When I’d cover the topic of hurricanes in the course on Natural Disasters that I taught for many years at my former university, I’d sometimes joke that these storms seemed to have an uncanny knack, an amazing ability to aim for highly vulnerable mobile home parks. Well, not unlike a Category 5 hurricane, I recently cut a swath across Florida’s midsection from the Gulf to the Atlantic, and while mobile home parks remained safe and untouched, every highly rated restaurant on tripadvisor.com was directly in my path. Hurricane Matt, the first unofficial storm of the 2021 Hurricane Season, left his mark on the Sunshine State. Let’s retrace the path of this culinary storm.Continue reading “Hurricane Matt: The Unusual Storm That Ate Its Way Across Florida”
Pancakes. Hotcakes. Griddle Cakes. Flapjacks.
No matter what they’re called, they happen to be one of my favorite ways to start the morning, and when I travel around the country I make it a point to seek out the very best local places to find these breakfast staples. I personally don’t like a lot of extra stuff on or in my pancakes: whipped cream, chocolate chips, strawberry sauce, ice cream, hot fudge – in my opinion they are just ways to mask a boring pancake. A really top-notch pancake should be able to stand on its own, maybe with some simple blueberries in the batter, and always with a little help from butter and real maple syrup.To find the best pancakes in the country, read on!
Just a half hour east of Memphis you’ll find the truly charming town of Collierville, Tennessee. A walk around its picturesque central square, and the myriad little shops and restaurants that surround it, will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to an innocent 1950s or 1960s sitcom back lot. Visiting earlier this month, with the square decked out in Christmas lights and decorations, I would have sworn I had been transported into a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie!
While visiting town, I met my dear friend, Daniel, for an amazing lunch at a small restaurant facing the square called Raven & Lily. Housed in a lovely brick building, the restaurant has a warm and inviting atmosphere, and as soon as I started to peruse the menu, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of items I wanted to try. One appetizer that caught my eye was roasted sweet potatoes with carrots, house bacon, onions & Danish blue cheese. But because this is the south and I love traditional southern dishes, I opted for the fried green tomatoes with a lemon caper remoulade, and a cup of a nicely spicy, hearty corn and shrimp chowder. It was a tough call, though because shrimp and grits and seafood mac ‘n’ cheese also called to me. My friend Daniel ordered an enormous fried chicken sandwich that was impossible to eat without the aid of a knife and fork given its enormous size. He said it was fantastic, as were my dishes.
I made sure to save room for dessert, which was yet another difficult decision. The menu included lemon curd and shortbread with berries, a brioche cinnamon roll with cinnamon ice cream, and a caramel-vanilla bread pudding. Oh the humanity! But I decided on the made-to-order dark chocolate souffle with vanilla anglais. I have had souffles in Paris itself, and this one held up against anything I’ve tasted there. It was a truly deep, dark chocolate, and knowing that Daniel is not really a “dessert person” (I love him despite this character flaw!), I thought it was safe to offer him a taste. His eyes sort of rolled back into his head in a way that made me think he was about to faint. I may make a dessert person out of him yet!
So, if you find yourself anywhere close to the Metro Memphis area, I’d urge you to make the effort to head out to Collierville for a calm respite from the city and an absolutely gourmet-quality meal at Raven & Lily. I know I will be returning; there are a whole lot of dishes yet to be sampled!
During an overnight stay in Dover, New Hampshire I was looking online for a good place to eat dinner, and my google search led me across the border to the town of South Berwick, Maine where I discovered an unassuming little restaurant called Fogarty’s. Immediately I liked the atmosphere of this casual, cheery place, but the impressive array of homemade desserts and baked goods that greeted me as I entered the restaurant “had me at hello.” Is it wrong to long for dessert when you have yet to eat dinner? Fogarty’s will do that to you.
One of my favorite meals at any time of the year is a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixin’s: stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, gravy. I spied a turkey dinner on the menu and ordered it. Little did I know it would be, to date, the only entrée I have ever ordered at Fogarty’s after at least a half dozen visits! When you find something this good, it’s hard to stray from it. I have eaten a lot of turkey dinners in my time, and I have visited countless restaurants, but never have I encountered a meal that is so beautifully well-prepared, generously portioned, and most importantly, so delicious. First off, the turkey itself is often my least favorite part of a turkey dinner, but not here. The turkey is tender, moist, and so satisfying that I often eat half of it before I even sample the side dishes. The turkey is accompanied by a huge portion of savory stuffing, the mashed potatoes are delicious and the butternut squash is seasoned perfectly… not too sweet, but just sweet enough. Everything tastes completely fresh and homemade. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go… judge for yourself!
Now keep in mind that Fogarty’s has an enormous and eclectic menu! You can get a Maine lobster roll and fries or other local seafood, like fried clams, scallops or Atlantic salmon. There are pasta dishes, beef, chicken and pork entrees, burgers, sandwiches and someday I sincerely intend to try some of them. I have made a little progress in that direction, recently trying their shrimp and corn chowder, a butternut squash and cranberry bisque, and a clam chowder that could win an award; it was almost the consistency of a stew given the huge amount of finely minced clams that far outnumbered the chopped potatoes it contained. But as far as the entrees are concerned, my heart still belongs to the turkey!
Fogarty’s also has an impressive array of homemade pies, and again, I have become a creature of habit, ordering their chocolate cream pie every time I visit. The chocolate pudding filling seems to be a darker chocolate than is typical, and is not too sweet. It’s sandwiched between an excellent pie crust and real whipped cream. I have also tried the strawberry cream pie in the summer, but while it was different and very good, I am still firmly caught in the gravitational pull of the chocolate cream, though I typically have to take it to go after devouring such a big meal.
If you are anywhere near Maine or New Hampshire’s popular seacoast areas, take a 15 minute detour north to Berwick and check out Fogarty’s. And if you try anything other than the turkey dinner, please let me know how it is!
The horror genre has never been a favorite of mine, and I typically avoid these types of TV shows or movies like the plague. However, about two years ago I happened to be curled up in a warm hotel room on a chilly New Year’s Eve, avoiding the crowds and the drinking and the sub-freezing temperatures. Flipping through the TV channels I stumbled upon a marathon of The Walking Dead on AMC.
This past weekend I attended the Western Psychological Association conference in Portland, Oregon. This conference happens every year and is held somewhere in the western states. Some years it’s in an exciting destination like Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Cancun, Mexico or Vancouver, Canada. Other years we find ourselves in such lackluster destinations as Sacramento, Reno or worse yet, Irvine or Burlingame, California. Therefore, my students, colleagues and I are always excited when the conference is held in Portland, and thankfully this is the 3rd time in the last 10 years that Portland was chosen as the site.
I love Portland, which bears the nickname Rose City because a banker back in the city’s history planted extensive rose gardens and invited residents to pluck a bloom for themselves and additionally, the climate is perfect for growing roses. Portland is a cosmopolitan city, but everything is on a small and manageable scale. Its streets are remarkably clean and tree-lined, and since there are very few major hills to climb, it’s a wonderful place for long, leisurely walks. Parks are adorned with beautiful flowering shrubs and flowers, babbling fountains, and statues of wildlife. The public transit system consisting of buses, streetcars and the sleek trains called MAX are quiet, comfortable and spotlessly clean; I wish I could say the same about BART, MAX’s cousin down in the San Francisco Bay Area! There is some of the west coast quirkiness in the population here, and unfortunately a very serious homelessness problem, but in general the people are mellow and polite, the downtown area amazingly quiet and manageable, and best of all, it is one of the great “foodie” capitals of the USA. On this visit I returned to several of my favorite places and got to sample some new ones as well. Thankfully, I walked everywhere, so the calories I put into my body did get burned off fairly well. At least I hope they did. I have not yet checked the scale.
Of course almost a day into my visit I realized that my camera battery was near death and I had stupidly forgotten to bring my battery charger, so if the quality of some of my photos isn’t up to speed, it’s because I was forced to rely on my horrible cell phone camera. I spent three nights in the city’s Pearl District, just north of downtown at a very comfortable and quiet Hampton Inn with a saltwater pool and a breakfast buffet featuring gourmet donuts from Sesame, one of the city’s infamous donut bakeries. Yes, given the focus on donuts in this town, I think a more apt name might be Donut City. The Pearl District is a formerly run-down area of warehouses that has been rejuvenated and is now home to galleries, boutiques, coffee houses and restaurants.
My first lunch with some of my students and colleagues was at Killer Burger, a very energetic place specializing in burgers and beer. While less adventurous folks balked at the idea, I had to order the restaurant’s signature PBPB Burger… the Peanut Butter, Pickle and Bacon Burger. Yes, the burger was topped with a thick layer of peanut butter sauce, dill pickles and bacon, and the mix of sweet and sour flavors, and smooth and crunchy textures was nothing short of spectacular; it was a “killer” burger indeed! And they serve “bottomless” and delicious fries as well.
For dinner with colleagues we hit Mamma Mia Trattoria, a cheerfully decorated Italian restaurant located in an historic building. Here the pasta carbonara called my name and I answered, savoring homemade linguine tossed with pancetta, onions, egg yolk, peas & parmigiana Reggiano cheese. It could have held its own against similar dishes I’ve had in Rome.
One day I ran off to the very eclectic Hawthorne District, across the Williamette River east of downtown. I paid a visit to the Waffle Window, which is literally a take away window selling all kinds of both sweet and savory waffles. Trying to pace myself, I got the half order of chicken and waffles and it did not disappoint.
But let’s talk donuts, shall we? There is Sesame Donuts that I mentioned earlier, and there is Coco’s, both very good and would shine in any metropolitan area. But this is Donut City. Almost anyone who’s been to Portland raves about the legendary Voodoo Donuts, which, while it is interesting and a good place to go if you crave a fat and sugar fix at 3AM (they are open 24 hours a day!), it has never impressed me. My impression is that they make pretty standard donuts that often strike me as a bit dry or stale and roll them in colorful candy and children’s cereal. Impressive to look at, but not my thing at all. My vote for the best donuts in town… or on this continent for that matter… is Blue Star Donuts. Totally opposite the Bohemian atmosphere of Voodoo, Blue Star is a classy, upscale place with exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. They feature about 20 varieties of donuts at any one time and most flavors come in either a traditional cake donut style or a fluffier brioche-like batter. Let your mind wander to flavors like Lemon Poppyseed, Spicy Strawberry (fresh strawberries and a hint of horseradish to give it a little zing), Raspberry-Rosemary Buttermilk or Blueberry Bourbon Basil. They even have a Crème Brulee version that looks like a real crème brulee with a hole in the center! But my personal favorite is called Passionfruit Cocoa Nib, which features a rich passionfruit frosting, tiny nibs of cocoa beans, and a hint of Cayenne pepper that leaves a sweet and spicy aftertaste that truly works. I would be in real trouble if I lived here.
For a large group dinner I got us a giant table at Mother’s Bistro, where homemade comfort food is served in generous portions for very reasonable prices. Many of my group ordered the special of the night, chicken fried steak with country gravy on a bed of mashed potatoes and collard greens. Other offerings include chicken and dumplings, gourmet mac and cheese, salmon appetizers, and everything is served with rolls and biscuits that taste like I remember them tasting in my childhood. And there should always be room for dessert. This time I shared a key lime cheesecake with my friend Bill, but their layer cakes and bread puddings vie for my attention. I went back a couple of days later for Sunday brunch with one of my students: salmon hash and blueberry pancakes made it worth getting out of bed on a rainy morning!
And perhaps one of the best eateries in the city is the Peruvian restaurant, Andina. I am not much of a drinker, but they make a cocktail here that may just be the best mixed drink I have ever tasted. It’s called Sacsayhuaman – or “Sacsay”, which our waiter pronounced sort of like “sexy.” It’s a beautiful concoction made with habanero pepper infused vodka mixed with pureed passionfruit and cane sugar, served with a sugar rim and cilantro leaf garnish. (Whoever thought up this passionfruit and pepper combination in cocktails and donuts deserves a medal!) I’ll bet you can’t drink just one…. none of us could. The food is equally impressive, and we feasted on appetizers like avocado stuffed with crabmeat, ahi tuna, ham and cheese stuffed peppers, followed by entrees of diver scallops, roast lamb, and paella. An interesting dessert was the lucuma ice cream, made from the national fruit of Peru. The waiter described the taste as something like vanilla and honey… or like a waffle. He was really pretty accurate about that and I loved every bite.
Before heading to the airport on my last day here I made a last visit to Blue Star. Another patron walked over to me and gave me a gift card. He’d used $7 of the $25 on the card and said he rarely comes to this part of the city, so he gave me the card to use! How sweet is that? Thanking him profusely I ordered yet another passionfruit and a spicy strawberry, and some coffee and then “passed it forward” by giving the remaining $12 card to the next people in line. What a nice last memory of Portland.
Alas, it was not quite my last memory. As I walked back to the hotel to get my luggage and head to the airport on MAX, a homeless woman across the street from me glared at me and started screaming, “Fat man! Fam Man! Get away from me you f”n Fat Man! You are fat and ugly! Don’t come near me! F you!” Oh well… the Lord giveth and he taketh away. I may be a little fatter after the last 4 days, but it was all worth it. I certainly hope that the United crew will not fat shame me and make me purchase a second seat on the plane home! But I sincerely hope I’ll get back to the city of roses and donuts for another visit long before the Western Psychological Association finds its way back to this charming city again.
I was born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, about an hour south of Boston and a half an hour east of Providence, Rhode Island. Although I left New England in 1980 for graduate school in Virginia and subsequently southern California, it is still “home” to me, and I make visits back there several times a year, with a cross country road trip every summer and every Christmas. Because I have made the trip so many times, I begin to feel like I’m already on home turf by the time I reach Pennsylvania, but crossing the border from New York into Connecticut, one of the six New England states, means I’m “home”.
After my first visit south of the Mason-Dixon line some 40 years ago, I joked that now I understood the reason that the South lost the Civil War. They were obviously too full from all their amazing foods to be able to fight at full effectiveness. Despite the fact that I was born a Yankee, I lived in Virginia for a couple of years and I’ve traveled through the southern states often. From the Carolinas to Texas, I find the people to be among the warmest, most welcoming and polite I’ve ever encountered.
“Get Your Kicks on Route 66” is a popular refrain from the 1946 song that was made famous by Nat King Cole and subsequently was recorded by dozens of other artists including Chuck Berry, Asleep at the Wheel, and Michael Martin Murphy. While vestiges of the old highway that wound “from Chicago to L.A.” still remain (notably in the California desert and various parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma), much of it has been replaced by Interstate 40. But don’t despair, you can get your kicks on any number of highways that crisscross the U.S. You just have to take that long dreamed about road trip!