Archive for the ‘Food & Drink’ Category

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary at the Big Sur

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

This post is somewhat at odds with the chronological order of recent entries, but I am the owner and editor of this blog, and therefore I can do what I damn well please.

In June my wife and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Not bad for two middle-aged divorcees. We spent part of our honeymoon at the Big Sur in California, and what better place to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Big Sur is situated on Highway 1 which is arguably the most picturesque drive in America. Moving onto our itinerary:

Friday: Flew to San Jose after surviving a grungy flight attendant. Rented a car and drove to Embassy Suites, Monterey. Had lunch at the Sand Bar Grill near the harbor where we enjoyed “she crab” soup.

Saturday: Visited the famous Cannery Row in Monterey which was a touch on the cheesy side. Fisherman’s Wharf was likewise. My wife had raved about the Monterey Aquarium, but it’s not a patch on the Atlanta Aquarium. Our first hour was relatively  quiet, but it wasn’t long before we were overrun by hordes of screaming kids.

Sunday: Drove to Big Sur, stopping on the way to undertake the 17 mile Pebble Beach Golf tour. I marveled at the golf courses and oceanic scenery the first time I did the tour, but it was a little underwhelming this time and dominated by too many tourists. Why do Orientals assume they can invade your personal space to take a photograph?

We finally arrived at the Deetjens Big Sur Inn which was to be our accommodation for our stay. In the early 1930s, Helmuth Deetjen, a Norwegian immigrant, purchased 120 acres of land in Castro Canyon and began building a homestead. Before Highway One was completed in 1937, Castro Canyon was a traditional stopover for travelers making their way along the coastal wagon road. The Deetjens welcomed overnight guests, and the Big Sur Inn was born. Over the years Deetjen built Norwegian-style rooms and gave each them a name: we stayed at the cosey Castro Cabin with no WI-FI, no cell phone service  and no TV or radio. It was surreal yet magical. All work was done by Deetjen and friends using locally milled , scavenged redwood.

The Inn exists today because, when Deetjen died in 1972, he left the Inn “to be forever enjoyed by transient guests wanting to experience the peace, friendship, and beauty of this place.” The Inn is a registered National Historic Site. We had dinner at Deetjen’s restaurant and enjoyed a fabulous steak.

Monday: had brunch at Nepenthe where the views from the terrace offer outstanding ocean vistas. Just down the road we visited the Henry Miller Library, author of “Tropic of Cancer.”

Tuesday: We made it to our 25th Anniversary. Drove to Gorda to enjoy all the magnificent scenery that Highway One had to offer. We had our Anniversary dinner at Deetjens, and I was so entranced by my beautiful bride, I can’t remember what I ordered. I know we each had a glass of champagne to celebrate, but it was all a blur after that.

Wednesday: we  decided to take the Big Sur Lighthouse Tour which proved to be very informative and entertaining. The contrast in temperature between the top of the hill where the lighthouse was perched and sea level was incredible. Lunch was partaken at the River Inn which served very tasty baby back ribs.

Thursday: no trip to the Big Sur is complete unless you visit Pfeiffer Big Sur Beach. The shape of the cliffs and archways eroded away by on rushing waves is spectacular. We enjoyed another drive along Highway One, and stopped to have a pleasant lunch at Lucia Bar and Grill. The Henry Miller Library whetted our appetite for a little more culture, and we attended the International Short Film Screening Event.  It was tantamount to stepping back to the Sixties. Hippies, the unwashed and pot smokers were in full attendance strewn around the outdoor theatre facility enjoying the ambience.

Friday: it was unfortunately back to reality as we bade farewell to Deetjens and the Big Sur, and drove to San Jose in readiness to fly home to Atlanta the following day. We walked around San Jose for a while before returning to our minimalist and sterile hotel.  It’s a very disappointing  city with little character to speak of save for a profusion of electric bikes attempting to maim or injure innocent pedestrians. Note to whom it may concern: electric bikes traveling as 15 miles an hour cannot safely share the sidewalk with pedestrians. To paraphrase Ron White: “You can’t fix stupid!!!”

Saturday: Homeward bound. A very enjoyable and memorable trip which enhanced our 25th Wedding Anniversary.

 

Christmas in Devon

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Two Thousand and Sixteen will probably be most remembered for the surprising BREXIT vote, TRUMP’s stunning victory over Hilary Clinton in the US Presidential Election,  WALES’ magnificent performance in reaching the semi-finals of the European Championships, and Britain’s  best ever haul of medals at the RIO OLYMPICS.

But for me, 2016, has a unique significance. I was able to spend Christmas Day with my son and daughter for the first time in 30 years. I also  had the valuable bonus of four grandchildren contributing to the celebration and entertainment. The reasons for the protracted absence are no longer important. Suffice to say that Christmas 2016 was that much sweeter being surrounded by nearest and dearest.

Before driving to Devon, my wife and I made a detour to Wales to visit old friends in my home town of Swansea, which sadly has taken a decidedly turn for the worse since I left over 20 years ago. Fortunately, the jewel in the crown, the Gower Peninsula has survived relatively unscathed, and Mumbles has an exciting new development on its seafront. We stopped for lunch at the Blue Anchor, a 14th Century  public house in the Vale of Glamorgan. The food, beer and atmosphere are second to none, and we were forced to drag ourselves away.

The following day,we made a nostalgic trip to the Joiner’s Arms in Bishopston on our way back from Gower. I didn’t realize it enjoyed its own brewery situated to the rear of the building, and the local brew is highly recommended. You won’t find the Joiner’s listed on any good pub guide, but it’s nostalgic because I escorted my wife there on her first visit to Wales over 26 years ago. They say nothing  changes, and that can be attributed to the landlord who remains a miserable old sod!!

Anyway I digress once again writing these posts. Leaving “Jacks” country we proceeded east towards the Principality’s capital, Cardiff which has evolved into a glamorous Cinderella at the expense of its nearest rival, Swansea relegated to the role of the ugly sisters. We stayed the night at my brother’s abode, and he made us a fabulous Welsh breakfast of lava bread,cockles, smoky bacon, and fried egg.

We were finally on the road to Devon, and a few hours later were the recipients of a wonderful welcome from two of my grandchildren. The next day we went to see the Christmas Pantomime in Paignton, featuring Cinderella and starring Aiden J. Harvey, Anita Harris (I thought she was dead) and Tom Owen, son of the late Bill Owen who was one of the original actors in “Last of the Summer Wine.”  You can keep your Aladdins, Jacks in the Beanstalk, Robinson Crusoes, Pusses in Boots (?) whatever; Cinderella is my favorite pantomime. “Oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is!”

Christmas Eve arrived, and so did my son with two more grandchildren. The day proved to be the calm before the storm in a delightful way. My wife prepared a delectable lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner and my daughter laid the foundations for Father Christmas’s arrival with four children hanging onto her every word. Surprisingly they went to bed without much fuss, but maybe they were gearing up for the arrival of Santa.

Christmas morning duly arrived, but an early stampede by the children didn’t materialize. In fact, they were very civilized as they calmly made their way down the stairs at 7.00am to be met by a cacophony of gifts that almost smothered the Christmas tree. They soon got to work on tearing the wrapping paper from the multitude of gifts that Father Christmas had delivered. One of the grandchildren exclaimed: “I saw a couple of Santa’s reindeers on the roof last night!”

It was not long before the kids were immersed in reams of wrapping paper; their eyes looked like saucers, wide open with anticipation,delight and amazement, moving swiftly from one gift to another like a plague of locusts devouring a crop. The two younger grandchildren were finally overwhelmed by the occasion and  sought refuge on the couches while the adults surveyed the carnage, but content with a job well done. My younger grandson quickly recovered, however, and ran around in an incredible hulk costume bashing anything and everything in his path.

The adults gratefully accepted bacon butties for breakfast as their reward for endeavors, and happy to take a time out before preparing Christmas lunch. My daughter took charge of the food prep and I was more or less banished from the kitchen. I did earn a recall later in the afternoon to make the turkey gravy, but was quickly asked to leave the dining area for the ladies to set the table. The turkey dinner proved to be a master piece although we could done with a gallon more gravy. I forgot the Brits love gravy much more than their Transatlantic cousins.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed the home made Christmas pudding and Christmas cake with marzipan and icing just the way my late mum used to make. Christmas lunch is not complete without crackers and we weren’t disappointed. I also managed to cram a couple of mince pies in there somewhere, and a  gorgeous pate  served for supper completed an excellent culinary day.

I don’t know about my fellow adults, but I do know  my grandchildren had a whale of a time, and I had an unforgettable and fabulous Christmas experience. Same again next year folks?

 

 

 

What Wine Club?

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

A few years ago, my wife and I became founder members of a local wine club which we helped to establish in our neighborhood. Initially there were five of us with the admirable intention of preparing dishes that we didn’t eat on a regular basis and pairing them with a selection of wines using the expertise of Elizabeth at our local wine store.

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The wine club gradually grew in numbers to eleven, and it was agreed that one of the four couples would host the dinner on a rotational basis approximately once a month give or take holidays and Christmas. The hosts provided the entrée, while another couple compiled a starter and someone else made a dessert. The last couple to join were ironically the first to bow out. The lady had readily admitted she didn’t like cooking, and had joined the club in the hope of stimulating some culinary interest. She appeared to be adjusting to a semblance of cooking sanity until she hosted a dinner comprising “spam casserole.” Naturally, the prime ingredient was spam but the overriding flavor was ketchup!! It was disgusting.

Some of the lady members voiced their contempt via e-mail, and the lady did the decent thing and fell on her sword, and quietly withdrew from the wine club. Now I’m not sure whether it was this incident that set off a chain of events, but the wine club and its original concept went rapidly downhill.

Four, possibly five of the members, gave up drinking wine for no apparent reason, or were reluctant to share with the group their reasons for sudden abstinence. Explanations and discussion on the choice of wines paired with the meals frittered away. One of the members casually announced that she could only eat items that were gluten free; quickly followed by her partner who  claimed she was lactose intolerant.

I believe the final straw for me arrived last week. It is our turn to host the dinner, and I have chosen to prepare Hungarian goulash with dumplings. Two reasons spring to mind:

  1. It is simple to prepare for a group, but also delicious.
  2. It is good winter fayre.

What could possibly go wrong? It wasn’t long before an email  arrived from one of the lady members, enquiring whether goulash contained red meat. Is there a goulash which doesn’t use red meat? The lady was quickly informed and she claimed that she hadn’t eaten red meat in over  a year. She was magnanimous in insisting we do not change the menu which I have no intention of doing anyway.

obamawelshdragon

Some things in life run their course: TV series, relationships, hobbies and even wine club dinners. So, as far as I’m concerned this could be my swan song. Bon appetite and yachi da.

 

Asheville, Hush Puppies and Meltdown

Monday, July 4th, 2016

 

We spent a pleasant weekend in early April in Asheville, South Carolina which coincided with the weekend of the Masters, but more of that later. We reserved a two night stay at the Engardine Inn situated on the outskirts of Asheville. The owners had done a terrific job in restoration. Built in 1885, it was oozing in charm and nostalgia from a bygone age, accompanied by creaking doors, creaking floors and a creaking bed. Well, my joints have a tendency to creak these days so I fitted right in.

We arrived a day early in Asheville and we booked into the Downtown Inn situated at the heart of Asheville. What do they say about valuable property? Location, location, location………. and it was convenient for the bars and restaurants that Asheville had to offer. But why did I come away with the inert impression I had spent the night at an army barracks complete with a drill sergeant on reception?

Members of our family and well intentioned friends had recommended we visit the Biltmore House and Estate and the Grove Park Inn during our visit. Biltmore Estate is a large (8,000 acre) private estate and tourist attraction in Asheville. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, is a Chateauesque-styled mansion built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet  of floor space (135,280 square feet  of living area). Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, it stands today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age.

Admission was $65 each which I thought was rather pricey. The audio tour is an extra $20 and a “behind the scenes tour” is another $20 which is extortionate. We breezed through the house and headed for the extensive landscaped gardens. This was far from the madding crowds and much more relaxing.

Darwin Hybrid Tulip varieties were blooming in the Walled Garden and Estate Entry. Other blooms at this time of the year included early flowering shrubs and trees, forsythia, spirea, magnolia, and flowering cherries. We ended the day with some wine tasting and purchased a few bottles to take home.

We were also advised not to miss out on the Grove Park Inn, which is an historic resort hotel built in 1913 on the western-facing slope of Sunset Mountain within the Blue Ridge Mountains. The hotel is an example of the Arts and Crafts style of architecture. I have never heard of that type of architecture before, but no matter.

The hotel was built of rough granite stones and the expansive lobby is noted for its enormous granite fireplaces and expansive porch with its scenic overlook. It was advertised as having “walls five feet thick of granite boulders.” Unfortunately, two monolithic rear wings were added in  1958 and 1963 (the wonderful era of architecture) respectively which destroy the scale and character of the original building. But hey, money is money.

It was Sunday, the last day of the Masters, and we had returned from a long but enjoyable day of sighseeing, eating and drinking. I switched on the TV and Jordan Spieth was leading the tournament by 5 shots entering the 12th tee. In the blink of an eye he managed to score a 7 on the  Par 3 hole, and the tournament slipped through his fingers and won by a little known Englishman, Danny Willett who commendably shot a 67 in the last round. So much for the much vaunted new “Big Three,” Spieth, Day and McIlroy.

We didn’t feel like driving back into Asheville for dinner, so we found a “hole-in-the-wall” barbecue joint, called Frankie’s, bought a takeaway, and returned to the guest house where we feasted on ribs, pulled pork and grilled chicken washed down with a bottle of Malbec; serenely  sitting outside on the balcony of the guest house watching the world go by in the cool of the evening. As we pulled out of Frankie’s 10 minutes earlier, the cashier came tearing out the front door screaming: “Hey stop; y’all forgotten your hush puppies!!!!”

On the way home, we made a detour to Dupont Falls. I’ve seen more dramatic waterfalls, but these have gained notoriety as they were used as a location in the “Hunger Games” movies. I haven’t seen them either, but my wife is a great fan.

 

 

A Wine Club Dinner in a Mailbox.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

I have just returned from visiting my children and grand children in the UK. I missed some of the food over there and I took advantage of having kippers for breakfast (only once,) a splendid carvery  at a bargain price in Totnes, and  a liver and bacon casserole in The Old Inn, Widdicombe, Dartmoor. For my last night I plumped for a whole plaice (bones et al) which while very tasty tested my dexterity at maneuvering around the umpteen bones.

I didn’t realize that my stomach would react so ferociously to British culinary delights which I happily grew up with. Possibly it’s the march of time that’s taken its toll on my digestive system because it is 18 years since I emigrated to the USA. I was looking forward to making a Madras curry when I arrived home which may sound like a misnomer, but I’ve been eating curries from the age of 21. Swansea is regarded as the curry capital of the world, and there must be at least 60 Indian restaurants in the Swansea area. It may have something to do with the water or the  Welsh and Indian accents being very similar.

We hadn’t been home but for a few days when we were on our way to the bi-monthly wine club dinner. We enjoyed a baker’s dozen (13) in the club until one couple decided they could not cope with the various international cuisines that members were inspired to make. Their unique contribution to the menu was a spam casserole which consisted of two ingredients: spam and ketchup. The writing was on the wall when a few members complained of feeling very nauseas the next day.

We were back on an even keel, and the forthcoming dinner was of the Thai variety which I like very much.  The wine club is confined to our neighborhood so the drive isn’t a long one. Unfortunately the driveway to our hosts’ house is very steep and winding. To those familiar with Swansea it was tantamount to driving to the top of Kilvey Hill. For our international travelers, it favored the famous” zig-zag” Lombard Street  in San Francisco. Half way up the driveway one would encounter a formidable tree which would play an active role in later proceedings. Despite my pleadings my wife insisted we parked the car at the top of the drive near the front door. Heaven forbid we derive exercise climbing the steep gradient.

It is an eclectic group of people, but for some odd reason four of the eleven no longer drink wine. It was a mildly enjoyable evening and light hearted conversation filled the air. The food and wine were very palatable and members had made an effort with their pairings. What on earth do you pair with spam casserole you may well ask, rot gut?

Our evenings don’t go gently into the darkest night. They are usually over by 9.30pm when members begin to drift away. I don’t drive very well in the dark, but my wife didn’t relish reversing her car down the driveway and suggested one of the hostesses undertake the task for us.

At this point my male ego went into overdrive and I practically screamed out: “I’m a professional driver (which I am since I work part-time as a driver,) and I’m taking this baby down.” All well and good when you haven’t imbibed in copious amounts of wine particularly when you are making up a shortfall of 4 members.

I gave the impending obstacle a once over and discerned there were two bends to negotiate one of which was adjacent to the formidable tree. Very slowly and carefully I backed down the driveway cognizant of the formidable tree. It seemed like an eternity, but I miraculously reversed around the bends and mercifully avoided the tree. I was home and dry save for  a harmless little curve  egressing onto the highway which I failed to notice.

I triumphantly backed straight onto what I deduced as the highway and suddenly heard a sickening crunch. I immediately braked and pulled forward with the attention of  heading for home and sanctuary. Then I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed the hostesses’ mail box lying prostrate on the ground. (For non-Americans  most houses have a free standing mail box situated on the road frontage. It comprises a wooden post approximately 4-5 feet high and a metal mail box sits on top of it.) I thought no problem; lean it back up and away to go. Unfortunately the post had snapped in two (hence the crunch,) and the box was badly dented.

I tried pushing the top half of the post into the ground, but it stood only 3 feet tall; good enough perhaps for a hobbit but unacceptable for the US Mail Service. Following a series of groveling apologies, we gave the bemused hostesses a cheque for $60 to pay for a suitable replacement, and my assurance not to interfere with reconstruction. My wife’s car, which is a sturdy Crown Victoria, was unscathed with barely a scratch.

Moral of the story……take a taxi. It’s cheaper!!!!

 

 

Granny and Grampa Grabbed by the Fuzz

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Not too long ago my wife and I decided to spend a day watching the Air Show at Peachtree DeKalb Airport in Atlanta. It’s a relatively short car ride from home, so we packed a cooler with a few beers, sandwiches and bottles of water to stave off dehydration in the midday sun.

We paid the $10 parking fee and meandered towards the spectator area which was festooned with temporary stalls selling cheap knick knacks of the variety that had some loose connection with aviation. Little children were clamoring to have their names metallically stamped on World War 2 style dog tags. Their brothers or sisters were tottering around carrying a ball of candy floss perilously balanced on a fragile looking stick.

I pulled the cooler behind me  that housed our precious provisions while trying desperately to catch up with my wife who was carrying the folding chairs and other miscellaneous items required to establish a base camp. She was fiendishly scanning the spectator area in an attempt to locate the optimum spot from which to view the forthcoming air show.

We settled for an uncompromising spot on a piece of warm tarmac surrounded by young families where dental braces appeared to be the fashion statement of the day. We made ourselves as comfortable as possible, and prepared to break open a couple of beers to begin the day in a civilized fashion.

However, my wife looked around the increasing throng of humanity, and acutely observed that nobody was drinking beverages of an alcoholic nature. She did a reconnaissance mission of the area, and spoke to a lady hosting the local radio station’s stall.

She duly returned to our vantage point, and reported there were no signs barring the consumption of alcohol. The local radio station lady said several other people had asked her whether alcohol was allowed, but she didn’t know. She gave my wife a couple of Styrofoam cups which she suggested would be less conspicuous than bottles of beer.

My wife duly poured the beer into our cups, broke out the sandwiches and crisps, and we laid back in our folding chairs ready to be entertained by those magnificent men in their flying machines.

Thirty minutes had elapsed and we had been  overawed by the breath taking skills of pilots executing death defying acrobatics in a variety of single wing aircraft and bi-planes. I was just about to take another sip of my beer when we were unceremoniously surrounded by four burly cops armed to the teeth with pistols, jack boots and walkie talkies. I’m being kind when I described them as burly. They were indeed fat to the point where they were bursting out of their uniforms, and I can understand the analogy of comparing  police to pigs when I’m subjected to their uncivilized behavior.

My wife and I were trapped in our low lying folding chairs looking up at our invaders. The one with the stripes snorted: “Is that beer in your cups?’ “Huh yes…” I replied. “Do you have more beer in that cooler?” Now if I wanted to be a smart ass and spend the rest of the day in jail I would have replied: “Yes; would you like one?” But my better half  courteously replied: “Yes, but there are no signs prohibiting the consumption of alcohol.”

One of the other invaders pompously said: “It’s a County Ordnance which prohibits the consumption of alcohol in public events of this nature.” Another smart ass comment came to mind (Sorry Officer, I left my dog eared copy of the  County Ordnances in the back pocket of my speedos which are hanging up to dry at home.) I was holding the cup to my mouth  as an act of defiance when PC Plod ordered us to toss the beer out of the cups (not on the floor,) take the cooler back to our car, and as he was in a benevolent mood, we may be allowed to return providing we wagged our tails between our legs.

She who must be obeyed does not like confrontations, and apologized for our misdemeanor while I wisely kept my mouth shut, but could not prevent steam emanating from my ears. PC Plod further informed us that they had received a complaint from one of our fellow spectators who maintained they could smell alcohol over the overwhelming fumes of jet fuel. Again it was not the time or place to point out to the officer the absurdity of his statement.

We packed up our belongings like good citizens, and headed for the friendly confines of the 57th Fighter Squadron, a local hostelry situated on the edge of the airport. We were able to watch the remainder of the Air Show drinking capricious amounts of wine and beer without further interference from the local constabulary. We had contemplated setting up camp there earlier, but decided we would have a better view from within the airport. We live and learn don’t we?

Postscript: Following our outrageous treatment at the hands of over officious lawmen, we bought a canoe which we intend to take out on a lake far from prying eyes where we can drink our beer in peace. Watch out for frogmen bearing handcuffs.

A Trip for the Ages when Bunny Foo Foo went AWOL

Monday, April 14th, 2014

I thought this was a good topic for a blog, but I’m not sure whether I should it present is as a travel log or reminiscences from times gone by. I’ve decided to ramble and see where it takes me.

I recently spent a delightful two weeks back home in the UK and for once the weather gods were very kind to me. I often tell my American friends that you rarely witness a cloudless blue sky in the British Isles, but those weather gods were determined to make me a liar. Pennard Golf Club had never looked more spectacular. The fairways were shimmering under an early spring radiant blue sky with not a breath of wind to disturb the circling seagulls or meandering sheep. I can’t imagine another golf hole like the seventh where you tee off facing the ocean 200 feet below a magnificent cliff top. On the right hand side of the fairway lays the ruins of Pennard Castle which dates back to the 12th Century and is sufficient to blow the mind of an American golfer seeking to play true links golf.

Meanwhile I popped into the Gower Golf Club a few miles down the road. When I was town planner I had a hand in recommending that a local farmer convert his dairy farm into a golf course. The gruff but affable owner Mr. Jenkins came to see me in the planning department, and told me in no uncertain terms that “the bottom had dropped out” of dairy farming and the Ministry of Agriculture had advised him to contact his local planning department for ideas on alternative uses for his land.

He initially scoffed at my idea of a golf course, but within a week he returned to the office and admitted it had possibilities, and lo and behold within eighteen months the concept was a reality. I never thought for one moment that a dairy farmer with no experience of golf would obtain planning permission, hire a respected golf architect, Donald Steel, to design a golf layout from his cow pastures, and make a success of it. Sadly Mr. Jenkins passed away a few years ago, but the golf club continues to thrive in the hands of his son and daughter.

Food played a prominent part in my trip. I stayed at my brother’s in Cardiff for two nights and he kindly prepared two delightful Welsh breakfasts of lava bread, cockles, bacon and eggs. Superb cuisine! A few days later I had dinner with some old friends of mine in the King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston, Gower. I was determined to continue the Welsh theme and ordered trout in a cockle sauce. It was truly exquisite ably supported by a roaring log fire in a convivial pub atmosphere and washed down with a pint of Reverend James.

In the second week of my journey I left the friendly confines of Wales and traveled over the border into England to visit with my son, daughter, their respective partners, and my dear grandchildren. My son lives near to a couple restaurants, Italian and Indian, and the Italian is particularly good. I have visited the Indian a couple of times now, but the jury is still out. Having dined out on the plethora of Indian restaurants in my home town of Swansea since the age of 23, I can be highly critical of Indian restaurants.

When in Rome do as the Romans do; when in Britain eat fish and chips. The Rockfish in Dartmouth is a tad more than a fish and chips shop. It can justifiably be called a seafood restaurant. We ordered monkfish, lemon sole and the traditional cod; all of which were delicious. We had the choice of breaded or batter on our fish and everyone was delighted with their meal. Oh, and the chips were crispy and dry. My favorite chip and shop was Covelli’s in Mumbles, but I received the shocking news that they had closed their doors. The Rockfish is now firmly ensconced as my number one location for fish and chips.

There were other culinary moments along the way. Rossi’s opposite the Liberty Stadium in Swansea has a good reputation for fish and chips and I chose plaice which I found to be a little greasy. I popped into the King’s Head in Treboeth the previous day for lunch which was and old stamping ground of my dad’s, and chose the bangers and mash which unfortunately was served with congealed gravy. Enough said! I had dinner with my brother and niece (who I hadn’t seen in 16 years) in the Traveller’s Rest on Caerphilly Mountain. I can’t remember what I ordered, but it tasted good.

Another fine tradition peculiar to the British is the Sunday roast lunch and carvery served in countless establishments around the country. My daughter took us to Ye Olde Smokey House, a 17th Century pub just outside Paignton and the roast beef, rich gravy and wine were exquisite. My American wife has grown accustomed over the years to a carvery and was a little disappointed with her Yorkshire pudding. Well there’s no pleasing some people.

Another goal of my trip was to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen for many years. I stayed a couple of nights with Rob and Anne and I don’t believe I have been so well looked after since my mum passed away. Rob was supposed to join my friend Paul and I for a round of golf at Royal Porthcawl but pulled out with car trouble. My brother also declined the invitation but generously loaned me his clubs. Royal Porthcawl is one of the best link courses in the British Isles and looked idyllic bathed in sunshine early in March. The Senior British Open is being held there in July which confirms its status as one of the prestigious golf courses in the country.

Following a couple pints and a sandwich in the quaint clubhouse, Paul and I made a mad dash for the Blue Anchor in Aberthaw which is a thatched roof 14th Century hostelry in the Vale of Glamorgan. The building suffered a serious fire nearly 10 years but they did an excellent job in remodeling it losing nothing of its original ambience. My last port of call on the old friend’s front was reuniting with Sam who I hadn’t seen since I emigrated in 1996. We met in the New Inn in Penllargaer and he gave me a great big bear hug. He hadn’t changed a bit which is more than can be said for me!

 

 

 

Hell on Wheels

Monday, October 14th, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I visited England to see my two new grandchildren, Alice and Alex. They live 170 miles apart and I was forced to rent a car to simplify my mode of travel. Little did I realize I would be at the mercy of BMWs, Mercs and Audis. What is it with the drivers that own these models? They do believe they own the road and woe betide the discerning driver that gets in their way.

I know there are 3 lanes on a motorway and the middle lane is earmarked for overtaking, but I see little point in staying within the inside lane where you have to continually negotiate slower traffic merging onto or exiting the motorway. The speed limit is 70mph which I hovered around on every trip, but the aforementioned models regularly zoomed past me in the outside lane breaking the sound barrier in the process, and totally oblivious of a succession of speed cameras which buzzed my GPS System every five minutes.

I don’t usually suffer from road rage when I drive on Atlanta roads although there is sufficient reason to do so. I guess the possibility of another driver packing a gun is a sobering deterrent and rage is restricted to the gnashing of teeth and turning the air blue which are safer option.  But having drivers up one backside and then swerving violently around you as frequently occurred on the motorway is not my idea of fun.

I was accompanying my wife on a business trip and we stayed at the Radisson Blue which is a charming hotel (if you can find it within the spaghetti road network) in the heart of Guildford on the outskirts of London. I should advise you Guildford’s heart is slowly having the blood squeezed from it like pips from lemon by the myriad of roads that attempt to slither their way through the town center.

Woe betide the motorist new to the area (me for example) that does not place himself in the correct lane for egress and regress. Be warned however. If you are lucky enough to negotiate your way through the Guildford triangle a plethora of roundabouts lie in wait on the way to your destination. Little wonder there are so many pubs in England. Surviving a road trip from A and B calls for a drink or three to calm the shattered nerves.

My son navigated us to Farnham which is a delightful historic town full of nooks and crannies where mercifully one can escape the highways and boy racers. Cobbled streets, narrow lanes and archways allow the pedestrian safe haven from the automobile providing you don’t sprain your ankle on the uneven terrain.

A 170 mile road trip from Guildford to Paignton, Devon comprised 6 hours on a Friday afternoon. Most of the time was taken up by sheer volume of traffic leaving the urban sprawl for a weekend at the English Riviera (Torquay and Paignton for the uninitiated.) Every cloud has a silver lining, and we had the opportunity of visiting Agatha Christie’s former summer house “Greenway” which is now owned by the National Trust. All the rooms are decorated in the 1950s style and have enough artifacts to sink the Titanic again.

Notwithstanding the antics of the obnoxious British motorist the trip was a great success. My wife met her new boss for the first time, my children and grandchildren are healthy and happy, and were not too displeased to see me. I also hooked up with an old friend in Castlecombe which is a picturesque village in the splendid Cotswolds. We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch of haddock and thrice-baked chips at the quaint Salutation Inn which is highly recommended on Trip Advisor. Go and check it out.

 

Gone Fishing with J R Hartley and Crew

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

I had never done any fishing which is surprising when you consider I lived three quarters of my life living near the coast. I once tossed half a loaf on the end of a bamboo and string into the lake in Brynmill Park when I was a kid, but that merely terrorized the duck population.

So when one of my work associates, Joe, suggested a weekend fishing trip to Panama City Beach, Florida, I signed up immediately. Joe owns a bungalow (I can’t remember what Americans would call it) approximately 600 feet from the water’s edge, so accommodation was taken care of.

Terry, Max, and young George (he’s 47 and compared to the rest of the motley crew he’s a whipper snapper) are also work associates and comprised the rest of the group. Terry, the master angler, was already down in Panama City Beach with his wife and family and we would join him on the pier at some appropriate time.

Max and George are professional musicians and were committed to Friday night gigs. They would hook up with us sometime late Saturday morning. Joe and I drove down together on Friday morning to set up base camp.  Panama City Beach is a 51/2 hour road trip from Atlanta and following a prolonged delay in Phenix City looking for a Chick-filc-a, we arrived at Camp Joe around 1.00pm.

Joe gave me a tour of Panama City Beach which has developed rapidly in the last 5 years and now resembles South Beach, Miami. Surprisingly for mid-April it was rather cold and rainy and we elected to have dinner at Hunts Oyster Bar, Panama City. This is a genuine” hole in the wall” establishment; no frills but hundreds of fresh oysters shucked by bar tenders in front of your very eyes. The place was packed to the rafters and following an hour’s wait we were seated at the bar. Joe consumed two dozen oysters without blinking, but he was no competition for the young lady sitting next to him who demolished four dozen.

My stomach prefers to repel oysters and I settled for the day’s special; Grouper Throats. They don’t sound very appealing, but they were quite tender and palatable. Following a sizeable portion of Hunt’s unique atmosphere and quirky characters we returned to Base Camp for a good night’s sleep.

Max arrived next morning around 11.00am and we made the short journey to the pier to hook up with Terry. The pier is 1500 feet long, but before we had time to catch our breath Terry thrust a rod into my hand and I was a virgin angler no more. Call it beginner’s luck but I caught three Spanish mackerel; the biggest weighing in at 21/2 lbs.

The pier resembled a battlefield with the blood and guts of caught fish spewed onto the floor because of hooks catching the fish unceremoniously and fishermen gutted and cleaned the fish before depositing them in their coolers.

We returned to Camp Joe and George had finally turned up by mid-afternoon. Our fishing expedition was rewarded by the arrival of cocktail hour. Joe and Max attempted to introduce their friends Ezra Brooks and Evan Williams to me but I politely declined and was content to sip on a glass of cool chardonnay.

George was the anointed designated driver and drove us to the local Winn Dixie to buy provisions to accompany the fish we were grilling for the evening meal. Joe and George flirted with every female in the store; young and old, thin or fat; it didn’t really matter. Meanwhile I stayed with the task at hand and unceremoniously shucked my corn much to the dismay of my cohorts who claimed I was making “one hell of a mess!” in the grocery section.

We returned to base camp and in the role of self-appointed chef I grilled the Spanish mackerel with a bunch of vegetables. We each chose our own particular beverage to accompany the meal and everyone appeared satisfied the food. Surprisingly the grilled corn was a huge hit with everyone.

The next day I couldn’t wait to return to the pier to continue my quest for fish. Unfortunately reality hit me right between the eyes and I didn’t catch another thing for the remainder of the trip despite the exertions and encouragement from master angler Terry.

We spent another raucous evening at Base Camp swopping stories about the one that got away. As the alcohol flowed I wasn’t quite sure whether we were talking about fish or women. We all agreed the trip had been a huge success and we enjoyed each other’s company. So much so that the next fishing trip is in the planning stage for October; destination Gulf Shores, Mobile, Alabama courtesy of Max.

New Year’s Eve in Savannah

Monday, January 7th, 2013

I love Christmas, the festivities, celebrating a special birth, the exchange of gifts, buying and cooking the turkey, watching and shedding a tear over “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the whole nine yards. Unfortunately I hate New Year’s Eve with a passion. I just regard it as the passing of another year of my allotted three score and twenty and I don’t appear to have many left. My wife, however, loves New Years Eve and wants to go out and party.

 I would prefer to go to bed around 11.00pm and rise the next morning in the realization that the calendar is indicating a new year. But you want to keep the missus happy and I reluctantly go along for the ride. So this year we decided to park the bus in Savannah and soak up the atmosphere in one of America’s most historic cities.

Memorable Moments:

  1. Reconnecting with the historic squares; dripping in Spanish moss from imposing oak trees; oozing with charm and history.
  2. Bloody Mary in Tubby’s on the Riverfront
  3. Impromptu acapello singing in The Pink House
  4. Watching fireworks across the river from the roof of our hotel on the stroke of midnight.
  5. Live music in the City Market on New Year’s Eve
  6. Good meal, good service, good company at the Boar’s Head on Sunday the day before New Year’s Eve.
  7. Harry O’Donohue performing a raucous version of “Living Next Door to Alice” in Kevin Barry’s Irish Bar.
  8. Spotting an alligator basking in the winter sunshine along the 15th fairway at Crosswinds Golf Club.
  9. Wine tasting in City Market. Meinhardt wines were not my favorite, but the owner who was a dead ringer for Brian Dennehy was entertaining.

Not so memorable Moments:

  1. Paying $32 for a mediocre steak at The Pink House that I could have bought in a Waffle House for $7.99. A diffident waitress didn’t help matters.
  2. Playing golf on a somewhat bland layout at Crosswinds Golf Club that unforgivably allowed a five ball group to play ahead of us.
  3. Some of the seafood on the Riverfront left a lot to be desired.
  4. Leopold’s ice-cream which was completely overrated compared to Joe’s Ice-Cream in Swansea, Wales
  5. Being head-butted (accidently but still painful) by a drunken brunette in the City Market in the early hours of 2013.
  6. Being asked to move tables in an alfresco café by a despicable little character wearing a bandana called Will Jones. He tried to bribe us with two glasses of wine when a bottle would have been the clincher.

Based on a count back, the memorable moments outweigh the not so memorable, so spending New Year’s Eve in Savannah was relatively successful. Without further ado I would like to wish my reader (Freudian slip) a happy and healthy new year.