I bet you think we are going to write about a grand adventure partying in New Orleans, crowded with people eager to watch the Sugar Bowl, parades, grand times. I could – but our visit was a little different.
AdventureMan and I DID have a grand adventure – taking the 6 year old and 3 year old grandchildren to New Orleans for three days. We were a little aghast at the enormity of our undertaking, but AdventureMan did a little investigating, and found a wonderful solution – The Audubon Nature Institute has an annual family membership which gets you into the New Orleans zoo, the Aquarium, the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium, and invited to special events, for a year.
Even better, the cost of the year-long family membership is so reasonable that our first trip to the zoo paid off the entire membership. The next day, the children voted that we visit the zoo again, and the third day we visited the aquarium. We can go back all year, walk in through the membership gate (that is a great feature, beats standing in line for tickets) and get a membership discount in the gift shop. This is a real deal. You can find it at Audubon Nature Institute, you can join online and print out your temporary membership card. What a great value for the money.
I had asked my friend if we could eat “really good” Chinese food at some point while I was visiting, and she knew just the place.
My friend is a very laid back driver, but she is puzzled, she has never seen the parking lot so full before. It is so full we have to park across the busy street and walk across. The lot is full of small busses, and vans, and there isn’t a parking space to be had. Even all the illegal spaces are taken!
When we walk inside, we are filled with horror. There is an event going on at Pah Ke’s. Does this mean we won’t be able to eat there? There are about thirty very large tables, ten or twelve people at each table, eating some of the most delicious looking food I have ever seen. The waitress ushers us to a table over at the side; there are maybe three or four tables for people not in this large group.
“What’s going on?” we ask the waitress.
“Special celebration for this retired group; Chinese New Years,” the waitress replied.
The place was packed, many of the Chinese women in traditional bright red silk.
“It doesn’t look like much,” my friend said, “but everyone who loves Chinese food eats here. We have to start with their special salad”
The food came quickly, in spite of the large crowd. We got to watch the crowd depart as we savored our own delicacies.
I had never heard of a special Chinese salad before, but this salad is special Chinese-in-Hawaii salad, with tropical fruits and a sweet dressing, and watermelon. It is fabulous.
Scallops and asparagus on a bed of spinach. Great!
Our very favorite: Szechuan Eggplant and pork
Huge shrimp with walnuts
We ate it all. We didn’t take home a drop. We ate at Pah Ke’s again, on our way to the airport the day we left, and it was just as good. What a treat.
This is where we spent the rest of the day . . . 🙂
I’m not a person who likes to be rushed, and I am a person who front-loads, who gets things done early, so as not to have to make decisions or preparations in a rush. If I can plan, and execute early, it all falls into place.
So when we had another early cold spell this week, our second ‘unseasonal’ cold spell, so cold we had to cover our more sensitive plants and bring others into protected areas, and with Thanksgiving coming so late this year, I decided I could let myself do a little early Christmas prep.
No, no tree, not yet, and no lights outside. Time enough for all that, just a little sparkle to get us started. As much as I love real greenery, real garlands, the temperatures here are too high for it it stay green longer than a week, so I use the artificial kind. You’d think the benefit would be no dropping needles, but this stuff also drops ‘needles’, and we laugh at where we find them hiding in August.
We bought our crêche many years ago in Germany, and it has gone with us everywhere we lived. It has lost a lot of its Germanic moss through the years, but I wouldn’t dream of replacing it:
The normal crêche occupants through the years have been supplemented by extra sheep and camels, and actually, by French santons, extra wise men, an angel ornament . . . hmmm, maybe it’s getting a little kitchy, but we wouldn’t sacrifice a single thing. One of our Saudi friends contributed a line of camels 🙂
In France and in Germany, crafters make the cutest sheep, and we found ourselves buying them at Christmas or crafts markets.
And, from Doha, The Church of the Epiphany, our “Aboona” or Our Father, the Lords Prayer written in Arabic calligraphy, one of our treasures.
Last, but not least, time to change the hallway quilt, and The 12 Days of Christmas will reign for more like 40 days 🙂
Thank you, friend Hayfa, for sending me this wonderful website. It kept me spellbound, made me laugh, and left me in tears of joy. You can see that the givers were enjoying it as much as the receivers.
We love this place, the Sunset Inn, a little Mom and Pop kind of motel, hard to find in over-developed Panama City Beach with its huge soulless condominiums towering over the white sands.
As we walk in the door, the view hits us and we breathe in the sea air and go “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.” The minute we walk in the door, we start to feel relaxed.
We both have cooking to do, so we get busy, but busy with glances at the view, and trips to our balcony to breathe. It is COLD, with a cold wind, but so gorgeous, so breath-takingly gorgeous, and we are happy.
Soon, there are cranberries cooking for Mom’s Cranberry Salad and hot juice brewing for the punch, redolent of cinnamon and cloves and orange peel, wonderful smells filling our room – and that view. Life is sweet.
And then, just when you think it can’t get any better, the sun starts to set, the light goes all golden and soft and oh, life is sweet.
Alternate title: Every man needs a Kubota
As we were listening to the news and weather Tuesday night before going to bed, the weather woman was talking about a ‘retrograde’ storm system. She showed us on the map; normally our weather blows from west to east, but this storm was going to blow east to west, and then reverse and go west to east again. Going counter to the normal flow is ‘retrograde.’
Our entire holiday was retrograde. Which, for people like AdventureMan and I, is not too bad. It’s a good thing we married one another; we are not to good with same-same all the time, if things get too tame, we shake things up a little bit. It’s not good or bad, it’s just the way we are wired.
One of the first differences was that we weren’t leaving early in the morning to drive down Highway 98 along the beach road; we were picking up our adorable grandson, going to his house, and as soon as our daughter-in-law got off work we would hit the interstate.
It all went well; cloudy skies but light traffic, all was well until we left the highway headed south . . . and started hitting the “Roads Under Water” signs. We didn’t see any roads under water until the car in front of us hit what looked like a shiny spot on the road and went almost a foot deep. AdventureMan cooly slowed and drifted steadily through the lake in the road – and we thanked God to be in a vehicle a little higher off the ground than a sedan.
After the lake in the road, it started raining, a little sprinkling, and then a steady rain.
The temperatures dropped.
Here is what we had planned – dinner with family and friends, a day of fun and heading out for sun downers on the boat to watch the fireworks on the 4th. Heavy applications of insect repellant and sunscreen.
Here is what happened – the deluge.
Here is what was cool about the deluge – the temperatures were the coolest, 24 hours around the clock – that we’ve seen in a month. We could sit out on the screened porch looking at the bayou, listening to the rain fall – it was heavenly! No insect repellent needed. No sun screen needed.
Our hostess is a wonderful and creative cook; unafraid to try new recipes. Dinner after our rainy drive in: Red snapper, baked in a crust of crumbs with butter and parsley, so delicious. Green beans and mushrooms; so good I had them for breakfast another day 🙂 Holy smokes, desserts. The best pound cake ever, topped with peaches in their own juice and whipped cream, or chocolate red velvet brownies.
It was a fabulous lazy day. In the afternoon, our friend got an emergency call; friends whose husband was out of town were facing a flooding situation. Loading up his Kubota, he and AdventureMan went over and (manly manly) DUG A DITCH! getting all dirty and wet in the process, coming home with those grins that only activities like a good hunting trip, a successful fishing trip or digging a good ditch can create.
We had great plans that night to visit The Blue Fig (“They have mohammara!” my hostess said, knowing my weakness) but when we got there, it was closed . . . and, oddly every restaurant along that strip seemed to be closed. And side roads were flooded, more big lakes of water in the roads. It had rained so much and for so long that the runoff had no where to go.
Our little grandson fell asleep while we were searching for a restaurant that was open, and slept in my arms through dinner. I know this might be the last time; he is getting to be such a big boy, so I just treasured the time and listened to him breathe.
I know it may not seem like such a great holiday to you, but it was fun. We focused on conversations and laughed a lot. AdventureMan thinks every man might need a Kubota. We listened to the rain fall on the leaves, the roof, the bayou. We listened to the frogs celebrate the 4th of July. We really had a great time.
Yesterday was a strange day in Pensacola. When we got up, it was already a humid seventy three degrees, and the sky had threatening clouds of an odd color. We hit the pool, and when we came out, it felt cooler. The skies broke forth several times with pounding rains, and then . . . the clouds disappeared, and by five, we had clear skies, no clouds, falling temperatures and a chilly breeze.
It was a great night to go see the Pensacola Zoo Lights. This is probably something AdventureMan and I wouldn’t do if it were just the two of us, but our son had asked if we could pick up our grandson and take care of him for a couple hours and the Zoo Lights seemed like just the thing. I call them Pensacola Zoo Lights, but the Zoo is actually in Gulf Breeze, it is the Gulf Breeze Zoo Lights. As we picked up Q, we were glad we all had jackets and long pants – it was COLD!
Zoo lights is a lot of fun. The place was packed with families and children, but not so packed you couldn’t visit some of the paths without interruption. The main population of children and families was around the train station, where there was also, conveniently, a little play ground for people waiting for the train.
Lots and lots of lights:
Q’s favorite light, LOL!
Near the angel was a place where something like soap was coming out of a tube, it looked a little like snow. Every now and then a great gust of wind would blow and the soap would flurry everywhere, and then it truly did look a little like snow and the children would scream with joy and chase after the snow-soap flakes.
This is worth a trip at this time of the year, with children. Here are the directions from the Gulf Breeze Zoo website:
Enter the following address into your GPS navigation system:
Gulf Breeze Zoo
5701 Gulf Breeze Parkway
Gulf Breeze, FL 32563
From TALLAHASEE and points EAST:
I-10 West to Exit 31. Take Rt. 87 South to Hwy. 98 West, towards Gulf Breeze.
Go 5 miles. Zoo is on the left.
From PANAMA CITY and points EAST:
Hwy. 98 West to Gulf Breeze. Zoo is on the left.
From MOBILE, AL and points WEST:
I-10 East to I-110 South through Pensacola, FL. Take Hwy. 98 East to Gulf Breeze. Zoo is on the right.
From MONTGOMERY, AL and points NORTH:
I-65 South to Exit 93. Take US 84 East to Rt. 41 South. Turn onto Rt. 87 South to Hwy. 98 West, towards Gulf Breeze. Go 5 miles. Zoo is on the left.
Sorry for the silence, I had the iPad with me, but it is complicated connecting, uploading, getting it all right . . . and I just didn’t have the time.
We had one of the best Thanksgivings, ever. The weather was gorgeous, the setting was perfect, and the company was delightful. The food was copious and delicious (photos will follow).
We were staying at the beach, at our old favorite, the Sunset Inn. I had noticed a few little bites as we were eating, but no big deal, and I put on some repellant and went on with my life. When we got back to the beach, I started itching. And scratching. What had seemed like little bites were growing red and irritated. I had brought Benedryl gel with me, a Godsend for a mosquito-magnet like me, and I got to work immediately.
We took a drive to Apalachicola for lunch the day after Thanksgiving, and drove out to St. Vincents National wildlife refuge and St. Joseph’s state park, part of the national birding trail. Last night, I treated more bites.
Today, back on Pensacola, AdventureMan took a look at me and said “Are you sure those are all mosquito bites?”
No. I know mosquitos love to bite me, but other things love to bite me, too.
“Those look like chigger bites,” he added.
I don’t even know what chiggers are. All I know is that whatever bit me – and I was stupid, and wearing a skirt and short sleeved t-shirt, so there was a lot of bare skin to bite – bit me a lot, and today, I am suffering, and not so silently, either.
I knew what I was going for. Not the pallid ‘snaps’ that pass in the stores, no, the real gingery cookies, with real snap.
I went to my old faithful, a book I got back many a year ago when I was a new bride, the Joy of Cooking. It is a great edition, and you can see, it is falling apart. I can’t part with it:
Here is the Gingersnap recipe, altered slightly because I wanted guaranteed ‘snap.’
(Makes about 10 dozen 2 inch cookies)
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Cream 3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 well beaten eggs
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vinegar
Sift and add:
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 – 4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cloves
Mix ingredients until blended. Form dough into 3/4 inch balls. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 12 minutes. As the ball melts down during cooking, the cookie develops the characteristic crinkled surface. At 12 minutes, take the cookies out, sprinkle top with the decorator sugar (bigger chunky sugar that won’t melt down into the cookie) and return to the oven for 5 or 6 minutes.
Remove from oven, cool.
Mine are not the prettiest – next year I will know to leave more room between the cookies – but they are the BEST gingersnaps I have ever made. They have a little soft chewiness, and a little crispiness, around the edges. They are SPICY!
The original recipe, in the Joy of Cooking, uses a little less spice and a marshmallow topping. The Joy of Cooking is a wise investment, and if you can find one of the older ones in a used book store, you will have a treasure house of old, tried and true recipes. The authors are Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, and my edition is a Signet Special, first edition, printed in 1973.