September Summer

October has begun and with it will come falling leaves. But even the weather takes its own time in the South. Our uncharacteristically mild summer stayed all through September, urging folks to go one last time to the pool or to take a nap in the sun.  Cooler days are forecast for next week, but before they get here I just want to linger a moment over some late summer pleasures. DSC_0108 I’ve spent the waning weeks of summer enamored with this farro and chickpea salad. With the zing of za’ atar,  this salad is perfect for hot days.DSC_0091I took my friend R. through my yard so he could practice using his new camera. He gleefully snatched up a passion fruit off the vine and demonstrated how he used to eat them when he lived out in the country.DSC_0068We documented the flowers’ demise, DSC_0102the day’s deepening shadows,IMG_3051and how the blue of the sky peeked through the pergola roof.
IMG_3014On another warm Saturday I helped a friend with a yard sale. I put a few things out  to sell but my friend sold more than I did. Could the figure above have jinxed me?DSC_0060One  lovely Sunday night I made some fish tacos for an al fresco dinner.DSC_0063DSC_0066And it tasted as good as it looked.IMG_3065Finally, we met some friends at the Levitt Shell to hear an outstanding concert by the Memphis Dawls. Usually summer is a season I tolerate but do not enjoy. Humidity is not my friend. But thanks to these last mild weeks I’m able to usher it out with kinder regard than ever before. Goodbye, summer, and thanks for each moment and memory!

And how about all of you? What late summer fun did you enjoy?

Little Ole Ladies In Pasadena: Advice From Professionals

Magpie TV, devoted to bringing viewers the very best in practical information, is pleased to bring you travel tips from two very special little old ladies: The Magpie herself, and her stalwart companion Readmegirl. Hey, there’s precedent:

She's such a copycat! Source: starpulse.com

She’s such a copycat!
Source: starpulse.com

Martha Stewart appears on her own network. Tune in today to learn how to make sure YOUR trip feels as smooth as the zipper in your properly sized and packed suitcase  from start to finish!

Commercial Break: Planning a trip to Pasadena? We’d love to help, but we’ve only seen a few sights  there: Huntington Gardens, a famous bridge, and the Rose Bowl. What we can recommend is walking the neighborhoods and admiring people’s yards. If you happen to see inside their homes, so much the better. Here are a few neighborhood highlights:DSC_0382

DSC_0401DSC_0416Part One: The ladies, recently returned from visiting Krug The Thinker in Pasadena California, were not available to appear live, which is fine because this is not a live show anyway. Nor is it taped ahead of time. Our unique no audio/no video format made it oh so possible for our guest stars to compile some dos and don’ts from their most recent peregrination.We are also privileged to have some of their photos for our commercial breaks! ( We suggest some music now, but all we can think of is “Leaving’ On a Jet Plane.” Lame.)

1) Trip Planning: Arranging conveyance by airplane is more complicated than ever, warns  the Magpie.The fares, the routes, the service – all have become so unpredictable and frankly, unsuitable for civilized beings. What one wants and what is available often do not mesh conveniently. However, if possible, when arranging a trip, depart the morning AFTER the clock springs forward, depriving you of the one hour during which you sleep most deeply. You’ll be in such a daze you won’t even notice the delays or the bad breath of  the man behind you in the TSA line.

2) Airport Transportation: Never make assumptions about ground transportation. The wise traveler learns ahead of time what is available and makes arrangements accordingly. The alternative is to stand at the exit with one’s mouth open, inviting native insects in for a visit. IF one arranges a pickup by limousine service as the little ole ladies did, it is helpful upon landing  to respond immediately to the driver’s text announcing his arrival at the airport. But don’t call the one who most recently texted you. Ignore THAT text and call the one who picked you up last December!! That will really surprise him on his day off, and make for a zany good time leaving the airport!

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

3) Footwear:  Magpie makes it a point to have comfortable walking shoes. Last year the Magpie had occasion to own two identical pair of walking shoes, the first pair having rudely hidden themselves in the closet until after the second pair was purchased. Magpie’s response was to immediately put one pair inside her suitcase so she would always have a pair of walking shoes. Upon arrival at the Saga Court Motor Hotel, congratulating herself on her forethought, Magpie whipped both of those left footed babies right out of the suitcase.

Oops!

Oops!

4) Packing Light: Be creative! The Magpie never checks bags, so she tries to use multi purpose garments. For example, a bathing suit cover up can double as a nightgown. If, as happened to Magpie, you underestimate how cool it gets at night, especially with a roommate who wants the air conditioner running,  and you have to add a couple of shirts on top and a pair of jeans on the bottom so you won’t freeze, that bathing suit cover up will tuck right down in your jeans so that you barely have any bulges when you appear in the lobby in  your two left footed shoes and an ice bucket in which you plan to stack three or four cups of coffee to take  back to your room. Decorum is everything, Readmegirl reminds us.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

5) Be Courteous! Some travel companions have odd proclivities, such as announcing that they cannot sleep while being serenaded with the combination of honking, sawing and gurgling that makes up snoring. If  you are awakened by a nudge in the middle of the night, and  are surprised to find a frowning yet familiar face hovering above you, demanding that you cease and desist, simply say “Thank you,” and go back to sleep. That’s how the Magpie handled it , and she’s convinced that the gentle approach to the nudger made all the difference.

Commercial Break: ( We recommend narration in a calm dignified tone.But you do what you want.)  Today we feature the Saga Court Motor Hotel  of Pasadena.

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

This 1960s gem, located on Route 66, offers palm trees, a heated pool, and 1980s bedspreads. (Now  a little suspenseful music.) In addition, the  Saga’s peach colored stucco walls, retro atmosphere including jalousied windows, will make you sure that a noir mystery is occurring on the premises. We can’t be sure one did NOT take place, as we had a mysterious call from someone asking for “Marcia.”Who calls anymore on your room phone?? Keep the Saga in mind when you visit Pasadena. It’s reasonably priced, has an air of mystery about it, AND has a few books to read in each room.IMG_2664

And now we return to our show: We’re learning so much about how the smart set travels. But there’s more!

6) Don’t Avoid Responsibility: When you have been invited into town to see someone, don’t make THEM do all the heavy lifting. Specifically, Readmegirl tells us, when your hostess announces that her one of her sweetest friends who is also an incredibly talented chef is in town and wants to cook for all of you, insist on supervising! You may look as though you are only snapping peas, lounging on the couch, and drinking a purple drink called an Aviation, but in fact you are making sure those kids don’t burn the house down. In the name of safety, search your heart for the humility needed to complete this noble task. You won’t be sorry!

Stealth  Supervision

Stealth Supervision

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

Supervision has its own rewards.

Supervision has its own rewards.

7) Clarify, clarify, clarify: Readmegirl reminds us of the importance of communication. Here’s the kind of ubiquitous situation to which she refers: When you are  enjoying a glass of wine at an Italian restaurant where the decor is reminiscent of the Ratpack days  and your sister returns from the restroom and announces, “We’re all going to have to go on a field trip to the bar after dinner. It’s got gold wallpaper with black stripes with  machine guns on the walls”, DO NOT JUST ASSUME THAT THE SHOTGUNS ARE REAL!!!!!! You will be so, so disappointed!

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes.

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes. I won’t say who thought the machine guns were real, only that between these two there are 78 years of formal education.

8 ) Don’t be territorial: You don’t have to be the center of attention at all times. Allow your travel companions to get ahead of you on walks and have their own conversations. After all it’s not THEIR fault you can’t keep up because you are having to wear someone else’s too large shoes that squeak so loudly that you have no chance to practice your favorite pastime of eavesdropping. Try not to take it personally when they get ahead of you while you lag behind to take pictures because after all, life is art, and that while ahead of you THEY witness a woman  watering her flowers clad only in a shirt and some shiny underpants. It won’t be easy, but in time you will get over it.

You can't be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture...

You can’t be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture…

Ahey're probably NOT talking about you.

And they’re probably NOT talking about you anyway. Right??

9) Use your Southern hospitality! Expect to be included in your hosts’ lives and activities. When invited to drink celebratory beers with a group of Cal Tech astrophysicists and assorted other left brain specimens, accept happily and chances are they’ll never dream you know nothing about science. Instead, choose a topic of universal interest, such as your own wedding 35 years ago, and how your seventeen year old sister had to drive home the car that your male guests had adorned with inappropriate sayings. That’s something everyone can relate to!

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

10) Getting Home: All good things must come to an end. If you are reluctant to end your voyage, chances are you will be packing, inexpertly, at the last minute. Some of the inexpertness could be due to the lateness of the hour, to the wine you are drinking to assuage your sadness, or to the knowledge  that the new suitcase you just  bought at the thrift store because luggage was 40 percent off does not unzip all the way around. Though Readmegirl is a very efficient little cuss, she could not make headway with her suitcase situation and was forced to avail herself of her sister’s help. Magpie’s expertise at least got all items packed, but put Readmegirl over the line for  carryons. Should this happen to you, advises Readmegirl, decide what you will give up if challenged at the airport. Should you decide to let go of the  red duffel bag you brought, as was Readmegirl’s choice, only leave your ignition key in the bag if you think it would be funny to call your husband and ask him to come pick you up at the airport one hour away from home at midnight. That joke never fails to get a response!

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Well everyone, that’s all the time we have for today. We hope we’ve left you with some useful tips from this peripatetic duo. Viewers, as always, if you have tips to share, or simply want to validate the ladies’ experiences, we welcome your comments!DSC_0372 DSC_0407

Granulatin’ Bad

Sure. I look pretty harmless. I’m polite to the neighbors, fairly unobtrusive when I leave the house, as middle aged ladies often are. No one could look at me and know that in August, within the confines of my home, I’ve got skills, mad skills. Because when boiling sun and steamy air turn the tiny green figs into golden orbs, I’m Granulatin’. Granulatin’ Bad.

IMG_2228

You’re no doubt familiar with someone else who may appear mild in the outside world,  but who  leads a whole other life right under his neighbor’s noses. That’s right –  Walter White.

Don’t think I have anything in common with Walter, or Walter with me?  We’ll just see about that! Here are some similarities:

Photo Source: IMDB

Photo Source: IMDB

IMG_2230

Obviously we’re both bad you know whats.


1)  Highly desirable product:  Walter’ s blue meth is apparently the stuff of dreams. OK, fine. But you should  see the eyes widen when I walk into the yoga studio with a box of twelve gleaming jars of fig preserves.  Excited murmurs float across the studio. When class is over they make a beeline for every last jar. Unconditional acceptance of your product by a yoga class says only one thing: 99.1 % pure, total quality.

DSC_0334

2) Large amount of raw materials needed:  Walter buys his in more than one location to avoid suspicion. But I HAVE to buy mine in multiple locations because no one stocks as many jars or as many boxes of pectin as I need. And unlike Walter, because I deal with a live ingredient, I  can never predict the exact amount of supplies I need. They may suspect me of something at the grocery store when I dash in wearing sticky shoes and a stained T shirt and buy ALL of their eight ounce  canning jars,  but they know not to question me. I dare them to. 
DSC_0346

3)  Specialized work environment and equipment:  We each need to set up a pristine, industrial workspace. Mine is the kitchen. Walter  may have a gas chromatograph while I use a spoon and my own mouth for quality control, but the concept is the same.

My lab.

My lab.

Walter's lab. Photo courtesy of breakingbad.wiki.com

Walter’s lab. Photo courtesy of breakingbad.wiki.com

4) Total concentration: We can’t do anything else while cooking.  We’re basically unreachable. When my harvest begins, I am in a flurry of picking, washing, cutting, cooking, sterilizing. My hands get too sticky to even think of touching a phone. So don’t call me. Walter and I agree that production stops when we say it stops.

5) Hazards:  Yes, it is hazardous work. You are familiar with what Walter has faced through the years: beatings, torture, kidnapping, and even death. But what about me? I’ve bravely faced my share of challenges. Here is a short list:

a) Balancing on the part of an eight ladder where it says not to standDSC_0736

b) While keeping up with a bag of figs over one shoulder

These babies aren't light.

These babies aren’t light.

c) While grasping at leaves and branches and clutching them to your chest so you can pull off the figs with the other hand, sweat dripping off your brow,

d) And a swarm of mosquitoes gets close and personal with your armpits,

e) And getting down from said perch,

f) Dealing with the crazy violence that seems ubiquitous in the fig tree world

Nobody saw nothin'.

Nobody saw nothin’.

g) And even having to hide some ominous, foreshadowing symbols from my family, like this.DSC_0718

Inside the house, once I have gathered my figs I  still have to endure deep, deep stickiness from spilled sugar and gooey figs, boiling water, hot pans, an extended cleanup, and last but not least, the sick feeling that comes from tasting preserves fifteen times. Let me tell you, I’ve paid my dues!

I'm tough enough to take the heat.

I’m tough enough to take the heat.

Walter and I, we’re a pair. We may threaten, cajole, and intimidate, but we get the product out.  Still, we have our differences. First he sells his product for top dollar while mine is  free of charge. Maybe I could sell mine, but unlike Walter I have no partner to handle the distribution end. Second, he can’t taste his product, but I can. Mr. White always uses the   same recipe, while I  I experiment with new flavors. This year I’ve added a little something different in every batch. Walter never divulges his recipes, but I can. I’m not trying to corner the market.

Walter in his work clothes

Walter in his work clothes. Photo: breakingbad.wiki.com

As fig season winds up, so does Walter’s last season. I don’t have a good feeling about his prospects, but he may surprise me yet. While we wait to learn his fate, won’t you try some of my  fig preserves? Really. They’re free, and you won’t have to worry about going to jail!DSC_0710 Postscript: This years flavors: cinnamon, cinnamon and ginger, rosemary and port, pepper, basil, amaretto, and that’s all I can remember. Tell that to the D.E.A.

The Warmth of Another Sun

I couldn’t get warm at all yesterday. In the South may the fourth  should conjure pictures of sunny sidewalks and folks out in shorts and flip flops, but this year we were subjected to torrential rains and temperatures in the 40s. 40s!!!! I spent most of the day doing what I do in February – huddling under a blanket with the space heater on. As I occasionally covered my  icy  nose with my sleeve, I asked myself if it were true that just one week ago I had been basking in the sun in the Napa Valley?

Why yes, I promptly answered myself, because talking to myself helped my blood circulate to my extremities. Just last Saturday, I told myself,  you were luxuriating in golden sunshine at the Fremont Diner. And I reassured myself by looking at the pictures I had of that very day. One can’t be too careful; frozen people have been known to hallucinate.

A little background: I accompanied my husband on a business trip to the Bay area. We were fortunate that our daughter could fly up from Pasadena and spend the week with us. Maybe I should be writing my first post about the trip on how wonderful it was to get to see her for the first time since Christmas and how she warms my heart, but I’m just too cold. So let’s move on to the Fremont Diner. And by the way, all those corny expressions about being kissed by the sun, soaking up the sun’s rays, the sky washed clean? Those are all true. DSC_0586

On Saturday we drove to the Napa Valley. We had big plans for the night, but we’ll discuss those later. I sat in the passenger seat of the rental car, reading on my Ipad ,while my daughter and husband discussed the logistics of the trip. I was free to gaze upon some of the sights I had missed so much: the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, and the surrounding countryside. Thanks to the GPS we were guided in due time to the Fremont Diner, where my daughter’s dear friend Steve had advised us to eat lunch.DSC_0585

We clambered out of the car in our short sleeves, sunglasses and cameras and found our way to the hostess stand. There would be a 45 minute wait but we were in no hurry. And we would be in good company, with the other 50 or so folks waiting for tables on the …… not a patio really, more of a gravel yard.

You could set a spell in the sun.

You could set a spell in the sun.

We got ourselves some drinks and sat under umbrellas. DSC_0594For me there was a somewhat surreal feeling. We were in California but I could have sworn I was in Alabama. The restaurant appeared to be in an old gas station. Drinks were served in mason jars.  Fried chicken was on the menu. And the place had a friendly Southern vibe. DSC_0605

We passed our forty five minutes visiting the chickens and watching the other waiting folks. Women in heels walked hesitantly across the gravel to picnic tables where chickens darted and scratched at the dirt. I suppose high heels on gravel could be considered an indication that one was not in fact in Alabama. Mothers attempted in vain to keep their children from chasing the chickens. Some waited in the grass rather then on the gravel.DSC_0580

A little privacy with her lemonade.

A little privacy with her lemonade.

This little Missy was determined to catch a chicken. her Mother thought otherwise.

This little Missy was determined to catch a chicken. Her Mother thought otherwise.

But her brother did score a reasonable rock collection. He presented one to my daughter  as a gift.

But her brother did score a reasonable rock collection. He presented one to my daughter as a gift.

Hmph. Humans everywhere!

Hmph. Humans everywhere!

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Finally a brilliant turquoise picnic table opened up for us. DSC_0612And oh yes. The three of us knew this food: Southern, fresh, down home, plentiful.  Who knew we would come all the way from California to eat good ( and in the South we don’t use that term lightly) barbecue! Of course the trouble with this food is that one cannot stop eating until every last  glorious bite is gone.  My daughter and I had the barbecued chicken sandwich with a delectable side of fresh green beans, black  eyed peas and tarragon. My husband had the same, only with pork. My husband was thoroughly pleased but my daughter and I had pushed beyond the boundaries of our appetites.  What had Steve been thinking, sending us to a meat restaurant?? No dessert, please!DSC_0608

We paused for a few more pictures before we resumed our journey. I think we were all just too full to get back in the car.DSC_0613DSC_0599

Whatever killed the skeleton inside the truck.... it wasn't the cold!

Whatever killed the skeleton inside the truck…. it wasn’t the cold!

The sun and sky were endless that day.

The sun and sky were endless that day.

The next stop was, unbelievably to our stomachs, a wine tasting. There was no room for wine. but we would cross that bridge when we came to it. For now we had full stomachs, endless sunshine and no humidity. Aah! Memories really can keep you warm!

Come On Over!

Hey! I’m having a party and YOU”RE INVITED!!! We are somewhat limited in that this is a ladies’ dinner party on a Monday night, but if you’ll join me while I get everything out for tonight you will FEEL the excitement!!! Come on; I’ll show you!

Since I’ve recently returned from Istanbul. we’re having a  simple Turkish theme.  The menu is Turkish red lentil soup,DSC_0425 homemade bread,DSC_0428 salad with a Turkish lemon dressing, and Turkish delight for dessert. DSC_0417DSC_0435  The soup recipe is from  Bimur’s Turkish Cookbook. I was able to use my dried mint DSC_0376and pul biber (red pepper).DSC_0384  They were some of my treats from the Istanbul Spice Bazaar.

I’ve already cooked our food so it’s time to set the table. This is a no-fuss party, so we’re using our clear dishes which can go in the dishwasher.DSC_0357 I’m putting some fresh mint on every plate;  later we will use it in our soup. Our dinner napkins, which had to be pressed but thankfully not starched, have a simple but timeless design.  Timeless design is also Turkish! DSC_0361Spices from the Istanbul Spice Bazaar will be part of the table decor, as well as party favors for the guests. DSC_0358They’re even shaped like dolmas, don’t you think?

Now let’s get out a few pretties. It is nothing but pure Magpie Fun to get pretties out for a party. We have fancier things, but tonight is more casual. Here are the wine glasses I painted a few years back. Which one will you choose?DSC_0399

DSC_0397DSC_0396And look at these cocktail napkins. DSC_0368They are an estate sale find. The package said they are paper but are supposed to look like silk. I don’t know if I will serve any chai, as many ladies don’t want caffeine at night, but I’m ready with my Turkish tea set if there are any takers.DSC_0365

Here is a cute little guy I’ve had for a while. DSC_0387I bought him somewhere and then rudely shoved  him into the back of a  kitchen cabinet where he languished for years. If I hadn’t had to clean out my cabinets to be painted he might still be there. He will be on hand tonight to help the ladies with their olives.

I will serve the dessert on this lovely torte plate given to me by a very special lady in my yoga class.DSC_0370 It may be a little large for the occasion, but the lady who gave it to me is so peaceful and generous I would like for her spirit to be a part of the gathering.

So that’s it – an easy dinner party for a weeknight, combining Turkish and Southern hospitality! The only thing left to do is pop the bread in the oven. Wait a minute! I need to go press my hostess apron!DSC_0423

Yes, waist lines did used to be smaller, but no matter. I can get it around me. Thanks for being here a little early to help me set things out. I get such an adrenaline jolt  before a party that I’m always afraid I’ve forgotten something. But of course that’s part of the fun too! Oh! Wasn’t  that the doorbell?

Winter Holiday Club

Who wants to join the Winter Holiday Club? Requirements: Wish fervently for snow so that we can all stay home. Go nuts when it does snow. And most importantly, sing the Winter Holiday  Theme Song. I’ll teach it to you now. It is sung to the the tune of the song “Happy Holidays”. The lyrics are “Winter holiday.” Just those two words. As soon as the first flakes fall, or as soon as the forecast seems bound to actually come true, members are to serenade other humans and pets with the lovely song. If no one is around to serenade, then the telephone may be used to share your joy. Dancing while singing is optional. After numerous stanzas, or when you are are told to please stop, go find your snow clothes and get outside!

Since so many of you will  be joining, I’ll go ahead with my Club Report. I, as founding member of the Club,  have gotten a head start on the snow season by spending the new year in Banner Elk, North Carolina. That is not cheating. Many of us do not live in a place where we can count on snow every year. We have to go places where we can be surrounded in winter loveliness.

My destination at Banner Elk was Boulder Falls Retreat, owned by our dear friends Beth and Jim. Their mountain oasis, which they rent out through VRBO when they are not using it, has everything one could want in a mountain hideaway: mountain views, privacy, comfy furnishings, toasty fireplace, hot tub, and a waterfall on the property. Who wouldn’t dream of being snowed in there, sipping a warm drink by the fire, and listening to the rushing mountain stream outside?

Boulder Falls Retreat. It's only a few years old.

Boulder Falls Retreat. It’s only a few years old.

As we drove to the cabin a few days after Christmas, I thought I might get my wish of being snowed in. About an hour out of Banner Elk we ran into snow, sleet, and hail. Yippee! Would it stick? We didn’t know, but when we left the cabin to eat dinner, the roads had become more treacherous. We decided not to venture further that night, and pulled off the road to eat at a place I will not recommend.

Jim is not a member of the  clergy, but it looks as though he is either praying that our car made it to the restaurant or that we would be able to eat the sub par food.

Jim is not a member of the clergy, but it looks as though he is either praying that our car would make it home from the the restaurant or that we would be able to eat the sub par food.

Back at the cabin, snow continued to swirl around us. I wanted to take pictures, but night pictures of snow are way beyond my skill level. Sadly, lots of the snow had blown away in the morning. But I was not to be deterred. Right after a heavenly breakfast of sour dough bread French toast on a bed of melted butter and warm maple syrup, ( Good food is a vital part of WINTER HOLIDAY)  I donned my “I only wear this stuff once a year” snow togs, grabbed my camera and got outside for WINTER HOLIDAY!!!!!

Rushing water outside the cabin.

Rushing water outside the cabin.

Don't worry. I'm the only one out here.

Don’t worry. I’m the only one out here.

Since I was apparently the only one celebrating WINTER HOLIDAY, I was on my own to explore the environs, and try different settings on the camera.  Being alone in the snow is a delightful solitude. And it was magical! The world was white, crisp, and clean. I could hear only my crunching boots and the icy water tumbling over the boulders. Overnight, the world had decorated itself just for me.

The waterfall behind the house.

The waterfall behind the house.

DSC_0351I continued a ways down the road before making my way back to the cabin and sliding down some boulders on their property to climb some railing onto one of the porches. From there I could take pictures of the view beyond the cabin.

There were no takers for the rocking chairs that day.

There were no takers for the rocking chairs that day.

Later that day, my hostess and I drove into Boone to try to stimulate the economy while the men visited the local family billiard hall. No alcohol, no cola, good burgers.We celebrated the evening with a hearty winter dinner of kale, sausage and pasta.

Downtown Boone, North Carolina

Downtown Boone, North Carolina

DSC_0381The next morning the four of us debated whether to go snowshoeing or to hike the trail at Linville Gorge Sate Park. Because our hosts had more company coming that afternoon we opted for hiking at Linville Falls. But first we had to bulk up with this mountain breakfast of crispy hash browns, eggs, crumbled bacon with toasted sour dough bread. Disclaimer: If you rent the Boulder Falls Retreat, the owners will not be there to cook; you’re on your own.

Was I in danger of becoming spoiled?

Was I in danger of becoming spoiled?

Without a doubt. Especially with the freshly ground Peet's coffee my husband made us each morning.

Without a doubt. Especially with the freshly ground Peet’s coffee my husband made us each morning.

Vigorous outdoor exercise is a vital part of WINTER HOLIDAY.  The idea is to challenge yourself physically and go inside and treat yourself to whatever goodies you want. Linville Gorge had just the kinds of hills and trails I needed to hike. And the views were spectacular.

The falls.

The falls.

Here I am with our hostess. I was trying not to look as though I were afraid I would fall off into the chasm below.

Here I am with our hostess. I was trying not to look as though I were afraid I would fall off into the chasm below.

These beautiful vistas were worth the climb over a sometimes slippery trail.

These beautiful vistas were worth the climb over a sometimes slippery trail.

This fungussy stuff reminds me of  hydrangea leaves.

This fungussy stuff reminds me of hydrangea leaves.

Shiny snow crystals.

Shiny snow crystals.

After many bracing ups and downs, and photo ops, the four of us were tired and chilled. And we ALL recalled an establishment we had passed on the road, advertising coffee and desserts. How convenient that we would be passing by there on our way back!

Winter Holiday Club members are always on the lookout for a place like this!

Winter Holiday Club members are always on the lookout for a place like this!

After our exertions, did Linville Mercantile ever hit the spot! The proprietors don’t need publicity from the likes of me; they’ve been featured in Rolling Stone and other publications. Apparently the area has  “Merlefest”, and the Rolling Stone writers dropped in then, and kept coming. And if you had walked in that place with a freezing nose and freezing hands and smelled that sour dough bread fresh out of the oven, you’d keep coming back too. DSC_0477

It can be hard to remain civilized when someone sets down a loaf of steaming hot fresh bread in front of you.

It can be hard to remain civilized when someone sets down a loaf of steaming hot fresh bread in front of you.

I think the owner said there were one dozen eggs in this cake.

I think the owner said there were one dozen eggs in this cake.

Oh, the steaming hot bread and butter! Oh, the apple butter! Oh, the pineapple upside down cake! Have mercy!I f I hadn’t had the option of getting up to take pictures I don’t know if I could have maintained decorum; I may have reached right cross the table and crammed an entire loaf of bread into my mouth.

Other customers also trying to act civilized.

Other customers also trying to act civilized.

More desserts for next time!

More desserts for next time!

I wish I could have lingered to shop.

I wish I could have lingered to shop.

Or set a spell on the porch.

Or set a spell on the porch.

We arrived back at the cabin in time to prepare for six New Year’s Eve  guests: two neighbors with their two houseguests for cocktails, plus two more houseguests for Beth and Jim, Allan and Janet. My husband and I didn’t know any of these people, but we joined right in, chatting about where to stay in Italy, weddings in Scotland, and life in the Czech Republic.  See what good fun the Winter Holiday Club members experience?

When the cocktail guests departed, we enjoyed a chicken and olive dish for dinner, with bourbon cake for dessert.DSC_0490DSC_0492 Grouped comfortably around the fireplace. the four of us welcomed the New Year with toasts of homemade limoncello. My only regret was that I was way too full to contemplate getting in the  hot tub. Maybe next year.

All too soon it was morning, and time for my husband and me to make the nine hour drive home, where no snow would await us. We had time for one more mountain breakfast at the Grandview. By the time we all ordered I could see we were going to have the whole works: corned beef hash, grits, biscuits, eggs, sausage – in short, everything people our age are not supposed to have.DSC_0493DSC_0494DSC_0495 But we did have good company while eating  it!

DSC_0497We took leave of friends old and new right there in the parking lot. I didn’t think to ask them if they want to join the Winter Holiday Club. But I think I will. How about you? I’d love to hear YOUR WINTER HOLIDAY reports! See you at the next meeting, but in the meantime, get started memorizing those theme song lyrics!

Some Enchanted Evening

This blog is dedicated to finding  and celebrating the small but sublime moments in life. The older I get the more pleasure I take in the joy that can come from everyday encounters. I try to always be aware of opportunities to discover something or someone new, and when I do, it’s downright delightful. That’s why I’ve been wanting to share the story of some lovely experiences I’ve had lately right in my own neighborhood, at Cafe Fontana.

All dressed up for the holiday season.

All dressed up for the holiday season.

The old grocery store was decorated, lighting up the area around the restaurant.

The old grocery store was decorated, lighting up the area around the restaurant.

How long has it been since you, upon leaving your favorite neighborhood restaurant, received a big hug from the owner? That’s what I thought. But the hug I got from  owner Valerie Schranz  as I was leaving Cafe Fontana last Saturday night felt so warm and natural that I might have been leaving the home of some dear friends. It wasn’t until I got outside the restaurant that I realized “Hey! She hugged me!”

A couple enjoying their evening.

A couple enjoying their evening.

I have mentioned Cafe Fontana is this blog before, saying that is in in a restored old house and owned by a family that lives nearby. The building used to house a fast casual restaurant that seemed to want to be a neighborhood restaurant. I tried that place a few times, but it just didn’t work for me. Everything on the menu seemed to have creamed spinach; I just knew it came from some huge bag in their freezer. They were often out of the beers I ordered, and the waitresses didn’t seem  nearly as upset about that as I was.  I was disappointed because in our neck of the woods we have way too many chains with lackluster menus and service. I had hoped for a respite from that.

Finally one day I saw that the old restaurant sign was gone and replaced with a new one. Did I dare hope that this new establishment would be any improvement over the last? About that time I happened to see a short article about the place. which mentioned their intention to make customers feel welcome. I was sure they meant what they said, but I was a little skeptical; after all, the previous tenants had been quite friendly. But their food was not good.

Since I have now dined at Cafe Fontana several times I can say with authority that it  exceeds it predecessor in so many ways  that the two cannot even be compared. First, the physical space has been altered to add a small bar where patrons can see everyone who walks in the door. Beyond the front room, the acoustics have been improved by adding curtains at the windows and gentle flowing fountains. The changes add a sense of intimacy so lacking in the  space while under previous owners.

And the food. I would not be writing this if the food were not fresh, delicious, unpretentious, and carefully prepared. I am afraid I will not do the restaurant justice if I try to talk about the entire menu. After all, I am an experience reviewer, not a restaurant reviewer. So just close your eyes and imagine fresh, warm bread served with a white bean puree spread and roasted garlic. Imagine a crisp, tangy salad made from local ingredients, followed by a filet so tender you can cut it with a fork, or plump scallops on a bed of pasta.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

It's not just about the food, but you won't regret ordering this!

It’s not just about the food, but you won’t regret ordering this!

Add a bottle of wine or a glass of the house red, each very satisfying and reasonably priced. You will surely want to try a gelato or expresso flan for dessert.

Gelato. They had me at pistachio.

Gelato. They had me at pistachio.

I would not hesitate to take my own adult children there, which is saying something, as they have lived in such places as New York City and San Francisco, where excellent fare can be found everywhere.

But let’s move on to what makes an evening at Cafe Fontana so special, at least for me.  When I walk in I feel I have escaped the normal passage of time, into a place where I can absolutely take my time and enjoy doing so. In an unspoken way I feel urged to slow down and enjoy the art of a well prepared meal and satisfying conversation. And isn’t this the way our evenings should be spent, in the moment, released from the daily stressors, recharging emotionally?DSC_0344

Last Saturday night my husband and I  dropped in with no reservation. Mrs. Schranz, who actually remembered us from previous visits, explained that there would be a short wait. We didn’t mind; we could sit at the four seated bar and watch the comings and goings while having a glass of wine. As always, we felt welcomed by every staff person we encountered. When we went to our table Mrs. Schranz remarked we would be getting our “usual table.” How romantic!DSC_0350

And just as we expected, we had a long, slow, enjoyable evening that we could not have had  elsewhere for miles around. Originally I went for the food, but now I go for the whole experience. I know I’ll be there for hours, and I’m glad. Cafe Fontana has made the luxury of an enchanting evening possible for all its visitors. I hope that wherever you are, there is a place like Cafe Fontana  to take you in, pamper you, and send you out with a hug. You know you need it.