Foodie or Art Fan? Either Way a Winner.

 

 

What could be a better combination than food, art, and a beautiful sunny day?

We ventured on a Miami Culinary Tour of Wynwood and played tourist with a mostly local group of new friends. Wynwood is a rapidly transitioning area of central Miami that is home to the now famous Wynwood Walls, galleries and amazing restaurants. During this walking tour, our exceptional guide Mirka did a great job of keeping the group together while explaining the story behind the iconic art and artists as well as details about the food we tasted.  It was a foodie dream.

Although food options may change depending on the tour, even those of us who had been to Wynwood many times, came away with some new info and experiences.

A quick rundown of our tastings:

  • GKB for Peruvian ceviche and pork taquito slice
  • The Taco Stand (a California-based enterprise) for an exceptional handcrafted chicken taco
  • Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, where it all began, for a ropa vieja empanada, maduros & tequeno
  • Nationally renown Zac the Baker for a potato knish and babka tasting
  • Recently opened, Flavian for uniquely flavored gelato (think walnut & fig or pear & ginger)

Servings were ample, and trust me, you are not hungry after this 2 ½ hour tour. Somehow, I was too busy eating to take any pictures of the food.

Artist Peter Tunney was on-site when we visited his gallery and “Excerpts from the Taj Mahal” work, all created with salvaged remnants from the bankrupt Atlantic City casino. It was an unexpected treat to hear him explain his thought process and experiences in putting together the collection, just in time for last December’s Art Basel.

Bon appétit!

For info on this tour or other Miami-area culinary tours, check out: https://www.miamiculinarytours.com/

786-942-8856

For more about the international artists and their work showcased on the Wynwood Walls, visit: http://www.thewynwoodwalls.com/

A section of one of the Walls.

 

This sculpture is made from re-purposed trash. Look closely – that’s an endangered Florida panther on top.

India’s Favorite Snacks

Filling samosas.

 

 

This fall I’m planning to go to India. As part of my pre-trip prep, one of the things I’d like to learn is more about Indian cooking.  I’d really like to understand all the spices and various uses . . . it seems like an insurmountable task, but I began to scratch the surface with a cooking class offered at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Under the direction of Chef Billo Jolly we learned about some of the favorite snack foods in a typical Indian household. One of the things I loved about Chef Billo was her practical approach, she would show us the traditional method and then share today’s reality, complete with shortcuts.

We started with some basic chutneys every household has on hand – Mint/Coriander and my favorite, Tamarind. We then made Samosas and Pakoras.

There are many kinds of Samosas, the ones we made were like vegetarian empanadas and they were delicious (we had plenty to take home and share). Our Pakoras were also vegetable, similar in appearance to tempura veggies.

We learned how to make delicious Masala Chai and the multi-layered, tasty Chaat.

A bonus: Chef Billo’s husband, a recently retired architect was today’s sous chef, filling in for her usual cuisine assistant who was sick.  The two Jollys were so genuine with a natural comedic flair and left me feeling like I was part of a reality-TV cooking show. We laughed our way through their many stories about life in India and their early adventures in the US.

Laughter, good food, new experiences – who could ask for more.

 

For info on the terrific variety of classes at Fairchild, visit:  https://www.fairchildgarden.org/Education/Adults

 

Magical Days & Nights at Universal Studios

I love all things magical, AND I love to read.  My fascination for the wonderfully magical all started when I was introduced to Mary Poppins books around age nine.  Then I came to know the wise magic of Merlin through stories about King Arthur’s Court.  A few decades later, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have brought the wonder of magic to a new generation of readers.  And, yes, I read all the books.

As a lark, to take a break from reality, my husband recently took me to Universal Studios in Orlando to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Universal cleverly spread the fun between two theme parks, necessitating the purchase of a two-park pass.  Unless you are a glutton for punishment, be sure to splurge on the Express pass so you can cut about 2/3 off the wait time to get on the rides.

I absolutely LOVED Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.  The creative folks have done an amazing job of putting you right into the movie. I really felt like I was flying through the air along with Harry, through the Quidditch court, evading the Death Eaters. This was in Hogsmeade at Hogwarts Castle, located in Islands of Adventure. Diagon Alley is appropriately in London, at Universal Studios. Both are authentically styled and staged, true to the books and movies.  We lunched on typical British fare at Three Broomsticks, sipped (surprisingly delicious) Butter Beer, watched entertainers straight from the pages of the books and enjoyed just strolling around the shops and alleys. The Hogwarts Express, complete with digital enhancements at both your window and compartment doors, transports you between the two Wizarding locations.

Wand shops are everywhere, with Ollivanders (of course) being the most popular.  There you can watch the shopkeeper direct

How to find those secret magical spots.

wizards and witches to the special wand just right for them. There are all sorts of wands, including those from all the well-known Potter characters. Mostly wood, they are interesting, beautiful and some a bit macabre.  It’s hard to make a choice.  Some are interactive and come with a map of special locations where their owners use special spells to perform tricks.  It was cute to see all the kids waving their wands and uttering Potterisms to turn on water features, move objects in window displays, or turn on lights.

 

Can you guess which character has a wand like this? Pippi thinks it’s one of the Hogwarts professors.

Of course I bought a wand!

Oh, and be sure to catch the evening light show at the Hogwarts Castle. Photos and videos do not do it justice. To call it a light show doesn’t begin to describe it, it’s amazing.

 

Keep the kids reading . . . Lumos!

Gringotts Bank. Another good 3D ride experience here.

 

 

Santa Fe Logistics & La Fonda Hotel

Artist rendition of La Fonda.

We chose the historic La Fonda Hotel for our girls’ trip west and it was a hit. Some rooms have fireplaces and you should get one if available.  Staff brings up wood and starts it for you, with plenty of reserve wood so you can keep the fast-burning pinon wood-fed fire going.  They also bring up hot chocolate and New Mexico’s official state cookie (for real, first state to have an official cookie).  Evolved from recipes of the first Spanish colonists, the Biscochito is a crispy butter cookie with sugar, cinnamon, and anise. Wonderful.

Staff was great and saved us when we had to deal with missed flights, late arrivals, and missing luggage. They also enthusiastically accommodated our request for an area to play cards and set us up in a perfect spot.

Now that’s a light fixture. From a ballroom at La Fonda Hotel.

The hotel is right off the main Plaza and very central, for easy walking to shops and restaurants. Be sure to take the free tour of the hotel, if you are in residence when scheduled on Thursday mornings.  The property is chock-full of interesting art and history.  It’s also haunted . . . . but we had to find out that info in less official ways.

Restaurant La Plazuela at La Fonda. A site of at least one ghost story.

There are no longer any cabs in Santa Fe, Uber and Lyft chased them out. There is a free van-based transportation system that can get you around town, but we never tried it.  We just walked or took Uber.

Take note that the Santa Fe airport is extremely small.  No TSA-Pre, you will have to take off coats and take out computers, Kindles, iPads, liquids, even snacks.  It was a mess getting through security.  There are no jetways so you will be walking on open ramps, not steps, to get on and off planes.  Delayed or canceled flights have little opportunity for substitute options.  If your bags don’t make it, well you might be out of luck til the next day. Some of our group had to rush off to Albuquerque to get another flight when theirs was canceled.  Best bet is probably to fly into Albuquerque to begin with and take the one-hour ride to Santa Fe.

Happy Trails.

 

Meow Wolf, Santa Fe

The author tries to capture some of the imagery in one area of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return.

It made no sense to me.  What the heck was Meow Wolf. I even went to their website and wasn’t clear.

One of our friends had heard it was a must-experience and we heard more of the same from the locals.  We had to give it a try.

In short, it’s an interactive, art installation.  A collaborative effort by dozens of young creative minds in the written word, art, graphics, music and technology. Part haunted house, part maze, it’s also a Sci-Fi mystery with no set solution and so much fun. You are encouraged to touch, watch, read and listen. Every sense is stimulated.

It’s colorful and neon and full of surprises; it also challenges you to see things a bit differently. Created in a bankrupt bowling alley (purchased by George R.R. Martin the Santa Fe resident who created Game of Thrones), you move in and out of various rooms in the 20,000 sq foot space.  No spoiler alerts here, but you don’t leave or enter rooms in any traditional manner.   I loved the laser harp and the details in the diaries and newspaper. This was fun. Trust and go.  Look for similar exhibits to open soon in Denver and Las Vegas.  A bonus, food trucks right in the parking lot.  https://meowwolf.com/

 

Immersion New Mexico: Pueblo Indians & Spanish Influences

We set out early with a private guide, for a day-long tour of the surrounding area. It was cold and dry as we climbed on what’s known as the “high road” to an elevation more than 9,000’, higher than Santa Fe at just under 7,200’.  At first glance, the landscape just looks brown, but we learned to see the subtle shades, desert colors and really appreciate the scenery under the guidance of our very interesting and colorful guide Nat.  We visited the well-done small Poeh Museum, in the Pojoaque Pueblo. They are currently getting ready for a huge Smithsonian Exhibit – an attempt to repatriate some of the large, striking pottery indigenous to the area that was removed by white explorers in past decades.

Visitors are thrown back in time passing isolated Spanish villages that have been in existence for more than 200 years. Everyone in our group was touched by our visit to the church known as the “Lourdes of the Southwest” – Santuario de Chimayo. The 200-year-old church is famous for the healing powers of its legendary sacred dirt. It was an emotional visit. On a lighter note, we also entered the neighboring Santo Nino Chapel and found the most enchanting, colorful church I have ever seen – all themed (as its name indicates) around children. It was a happy place.

It was very special for me to visit Taos Pueblo, in existence much as it always has been, for the last 1000 years and now designated a National Historic Landmark. These amazing multi-level structures of clay straw and water, built to blend in with the rise and fall of their surrounding landscape, have defied the sensibilities of many modern-day builders.  North and south portions are divided by the Red Willow Creek.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs that day, due to a ceremonial dance that had taken place earlier. Members of the tribe’s decision-makers were in their underground Kivas, and we could only wonder what issues were being discussed or problems solved. The complex was large and I counted at least four Kivas, with dogs waiting patiently (tails wagging) for their owners just outside the ladder entrance. Only about six families live at this UNESCO World Heritage site permanently, with others coming in for special occasions, all tribe activities, and/or to run their small shops. There is no electricity or water.  Power is provided by propane or burning wood, water from the nearby river.

The city of Taos itself was like a miniature Santa Fe and we had a wonderful lunch at Doc Martin’s at the Historic Taos Inn. After lunch we needed to walk off a bit, so we got out of our van and walked across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Frankly, I found it a bit terrifying, but then I have a thing about bridges. The gorge was created by a fissure in the earth (not the river) and has provided a natural path for the river to run. You don’t even see the gorge until you are right on the edge, I can only imagine what it would be like to come upon it by horseback at the turn of the 20th century.

We took a very scenic, curvy, sometimes scary, 2.5 miles dirt road to begin dropping down in elevation, eventually following the Rio Grande and heading back towards Santa Fe. Along our route back we were able to see the famous off-the-grid Earthship Biotecture Project, a development that uses all natural and/or recycled materials to build homes, and has created self-sustaining electrical power and water sources.  These are no shacks, there are about 200 homes in the area and they sell for hundreds of thousands.   It was fun to also pass by the Classical Gas Museum, like a graveyard for old gas pumps and other memorabilia, right out of American Pickers.

Of Interest:

Taos Pueblo: Closes for about 5 weeks at some point in the spring (often without much notice) and for various ceremonies or funerals. http://taospueblo.com/

Our terrific local guide: Nat Shipman   nat@toursudesign.com

We couldn’t take pictures the day I was there – so here is a spread from one of the local tourism magazines showing part of the Taos Pueblo.

A Taste of Santa Fe

Finally arrived in my 50th state. It wasn’t an easy journey.  For many years I’ve wanted to visit Santa Fe and, despite a long delay with our flights and some temporarily missing luggage, I’m finally here.  It’s special to be with a group of good girlfriends and to share some days of intense conversation, laughs and new adventures.

Established in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US, and the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the end of the Rocky Mountain range) are always within sight. Today Santa Fe is one the country’s largest art centers.

We started our trip with a culinary adventure at the Santa Fe School of Cooking for a class on the Foods of Spain.  It was interesting – the celery and pear bisque was incredibly delicious.  I’ll leave it to my friends to decide how my paella compares to that of the chef.

Afterwards, we took a short walk to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  She was a fascinating, independent, incredibly talented woman and I enjoyed learning more about her life and art.

My Front Yard, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1941

Of course, being here, we can see the landscape that inspired her. We strolled through town, stopping in a few shops and galleries to admire the art, clothes, etc. It was such a nice, pleasantly cool day for walking we kept on going to Canyon Road the charming location of many famous high-end galleries. Good thing for my wallet I don’t have room for any more art and know I would never wear the intricate western outfits or luxurious winter clothes on display. It was so nice to walk and window shop with no agenda.

Dinner was New Mexican fare at a historic restaurant in a circa-1692 hacienda (The Shed). I admit I did not care for their style of cooking, the enchiladas and tacos seemed too dry to me and the guacamole too watery. And, I can’t really deal with the super-hot chili sauces!

 

Defining Boar’s Head

Charlottesville, Virginia is a beautiful town in a lovely part of the country. They’ve gotten some bad press lately due to divisive protests initiated by outside forces.  I hope the coverage doesn’t keep visitors away from this generally genteel community with its gently rolling hills and scattered horse farms. The area also has both feet firmly planted in the history of this country.

The Boar’s Head Inn is an interesting historic hotel, with a history dating back to the 1700’s.  The exact location first served as a welcoming spot for travelers in 1759, as an inn named Terrell’s Ordinary. In the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson convinced a friend to move to the area and purchase the land.  Through the 1900s the estate was known as “Birdwood” and was owned by Henry Fonda at one point in its storied past.  Today, the remaining 573 acres and facilities are owned by the University of Virginia Foundation.

Of Note: There is no connection with Boar’s Head Provision Company (famous for the meats and cheeses so many of us enjoy). The logo for the resort used to display a boar with a left tusk and the Provision Company a boar with a right tusk. I’ve seen references the Florida-based Provision Company objected to the Inn’s use of the boar artwork, but maybe UVA simply didn’t want to extend the meat-supplier’s brand . . . . in any case, the Inn no longer uses an image of a boar as part of its logo.  But you can still see this handsome fellow just inside the front door of the Inn.

Banner’s Elk: Ever wonder how the town of Banner Elk got its name?

The Banner House Museum is a charming spot. Hundreds of visitors to this idyllic mountain town pass by and never give it a second look.  But, they should.

Built in 1865, by Samuel Henry Banner the home stayed in the Banner family for about 100 years. Once purchased by the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation, the home was restored to its original condition and today contains many family heirlooms, period furnishings and curated exhibits explaining the local area, founders, and history. It opened as a museum in 2007. 

Samuel Banner was a descendant of the first Banners to settle in the area. The first Banner was 40-year-old Martin Banner who settled in the area in 1848, after passing through in 1830. Banner brothers Lewis, Anthony, Edward, and John soon joined him in the valley at the headwaters of the Elk River. They pooled their talents of wood working, tanning, metal working and farming and a thriving community was born. 

The spot Samuel selected for his homestead on the Elk River is now known as the Mill Pond, just off Highway 184. The area was known as Banner’s Ford or Banner’s Elk and when the town was incorporated in 1911, was shortened to the Banner Elk name we know today.

The museum also features exhibits on other local pioneer families, along with interesting information about the area.

One of the most interesting things I learned during the tour, was a bit of the area’s complicated history during the Civil War. Although nearby Boone was sympathetic to the Confederacy, most Banners were Unionists, with sons fighting in the war and family members hiding and transporting escaped Union prisoners.

 

Plan a Visit:

For a modest $5 contribution to the Foundation, you can experience a tour given by one of the volunteer docents at the Museum.  Mid-June through early-October hours are generally 11-3 Wednesday – Saturday, but call and verify they are open and giving tours. Check online for their event calendar.

Banner House Museum     7990 Hickory Nut Gap Road, just off NC 184   

828.898.3634       http://www.BannerHouseMuseum.org

 

The ‘Ole Swim’n Hole

A fearless diver hits the water from a high perch.

For years I’d heard mention of a nearby spot where kids loved to swim and dive – this is it.  Locally known as Trash Can Falls, it’s officially Laurel Creek Falls. The falls aren’t the star of the show here, it’s the hidden setting and opportunity to jump and play.  We just enjoyed watching.

Students from nearby Appalachian State University mingle with local kids to scramble around the boulders and test the waters with jumps ranging from heights of 10-30 feet.  The unmarked setting gives the spot a hidden waterhole atmosphere and you can just imagine Huck Finn stopping off for a swim. The river is a beautiful spot and we thought one smart couple had a great idea to hang their hammock between the trees along the shady bank.

Carefully navigating the handy metal grate.

Someone, likely unofficial, has placed a metal grate between the rocks to facilitate movement over a chasm.

One local student told me it was called Trash Can Falls because of its cylindrical shape, but further research explains that in years past a former recycle/dumpster site (called a “Convenience Center” in North Carolina), used to be the landmark for the trailhead. Today it’s hard to find.

Directions:

From Boone, NC, head towards Tennessee on Hwy 421 and hang a left on Highway 321. After a few miles, just past a concrete bridge, you will see a small gravel parking area on your right (a sign for Laurel Creek Road is on your left). Park here, cross the street and enter the woods. In just minutes you’re there.

Enjoying a natural shower.

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