Distractions, Diversion

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

Distractions, Diversion, 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

Distractions, Flying, Travel

That One Afternoon Contrail

Blue skies always make me look up. I love to feel the warm sun on my face, scan the skies for a hint of a cloud or two, and look for contrails.

Blue skies, no clouds … and no contrails.

Before the pandemic, contrails were everywhere. There are all kinds of commercial jets that fly over the desert where we live. There are small, private planes constantly humming overhead, practicing turns and stalls. We’re close enough to Luke Air Force Base that we occasionally hear the incredible sounds of military jets “turning and burning” as they conduct training flights and exercises. I LOVE that sound.

Those screaming jets seem to be flying a little less often now. I miss the heart stopping, thundering wail. So I look up to plain, stunning, blue skies. No contrails anywhere — most of the time.

I say most of the time because every afternoon, somewhere around 1:30 – 2:00, we look up and see the tell-tale contrail of a BIG plane. Something with four engines is flying the same path everyday. It’s too high to tell what it is, but you can just make out the four lines of condensation leaving their vapor trail in the atmosphere.

We’ve speculated it’s a military cargo jet carrying something important from east to west. Maybe it’s a commercial jet, loaded with properly socially distanced passengers headed to San Francisco or Hawaii … or even further west. 

Is it an eye and eyebrow?

We aren’t flying anywhere, so it’s kind of fun to look up and imagine where that plane is headed, who’s on it and what their stories are. I used to do that as a kid – wonder the who, what and where of planes flying overhead. I guess until the pandemic restrictions are lifted I’ll continue dreaming about flying somewhere. What the heck, maybe I’ll even try to find shapes in the clouds while I’m looking for contrails.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored even if you have to explore it in your imagination.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Flying, Musings, Road Trip, Trains, Travel

Wanderlust, Moving and A World of Change

A friend from high school recently moved to a new home. It was one of several she’s made in recent years. She and I are very alike that way. In the past eight years I have had six homes. That’s six full-scale, move-everything-you-own-to-a-new-place homes. 

In fact, we grew up that way … the two of us and thousands of other kids known as “military brats.” Vikki, who also an author, and I had Air Force dads, but others had dads and moms who were soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and women. We moved often and, from an early age, learned to expect and even embrace the change that comes with a new home, new friends, a new school and a new lifestyle.

I suspect that my childhood and the following time on active duty are big parts of the reason I have such strong wanderlust. I CRAVE new places and new things to see and do. I long to pack a few things into a bag and go somewhere I’ve never been. I strike up conversations with strangers … sometimes with strangers who don’t even speak English.

If you are a fellow traveler, you probably have many of the same feelings. When people ask, “where’s the best place you’ve ever been?” you simply have no way to answer. There are too many “best places” to pick one. 

My husband grew up in one town for the most part. But something in him is excited about travel, too. I’d like to believe I had something to do with that by taking him with me on several adventures early in our relationship. We’ve been on trips by road, air, rail, river, even horseback. We’ve hiked, biked, snorkeled, soared and sailed. And we’re not even close to done! 

It seems for every trip I take, I add two more to my bucket list. An insatiable desire to travel consumes me. I feed it and it grows like a weed. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … I just can’t seem to get enough.

PS … thanks for the inspiration, Vikki!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Musings, Wine/Cocktails

Puerto Backyarda

Somehow I didn’t think I’d be writing a travel blog about my neighborhood for my 100th blog. Yes, I know there are almost 150 on this site, but the others were all written by Greg, so this is officially my 100th. I hope you’re having fun reading them and if you have something you’d like to see me write about, feel free to send me a note or comment.

Like you, I’m staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing my part to stem the flow of this virus. When you’re plagued with wanderlust, that’s not easy! To keep busy, I spend a lot of time on the internet enjoying the humor and doing what I can to mitigate the sense of caution and fear that’s running rampant. 

Several memes and jokes highlight our mutual boredom being “stuck at home.” Here are a few favorites from Facebook.

As funny as these memes are, there’s a bit of truth in the humor. We’re all spending more time in our backyards and spending more time with our lockdown families. There’s lots you can do to add a little fun to your days.

Our walks around the neighborhood have opened our eyes to the creativity in our neighbors’ yards. We’ve seen several ideas we’re now considering as we look at a backyard upgrade. 

These big leafed plants caught our eye for a potential backyard makeover.

Our evening cocktails through the fence with our next door neighbors continue to make us smile and appreciate the little things … like a beautiful sunset.

Nightly sunsets aren’t always this beautiful, but we’re making the most of those that are.

Twice our neighbors on our street have had a corona twist on a block party. We all come out at a specific time, sit at the end of our driveways — some in their golf carts — and wave and shout greetings as we catch up.

We set up a little mini bar at the end of the driveway to share some social time with neighbors … at a distance.

We’re all doing what we can to make the best of this bad situation. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … we’re all getting anxious to go see some of it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Food, Wine/Cocktails

Let’s Do Brunch … Virtually

Judy and I both grew up with brunch as a regular part of our lives … we went to church and, invariably, our parents would take us to brunch, often with friends. Not as formal as dinner, but a nice way to get together and share a repast with acquaintances and loved ones, made even better when the food is excellent, the wine to-die-for, and the weather brilliant.

So it was this Sunday morning when we joined Schlossadler International Wines and winemaker Michael Opitz – live from Austria – in a virtual tasting of Opitz’ fantastic wines. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away our ability to get out and be among friends, these virtual wine tastings using video conferencing capabilities are the next best thing … a great way to spend an hour (more if we keep the bottle open), share in a great experience, and taste some excellent wines. One simply signs-up, Schlossadler delivers the wine, and everyone joins-in the fun online.

Computer screen depicting participants in a virtual wine tasting.
The next best thing to being there…

This was our third tasting with Hans and Liza and one of the best … partly due to working-out some of the technology kinks, but also because this was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday midday. After a morning reading the paper, doing crossword puzzles, and taking an energizing walk in brilliant Arizona sunshine and 70 degree temps, we prepared a charcuterie board, opened the three bottles for this particular tasting, and fired up the computer. We joined Hans, Liza and Michael just as the latter was kissing his daughter good night (it was eight in the evening in Austria). The only thing that would have made the scene better would have been to move the whole kit and caboodle outdoors to do the tasting al fresco.

As wonderful as the wine and the flavors we paired with it were, so was the camaraderie of those from around the country taking part. There are both new and familiar faces … people with whom we share a passion for wine and who will likely become great friends when we get the chance to meet in person.

Seeing Michael share his passion for wine-making and the maps of the regions where his wines are produced brought both memories of our recent Danube River cruise and pangs of wanderlust. We’ve written often here that one of the great joys of our travels is to experience the tastes of the places we visit. We’ve already spoken with Liza about joining her on one of her winery excursions overseas … making that a reality is something Judy and I speak of almost daily.

Sign on a wall: "Winederlust - a strong desire to drink wines form around the world or just the wines from your neighborhood shop or even the ones you already have." Photo also shows a decorative card with wine glasses and wine shaped in the shape of a heart.
A sign of the times…

We have said before the pandemic is not something we take lightly … friends and family have and are effected, not just inconvenienced. But, we also know that many of us yearn for the days when this will be over, and are thankful there’s light at the end of that tunnel, bringing back our ability to travel and celebrate life with those we love. We know there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … it will still be there when this is all over. Until then, find joy wherever you can.

Empty wine glasses, a plate ready for the wash, a partially consumed bowl of olives and three partially consumed wine bottles.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Food

The Essentials of Life

A friend shared a book with my husband recently that had an incredible concept in it. The book, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, written by Pellegrino Artusi in the late 19th century talks about the philosophy of food as art. Why is art something to be admired from a distance as it hangs on a wall? Why can’t it also be an incredible dish shared with family and friends? 

Enjoying the aromas of a homemade dish.

Mr. Artusi explains that food and procreation are the two essentials of life, both of which should be enjoyed. Italians are pretty well-known for embracing those two essentials. There are a number of Italian phrases that speak to the lifestyle – la dolce vita (the sweet life), dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing), and domani, dopo domani (roughly translated as “whenever”). 

As Greg was reading passages from the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with Mr. Artusi. It struck me that our approach to travel includes those two essentials. In fact, I often pass up a chance to wander a museum in favor of a long, leisurely meal in a local restaurant. 

When I travel, I embrace local foods! Everywhere I go I try to find and taste local specialties. It’s something I call epicuriosity. Besides the flavors of a place, though, the people and their approach to life fascinate me. My wanderlust is seemingly bottomless. I crave the chance to explore new cultures and foods, be awestruck by the differences in architecture in cities or stunning vistas in the countrysides, and wander the ancient city centers of the world or explore neighborhoods.

It seems like the entire world is locked down right now due to COVID-19, but I am earnestly planning itineraries for more trips. My bucket list seems to get bigger with every trip. I am blessed with a husband who not only supports my limitless yearning to travel, but shares it. 

We’re practicing social distancing for the health of our friends, family and neighbors. We know this crisis will eventually pass and we will once again pack our bags and head off to explore some new corner of the globe. In the meantime, we’re using this time to try some new dishes and enjoy our togetherness …  La dolce vita!

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. It will still be there and I still plan on exploring it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Road Trip

The Great Outdoors as Therapy for Troubled Times

Social Distancing. Mandatory Telework. Who has toilet paper?

The Coronavirus has created a new vernacular; some fear this intrusion in our lives may become the “new normal.” But there is always something we can do to improve our own health and well-being … get outside.

After a week mostly cooped-up in the house — Judy running the business, me doing my day job —  Saturday dawned bright and sunny with temps forecast to rise to the mid-70s. Plans to do spring house-cleaning quickly vanished. We threw a picnic lunch together, hopped in the car, put the top down and headed out.

The plan was simple. After a stop in central Phoenix to pick up some wine we had ordered at a recent festival (see “Spring is Festival Season”), we’d head due south on Central Avenue to the point where South Mountain rises from the Valley of the Sun and enters the South Mountain Park and Preserve. The road twists and turns up the mountain to the TV antenna-filled summit. At 2,330 feet, the views of the valley from Dobbins Summit were spectacular with photo opportunities galore. Farther down the road was the Gila Valley overlook, with views to the south and east of town. The sky was so clear you could almost see Tucson! (not really, but you get the point.)

We ate our simple picnic of sandwiches and iced tea under the shade of a ramada (spanish for open porch), one of many throughout the park. We munched as hikers tightened the laces on their boots and grabbed bottles of water to take on some of the 51 miles of trails the park offers. We didn’t hike this day, but we’ll be back to do so, or to possibly let a horse do the work for us, available from the Ponderosa Stables at the park’s entrance.

On this gorgeous day, we weren’t the only ones enjoying this opportunity to be outside. For the most part, people kept up their physical distancing, but smiles abounded and talk was not about the difficulties but about how great life could be when you simply get outdoors.

Refreshed, we drove down the mountain and went home via side streets and roads, avoiding the highway to enjoy the sun in our faces and the breeze in our hair. All in all, the trip took us about four hours but it felt like we were days away from the daily (and new) routines of our lives. It was a great reminder there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go outside and see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020