Learning Curve

Trying new things can be either an exciting and rewarding learning experience, or fraught with anxiety if, like me, you hate to get it wrong.

I was raised by a “failure is not an option,” father. No learning curve allowed. I was expected to do everything right, right off the bat. Many parents, and some grandparents, mistakenly think that this attitude presses kids to do their best. But, pressure stifles a sense of wonder and experimentation, and diminishes the self-confidence necessary to try something repeatedly until you succeed. Often  these feelings carry forward into adulthood.

These days I’m adhering to a new school of thought, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

Fifty years later, after some therapy, and online access about how to do anything, PLUS a global pandemic… heck,  “Time is on My Side.”  I not buying into  “can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”  That’s just an excuse, not a fact.  I have been trying lots of new things, straying from the comfort zone of the things I know how to do well, and having quite a few interesting outcomes!

Heavenly Blue morning glories.

First, I planted morning glories, and they took forever to sprout. Like a good Jewish Mother, I checked on them daily encouraging them to grow babies, grow. Only three out of the six seedlings made it, but they are strong and happy.  I also planted a Shishito Pepper and some Thyme and Oregano in a big pot in the sun. I talk to them too, and they are all thriving! We ate my first handful of peppers sautéed with shrimp for dinner  the other night.

Oregano, Thyme, Shishitos

Then, I had an applesauce cake FAIL.  A familiar recipe, except that this time I used French flour that I ordered from Amazon. I’d  heard that people who react badly to American wheat are able to tolerate this better.  What I didn’t know is that without adjustments, it would come out so dense.  How dense was it, Donna?  It was as dense as an apple-scented fire log.

In it’s favor, it was beautiful.

After lots of research on why this happened, I learned that this type of flour (t45) is usually reserved for pastry and cookies.  It’s lower gluten creates much less sponginess, and the fineness of the flour  soaks up much more liquid than I could have imagined. The Gremlins won that round as I threw it in the trash.

Still a little bummed-out, I decided to try a new recipe for cornbread, since I’ve  been making the same cornbread for 40 years. Although the recipe is from a cookbook I’ve enjoyed many things from, their cornbread was a disgusting failure. No idea why… absolutely none at all. Into the trash it went, too.  Another win for the Gremlins.

Reluctant to waste any more hard-to-come-by ingredients,  and trying to bolster my sagging ego, I pulled out a tattered Ina Garten corn muffin recipe that I’d scribbled on an envelope and carried around for years, but never baked. They were unequivocally the  most delicious corn muffins I have ever eaten! They were perfect with a pot of chili for dinner,  and still perfect when split, buttered,  and toasted the next morning with my coffee.

Of course they’re delicious, they’re by Ina Garten!

Ina is one of two or three people on my “People I’d Love to Meet” list. When I was very ill years ago and couldn’t eat, could barely get off the couch, she was the bright spot in my day as I’d watch her cooking for her darling husband and friends. I would reminisce about my 25 years living on Long Island, too, and even driving around the beautiful town where she lives. I fantasized about being  invited to her house to chat with her as she cooked, and afterward, eating a beautifully prepared meal with her .

(If any of you have connections to Ina, and can arrange it, I’m game!)

So, without any further ado, here is the recipe that gave me so much delight this week:

Ina’s Corn Muffins

Mix 3C flour, 1 C sugar, 1 C cornmeal, 2TBSP baking powder, 1.5 tsp. salt in large bowl.
Whisk 2 sticks butter, melted and cooled, 2 XL eggs, and 1.5 C milk together. Add wet to dry. Don’t overmix the batter, quick and easy does it.
Scoop into 12 lined muffin cups, bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 mins. Halves easily for 6 muffins.


Nice Nicoise

My Tuna Nicoise

 

 

Our weather has been a roller-coaster here in central Texas. After record-breaking non-stop heat, I believe we had 45 consecutive days  of triple-digits, now we are in our normal fall pattern of hot-cold-hot.

One day it’s in the 60’s, the next it’s in 90’s. Two days ago I wore a sweatshirt, jeans and boots… this afternoon, I’m going over to the pool. We have a saying here, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute… it’ll change!”

We’ve passed the mid-way point of October, and although I couldn’t wait for the heat to end, (I was beginning to doubt that it would) now that I know with certainty that it will, I am savoring these last few days of summer.

It was too hot to cook one night, so I kept it simple by preparing a hearty Salade Nicoise.  (In case you haven’t head of it before, it is pronounced “ni – swaz,” meaning in the style of Nice.) I knew it was a town in France, but what I didn’t know was that it’s on The Riviera; famous for it’s perfect sunny climate, spectacular views, aqua water, and stunning beaches. Think Cannes! Monaco! Bond!

This salad makes perfect sense coming from a place where food is made from what is locally and seasonally available at their markets.

From Shutterstock.

 

I first had it years ago prepared with seared tuna atop crispy Romaine lettuce and veggies. I thought that was how it was supposed to be served.

After delving into it’s gastronomic history, I found out that ain’t necessarily so.

At it’s simplest and most traditional – it’s lettuce, green beans, beautiful black olives, capers, fresh anchovies and a dressing of virgin olive oil, vinegar, and fresh garlic, basil, salt & pepper. It usually accompanies fish or chicken. Just a salad.

Workers made it into a hearty lunch by adding boiled potatoes and a soft hard-boiled egg or two.

I sear either Ahi or Yellowtail tuna outdoors on the grill. Indoors, I do it with the vent-fan on in a very hot skillet, and it has “pride of place” on top of my salad. You can also use tinned tuna from Italy –  it’s very different from ours. Otherwise, just use good albacore tuna from your grocery store.

You needn’t get too hung-up on ingredients, use what fresh ingredients you have on hand and enjoy it!

Sometimes I will eat the potatoes, sometimes I choose not to – staying true to my Primal Lifestyle diet, which has really helped reduce auto-immune disorder aches and pains.

I have yet to add anchovies, but may buy some jarred ones and after rinsing and patting-dry, give them a try. Do you have a favorite meaty, not-too-salty, brand I can try?

Here is my favorite dressing, a simple vinaigrette from Martha Stewart:
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 TBL fresh lemon juice
3 TBLS wine vinegar
2TBLS Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 TBL fresh chopped basil
1 TBL fresh chopped parsley or dill

Whisk it all together. Let me know your thoughts, send in photos with a comment – I’d totally love that! And let’s enjoy these last few days of summer together, over a meal.

XO Donna 


Now We’re Cookin’

I don’t know whether my favorite room in our new house is the bathroom, or the kitchen – well, put that way, the kitchen wins –  but it’s been such a pleasure to take a long warm shower in such a roomy space. A luxury that I often took for granted before our RV life!

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I’m spending a lot of time in the kitchen baking – I love to bake, (in the 70’s and 80’s I baked all of my own breads) and I love having my tools and a big oven again! I want to share this GF Carrot Muffin recipe with you, not because it’s inherently healthy, or even healthier, but because it’s a darn delicious recipe. And it had me scratching my head, then laughing at my dense-ness, over the directions!

But, before I get to that, I want to chip in my two cents about GF cooking and the fact that going gluten-free isn’t healthier than eating gluten. Gluten isn’t some evil poisonous thing that’s been added to our food. Gluten is a protein found in flour, nothing more. It is this protein that grants things made with flour their elasticity, texture, rise, and exquisite flakiness. 2D676278-6ADA-48B8-947D-63F91A2274D8

Only a small percentage (1-2%) of the population are truly gluten intolerant (celiac disease) while 6% are gluten-sensitive and, like me, plain old allergic to wheat. We must avoid it to be well and healthy.

Switching to GF substitutes made of white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, etc. isn’t going to help if you’re switching  hoping to lose weight: pizza, even a GF one, is still pizza.

A cold-weather cozy: if you have access to Netflix, I highly, highly, highly recommend watching Michael Pollan’s fascinating four-part series, COOKED. The section entitled AIR is my fave… about bread.

If you want to make a healthy change, try switching to organic breads, and using organic flour for your baking. I personally use King Arthur products (and, no, I’m not being given anything for saying that) and they have a wonderful website and a good GF flour blend. I’ve worked out, and adapted, some great GF recipes… for when I want a treat. I’m happy to have them, but they are no comparison to wheat flour…  That said, this Carrot Muffin  recipe from The Minimalist Baker (nothing minimal about this recipe, the ingredient list is a mile long, but worth it) is pretty darn close!

After these muffins are baked, they must cool in the pan for a bit, then the directions tell you to, “turn muffins on their side in the pan.” I swear… I was stumped!  Do what? How?  Then I realized that she meant turn each muffin sideways in it’s space so air could circulate around the bottom. Like this: 6E2A9BF2-4150-4D15-8DF4-373F9E76EB3F

I couldn’t wait to eat one, but they must cool completely or half the muffin sticks to the paper! And, GF tends to taste better after it’s cooled, honest.  I store them for a couple of days in a big ziploc, then refrigerate or freeze. Let me know what you think!

XO Donna

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Here’s to Us!

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since Thanksgiving. It’s December 19th and we are in San Antonio, at one of our favorite RV parks. I hated to leave Austin with the holidays coming up… but San Antonio at Christmastime is something we looked forward to. Read More


The City of New Orleans

Life has been a whirlwind since my last post – we stopped in Austin for a couple days to handle some business, and it began to rain. (I’m sure you heard about the flooding here in Texas).

Lake Georgetown, TX

 

The lake we were camped beside rose dramatically overnight, and it was “colder than the dickens,” so we left and headed to Houston. Gratefully, they had space for us. It was warm, mostly sunny, and their pool was heated. It was fun, but we were so impatient to “laissez les bon temps rouler,” that we both woke at 5:00 a.m. the morning we left for New Orleans! 

 

 

 

The last time we drove through Louisiana, I-10 was in horrible condition. Looking for alternate routes, we followed the advice of another RVer, taking a road they said was better and more interesting. Ugh. It was even worse than I-10. But, it was more scenic!

We drove past endless fields of sugarcane, a crop neither of us had seen before. We drove over too many bridges to count, and sailed past a sea of cattails (another thing neither of us had ever seen).

 

 

French Quarter RV

 

Finally, we crossed the enormous Mississippi River, curved around the Superdome, made an incredibly narrow, and gut-wrenching, turn and arriving at our “securely fenced” RV park in the French Quarter – right beside the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans. I couldn’t wait to go explore!

 

 

 

Vessel NOLA

 

We were meeting friends for dinner that night at 7:00 pm, and I was tasked with finding a place. I chose a restaurant named Vessel, housed in a beautifully restored 1914 Lutheran church. The beams in the open-ceiling bring to mind an old ship, and bar reaches skyward in front of golden glass windows. The bottles residing on the  top shelves are reached via library-ladder. Classic cocktails are their specialty, with an emphasis on  the proper glass (vessel) and ice for each, and their food was delicious, fresh, beautifully presented, and affordably priced. Vessel lived up to all of our expectations!

 

 

Beignets (ben-yays) @ Cafe du Monde

Early the next morning I dragged my sweetie out into the streets to head to Café du Monde for beignets since he’d never had one. The walk was only 8 or 9 blocks, the sun was shining, and the St. Louis Cathedral Bells were chiming as we enjoyed our beignets and lattes. What a guilty pleasure!

We strolled for a while before heading “home.” We were meeting Mike and Patricia for a late jazz brunch in the Garden District at Commander’s Palace, an elegant old mansion that’s been operating since 1880. I appreciated that there was a dress code: no jeans or shorts, men needed a jacket. What a pleasure… everyone looked great and “acted right!” I’ve been thinking about their Ramos Gin Fizz every day since!

 

 

The mansions there were so grand, that the next day we hopped onto the streetcar and rode all the way through the incredible Garden District. However, the return trip was so claustrophobic, that thinking we were closer, I insisted we get off and walk home.

Garden District

It turned out to be a 2.2 mile walk! We missed lunch, but grabbed some lattes-to-go and hustled in order to meet our friends on time for cocktails at The Roosevelt Hotel, they were both looking forward to having a Sazerac, since it was invented there. Afterward we strolled down Canal Street to the Palace Café for a light supper. 

The day before we planned to leave, we met Mike at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, which includes the Museum of the American Cocktail. Leave it to Mike to find a place this interesting!  There was a lot to see, but not on an empty stomach. We enjoyed lunch, and a Prohibition Cocktail, in the adjacent restaurant, Toups South. (during Prohibition (1920 – 1933) bitters were created, and a “cocktail culture” was born in order to cover up the taste of wood alcohol and bathtub gin.)

 

SoFAB

After lunch we strolled the large open museum, seeing many items we remembered our parents, and grandparents using as we grew up.

There were also many items we knew nothing about. As we perused, we listened to a tour group in an open classroom. They came in for a private class on Absinthe, and every one had a glass of the pale green liquid in front of them… silver sugar-cube spoons (above) and all.

 

St. Louis 2

 

The day we were supposed to leave it was windy and raining hard in the morning, so we asked to stay an extra day. Luckily, the weather cleared, and we walked to Acme Oyster Bar for lunch (personally, I wouldn’t go again).

On the walk home we finally had both the time, and an unlocked gate, to stroll through the St. Louis 2 Cemetery. There are three Roman Catholic cemeteries, built in 1789, 1823, and 1854 respectively. The graves are above ground in New Orleans because of the high water table, and the fact that in places, New Orleans is below sea-level.

 

 

 

Many have nobody left to attend to them, and are in various stages  of disrepair, but a group is currently working to restore “abandoned tombs” in St. Louis 1 & 2.  It was beautiful, sad, and inspiring to think about the courage of these people who braved the journey, leaving so much behind them, to settle in a new territory so completely different and begin the process of that would create this unique and historical city. I loved New Orleans.

XO Donna





I’ve Been Everywhere

To me, learning new things is the best part of travel. I usually plan a trip down to the most minute detail… but this time, for the first time, I left room for lots of other things to happen, and great things did!

71BB1856-40BA-467F-906F-29C0B90230C0I couldn’t find an RV “resort” in Jackson, MS, but there was a state park on the route and the price was good, or should I say, cheap? As we drove deep into the park along swampy ponds, we both got a little nervous. Things were getting closer, smaller, more jungle-like… were we going to be able to fit? As we slowly, slowly snaked our way in, we began to wonder why we even wanted to.

“If I hear banjos, we’re outta here,” my sweetie mumbled.

Having already unhooked the truck, we decided to see the Capital and the State Supreme Court buildings. Then we drove to the Fondren Neighborhood where parts of the movie “The Help” was filmed. Being sure to return before dark, I got to see my first alligator. The realization that there were alligators in that lake made me almost faint!  I couldn’t wait to leave in the morning.

A572B947-758C-4CEC-929E-5E85B9FE0150We headed to Florence, AL, hoping to have work done on our coach. Since there was a five-week wait at the Tiffin factory, that didn’t happen, but we did get to tour a Frank Lloyd Wright house, which was very close to our RV park (above) on the banks of the spectacular Tennessee River. We’ve always wanted to see one. I loved it, he didn’t like the small rooms. But the exterior, wow!

8764E0B5-7F97-4470-9C24-1C568BA02A96From there we went to Nashville, TN, and what a revelation! While Austin, where we live, is supposed to be the “coolest” city around, I disagree. Nashville is everything Austin could have grown-up to be, if we’d had leadership with that kind of vision. There are so many ways to get around Nashville that traffic isn’t the horrific experience we are used to at home… everything moved easily here. 218F7482-7209-4203-9E39-C5963F01AD3C

Staying at a spectacular park SE of town on Percy Priest Lake, we had our first taste of autumn, and the pleasant surprise of running into friends we’d made back in Natchez! We were excited to sit in their sleek Airstream and visit with them again. EC1206ED-32F3-4378-80CA-9B6DB404C9F2

We’d planned to visit with our dear friend Juliet, also a motorcycle rider. She came out to the lake to see our “casa,” one afternoon, and then we met her in East Nashville, where she lives, for a fabulous Sunday brunch at Marche. Having also eaten at Biscuit Love, I contend that we had our two best meals of the trip in Nashville!

From Nashville, we originally planned to go to Chattanooga… but headed to Memphis instead. Everyone told us to see The Ducks at The Peabody Hotel, which we thought was kind of corny… but we planned a whole day around it: lunch at a bbq joint, then explore the town, planning to be at the hotel by 4:00 to have a cocktail and see the ducks perform.

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Lunch was good, more so for the people-watching than the old rooster I’d been served. Afterwards, my sweetie suggested going to “the museum” across the street to see why tour buses were bringing people there. We saw a sign… The Lorraine Motel. It rang a bell, but it wasn’t until we got closer that I realized why:

We were facing the balcony where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had stood and shared his dream. Where he had died. I felt my heart break all over again, and I stood and wept.

B0B5FBF1-9692-4E50-B668-96106BCB49B1The next day, we ate at Beauty Shop Lunch, in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. An actual beauty salon with dryers, booths, and sinks that is now a chic cafe, how could I NOT go there? Priscilla Presley used to get her hair done here!

Getting to see the ducks at the beautiful old Peabody Hotel, the riverfront along the Mississippi, with its trolleys, and the MLK Memorial Park I’m so glad we visited Memphis. And to think, we had originally planned to skip it!

Our final stop was Little Rock, AR, and the RV park is right downtown, on the beautiful Arkansas River. It’s nestled between two pedestrian bridges, and blocks from their trolley system. The closest bridge leads to The Clinton Presidential Library. 2AFDC78F-3D8B-4B9F-B80C-C84A984093B0

The riverfront is beautiful. The city is small, elegant, and there seemed to be lots of cultural things to do other than just bars and music. However, the very best thing, in our opinion, is the fact that the Clinton Pedestrian Bridge lights up each night! We saw LED lights on it during our walk, but were disappointed when it never lit-up before we went to bed. 50221EEA-36C3-422A-B39A-19571DC1D900

One sleepless night, I peeked out of our living-room shade and to my amazement, there was a light-show on the bridge! Even though it was 2:30 a.m. I woke my better-half up… we were both as excited as kids at Christmas. What a great finale for a wonderful trip!

XO Donna