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Monday, June 29, 2009


I hope you've been following the trail of the crickets sent to me by Andrew Zimmern, star of the Travel Channel's incredible show, Bizarre Foods. Alas, the edible crickets, in salt & vinegar and bacon & cheese flavors, are gone. I took the remaining ones with me to Texas where four more intrepid souls tasted them. View their reactions. The first is a video featuring Noah, Meghan, and Michael.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Eating Crickets
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This second video is Andy's review.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Andy's Cricket Review
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At Meghan's urging, we headed to Salado, Texas for the perfect day-trip. This little town, once a stop on the Chisholm Trail and part of the Butterfield Stage Line, was historically a favorite camping place for the Tonkawa Indians. For someone like me, these facts bring enough romance to encourage a trip to see the town. Factor in the belief that Salado Creek had curative powers, and Salado becomes a must see.

Even Salado’s history is interesting. The early families settling Salado in the early 1850s were people of education and refinement who felt their town needed to provide opportunities for their children. By 1859, lands were donated for a town and a college. Unique was the feeling that equal education for males and females be assured. The college prospered for a while earning a reputation for the level of education it offered.

To keep the sense of refinement the citizens demanded, Salado also became a “total abstinence” town. Here’s a great local legend surrounding that designation.

Bell County in which Salado is located went “wet,” and within no time at all, a saloon keeper rode into town with his wagon filled with evil temptation. The town fathers pleaded, but to no avail. The saloon opened, and men—young and old—could not resist. Salado’s women were determined to find a way to bring their men back to the straight and narrow righteous path.

Six women who met weekly in a Mother's Prayer Meeting began sitting in shifts in front of the saloon. They sat during the entire time the saloon was open. Neither man nor boy ventured near, and within a short time, the saloon keeper re-loaded his wagon and high-tailed it out of town. He set up a saloon in a neighboring and more welcoming setting, and ironically named his new venture The Salado. Believe it or not, even today there are no bars in Salado. One must drink at a private club or in a hotel. So much for sin.

As we enter Salado today, we are greeted by banners proclaiming Salado: Artfully Yours, and it is evident that the town takes its appellation seriously. In the Visitor Center, Rob and I and buy a cd tour produced by the Historical Society. The tour gives us a wonderful opportunity to learn of the town's history as well as to see some of the preserved buildings and landmarks.

We begin along Main Street which has a multitude of interesting shops featuring everything from antiques to contemporary western gear, artists' galleries, and historic building converted to offices museums, inns and B&Bs. The town is charming, but as the tour winds into the areas beyond Main St., an even more charming world opens before us.

Many of Salado’s early settlers built homes in the Greek Revival style, and they still exist. Many have been converted to B&Bs, and visitors surely can find a beautiful place to stay. Other homes, though private residences, have been beautifully maintained, and while visitors cannot enter, the homes and their histories are included on the tour.

One of the most picturesque homes is the 1860 home of Rev. G.W Baines, the great-grandfather of Pres. Lyndon Baines Johnson. As I stood on the opposite side of the street to take photos, a car came to a stop so I could finish, and the driver smiled and waved as she then made her way past. This is Texas friendliness, and please don't be skeptical—it happened on another day outside the Fall Creek Winery.

A site that really tweaked my imagination was the Silver Spur Theater. It operates on Friday and Saturday nights, and it advertises shows, music, and vaudeville for private and public events. Featured this season are Steel Magnolias, If You Build It, They Will Laugh (A Vaudevillian look at building things, featuring our trademark blend of live variety acts and classic cinema), and Boom Town or The Sinister Slickster's Fuelish Frame-up. I'd love to be able to come back to see the latter two. It’s a grand building from the outside.

I am an avid believer in Small Town America. I live in one, and I love to visit other towns that exemplify my personal definitions. I loved spending time in Salado and experiencing its valuable culture. The citizens work hard to preserve it. They’ve created ways to share with visitors and make a living doing it. I admire their ingenuity in keeping their world in tact. They offer a full calendar of events. In October, for instance, they celebrate Founder's Day with a cattle drive down Main Street, re-enactments along Salado Creek, Ranch Rodeo, Sunday Picnic Box Lunches, and a host of other happenings. I'd love to visit then, but that is not to be. [ fishing for minnows in the Salado Creek]
I learned after we returned home that Salado was also the site of Jenna Bush's wedding. Here is an excerpt from Laura Bush's thank you letter to the citizens of Salado:

“We send our special thanks for the flags along the main street and to the inns and hotels where the guests stayed. Jenna and her bridesmaids enjoyed their luncheon at the Inn on the Creek, and the Range Restaurant catered a delicious rehearsal dinner at Old Salado Springs Celebration Center. And after the rehearsal dinner the Silver Spur Theater was the perfect setting for our Texas dance party. All the guests loved the wedding day barbecue from Johnny's Steak and Barbeque.” Take your sweet time in Salado; it will be time well spentArt.<Cars/div>

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Elie Wiesel is one of the great men of our time. His book, Night, influences countless readers of all ages. His other books, fiction and non-fiction touch untold lives with their vivid depictions of human beings caught up in horrific times. Elie Wiesel defines his life’s purpose as witness to one of the world's greatest horrors—the Holocaust. Only through witnessing—keeping the world from forgetting or denying the Holocaust—can he find some peace in his own life. Involving oneself in Wiesel's Memoirs—All Rivers Run to the Sea—is being invited to join his cause—to re-live a life shattered beyond recognition and then slowly and painfully replaced in another form. Then, as Wiesel does, one can contribute to the world and, perhaps, prevent a similar re-occurrence.

Wiesel's memories go back to his childhood in Sighet in the Carpathian Mountains where he was a studious member of an observant Jewish family concerned not with politics but with finding truth in religion and, thereby, finding a relationship with God. Ripped from his family and world by the degenerate Third Reich, he is dragged through the hells of Buchenwald and Auschwitz. He loses his family; he loses much of his faith; he is left with a myriad of unanswered questions. When he emerges as an adolescent, he is an orphan. With neither family nor country, he struggles to find his way in an inhospitable world.

Learning a new language—French—and adapting to a new culture, he is still denied a nationality. Existing with stateless person's papers which brand him as suspicious, he struggles to find surviving members of his family, ways to make a living, to somehow come to new terms with religion. Slowly but surely he discovers his purpose. Slowly and painfully Wiesel does put together a lifeworth living. Well before he became famous, the United States offered him citizenship, an offer he had no wish to refuse. For his contributions to humanity, Elie Wiesel is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Elie Wiesel's story is heartwarming and heartbreaking. He does not see himself as a hero. He does not see any special talents or character traits that aided his survival. He suggests circumstance and a bit of luck saved him and then helped him find his way. Wiesel’s humility in the face of his many successes is evidence of his greatness.

An old man now, Weisel has not retired from witnessing. This is his mission.

Memoirs All Rivers Run to the Sea may not seem a “vacation read,” but it is. The writing is descriptive and moving. The reader cannot help but be involved with Weisel's experiences or try to imagine the horror, pain, or struggle of being in his situation. When I am so drawn into a book, I have a hard time putting it down. I have an easy time recommending it. Read Weisel's Memoirs—or any of his books for that matter—and be enriched.


Stagecoach Inn
401 S. Stagecoach Road
Salado, Texas 76571
(254) 947-5111

One marvelous attraction for me in Salado, Texas stands on the historic crossroads of the Chisholm Trail, the Texas cattleman's route north through Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma) to Kansas, and Old Military Road, a road that linked a series of forts. This Texas romantic mystique so attracts me that I had to join the ranks of the stagecoach travelers, cattle ranchers, soldiers and others who frequented the famous inn known today as The Stagecoach Inn. Among the many famous people who visited are Sam Houston, General George Armstrong Custer, Captain Robert E. Lee, son of the general, and the James Brothers. Rob and I would be in famous and infamous company.

The Inn was purchased and restored by the Van Bibber family in the early 1940s, and the recipes selected then are still served today although it is now owned by Mrs. Van Bibber's nephew. This was definitely the place for lunch.

The Stagecoach Inn is a beautiful old building right on Salado's main street. It is set back slightly from the sidewalk, and one can rock comfortably on the big wrap-around porch and watch the world pass by. That’s just what preceding generations did.

As we enter the lobby, we can see through to the dining room and porch beyond. On one side through large glass doors is a larger, more formal dining room. The room in which we're to dine is big, woody, and comfortable. There are no empty tables on the porch, so Rob and I are seated at a big round table. On our placemats is a picture of the Stagecoach Inn and a short history.

It doesn't take long for our waitress, Suellen, to spot us as visitors. In Texas all we have to do is say a few words and we practically announce, “New York.” We share with her the love of train travel, and she tells us about trips she has taken with her daughter. Once again we are treated to a hospitality that is warm and sincere.

Our meal is wonderful. We begin with a delicious beef broth served with freshly baked hush puppies and creamy butter.

Next we're served a fresh salad with an extra special touch. Not only do we find the usual ingredients but also we find radishes and celery. It's a nice salad with a lovely dressing. A tempting basket of freshly baked mini-rolls, still warm from the oven, accompanies the salad.

Rob and I are drawn to the same entree—fried catfish. We both like catfish, but this Southern fried catfish dusted with cornmeal and fried in peanut oil is irresistible. The catfish is served with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables, a delicious and perfectly prepared combination of red and green peppers, yellow squash, celery, carrots, and green squash. Neither Rob nor I could identify another accompaniment although the taste was very familiar. When Suellen came back she asked if we could identify it. It was, she said, a banana fritter—truly the most wonderful we'd ever had. It didn’t look like a fritter. Once it was identified, the flavors popped out at us. We three smiled at the guessing game.

Suellen practically insisted we'd be cheating ourselves if we left without sampling The Stagecoach Inn's desserts. Okay. We forced ourselves. LOL With coffee we had a cream custard pie. Unbelieveable! No wonder this inn is still thriving!

When you read my post on Salado, you'll find many reasons to visit this charming town. Add a meal at the very hospitable Stagecoach Inn to that list of reasons.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I didn't leave my heart in San Francisco; I left my breath. Nor did I wear flowers in my hair, but I did see a lot of the “gentle people” passed out in the park, sleeping against the sides of buildings, and causing delays on the cable cars. Still, San Francisco is one of the most interesting and diverse cities in America and should be on everyone's must see list. No matter what you’re looking for, San Francisco has it. It also has a mythic romance surrounding its history and behaviors—the subject of movies and songs and political shenanigans. We may be way past “the summer of love,” and the cost of living in San Francisco no longer invites disenchanted youth, but there are enough remnants around this liberal city by the Bay to maintain San Francisco's unique status. Rob and I were last in San Francisco in 1971. A whole lot of water has flowed under the Golden Gate since then!

As I said, San Francisco is a city of hills, and these are the cause of both wonder and aggravation.

[note here that the windows are level ! That's how steep this street is]

[Lombard Street--that famous winding street--look how steep!]

San Francisco's distinct neighborhoods allow us to choose a hotel near places we want to see, ample transportation, and as much downhill as possible. You won't be allowed to forget once you're there that San Francisco is a city built on hills—steep hills, and I've got the photos to prove it! Get yourself a guide book. I used Frommer's. Plan carefully so your hotel and itinerary places you within access to the excellent transportation system..

Rob and I stayed at Petite Auberge in the Union Square area, and it was perfect for us. Within walking distance (downhill) to China Town and Market Street, we were also able to catch cable cars to other parts of the city. We could catch a cable car taking us above our hotel so we could walk down to it. Sad for me, but when I had to walk uphill, I also had to stop to catch my breath. San Francisco has a wonderful, accessible public transportation system, so don't even think about renting a car.

The day we arrive is the big weekly Farmers' Market held outside the Ferry Building, a gourmet marketplace, so the afternoon finds us back down to the Embarcadero. We walk down to Market Street, down to Powell, and catch the cable car. Neat! Market and Powell is also the location of the Visitor's Center and it's a good time to pick up brochures and info to smooth the rough edges of the trip.

Cable Car Ferry Building

It's a glorious day, and the stalls are filled with ripe fruits and vegetables, crafts and art, cheese and baked goods stands, and vendors of every kind. It's perfect!
Market Farmers Market

We nibble our way through, listen to the itinerant musicians sitting on the pilings of San Francisco Bay, view the craft stalls—representing the '60s through today. In San Francisco, tie-dying is still taken very seriously, and the artists look as if they've stepped out of a Woodstock retrospective.
Musician Musician

Crafts Crafts

Venice Beach is conservative next to this. The place does make me smile. My favorite craft tent features items made from old typewriter keys. The crowd is pleasant, easy-moving, and very laid-back. We explore the Ferry Building and its temptations—caviar tasting and a host of other delicacies.
Next month I'll tell you about three great tours we took and the delightful time we had!

Friday, June 26, 2009


I-35 running through the hill country of Texas cannot be mistaken for a rural New York road. Passing Georgetown's Del Webb's Sun City and other new subdivisions, it quickly becomes a road where cacti bloom on the fringe and arched entrances announce the names of the ranches they guard—Rancho Guadalupe for instance. Little towns like Florence, Texas reflect the Mexican influence on the area, and it is in Florence that Rob and I stop for lunch at El Charitto. El Charitto, we expect, will be true to its menu’s proclamation and offer authentic Mexican food.

Modestly decorated, El Charitto’s tables are filled with local diners—a good sign—for there are couples at some tables and cowboys at others. We are painfully obvious outsiders. This is definitely a land of cowboy boots, dusty jeans, western-cut shirts, and cowboy hats. I love it!

El Charitto's menu is expansive, and as the waiter brings orders to neighboring tables, we can see how tantalizing everything looks. We try to narrow down our selections—keeping away from the normal fare of a New York Mexican restaurant. As we choose, a massive bowl of fresh chips still warm from the making is brought with a bowl of tempting salsa—a tomato and spice mixture that packs a zing without the breath-stealing hotness. Delicious.

Rob and I are still discussing the possible choices when our waitress comes to take our order. She directs us to the back of the menu which lists the daily luncheon special, and in one minute, our choice is made; Thursday’s special is enchiladas tejanas—one of the possibilities we had already selected.

Enchiladas tejanas—two enchiladas, (choice of cheese, beef, or chicken) topped with homemade chili and shredded cheese. It is served with rice, refried beans, a chopped salad, and homemade guacamole. It arrives on a big, oval dish. It's beautiful.

The enchiladas are perfect. The chili is hearty and delicious. Surprisingly the chili does not overpower the taste of the enchiladas, and the blending of flavor offers a unique, robust dish. The enchiladas are not so thin that they fall apart under the influence of fillings and sauce nor are they so thick that they are tough. The Spanish rice is still moist with a hint of tomato and spice. Lovely. I haven't had refried beans in a while, but these are smooth and creamy. Exquisito. The guacamole is fresh and chunky. It was a bit too oniony for my taste, so I push some of the onion aside and enjoy it. The chopped salad, primarily a mixture of tomato, onion, and green pepper is delightfully flavored with cilantro—one of Rob's favorites. Again, a simple delicacy.

Sometime mid meal, a waiter brings another bowl of salsa, and we continue with it. It is delicious.

In fact, the service is excellent. Our water glasses are re-filled, and we are asked several times if there is anything else we wish.

I also like the decor—the walls, the pictures of the owner's sons in traditional Mexican dress, and the other suggestions of another culture. OK—I was into that Texas state of mind again. I love the fact that we are the only sedan in the parking lot; the rest of the vehicles are pickup trucks. I love the fact that the man walking past our table is wearing scuffed cowboy boots, dusty button down jeans, and a western cut shirt. He is carrying his cowboy hat. I love the fact that a group of men come in talking Spanish and all looking as if they just came off one of the ranches we passed on I-195.

Rob and I leave satisfied in many ways. Florence, Texas is a great little Texan town on a long, winding road. El Charrito mirrors the wonderful cultural mix that is Texas. Lunch was super! We are just beginning our visit. Certainly we are off to an auspicious start.

As a postscript let me add, that we timed our departure to Austin's airport so we could stop at El Charitto for lunch again. It was great the second time around!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I really needed an “up” book after Memoirs, and since it’s well into the frustrating season of golf, I thought Carl Hiaasen’s The Downhill Lie, subtitled A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport, would fill the bill. I figured the title was a double entendre and I hoped to get a good chuckle from Hiaasen’s mishaps on the course.

Number one—Hiaasen complains that he has a tough time breaking 90. He gets none of my sympathy for that one.

Number two—Hiaasen complains that he has a 16 handicap. He definitely gets none of my sympathy for that one.

Number three—Hiaasen, though he virtually claims poverty, treats himself to any suggested mojo-enhancing device, any special club, and a bevy of lessons from recognized (and expensive) experts. He gets none of my sympathy for that one.

Number four—Hiaasen, as a writer, travels, plays at many different courses, and has the time to play several times a week as well as get to the practice range.

Am I really supposed to sympathize with him in any way? Okay, I’m a sympathetic human being, so there are occurrences with which I empathize or sympathize. You know, do unto others....

Although I laughed out loud, I did feel bad when his golf cart, brake forgotten, rolled into a water hazard (double entendre?), and he had to go in to rescue his clubs—including, I guess, his “rescue” clubs.

I totally understood the misconception caused by hitting the ball exactly right and feeling that you’ve finally mastered a particular club thereby proving that you have potential. That feeling may last as long as the next hole, but then again, it may not.

I empathized with 3 or, with a shudder, 4 putting and the severe pain it causes that creases your temple.

I understood the embarrassment of embarrassing oneself over and over again.

What neither Carl Hiaasen nor I seem to understand is why we keep coming back to the course. Are golfers simply masochists? No one is ever satisfied with the game.

Hiaasen’s father, an excellent golfer who golf-widowed his wife for the Sunday outing, let young Carl tag along. Here’s a quote that says it all about the game of golf: “As I grew taller he generously bought me a set of Ben Hogans, which were so gorgeous that at first I was reluctant to throw them.” Got it?

If you’re a golfer of any level of proficiency, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s in the true spirit of misery loves company, and that’s very good in the game of golf. You might even have a feeling of schadenfreude. As for me, I’m passing this book on first to my golfing buddies, Mary and Beth (who can decide between them who reads this gem first), and then on to Rick, and then….


With a lot of people staying close to home these days—and that’s a good thing because there is so much beauty, excitement, relaxation, and history right here in the good old U.S.A.—a driving trip might be right for you. Before you pack up your car, however, consider looking at a car rental for your vacation’s duration.

Economically, it costs approximately 50¢ a mile to drive your car when you factor in tire wear, oil changes and other servicing, gas, etc. The cost of a rental might prove less expensive, particularly if you’re traveling with another couple. If you’re in need of more trunk space for your luggage or more legroom in the back seat, a rental might make your trip more comfortable too.

Rentals generally come with unlimited mileage, though make sure you check about the range you are allowed to drive. Be particularly careful if you’re leaving the country or even your state. Check to see how your personal insurance company handles car rentals. Don’t buy unnecessary insurance if you don’t need it. Some companies require you carry your insurance card with you. We ran into that in California and had to have a copy faxed to us.

We check all the companies but have found Enterprise to give us the best prices overall. But check everyone. Call the companies, but make sure to check online because there are often “online specials.”

If you’re staying at a hotel, check sites like Expedia and Travelocity to see about hotel+car packages.

We’re considering renting to go to Florida next winter. Although we plan on the auto-train down, we’re hoping to meander back to take in Savannah and some other cities we’re hankering to see. Lots of car mileage. We haven’t done all the math yet, but it may make sense for us. The point is—check it out.