Gardens

U.S. Travel

JUST A COUPLE OF ROADIES PT 2: 36 HOURS IN SHERIDAN, WY

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After enjoying the spectacular scenery and wildlife in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks (click HERE for last post), the next stop was two nights/one full day in Sheridan, Wy., where a lifelong friend (since first grade) has long resided with her husband.  It didn’t take long to understand the draw.

My friend Gwen ..

For us, this stop was right in line for the itinerary — Sheridan is on the way to Mt. Rushmore from Yellowstone.  That simply made it more convenient but we would have routed accordingly to make the stay work.

En route to Sheridan. Maybe that’s “+/-“

We toured Sheridan’s neighborhoods, saw lots of new housing developments, wide open spaces, an actual Main Street, a beautiful new YMCA complex, medical center, college and golf course.  While there’s no Trader Joe’s, there’s good shopping and coffee.  Brinton Museum is highly regarded for western art.  And there’s lots of really nice people.

Bison and elk refuge right in town

I was so happy to finally see Gwen and husband Rick’s Sheridan home and vast property (12 acres), not to mention a menagerie including falcons (2), chickens (13 adult plus young ones), roosters (2), pigeons/doves (150ish), dog (one – Hattie) and snap turtles.

For this gardener, a dream come true!
Why would you ever leave this view?

Dinner at home with great friends, some excellent Russian River Pinot, seeing the property and animals, insanely cheap gas (WTH, California?) — all made for a wonderful time in Sheridan.  Hopefully a return visit won’t take as long as the first.  Next up:  The Dakotas ..

One of Rick’s prized falcons
Future producers

Below:  Scenes from Sheridan

Rick and Bruce by the pigeon/dove house
Bidding us adieu in front of our hotel
This view is everything.
Things I LoveTo-Do List

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO …

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Suffice it to say, we don’t know what we don’t know.  How profound is that?  When it comes to upcoming travel, that is certainly going to change.  And no one knows for sure just how much.

The Italy trip previously written about certainly isn’t happening now. We’re looking at November as we speak.  It’s usually a good time to travel, well in advance of the holiday season.

Here’s an upside:  I recently wrote about the importance of brand loyalty.  You know all those horror stories about waiting on hold to get through to the airlines?  American Airlines actually called me! True enough, they inquired how we wanted to handle our April 17 departure to Italy with return May 11, from Bucharest to LA, via overnight at Heathrow.  Would we prefer a voucher for future travel or a refund for taxes and fees?  While these were mileage tickets, the fees were still significant.  Not less than 24 hours after the call, the miles (140K per peson) were reinstated and fees refunded.  Loyalty pays.

The hubby and I might yet do something in May depending on when baseball resumes.  We’ve explored everything from an island trip to road trip including Mt. Rushmore (if the National Parks reopen). It’s still fluid.  No doubt, we’ll certainly notice how surfaces are cleaned, who’s wearing gloves, and have a heightened sense of our surroundings.

I feel blessed to have three passions at home to keep me busy.  It’s amazing how the hobbies keep those pesky things on the “to-do” list undone.  Someday I’ll rearrange the bookshelves and clean out bathroom drawers.  Just not now.

#1 ORCHIDS

This has been a passion since the 90’s when there was even a home greenhouse (long since given way to an outdoor kitchen).  I now keep it simple.  Cut back healthy plants after blooming; water and feed them in a low tray with pebbles (creates humidity) positioned with good indirect light; watch for regrowth.

With more available time, I decided to investigate why I continue to get those dreaded spider mites (fuzzy white bugs) — especially this time of year.  Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) in a spray bottle is as good as anything to get rid of these creatures.  It’s tedious but necessary to look under each leaf and wipe away traces to fully eradicate.  Be sure to also clean containers, pots and plant supports.

There’s currently 15 plants in my house in various stages, containers and arrangements.  They make me happy — so happy I clearly have a problem discarding them (where’s Marie Kondo?).  Trader Joe’s makes this habit way too easy … thankfully.

Simple is best. Store bought plants; arranged at home.
Same as above.
Round container holds three plants — good for at least two months.

 

My re-blooms! Three plants in one container.
My re-blooms! Three plants in one container.
These gorgeous stems are from a cymbidium plant that blooms faithfully every year. They last for weeks after cutting.

#2 PRODUCE GARDEN

The hubby loves to comment on a $20 (home-grown) cucumber.  Only he would amortize the total cost of installation, maintenance, plant material, pest deterrents, etc.  But can one really put a price on joy?  I say no.  My collaborator-in-chief Javier amended all the beds, installed a new drip system, and planted.  Upside to no April travel:  Earlier planting.  Being at home means I can keep an eye out for early trouble signs.

Plant selection; my collaborator Javier; Japanese eggplant (first ever!); one of the beds.
Waiting for beans to sprout; heirloom tomato; first blackberry; fig plant.

#3 COOKING/BAKING

Even the Wall Street Journal had a front-page story on the scarcity of flour and yeast in stores!  Is that the craziest?  I bake and then look for recipients to get the goodies out of the house (neighbors have been great as has my gardener and his team).  Making soups from the contents of my weekly produce delivery is fun (my freezer is FULL!)  And a first attempt at pizza was inspired by purchasing the type of flour I see used on cooking shows (00 Artisan).  My daughter shared a fantastic local gourmet distributor housed in a nearby warehouse that mostly sells to restaurants and caterers.  Pricey?  Yes.  But if you’re looking for 50 types of olive oil and nearly as many mustards, then go.  Oh, and cheese selection, the french butters ..

Immaculate and FULL shelves at Epicurious Gourmet
From top left: Pizza ingredients; dough overflowed; before and after of pizza with calabrese sausage and classic margherita.

Explore your passions until we can share a meal and some wine together.  At home or away. In person.

International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

HEAVENLY HOI AN

IMG_2387 Hoi An

When sharing our itinerary for the recent trip to Southeast Asia, disclosing a visit to the gorgeous Vietnam beach area of Hoi An universally received lots of “ooohs” and “aaahs.”  Including a few days of doing nothing has become a regular part of the trip planning; this respite provides a much-needed opportunity to relax and recharge.  Otherwise, the travel is fast and aggressive in order to see as much as possible in any given destination.

Serenity.

This beach area is accessed by flying into Da Nang International Airport.  Da Nang is another familiar name to many Americans as it was the site of a major air base during the Vietnam War.  This particular location is in the center of the country — it thus provides excellent access to most other cities in Vietnam.

The ancient town of Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage Site, straddling the Thu Bon River.  Our biggest activity there was getting manicures.  Choosing where to go was the big question as the number of available shops closely rivals the number of bars and souvenir stores.  Our two manicures cost a grand total of $14, and that was fine for us.  Compared to Hanoi and Saigon, the takeaway from the town of Hoi An was the height of touristy.  Personnel for stores, clubs and restaurants try every which way to lure customers in for whatever is being offered.  And there were outdoor carts as well.  Maybe the area traffic swelled for the weekend we were there, but the combination of crowds, being pitched and likely the weather (hot and humid; what else?) made the town visit just fair.  Fortunately, the resort itself was a haven for relaxing.

One of three locations the proprietor’s family owns in the area. Foot massages were favored by many of the males in the shop.

 

In the town of Hoi An at dusk

And that was exactly how the few days were spent by the gorgeous pool at the Four Seasons Resort.   The company acquired this existing property in 2016, and they cater to guests from Korea, Japan and the U.S. by number in that order.  The resort does an excellent job of providing both for families traveling with children and those of us without.  The main pool is for guests 14 and older, providing a very relaxing space.  One could opt for cooking classes, water sports and/or venturing into the aforementioned town if desired.   The setting is so beautiful that we mostly just did nothing — precisely what we had in mind.

Spa treatment rooms at right, Four Seasons Resort

As has the been the case with other resorts, we again had the pleasure of engaging the Executive Sous Chef, Alessandro Fontenesi, a character hailing from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.  He took great pride in giving us a tour of the burgeoning produce garden.  There was pure envy on my part for the available space and neat rows of plants.  While the garden is not able to supply all of the resort’s requirements, everything the garden does produce is used.  Crops are rotated and seasonally planted and the results both look and taste great.  We alternatively wanted the chef to continue providing wonderful tastes and for him to stop tempting us with such delicious food.  What a dilemma!

A couple of kindred spirits ..
Offerings from the chef
Ripening melons
Tough job in very hot weather.
Lots and lots of mango trees!
Overview of the gardens
Doesn’t matter how it’s spelled. Keep it away from me!!

After three terrific and restful days (a total of nine in wonderful Vietnam),  we bid our adieu to the great staff with the promise of a return visit.  Next up, two stops in Cambodia.

Could have easily been in Italy with this ..
Pathway to heaven.
International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

EASTERN EUROPE & RUSSIA, Part 6 — TURN OF EVENTS LEADS TO PARIS!

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If you’ve been following along on this journey (Helsinki/Tallinn/Riga/Klaipeda/Vilnius), then you know we had Russian Visa issues prior to leaving the US.  After the earlier-than-planned exit from Russia and with time left before our scheduled departure back home, the question then became:  Where should we go for the remainder of the trip?  You now know how the story ended, with four glorious and unplanned days in Paris (runners-up were Vienna, Prague and London).

Other than our honeymoon plus a day trip from Brussels several years ago, we’ve not spent any time in Paris.   A big consideration in deciding where to go was rearranging the flight home to LA.  Happily, I worked with AA and was able to move things around while still in Moscow, maintaining a terrific mileage ticket (85k) flying non-stop from Heathrow to LAX in First Class!  Obviously, I did not want to lose that, so we added a Paris-London flight and continued onward.  Moscow-Paris offered tons of options, ultimately selecting Luftansa with a bit of a layover in Frankfurt.

Courtyard; Park Hyatt Place Vendome
Gorgeous weather; Jardin de Tuileries
Salade perfection; Les Jalles
Musee d’Orsay

What did we do? Roamed the streets near our Place Vendome hotel, immersed ourselves at the  Musee d’Orsay, did a return trip to spectacular Giverny (below), ate at some classic bistros — including Le Grand Colbert (yes, that one — made famous in the movie Something’s Gotta Give), and just had an extraordinary time. We also had great fun perusing the incredible hotels and their remarkable floral arrangements. I am a serial advance planner, so there’s typically lots of emails back and forth with hotel concierges to make sure nothing is missed.  This stay was more about “What do you feel like doing today?”  The final day was a win/win, with the hubby going to the Louvre plus scouting the very best place to exchange currency, and I endlessly browsed the stores (strictly for research purposes).

Giverny — tulips!
Wisteria and the Lily Pond at Giverny
Exquisite purple tulips
Still reaping benefits after so many years!
Basilica of the Sacre Coeur in the distance

So another post-tax-season holiday comes to an end.  Three weeks of magnificent sights, terrific service, fun with (first-week) traveling companion Julie Shuer, and meeting so many wonderful people.  There were oopsies as always:

  • What happened to my other pair of jeans?? (Lost somewhere at stop 1 or 2)
  • Why are four keys not working on the laptop — it was only a few drops of champagne??
  • Why was the hubby the smart one to take a pair of shorts??  (It got warmer than I expected)
  • Where the hell were all the band aids I needed for all that walking?? (Can never pack enough)

Minor inconveniences (maybe the computer was a bit more than that).  As always, it is a great privilege to explore this incredible world.  Final pix below ..

Brasserie Lipp — classic roast chicken and frites and the most scrumptious Napoleon for dessert.

What’s this?  The secret entrance to the world’s most reclusive jewelry designer – Paris-based  JAR (Joel A. Rosenthal).  Not that I would be granted an appointment (even if I could afford it) for it’s a very small and exclusive club that owns his pieces and for whom he creates.  But that didn’t stop my wish to find the iconic doorbell to his atelier.  The hubby encouraged me not to embarrass myself by bothering to ring.  Point taken.

That doorbell is the only clue.
Discreetly above the door in the Place Vendome

 

If there’s one of these wherever we travel, it is our last supper tradition.
We’ll miss this beauty …
Things I Love

BOSTON & PROVIDENCE: FALL FAMILY FUN!

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When the family (the hubby, me and the kids) had a chance to get together with far-flung relatives (Florida, NY, CT, RI) gathered together in one location for a bar mitzvah, the decision to attend was a swift one.  Three of us are self-employed (and daughter Hannah got clearance from her boss) so it was just about carving out the four days and we were off!
Boston’s Logan Airport offers far greater flying options than Providence, RI, the site of the weekend’s festivities.   We thus arrived late Thursday, rented our car, spent the night and next day in the city and drove the 90 minutes to our destination.
What does one do first in Boston?  Perhaps checkout Fenway — alas, the Red Sox were out of town. See Harvard, MIT, BU or the other schools?  No.  The answer is to find the best pizza around, which meant a return trip to Regina’s in the North End.
After meeting up with Hannah’s bestie from LA who makes her home in Boston, we made our way to Regina’s after successfully finding parking which is no small feat in any area of the city.  This was a second visit for us and it was just as delicious as before.  We walked around the area for a bit before saying good-bye to the girls for the drive to Providence.  Hannah would take a late-evening train to meet up with us.
From our Regina’s lunch — two girls very happy to be together and the insanely delicious pies
Providence to me is your quintessential New England town — sophisticated enough to entice students to either Brown University and/or RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), but quaint enough to have that small-town feel.  We found some of each.
We first met up with the family (Uncle, Aunt — who traveled with us earlier this year in India — and cousins on the hubby’s side) for Friday evening (Shabbat) services at Temple Beth-El and a light dinner afterward.  The bar mitzvah service was Saturday morning, followed by a luncheon and a party in the evening.  
Lots of Stone cousins (and an uncle!) 

S
o what’s the first thing unique about this?  The synagogue’s roots date back to 1849, more than 110 years prior to the founding of the one my family has called home since 1986 — LA’s Stephen Wise Temple.  LA has one nearly that old — founded in 1862 as Congregation B’nai B’rith — which over many years (and in different locations) ultimately became Wilshire Boulevard Temple.  But back to Providence ..
We used the time between events to do a bit of exploring around Providence, and the first stop was at Brown — one of our country’s oldest colleges and the third smallest of the Ivy’s.  Downtown Providence is bustling as most state capitals are, with a fair share of shopping and food complexes along the banks of the Providence River.
From top left: An Urs Fischer untitled sculpture (other than Lamp/Bear) on the Brown campus; Providence River; main quad; welcome sign; metal sculpture (artist unknown)
 
The party was as it should be — mostly friends of the “man of the hour” Ben Stone.  The music was loud and lively and everyone had a terrific time.  And since it was at our hotel, it was a fantastic commute — i.e., none!  We likewise gathered the following morning for a lovely brunch and a chance to say our goodbye’s.  We headed back to Boston for a few more hours of sightseeing before going to the airport.
Ben’s priorities are in order:  sports, family and lots of dessert!
Oh, would that the trip home had been as pleasant as the rest of our stay.  I will spare you the utterly disastrous experience courtesy of Virgin America for another post.  For now, we’ll savor the 3-1/2 days of family fun and New England sights as they aptly deserve! 
 
After parking in the underground garage at the Boston Public Garden, we exited into the Garden and quickly found out we were smack in the middle of a weed festival … like we’d entered Woodstock (I guess!)  Groovy, man ..
 
                     Picture-perfect weather made for a terrific afternoon.
Things I LoveThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

FUN WITH FALL FOODS

am having a blast with fall foods.  Pretty much every Sunday morning, the Hubby and I head down to the Studio City Farmers Market to see what’s in season.   We don’t linger like lots of families with toddlers in tow, but rather are in and out before the crowds get really large.  We have our favorite vendors with whom we chitchat for a few minutes and are on our way.

 

Delicious late-season plums
Such glorious colors! Love these sweet peppers

 

One of the delights is seeing what’s coming in and saying good-bye to others until next year.  To me, summer melon season is always too short. But having the good fortune of living in So Cal means never going without wonderful produce all year long, so absolutely no complaints!

 

I am so thrilled with my own Fuji apple tree!  The fruit is nearly ripe and plentiful due to netting and  sprinkling with ground pepper to keep everyone away!  
 
Small but delicious (below)

 

So what am I buying and cooking now?  Well, here’s a few items that are so delicious I buy them and then think about what to do with them.
 
The sweet peppers (shown above) became one of the ingredients in a frittata, along with onion, fennel, leftover corn on the cob, eggs and cheese.  Instructions follow below.

 

 

Saute onions in butter using cast-iron skillet; add fennel, pepper & corn – cook
for a few minutes; add beaten eggs (I used 9) and sprinkle with mozzarella; cook 
in the oven at 375 until set (20-30 minutes) 

 

 

 

Before cooking above; after below
 I cut the frittata into wedges (below); great to pop in the microwave
 for a quick and easy meal.
 
AS for the apples, I made a delicious crisp as seen below.  I skip any type of flour in the crust in favor of a dollop of vanilla ice cream later on.  The slow-churned flavors from Dreyers are relatively low-cal and terrific.
 

 

 

 

Directions: Mix the topping: 2 cups oatmeal, cinnamon, 1/2 cup brown sugar and enough room-temp butter to moisten the dry ingredients.  Chop the apples. Spread topping over the apples and bake at 350 until the top is brown and the apples are soft.  
 

 

The aroma in your house will be amazing!