward out of town, taking with it most of the mosquitoes and gnats, and leaving in its wake clear skies and a warming sun - finally!

It was time to invite the neighbors, a few extra friends along with an assortment of local children, and throw a block party.

Out came the giant-sized BBQ filled with smokin' charcoal - big enough to grill dozens of hot dogs and burgers at once. Coolers filled with ice popped up here and there.

There were 4 large tables laden with an assortment of homemade appetizers and desserts, buns and condiments.

 The guests' first stop was the card table to pick up a hand printed nametag - which helped when trying to remember 40 or so names at once. It was also the station where the kids could get their faces painted - most choosing a flower, a dolphin or colorful bird.
And it was easy to spot in the middle of the cul-de-sac as it was the one decorated with shiny helium balloons.

Everybody brought their own chair, a beverage or two and a side dish.

While the children played an assortment of outdoor games and made sidewalk chalk drawings, the adults sat and talked or strolled around and got to know each other better. 

Some folks had never met; some hadn't spoken to each other for years; others had just moved in.

Everybody had a great time, and there's talk of a repeat party in October.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Restful Ryokan

Ryokan is a traditional country inn typically found in the picturesque countryside of Japan. Here, guests will feel like they are taking in journey back in time to experience life in the Edo period of Japan (1603-1868). It's a celebration of the art and culture of that period.

 Visitors will experience first hand many traditional customs including a tea ceremony, wearing a yukata (cotton robe) and sleeping on a futon that is laid on a floor covered with straw tatami mats. In order to preserve the delicate mats, one is expected to remove their shoes before entering the room.

The ryokan serves dinner in kaiseki ryori style cuisine, which is a meal consisting of more than 20 small dishes that are beautifully arranged and brought to the table at the same time.

 Perhaps the best luxury involves soaking in a relaxing onsen filled with water from a nearby hot spring. These baths can be private or communal, but in either case the water is very hot and guests are expected to wash and rinse their body at a shower station before entering the onsen. Once the visitor gets used to the steaming hot temperature it becomes so relaxing that it's difficult to leave.

Every detail at a ryokan is meticulously arranged for the comfort and satisfaction of the guest, from the exquisite rooms, gardens and baths to the visually pleasing and sophisticated cuisine.

It may be that the best time to immerse yourself in the calming, luxurious  elegance of a ryokan is in winter where the traditional architecture blends into the beauty and simplicity of nature. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Waycross Picnic

A cowboy, a monkey and a cop walked into a bar …

Truth is, it wasn’t a bar, but they all were there that afternoon for the local feed store customer appreciation day in Waycross, Georgia.

Once a year the proprietors of this store throw a down home country buffet lunch for their many customers who trade at the store throughout the year.

Here you could sit elbow-to-elbow with farmers, accountants, family and friends. One fellow and his Mama even brought a pair of pet marmoset monkeys—to the delight of children of all ages (myself included).
Half a dozen state troopers stopped by and dug into plates of ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. There were three or four flavors of BBQ sauce—including the unlabeled house special.

Cowboys in Stetson hats perched on bales of hay in the parking lot. It wasn’t a prop, just more outdoor seating for the crowd that topped 300 visitors.

There were more than 60 pounds of potato salad, an equal amount of country style green beans and a mess of pork and beans served up from steaming pans and platters. I happily tossed my diet out the window and dove into a piece of homemade red velvet cake (make that two). Coconut cake, chocolate dipped pecans, peanut butter and divinity candy leapt off the serving table onto paper plates, at record speed as the hungry diners helped themselves to the home made sweet delights. Everything was made from scratch, with lots of heart.

Visitors wandered around the parking lot admiring the gussied up pick-up trucks being loaded with pallets full of animal feed. Inside the store they found a wide assortment of farming supplies and saddles—real working gear, not the stuff of show horses or dude ranches.

Talk centered around the harvest, speculation on the weather and how one of the kin was going to Las Vegas—not for the gambling or showgirls; for the rodeo. That's country!

Thanks folks, and we’ll see y’all next year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Little Beach

Seventy blocks north of Chicago’s “Loop” lies Loyola (Leone) Park beach. Of an evening or weekend, this 8-block long swatch of sand on the shore of Lake Michigan, is a gathering place for students from the nearby university and local families looking to enjoy a little packet of nature in this city of over 2.7 million.

And although the beach is rarely crowded, today it belongs solely to me. 

It’s a mid-September afternoon and there is no one in sight. The sun shines brightly on the yellow sand, and there’s a chill in the steady breeze that always seems to be blowing inland. My own shadow is sharply delineated against a relief of stubble-grass. Each footfall plunges my shoe, laces-deep into sand leaving a string of micro-dunes that trace my aimless path.

In the distance, looking south, the magnificent cityscape fades to a uniform bluish-gray hue. All of its energy—the good, the bad and indifferent, dissipates into the haze. I am here to peer through a stand of trees at gentle waves that stumble to the shore wearing a frill of white caps. My thoughts drifting like it’s gently swirling tides.

The water is clear; the sand clean and lively. There is green space behind the beach which muffles the carking din of city traffic. So here in this place I am free to toss a piece of driftwood to the dog; to write poetry, or just wander quietly along the shore on a crisp afternoon in early autumn.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

3 Cheers for "306 North"

“Tonight’s special is sushi” says the smiling waitress. “They’re hand-rolled by Chef Lee,” she continues.

It’s another busy weeknight and the dining room is filling with hungry patrons, while others gather for happy hour at the well-stocked bar. Sushi is just one of the unique delights to be found here at 306 North Restaurant on a Thursday night. It’s a local favorite in historic, downtown Valdosta GA.

“306” is the kind of restaurant where diners are seated at tables covered with white linen tablecloths, each sporting a dollop of fresh flowers in a tiny vase. Soft green walls are hung with original artwork created by local artists. You can buy one and take it home.
Many of the recipes are Chef Lee’s unique spin on traditional Southern classics.

“I find something I like, then make it with my own twist.” And what he likes is sometimes humorous, like the may haw jelly and peanut butter crème brulee dessert. Or deep-fried fish bones. Based on the playful name, I couldn’t resist the temptation to try that one, and it was good. Really good.

Grits are a staple throughout the South, but Chef puts his own touch on this classic dish using home grown, all natural stone ground white corn grits that are produced in nearby Lakeland, Georgia. Incorporating smoked gouda adds a delicate complexity and richness that perfectly compliments any main dish.
Bask in the ambiance in the contemporary dining room, or wander out onto the covered patio to enjoy Happy Hour daily. On Friday nights, the restaurant showcases the music of newly discovered local talent. 

There are wine tastings on the second Tuesday of each month, where guests can enjoy samples from their robust wine collection along with hors d’oeuvres, for a fixed price.

306 North Restaurant is at 306 North Patterson St. in Valdosta, Georgia. The name is a playful use of its geographic location.

Telephone: 229-249-5333, and you can find them on FB

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Oh, Savannah

The wall of steel-grey clouds that chased us all the way from Waycross abruptly exploded in mid-stride, drenching the city of Savannah.

Then, just as quickly the summer storm stopped leaving a humid warm blanket of fragrant air hugging the city. As the town wrung itself out, we could hardly wait to re-visit its beautiful squares.

The charm of these urban parks lies in its blend of nature and beautiful architecture. In the historic downtown area, visitors will find one of the 24 little gardens every few blocks. Each one is surrounded by or encloses a piece of the city’s 300 year-old history.

Here are 3 favorites:

Forsythe Park

Named for former Georgia Governor John Forsyth (c. 1827). The park is the largest in the city, but its scale is intimate and welcoming. You might see runners enjoying the long stretches of shady pathways. And you might recognize this fountain from the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” (1997)

Monterrey Square

A surprisingly short walk from the Forsythe Park fountain is Monterrey Square. Centered in the lush greenery of the park is the monument to Gen. Casimir Pulaski, the American Revolutionary War hero who was killed in the defense of the city.

Flanking this square is the Congregation Mickve IsraelSynagogue, which is third oldest Jewish congregation in America (1733)

Madison Square

Laid out in 1837, this square is named for the fourth American, President James Madison. In the center of this square is a statue dedicated to the memory of Revolutionary War era Sgt. William Jasper, shown hoisting a flag. He died of wounds in the Siege of Savannah. He was only 29.

Relax on a park bench and meet the locals under a magnificent live oak tree, or enjoy a refreshing stroll through Savannah’s Squares.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Glorious Galatoire's

“I knew him,” says the elderly waiter. “He would sit at his favorite corner table in the front window.” The server continues, “But sometimes he would sit over by the pillar, reading a book.”

Him” is the acclaimed Southern playwright Tennessee Williams, and we are in his favorite restaurant, Galatoire’s on Bourbon St. in the Vieux Carre of New Orleans.

Serving traditional French Creole food in high style, Galatoire’s has been a favorite of many patrons for 105 years. Historically, many would wait hours in long lines until a table opens up. (Seating on the main floor is first come first served, although reservations are now taken for second floor dining these days)

It’s the kind of restaurant where meals are served by jacketed waiters. Dishes are served on real china that is laid on linen tablecloths. The silverware is real silver and jackets are required for gentlemen after 5 pm weekdays and all day Sunday.

Many of the recipes and traditions were brought here from France by the original owner, Jean Galatoire. The timeless, award winning menu has changed little in its years of operation.

 Lunch begins with a warm baguette—its thin veneer of toasty-crisp crust encasing an airy crumb. It’s as luscious as any to be found in a Parisian sidewalk café. The bread is served with double pats of salty rich creamy butter that rivals the pale smooth gold of Normandie butter.

Shrimp remoulade, a favorite chilled appetizer, is a staple in this town. We had it paired with crabmeat maison. The combination was a delicate balance of richness and spice. Best of all, the recipe can be found on their website.

We ordered a steaming bowl of rich bouillabaisse and delicate redfish smothered in jumbo lump crabmeat. I began to wonder if Stella and Blanche might have ordered this for supper in Streetcar Named Desire.

Guests are invited to savor the experience, table hop and bask in the ambience.

Galatoire’s is at 209 Bourbon St. in New Orleans. Just look for the longest line on a Friday night in the Big Easy. Telephone: 504.525.2021 Dining room is open Sunday from Noon – 10 pm. Monday-CLOSED, Tuesday – Saturday 11:30 am – 10 pm