Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Two Tasty Treats for Tuesday

Two tasty meals out in one day? Sure! It doesn't happen often, but Tuesday I had the good fortune of two meals that made me want to leave the kitchen.
It starts with a bit of diner food in the middle of the sticks, also known as the Dairy Shack in Waldenburg, Arkansas. Leave it to your local diner to come up with a lunch special of Mexican Chicken, Fried Rice and green beans. Mexican, Oriental and southern home cookin' all in one plate. Interesting combination but it was surprisingly good. Being a good southern dairy shack, their tater tots are cooked to a perfect GBD (golden brown and oh-so delicious.)

After a day roaming around Little Rock, Arkansas, my husband and I finished the day with a fantastic meal at Sonny Williams Steak Room. The steak, sea bass, wild rice and mashed potatoes were all exceptionally good. I always rate steaks on a scale with Ruth Chris' filet as a "Perfect 10." This one was probably a 9 out of 10, which speaks highly. The real cincher was desert. The Vanilla Bean Hazelnut Crème Brûlée that is truly one of the best Crème Brûlées (is that word?) I've ever had anywhere. I'm always impressed when someone gets the texture, temperature and flavor all down just exactly like it should be. If nothing else, it's worth going there for the desert alone.

Despite the two good meals, I'm still ready to spend a little time cooking. I've eaten out so much lately I'm starting to miss my kitchen. At least I've got a family reunion to attend this weekend, that gives me an opportunity to get back in there and have a little fun. Cooking for groups, yea!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Italy Stop #4 : Florence (Firenze)

Of all the places we visited, Florence is the one place I could visit for an extended time. In Rome, there's so many famous historical things to see and all the hustle of a major city blended into one. Pisa has one big albeit crooked bell tower and the charm of a smaller town. Pompeii, well it's Pompeii, and it's a phenomenal site in itself. Florence is still different. It's a small city, with lots of great food, markets, shopping and the like all within an easy walk. The people are friendly and it is more of what I suppose I would have expected of a European city, if I had really any expectations formed in my mind. The touches of great artists over the centuries grace the architecture. It's beautiful, relaxing and probably my favorite city of the entire trip. I did make a stop to see Michaelangelo's statue David, as well as the cathedral that plays host to the tomb of Machiavelli, Galileo, Michaelangelo and other higher ups in the Catholic world. The Grand Hotel Mediterraneo, our hotel in Florence, had a unique touch in the room; they provided a nice map with two marked routes for those guests who like to walk or run for exercise. It is attached to a string and has a flat pocket to hold a room key snug while running. Despite mostly rainy weather, I caught one morning that was only slightly drizzling and took advantage of the map. Just to run along the banks of the Arno river with the morning traffic bustling by was a wonderful experience I won't soon forget.

We did spend one night in Venice, and while I can say I've been there, I'm not in a rush to go back. The narrow foot-traffic only streets were interesting, and the few shops that were open had quite the variety of goods from the latest in haute couture to the downright quirky. It was easy to get lost in the maze of shops and streets. Admittedly it was near the end of my trip and I was pretty exhausted.

One thing did stand out, I had the single best lasagna I've ever had in my life at a local eatery in Venice. It left me rethinking my own recipe; actually the whole trip has me starting completely over with a new take on Italian dishes. As much as I aim to find the local restaurants when traveling, sometimes it's difficult to do. That wasn't the case in Italy. I had McDonald's one time, and even then it was a menu item they don't serve in the US.

Overall I am very glad I made the trip to Italy. It was everything I couldn't begin to expect and more. Being surrounded by history at every turn is a different feeling than I've experienced anywhere else in my travels. As I've told a few friends, here in the US things are considered "old" at 200 years and gain a "wow" factor by being closer to 300 years old. In Italy however, it requires adding an extra zero to that number to get even the slightest nod. Realizing just how much we have and yet haven't changed as humans in that 2000 (or more) years provides a perspective that just can't be gained anywhere here in the US. At least not anywhere I've traveled, yet.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Italy Stop #3: Pompei

I'm not sure I can begin to describe Pompeii and even begin to do it justice. Maybe I hadn't really woken up from the 6:30am bus departure time to get there, but it made an impression on my slightly groggy mind. I think even stone awake it would have taken me in. It really was one of the most facinating places I visited the entire trip.

I didn't realize just how large Pompeii was until I got there. It's not just a building or two, its an entire city. Mount Vesuvius might have stopped the residents lives, but it did it in a way that perfectly captured daily life at a precise moment. I found it surprising how little day-to-day living has changed today. With the way things are preserved, I could easily visualize the people bustling about, the chariots rolling down the streets, people cooking, shopping, having a drink at the corner bar. Their homes were connected like modern day condos. Mosaics decorated the floors and walls, greeting friends or warning foes to beware of the family's dog. Just walking down the streets knowing many years ago someone else walked down this same street, just heading home after a busy day of work seemed almost surreal. The ruins here aren't like other areas in Italy with partial buildings, incomplete columns, broken tablets and the like. They're far more complete, creating an environment that I could immerse myself in and get a better sense of what life was like then, more so than with any other place I visited.

Groggy or not, Pompeii was very well worth early morning trip it took to get there.