Oz is ‘oz-some’ but Kansas (and Missouri) ain’t bad either!

After an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing trek through Oz – Dorothy and Toto realize, “There’s no place like home!” After clicking her ruby red slippers (blinged out Mary Jane shoes), Dorothy, clutching Toto to her chest is transported back home to Kansas. A place that to most is a snoozy flat state full of wheat fields, tucked smack dab in the middle of the country and usually on the way to somewhere, not the destination. But as it turns out, Kansas has plenty to offer – especially in the burgeoning metropolitan area of Kansas City and its surrounding suburbs.

Kansas isn’t all wheat fields – this lush pond filled with lilypads is in Leawood, a southern suburb of KC.

My husband and I lived in Kansas some 30 years ago, and our daughter was born there almost 27 years ago. At the time we were told to keep our outings to the suburbs or to the famed Country Club Plaza just southwest of downtown area which at the time was not worth visiting and not particularly safe. Fast forward 30 years and downtown and its surrounding areas are the ‘in’ place. A resurgence of great restaurants (i.e. Michael Smith Restaurant, The Reiger, & Nara), boutique shops and event venues has lured many to make downtown KC their living quarters. From high rises with a modern cosmopolitan vibe to old warehouses transposed into industrial style living quarters, downtown is a great place to live if you don’t need/want the upkeep of a yard.

Old train yards and depots, like the Freight House, now house great restaurants – i.e. Lidia’s, Jack Stack BBQ, and Grunaur. Across the railroad tracks at Union Station, the currently running Mummy Exhibition and permanent Science City and Planetarium are must visits. The train station is an active station for Amtrak and an architectural beauty itself after being restored in the mid 1990’s. The station renovations included creating windows into the guts of the working train station – showing some of the engine rooms with their original equipment.

Beautiful renovated inside of Union Station in KC.

My beautiful nieces out front of the revitalized Union Station and the Planetarium.

A few months ago my husband and children went to see a museum just south of downtown Kansas City, on the Missouri side and raved about it. I did not rush to see the museum in my subsequent visits. It was always on my ‘To Visit’ list, but in my naivety I assumed it would be ‘nothing to write home about.’ I stand duly corrected – the Nelson-Atkins Museum rivals any museum I have visited in New York City, Paris, or London. Who woulda thunk?

Separated into three very distinct layouts, the museum has something to offer everyone. Upon arriving at the site, the main museum building sits atop a hill at the end of a long expanse of grass – a very grand entrance. Inside this main building is housed original works of art from Renoir to Monet, Caravaggio to Gaugin, Rembrandt to Van Gogh. Exhibits ranging from China to India, mummies to sculptures, architecture to decorative arts. The building itself is a neoclassical architecture work of art that serves as a perfect place to house the classics of the art world.

The lush green lawn leading up to the original building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

In 2007 the new addition Bloch (think H&R Bloch) Building was opened. This contemporary arm of the museum houses more modern works of art, like the present Jackson Pollock installation. It is rumored you can see chards of glass from wine glasses Pollock shattered on the canvas of some paintings during his days battling alcoholism. This new museum space is clean, open, and stretched out into a stadium style design that stair steps down the terrain of the landscape it sits on. Each section showcasing a different style of modern art: from Pollock to Warhol, contemporary diverse media to modern expressionism, and photographic exhibits rotated on a regular basis.

A large Jackson Pollock is a focal point to the newer modern arm of the museum.

Be sure to visit the museum during good weather – the outside sculpture exhibit is worth the walk around the beautiful grounds. Walk a maze that isn’t a maze, but a labyrinth – “…a place in which we lose ourselves to find ourselves…” says the director of Curatorial Affairs. Or dream of climbing the 56′ stainless steel leafless tree by Roxy Paine – who asks, “…the viewer to think about how nature and technology coexist.”

A 50′ x 50′ glass labyrinth at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in KC.

A stainless steel leafless tree sculpture by Roxy Paine.

Or stand tall against the 18′ high shuttlecocks that dot the museum grounds, imagining as the husband wife sculptor team that the museum is the badminton net and the expansive lawn is the playing field. It would take a being of epic proportions to bat these 5,500 pound shuttlecocks up and over the net (museum), but they are a sight to see.

A giant shuttlecock (one of three) sits on the front lawn of the Nelson-Adkins Museum.

A little southeast of the museum is the well-reknowned Country Club Plaza.  I have touched on this area in past posts, but it is always worth another mention. The best time of year to visit the Country Club Plaza is closer to the holidays, because the unique Spanish architecture of this whole shopping mecca is outlined in lights, so at night it becomes a work of art all its own. During the rest of the year, the quality of shopping and restaurants are worth the effort. Grab a Starbuck’s and take the beautiful walk up and down the 20 or so blocks of boutique shops and restaurants.

With fall right around the corner head south of the city into the Kansas countryside to Louisburg for a supply of apples, apple cider and pumpkins. This cider mill has been around since 1977 and grown into a local tradition to get your fall fix of smells and tastes, although the cider mill is open year round. Grab a large cup of hot cider and mosey down the road to the Overland Park Arboretum and take in all the vibrant fall colors of the trees, shrubs and flowers while walking the paths interwoven throughout the waterways and ponds on this beautiful track of land.

Louisburg Cider Mill is a great place to spend a fall afternoon.

All kinds of great buys inside the gift shop at the Louisburg Cider Mill: soups, ciders, candies, scented candles, fun kitchen wares.

Maybe Kansas/Missouri and the KC area aren’t necessarily bucket list destinations, but if you find yourself in the area you won’t grow bored with all this region has to offer.

Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 1

Even though I missed submitting a food review in the end of April and now May, I did accomplish one very important task – getting my family and friends trained to not take a bite of food before I take photos of their delectable plated food whenever we head out to taste test a new restaurant. I do get a few curious looks from other patrons or wait-staff wondering why I am taking pics of every course of food – I’ll have to get better about dropping my business card on the table so restaurants can check out my reviews.

Because it’s been such a long time between food review posts and my daughter and I have eaten at several great restaurants in that time period, I am just going to get down to business and get right into the reviews and tantalizing pictures!

First off is my daughter’s review of several of her favorite sandwich haunts in NYC:

Despite the cultural cachet the deli sandwich has in New York, I’ve always had a hard time justifying $10 for two pieces of bread and various toppings when I could buy a whole loaf, a packet of prosciutto, and a block of cheese for not much more and eat for a week at home. Last week, Cheeky Sandwiches (35 Orchard St, between Canal and Hester) forever changed my mind on the matter of the sandwich. First off, their menu items are not $9 to $11–all too pervasively the norm–but $6.50 to $8.50, no tax added. Chicken, beef, pork, grass, veggie, sea (that last one a choice of po boy done with shrimp, oyster, or half and half). That’s all you get, and that’s all you need. I started from the top: an idyllic proportion of fried chicken breast, crunchy coleslaw, and thick gravy on a homemade flaky biscuit. The place has a thrown-together look: a narrow wooden bar painted the kind of white that’s dirty before it dries, one low communal table, and a few bright blue accents. But the service is casual-friendly, and that sandwich so good I dragged my finger across the paper wrapping to capture every last drop of rich-but-not-too-rich gravy. Though Cheeky is out of my way both from work and home, by the end of the summer I imagine I’ll have worked my way pretty far down that menu list.

Mouth-watering, finger licking chicken sandwich from Cheeky Sandwiches.

For all my slavering, Cheeky isn’t the only sandwich shop in New York that’s convinced me to return for round two. My college favorite was a classic, if more upscale, Italian deli in Morningside Heights called Milano Market (2892 Braodway, between 112th and 113th streets), which, horrifyingly, garnered a small amount of internet fame after an employee followed Forest Whitaker around the store [LINK:TK]. The real draw here is the variety of gourmet bread: rosemary and sea salt focaccia, caramelized onion, a crackling ciabatta. In terms of unusual fillings, I steer towards Num Pang’s (various locations, including Chelsea Market and 28 East 12th Street) Cambodian take on the bánh mi. With an orange chalk-drawn rooster for a logo, this lunch spot serves up coconut tiger shrimp, ginger barbecue brisket, or five-spice glazed pork belly with cucumber, pickled carrots, and sheaves of fresh cilantro on a fat baguette. It’s messy desk eating, almost always worth it.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang's in lower Manhattan.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang’s in lower Manhattan.

If you are visiting any of the locations listed in the title, you won’t go wrong checking out any of the following restaurants:

Phoenix:

The Herb Box – simple. fresh. unique. is how they market themselves – and I’d say that is right on. Their lunches are great, but my favorite dishes are served for brunch/breakfast. Sit outside and take in the ambience and people watching at DC Ranch Marketplace. Scottsdale.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box in DC Ranch.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box.

Que Bueno – authentic Mexican food in a casual setting. Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two-fisted margaritas are tasty and their award-winning salsa is bursting with flavor. Fountain Hills.

Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two fisted margaritas are tasty and their award winning salsa is bursting with flavor.

Tilapia tacos in soft shells served with rice and beans.

The Vu – light of day or dark of night, the Vu Bistro offers one of the valley’s most spectacular views of the Phoenix valley. Sip a glass of wine from their minimal but strong wine list, while nibbling on their loaded cheese plate and watch the sun go down over Eagle Mountain, in this casual setting. Fountain Hills.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Kansas City:

Fritz’s Meat Market – they have ‘smoking’ meat perfected. How often have you bought pork chops that become dry before you get them from the oven or grill to the table? Fritz’s double thick cut smoked pork chop only needs to be warmed through – all that’s left to do is savor the flavor and texture.

Kansas City's oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Strouds’s – the name is synonymous with ‘pan-fried chicken’ – the ultimate flavor in down home comfort food. Come hungry! All portions are large and to be shared. Start with a half order of fried liver and gizzards. Dinners come with a mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a basket of cinnamon rolls.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud's in KC.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud’s in KC.

Gram & Dun – sophisticated. soulful. unique – is how they market themselves. In a prime Plaza location, with a large outdoor patio area, be prepared to sip on fun libation concoctions and dine on flavors ranging from uniquely paired salads to savory southern comfort plates.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Naples:

Edgewater Beach Resort – if staying at one of the few oceanside hotels, you won’t go hungry or thirsty. Fresh seafood is an obvious choice – whether it’s a thick cut of grouper or blackened fish taco’s, be sure to check out their unique beverage menus – refreshing fruity poolside choices or bourbon based bar choices.

It doesn't get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort, Naples, FL

It doesn’t get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort.

Cafe Lurcat – ‘…old world style with a nouveau twist.’ A hip, expansive restaurant with patio seating and more upstairs seating, the focus is on high-end American comfort food. The Fifth Avenue location is a great pairing to enjoy a before or after dinner stroll and take in all the high-end shopping found in Naples.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the 'Voyage' part of the menu.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the ‘Voyage’ part of the menu.

Campiello – this is place to be seen in Naples. The large square bar – half inside/half outside – is always packed, and is flanked on each side by indoor dining and patio dining. Italian fare featuring a traditional Tuscan flavor using dry and fresh pastas paired with great sauces, meats and seafood and specialty items.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Next week I will finish off with food reviews from NYC and Martha’s Vineyards! I know it’s hard to overload on good food, but didn’t want you to overload on good food reviews! I will also create a food review gallery to see more pics of the yummy dishes we’ve been indulging in!

Winter – a bountiful banquet of beverages and eats: KS, AZ, Las Vegas

The first month of winter began with a holiday season full of frivolity, festivity and feasting. A lot of that great feasting took place at home. Surf and turf Christmas Eve. Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes on Christmas Day. A buffet full of appies to ring in the New Year. And an alka-seltzer punch on January 1st to help bring the first day of 2015 into focus.

Filling up on the basics - beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes - at home on Christmas Eve.

Filling up on the basics – beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes – at home on Christmas Eve.

We are a family of foodies who enjoy venturing out to test the abilities of chefs everywhere to see what they can do with many of the same every day ingredients found in our own kitchens and found in the same restaurants over and over. Today, chefs are artists. Incorporating color and texture in plating their dishes has become as important as infusing tantalizing flavors to these same dishes.

Kansas:

Chaz on the Plaza, in The Raphael, a boutique hotel in Kansas City, Kansas, provides one of the finest dining experiences in the Kansas City metro area. The setting – intimate, warm and inviting seating areas orchestrated around the bar. Food and drinks – served by a professional wait staff. This restaurant in the heartland of America integrates a little southern flare to its fare.

Savannah Style Crab Cake - smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza, KC.

Savannah Style Crab Cake – smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish - to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish – to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.

Arizona:

Sumo Maya, one of my new favorite restaurants in Scottsdale, serves up Asian-Mexican fusion cuisine. While you chew on that combo, let me tempt you with some visuals we experienced in this energized, hip, and modern themed eatery:

Miso Chilean Sea Bass - Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Miso Chilean Sea Bass – Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Vietnamese Style "Shaking Beef" - filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Vietnamese Style “Shaking Beef” – filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Another local Scottsdale favorite is AZ88, which is located in Old Scottsdale. Know for their martini’s and unique Christmas trees, the sterile feeling of this modern design restaurant is offset by their hearty-sized ‘must share’ appetizers:

St. Petersburg Potatoes - housemade potato chips topped with sour cream, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Petersburg Potatoes – housemade potato chips topped with sour cream/cream cheese, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

Another must visit is in south Phoenix, at Quiessence at South Mountain, a farm to table fine-dining experience that is all about the food. Set in the middle of working farm, the menu is minimal, the ambience basic, but the flavors are big and the waiters are knowledgeable and friendly:

Potato Gnocchi - Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

Potato Gnocchi – Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

If you want a lot of bang for your food buck – check out the authentic Mexican food restaurant: Los Dos Molinos – with several locations in the valley. Known for their spicy dishes and the pork they slow-cook all day long so it literally melts in your mouth – all washed down with their Kick Ass margaritas. Make sure you have a driver after having one of these two fisters!

OR

Head to Red Rock Buffet at Fort McDowell Casino for all you can eat crab legs. The wait in the long line is well worth the $15.95 on Wednesday and Thursday from 3-9 pm; or Snow Crab Legs for $14.50 on Friday and Saturday from 3-10 pm. Accompanied by a full buffet of other food choices.

Las Vegas:

While winding your way from the Venetian to the Palazzo, you pass by several tempting restaurants. Being a whiskey/bourbon drinker – the bourbon bar at the Yardbird restaurant caught my eye. The bourbon menu isn’t expansive, but it is unique. Try a ‘Yardbird Old Fashioned’ – bacon infused Buffalo Trace Bourbon served over a 2″ spherical cube. And the appetizers have a true southern flare: try the ‘Fried Green Tomato BLT’ – pork belly, tomato jam and house-made pimento cheese.

Fried Green Tomato BLT at Yardbird in Las Vegas. (Picture by ShermansFoodAdventures.com)

For an authentic Italian fine dining experience, check out Zefferino’s. The food prices may seem high, but the dishes are plentiful, the service prompt, and the choices abundant. I had the Caprese salad and the Linguini Gamberi e Capesante and could only eat about half of each.

Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse offers up one of the better steak dinners I have experienced anywhere, and they boast an expansive wine selection to rival any top-notch restaurant.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

For a good pizza and casual atmosphere, check out Otto’s Pizzeria in St. Mark’s Square between the Venetian and the Palazzo. You feel like you are sitting outside on the banks of the canals thanks to the sky blue painted ceiling (well kind of.)

Although we spent most of our time in the Venetian, it is well worth the effort to head over to Caesar’s Palace and walk through the Forum Shops. Just like the Venetian and pretty much the rest of Las Vegas it is all over the top – but yet a must see. Sit and have a drink at the bar at the Trevi Italian Restaurant while looking out on Vegas’ version of the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar's Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar’s Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

Overall I find the restaurants in Las Vegas like the whole of Las Vegas, overpriced, over the top, but all so entertaining!

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.)

Gardens Galore! – Arboretums and Botanical Gardens year round beauty

Diversity. Serenity. Beauty. Oasis. Cultural. Magical.

I’m staring out the window of my office at a beautiful sunny summer day wishing I was outside taking in the warmth of the sun and breathing in unfiltered fresh air. No time like the present. I walk into my bosses office and quit. I exchange my high heels for steel toed boots, and my computer for a shovel, a dead-end job for doing something that makes me happy. I’m a doer and an outside person. I went to work for Bachman’s Growing Nursery in Minnesota, which led to getting a degree in Landscape Design and Horticulture.

That was thirty years ago, and even though I am no longer in the landscape business, I did spend over a decade in an industry that created in me a lifelong love of being one with Mother Nature. While I was going to school I spent many hours strolling through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, learning everything I could about plants, their habits, their different seasonal looks, their hardiness. Learning the Latin nomenclature for every plant that grew in our midwestern hardiness zone.

What home have you ever lived in that isn’t surrounded by plant material? We have trees for shade and color. Shrubs to add street appeal to our homes while adding a form of insulation for better efficiency. Gardens for fresh herbs for our food and colorful flowers for our table. Evergreens or cactus to hang our Christmas lights on.

Over the years, I have incorporated a visit to several arboretums and/or botanical gardens in my travels. It’s a great way to learn about the local flora and fauna, which tells you a little bit about the local culture. I find each garden venue strives to incorporate diversity into its plant presentation. Oriental gardens. International sculptures. English rose gardens. Monet’s lilies.

A feeling of serenity comes over me when I enter into one of these magnificent gardens. I feel the pressures of the world melt away for those few hours I spend meandering through the tranquil pathways. Everybody seems in a happy mood as they walk through these oasis amidst the busyness of the urban life and our chaotic go-go-go schedules.

The botanists of the past came up with the idea of teaming their creative talents with what Mother Nature has naturally presented to us for centuries. The culmination of these efforts are the multitude of arboretums and botanical gardens that have been built over the last century – from the Brooklyn (NY) Botanic Garden developed in 1910 to the Overland Park (KS) Arboretum in 1996.  Giving people magical places to take their kids to learn about nature; a great backdrop for that fairytale wedding; an outdoor classroom for people in the landscape/horticulture business; a great place to stretch your legs and fill your lungs with fresh air.

Day or night – spring, summer, fall or winter – it’s always a great time to visit these vast gardens and their unique exhibits! As the seasons move along I will update this post to show some of the beautiful transformations these gardens go through in a year.

Following are some of the gardens I have visited over the years while on my travels:

Arizona Desert Botanical Garden: Founded 1939; covers 140 acres (55 cultivated); 700,000 visitors annually.

Moon rising over the Saguaros at the Desert Botanical Garden

Moon rising over the Saguaros at the Desert Botanical Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens: Founded 1910; covers 52 acres; 900,000 visitors annually; 12,000 species.

Double deal and Brooklyn - cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden drape over the facade of the neighboring Brooklyn Museum

Double deal and Brooklyn – cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden drape over the facade of the neighboring Brooklyn Museum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum: Founded 1958, covers 1,100 acres; 5,000 species.

The ornate garden and paths at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

 

Montreal Botanical Garden: Founded 1931; covers 190 acres; 900,000 visitors annually; 22,000 species.

China - Shanghai entry at the International Exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Garden

China – Shanghai entry at the International Exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Garden

Overland Park Arboretum: Founded 1996; covers 300 acres.

Monet's Pond - a replica of the scene Claude Monet painted several of his most famous paintings

Monet’s Pond – a replica of the scene Claude Monet painted several of his most famous paintings

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A statue of Claude Monet as he paints his ‘lily’ ponds. Overland Park Arboretum

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A river runs through it – through the Overland Park Arboretum that is.

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One of many ponds at the Overland Park Arboretum, with a weeping Willow overhanging the shoreline.

I'm sure this was built for or by the little fairies that inhabit the Overland Park Arboretum. I knocked but nobody answered.

I’m sure this was built for or by the little fairies that inhabit the Overland Park Arboretum. I knocked but nobody answered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Francisco Botanical Garden: Founded 1940; covers 55 acres; 8,000 species.

Japanese Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

Japanese Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

Check out the Global Gallery for more great pictures from the Overland park Arboretum and more….

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture