Jerseygator's Blog


30th Wedding Anniversary – Saint Kitts (part 1)

Posted in restaurants,travel by jerseygator on February 22, 2011

Instead of the usual dinner & a night out on the town, Tracey and I opted for something a little more memorable this time around; A trip to St. Kitts.  Where and what is St. Kitts you may be saying.  It is one of two islands in the West Indies that make up what is known as the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.  Several things attracted us to visit St. Kitts in February.  First of all, it’s warm & sunny, something we truly needed after another long winter in South Jersey.  Secondly, it’s one of the few Caribbean islands which have both rainforests and a volcano you can hike up.

Aerial view of Mt. Liamuiga on St. Kitts

While Mt Liamuiga is currently dormant (last eruption is said to be in the late 17th century), there are still active sulfur vents in the caldera. Added to this is the fact that St Kitts only gets around 50,000 visitors per year, not a lot by Disney standards (in the tens of millions).  The population of 35,000 is English speaking and have a 98% literacy rate; However, due to their British heritage they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road (sorry Sarah!).

Darrol w/our scooter from 'Ride St. Kitts' - Thanks Tim!

This did not stop us from renting a scooter to tour the island on our own.  BTW, Tracey loves the freedom of having me drive while she is free to sit on the back and take lots of pictures and direct me on where she wants us to go.  Tracey and I liken ourselves to travelers and not tourists.  This means we try to find out where the locals eat and the places they go and we try to avoid the standard ‘tourist traps’.  Renting a scooter allowed us to go where we wanted and spend as much or as little time at a particular place as we chose. Note:  Getting off the beaten path in St. Kitts on occasion meant following trails & roads that were less than ideal for a scooter (and I use that term ‘roads’ loosely as at one time I’m almost sure it was a paved road but the potholes/canyons on the south part of the island rival anything we have in Jersey).  However, this afforded us access to places that the typical tourist just doesn’t get to see.  There are several former sugar-cane plantations on St. Kitts that have been restored and now serve as inns/restaurants.  The lush vegetation on these plantations and the entire island in general was breathtaking.

Brimstone Hill Fortress - St. Kitts

Speaking of which, the Brimestone Hill Fortress is a must see, to tourist and traveler alike. Started about 1690 and sitting about 1000 feet above the sea, overlooking Sandy Point Town, the fortress is the largest such structure in the eastern Caribbean and is listed on the UNESCO site of historic places.  While we were there, the clouds started rolling in from the east over the mountain.  Not only was it amazingly beautiful but a full rainbow formed, an auspicious sign of things to come (see additional pictures on Facebook).

Let me backtrack just a little here and tell you about the scooter rental.  ‘Ride St. Kitts’ has two flags flying outside, the flag of St. Kitts & Nevis and the Canadian Maple-leaf.  Turns out the owner is a Canadian who transplanted to St. Kitts about 10 years ago.  Tim and the gang were not only knowledgeable but very friendly.  Tracey & I hit it off with them from the get-go!  Tim gave us a detailed run-down on all the places to visit, as well as the best beach-bar on the island, the Shipwreck!  And when he discovered what foodies we were and my love of goat meat, he told me to order the ‘Goat Water’, a caribbean stew that wasn’t on the menu, but just ask for it.  Needless to say, less than 24 hours after returning from St. Kitts, I pulled a leg of goat out from our freezer  (yes, among other delicacies we have goat in our house) and tried my hand at making ‘Goat Water’!

Shipwrecks beach bar - home of Verdant Monkeys & Mongooses

Shipwrecks was a classic locals bar that didn’t seem to mind the occasional traveler.  The menu was not large, there was no electricity (just a generator out back to power the kitchen) and the floor was sand.  Everything you could want in a beach bar!  The food was great, the island -brewed beer cold and the sea-breeze enticing!  Tracey absolutely loved the fish tacos and I had my first, but definitely not last, Guinness Foreign Extra, a nice stout beer (ABV 7.3%) brewed right on St. Kitts by Carib brewers.  All in all, an incredible start to what would be a wonderful but all too short vacation.

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Moving toward meatless: Gardein products

Posted in Cooking,food politics,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 31, 2011

As we look toward more meatless dishes to serve our family, we are investigating some “meat substitute” products.  I had always felt that eating something fake, as in pretending to be something it’s not, was counter-intuitive to eating real, natural foods.  Most vegetarians I know don’t eat meat-like products; they simply don’t miss eating meat.  For my family of omnivores, however, that could present a problem, so a little experimentation was in order.

I recently read “The Conscious Cook” by Chef Tal Ronnen.  He cooks vegan meals which are beautiful and (presumably) tasty, and uses a product called “Gardein.”  This meat substitute gets its name by combining garden + protein.  It’s been shown that vegetarians get plenty of protein in their diets without any additional supplementation necessary, however many eaters like the taste/consistency of meat and these products are designed for them.  I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to find them, but they were in the frozen case at my local supermarket.

Gardein Chick'n Scallopini

We choose two products to try: the Chick’n Scallopini and the Beefless Tips.  For the first dinner, I made a “chicken” piccata using Chef Tal’s recipe from the book.  The Gardein product looks like chicken patties when removed from the bag, and, after dredging in flour, fried up just like any chicken pattie.  After cooking the chick’n, I made a sauce using lemon juice, white wine, veg stock, shallots, capers and garlic.  The chicken was placed back in the sauce for just a couple minutes then served.

Chick'n fillets

The finished dinner fooled my son, who loved it and couldn’t believe the meal was vegan.  The “meat” had a pretty good consistency; not stringy like chicken but toothsome.  My biggest complaint is that it tasted just like a chicken.  I’m just not a big fan of the bird.  However, everyone loved the meal and it will definitely be added to the menu list.

Chick'n Piccata

The next evening we tried the beefless tips.  I modified one of Chef Tal’s recipes and

Gardein Beefless tips and Earth Balance buttery spread

made a sauce from mushrooms, wine, veg stock, shallots, garlic and Earth Balance “butter.”  The chunks of Gardein went from freezer right to saute pan and cooked up within minutes.  Once combined with the sauce in the pan for just a couple more minutes, the dish was placed on a bed of rice.  Again, the meal was delicious.  The meat substitute tasted like meat and the consistency was close (not stringy like meat would be).

Gardein beefless tips sauteed right from the freezer and cooked in about 3 minutes

The sauce was amazing, and I went back for more rice with sauce drizzled on top.

I think Chef Tal nailed the secret to good vegan/vegetarian cooking: fat.  Too many vegetarian dishes are what he dismisses as “hippie food.”  There’s nothing wrong with brown rice and steamed vegies, but it’s not very satisfying over the long run.  By using butter or a butter substitute, you add flavor, unctuousness and satiety.  Using capers, mushrooms or other umami flavors adds richness.  It’s interesting, because many people feel vegetarian food is boring, yet most omnivores I know cook the same things over and over.  Yes, it’s comfort food, but it’s not much of a stretch. I’m excited to add more vegan/vegetarian dishes to our repertoire.

"beef" tips in a mushroom/wine sauce over rice

Links:

http://www.talronnen.com for more information on “The Conscious Cook” as well as recipes and videos demonstrating some of the recipes.

http://www.gardein.com for more information on the products, as well as the company philosophy and mission.

http://www.earthbalancenatural.com for more information on Earth Balance spreads, made from cold-pressed oils, no hydrogenated oils or trans-fats.  Plus, the “butter” spread really taste and cooks just like butter and is my new go-to for toast and cooking.

An Offal Party

Posted in Cooking,food politics,Friends,locavore,New Jersey by jerseygator on January 27, 2011

As part of our conscientious eating, we are working to eat the whole animal when we choose to eat meat.  Recently we invited our friends to an “offal” party, that is a dinner party serving organ meats.

When we purchased our meat last fall, we ordered 1/2 cow, a whole pig, 2 lambs and a goat.  We opted out of the scrapple, having ordered that last time and determining that, if you didn’t grow up with it, it was nigh inedible.  (When the butcher asked if we wanted it, I inquired what it was.  Her response?  “Just what it sounds like, sugar.”)  This time, we took the organs from the cow and goat: heart, liver, kidneys and one non-organ, the cow tongue.

Beef heart

Let me start by saying that, other than liver and onions, none of us had eaten cow or goat organ meats before.  Darrol and the kids do eat the chicken hearts, so had an idea of what that tasted like, and we’ve had pate’ made from goose livers.  Fortunately, Darrol is both an experimental eater and an experimental cook, so he was up for it.

He started by making some beef stock with bones from Mr. Cow, then prepped the different cuts.

The beef tongue, which wins for weirdest looking thing we've ever cooked.

The heart was huge and was examined for the valves and chambers out of curiosity.  It was a least 4-5 times larger than a human heart; Darrol cut it up into slices to stew with broth and vegetables.  The tongue was incredibly odd looking and really didn’t look edible at all.  It was placed into the pressure cooker with some water in order to cook the meat.  Once removed, the “tongue” part (what you’d see if you looked into a cow’s mouth) was removed, leaving a large piece of meat.  Taylor had eaten a tongue chimichanga at a little Mexican place near the Delaware border, so Darrol decided to make taco filling with the tongue meat.

Beef kidneys. Darrol separated them into lobes then chopped finely.

In looking for recipes for steak and kidney pie on the internet we were repeatedly warned that kidneys stink!  Watch out for the stink, here’s how to get rid of the stink, etc.  Well, I guess that happens if you buy kidneys from the grocery store (in England…can’t say I’ve ever seen them over here), but kidneys from a grass fed cow that is immediately processed and brought to your freezer evidently have no odor at all.  I even held one up to my nose trying to smell something bad.  They smelled faintly of meat.  Darrol chopped them up finely with some chuck and sauteed them; the pie filling was topped with phyllo dough and baked to a golden finish.

The last thing in was the liver and onions, as they cook quickly and should be eaten right away.

Liver in all it's bloody glory

This was a familiar smell to most of the older generation, as we had moms or grandmoms who used to cook up a batch.  The frying onions made the whole house smell wonderful.

Darrol managed to bring four diverse dishes to the table all at once, an amazing feat that was appreciated by all.  We had some local cheese from Philadelphia, courtesy of Tim, and some homemade latkes made by the amazing Lil.  Tim, incidentally, recently lost close to 100 pounds on the “primitive” diet, which is based on meat, veg, fruit and nuts with almost no refined grains of any type.  Lil had also brought some crackers made with nut meal, and some “primitive” brownies to add to the table.

Everyone sits down to try the offal stuff

Everyone sat down to give the fare a try.  I will say that the young men of the group ate heartily and seemed to enjoy pretty much every dish.  We had one participant who basically thought the concept was interesting in theory, but not in practice.  She stuck to latkes.  The overall impression was favorable, with the favorites being the liver & onions (2 votes) and the steak & kidney pie (2 votes).  The tongue tacos were my favorite, as I just don’t like the texture of organ meats, and tongue is basically just a meat from an unusual place.  The heart stew was good, but didn’t win any votes as favorite.  I wonder if we put some dumplings in there if it would have won over more people?

Steak & Kidney pie

Liver & onions

Heart and Veggie stew

Tracey tries a tongue taco

Moving toward meatless

Posted in Cooking,food politics,locavore,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 26, 2011
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Over the past few years we have had occasion to learn more about the food production in this country.  Some of the education is through national multi-media; books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemna,” movies such as “Food, Inc.,” radio podcasts such as “Earth Eats,” and, of course, countless websites, such as the Ted talks.  Moving to New Jersey was also an education.  The farms, road stands, and overall food culture here in South Jersey is amazing.  Farmers are so willing to share what they’re doing (and how they’re doing it), as well as the struggles they have in providing good products.  It’s still difficult to find organic products at many of the road stands (though not impossible), but at least we’re eating a large portion of our food sourced locally.

With this education, however, comes a moral dilemna.  Can one continue to consume a product which doesn’t align with one’s own moral compass?  Obviously, many people do.  No one I know condones animal cruelty, yet most buy meat from the supermarket without a second thought, pushing the factory farm that the meat came from out of their minds.  Becoming a vegetarian is an option, but an option not chosen by many.  Being an omnivore is culturally excepted, and most people like the taste of meat.  There are still some who argue that we aren’t designed to be herbivores, an argument I consider specious.  We aren’t “designed” to use birth control, either, but I don’t see many people arguing against condoms, the pill, or the rhythm method.

So what is a conscientious person to do?  In my explorations I find too many people who try to convince their audience to their viewpoint using emotion.  Not being an overly emotional person, I just find that annoying.  Give me facts, figures, and, most importantly, a grounding in reality…the reality of raising a family and the time constraints, budgets and personalities that come with it.

As we struggle with it, here’s some of the decisions that I or we as a family have made:

  • Conscientious meat consumption.  We don’t want to support the CAFO’s so we are buying our beef, pork, lamb and goat from a local farmer.  We found her on eatwild.com, and are comfortable that she is raising the animals to have normal lives: pasture, sunlight, grass, antibiotics only if ill, access to mother/baby relationship.  Currently, we are getting chicken at the farmer’s market.  Free range, cage free chickens are EXPENSIVE, so chicken has become a much less consumed item.  (Full disclosure: occasionally Darrol will buy chicken from the supermarket, usually for stock, but is minimizing these purchases.  The chicken industry is truly horrible.)
  • Eggs are purchased from a local farmer.  We can actually see the chickens running around, eating bugs and vegetable scraps.  The eggs are amazing: firm orange yolks and wonderful flavor.  Again, the poultry industry is one of the worst offenders for animal husbandry standards.
  • Using the whole animal.  We recently had an “offal party” for our friends.  The menu included liver & onions, heart and veg stew, steak and kidney pie, and tongue tacos.  It seems more respectful to consume the entire animal if you’re going to make that choice.  I’ll be blogging about the party soon.
  • Moving toward meatless:  Although I doubt my husband or son will ever become vegetarians, I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually went in that direction.  Currently I’m following Mark Bittman’s advice: vegan before 6pm.  I’ve replaced butter with EarthBalance (made with cold pressed oils, not hydrogentated) and milk with almond milk.  I started this because my LDL cholesterol moved up enough for my doctor to prescribe a low dose of a statin, and I’d really like to move away from taking medication.  I’ll blog about these food decisions as well.  (Funny, I found very few blogs via Google about moving toward meatless…most are already vegetarians or are make the move abruptly).
  • Continuing education:  I’ll continue reading and viewing food related media, keeping an open mind.
  • Political activism:  I’m not the type to stand on the roadway with a sandwich board, but I have been known to contact my senators and/or state representatives, so I’ll continue to do that on things that are important to me.  As with voting, if you don’t participate, you really don’t have the right to bitch.

I’d be interested to hear how others handle their choices.  Leave a comment and let’s start a discussion.

The Great Western Train Trek: Days 8-11 Cross Country USA

Posted in travel by jerseygator on November 18, 2010

Well, without pictures it will be hard to describe the incredible beauty we experienced on this leg of our train trek.  Starting in Sacramento, CA, we traveled through the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada mountains, seeing incredible vistas.  I was actually glad that I didn’t have my camera, as I didn’t want to look away from the window.  At one point we went through a tunnel at the Continental Divide (you don’t go over it, you go under it) and, although the beginning of the tunnel had grey overcast skies, we came out the other end into a full blown snowstorm!  We were like kids, pressing our noses up to the window and marveling at the beauty of it all.

We followed the Colorado River for over 200 miles, seeing rapids (and white water rapid boaters, as well), eagles and deer.  From Sacramento to Denver we had a docent from the Railroad Museum on board, who would discuss the sites on the overhead, allow us to learn about the places we were passing.  This really made the trip interesting and fun.

Stopping in Denver, Kenzie and I walked around a bit looking for a bookstore, to no avail.  However, if we had wanted a beer or a steak we would have been in luck, as we must have passed 4 brewery/pub/steakhouses on our 1 block walk.  We also stopped for a few minutes in Grand Junction, CO where we found an entrepreneur selling huge, hot cinnamon rolls.  After the train started rolling, we wished we had bought two!

When we rolled into Chicago we fulfilled the other requirement of foodies in the Windy City…Chicago style hot dogs!  Fully loaded, peppers, pickles and all.  So good, and just not the same anywhere else.  Not sure what Mom and Kenzie thought of it, but I could eat one daily.  Probably a good thing I don’t live anywhere near Chicago, come to think of it.

Next stop Washington, DC, where we said goodbye to Mom.  She boarded a train for Florida, and we boarded our train to Philly.  It was nice to be home and see family.  I can’t wait for my next train trip and am already planning to get Darrol on a trek!  He went to Florida via plane just a couple weeks after we got home and, albeit fast, the discomfort and personal intrusion has just taken all the fun out of flying.  Hopefully, Congress will continue supporting Amtrak and America will figure out the high speed rail is the way to go for the future.

The Great Western Train Trek: Day 7 The California Coast

Posted in travel by jerseygator on November 18, 2010

We got up early to take a taxi to the train, but first we decided to go to a little Ukranian bakery for breakfast.  We had the most amazing pasty!  There were both

Salmon pasty

savory and sweet fillings, and we tried some of both.  I forgot to write down the name of the bakery, and the owner called them something else, but they were pasties. (BTW, googling this gives you a mix of pictures…these are the flakey pastries not the nipple covers.)  They were so good we decided to take some on the train for lunch.  The owner asked when we were leaving and, upon finding it would be an hour later, she offered to make us a fresh batch of our favorites.  Gives you hope, doesn’t it?

Pasty bag in hand, we went back to the train station, where we boarded and headed down the California coast to Sacramento.  It was amazing to see the green fields and growing vegetables, after the brown fields of the east and midwest.  We passed beautiful scenery: mountains, rivers, fields of fruit trees, even a wedding party!  At one point I felt something at my feet and looked down to find a dog…the lady behind me had her service dog with her and he claimed under my seat as his private bed.  Whatever, he was a cutie.

We did sleep in coach that night, but it was fine as there were no crying babies.  Not as nice as a sleeper, but ok for one night.  We spent most of the day in the observation car just enjoying the beautiful sites.

The next morning we got into Sacramento early…really early.  5am.  The Sacramento train station was very WPA.  I could practically see the depression era workers putting it together.  There was a Starbucks down the street (of course), but not much else.  We read and knitted and chatted but it was pretty boring.

Sacramento Train Station

Once the sun came up Kenzie and I decided to take a walk and discoverd “Old Sacramento.”  Why didn’t they have signs or something at the train station?  Old Sacramento was a wild west type village (read tourist trap) but it was pretty cool. We found a nice diner and had breakfast and perused what shops were open.  Going back to the station, I convinced Mom to walk back with me and get a cup of coffee and look around.

Old Sacramento...last picture before camera disaster struck

Here is where disaster struck…I dropped my camera!  This faithful camera has been with me to Europe (twice) and all over the US.  And I dropped it, irrevocably breaking it.  Even worse, we had no way to get any replacement as the train would be leaving soon.  Needless to say, the rest of the blog posts for the trip will be a bit blander.  Oh well.

Back on the train and settled into our sleeper cars we relaxed and got ready for yet another cross country journey to Chicago.  We met our steward and some of our car mates and found the diner and observation cars.  We’d become old hats at train travel by this time!

The Great Western Train Trek: Day 6 Seattle

Posted in restaurants,travel by jerseygator on November 18, 2010

Ready to catch the ferry back to Seattle!

We left for Seattle early the next morning, catching the early ferry.  We were excited to experience the city as we’ve seen it portrayed in movies, tv shows and literature.  The morning was crisp and we relaxed on the ride back.  Once we hit the city I dropped Mom and Kenz off at our hotel and returned the rental car, walking back to where we were staying.  We opted for the Doubletree Arctic Club Hotel; once a meeting place for Arctic explorers (really!) it was all old wood and thick carpets.  Felt very boys club, but the room was beautiful and comfortable.  So comfortable, in fact, that Mom decided that, rather than explore Seattle, she wanted to take a hot shower and relax, catching up on CNN.

Kenz and I took our GPS and started walking.  We knew we wanted to see two things: Pike’s Place Pier and the Space Needle.  We walked first to the Pier, expected, you know, a farmer’s market.  But WOW, were we surprised!  This place is HUGE and so diverse!  Fresh flowers, fresh vegies, fresh fish and every kind of craft, book, or collectable you can imagine.  It was beautiful and exciting.  Honestly, I wanted to move to Seattle just so I could go to Pike’s Place every weekend.  And yes, we did see the fish being thrown.

On the way in we stopped at the gum wall.  Yep, just what it sounds like. Walking up, we thought the wall was covered with colorful graffiti of some sort but, no, it was gum.  Used gum.  Can something be nasty and pretty at the same time?  Evidently the answer would be yes.

We tore ourselves away from the market and walked through the city to the Space Needle.  Yes, it’s a touristy thing, but come on.  Can you go to NYC without seeing the Empire State Building?  Chicago without the Sears Tower (or whatever it’s called now).  There’s something about seeing a city laid out below you that grounds you, as odd as that seems.  We used the telescopes to check out Mt. Ranier, looked over Puget Sound, found our hotel (well, the area anyway), had a Starbucks (of course!) and just chilled.  After leaving we wandered over to the SciFi museum (made for us, obviously) but we knew we really didn’t have time to explore it.  Now we know we’re coming back!  Kenzie bought a Dr. Who t-shirt and we reluctantly left.

We meandered through the city, finding ourselves back at the market.  We stopped at the first Starbucks (as I have friends who work for them and thought they’d enjoy seeing it) without getting anything (proud of us) and then back to the market, where we picked up a few souvenirs. Oh, and found a cool store with a cardboard cutout of David Tenant and a Dalek (score!).  Then back to the hotel to pick up Mom for dinner.

Mt. Ranier

I knew we had to have seafood, so I asked the concierge for a recommendation.  However, Mom really wanted a cheeseburger (!) so the concierge called around to a number of restaurants, finally finding one that would cook a lunch menu item at dinner.  So we went to Ivars on the water and had a wonderful meal.  I swear my salmon’s tail was still twitching.  Soooooo goooooood. (And Mom loved her burger).

On the way to the restaurant we were trying to figure out how many blocks and a local overhead us discussing it.  She politely interrupted by saying “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure.” Um, thanks lady.  She must have seen the looks on our faces so went on to explain the the streets names are Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike and Pine.  Lightbulb!  Navigating just became so much easier.

I can’t wait to come back and spend more time in Seattle, especially with Darrol.  This is a foodie’s delight of a city.  It’s also beautiful and clean and you never have to look far to find a Starbucks.

The Great Western Train Trek: Day 5 Victoria BC

Posted in restaurants,travel by jerseygator on November 18, 2010

A quick trip to Port Angeles near Sequim the next morning allowed us to board the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia.  Passports ready, we boarded and settled in for the 90 minute ride.  The ferry was comfortable and equipped with wifi.  Both Kenz and I had been on a computer diet (by necessity) as trains don’t come equipped.  Note to Amtrak:  if they can put a wifi receiver on a bus, I’m sure that a train can accommodate one as well.  Oh, well, it would probably have kept us looking down instead of at the sites so let it go.

Kenz getting a wifi fix on the ferry

For a measly $2.50 we had an hour of wifi to share.  Quick checks of email and facebook for me, and catching up on web comics for Kenz.  Aaahhh.

Upon arriving in Victoria we checked in at the border and requested our passport stamped (you have to ask…guess Canada is not too concerned about us extending our stay).  And just in case you think this is funny, we heard an elderly man in front of us exclaim to his wife “I got to use my passport!”  Yeah, world travelers, that’s us.

Victoria was lovely, although very tourist oriented.  It was an overcast day so we stopped into a coffee shop for a chai and oriented ourselves to the city.  We decided to walk through the city to the castle.  Craigdarroch Castle is a 19th century castle built by a coal baron to show how rich he was.  It’s beautiful…all oak and mahogany and maple, and restored to reflect the style of the time of it’s inhabitance.  We spent a couple hours just roaming through the place on a self guided tour, enjoying the quiet reflection of a different time.

On our walk back to Victoria we stopped at a local booksellers who specialized only in children’s and teen’s books.  The shop was owned by a husband and wife who simply love kid lit.  We love supporting small bookstores and bought a Christmas present for “little Nebby” our grandson due in December.  We also got some good recommendations for new books and Kenzie debated adding to her Harry Potter collection (she has the books in English and Latin, plus British editions).  She regretfully opted out this time, deciding to save her spending cash.

We found a local cafe, The Blue Fox, and stopped for lunch.

Amazing Green Apple Chicken Chipotle Soup, vegie burger and sandwhich at the Blue Fox

We knew it was good as it was filled with locals (funny, you could tell the Canadians by the clothes.  Geez, we Americans need to step it up) and it had a line.  And, hello! it was worth the wait!  I had a green apple chicken chipotle soup (amazing) with the best vegie burger I’ve ever had, while Kenzie went for the turkey club.  The Blue Fox was a fun, funky little place that is worth a trip to Victoria!

We ended our day stopping at a great yarn shop and picking up some new knitting supplies then back on to the ferry for the ride home.  Coming back, the border guard was much stricter.  “Why were you in Canada?”  Just for fun, sir.  “Where are you from?”  New Jersey, sir.  “Why did you come all the way to Washington?”  Taking my Mom on a cross country train ride, sir.  (All suspicious now) “SO, where’s your Mom????”  Um, she’s hanging out with a friend and didn’t want to go to Canada.  Sir.  (narrows eyes) “Well, ok, I guess we’ll let you back in.”  WHEW.

 

The Great Western Train Trek: Day 4 Sequim, WA

Posted in travel by jerseygator on November 18, 2010

Seattle

Because of our car v. train accident yesterday, we are running about four hours late.  Evidently, it is not unusual for the trains to run late, albeit not this much.  We were told never to take the train to get to weddings, graduations or funerals!  We’re now on Pacific time, so I was up around 3:30, but dozed off and on until 5:00, when I got up and wrote a little.  The towns just outside our windows are waking up, too, and it’s fun to watch the folks stopping in cafes and coffee shops for their morning jolt.

Coming into the Seattle area and seeing snow topped mountains!

We finally reach Seattle 5 hours later than expected.  As we’d been told by experienced train travelers…Never take the train to weddings, funerals or graduations!  Now we know why.  However, we weren’t on a time table so didn’t mind.  A fellow on the platform mentioned to my Mom that we were the only ones who got off the train with smiles on our faces. 🙂

Smiles, indeed!  We were on the other coast!  After parking Mom and the suitcases at a Starbucks (yep, they’re all over Seattle, of course), Kenzie and I walked up to get our rental car.  Yes…up!  I had no idea Seattle was so hilly.  On our drive to Sequim we noticed that Seattle looked a lot like San Francisco, just not as colorful.

Seattle...better late then never

After picking up the car we drove to Target to get a new GPS unit as ours had given up the ghost.  Then on to Sequim, WA, “The Lavender Capital of North America.”  We were off season, of course, so didn’t go to any lavender farms, but they are everywhere.  Sequim is also in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains so has beautiful weather year round and is on the Dungeness River (think crabs!).  We didn’t have time to explore, but this will definitely be a destination on our next trip.

The ferry ride to Sequim offered beautiful scenery

After taking the ferry to Sequim we settled in at my Mom’s friends home, where we were treated as honored guests.  Lyle and her family had dinner waiting and a list of all the sites.  She and Mom caught up after having not seen each other for years and we relaxed and made plans for the next few days.

Before leaving for our trip, Kenzie had received her passport and was dying to get a stamp, so we decided to take the ferry to Victoria, BC the next morning.  We settled into beds that didn’t shake and big fluffy pillows and dreamed of Canada.

The Great Western Train Trek: Day 3

Posted in travel,Uncategorized by jerseygator on October 21, 2010

The Great Plains

I woke up this morning just before sunset and lay in the bunk looking at the stars.  Suddenly the train jerked a few times before coming to a stop.  I didn’t think much of it, as the train made numerous stops for any variety of reasons.  I got up as the sun was coming up and quietly dressed before checking on my Mom.  As she was awake, we had an early breakfast and let Kenzie sleep in.

At breakfast I commented that we had been stopped for a quite a while, and we weren’t at a station.  Turns out the train had hit a pick up truck crossing the tracks!  Two people in the truck were hurt and the delay was to check the engine and tracks for damage and debris.  I’m glad Kenz had been strapped in!  Ultimately, the train took off, but we were now three hours behind schedule.  When I later went onto the internet to find out what happened, the two men had been heading out on a hunting trip and the driver said he “didn’t see the train.”  Hmmm, wonder how he manages to hunt with that perception problem.  http://tinyurl.com/23cxkpb

Mom and I sat with an older Canadian couple at breakfast.  They had already had an eventful trip, as, on the way down the man had had a heart attack on the train!  He, obviously was ok and they were on their way home to Vancouver after touring the southern US, visiting Kansas City, Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville.  I didn’t say anything about his ordering sausage and hash browns at breakfast.  What’s the point?  I was also excited to see that they had grits on the menu and, upon ordering, that they were pretty good.  It’s the little things…

The small sleeper car seen from the hallway

After breakfast I went back to the car and read a little until Kenz woke up an hour later.  I caught her up on the excitement of the morning (we were still stalled at that time) then joined her at breakfast to keep her company.  Mom wasn’t in her car, but I saw her still sitting and chatting with the Canadian couple when we went through the dining car.  I really envy her ability to make instant friends.  At breakfast a young Canadian woman names Lauren joined us.  Lauren had traveled down to Kentucky to support some friends in an equestrian competition.  She had traveled pretty extensively for someone who was 22 and regaled us with interesting stories from Thailand, Italy and Australia and her preparations to go to Egypt next month.  We talked of trying regional foods and how it really helped you to understand a culture.  Then we discovered she had never tried grits!  Needless to say, when Kenz received our breakfast she immediately added some butter and crumbled bacon to her grits and offered a spoonful to Lauren.  After a moments hesitation Lauren took a taste and found she really liked them.  Her mother walked by a few moments later and Lauren informed her that tomorrow morning she would be ordering grits and showing her family and friends how good they were.  Another southern conquest!

I think the thing I’m really enjoying about the train travel is the people you meet.  I’m not gregarious, but when you’re sitting at a meal with folks you just can’t help but talk.  At lunch today we met an older couple that had met 14 years ago because they were pen pals—the old fashion, snail mail kind!  They were self-professed “bookaphiles” and we spent lunch comparing favorite authors and stories, writing down some suggestions from each other about new authors to try.  Turns out the woman and McKenzie had very similar taste in books, so we’re going to go online with our Nooks to check out some of these ideas.

A brief history of Amtrak:  A question we discussed on the train was why, if all the trains we were rode were representative of the company, was the business always on the brink of bankruptcy?  I asked our car steward and he explained that Amtrak is a government-subsidized company; some of their support comes from the same tax pool that pays for roads and other transportation infrastructure.  However, Congress often looks at cutting Amtrak when budget time comes around because there is a perception that the taxpayers are funding “tourists.”  There doesn’t seem to be much concern around the local Amtrak runs, but the long distance runs rile people up.  Of course Amtrak does provide economic dollars, as does most tourism driven business, but most drive those dollars without tax help.  The steward felt that, even if Warren Buffet were to buy the company, there’s no way a private company could keep it afloat.  Here is a link to the Congressional Budget Office which explains this to some degree: http://tinyurl.com/27rqqyw

This afternoon the stewards hosted a Wine & Cheese Tasting Party for the sleeper cars.  They had set up in the dining car and Mom and I sat down to a platter of Minnesota cheeses (swiss, white cheddar and blue) and little plastic cups.  The steward gave us a little talk about each of the wines before we tried them; all four were from the west coast-Oregon, Washington state or California.  While trying the wines they had a little trivia contest to give away a bottle of each type and I won a Cabernet!  I’m not a red wine drinker, so I’m sure Darrol will enjoy this one.  At lunch we met two women from Seattle and got a lot of great tips about where to go and what to do in Seattle.

Dinner that night was a repeat menu from the night before.  We shared our meal with a retired English teacher from Portland who was a fan of classic movies.  He and Mom put my old movie knowledge to shame discussing movies from the black-and-white era.  Then we discussed literature from William Shakespeare to  Robert Heinlen.  I must say, I’m enjoying the mix and meet mealtimes!

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