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.


Good Mexican food in Enfield, CT

Spending 17 years in Southern California kind of spoils a person with it comes to really good, even inexpensive Mexican food.

taco-loco      Places like Taco Loco in Laguna Beach satisfy the gourmet with their amazing fish tacos. And, for a more upscale experience, Las Brisas in Laguna, fills the bill.

Even chains like El Torito Grille, roadside stands and the out-of-the-way family-owned little “holes in the wall” give patrons the authentic experience, almost in any city in SoCal.

So moving to Enfield, CT was an adjustment, looking for good, authentic Mexican, not Tex-Mex cuisine.   tt-15

The Taqueria Tavern in West Hartford gave us quite a few great meals, until they closed recently. It was a distance to get to just for a quick Mex meal, so we didn’t do it often. That makes me feel bad that we may have contributed to the demise.

264721_401710439878062_119125761_n     We found it at Acapulcos Mexican Family Restaurant & Cantina, right here in Enfield, and we will not be strangers.

This restaurant’s goodness could be because co-owner, Ruben Huerta has all the family values needed for the ambiance and service, and all of the Southern California food experience needed to bring us the real thing.

Acapulcos, at 61 Palomba Drive, isn’t as easy on the pursestrings as some of the little places in CA are, but we have always felt our dollar well-spent there.

The mole is delicious, the seafood fresh, the Margarita’s yummy, and the table-side guacamole–a little nod to the upscale, modern Mex fare–is a lot of fun and very good.    Unknown-2

Taqueria Tavern, while it lasted, was our fave. Dave ran a hospitable Mex cocina and tavern, and we always felt like family there. But the hike to get there from Enfield was a deterrent, so we were grateful to find Acapulocos to fill the void left by the taqueria and our being spoiled by Southern California and its plethora of choices.


Asian cuisine excellence in Granby?

Who would think we would find the best Asian cuisine we have experienced in six years in New England in Granby, CT. Yet we did.

As a former Southern California food critic, I have to say my New England choices for Asian cuisine have been plentiful but mostly disappointing–until this week when we happened into Han Asian cuisine in Granby.

This eatery was far and away the best Asian food we have had in six years here in Connecticut, and maybe one of the best anywhere in the best of’s we have had in California, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts. We haven’t been to China, but my ex is Chinese, so I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur. The only one, perhaps better, or at least equal, was in Idyllwild, CA at a restaurant which boasted President Nixon’s personal chef.


In Granby, at Han Asian Cuisine, Owner James Chen is intimately involved in everything about his patrons’ dining experience.

We had a new server, Dana, who was a bit nervous about pleasing, but did a great job of making our evening pleasant.

James stopped by our table twice to make sure all was well, and to approve our up-charge for pineapple rice, with our two Chinese dishes which were usually served with plain rice.


My husband chose a sizzling platter of vibrant, colorful steak, scallops and shrimp in a rich, brown oyster sauce that was so flavorful, I almost regretted getting my pork spicy coconut curry, which was also very tasty, especially with the pineapple rice to add a touch of sweetness to the spicy curry, also a colorful dish, served in broth in a soup bowl.


Both entrees were beautifully presented, and steaming hot, as was every dish we spied from other tables. The chef has the artistic flair Chinese cuisine is known for, and the food doesn’t have that American mishmash so many refer to as Chinese food. This is the real deal in taste, freshness and artistry.

We dined on the patio, which on this balmy Thursday evening, made us glad we had just returned to our Connecticut home from the Valley in sunny (and hot) Los Angeles.

I am totally confident in giving an unqualified recommendation to Han Asian Cuisine to anyone wanting fine dining for Chinese, Thai or Japanese, including sushi, fare.

We didn’t need a reservation on this Wednesday, but as the word spreads, I would bet on a weekend their will be a need for them.  Congratulations, James, for giving our region a gem of an Asian restaurant.

They even have free WiFi, but everyone I saw was busy eating their delicious food–not wasting time texting as at so many ho-hums places. We too, forgot our cell phones, and dined sumptuously.

We will be back–often.

Mystic has mystique and more

Hubby and I tend to avoid looking and feeling like tourists. But the reality is, you have to visit a place often enough to get to know what it has to offer–and then you can proceed to getting to know some locals and getting their feedback about life there.

Mystic, Connecticut is a place we love to visit.

After about a dozen visits in six years, we are finally getting the hang of hanging out in Mystic. There was a learning curve, worth every visit, every moment there.  data=VLHX1wd2Cgu8wR6jwyh-km8JBWAkEzU4,j8oDDkklR6vV-vTmxY31nEcl5-cnadQs6dhmxufzJTYDae85eNDlxFQ-WpT8Ag9JJeMNkowYg1ysQLVOx10upLMATX3XvMgoisWf1MGSYTHorv2ABOrW6KIoOsfv3wc3PIwDNItlhH1hkKpg7UxbNajD0Hhou_-roWgEt4u4oHPzEgVRVNhefm0l0sECxMyU9gHtrBWo

Our introduction to the seaport area was a birthday surprise for me from hubby dear. He knew I like to play the slot machines on occasion, so we stopped for a couple hours at Foxwoods Casino and played the pennies (with our $50 limit). incentive

Then we left Foxwoods on that sunny July afternoon to meander the winding back roads leading to the seaside town of Mystic. We were headed for the only thing strangers have ever heard of there: Mystic Pizza. It was a great surprise. The pizza was wonderful, the service fun and friendly, and the Julia Roberts movie–of which the establishment says: “We’re the pizza that made the movie famous,” was playing on looped closed circuit TV’s around the dining area. mystic-pizza-intro-3

Our next visit was, in spite of our best intentions, as tourists, where we researched “things to do” in Mystic and found quite a few. We visited the oldest steam-powered cider mill still existing in North America, and afterwards, went to Mystic Seaport,, had fried clams, and noticed (for another time) the Mystic Aquarium. And, of course, we returned to Mystic Pizza for our evening meal.

The next few times we found wineries, B&B’s, and by then had obtained a membership to Mystic Seaport, so we could enjoy a whole day there, and we also discovered Bartleby’s,, one of the local coffee shops, which became another destination for us.  store_front_sm

We joined Mystic Aquarium, and tried that visit the next time, but halfway into touring the place, I became so dizzy and “seasick” from the parabolic glass surrounding me, we had to leave. Aquarium’s are fun, but evidently not for the alternating dominant visioned, in spite of the grand colors and displays of exotic fish.

Subsequently we watched the progress of the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world, as it was being restored, having been in the Seaport’s shipyard since 1941. In six years, we have enjoyed boarding the ship, watching the craftsmen restore her, and were excited to know the ship was reading for launching in 2013. Now the CWM is sailing Coastal New England in summer of 2014. The historical restoration is fascinating, and quite remarkable.  d2013-07-0619_11-315x209


1841   and March, 2014

I even bought Jay a day of sailing for his birthday–which took him to Newport, Rhode Island for the day, even though sponsored by the Seaport in Mystic.

But since we are now in the process of buying a home in Connecticut, our travels have been curtailed except for California, Florida (usually business but we work in visits), and of course my semi-annual trips to Rockford for my client there, and because we are still selling a home there. And, since we have done the tourist thing, we are ready to call Mystic more than a place to visit. It is a weekend destination, for more than a couple of times a year.

What that has done for us, strangely, is to make us interested in the tourist attractions, familiar enough to get to know people there. Now, instead of touring the Seaport, the Aquarium, getting Mystic Pizza, and seeing the Cider Mill again (although its wines and ciders are worth stopping by), wonderful as these places have been. we have decided to explore like locals–even though we’re still either doing a day trip, or finding a hotel.

Last month, we got to Mystic on Thursday evening  and combed the Internet for reviews of coffee in Mystic–deciding that maybe Bartleby’s, great as it is, wasn’t the only brew in town. Sure enough, we found it wasn’t even the shop with the most stars. My daughter has convinced me that Yelp is a must, so we perused the reviews and decided to try a place more off-the-beaten-path on Steamboat Wharf because they were also local roasters.

We arrived at the wharf but were stymied about where the roasters were. At the address we had, we only saw the Green Marble Coffee House. We grabbed a local walking that way and asked him where the roasters were. He smiled and said he was on his way there–and we realized it WAS the Green Marble. Come to find out, the Green Marble is the consumer cafe where the roasters serve their coffees, teas, and many other goodies. Our local told us The Green Marble had hundreds of coffee choices–unlike only several at Bartleby’s, which is good, but limited. And the Green Marble coffees, he assured were really fresh. (read about their beans.)


Wow, were we glad we found Green Marble. Not only was this amazing, freshly roasted coffee, but the clientele, all local, were fun.

Table space on this Friday morning was sparse, so we sat down next to another couple, who lived in the area, but had formerly lived close to where we are, and he was a fellow employee before retirement of where my hub works. So we had a lively conversation, and really felt like we had made friends. We even shared church stories, and were delighted to say Happy Easter to those who shared this celebration. Thai food seems to abound in Mystic, so we did Thai for dinner, which was on the early side, since three hours at a coffee shop tends to merge into lunchtime. Saturday morning we repeated our coffee find and spent some time driving around the area, enjoying the sea area homes. Our Green Marble friends suggested gelato at Mystic Market, since we had complained no gelato shops were found yet by us. So we headed over there.


We found Mystic Market East on the hill, on Route 1, and enjoyed perusing the food cases of extensive gourmet grocery and bakery items. We went to the gelato counter, ordered from friendly staff, and sat down to our pistachio and chocolate treats. Here is where I have a major complaint. This gelato had been made fresh, but then was stored and brought out in rotation so that the really fresh ice cream could be stored next. What a disappointment. It tasted a little less wonderful than the containers we get from Big Y grocery store. If we wanted gelato that has been stored, we can buy that at home.

Word to Mystic Market: Make yours special!

Saturday afternoon, we headed for home, looking forward to Easter in Southwick.

But all in all, Mystic had become ours, more so than we had imagined. We shall return

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.

Sturbridge and the Willys

Having been in New England now for almost five years, we decided on a staycation in Sturbridge Village over Thanksgiving weekend.

Actually, we had a Groupon for a hotel in Sturbridge, which I remembered at Stockbridge (I do get these easily confused). After explaining to Jay that we’d be staying at the Red Lion Hotel, then go to Norman Rockwell (which frankly we have done enough, I mapped the route from our home, and realized it wasn’t Stockbridge at all.

It was Sturbridge, in the Sturbridge Village area, which we have never been to. The hotel was the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center. A good deal all around with discounted tickets to the historic village.


But, it wasn’t until we were walking around the rustic, historic Massachusetts site that we realized why we felt so at home there: we both have ancestors from Massachusetts.

Jay’s more famous relative is Willy Dawes, the one who got through the lines to warn that “the British are coming.” Family lore has it that Longfellow knew it was Dawes, not Revere who made it through, but that Paul Revere sounded better in a poem. Hmm. Also the family says Willy pretended to be drunk, so got through–but that he probably didn’t really need to pretend. Jay’s Granny Mac, recently died at 101, and was the oldest living Dawes, of the William Dawes Who Rode legacy.


Quite a family history, Dawes is, including the VP under Coolidge, Charles Dawes. Anyway, that is Jay’s Willy.     Image

Mine, who may or may not have as illustrious a claim to fame, was Willy Russell, a Massachusetts farmer from Cambridge, born in the 17th century, who lived in Concord, and decided to go to medical school and become a doctor. He was a handsome chap, the family says, and the women in the town would feign illnesses so they could get in to see the tall, dark doc. He ended up saying this was a lot of hooey, and went back to farming.

So we have Willy’s from Massachusetts, and felt that explained our at home feeling when we are in a historic Mass. locale.

We enjoyed many facts of our visit, including standing to watch the Shooting Match with those flint muskets, costumed and shooting at targets for prizes of sheep and such. I was standing next to Mike, from Torrington, and we had a lively conversation about his being a practicing Puritan. Fun.    Image

We had our pork loin with apples and pomegranate at the OxHead Tavern, on the hotel premises, a homey establishment with an illustrious history of its own. We loved the crackling fireplace, good service, good values and friendly people there, including a table visit by the manager, the aproned-Giuseppe Fasulo, who couldn’t have been more cordial.

The Sturbridge Coffee House (The Fireside Inn) in Fiskdale, up the road on Main Street, was also a real treat. Though perhaps not historic in its current form, we loved the coffee and treats, and had two breakfast there, wishing they were closer to us. We have a Panera and a Starbucks, but nothing like this homey place.

All in all, we felt like we had returned to our history, and at Thanksgiving, the perfect time to visit Mass. as descendants of the Mass. SOR (Sons of the Revolution) Willys.