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Minnesota: The Travelling Dinner

In my previous posting Vignette- Paula in Minnesota, I mentioned the “travelling dinner”.  I vaguely remember some years ago a friend talking about a “neighborhood dinner”, where everyone from the neighborhood (a fairly small one I believe) shared a meal.  However, instead of all coming to one house to eat, the families went from house to house eating a course here and another there.

So on one of the evenings that we spent at Sherry and Greg’s place in Minnesota, we were invited to participate in a travelling dinner.  Two of the couples did not live in the immediate vicinity of Sherry and Greg’s house, but were great friends of all the people who did.  So they brought their contributions to the meal to Deb and Crystal’s home.

On the appointed evening at the appointed time Sherry, Greg, Rich and myself walked down the driveway.  It was a very pleasant evening so the walk was very enjoyable.  We made a right-hand turn onto the road at the bottom of the driveway, walked about fifty yards, passing the driveway that led to Connie and Joe’s house (Sherry and Greg’s immediate neighbors), before making another right-hand turn into Deb and Crystal’s driveway.

No house could be seen, so I wondered how long of a walk this was going to be. I needn’t have worried. The driveway sloped upward for about fifty yards and as we crested the top we saw that it then sloped downwards for about another fifty yards and there at the bottom, slightly to the right, stood the house.  From this view point it appeared to be a one-story building with beautifully cultivated flower beds on the one side, and a wonderful large fire pit encircled by brightly colored Adirondack chairs which in turn were surrounded by more raised flower beds. All this was then surrounded by lush green grass and trees.  Another piece of heaven!

HPIM2363HPIM2380Kokopelli entranced me!


But the view of the house was deceptive because it was built on a fairly steep slope.  It wasn’t until another day that I saw the other side of the house and realized there was a lower level which contained a spacious apartment where Deb’s Mom, Mary, and Deb’s sister, Paula, lived. It took me a while to actually go into the house because, being the gardener that I am, I had to check out all the beautiful flowers in bloom and the various plants that I didn’t recognize, plus there were lots of interesting and whimsical garden decorations to look at. 

Eventually I made it inside where there were some delightful appetizers laid out.  Once we filled our plates, most of us migrated through the kitchen and dining area to a lovely screened-in room located at the back of the house.  The view was as delicious as the food we ate.  As I mentioned before, the house was built on a fairly steep slope, so this room was was quite elevated and gave the impression that we were seated among the tree tops. (For me it was a small God-moment.)  It was here that we got to meet the non-neighbors, Char and Frank and Doug and Deb.

After about forty five minutes of eating and socializing, it was deemed time to move to the next course.  This was to be eaten at Connie and Joe’s house and we were told that we were going via the “scenic route”.   So we all trooped out in Indian file and followed a pathway that they had created through the woods connecting the two houses.  It was rather magical and I half expected fairies and pixies to jump out from behind the trees. The crossing point between the two properties was marked by a lovely vine-covered trellis archway that stood over a couple of steps down.  My heart actually started beating a little faster right here because in a “deja vue” moment it reminded me of my Dad’s garden.  (See my posting Vignettes-  My Kingdom.)

All of these neighbors are avid gardeners, so we found ourselves stepping into another beautifully appointed garden where flower beds were in full bloom with lots of lush greenery everywhere and more whimsical garden features.  We spent quite a bit of time checking everything out.  A special mention needs to be made here about Joe’s “work shed”.  I’m talking about a GIGANTIC work shed the size of a small warehouse.  There were big tools and small tools, and every kind of small (and some not so small) machinery all neatly laid out.  As you can imagine, the men folks in our party were in hog heaven.

HPIM2367HPIM2381Don’t you just love her!!


After admiring everything, flower beds and the work shed contents, we all drifted into Connie and Joe’s where a second round of appetizers was laid out.  More eating and more socializing took place and by this time a few glasses of wine had been consumed so there was lots of merriment and laughter.  In the meantime some rain clouds had gathered and so we got sprinkled on a little as we made our way over to Sherry and Greg’s.  Earlier in the afternoon I had helped Sherry assemble a huge bowl of a very colorful mixed salad into which we had put everything bar the kitchen sink!  As people came in, we tossed it in a home made dressing and in no time at all that huge bowl was empty.

We were all beginning to get full tummies but the walk back to Deb and Crystal’s house must have helped our digestive systems because we were ready for the main course by the time we got there.  Actually some of us rode in the car because of the rain, but we were still readySmile.  I think the laughter and the socializing shook the food down nicely because we even had room for dessert after eating yet another plateful of food.  It was altogether a very fun experience and I’m already plotting and planning to see how I can replicate it, even though most of my friends live in rather spread out areas.  But maybe that will make it even more interesting.  I’ll let you know when and how I make it happen.

Going Raw: Part One

(My Life-Long Love Affair With Food)

I don’t normally put sub-titles to my postings, but I felt this one deserved one.  There is no way I can share my “adventure” at going raw without giving some background as to my relationship with food.  And it is a love affair.

I have had an intimate relationship with food ever since I can remember.  Some of my earliest memories of food are:

– sitting under the dining room table in the middle of the night eating rice paper (don’t even ask!!)

– sitting for what seemed like hours on the garden gate or at the front room window waiting for Aunty Polly to arrive with ice cream and candy

– going to Aunty Peggy’s to have wonderful four course dinners that included incredible appetizers, cheese and crackers, dessert with coffee (like in a “grown 
   up’s” restaurant)

– going down to the kid’s secret den to eat as many candies as I had been able to take from the pantry without it looking as though someone had taken them
   (I’m sure my mother realized!)

– finger-swiping the frosting off a freshly baked “chocolate horror” cake (bliss!)

– sneaking teaspoonful’s of Fry’s chocolate spread (pure paradise!!)

– biting into the crusty heel of a fresh loaf of country bread slathered in real butter

– English cheddar cheese and crunchy pickled onions

So as you can see I was pretty much addicted to food from an early age.  I could describe in detail, and still can, the sensations of different foods hitting the different taste buds in the various areas of my mouth just the way someone can describe the details in a picture.  I think God proved that He really, really loved us when he gave us taste buds.

I discovered “ethnic” restaurants in my mid to upper teens and a whole new world of tastes and flavors opened up to me.  English food is usually so bland and much of it, particularly vegetables, is simply boiled into oblivion and mush.  Indian curry and crisp Chinese vegetables were like heaven, and the awesome blend of herbs in authentic, freshly cooked, Italian cuisine can still send me into a swoon today. I think you get the picture.

Moving to Sardinia, Italy in 1979 was a dream come true for this foodaholic.  The Sardinian cuisine is unique and is as beautiful as the island itself.  Home-made pasta was the norm in a Sardinian home in those days and if you have never eaten fresh home-made pasta you need to before you die.  Roast lamb, kid, and pig are nothing like anything over here.  I have eaten some of the best bar-b-q pork since coming to the States but nothing touches a succulent roast-in-the-ground pig in Sardinia. 

From Sardinia I returned to London in 1978.  It was mainly a “big mistake” but forms part of my life journey so it was important.  During the five years I remained in the UK back then the only time that I ate well was when I cooked Italian pasta or I ate ethnic.  I missed Italy badly, not just the food but the whole culture.  So it was with a happy heart that I returned in 1983 to live in Naples, Italy.

Naples, rather like Sicily, gets a bad rap in some tourist books, but I fell in love with Naples very quickly.  There’s an Italian saying that goes, “see Naples and die”.  There’s a Neapolitan saying that goes, “Napoli ti prende per la gola” – Naples grabs you by the throat.  The people are warm-hearted and friendly and the food, well I’m not sure anything I could say about Neapolitan food would do it justice.  There are amazing pasta dishes with incredible sauces and fresh seafood cooked in the simplest but most divinely-tasting ways. “Dolce” (cakes) are out of this world and the pizza, oh the pizza!!!!!  You have not eaten real pizza until you eat pizza prepared and baked in Naples.  Not even the pizza in other parts of Italy is as sublime as Neapolitan pizza. 

And then there’s REAL mozzarella cheese freshly dripping in its own liquid.  This is an absolute delicacy that is only made in Naples, Italy.  There is only one place over here that I know of where you can find real, fresh Mozzarella cheese and that is at the Fratelli La Buffala restaurant in the beaches area of Miami.  They have it flown in fresh from Naples two or three times per week.  

So, with all this love of marvelously prepared and served food, how do I get to going raw?  With great difficulty let me tell you!  I guess with age comes some sort of wisdom, and my brain began to tell my body that two hundred pounds on a five foot four inch frame was not so healthy.  And, as usually happens with the fat accumulation, my blood pressure had risen and my cholesterol was fast following it.

Thankfully, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  Back in 2005, about eighteen months after getting to Jacksonville, Florida, my church hosted a series of classes on the vegetarian diet.  I was interested not only because I thought it would help me lose weight, combat the BP and cholesterol issue, and improve my overall wellness, but also because the classes were offered by the Cancer Society as a way to help people prevent cancer or live cancer free once they were in remission.  Because there is a history of cancer in my family I decided it was time to take the bull by the horns.

I’ll leave the “vegetarian experiment” for my next posting in this series.  

Musings: Eating In And Around Orlando

So here I am, back in my sanctuary.  The sun is shining and the sky is blue.  The birds are swooping back and forth to the feeders in my yard, and Mokka the cat lies lazily in the warmth of this November sun.  My heart is content and my soul feels peaceful.  I am “home”.

Our week away was lovely, even though we had a few stressful issues that came up.  In the bigger scheme of things they were very “high class” problems that were simply irritating but were really no more than infinitesimal blips on the radar of that particular week-long screen in our lives.  The sort of thing that was only as irritating as the amount of energy that we gave it, and we didn’t.

And beyond that were the joys we experienced.  A whole week just to ourselves.  No work issues or other people’s issues intruding on our time.  A time to be “lazy”.  A time to wake up and decide, with no hurry, what we wanted to make of the day.  We did “plan” a couple of things in advance but we also had the luxury of being able to change our minds and do something else – which we did once or twice.

I know I’ve already mentioned in previous postings that I really enjoy food.  Well I had the opportunity to indulge at various restaurants in the Orlando area.  Last year we enjoyed Bahama Breeze so much that we decided to return and we were not disappointed.  It’s an eatery that I would recommend to anyone visiting the area.  From the name you can guess that it offers a Caribbean flavored cuisine, and the menu is extensive and very mouth watering.

I love Indian food.  I had researched for a good Indian restaurant in the Orlando area and came up with the New Punjab Indian Restaurant on International Drive.  It had appeared as a recommended restaurant on several sites, and one in particular had described it as “quaint and unusual”.  On our various excursions out we had located what we thought was the Punjab place and so picked our night for Indian cuisine and went there.

As we walked from the car to the restaurant door I looked up and saw the name “Taj Punjab”.  A small warning bell rang in the back of my head but I couldn’t tie it to anything.  When we walked in the door I remember feeling disappointed and thinking, “hmmm, this doesn’t look either quaint or unusual, more like a regular diner or cafe”.  But the hostess was already upon us with a charming smile and asking “table for two?”.

I have nothing detrimental to say about the food or the service.  It was just “okay”.  Coming from London, where the best Indian restaurants outside of India can be found, I have a pretty high standard for Indian food.  This did not reach it.  The service was adequate and I did enjoy the Indian flavors and spices, but I knew that I was not “in joy”.  Imagine our frustration when we left the restaurant and discovered the New Punjab Indian Restaurant literally just around the corner.  Ah well, next year.

We had another excellent eating experience in the town of Winter Park.  I need to explain that this is what I choose to label an “elite” town.  It is classy, without appearing to be snobbish – although a few hours visit is probably not sufficient to determine that.  The main drag is pretty, quaint, and full of boutiques and some very interesting shops.  Here and there are small alley ways that open out onto minute courtyards with fountains and wrought iron and potted plants – very European.

A restaurant called Orchid Thai Cuisine caught our eye.  Richard is rather partial to a good Pad Thai and I’m always up for ethnic food of any variety.  This has to be a family run restaurant because our server (the only one,  and I’m sorry but her name eludes me) mentioned that her Mom made the ice-cream.  The service was excellent, the presentation of the dishes was superb, and the food was really delicious.  They also had the best Jasmine Green Tea that I have ever tasted, and I was so effusive about it that our sweet server gave me a few bags to take home:-).

The dinner that we had on our last evening was one that my husband had been promising me ever since we first visited Kentucky back in 1986!!  At that time he talked about going for a meal to Benihana’s Japanese Steakhouse, but we never made it.  Since then we have been back to Kentucky about seven or eight times but I never got my Benihana meal.

Well, as luck would have it, there was a Benihana’s located about a quarter of a mile from our vacation resort.  So Rich was finally able to fulfill his promise.  Over the last twenty six years of our relationship we have been to a couple of different Japanese steakhouses and have always enjoyed the experience.  Benihana’s didn’t change that.  The food was excellent as was the service and, of course, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching the talented chef cook our food to perfection before our eyes.

However, I think the “eating experience” of the week was our Thanksgiving lunch at the Caribe Royale Hotel Resort.  This is the third year running that we have enjoyed Thanksgiving with them.  They prepare a truly world class supreme buffet that has something for everyone. Just to walk around, which I do so that, 1) I can look at everything, 2) decide what I will chose and what I will not, is a feast for the eyes.  The colors and presentations are superb.

There are huge platters of cheeses, fresh fruit, roasted vegetables, crackers, cold cuts, pates, and Mediterranean hors d’oevres accompanied by baskets of every kind of bread imaginable.  And that’s just the appetizer tables!!  Then there are more platters and fountains of seafood prepared in many ways from simply steamed to elaborately mixed with noodles or rice. And alongside these dishes are more platters with Sushi and vegetables and pasta salads of every kind.

This year I really paced myself and also made some very specific choices about what I wanted to eat so that I wouldn’t fill up in the first few minutes.  So, having eaten my fill from the previously mentioned dishes, I was then ready for the main course.  Yes, there was still the main course area to visit!  For those who wanted it there was soup available, then came the traditional choices of stuffing, a vegetable medley, mashed potatoes, marshmallowed yams, fillet of sole, smoked pork loin, turkey and wonderful roast beef.  Nothing was simple; everything had a specific flavor or sauce.  Absolutely divine!

And then there was dessert.  Four or five tables full of dessert.  Delectable cakes from Strawberry Shortcake to Spice to rich Chocolate Ganache to delightfully light Tiramisu.  Richard found some wonderful  sugar cookies that had an unusual caramel center and were drizzled with a white glaze. And of course their signature champagne flutes filled with a mousse and cream concoction rounded out the choices.   

I’m sure there are many more really good restaurants in the Orlando area, and as we plan to be there again next year I know that we will get to sample them.  Can you believe I’ve written such a long posting about food?  Well, if you know me well, you probably can.  Buon appetito!!