Blogs

Food, Road Trip, The World A to Z

You Gotta Eat, Right?

Food … it’s what sustains us. When you Google food quotes, you’ll find a seemingly never-ending list:

Food is the ingredient that binds us together.

unknown author

Food is our common ground, a universal experience.

James Beard

Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.

Jonathan Safran Foer

Of course there are tons of food quotes! We need it to live. It’s a part of everyone’s life and everyone’s culture. It can be delicious, awful, adventurous, familiar … but no matter what else it is, it is essential.

When you travel, food can be a challenge … or an opportunity. After all, not everyone prepares food the way you do (or I do). The good news is, I’ve never been anywhere I couldn’t find something to eat. In Morocco, the vegetables were spiced with cinnamon and the tea was mint. In the Galapagos, the fish was fresh and the desserts were dazzling. In Lima, we tried something we couldn’t really identify. The language barrier left us wondering if it was chicken and seafood, but it was delicious, nonetheless! Later that evening, we did find South American steak on the menu.

A hotel picnic can satisfy your craving for something familiar.

If you’re lucky, you have loads of memories of a waiter putting something in front of you that turns out delicious. If you’re not, at least you have plenty to laugh about. You can always grab a couple of familiar items from a local grocery store and have a picnic in your hotel room. We’ve done that more than once.

It’s starting to look like the rest of 2020 will be filled with road trips rather than international flights, but that’s OK. Regional food can be just as exciting as international cuisine.

Rattlesnake skewers and cactus fries in Arizona.

Hop in a car and drive a few hours from home and you are likely to find something on the menu that may surprise you. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What is this?” Then try the rattlesnake skewers and cactus fries! Walk up to a vendor at a street fair and try that bacon-wrapped meat on a stick. 

Meat on a stick is a staple at fairs and festivals around the world.

Your wanderlust shouldn’t end just because you’ve found a new place to visit, popped into a museum or dipped your toes into the water on a new beach. It should also extend to your taste buds.

After all … there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Taste some of it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Road Trip, The World A to Z

What Was That?

On a last-minute trip to the San Fernando Valley over the weekend, we decided to take the “long way” home.  From Santa Clarita we headed out the 14 Freeway to Pearblossom Highway and up curvy mountain roads to Crestview. We meandered through Big Bear with a stop for lunch and down the mountain, navigating hairpin turns and marveling at the stunning views. 

We turned to head through Yucca Valley heading east towards Arizona on a ribbon of a highway that stretched further than the eye could see. As we drove along through desert vistas and deserted roadways, we noticed we were alone. At one point, we didn’t see another car or sign of civilization for about 30 minutes … well not exactly.

We did spot a couple of freight trains slowly chugging along to points unknown. Suddenly, off in the distance, a water pumping plant nestled in against the base of a mountain on the valley’s edge appeared. In a few more miles we spotted the turnoff to the pumping station and a shocking sign of civilization. Right there in the middle of nowhere was a makeshift direction sign. Dozens of hand-painted arrows were nailed to a pole. We slowed to a stop, snapped a couple of pictures and continued on. 

The Rice Shoe Tree

In another 15 minutes or so … at least I think it was about that long, we stopped keeping track of time somewhere on that lonely road … another strange site appeared. This time it was a run-down gas station overhead heavily laden with shoes. What looked like hundreds of pairs of shoes hung haphazardly. 

For the second time we scratched our heads and wondered what we were seeing. Why were these strange sites out here in the middle of nowhere? 

As we stopped for dinner, we grabbed our phones and googled the spots. I’ll let you check out the stories behind our fun desert finds. Read the story of the California Highway 62 sign post. Read the story of the Rice Shoe Tree. 

You’ve seen me recommend getting off the highway and taking back roads many times on this blog. This weekend was another reminder of what makes the back roads so much fun.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, hidden gems are just one of the reasons to get out there and start exploring.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Road Trip, The World A to Z

Sometimes You Should Look Back

I thought about starting this blog with one of the many quotes about why you should look ahead and not back. Then I realized everybody has probably seen at least one of those quotes and this blog isn’t about that. In fact, this blog is completely OPPOSITE that sentiment. 

You know by now that I’m an optimist. I look forward with joy most of the time, but not always. Sometimes you should look back.

For instance, yesterday was Memorial Day. I looked back and remembered my dad who served 27 years in the Air Force and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Once in a while you overcome a big challenge. It’s OK to look back and be a little proud of the struggles you endured and the strength you found to get to the other side of that challenge.

It’s OK to share a memory with friends on occasion, laughing over your youth while sharing a beer.

And then there was the end of a recent drive. We were less than an hour from home. The sun was setting and I glanced into the rear view mirror, grateful that the sun wasn’t shining below the sun visor and in our eyes. That’s when I noticed what was behind us. As the sun dropped lower on the horizon, brilliant colors lit up the sky. Sunset can be beautiful and this one was no exception. 

Greg drove on and I grabbed my camera and snapped a quick shot. The evening light turned the mountains up ahead in the distance a pretty pink-purple. The sky behind us changed from perfect blue to yellow edged to flame orange and finally, fiery red.

It occurred to me, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, while most of it is in front of you, sometimes you should take a look back to get a different perspective on where you’ve been.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Bucket List, Musings, The World A to Z, travel

Where Do You Find Inspiration?

Inspiration is the perennial wish of any writer. If you’ve ever written anything, even an essay for a high school teacher, you know that without inspiration, the words that end up on the paper are flat and boring. Travel is similar. Inspiration comes from images, movies, songs, friends’ vacations … all kinds of places. For those with wanderlust, there’s a seemingly never ending “bucket list” of places we are inspired to see.

As a writer with wanderlust, my list of ideas to write about is considerably shorter than my travel bucket list. That means I am constantly on the lookout for inspiration.

Yesterday, Greg opened a bottle of wine and poured a glass for each of us while I threw something together for dinner. It was good. In fact, it was surprisingly good. I picked it up at the store because of the label and the name, Storyteller. I had no idea if it would be any good at all. It was crisp and refreshing. I tasted tart apples and sweet summer peach. It was the perfect wine for a hot Arizona day.

I grabbed the bottle and read the little thought on the back: “Sonoma wine country is brimming with fables (of varying degrees of truth) passed down through the generations, usually aided by a celebrated local wine. Storyteller wines encourage your stories to unfold in ever more fantastic versions.”

The fact that I had already finished my first glass may have contributed to my reaction, but the voice in my head said, “That’s a great inspiration!”  I refilled our glasses, grabbed the bottle and set it on my desk with a little note about inspiration. I knew trying to write a blog after a glass (or two) of wine would mean a lot of editing later. 

I guess the answer to “Where do you find inspiration?” is “Everywhere!” Sometimes it’s a bagpipe-playing firefighter, sometimes it’s a casual comment about a memory, sometimes it’s the label on a bottle of wine. For travel-thirsty, quarantine-stir-crazed-cabin-fever-sufferers it seems like anywhere is the answer. 

The world is slowly reopening. We’re all chomping at the bit to get out there and do something – anything. Be careful. Be safe. Be curious. Be friendly.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, and we all have a lifetime to keep seeing it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z, travel

“S” is for Sabbatical

The World A to Z … it’s not only the name of this blog, it’s my plan to see the world. I started in 2002 with an uncomplicated plan.

I’m up to “S” this year and anyone who travels AT ALL knows that following rule “a” is pretty much out of the question. Sure, there are loads of people who say “some places” will be opened up by the end of the year, but those people also add the caveat, “as long as there’s no second wave.” 

Anyone who reads this blog has probably figured out I’m more of an optimist than not, but I am also something of a planner AND a bit of a realist. I often advise people who’ve never traveled outside the US to pack patience and a sense of humor. Those two items, to my mind, are more essential than toothpaste and soap. You can get toothpaste and soap anywhere, but patience and a sense of humor are priceless and will do a lot more to make your trip a success than anything else.

That said, I was not at all prepared for a pandemic that would essentially close the entire planet to vacation travelers and wreck my otherwise uninterrupted plan to see the world. I reached into the bottom of my suitcase and dug out the aforementioned patience and sense of humor. After all, the best way to deal with something completely outside your control is to roll with it. 

Welcome to Plan B. For now, 2020 is “S” is for Sabbatical. I will put my international quest to see the world on hold and turn my wanderlust to the backroads and towns of this great nation I call home. I’m doing my best to stick to the “never been there” rule. I’ve never seen most of the western US, so that’s where Greg and I plan to focus our attention for the rest of the year. 

“S” will hopefully include South Dakota and its Badlands and Mount Rushmore. “S” will likely include the stunning giant Sequoias of Central California. We’ve pulled out a US map, stuck a few colorful arrows on it and are looking at when to go and what route to take to get there. 

The world may not be open to tourism right now, but there’s SO much to see right here in the west. Besides, there’s still a whole world out there waiting to be explored, even if it’s not in the order I originally planned to explore it.

Here’s where I’ve been so far:

A is for Alps

B is for Belize

C is for Czech Republic

D is for Dublin

E is for Equestrian Adventure in Eastern Europe

F is for Fez

G is for Galapagos

H is for Hindustan (OK … India … but I had to go!)

I is for Italy (in this case, Florence)

J is for Jamaica

K is for Krakow (and Kurpark and Kandersteg)

L is for Lima

M is for Montreal

N is for Nurenburg

O is for Orseolo

P is for Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau

Q is for “Queen” of European Rivers, a river cruise on the Danube, 

Q is for Queen, part 2

R is for Richmond (the most Asian city on the continent of North America)

S … well … S is for Sabbatical (for now)

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, The World A to Z

Outdoor Concert + Quarantine = Date Night

Math is NOT my thing. But adding an outdoor concert to the current “social distancing” rules left me wondering how it can add up to a date night. The solution came from our local fire department and a firefighter named Garrett Baker.

Firefighter and bagpiper Garrett Baker practices.

Garrett isn’t only a firefighter, he’s a bagpiper. In fact, he’s in a firefighter pipe and drum band. Recently, some neighbors mentioned that Garret practices outside the local fire station when he’s working as long as he and his fellow heroes are not out on a call.

VOILA! Date night!

A duet during practice.

Greg and I borrowed a neighbor’s golf cart and headed over to the fire station on a hot, breezy desert evening to catch Garrett’s practice. We even had the bonus of one of the drummers joining him on a few tunes.

We tapped our feet, held hands and simply enjoyed the evening surrounded … at appropriate distances … by a couple dozen neighbors.  Garrett played and narrated his impromptu concert, pointing out his own mistakes and reminding us all that these “performances” are actually practices for his relatively newfound music hobby.

Careful to maintain safe distances, neighbors enjoy the concert.

As the music came to an end, we drove away in the fading daylight, taking a tour through the neighborhoods. We came home to some cocktails and a date-worthy dinner, toasting the evening and all the while appreciating the little things that make life grand.

The reflected images in the rear view mirror show the sizable crowds that turn out for the music.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, sometimes a new thing worth seeing is right in your neighborhood.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

flying, Road Trip, The World A to Z, travel

The Sky and Stars Beckon

Editor’s Note: This post was written May 5, 2020

Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 (NASA Photo)

On this date in 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space when his Redstone rocket-powered Mercury capsule Freedom 7 blasted off from Cape Canaveral. My mother has told me on numerous occasions that she took me outside our home near Orlando to watch the lone astronaut rise toward the heavens, as history was made. 

I was six-months old to the day … too young to have remembered that moment. But I’ve always wondered whether that solitary act sparked my life-long passion for aviation and space travel. I remember my first commercial airplane trip a few years later — an Eastern Airlines trip from Atlanta to Orlando in a Lockheed Electra. I also remember when my best friend’s grandfather took me on my first flight in a small general aviation airplane — a short trip in a Piper Tri-Pacer when I was about 8 or so. That flight forever planted the seed to learn to fly, which actually happened some 25 years later. A few years later, I was sweating the moment when I finished my FAA-mandated check ride that would determine whether I’d be certified to fly on instruments (I passed). I remember being glued to the TV when Neil Armstrong planted the first steps on the moon … and the moment I heard on the radio about the Challenger disaster. 

Just today, someone on Facebook posted a video of a place nearby where I could get my seaplane rating … sparking the urge to, once again, combine my love of flying with water. These moments are like signposts along a seemingly never-ending road of aviation and space travel experiences that I hope, one day, might ultimately involve the ability for me and you to actually travel in space.

Greg and Judy take off from Charlottesville, VA airport in Sept. 2017

Long-time readers know my love for road trips, but also appreciate my continued love of air travel. To me, the journey is just as important as the destination. Despite all the hassles with commercial air travel today (Pre-COVID) — the lines, security, crowds, etc. — it’s still worth it to look out the window at the world below. I’d rather follow our route on my laptop using an aviation app, trying to identify cities, lakes, rivers and other landmarks, than watch a movie or read a book. Get work done?  Fuggedaboudit. 

Always a window seat for me!

All of us feed our wanderlust in different ways.  Some like cruises, some can’t stand boats. Some like to hike and climb, some like to sit on a beach where the only exercise involves lifting a cocktail from table to mouth. Some are in it for the sights, some for the tastes of fine food and wine. And that’s really the point … focus on whatever drives YOUR passion for travel and feed off that. Do what YOU want to do, don’t be led by what others think you should enjoy.

Me, I keep looking at those lone contrails in the sky and dream of the next flight … to wherever it may lead. Because there’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. I’ll be the one with the window seat, nose pressed to the glass, looking at the ground below, and to the stars above.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, The World A to Z, travel

A Trip Into The Rearview Mirror

When you can hear your wanderlust ticking like a biological clock (think Marisa Tomei’s performance in My Cousin Vinny), you know you have to find something fun and different to do. I decided to dig into some old memories and take a trip through my past.

A little background: Growing up an Air Force brat, we moved often and we were not allowed to keep a lot of “stuff.” Typically, my parents limited me to one box for memories. When I got my first apartment, my grandmother gave me her old steamer trunk. It became my new memory box and I’ve tried (and often failed) to limit my memory stuff to that trunk.

Yesterday, I opened the lid and started pulling out my past. The last Air Force uniform I wore is in that box. I took off the name tag and ribbons and put them in a frame, but the uniform is there. I held it up and wondered how it shrunk so much just being tucked away in that trunk.

Next up: My high school letter jacket. I went to two high schools. The first was in Wiesbaden, Germany and I lettered in cross country. No more long distance running could have something to do with why that uniform shrunk so much. 

A dug into the pile of scrapbooks and bundles of letters from old boyfriends. Yeah … I kept those. I sat on the floor and read about a dozen of those letters. Happy memories of sweet, younger times came flooding back. I’m lucky to have stayed friends with a number of old boyfriends … oddly, none of those letters are from the guys I still call “friend.” I found a box of ticket stubs and souvenir postcards from travels in my 20s and 30s and made a mental note to spend some time organizing them into another scrapbook.

Then the photo album. When did my friends and I get so old? Were we ever really that young? Yep! I have photographic proof. Haha. I considered pulling some of them out, scanning them and posting them here, but some things are better as memories. 

Before I knew it, I checked the clock and realized I’d been digging through that old trunk for about four hours. I thought about how all that digging was like a long drive on a sunny spring day. I felt a little refreshed and found myself smiling often as I wandered through my memories. I snickered a few times – like when I found the souvenir grass skirt my mom brought home from a trip to see my dad in Hawaii in the late 60s. It was a great distraction from my ongoing planning for future vacations … and gave me a few ideas! 

… good thing there’s room for more memories in that trunk, cuz I have LOADS more memories to make.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, some of it may be behind you. Think of it as taking a trip into the rearview mirror.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Food, Wine/Cocktails

When You Can’t Travel, Bring the Flavors of a Place to Your Kitchen

I discovered a dish several years ago when I picked up a special edition of Epicurious magazine. It was called “Epicurious Italy.” The title alone sold that magazine/cookbook to me. I’ve always LOVED Italian food. In fact, I pretty much love all things Italian. 

Epicurious Italy

Unable to travel during the corona pandemic, I decided, “If you can’t get out, at least bring the flavors of places to your kitchen.”  So, I’ve tried making schnitzel with spaetzle. It turned out pretty good. Greg whipped up some amazing curry dishes. We’ve co-cooked some Asian-inspired stuff. But far and away our favorite is Italian and our “go to.”

We took a cooking class through Sur La Table a few years ago and learned a few tricks, including how to make our own pasta. Then I found this compilation of recipes. We’ve tried at least a dozen of the recipes and love them all, but the Brasato al Barolo is an absolute favorite and has become our signature dish. 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe. Chefs always say, “add season and flavor to your taste.” We’ve used lots of different kinds of red wine – Barolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti, Super Tuscan blends, Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine enhances the flavor, so I’m always careful to go with a red we really like. For this brasato, I used a 2012 Mauro Veglio Barolo

This dish takes a little work, but is INCREDIBLE and well worth it. 

Before you start cooking, do your prep work. Cut up the carrots, onions, garlic and celery in advance. True story – I cheat on the garlic and buy the big jar of minced garlic at my local grocery store. Get that wine open and breathing. (NOTE: ALWAYS — seriously ALWAYS — taste the wine you’re using in your food. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food). If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own herbs, snip and clean some fresh thyme and basil. Otherwise, grab the fresh stuff from the store. It really makes a difference. I have somehow managed to keep the thyme, rosemary and mint alive, but my basil is looking pretty sad right now. 

My little herb garden.

Measure what you need and have it handy. The french call it “mise en place” (Everything in its place).  That’s one of things we learned in our cooking class and really makes cooking a lot easier (and more fun). Pre-heat your your oven.

Now you’re ready to get cooking.

Get a good sear on the beef

Step one: Put olive oil into a dutch oven and heat it till the oil shimmers. You’ll want to have it HOT so when you put the meat in to brown it, you get that sizzle. 

Step two: brown the meat (about two minutes a side).  and remove it from the pan to a plate

Step three: throw in diced pancetta and render the fat. I couldn’t get pancetta once and tried bacon. It was still good, but there was absolutely a difference. 

Step four: Add your cut up veggies and let them cook and caramelize for about 5 minutes. You will see a difference and everyone in the house will be coming into the kitchen to tell you how amazing it smells and find out what you’re cooking.

Step five: add those herbs and that garlic and stir ‘em in. The garlic will brown in about a minute if you use the jarred stuff. Fresh will take a little longer.

Step six. Stir in the tomato paste. It gets really gloppy here. Mix it up and get it clumpy but keep it moving. You don’t want to burn the tomato paste.

Pour in that wine

Step seven: Pour in two cups of wine. For me it boils almost immediately so I turn it down a bit and let it vigorously simmer till the wine is reduced by half.

Step eight: Add the meat (and the juices from the plate) back into the Dutch oven and pour in the other cup of wine and a cup of water. 

Step nine: Put the cover on and pop the whole thing into your pre-heated oven.

Step ten: Let that deliciousness cook low and slow for three hours. Your house will smell delicious. Your neighbors will be jealous. 

Now here’s the real secret. When your brasato is cooked, let it cool to room temp and pop it into your fridge for two to three days. Trust me on this. I’ve eaten it right away and three days later and waiting is OH SO WORTH IT! 

A few hours before you’re going to serve: Pull the Dutch oven out of the fridge and skim off most of the fat that’s set on the top. This is easiest when it’s cold. Throw the fat away, pop the covered Dutch oven into a 350℉ oven for 30 minutes.

Spoon everything but the beef into a blender.

Take it out of the oven and put the meat onto a plate. Depending on the cut of meat, it may simply fall apart or you will be able to slice it. Pull out the rosemary and thyme and spoon the contents of the pan into your blender.

Deliciousness on a plate.

Puree it. All of it. This delicious, beefy, wine-flavored, veggie mess is gonna be the most scrumptious gravy you’ve ever eaten in your life. There’s no need to thicken anything, just blend it to a thick liquid.

Voila — choose a vegetable (or not – I mean the gravy is mostly vegetables), mash some potatoes (or cauliflower) to hold the gravy. Grab some bread (you’re going to be sopping up every drop) and dig in.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes you just have to explore it with your taste buds.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, flying

America Strong!

For those of you who love a good window-rattling, heart-stopping jet flyover, you’re surely missing your favorite summer air show. The US Air Force Thunderbirds and the US Navy Blue Angels, our nation’s premiere military aerial demonstration teams have both cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Don’t go to their websites to learn this, though. They seem to be ignoring them and keeping everything up-to-date on social media – specifically Facebook (the links above are to the Facebook pages to save you some search time).

That’s the bad news. The good news is, you can still get your jet-whine-screaming-turn-and-burn fix if you’re close enough to one of MANY cities across the nation. 

The two teams, in an exceptionally rare act of cooperation, conducted joint practices recently over the Gulf of Mexico … near the home of the Blue Angels … in preparation for a national tour. They are calling it “America Strong.”

According to the Department of Defense: “In a show of national solidarity, the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, will conduct a series of multi-city flyovers over the next two weeks. America Strong is a collaborative salute from the Navy and Air Force to recognize healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tuesday, April 28, they kicked their tour off with a flyover of New York City and the Trenton/Philadelphia areas. The Thunderbirds and Blue Angels aren’t posting the full schedule because this is a tribute situation and they don’t want people traveling and gathering together to see the salute, but if you keep an eye on your local media, you’ll find out if you’re in (or near) their path.

US Air Force F-35s fly over the desert near Luke Air Force Base.

If you’re not near one of their scheduled cities, but you live near an Air Force or Navy Base, you may still get a tribute flyover. We live near Luke Air Force Base and the Phoenix area is getting a flyover with F-16s, F-35s and even a KC-135. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be seen, sometimes you gotta look up, plug your ears and feel the rattle of your bones as the Sound of Freedom shakes you to the core.

Photos courtesy of the United States Air Force and the United States Navy

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020