Category Archives: Travel

Traveling With Others/Business Edition

baggage-hall-775540_640

In the rest of life you can choose your travel companions. A business trip is more of a crapshoot, some crappier than others. Do these descriptions remind you of any of your co-workers?

It’s All About Me. This person schemes ahead to make sure they get the best airline schedule/hotel room/seat assignment/you-name-it… even if they are junior to the rest of your group. WTF?

IAAMs often have menu demands that have nothing to do with food allergies or legitimate needs. “Instead of French fries I want twelve organic Zanzibar zucchini spears; ¼” thick, blackened but not burnt, no salt, just a dusting of imported turmeric.” Expect this to be sent back to the kitchen regardless.

The Road Hog. Ever had to ride with a really terrible driver who insists on doing all the driving while flipping the bird and swearing at anyone who passes him, oblivious to the gun rack on the other guy’s vehicle?

The Loudmouth. With or without alcohol, the LM manages to alienate everyone in the vicinity by screeching at the top of her lungs on a continual basis. It’s even worse if you’re traveling internationally — because we really need to reinforce that Ugly American stereotype, right?

 The Expense Account Cheat. I don’t know if people still get away with this, but I can remember several occasions when co-workers justified personal items as business “necessities”.  Like you need designer sunglasses because you left yours at home? C’mon. It’s raining.

The Dawdler. No matter how important the presentation, meeting, shoot or whatever, this individual keeps everyone else waiting. ‘Cause you’re not stressed enough already?

Rude-y, Rude-y, Rude-y. He snarls at the waitstaff, desk clerk, cab driver. You stare at the ceiling, hoping nobody will think you’re together.

Forgetful Frank (or Felicia). You gave them the list. You checked it twice. They still managed to leave a critical part of the presentation back in the office. Now it’s ten minutes ’til showtime and you are frantically texting your assistant to e-mail you the document you need before you make an utter ass of yourself.

The Leech. You have a precious few hours of downtime. Your colleague clings to you like plastic wrap. Is he timid? Lonely? An inexperienced traveler? Do you honestly give a s***?

Ethelred The Unready. They have one job to do. You have gone off to take an urgent call from your boss. You return to discover that they a) revealed the one thing they weren’t supposed to reveal, b) didn’t get the crucial shot and now the film crew has moved on to a new location, or c) agreed to an impossible timeline which forces you to backpedal  and convince everyone that the necessary delay is their own idea.

Mr./Ms. GrabAss. “Oooh, we’re out of town. Of course you want me to hit on you even though you’ve never shown the slightest interest before.” They’re THAT irresistible? Mmm, no.

Happy trails!

Saving and Spending

A fun article; hope you can access it since some Wall Street Journal pieces are behind a firewall:  https://graphics.wsj.com/image-grid/OD50Spring2018/

And one on truly excessive excess, courtesy of my dear friend and fashion maven, SH.  Would be perfect for a certain President I can think of….

https://www.retaildive.com/news/retail-therapy-the-loo-uis-vuitton-is-here-to-flush-100k-down-the-toile/521780/

Hope you’re all having a great weekend! xo, A

Traveling With Others

Traveling with another person is the ultimate blind date. Do you like to do the same things? Are they overly assertive or passive compared to you? How would they handle a stressful situation?

With luck, you find a partner, spouse or friend whose rhythms match your own. But what about a trip with another couple, your extended family, or someone you don’t know well? That’s a real litmus test.

Mostly, I’ve had wonderful experiences. A trip to London with S forged a friendship that’s lasted for decades. DH and I took a European vacation early in our relationship and learned that we were able to cope when things didn’t go as planned. And our recent visit to Charleston was successful because my friend T and I talked frankly in advance about what we all wanted – or didn’t want – to do there.

luggage-3297015_640

Other trips have been a challenge. Beware of these types of travelers!

The Sloppy Drunk. I’m all for having a good time. But when my ex-husband fell into the bushes after a booze cruise and had to be dragged out by a sailor I should have saluted that red flag and called off the wedding. Live and learn.

Druggie Howser. Similar to the Sloppy Drunk, Druggie will score whatever he can, wherever he travels. An ex-beau bought weed and hashish from a complete stranger when we were in Morocco in the 70’s… did ‘ya learn nothing from the movie Midnight Express??

Sir (or Lady) Bossypants has researched every heritage site, museum, etc. within an inch of its life and is a self-styled expert on all topics relating to the places they insist on dragging you to and Will. Not. Shut. Up. About.

The Slowpoke moves at a different – dare I say, glacial – pace. Unless you are a very patient person (unlike myself) this will drive you stark staring insane.

The Obsessive Planner follows a rigid schedule. By which I mean never, ever deviates from it. You’re enjoying chatting up the owner of a local art gallery? Too bad; gotta get to the next thing on the list. NOW.

Mr. Spontaneity, on the other hand, NEVER wants to plan ahead. You might arrive in another country without a hotel reservation, as happened to a friend of mine many years ago. In high season.

The Hysteric. S*** happens. Train schedules change. Planes get grounded. Connections get missed. Places are unexpectedly closed. You do not want to travel with someone who is totally unhinged by this. Trust me.

Morning vs Night. My father was a morning person. My mother stayed up until 2 AM and slept until noon. On family trips, we had to squeeze all activities between 1:00 and 8:00 PM. Know which one you – and your traveling companions – are, and plan accordingly.

The Cheapskate. Bargain-hunter in the extreme. Will only eat street food, go to a museum on the one free day, stay at a Motel 6, or take the bus even though you risk arriving at your destination after closing.

Hey Big Spender. There are two subcategories: Ms. Moneybags (who can afford it) and Mr. Moocher (money is no object because you’re footing the bill). Watch out for anyone who has no understanding of – or respect for – your finances.

Michelin Or Bust. Michelin-starred restaurants can be terrific — unless you have a sensitive stomach or wallet. Our last Michelin meal was so rich, both DH and I tossed our (artisanal) cookies within an hour of returning to our hotel room. Next time, we’ll suggest our friends dine alone, check out the simple place around the corner and meet up for an after-dinner coffee.

The Bottom Line: Pre-Planning

  • Discuss expectations and set ground rules in advance, even if it feels awkward. Especially if you’re traveling with another couple or someone you don’t know well.
  • Be honest about how you want to spend your time. Be open to compromise unless an activity will bore or annoy you. For example, don’t go shopping just because your friend loves it if you know you’ll hate every minute. A reluctant companion is no fun for either of you!
  • Benefit from others’ expertise. Some of our friends are serious foodies and love to research the newest or best-reviewed places in town. I’m happy to let them pick the restaurants since I don’t care all that much.
  • Eating out with others? Get separate checks. You won’t feel guilty if you have that extra drink or order something more expensive.
  • Travel with people who have similar resources. If you’re on a budget, make sure you don’t get sucked into spending outside your own comfort zone. On the other hand, if you always stay in a suite you may feel resentful if you get a standard room like theirs to be “polite”.

Enjoy traveling this big, wonderful world of ours!

world-1303628_640

 

 

Charleston, Va “Benne”

How is it our last day already?! We cram a lot into our final historical dive, as well as two excellent meals.
First, a morning ferry to Fort Sumter, the strategic site where the American Civil War began. The excursion takes about two hours: a 30-minute ferry ride to and from the fort and 60 minutes on the island. During the ride, a recording describes various points of interest and the history of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor. Best part: we see dolphins off the side of the boat.
IMG-0272
Construction of Fort Sumter was still underway when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Despite Charleston’s position as a major port, at the time only two companies of federal troops guarded the harbor.
The Confederacy (500 soldiers) captured the fort in a short but intense artillery bombardment of the US Army garrison (80 soldiers) on Apr 12 – Apr 13, 1861, following months of siege-like conditions. The Confederate victory marked the official start of this bloody war, although there were no casualties in this battle.

 The site includes a museum which details these events.  As a lifelong Yankee/Northerner, it’s fascinating to read the Southern perspective on slavery and other issues of the day. IMG-0273

We get back by noon and Uber over for lunch at the deservedly popular Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Our friends are eager to try the ribs, which could feed a modern-day army and are as fabulous as anticipated. Pulled pork is pretty great, too. Rodney stops by to say hi — we’d talk longer but our mouths are full!

IMG-0289

IMG-0290IMG-0291Next up: the McLeod Plantation, which takes an unsparing look at all aspects of plantation life. The plantation was built on the riches of sea island cotton – and on the backs of enslaved Gullah men, women and children. The stories of these families – black and white, enslaved and free – are vividly told through narrative and photos.  It’s sobering and terrible, yet the triumph of survival is ultimately uplifting.IMG-0293It’s 5:00 somewhere — oh, here! — so we conclude our last day with drinks and dinner. We discover a great bistro and bar right near the restaurant we’ve reserved.

The Ordinary is, in my opinion, rather ordinary.  Food is good but nothing special, the cavernous space (a former bank) is noisy, and the kitchen can’t get everything upstairs at the same time so some of us are eating while others are waiting. Wish we’d stayed at Felix!

IMG-0316

Finally, here’s a recipe for benne (sesame) wafers, a Gullah favorite — and now, one of mine too.

Benne Wafers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (+ optional splash of lemon juice)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet or cover it with parchment paper.
  2. Place the benne (sesame) seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and toast until light brown (about 10 minutes). Watch closely so they don’t burn!
  3. In a large bowl mix the brown sugar, melted butter, egg, vanilla extract, flour, salt, baking powder and toasted sesame seeds together until combined.
  4. Drop dough by spoonfuls (each about ½ teaspoon) 1½ inches apart onto the baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 4 to 6 minutes, until light brown.

Let cookies cool for about 2 minutes before removing from baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 dozen, depending on the size of your spoonfuls.

 

Charleston Sojourn Pt 2

DAY 2

Fortified by coffee and a nibble of fresh croissants, we’re off to explore more of the city.

IMG-0348.jpgFirst up, a guided tour of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States.

IMG-0217Charleston was founded in 1670, and by 1695 the first Jewish settler had arrived. Others soon followed, attracted by the civil and religious liberty of South Carolina and ample economic opportunities. Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God) was established in 1749; the original Georgian synagogue was destroyed in the 1838 fire that devastated much of the city, and the current Greek Revival building was built on the same site in 1840.

IMG-0219

Peeling plasterwork is scheduled for renovation — a big job!

The museum traces the history of these early families through maps, books, paintings and memorabilia. There’s also a wonderful letter written by George Washington to leaders of the Jewish community thanking them for their support and affirming his commitment to religious tolerance throughout the colonies.

Charleston was nicknamed “Holy City” for its religious freedoms and numerous places of worship: Calvinist, Catholic, Anglican, Quaker, Jewish, Baptist and Protestant. The many historic churches are pretty spectacular. IMG-0223

We slip inside Mount Zion AME to hear the minister’s rousing sermon.  He exhorts his congregation to “Shake, shake, shake the devil out!” during this Easter/Passover season.

Then, it’s on to The Charleston Museum.  Exhibits include artifacts, natural history, decorative arts and vivid depictions of plantation life.  Since the museum is overrun with school groups, we beat a hasty retreat to tour the nearby Joseph Manigault HouseIMG-0238.JPGThe family still lives locally and has kept the good furniture so most displays are true to the period but not original; that’s disappointing.

Back in the now-deserted Charleston museum, we admire quilts and dinosaurs.

Next: a “light” lunch of crab cakes and hush puppies at Hyman’s Seafood, established in 1890 when portions (and people) were a lot smaller.

 

 

Then: antiquing on King Street, and a folk art exhibit at the Gibbes Museum.

IMG-0193

George Birlant on King Street, founded 1922

IMG-0255

This enormous sweetgrass basket took 3 years to craft. It’s stunning.

IMG-0256IMG-0246.JPG

IMG-0249.JPG

I’d have gone to this dentist in the 1800’s, wouldn’t you?

IMG-0260

A spectacular marble bust in the permanent collection.

We meet up with T&B for dinner at FIG, which is my favorite meal so far.

IMG-0263.JPG

 French’s French-fried onion rings were a childhood fave. FIG’s are a bit more sophisticated.

 

A Snapshot of Charleston, SC

Last week, Dear Husband and I spent a delightful few days in Charleston, a gracious city neither of us had visited before.  Highly recommended for food, sightseeing and history!

ARRIVAL DAY

We got in late afternoon, with just enough time to check in to our swanky Art Deco hotel The Spectator— where all rooms include breakfast and an on-call butler — and check out the sweetgrass basket weavers at the Charleston City Market. 

IMG-0122

After meeting up with our friends T & B who’d escaped another nor’easter the previous day, we all Uber’d to dinner at Leon’s Oyster House, which was lively even on a Tuesday.

Fried oysters were terrific, though we didn’t pair them with the local champagne as suggested.  Fried food + champagne = decadence to consider for the future!

IMG-0142.JPG

The ladies’ room at The Spectator. I’m coveting this fab mirror and art deco faucets!

DAY ONE

Today was all about walking. Heritage sites and signage abounds, keeping you aware of Charleston’s history before, during and after the Civil War.

IMG-0144

IMG-0149

First, DH had a meeting at the Dock Street Theatre. The original theater didn’t survive the Great Fire of 1740 which destroyed many of the buildings in Charleston’s French Quarter. In 1809, the Planter’s Hotel was built on the site and in 1835 the wrought iron balcony and sandstone columns were added.

IMG-0152

Facade of Dock Street Theatre

IMG-0163

The beautiful music room upstairs is used for donor events and other special occasions.

Next, we strolled down Rainbow Row and admired other nearby homes. Many have been in the same family for generations.

IMG-0180 (2)

IMG-0187

IMG-0186 (3)IMG-0190 (1)

IMG-0188 (3)

Do you think the resemblance between these bushes and the statue’s butt is intentional??

IMG-0194

Love this old movie theater and more pastel buildings.

All that walking entitled us to overeat at Husk, local celeb chef Sean Brock’s high temple of low country cooking, featuring locally sourced ingredients served with style in a charming Victorian house.

 

We ended with a nightcap at the Spectator’s Prohibition-style bar, where Allen the bartender creates 1920’s inspired cocktails (his specialty: “The Dude Imbibes”) or whatever you fancy.

IMG-0268.jpg

And poured ourselves into bed to rest up for Day Two….

 

Can This Recipe Be Saved?

Hi everyone, it’s hack time again. First up: cooking.

This weekend, DH and I struggled to fix a chicken dish that was weirdly sweet. After adding multiple ingredients, it was eventually quite good. But it got me researching solutions to some common kitchen problems you might encounter, too.

soup-greens-869075_640

KITCHEN HACK: Adjusting a Recipe

Too Salty

  • If you can rinse off the overly salty ingredient (such as the brine on your olives), that’s an easy place to start.
  • Add a raw potato (you don’t have to cut or peel it) to a liquid dish such as soup or curry. Potatoes will soak up some of the extra salt as they cook and add starch that will further dilute the saltiness.
  • Rice or a small amount of flour are other options.

Too Spicy

  • As with saltiness, adding starch is a quick fix for an overly spicy soup or curry.

Too Sweet

This is a common result when using carrots, red peppers or other vegetables with hidden sugars.

  • Add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or a spoonful of apple cider vinegar.
  • Balance the sweet taste with more seasoning to make the dish spicier.
  • Add a fat such as olive oil or avocado.
  • Try adding tangy yogurt if it’s appropriate for your dish.
  • Add more liquid to dilute it.
  • Avoid adding salt, as it will bring out all flavors, including sweetness.

Too Sour

The best way to counter too much sourness is to add sweet, salty or savory flavors. Think of the way a salt rim balances the sweetness of a margarita, or how adding carrots rounds out the taste of a marinara sauce.

Too Bitter

Leafy greens such as kale, collard, and mustard greens can be overpoweringly bitter. Other ingredients with a bitter edge include coffee, espresso, cocoa and herbs and spices such as parsley, paprika and cayenne (red) pepper.

Bitter is the opposite of acidic or sour so adding vinegar, citrus juice or yogurt can help balance the dish.

  • Squeeze some lemon over sautéed greens.
  • In Mexican cooking, lime helps balance red spices such as chile powder which can taste bitter.
  • Add a dash of grated nutmeg. The nutty taste helps balance other flavors.

HOUSEHOLD HACK: Splinters

 

wood-1693434_640

Don’t you hate those suckers?! I’ve collected a few tips for your next run-in with old furniture, fences or floorboards. It almost makes me wish I had a splinter so I could try them out. Almost.

  • Baking soda technique
  1. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder with a few drops of water until it forms a paste.
  2. Apply the paste to the splinter.
  3. Wait 10-20 minutes until the skin swells a little and the splinter pops out of the skin.
  • Use a piece of duct tape or a drop of Elmer’s Glue to remove the splinter.
  • Soak. Pour some white vinegar into a small bowl. Soak the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. Once the splinter has risen sufficiently out of the skin’s surface, it should be easy to remove with tweezers.

IMG-0045

FOLLOW-UP: Sicily

IMG-3159 (1)

My friend O suggested a post on my Do’s and Don’ts for next time. If you’re planning a trip to Sicily, here are a few post-vacation thoughts.

What I’d do again

  • Reserve Blacklane upon arrival at an unfamiliar destination. It will cost more than a taxi but the price is established and paid by credit card in advance. Benefits: 1) You won’t be driven all over the place to run up the meter. 2) You won’t have to change money at exorbitant airport rates. 3) Drivers are safe and you can request one who speaks your language. 4) The cars are cleaner and nicer than cabs.
  • Rent apartments instead of staying in hotels. Cooking (and grocery shopping) is fun and cheaper than always eating out.
  • If you plan to drive into the country, consider an apartment rental outside of the city so you can easily get in and out of town.
  • Buy tickets online in advance for popular museums and attractions.
  • Bring a good map and pocket Italian language guide.

What I’d do differently

  • Don’t plan on using Taormina as a base from which to travel to other areas unless you book a tour from town. It’s well located but too hard to navigate in and out.
  • One day is sufficient unless you really like to shop.
  • I’d spend more time in Palermo (better shopping, too).
  • I’d rent a place for a week about an hour’s drive from Siracusa and Noto. I’d rent another place for the second week an hour’s drive from Ragusa and the coast.

FOLLOW UP: Biscuits

IMG-0034

I’m still experimenting, but so far Alton Brown’s recipe checks all the boxes.

Curious about the meaning of the word “hack”? Originating as a computer term, it “… refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency….”