Category Archives: Travel, food

We love checking out local food, cuisine, markets, etc.

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 9

We had pre-booked two tours before leaving the States. The first one was a Hop on Hop Off double-decker bus. We had done this in Montreal and thought it was indispensable for getting to know a city.

Unknown-1Unknown  In Malaga, however, it almost became an interruption, partly because the main part of the city is so walkable a car would be a bother, and the city tour on Hop On, Hop Off, is largely unnecessary for the visit. However, once we found the right HOHO bus stop–a challenge which wasted a whole two hours, we boarded, got a circling tour of even the non-walkable areas up in the hills, and were actually quite pleased to see a part of the city we would have missed–not that any of that part was a part we needed to do anything other than view it. The tour is narrated, and that is also nice, and we got some good pictures. And, you can literally hop on and off, so the length and destinations are completely up to you. For around $20 pp, it is a very good deal. In Montreal, it saved us many hassles and dollars finding parking etc. In Malaga, this was less important, as I said, since we could walk to almost everything we wanted to see–cathedrals, markets, tapas, architecture, so it was more of a city overview this time. Had we gone to the Picasso museums, we may have used our HOHO to get around to them. We ran out of time for that. Another reason to re-visit. You really can’t get too much of Malaga.    Unknown-3Unknown-2

The second tour will always been our most memorable day in Malaga–the cooking class put on by Spain Food Sherpas.


Our guide, Simone, not from Spain, but quite knowledgeable, met us at the designated start point, and our first stop was the farmer’s market, Mercado Central Atarasanas, right in the main part of town by the beach.  The architecture of this place alone is worth the trip.IMG_2680

All I can say about this Mercado, is WOW! There wasn’t anything there I wouldn’t have shopped for if I had had our condo kitchen back at Los Amigos, but alas, we were in Carlos V hotel, a tiny little room without any refrigerator or microwave. But here is one of the most colorful and tempting booths–believe it or not LARD–flavored for any sauces or soups you may want to make. We so wished this were our hometown.  IMG_2661

After picking up a few things for our cooking class, we were whisked back to the Sherpa venue, to be instructed in making some tapas dishes–among which was the Spanish tortilla–a frittata-like egg dish with potatoes and veggies. Hunky

IMG_2699 Hubby did the honors, learned how to make this wonderful food, and has since been showing it off to almost any Sunday guests we have back at the river house. Good investment! The other tapas foods were olives, ham, bread, and some of the fruit from our farmer’s market excursion.

The Spanish-speaking chef did not speak English, but J managed to get the instructions right, and all turned out very well. We then went to table to enjoyed enormously.

Spain Food Sherpas at Plaza de la Merced, offers more than one type of cooking class, and I imagine we will sample another one next time we visit Costa del Sol. staticmap

We return to Boston on Day 10, and expect to live on these memories until the next time we are blessed to visit Spain.

Sunny Spain – November and December

LA1_resort-header-01_0Day 7 – Back in Mijas.

We took a break, knowing it would be our last day in Mijas and with our new British friends at Los Amigos Beach Club.

We had a paella lesson in the community room, and also learned how to make sangria. The resort had a new person teaching, so the crowd had to interact, and some of them had done this before. Great fun.  IMG_0074

Our poolside condo was the perfect location, and strangely quiet–but then it was December. Not a lot of swimming going on.

We relaxed, enjoyed our afternoon, tried to eat up all of the things in the fridge and gave away the rest.

In the evening, our friends Ken and Marjorie invited us to their condo for a party, and there the rest of our new acquaintences were gathered. It’s amazing how a good hostess can provide the perfect appetizers with just bread and condiments and some other yummies, but Marjorie had done this before.   Unknown-3

On our dinnertime the day before, we had shared our table with Ivon, and he offered,  now, to drive us to the train on Thursday for our excursion to Malaga. He had his car, having driven through France to Mijas.


We got a picture of just how homey this place was to these English and Scottish friends. They thought nothing of driving to Spain, as we would feel traveling through States to a holiday.

UnknownWe had a great time, went back to our condo to pack for our last leg of the trip, and then watched BBC till we were sleepy.

All good.


Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 4 – New friends

We awoke Sunday, December 3, and made our breakfast of Spanish ham, eggs, toast and apricot jam, all available at our very satisfactory grocery on the premises of Los Amigos Beach Club. Since our condo had a full kitchen, there was no problem making our own breakfast, and this was delicious.     Unknown


After breakfast, we  wandered out to the patio and the pool area, and even though the mid-60 degree F temp was pleasant, no one was  going to go swimming. We did find our neighbors sunning themselves on their patio.

exterior-view We were planning to sit on the chaises farther away from them, since we didn’t want to intrude, but they struck up a conversation and seemed to want to engage.

Soon Gordon and Edna from Scotland, and Ken and Marjorie from England, were warmly letting us know we were going to be chatting for some time, so we pulled our chaises to face them, and happily got to know them better.

It seems, that even though we had visions of meeting a lot of Spanish people, we were destined to be connected more with the Brits, who had vacationed here for many years.

They had a lot of stories to tell us, and most of them were of England and Scotland, not of Andelucia.   europe_map

We didn’t get the feeling they were planning to do the tours we had planned, and their whole demeanor was that Los Amigos was kind of a home away from home, which was familiar and comfy. In fact, they were amazed that we had made the journey for a 10 day stint, rather than the fortnight they regularly scheduled.

Ivon passed by and said hello, and he seemed to be part of the group as well. His condo was across the path from ours.
We stayed until lunch time, and decided to do some exploring, since our British friends and hinted that there were other eateries beyond Farro Playa across the street, and besides, as I said, Farro Playa had closed December 1, so we thought we had better find new adventures in eating.   There was a small cafe on the Los Amigos grounds, but it seemed to be ordinary food, and we wanted local color (or colour).

nearby-restaurantsWhat we found was a little strip mall in walking distance from the condos, with a couple of Spanish food restarants and the Punjab Indian restaurant, plus a convenience store with trinkets, water, T-shirts, etc., and other goods.

We were thrilled we could reach this little mall on foot, and knew then that we wouldn’t be needing a car, or be stuck with hamburgers at our grounds cafe.

We dined on the terrace on Indian food at the Punjab, and found the lamb and vegetarian dishes lovely and affordable.

DSCN1927We had enough leftovers to have an adequate supper with some crackers and cheese appetizers from the Los Amigos grocery. Oh, and I forgot to mention the delicious white wine.  We are not finished experiencing Spanish wines, but this adventure will have to wait till our next visit because we didn’t have enough information for this trip.

Refecting back on this day, I realize there is nothing pressuring us to find the exotic every day. We so enjoyed finding out that we could feel at home in Mijas, and that our planned touring didn’t need to be a frantic daily event. Unknown-1


We walked back to the condo, put on beach shoes, and headed back across the street for an evening walk along the Sea. We could get used to this.  Sunset on the Mediterranean in Milas


Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 3 – A side tour to Ronda and Marbella

We pre-booked a tour to Granada to see the Alhambra, and decided that would be Monday’s excursion. But after talking to Irene at the front desk yesterday, we decided on two more tours–one to Ronda in the mountains and one to Gibraltar.   map_of_andalucia

We considered also going to Tangiers, but after reading the reviews on experiences others had there, we decided to forget battling vendors and being accosted for Euros and coins, and thought we could do this on a return trip if we wanted to chance it.

So today, our trip to Ronda started at a congenial 8:30 a.m. bus stop in Mijas, on our timeshare premises, and we boarded thinking this was a completely spontaneous trip that we knew nothing about.

The mountain top city has deep historic routes, and the tour promised a visit to a bull ring, its museum, some wine tasting, beautiful vistas and historic architecture.

But, before we even thought about what we would find in Ronda, we were rambling through the coastal city of Marbella, where we would stop for a more leisurely visit on the way back.

Leaving Marbella, we took in the rocky road, curving highway and moderate climb to the 2400 ft. elevation of our destination.

About midway on the roughly hour and a half ride, we stopped at a tourist respite for a bathroom break and a chance for pastry and coffee, which was an efficient operation where coffee was delivered buffet-style, in cups for black espresso and in glassware for our cafe con crema. I didn’t want to eat too much because I was still a bit unsure how well I would do if the mountain got steeper and the road curvier. But, I did opt for a flaky breakfast pastry in the end, and all was well on the rest of the ride.

We first got our bearings when the bus left us off at a terminal, and we saw that a walk through the city wouldn’t be too daunting or mysterious, and we could probably find our way back. We decided, at first, to stay close to the tour guide, but he was not very engaged, and we were a bit disappointed.  DSCN1946 (1)

What we did not expect, was making new friends, originally from Iraq, and who now lived in England. N and L were doctors, who had fled Iraq rather than fight with those who would eventually ransack their towns, dig up graves of their ancestors, and make it impossible to return. This couple were gentle of spirit and had a deep faith in Jesus. They were surprised we shared their faith, as they had wondered if any Americans were thinking of end times and being prepared for what they believe will surely continue to be an upheaval for Christians and Jews. They were encouraged that we shared their faith and their concerns.

We continued the guided part of the tour, seeing the bull ring, which was built in a Neoclassical architecture in the late 18th century,  and the museum,   DSCN1969 (1)         DSCN1962 (6)             DSCN2002 (1)

and hearing about how integral bullfighting is the the Spaniards and how revered the matadors are. The museum reflected that from the costumes, even an Armani designed matador costume, to the trophies and art. Entering the bull ring itself, there was an echo of times past and present in the air.   DSCN1959

As we traveled to the gorge area to look down on the El Tajo River, we were given a history of the area.  IMG_2326

Originally settled by the Celts in the 6th century, Ronda was part of the Roman Empire, and by the 15th century was dominated by the Islamic peoples, until conquered and deported by Christians around the time of the Spanish Inquisition. You can feel, from the guides telling of the story, that Christians aren’t the “good guys” in the minds of the Ronda conquered Spaniards, and the Christian influx into a city which had roots in Islamic architecture, thinking and people, was not welcome.  IMG_2312 (1)

Ronda, like many areas of Spain, has a mix of Islamic and Christian influence, and the roots for both go deeply into everything from its buildings to its culture and food. Unlike many of Europe’s cultures, Spain is a heady combination of so many extremes, it is impossible to take it all in in one visit.

There are three bridges in Ronda: Puente Romano (or Puenta San Miguel), Puente Viejo which is the old bridge or sometimes known as the Arab bridge and Puente Nuevo, which is the tallest, almost 400 ft. and overlooks the Tajos canyon, where some stories tell of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, featuring Spanish Nationalist militants being thrown over Ronda’s cliffs during the Spanish Civil War.  bridge-over-the-gorge-photo_14903772-770tall (2)





Unknown I suppose if we imagined ourselves in the Old West of America on a visit to a ghost town, or maybe a steamboat ride somewhere on the Mississippi, or even some of the Spanish missions in Texas, California, or New Mexico, we could get the rush of feeling you get when whoosed from the present back into these times, but really, we have nothing that feels centuries old, except the Rocky Mountains and the Sequoias.

But, it is hard to convey the extreme parting from the present one feels when enveloped in ancient history, surrounded by so much foreign information all at once.

We left the group to find a tapas lunch in town, and then strolled a bit by the bridges again, and talked to N and L about their journey.

When it was time to head back to Marbella and Mijas, we were so glad this was a tour we had booked.

In Marbella, we learned that this coastal resort in the Sierra Blanc is home or second home to many rich and famous, including the King of Saudi Arabia.

On our return to Marbella, we rushed through the city trying to keep up with the tour guide, while detouring to get some gelato, and peeking into shops, then trying to find our group again so we wouldn’t be left behind for the bus ride back to Mijas

We arrived back at Los Amigos Beach Club, feeling overwhelmed and happy that we had entered into history with such magnificent sights.

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 2 – Arriving in  Malaga for a wild ride to Mijas

Our flight to Malaga from Dublin was interesting for me, because my seat mate was Irish and I got a lot of insight into my lack of geographic smarts about her island.


For one thing, I guess I always imagined Ireland being on the east side of England. It isn’t. This becomes interesting when you realize that the Brits like to vacation in sunny spots during their winter, just like we Americans do.  europe_map

But, the English have more choice of how to get to places like Costa del Sol, and because they are so close to land, they often drive through France to Spain, rather than flying. So, then they have a car with them. More about that later.

My Irish plane friend was flying to Malaga to be with her family for a holiday, which, evidently, they did regularly, since they actually had a vacation home in Malaga. That gave me some thoughts for the future.  Unknown

The flight from Dublin to Malaga was short, a little less than three hours, so I could see why this would be a regular plan for the Irish to escape the dreary chill of winter. I mean, it’s similar to how I feel going  from Hartford to Chicago (except without sunshine at the other end), which I do twice a year without a second thought. My bus ride from Chicago to Rockford is almost as long as the flight from Hartford.

On this Thursday in November, my hubby and I were traveling on Thanksgiving, which my Irish friend didn’t have to contend with. So I could see how this was not a big deal for her. We had left on Wednesday on a red eye to Dublin, so we ended up having a carefree transport on what would have been the busiest travel day of the year in the States. No such thing in Dublin in November.

In any case, we arrived without incident at the Malaga Airport, and our lovely concierge at our time share, Los Amigos Beach Club, had arranged for a taxi to meet us to take us the 30 minutes to ourMijas condos.

UnknownOur driver was waiting, waving a sign with our name on it–just like in the movies. I had never experienced this kind of a reception, and it took some of the anxiety out of being in a foreign country without knowing much of their language. No worries, most of the vendors and business people in Spain speak good English. As I have pointed out, it seems the short distance to Great Britain is just as appealing for the Spaniards, many of whom have been educated in England, and know its culture well.

We followed our somewhat reticent cab driver to his car, threw in our bags and seated ourselves, including belts. Good thing. This was the end of the carefree transport for this day. The wild ride through Malaga to Fuengirola and parts westward was terrifying.

Even my racer husband had a little concern. This driver seemed less familiar with the route we were taking than probably his normal fares, and he drove with jerks and sharp turns that kept us thankful we were in the back seat, and not the “death seat” beside him.    2316316_127_z

Finally, we arrived at Los Amigos Beach Club, and then another problem arose. We wanted to use our credit card, but he wanted cash. We had not exchanged dollars for Euros yet, and his 50 Euro fee was not something we wanted to do in dollars. We handed him our Visa Card and insisted. He reluctantly took out his credit card machine, but became very agitated when we did not have a PIN number. We had the chip card, but it was not an updated version that required a pin.   Unknown

The driver spoke  little English when it came to financial concerns, and we had no way to explain. Thankfully, the Los Amigos manager, Elton, was at the desk, and fluently explained why our card had to be used the old-fashioned way and not with the front insert devicethe new cards use.Unknown-1

We paid the driver, all was well, and we learned that tipping is not customary in Spain for taxis, hotels, restaurants or other services. They just don’t do it, except on rare occasions when a tour guide or service is so outstanding, a thank you is just in order. Given that we were losing about $15 on the $100 with the exchange rate, it worked out well that we saved that 15% in tipping, so we balanced out.

2316316_125_z   Once all the financials were settled, we were greeted by our concierge, Irene, with a hearty “Welcome home!,” which really did make us feel at home, right away.

It was about 3:00pm and after unpacking, we were anxious to cross the street (320 yards) and walk on the beach–the Mediterranean at Faro (lighthouse) Playa (beach) in Mijas. This was going to be the only 70 degree F day of our 10 day trip, so we wanted to make sure we got to the beach.  DSCN1908

The beauty of the Sea is breathtaking, but this, in November, was not the beach we had imagined. No one was sunbathing, and really, the narrow beach wasn’t a sunbathing haven, probably even in summer.

We had our walk, enjoyed being in light jacket weather in November, and were thankful, even without, bathing temps. We picked up small rocks on the very rocky sand, imagined giving them to grandchildren, and generally unwound from our crazy cab ride. The beach is narrow, and we enjoyed seeing the lighthouse around a hilly area.

DSCN1911What we did discover was a lovely seaside restaurant, Faro Playa, which also means lighthouse beach, where we decided to have dinner.      DSCN1921DSCN1909

After changing to dinner clothes back at the very luxurious condo, we walked back across the highway and didn’t need reservations to be seated on the patio with the lovely view. We saw that this restaurant was closing December 1, like so many businesses do for the winter on the Costa del Sol, so we wanted to eat here for the few days we had until then, since it was the only place we knew (at the time) in walking distance to Los Amigos.

We ordered fresh sea bream (dorado), a whole fish prepared beautifully, but with bones. The small side salad and fried potatoes were ordinary. The experience was muy bueno! Not great, but well done, and with the terrace view, who can complain? The swordfish also looked good, which we decided to try another time.

restaurante-faro-playa     restaurante-faro-playa-1

On another night, we ordered the pork filet in pepper sauce, also with the side of peas and carrots and fries, and it was also tasty, and really a little more expertly done than the fish. We learned to order this dish from our British friends, who seemed to favor this and ordered it as fil-let, not fil-lay–but then, you haven’t met them yet.

DSCN1918 We walked a little more on the shore after dinner, taking in the beauty of the Mediterranean and counting our blessings.

Walking back to Los Amigos, discovering the tunnel route, rather than the highway above ground crosswalk, we felt we could get used to this.

We visited Irene, at the front desk, exchanged $100 for 85 Euro, then retired early to a comfy bed, since this had been a long day. 16446682

We watched television a little, which gave us a chuckle, since all of the English shows were BBC. We took in a couple of British cooking episodes, and then slept well.

Sunny Spain in November and December

I think the simplest way for me to chronicle our amazing trip to the Costa del Sol, is to diary it, and take you along with us–after the fact, of course. So I will begin:

Day 1 and before – Guiness for breakfast anyone?

Our first challenge was figuring out how to get to Logan International, because our usual travels are from Bradley, where we have parking. We didn’t want to leave a car parked for the 10 days, because winter can make starting a car up tricky. There was a time we almost didn’t get the car started. That isn’t fun at night or early morning where other transportation options are thin.   Unknown

So, having mentioned this need to a co-worker, who does Logan frequently, we found out that our company has a deal with Avis for one way, if the car is dropped off within a few hours. Great perk. Other rentals for one-way additional charges, were going to cost upwards of $150. Problem solved. We got an Avis car for $42. So now we were ready to go.

Unknown-1   We boarded Aer Lingus for Malaga, via Dublin–amazingly less expensive than a trip to South Dakota. Of course hubby’s first thought is that even with a 5am arrival, he had to have a Guinness, served by an Irish colleen,  with whatever else he would have for breakfast.

When we first arrived at Dublin Airport, it was so early hardly any workers were there.  Unknown

By the time we read the very confusing signs, and watched the other travelers scurry away to their connections and/or Dublin destinations, we were left at a fork in the road (corridor) with no idea whether we were the “Euro passport” people or not, and therefore had no idea where we were going.

This was a problem, because our short hour and a half was dwindling and hubby really, really wanted that Guinness,  the likelihood which at this hour looked like a no-go, since no food stands were in sight. Only the lonely pathway to or away from “Euro Passport” travelers.
We walked quite a way away from that sign, and were grateful at last to see a guy with a motorized cart. Since it was Ireland and not Spain, we had hopes of directions.   IMG_2291

His look when we queried him, bespoke that we were not the first lost passengers. He good-naturedly motioned for us to climb onto the cart, and he wheeled us to our gate area–where, behold, we found food AND Guinness! Several croissants, scones and a pint later, we boarded the second plane for Malaga, very happy indeed.


Della Mae – Bluegrass worth the ticket

It was a circuitous route that led us to hear Della Mae at Payomet’s satellite venue, an Elk’s Lodge in Eastham, Cape Cod, MA, but this is a circle we were thrilled to travel.  th-2

We got to Della Mae because we heard Delbert McClinton, also new to us, on Imus in the Morning. We just loved his singing style and music. Learning he has a website, amazingly named merely, we found that he was scheduled to be in a line up in Cape Cod.   th

We were planning to spend a few days in Eastham, MA (inThe Cape) in May. But, alas, Delbert wouldn’t be there till August on a Tuesday, no less.

We usually stay at The Town Crier Motel in Eastham, and what we found delightfully surprising, was that Della Mae was going to be performing at the Orleans-Eastham Elk’s Lodge, under the auspices of Payment Performing Arts Center, the exact May weekend we would be there.

dellamae-9135rgb    So, although we couldn’t attend the concert for Delbert on a Tuesday in August at the regular performing arts venue, Payomet, we decided to try out the Della Mae concert at the Elk’s lodge.   th-1

I called Payment, got tickets, bought an annual membership to Payomet, imagining we might make the three hour trip to The Cape more often,  now that we have a whole new perspective on things to do, and relished getting to hear a fairly new bluegrass combo of five women.

What a great delight they were to hear! The five formed their bluegrass group in Boston about five years ago, and are now based in music-city–Nashville. Evidently meeting from various places as far apart as Colorado, British Columbia and Nashville, they discovered they sound really, really good together.

We agree. Celia Woodsmith, the lead singer and guitarist, from Boston, has a throaty, high-energy, charismatic style, and can evoke a lot of emotion in traditional numbers like 16 Tons, and original music like Boston Town, and the Eco Song. Jenni Lyn Gardner, the only member actually from Nashville, does some strong lead singing, but it’s her mandolin, along with Kimber Ludiker’s violin, that brings up the Celtic flavor of the combo’s modern, yet classic-bluegrass, and we were transported to the new and popular Brigadoonish Outlander series. Courtney Hartman, the Coloradian, is also mulit-talented on guitar, banjo and vocals. A fifth member, Zoe, from British Columbia, is no longer listed as a member of the group, but was there with excellent fiddling for our May concert.

3503525839-1     Della Mae now has three albums, the newest one this year (2015), is titled Della Mae, and Woodsmith says is “edgier” than some of their earlier recording. Their other two albums include grammy-nominated, This World Oft Can Be. Let’s just say if you want a delightful evening of heart-pumping bluegrass, get to their website and see when they will be at a venue near you. It’s well worth the ticket, and you may have to stand in line soon as they gain in following and popularity.

Rockin’ it out at Tucker’s in Southwick

Not sure when we’ve had a better time, returning to the nostalgia of our youth as the dinner theatre-Eagle’s Tribute evening at Tucker’s in Southwick, Mass.  tucker-s-restaurant

Cover-Tribute bands can be iffy at best, but the 7 Bridges Eagles Tribute Band delivered every penny of the ticket price ($45 per person, including buffet dinner) and way more.

10300120_10152389010134140_3904124123450316618_n    On this evening in March, 7 Bridges opted to bring only five of their seven-man band, knowing that Tucker’s would be a more intimate setting. This was a good decision, plenty of volume, and a very personal evening, especially since we were seated at a table just to the left of the stage.   tucker-s-restaurant-2

The full band, known as “the ultimate Eagles experience” would have been too loud. Don’t quote me on my memory, but I believe we had Jason Manning, Keith Thoma, Bryan Graves, Randy Meisner, and Black Hall who we heard.

In any case, the abbreviated 7 Bridges did almost every single of the “greatest hits” and even invited the willing crowd to singalong, which, of course they would’ve done anyway, but with permission with less guilt.

This ensemble sounded so Eagles-perfect, if you closed your eyes, you were back in the day.

The buffet was a bit disappointing. What was there was tasty enough, but there weren’t many choices, and if you don’t eat fish or chicken, you’re down to side dishes. Salad and dessert are included, and again, nothing special. We decided that it wasn’t the buffet we were really after, so since the evening was so much fun, and our table of oldies (but goodies) were companionable and fun too, we really didn’t dwell on the rather institutional buffet food. In fact, we are looking at Tucker’s calendar to sign up for the next dinner-show evening. They do this regularly.

10934078_10153044377179140_4312725264214461913_n   And, we may even visit 7 Bridges’ website ( and see where they will be playing aroundthe country.

I highly recommend the dinner-show experience at Tucker’s, and really, even with mediocre food, where can you enjoy an evening of authentic music, sing-a-long, and good conversation for $45 these days. It’s all in Southwick, and our table companions who were regulars, assured us they have had nothing but fun at other events.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know.


The Big Easy wasn’t so easy last Christmas

We live in Connecticut. Our children and grandchildren live in California. So how did we end up in New Orleans for Christmas?

It’s complicated. That seems to be the catch all phrase to explain away totally irrational and uncomplicated reasoning.

photo  We chose New Orleans for three good reasons that seemed rational at the time: 1) I am a writer. I need to visit places to write about them; 2) we had a time share available for Christmas week–no small feat to accomplish with last-minute planning; 3) my husband assured me he would have a business trip to California or somewhere in December and I counted on using my free airline ticket to visit the kids, during his time away.

Well, I guess two out of three isn’t terrible. I did gather some stuff for my writing; we did stay in a time share condo in the Garden District. December The business trip never happened, so I will have to look into January or February for my trip out to SoCal.

We decided not to rent a car, and, after a taxi to the condo, we visited Walgreen’s for our 10 Jazzy Passes–NOLA’s answer to bus and trolley fares by the day. That worked out well to visit the French Quarter almost daily–which was only two miles from the Garden District, but not really a carefree walking area.

This trip, I had the foresight to ask hubby what his expectations for the trip were–like what did he want to do. This is different from my usual airtight planning where I forget to ask him what he wants to do. The asking part is a better plan. We did all he hoped for and more.

One request was to revisit the New Orleans School of Cooking on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter, which I found an online coupon for. We had done this about twelve years ago on our first trip to The Big Easy.


The class, taught by Michael W. DeVidts, was even better than we remembered it. This time, since I no longer eat chicken (Eat for your blood type advice to B types), we opted for the alternate menu of shrimp and artichoke soup, crawfish etouffee, and pralines. The last time we had gumbo, jambalaya, bread pudding and pralines. There is beer and lemonade included also.   michael-150x150                   IMG_0081

I caught the chef on his way in to ask if there would be any chicken or chicken broth in our menu. He said it was too late for the soup, but immediately, cheerfully, ordered the kitchen staff to switch to veggie broth for the etouffee. Later he thanked me for my request, even saying he had learned something–that veggie broth tastes better with the crawfish than the chicken broth he normally uses. That made my day. I was feeling guilty for changing the ingredients for the whole class.

Michael has an outrageous sense humor, and added to his obvious talent in Creole-Cajun cuisine, attendees can expect a great history and culture lesson peppered with lots of wit and wisdom.

The meal was delicious, and really, there was no need after that to find these dishes, since we imagined that we had already had the best in NOLA.

We had other good experiences too. Walking along Decatur we discovered Key West Hats, where I was able to give Jay his other Christmas gift–a Fedora. Really, I think he looks great in this hat–so we got two. Here is one:   IMG_0068

I expect to start hearing blues music any minute when I see him in this one. Beau, our salesperson, was very helpful. We let him know that our Fedora attachment came from watching Matt Bomer on the TV series, White Collar, which I am sure has increased this trend for others too. Hey, if you haven’t seen this one, it’s on Netflix, and is really a good series.

Of course we had the beignets, the chicory coffee, and Jay had to have that gumbo I deprived him of at the cooking schools.

IMG_0069But, really our overall feeling in NOLA was that we wished it were California for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t have a good time. It was just that the food was very different from how we eat, or at least how I eat (see my July 2012 post on, It’s not easy being green). Therefore I ended up gaining back almost HALF of the weight it took me a year to lose. Thankfully, back on green smoothies and sensible fresh food, I have shed half of the half gained, so all is not lost. And, it’s just that we aren’t spring chickens anymore, you know, so staying up late to hear the 10p.m. sets of live music really didn’t fit our metabolic rates anymore. And, it’s just that the French Quarter is not a cheery place to be even in the daytime, and at night, well, we weren’t so ready to venture there every evening by bus. The trolley wasn’t running from the Garden District to the FQ.

We ended up strolling down Magazine Street in the Garden District on a couple of days, and found a great pizza place with a Mediterranean menu for things like warm pita with humus, roasted red peppers, olives and pine nuts, and great pizza with focaccia  crust, and spinach and gorgonzola with sun dried tomato toppings. This too was more a California than a Creole cuisine.

One evening we walked to the Trolley Cafe a block away from our condo, and I had the best crab cake I have ever had, loaded with crab and not loaded with bread stuffing. This was a pleasant surprise.

We also had dinner at a French restaurant, where I had pappardelle pasta with crimini and shitake mushrooms in a garlic and olive oil. I had just read about parpadelle in Patricia Cornwell’s Port Mortuary, so I was amazed to be offered a pasta I had never heard of the same week I read about it. It was fabulous. I also had red fish, which was also great.

But, three evenings we stayed in walking distance to our condo, choosing to eat at Houston’s, where we found California cuisine like ahi salad, kale salad (truly yummo), sirloin tips salad, with citrus dressing–a true masterpiece. We really prefer the Mediterranean and California cooking, so it doesn’t make sense to choose NOLA, where at least half of the charm is that heavy fried, bready, fatty, and saucy rich food.

At Houston’s we did order the barbecued ribs for Christmas eve dinner, and had soup so we could not be hungry and save half of our entrees for Christmas Day dinner, because, believe it or not, even in this touristy locale, most restaurants are closed on Christmas. “People in New Orleans cook at home,” our taxi driver informed us. So OK.

I sound like I’m complaining. I am grateful we get to travel, try different things, and have these adventures. I truly am. We are blessed.

But as we ate our barbecue in our condo and relaxed all Christmas Day, we were mostly thinking about how much we missed the kids.