Alaska Adventures – part 1

In years past I have had ‘guest bloggers’ share an amazing trip they experienced. This was well received, so I’d like to continue that trend and add a post done by my son, Michael – sharing his personal insight and pictures while he explored the magnificent state of Alaska.

My first Alaskan Adventure, by Michael Malecha – July 1-8, 2017

I had hoped my descent into Anchorage, Alaska would yield a progression of stunning mountain views, but with a full cloud cover in effect, there wasn’t much to view from above. It must have been karma, as I was flying out of Canada (I presently live in Regina, Saskatchewan) and into the U.S. on Canada Day, July 1st. Ryan (my cousin) and Tara (Ryan’s finance’ and native Alaskan), my hosts for the week, shared their sympathies upon picking me up and admitted I had missed out on a great vantage point of this amazing state – but there was still hope for the flight out.

Ryan, Tara and Hank – my gracious hosts for my visit to Alaska.

Even so, I was fascinated by what scenery was still available to me. The clouds and mist gave the atmosphere an alluring and mysterious vibe, and that was fitting with the sudden awareness I had just touched down in one of the far corners of the map. However, Ryan and Tara were persistent in their claims that everything I was seeing and feeling would pale in comparison to the experience on a clear day; these claims I did not doubt to be true.

Naturally, as soon as we got back to their house and dropped off my bags, the first order of business was to hike to the top of a “popular” nearby trail, Flat Top Mountain –  which in Anchorage means you see other people while you are hiking. I had requested our itinerary for the week occur almost entirely outside or involve physical activity, and being the adventurous and active couple they are, Ryan and Tara were ready to hit the ground running. Or hiking, or mountain biking, or rock climbing. I was briefly introduced to Hank, their pitbull-bulldog-mix that I had been anxiously waiting far too long to meet, before the whole crew saddled up and made way for the trail.

On our way up to the top of Flat Top Mountain, where we spotted an opening of blue sky.

The view from atop Flat Top Mountain – Anchorage in the backdrop.

Just a few hours into my introduction to Alaska, I had conquered my first mountain, and as fortune would have it, the sun peeked out on the way up! The views I had been waiting for shattered my expectations, and the snow-capped mountains rising right up out of the ocean shore were a spectacular sight. I wasn’t worried about seeing a plethora of wildlife during the week, but we got off to a quick start anyway as we passed by a moose on the way down the mountain! I quickly felt the sense that such encounters would be even more common than I had experienced in other locales dominated by nature.

Snow-capped mountains serve as a backdrop to the ocean, as viewed from our trek up to Flat Top Mountain.

My first Alaskan moose sighting!

My first evening in Alaska was spent in the usual fashion when Ryan, Tara and I get together: hours of laughing, fun and games (drinking, board and otherwise). They say time flies when you are having fun, and although true, I would argue that time REALLY flies when the sun never goes down – a lesson I learned on my first day/night (not sure what to call it when it’s 11pm and you still don’t need the indoor lights on) in Alaska. Even though going into the trip I knew I was in for an inordinate amount of sunlight, that didn’t prepare me for how it felt when night just didn’t quite come.

Looking for an indoor activity as a result of the continued gloomy weather, Ryan and I spent the following afternoon at the Alaska Rock Gym. I can’t nearly keep up with Ryan, who draws oohs and aahs from onlookers on a regular basis. On the universal difficulty ranking system, he is capable of doing V9’s and V10’s or better, while for reference I wasn’t able to complete better than a V2, with a vastly longer reach and body than Ryan has; the increase in difficulty from one level to the next is not slight either. Rock climbing is a great full body workout that tests your physical strength, flexibility and mobility, as well as your mental strength – making it through a climb entails strategic planning beforehand and quick improvisation while on the wall. It is not any wonder it is a sport that Ryan has found a passion for! Planning ahead and critical thinking are regular tasks for Ryan as an engineer. On the way home we took a short drive down to the local mountain water fountain – and had to wait in line for a cool refreshing sip!

Ryan climbing up the rock wall in the Alaska Rock Gym in Anchorage.

Nothing like a cool refreshing sip from an actual mountain spring.

Waking up to another drizzly day, I spent Monday morning reading while Ryan went to the office to get a little work done. Although I had wanted to be outside and doing activities in the wilderness as much as possible, sitting on the deck with a book was wonderfully relaxing. To the same effect, I also spent some time thinking about exactly where I was on the globe and how remarkable it was to be so far removed from the usual aggregation of the human population – Alaska is the 3rd least populated state in the union. “Getting away” really had meaning here, and came with a slightly more satisfying feeling of detachment from the world one usually seeks while on vacation.

I went to visit Ryan at work in the afternoon, and met a few colleagues of his – including the very generous J.P. who allowed me to borrow his Fat Tire bike so I could ride some mountain trails with Ryan. The ride that followed initially looked like a little more than I had bargained for, but a few minutes in and I was feeling comfortable cruising through the trails at a moderate pace and riding off some small drops with confidence – although I left the actual jumps to Ryan! It was an exhilarating ride through the forest and hills nonetheless, and another great workout.

Riding Fat Tire bikes up the paved paths eventually into the heavily forested dirt trails.

Ryan, gingerly making his way by another big moose before hitting the steep trail full of jumps.

Ryan showing Mike how it’s done on the bumps and jumps of a mountain trail. Ryan used to ride professionally, but he eventually decided it was time for a more subdued career after multiple collar-bone breaks from over-the-handlebars crashes.

On our way back up the mountain toward our vehicle, we came across a Moose on the side of our path, casually grazing. He must have been something of a local celeb as Ryan had seen him around the trail before and others walking by commented the same. He clearly wasn’t bothered by riders and hikers strolling right next to him one after another. It was almost hard to be afraid of the huge animal seeing how docile he was around the traffic, but the rational part of my brain strongly reminded me otherwise. We cautiously strolled by and he paid us no more mind than the trees he was standing in.

People making their way past a moose that stands only feet off the trail.

Tuesday, which was the 4th of July, we spent a bit of time with Tara’s family at her aunt and uncle’s house, which took us about 45 minutes out of the city. We still wanted to get some activity in for the day, so we set out on another hike in that area. Driving into a mountain range toward the starting point of our hike, we were already consumed by the clouds before we began, and couldn’t see further than a lob wedge in any direction. The Gold Cord Lake Trail, which would take us past an abandoned mine site and a lake at the top, was our elected route. Not a long hike, but an enchanting one on this day. The fog resting on the surface of the lake made it feel like an empty and endless abyss; eerily still, yet so peaceful at the same time.

The remains of the abandoned mine site seemed straight out of a thriller movie. It was dead silent too, aside from the few remarks we whispered to each other, almost like we were afraid to disturb the silence. We may have disturbed it more than a little when Hank had eaten enough grass to throw it all back up, and we couldn’t contain our laughter. A few patches of snow still remained, so we decided to toss a couple of 4th of July snowballs (how often does one get to do that?) and make our way back down the trail. We were about 10 minutes from getting towed out of the parking lot on our way out, so thankfully we didn’t lollygag up by the lake or hike any further than we did! Might not have been the most relaxing place to spend the night.

Old abandoned mine on the Gold Cord Lake Trail on a very misty eerie morning.

Who’s up for a little snow ball fight on the 4th of July??

Now, the really odd-seeming part about the day was there was very little emphasis on 4th of July fireworks, which finally made sense when bedtime came for everyone who had work tomorrow and it still was as bright as mid-afternoon – not the most optimal backdrop for fireworks! Our day wasn’t any worse for it though, being away from the desk and with family was our only to-do list item.

Hank making sure you aren’t going anywhere. Check back soon for part 2 of Alaska Adventures.

Check back soon for part 2 of Alaska Adventures with an added photo gallery!

 

I’m back!! After a 3 1/2 year journey!

After a very long hiatus to give full attention to the building our family’s forever dream home, I am back to my writing, most importantly the writing of my travel blog.

But what a journey it has been. The home build was a year in the design process and another 2 1/2 years in the construction process. As much as the home build was a labor of love, it became a full time commitment in the final 18 months and I chose to put my writing on a temporary hold to give the build my full undivided attention.

In those 3 1/2 years I’m sure I logged enough road miles to earn AAA elite status – if there is such a thing! We chose to build on top of hill – but to accomplish our desire of building a one level home we had to excavate 25 feet deep from the highest point of the hill to the lowest point of the foundation. But after 6 plus months of digging, and exporting over 1200 truckloads of unusable material (325 of those were boulders alone), we had our flat lot. Now we can stay here until we are old and can race up and down the hallways with our walkers with no worries of stairs!

Luckily I somehow managed to fit in some very special trips during this busy time!

My last post was May of 2015. The following places are where I’ve been since then: Big Sky and Billings, Montana; Sedona (twice), Scottsdale and Wickenburg, Arizona; Napa Valley (twice), California; Vancouver, British Columbia; 4 different trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Palm Springs, California; Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a few other jaunts betwixt and between these amazing trips.

I will also reprise my monthly food blog. My need to fill my foodie desires never wavered during the home build project. Had to keep that strength up!

As much as I love to travel, there is no place like home and nothing like coming home. Especially when home allows me views that equal any I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Rugged red mountain ranges, hawks soaring through the open skies, lush green golf courses and orchards dotting the saguaro laden desert landscape, owls and coyotes making their presence known in the dark of night with their hoots and howls .

But…this is a travel blog, and there are many more amazing destinations on my bucket list to see and experience. So time to get back to my nomadic living and narrate!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Winter – a bountiful banquet of food and beverages – part 2: Phoenix Valley and NYC

Living in a popular destination spot like Phoenix, I receive a lot of requests from out-of-town guests as to where to eat when they come to the valley. My family and I have vacationed or lived in the valley for many years and during that time we have compiled a list of several restaurants that have filtered out to be some of our favorites.

Although ambience is a nice asset to any dining experience, it is generally the food that brings us back again and again. Our restaurant list varies from the family owned Los Dos Molinos – a trio of authentic Mexican restaurants known for spicy food and Kick-Ass margaritas; to the fine dining experiences at any one of the Mastro’s Steakhouses in the valley – both of which I have blogged about in the past.

If you’re looking for a romantic evening out, it does not get much better than Lon’s, at the Hermosa Inn, tucked back into a residential area in Paradise Valley, just east of the Biltmore area. A soft glow eminates from lights hung from the low overhanging branches of the many trees that pepper the front outside eating area. Or you can dine closer to the bee hive fireplace on cooler evenings.

Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn for a romantic dinner. (copyright Jill Richards)

The food is garden-to-table fine dining American cuisine – the garden being a one acre plot right outside the kitchen, inclusive of fruit trees to kick up both food and cocktails. With to share dishes such as ‘Truffle Mac’ or ‘Blistered Peppers;’ or main dishes such as ‘Dry-Aged Strip with Chimchurri sauce’ or the ‘Pork Chop served with polenta and poached baby apples’ – the whole dining experience is one not to be missed.

If Italian is what you’re craving, I’d recommend checking out Casa Mia. An understated, but newly renovated, small restaurant run by an Italian family, tucked in a mostly empty line of retail spaces just off of Shea on 136th Street. The fact this place is hard to get into without a little forethought, goes to its reputation as being a destination eatery that has earned it’s business through word of mouth. And those are happy mouths sated  by homemade pastas like the melt in your mouth pillows of gnocchi with basil and fresh tomato sauce, or any of their veal or fish dishes. And mama’s homemade bread to sop of all the delectable sauces.

A new Scottsdale favorite to check out is Soi 4 Bangkok eatery. An authentic Thai restaurant with fresh and flavorful dishes like the ‘Neur pad tua’ – stir-fried Angus steak cubes with snap peas and onion rings in mild roasted chili jam, washed down with unique cocktails like cilantro infused vodka with lime juice served in a salty spiced rimmed martini glass. Very friendly service in a sleek contemporary setting.

One of the delectable small plates at Soi 4 Thai restaurant in Scottsdale.

If you head into Fountain Hills, you can again hit the gammet of dining experiences. From your basic Mexican food at Que Bueno: I recommend their patron silver margarita on the rocks with salt that comes in a large thick glass that requires two hands to drink from served with their award-winning salsa and warm chips; to the newly opened Italian restaurant Arrivederci (there are more in the valley) that has a great view of the world-famous fountain; to one of our favorite restaurants in the valley, Alchemy at Copperwynd, offering up one of the finest views in all of Fountain Hills and the valley.

Alchemy restaurant at Copperwynd in Fountain Hills. One of the best views in the valley.

Alchemy has been through several changes over the years, but these days you are assured of a tantalizing menu, fresh and flavorful dishes served by professional waitstaff. For the ‘Crispy Brussel Sprouts’ the chef peels the leaves off of each sprout and lightly crisps them with flavors of Worcestershire gastrique, truffle oil and cojita. Absolutely to die for! The ‘Burrata Panzella’ salad with pumpernickel croutons, figs, butternut squash and roasted tomato vinaigrette bursts with flavor. The ‘Sea Scallops’ – served with a grilled mushroom puree, snap peas, brown butter breadcrumbs and hibiscus syrup are so flavorful they have a hard time keeping up to the evenings demand for them.

If you need a quick pick me up or a late night snack, Senor Taco is our family go to fast food joint. An expansive menu with some creative Mexican dishes to rival a much higher end restaurant. Known for their shrimp burritos, they also go bold with such feasts as the California burrito – filled with carne asada or pollo asado, french fries, sour cream, salsa fresca & cheese.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

My daughter, Allison, hit a few new hot spots in NYC:

Knowing the chef helps

Though I love consuming their artistry in every shape, size, and color, I’ve never managed to befriend any chefs. Luckily, I have two friends with sous-chefs for brothers. In the first two months of 2015, I ate for the first time at both of their restaurants: Txikito, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, and Charlie Bird, in the western reaches of SoHo, also called the South Village.

Knowing the (sous) chef doesn’t mean you get a meal for free, but it does mean that every plate you order comes hand-in-hand with an even better one you didn’t; that everyone treats you with an extra dose of kindness; and that you’ll still pay less than the listed price.

Txikito is an upscale Basque tapas restaurant, and the friend whose brother works there is Chilean. Translation: small plates, major flair. It’s been a month, and I can still easily conjure up the languid texture of the “txipiron encebollado” ($16)–a lavish pile of squid ribbons tossed with sweet onions and pine nuts. Plated in the shape of a flattened rose, the octopus carpaccio ($15) was at once rich and delicate, oil-soaked and airy. The kroketas of the day, filled with cheese and salty cod, tasted like warmth itself. But the crowned prince of the night was the Spanish version of French toast, stolen off the brunch menu of Txikito’s sister restaurant La Vara and served up as dessert. Pillowed dough, caramelized syrup, and a whiff of citrus. The evening was blustery, a Monday, but the restaurant was still filled with a happy murmur. Just slow enough though for our chef to bring out one of his dishes himself and pull out the empty chair at our table for a humble hello.

Txikito restaurant in NYC. (picture by gourmet.com)

In contrast, I saw Charlie Bird at prime time. Late on a Thursday night. The restaurant bills itself as a little bit hip hop, influenced by downtown culture and the history of street art and jazz (the name is a fusion of Charlie Parker and his nickname “Bird”). So I was surprised to find the space awash in light, subdued colors: cream tables, bourbon-hued bucket chairs, walls the color of book pages. To our left, lined up above a bank of mustard-colored booth seating, was the bit of pizzazz I’d been expecting: a framed series of hyper-realistic boombox photographs. The only fault critics seem to have found with Charlie Bird’s food is its saltiness. If it’s too salty for them, they can leave the eating to me. Burrata toast ($12), farro salad ($16), gnocchi rosa ($18), crispy smoked eggplant ($10), pappardelle with rabbit ($20), and the rice krispie-laced chocolate budino ($12)–we ate it all and somehow heaved ourselves out of our chairs after. I’ve also read they have an excellent barolo on the menu, but even with the chef hook-up, that was a little too fancy for our wallets.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

 

Vancouver et al – rain or shine

This last weekend I traveled to the Vancouver area, location of the 2010 Winter Olympics, in hopes of seeing the majestic mountains to the north and the expansive open waters to the west and south. Other than a quick glimpse of both as the plane descended into the Vancouver airport, I was met with mountains of clouds and streams of rain.

Snowcapped mountains north of Vancouver bathed in the light of the setting sun.

Snowcapped mountains north of Vancouver bathed in the light of the setting sun.

This city of roughly 600,000 inhabitants chose one of nature’s most stunning backdrops to set down roots. If you can’t decide whether you want to live or vacation in the mountains or go to the sea – Vancouver provides both. You can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon during certain times of the year. Generally the winter months often find Vancouver shrouded in clouds and rain. Or 8 inches of snow can be dropped one day and sunny and 70 the next day.

Vancouver is all about activity. Being on the move. Seeing the sights. Taking in the great eating experiences. When I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan between 2000-2010, a group of girlfriends and I would head west to Vancouver to escape the cold of the frozen tundra for an eating and shopping extravaganza. We stayed by the waterfront to be within walking distance to Robson Street, the place to shop and eat. Or put your ‘runners’ (Canadian for tennis shoes) and hoof it down to Stanley Park – a massive green space that is fronted almost entirely by water.

 

Running a cross country race on a warm sunny day through Stanley Park in Vancouver a day after 8" of snow dropped.

Running a cross-country race on a warm sunny day through Stanley Park in Vancouver a day after 8″ of snow fell.

Or take some form of public transportation down to Granville Island – an island within the city with something for everyone. A destination spot for locals and tourists. Check out the Public Market, showcasing the city’s best selection of fresh seafood, other local produce, and unique often locally made products – from hand painted silk scarves to hand carved wooden boats to float in the waters surrounding Vancouver. I love walking through the meandering streets taking in the smells, sights and sounds.

The gals hanging out at one of the many boutique shops on Granville Island.

The gals hanging out at one of the many boutique shops on Granville Island.

My two main sports while I was growing up were skiing and golfing. The Vancouver area would have been a great place for me to visit during those developmental years. Ninety minutes to the north of Vancouver, along the appropriately named Sea to Sky Highway is Whistler – where the alpine and nordic events took place in the 2010 Olympics. Touted as some of the best skiing worldwide, it has been ranked as the #1 overall resort in North America by the readers of Ski magazine.

With golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones, Jr., your golf game can be as equally challenged as your skiing acumen is by the slopes. The natural setting of glacial mountains as a backdrop while the course winds along the banks of the River of Golden Dreams, may make it hard to focus on your game, but can also quickly melt away the frustration of a bad hole – as how could you not marvel in the glory of such beauty and just be happy to be alive and where you are.

Golfing in Canada with glacial mountains providing a majestic backdrop.

Golfing in Canada with glacial mountains providing a majestic backdrop.

But back to Vancouver and the surrounding areas. This last weekend found me winding my way eastward through the inland waterways, through Surrey, and on into the well-developed suburb of Langley, to watch my son play university level basketball at the Langley Events Center. I crossed the heavily sedimented Fraser River, the longest river in BC; trekked through North America’s largest peat bog in the aromatic Delta Nature Reserve-a/k/a Burns Bog; and on into Langley which sits a half hour drive from the U.S. Canada Border.

This border crossing is the home of the Peace Arch, erected in 1921 – which sits directly across the border line in the median between the entry and exit lanes to both countries. Within in the arch are open iron gates on either side with the inscription, “May these gates never be closed” – and to date they have never been closed, signifying the peaceful unity that lives between the two countries.

The Peace Arch straddles the border line of U.S. in Canada in southern BC.

The Peace Arch straddles the border line of U.S. in Canada in southern BC.

If you have time, take the 90-minute ride ferry over to Victoria on Vancouver Island – it’s worth the effort. With a population to rival Vancouver, most of the Island’s 750,000 inhabitants live in the greater Victoria area, which sits at the southern tip of the island and is actually south of the Canada/US border line, and the only part of Canada below the 49th parallel. Stay at the Empress Hotel which sits on the most prime piece of waterfront in Victoria. Or if you really have a lot of time, head up west coast of the Island. About half way up, sits the Wikaninnish Inn. I’ve yet to visit, but it’s on my bucket list to experience one of the most amazing spa settings and to watch a Pacific Ocean storm rage along this rugged coastline.

Wikaninnish Inn, Vancouver Island, BC

Needless to say there are a multitude of things to do in the greater Vancouver area. There would be no wasted time with a minimum of a week spent in corner of British Columbia, one of the most eye-popping natural beauties in the world.

Happy Trails in the New Year of 2015!

After a relaxing and fun-filled holiday season, I am refreshed and re-energized for another year of blogging! Travel plans are already underway for Canada, Spain, South of France, Alaska, Montana and Cape Cod. And if I know my family, there will be more additions to that already great list of travel destinations.

According to an article in todays New York Times, What a Stronger Dollar Means for the Economy, the Euro is trading at the lowest it has in 9 years – which means a strong US dollar for travel to Europe. So there may be a need to add an extension to the list of European locals.

The start of a new year is a time to think forward, make resolutions, plan. But it is also a time to reflect on the year we recently gave closure. Revel in the highlights, learn from the lowlights, and be grateful and happy for all of the new memories made to savor in the years to come. My nephew and his girlfriend started an in person chat session at our New Year’s Even gathering asking everybody what their personal highlight of 2014 was and what their family highlight of 2014 was: my personal highlight was accomplishing the one year anniversary of my travel blog – and still going strong; my family highlight was flying my kids home to surprise their father for his 50th birthday.

For myself and my travel forays, 2014 was a year that saw me sticking closer to home. Which is something I intend to build on. All corners of the US and points in between behold scenery to rival any place outside of the US and I plan to make a concerted effort to add a few of these amazing locations to my 2015 travel bucket list.

I live within a 6 hour drive of some of the most incredible rock formations showcasing some of the most vibrant colors – swirling red and tan sands, stoic red rock, and azure blue watering holes. Inclusive of the Grand Canyon, The Wave, and the Sedona Red Rocks. So add Arizona, Utah and New Mexico to that growing travel list.

I will also take the opportunity to continue to expound on features I implemented in 2014 – i.e. monthly restaurant reviews and writings by guest bloggers. I plan to expand my ‘Favorite Author/Artist‘ section by adding links and writings of several favorite travel writers, and artists of all genres, I have begun to follow over recent years.

For now I am off to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I will share the beauty of one of the most remarkable large cities in the world – where the waters of the Pacific Ocean flow into the Salish Sea on the west end of the city and the mountains of Whistler provide a dramatic backdrop to the North.

Happy New Year and all the best to my readers for a great 2015!

Happy New Year! Cheers to a great year ahead in 2015!

Happy New Year! Cheers to a great travel year ahead in 2015!

Fall is for Feasting, Part 3 – November: KS, Regina, SK

For many across the country, fall has long been over and many have been forced to succumb to being plunged into winter earlier than the calendar says – yet again. But luckily the warm comfort foods for the fall bode well for the winter like conditions that have blanketed a good part of the U.S. in the last month. If there hasn’t been snow and ice, there has certainly been cold temps.

Here in Kansas, we have seen several weeks of below normal temps with a smattering of warm days thrown in just to tease us into thinking that winter is still a ways away. But the homes lit up for the holidays alert me to the fact that indeed it tis’ the season to stoke the fireplace, decorate for the winter season, and enjoy all the hearty foods that come along with ‘falling into winter.’

A couple of weeks ago I was in Regina, Saskatchewan, not generally a winter destination or known as a food mecca, but the local eateries have earned the right to have a mention in this blog post. Flip Eatery & Drink has a menu that is as creative as their website. One section is called, “comfort plates.” How can you not like a place like this? The top item in this section of the menu is “Spinach Spaetzle” – a bed of house-made potato spaetzle loaded with hunks of beets and yams and tomatoes, a smattering of spinach and mushrooms, topped off with a dollop of goat cheese. Washed down with a “Bourbon Wallbanger” and I was ready to battle the below zero temps that awaited me out on the streets or Regina.

Spinach Spaetzle at Flip Eatery in Regina, SK, Canada is listed as one of their ‘comfort plates’

Other places to check out in Regina are:

The Keg: for great steaks at a reasonable price. Ask for a table by the fireplace.

Original Joes: check our their ‘Winter Warm-up’ menu and indulge in a ‘Bacon-Tomato Soup’ or a ‘French Onion Boar Burger.’

Hotel Saskatchewan – The Dining Roomone of the best and most expansive Sunday brunch in the city to keep you going all the day long.

Back to the states, and back to Kansas, to continue my search for restaurants worthy enough to venture out of the comfort of my own home to be served a delectable meal or try a fun new drink. Enter 801 Fish – one of several restaurants specializing in seafood in the Kansas City metro area, but I think this white tablecloth eatery has the freshest and most appealing dishes of any I have visited. Start out with a plate of fresh oysters or as I prefer cooked “Oysters Rockefeller,” followed by a “Pan Seared Florida Grouper” served over sweet potato puree and sided with parmesan gnocchi and sautéed rainbow chard and you will realize eating fish doesn’t necessarily mean eating light.

Grouper served on sweet potato puree with sides of parmesan gnocchi and swiss chard at 801 Fish, Leawood, KS

Grouper served on sweet potato puree with sides of parmesan gnocchi and rainbow chard at 801 Fish, Leawood, KS

Another great eatery in Kansas worth checking out is the very quaint Cafe’ Provence – located in Prairie Village, it is a traditional French restaurant that has earned the respect for a need to call ahead reservation to be able to get a table. The ‘Crumble de Foie Gras aux Pommes’ is a pan-seared foie gras that truly does melt in your mouth. Followed by a plate of French cheeses served with fresh French Bread and I could’ve stopped right there. But no – I continued on with a ‘Roasted Duck Breast served with a parsnip puree, chestnut bread pudding, fig and honey gastrique.’ My meal should’ve been complete, but I could not say no to a ‘Salted Caramel Creme’ Brûlée’ to polish off the evening.

Roasted Duck Breast served with potato puree, chestnut break putting topped with a fig gastrique at Cafe' Provence, Prairie Village, KS

Roasted Duck Breast served with potato puree, chestnut break putting topped with a fig gastrique at Cafe’ Provence, Prairie Village, KS

Other great KC restaurants worthy of the effort:

Story: their sleek modern decor is in direct contrast to the traditional ambience of Cafe’ Provence which sits right across the street. The food is creative America with European influences.

801 Chophouse (upscale steakhouse) and Pig & Finch (innovative pub): are sister restaurants to 801 Fish and are in the same Town Centre Leawood neighborhood.

I would be remiss to finish off ‘Fall is for Feasting’ without making mention of the feast of all American feasts – Thanksgiving. As with many families I know, this is our favorite holiday – no pressure of gift giving or any other expectations other than to create a banquet of food to tantalize all the senses. It has become tradition in our family for my daughter and husband to fix the meal. I choose the menu, and then sit back with a mug of mulled cider and watch the two of them have at it!

This year we tried a new way to cook the turkey called ‘spatchcocking.’ This only works with a smaller bird, which was fine as it was just three of us this year. You remove the breast-bone and then splay the bird into a butterfly fashion. The bird cooks quicker, the skin gets crispier and the meat more tender. For sides: green beans with sautéed mushrooms, gruyere cheese and bacon and topped with bread crumbs; butter mashed potatoes; sour dough stuffing with Italian sausage, sautéed onions, filberts; cranberry sauce infused with rosemary; mushroom creamed gravy; and for dessert homemade pumpkin pie with a caramel pecan sauce and a salted butter apple tart.

Spatchcocked Turkey is apparently the new way to cook a turkey to get the crispiest skin and the most tender meat in a lot less cooking time

Spatchcocked Turkey is apparently the new way to cook a turkey to get the crispiest skin and the most tender meat in a lot less cooking time

From my family to yours, I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season!!

Our son was not able to join us for Thanksgiving dinner as he had college basketball commitments.

(Our son was not able to join us for Thanksgiving dinner as he had college basketball commitments.)

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

In the year 2000 my husband’s job took us to a little known place, at least to most Americans, called Regina (Latin for queen), Saskatchewan. At the time we lived only a seven hour drive away from there, but had never heard of Regina. As the years waged on we learned it was not exactly the hotbed of Canada either. I lost count of how many times other Canadians gave us their condolences on having to live in Regina.

When we moved there, a part of our permanent residency application requested we go to the police station to be finger printed. The officer who was finger printing us asked, “Where in the states are you moving to?” When we told him that we were Americans and we were moving to Regina, not Canadians moving to the US, he laughed and said they didn’t get many people making that move.

It wasn’t until our first winter spent in Regina that we became acutely aware of the reputation Regina had earned of being a place people moved away from, not to. Winter came and it didn’t fully leave for another eight months. The local joke in southern Saskatchewan is you can see your dog run away for three days because it’s so flat. This flat terrain allows the winds to howl and blow unencumbered. The only thing to slow it down is the 100’s of trees that were hand planted by the early settlers back in the early 1900’s.

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

Temps can reach 30-40 below zero. In Canada they measure temps using celsius not fahrenheit, but at those temps celsius and fahrenheit are virtually the same. And these kinds of temps don’t stick around for a day or two but can stick around for weeks at a time. Your skin can freeze in seconds at these temps. Car tires can break and their electronic systems can freeze up.

We quickly learned how these hearty residents got through these long hard winters. They took extended winter ‘holidays’ of upwards of 3-4 weeks at a time or several long weekends to warm weather destinations to thaw out. But beyond that they are doers. Reginans don’t hide out until winter passes, they bundle up and venture out. In the ten plus years my kids attended school in Regina they never had a snow day or school called off because of cold temps.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

I definitely have to say there is something to people in the northern colder climates having thicker blood than those in the southern warmer climates. My husband and I spent the last weekend in Regina to watch our son play basketball at the university. Regina was going into their second week of sub 20F degree temps. I bundled up to walk the two blocks from our hotel to meet up with a couple of girlfriends – one who waltzed in wearing a long sleeve thin shirt and a faux fur vest – and I think I was colder!

As you can imagine, hockey is king in this Canadian city – home of the WHL Regina Pats, a training ground for future NHLer’s. But this growing metropolis – pop. 195,000 in 2000 and nearing 230,000 in 2014 – is game for all games. The CFL Roughriders, the 101st and 2013 Grey Cup Champions, have some of the most ardent football fans in all of Canada. Regina is home to Olympic level curlers and snowboarders. Ice fishing, basketball, snowmobiling, ringette, Globe Theatre, science museum, IMAX theater, 5-pin bowling, Agribition, RCMP, cross-country skiing, MacKenzie Art Gallery and the casino can all keep one busy throughout the long winter months.

The sign says it all! 30,000 Roughrider fans fill the stands of the outdoor Mosaic Stadium to create a ‘sea of green’ also dubbed ‘Rider Nation’.

Wascana Lake, a man-made lake, is the main city attraction. The beautifully domed provincial legislative building sits at the southwest shore of this highly active lake. With wide paved paths skirting the edges of the lake and its far-reaching tributaries, the area is great for walking – year round. The lake draws attention from across the country and even further bringing in competitions for dragon boat racing, wake boarding, canoeing and other events. Weddings are held on the island and fireworks reflect off the lake on July 1st, Canadian Independence Day.

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

A statue of Queen Elizabeth riding Burmese, a horse given to her by the RCMP, stands in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature building on the shores of Wascana Lake in Regina

The Queen City (Regina), so nicknamed because of being named after Queen Victoria by her daughter Princess Louise who was Governor General of Canada during the founding of Regina. In the years since, the city has been visited by a lengthy and notable list of royalty: The Queen Mum, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew and Fergie, Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Princess Margaret.

But it’s the people who make Regina worth the visit. Growing up in Minnesota, where ‘Minnesota nice’ is the mantra, one experiences a similar vibe in Regina. We originally had plans to stay for 3-5 years, but ended up staying for 10 years, because we had settled into a community of great friends that eventually drew our son back to go to university and draws us back to spend time with people who became lifelong friends, no matter how many miles separate us now. Over the years many locals moved away for better job opportunities or tax reprieve, but moved back for quality of life and cost of living. Long live Regina (the Queen)!