Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Loving The Loveless Cafe

 While on the trip home from our wedding in 2009 I was to pick up a tourist magazine in Nashville that would effect all future visits to the area. This magazine listed ten things I needed to do before I left town. The entry that caught my eye was for a place called the Loveless café. It was nearing dinnertime and we decided to seek it out and see for ourselves if it would make our own cut of top ten things to do in Nashville. It more than qualified. It became a highlight of our trip home and we knew we would always include a stop there on any future trip through Nashville

The Loveless Cafe
      We arrived at the café and I was immediately intrigued and charmed. I could tell right away this was not just any restaurant. It was a village of sorts, a compound really, including shops full of trinkets, works of art and a large line of Loveless café brand food products and souvenirs. I was told that prior to fifteen years ago these buildings were the Loveless café’s hotel rooms and I thought it looked like a place I would have enjoyed staying, had I only known. The building that housed the café was an old home and each room has been transformed into a comfortable cheery dining area. The lobby walls are covered with photos of celebrity patrons who just like us had visited the Loveless café and fallen in love. 

On this trip we returned to visit, enjoy brunch and stock up on some of the famous loveless café preserves. We arrived about twenty minutes after every church service in the area ended. The hungry congregations had flocked to the Loveless as well and swarmed the hostess podium like bees around a hive. We opted to take out our breakfast and enjoy it, and the beautiful day on one of the picnic tables scattered throughout the property. 

The omelets and home made biscuits were as good as we remembered served with three kinds of preserves and hot coffee. Sadly, the creator of the iconic Loveless biscuit Ms. Carol Fay Ellison has passed away but, she has left a legacy that will be shared by generations to come. 

When we visit the Loveless Cafe we feel as if we are visiting the home of a good friend. I was especially impressed with the staff who made us feel welcome despite the Sunday crowds. I can’t wait to stop there again on our return trip.
The cafes famous biscuits and preserves

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lake Arrowhead And Big Bear: Playing In Our Own Backyard

Kilometers are shorter than miles. Save gas, take your next trip in kilometers ~George Carlin  

 I’ve always heard people speak of Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear as a playground for the Los Angeles outdoor set. In all our time here we had never taken the opportunity to explore these iconic mountaintop resort areas. When I did my trip research I found out that the area had been home to the Serrano Indians over 2000 years ago and that Ben Wilson of Mt Wilson fame had found his way here in the 1840's. I realized that we were living within a couple of hours of both resorts. When Californians tell you that on any given day they can ski in the morning and surf in evening they are not exaggerating. Within a three hour period one can descend from Snow Valley resort and arrive at Santa Monica pier to play in the waves and sip a fruity cocktail on the beach.

   We decided to take a day trip up to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear to see these legendary California landmarks for ourselves. Just off the 210 freeway near Fontana we turned north and headed up the I30 highway. As we climbed up through the San Bernardino Forest we were treated to fantastic far reaching views. The haze muted the colors of the mountains making them seem ethereal and almost magical. The winding road continued and finally we were led to the turnoff for Lake Arrowhead village.

     The parking area was surrounded by shops and looked a bit like the typical ski villages that spring up in resort towns to service the après ski crowd. Just beyond the shops we found the lake. It appeared before us, a real life 1950’s post card extolling the joys of a summer on the lake. 

     We were surprised to learn that this lake is privately owned and for use by residents only.We walked along the lakeside enjoying the ducks and geese who, apparently had not read the rules and have made Lake Arrowhead their home. We spent about an hour exploring before we continued on to Big Bear Lake.

   As we entered Big Bear we were greeted by a beautiful blue lake. We parked and took a moment to soak in the peace and tranquility of our surroundings. The lake is well used and bustling with activity.We chatted with a couple ready to take off on a kayak trip. They had been enjoying Big Bear for decades and gave us insights on the area and shared a few restaurant tips with us. The town is fairly simple to navigate, as it hugs the lake. There is a town center filled with tourist shops, restaurants and lodging options. It's possible to rent all manner of water sport equipment on site, making a getaway to the lake very easy to plan.

We stopped for lunch at a local brew pub where both the beer and the food were just below average. Usually brew pubs have great food so we were a bit disappointed.The rather lackluster meal was followed by a wonderful surprise. We came upon a local craft fair right along the lakeside and I spent some time browsing and meeting the artists, finally deciding  on a blown glass oil lamp as a souvenir of our day in the mountains.

     So often we feel that every trip must involve copious lists, over packing and endless details. It’s nice to know that a beautiful road trip can simply involve jumping in the car with very little and making  wonderful memories right in your own back yard. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

La Grande Maison d'Arthenay

Wine to me is passion. It is family and friends.It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.Wine is art It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living~ Robert Mondavi
 We left Paris for the first leg of my 50th birthday road trip with a basic outline of our route. We generally let the road and our curiosities dictate the finer points, preparing for the unexpected, and reveling in all that we encounter.

 A vineyard we passed as we drove through the Loire Valley
     For the most part we find our lodging as we go. There are times we swallow hard, times we shrug our shoulders and have a good laugh.

The welcoming entrance of the Grand Maison
      Then there are times through serendipity, good karma or sheer divine intervention we find ourselves at a place like La Grande Maison d'Arthenay. 

Stone walls surround the property
the view across from the main house
     As the Loire valley unfolded before us we were relieved we had uncharacteristically booked our Loire accommodations based on the friendly and helpful correspondence with Michaela via the Internet. She seemed warm, informative and welcoming and we looked forward to meeting her and staying at the Grand Maison. Nothing could have prepared us for the feelings we experienced pulling up to the property that evening. 

Our room was elegant yet cozy
The night we arrived
      It’s the slow excited feeling you get when you know you have stumbled upon a treasure and stand on the threshold of a memory you will cherish forever. We parked Surrounded by vineyards and entered the gate where the warm glow of the house beckoned. Michaela and Sue welcomed us and we shared a glass of wine. I was immediately amazed at how perfectly our hosts had taken this centuries old building infusing it with a level of warmth and comfort that is rare to find anywhere while maintaining the integrity and history of the structure. 

The main house
     Our room was representative of the entire home, beautiful in its upscale simplicity. Each piece of furniture and décor seemed to be one that had been carefully collected and selected with an eye toward comfort to make a guest feel at home. I slept like a baby and woke to a delightful and delicious breakfast of hot coffee, freshly squeezed juice, croissant, muesli and yogurt. We were very pampered and very grateful. 

Breakfast was lovely & made with care
To the right of the main house are more accommodations
Every corner has a beauty and a peacefulness  about it
      After breakfast Michaela very kindly gave us a tour of the property including the various buildings and explained their use in times past. We especially like learning about the pigeonnier ( here is a link to learn more ) and touring the wine caves where for hundreds of years both wine and history were made. 

A Fascinating tour of the wine caves
     I will return La Grande Maison d'Arthenay as it now has a special place in my heart. Thanks to our gracious hosts who made my 50th birthday trip so memorable and perfect. 

The pigeonnier

inside the pigeonnier
The pigeonnier from below

 Here is a link To  La Grande Maison  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fall Delights At The Lakeside Cider Mill

     What would fall be without the inevitable search for cider doughnuts? As we motored north on highway 87 in the Autumn of 2010 we called our usual place and found they were sold out. Disappointed but not surprised, I quickly developed a plan B which involved a computer search for Saratoga Springs and cider doughnuts. I drove while John manned the. iphone
      The first call found a farm only open on weekends. The second call resulted in an open shop and farm stand just a few miles up the road in a town located just a bit south of Saratoga called Ballston Springs. “Yes”, came the answer “we have plenty of cider doughnuts” as I pressed my foot slightly harder on the accelerator I realized I was smiling from ear to ear.
   If I could have described my ideal vision of a New England farm stand where shopping for the doughnuts would be as much of a thrill as eating the doughnuts, I could not have conceived of a place as charming and befitting of the event as the Lakeside Cider Mill. We entered the parking lot and I could hardly wait to park the car. Had I not been driving I am pretty sure I would have asked John to slow down just long enough to have me safely jump out of the car.
     I began snapping pictures as I approached the building like some Autumnal paparazzi, torn between my desire for the perfect shot and the perfect doughnut. I was even more charmed as we entered the store. It was obviously a working convenience store serving the local community year round. It seemed to me that the place came alive in the fall. I marveled at the pumpkins, gourds and apples that were everywhere as the smell of baked goods filled the air. “Hot apple cider and a dozen cider doughnuts” I gushed as I approached the bakery staff wide eyed and grinning like a fool.
     Turns out the Lakeside Cider Mill had been a farm since the late 1800’s and was purchased by the Pearce family in the late 1940’s. Their literature says it has been in the same family for three generations. Perhaps that is why we found everyone working there so helpful and friendly.
     The Lakeside Cider Mill along with leaf peeping, whoopee pie hunting, maple syrup searching and friend visiting will now become one of my fall in New England rituals. As many times as you visit an area there are always new wonders to be discovered and delighted by. Thank You Lakeside Cider Mill for providing one of these seasons delights 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Ventura County Fair And A Lesson Learned

"Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." ~E.B.White

     Recently we decided to spend a relaxing Saturday rediscovering Ventura California and attending the Ventura County fair. Every time I travel north from LA on the California 101 freeway I am reminded of listening to the radio in the seventies, hearing the group America singing Ventura Highway and knowing that someday I would take that road. I didn’t know then just how often I would travel the 101. It has become the prelude to many of our most memorable road trips. When we arrive in Ventura I generally find myself thinking back to my teen years and my dreams of the California coast. Generally one word usually crosses my mind, gratitude.

     We arrived at Ventura with an appetite and chose to grab lunch at the Anacapa brewing company in the heart of downtown Ventura. We sat outdoors enjoying our calamari, people watching and making friends with a couple of black labs at the next table. Main Street was alive with activity on this summer Saturday morning. Crowds happily milled along the avenue bobbing in and out of the boutiques eateries and thrift shops that line the street. After lunch we joined the crowds making our way toward mission San Bonaventura.
      We have had the opportunity to see quite a few of the 21 missions established by Fr. Junipero Sera on our trips up and down the Coast. Seeing the ornate alter and statuary, it is easy to imagine a time when these missions were the heart and soul of their towns. I began to think about all the people who have come to worship in those weathered wooden pews for the past two hundred and thirty years. In the end we are all connected. We all pray for health, peace and the ability to care for those we love.

     After paying our respects in the church we wandered through the courtyard enjoying the flowers finally realizing we had better get on our way. It was time to head to the Ventura County fair. If someone had ever asked me if I was a fan of county fairs I probably would have said I that at best I was lukewarm about them. The image of crazy crowds wielding sticky cotton candy, pushing and shoving one another as they wind up the midway like salmon on a mission was overall decidedly unappealing to me. I don’t really like the food found at fairs either. I do love decadent treats like eclairs, pastries and rich ice cream but, fried butter or fried  kool-aid really aren't my thing. I had been to a small fair once before and although it was a nice day out, it didn’t thrill me.We have spent a great deal of time in Dallas whose State fair is touted to be one of the best,  yet we have never had the desire to attend. Why Ventura? Why now? I can't say I gave it a lot of thought. It was just meant to be part of a Saturday outing. I guess that it is all part of the magic to be found on an just an ordinary Saturday. 

     I should have known when we found a perfect parking spot with no trouble at all that I was in for a paradigm shift. It was a cool afternoon, perfect for a visit to the fair. We entered the midway and I was not bothered at all by the crowds. I loved watching the pure joy on the faces of the parents as they watched the pure joy and wonder on the faces of their children. It was heartwarming and spoke to me of a simpler time before game boys, cell phones and social media. Most of the fair food was fried as usual but, this time seeing the signs made me smile. I didn’t try any but, I was momentarily tempted at the fried Oreo stand. This visit was turning out to be lots of fun.

     We strolled through the amusement park area hand in hand watching huge gravity defying mechanical rides hurl their passengers round and round. The riders squealed with delight all but drowning out the game barkers who assured us a fabulous prize could be ours if only we would “step right up”. Bright lights twinkled on every ride as calliope music filled the air. I was on a date with my sweetheart and it was very romantic.

     I think the highlight of our visit to the fair was visiting the  exhibit Halls. How did I not know or not remember that the large halls throughout the fair grounds house exhibits of some of our favorite pastimes and hobbies? I recalled that there were ribbons and prizes for best of show at county fairs and suddenly I understood. Fairs are about community and about sharing pride of accomplishment. I enjoyed wandering through the agriculture and botanical halls, where I was glad to see healthy living and healthy eating promoted. I was actually learning a great deal at this fair. Imagine that.
     John and I spent a lot of time in the photography hall. We are avid photographers and loved seeing the travel, nature, portrait and animal photographs on display. We enjoyed the textile hall as well as the chicken, bunny and aquarium areas but, I have to say it came as no surprise that the food hall was my favorite building.
     I was impressed by the variety of canned and preserved products on display. I had never seen such a collection. I analyzed each jar and read all the ribbons. I began happily looking for interesting canning ideas when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I noticed a room full of breads. I ran over to explore them more closely but stopped short as I happened upon racks of pies, pastries, cookies and cakes. I didn’t know which to check out first. John had grown up with county fairs and had even been a member of his local 4-H so this was no surprise to him. I think he enjoyed seeing me discover it for the first time. I found myself wanting to contribute my own culinary offerings and for a moment fantasized about winning a blue ribbon of my own. I was beginning to understand more about county fairs at every turn.

     As much as I hated to leave the food pavilion, we did want to get over to see the farm animals before they went to sleep. We love watching the animals and seeing all the different varieties on display. Seeing the parents introducing their toddlers to perhaps the first baby animals they had ever seen I was reminded of my own childhood visits to the Catskill Game Farm in New York. My mother bought me a cone full of feed to give to the animals. I remember feeling happy and a little scared as well. We watched the sheep and goats for quite a while but it was getting chilly and we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. One last stop and we would be on our way.
      Our final stop was a commercial hall where barkers were hard at work selling the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. The only booth that caught our interest was the Vita Mix booth. We had decided in February that we would buy each other a Vita-Mix for Valentines Day. We try to get each other Valentines Day gifts that we believe promote heart health. It’s become our tradition. Here it was August and we had not gotten around to actually buying the Vita-Mix. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.
     Growing up in Manhattan the only fair I ever attended was the 1964-65 Worlds Fair. I must admit that I had more than a few misconceptions about county fairs. I now see that beyond the cotton candy and roasted corn, county fairs are a celebration of communities coming together to learn from, laugh with and lean on one another through good times and bad. It is the very same conclusion I drew after seeing Fr. Serra’s mission. So what has not changed in two hundred and thirty years is that when we gather in communion as friends and neighbors we are comforted, healed and strengthened by each other. It was a very good day at the fair.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Santa Catalina Island: Adventures In Avalon

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”~Kahlil Gibran
     I’ve always been a bit star struck. Names like Lucille Ball, Liz Taylor, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart fuel stories of a studio era Hollywood that fascinate me.  As a little girl I would watch television and see the stars heading off to Catalina for long weekends away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. It all seemed so glamorous.

     Finally it was our turn to visit the legendary resort. Our alarm went off way before the first light of day but I was already awake excited about the adventure ahead of us. Thick gray clouds hung in the air as we drove to the port of Los Angeles but I wasn’t worried about the weather. I knew we would have a wonderful day no matter what. Our ship left San Pedro at 7:15 AM for the one hour and fifteen minute, twenty-two mile ride across the Pacific to the port of Avalon on Catalina Island. As the ship approached the harbor we could see the sun break through as if to welcome us.


Our first order of business in Avalon was breakfast at Sally’s Waffle Shop. It was the kind of local spot that we always hope to find when on the road in a new city. The tiny counter and ten tables were crowded with visitors who sipped coffee as they planned their day. The short order cook churned out breakfasts with lightening speed while servers balanced piled high plates in a space not much larger than an SUV. Well fed and entertained we crossed the street to the tour kiosk at the green pier and selected our tours and activities for the day. 

      Our first tour was a two hour bus trip hosted by Melinda, a local who has been living on Catalina for decades. We learned that Catalina is owned in large part by the Wrigley family of chewing gum and Cubs baseball fame. The Wrigleys set aside large parts of the island as a nature conservancy, which has protected Catalina from over development. This tour would cover a small part of those protected lands. On a lucky day you can see Buffalo herds as you travel up to the airport. Catalina has had buffalo since 1924 when they were brought over for use on a silent film. It turned out to be a lucky Day for buffalo spotting. We found ourselves in the midst of a rather large herd gathering at the lake and basking in the sun. We were all thrilled to get such a close up look at these beautiful beasts and we lingered taking photos and sharing the moment


After the bus tour it was time for our submarine ride. I was a bit relieved to find out that this sub only partially descends. The tour was a bit contrived in that the tour company has trained the fish to swim up to the windows by using food that patrons can release through a chute for a fee. It did however give us the opportunity to see the endangered state fish of California, the Garibaldi. I was mesmerized by the giant kelp forest we traveled through. Tall strands of kelp surrounded us, glowing in the diffused sunlight, waving rhythmically with the movement of the ocean. The kelp here grows at a rate of two feet per day. We were told that the only thing on earth that grows faster is bamboo.  


When people think of Catalina they automatically envision the iconic Avalon Casino a twelve story art deco style ballroom and theater completed in 1929 to showcase a new innovation in film called talkies. The term casino was not always associated with gambling; it is a term that means gathering place and has been adapted in our vernacular to define a gambling hall. We absolutely had to take the tour and see this work of art for ourselves.

     The theater was spectacular with hand painted walls and perfect acoustics. Every detail was a work of art. After a short film about the history of the casino we were led up to the ballroom. Visions of big bands and a bygone era danced in my head. The ballroom was enormous and ornate with the original wood floor and lighting fixtures. I danced with John right there in the middle of the tour so we would always have the memory of dancing at the Avalon ballroom. He is a very good sport about things like that. 


 Another part of the casino houses a history museum. One of the current exhibits was a collection of Rock and Roll photographs by Patti Boyd who had been married to George Harrison and later Eric Clapton. She has written a book about her adventures and shared some of her personal photos which we loved seeing.


 Late afternoon found us hungry and a bit tired after a day of sightseeing. It’s hard to know which places are good when visiting a new town. We took some advice and selected Armstrong’s. This place was right on the water and we decided that even if the food was average at least the view would be worthwhile. We were seated at the waters edge with a view of the marina and the casino. It could not have been a more relaxing dinner. We lingered over our margaritas, ceviche and fish and chips watching the boats and the sea birds who were also looking for some dinner.


We decided to take a sunset walk down the road to lover’s cove to take some photos. The setting sun always seems to intensify the colors of the scenery. The sea turned a deeper blue and the rock formations took on a golden hue as we walked along the path toward a big craggy rock that was home to quite a few sea birds. We lingered at the rock watching the birds settle in for the evening.


As night fell lights were switched on and the harbor began to twinkle all around us. We sat on the beach exhausted but happy listening to an outdoor concert knowing that it would soon be time to leave and knowing that we would never forget the magic of Avalon.