Category Archives: Foodie Finds

The Botanist – where steampunk meets botanical magic

Delicious treats
Delicious treats

Do you ever read those advertising magazines that are spread across the desk in your hotel room? I have to confess – Sometimes, maybe, but usually I just brush them aside to make room for all of the travel books, casual books, magazines, and electronics that I brought with me. It is not like I just push it all onto the floor – I neatly clean off the paraphernalia that is “littering” the top of the desk so I can organize what I brought with me and see where all the outlets (or lack thereof) are located. At some point during the trip I may eventually take a quick flip through one of their magazines. I know, probably not the best habit for a travel writer, but I am working on changing that.

On a recent excursion to Chester, England I actually took a moment to stop and flip through that colorful magazine before I swept it off to the side – scanning headlines, reading the occasional recipe, reviews of the seasonal spirits, or the most noteworthy up-and-coming restaurants.

One brief headline caught my eye, The Botanist – an eclectic dining experience steeped in charm and style. There are so many ‘wine bars’ and ‘brewers’ that this caught my eye. The name was just enough to give a little intrigue and interest without giving away what it was all about. It was so steampunkish!

The lobby at The Botanist
The lobby at The Botanist

I was not disappointed! The atmosphere was so amazing and unique! It gave the feeling that you had stepped back in time to a garden sanctuary. The exterior of the restaurant was decorated in wrought iron panels with vines growing over them. The interior was decorated with wood accents that had a weathered-gray finish to them.

steampunk decor
steampunk decor

The bar area was quite impressive with an expansive front bar that had ample room for the botanical mix-masters to work their magic with herbal infused liquor and spirits. The back bar consisted of a massive shelving system that contained a sizeable assortment of liqueurs infused with berries, herbs, and fruits in addition to a fabulous selection of craft beers and ales.

Our mix-masters
Our mix-masters
The bar at The Botanist
The bar at The Botanist

Their menu is a beautiful and tasty selection of dishes inspired from delis and rotisseries of the UK and the comfort food from grandma’s English kitchen. Note worthy menu items that had a unique table presentation were the Hanging Kebabs (a very savory dish available in chicken, lamb kofta, prawn or beef and slathered with sweet chili, ginger, and garlic butter), Chicken Liver and Rum Pate that is brought to your table in a mini terracotta flower pot on a wooden plank with Turkish flat bread and a plumb and apple chutney that is served in a mini wheelbarrow.

Chicken liver and rum pate
Chicken liver and rum pate
Hanging lamb kabab
Hanging lamb kabab
carrot cocktail - it was actually good
carrot cocktail – it was actually good

Other favorites include the homemade Scotch Egg (fried to perfection so that the breading is crispy on the outside but the egg still has a soft center) and the Salt and Pepper Onion Petals served with a herbed sour cream sauce.

Scotch egg
Scotch egg

 

Craft ale and cocktail flight
Craft ale and cocktail flight
watermelon cocktail - great for hot summer days!
watermelon cocktail – great for hot summer days!

The food was delicious, flavorful, and wholesome! What a great find tucked in a narrow little side street off Eastgate St. and Northgate St. The Botanist is a great place for lunch, dinner, or a place to meet friends in the evening for cocktails and to listen to live music.

 

For more information on locations, hours and menu items check out their website at http://thebotanist.uk.com/

21 Fabulous Christmas Traditions

cmas tree

Christmas is a season of happiness and joy, steeped in traditions. Every family has their own set of traditions that they celebrate every year. Here is a list of traditions that your family may already participate in or some may be new that you want to start participating in.

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 1.  Organize a cookie decorating party. Bake a large batch of cutout sugar cookies and invite your friends, family, neighbors over to decorate them. Send everyone home with a few for Santa. You can also make a small hole in the top of the cookies with a straw before you bake them and turn those into ornaments for the tree.

2.  Make a gingerbread house with your family. Pre-made sets make it easy to do and provide you with everything you will need! Another option is to use graham crackers, some royal icing and candy you have saved for this purpose.

3.  Decorate your yard with munchies for the woodland critters and birds. Make ornaments out of oats, bird food, and caramelized honey with molasses in the shape of patties. Run twine through them and hang them from the tree branches. You can also string popcorn and cranberries like garland to hang from trees and shrubs.

4.  Gather a small group of friends, family, and kids to go caroling in a nearby square or neighborhood. You would be surprised at how many people appreciate it and how happy it will make you, even if you are out of tune! Then end the evening at someone’s house for hot cocoa.

5.  Support your local theater production company and go watch a showing of “The Nutcracker”, “A Christmas Carol”, “The Night Before Christmas” or some other Christmas themed show.

Christmas_in_Dublin,_CA

6.  Check out holiday the lights in your town, city or neighborhood. Get in the car, turn on your holiday playlist, and find brightly lit houses.

7.  Go sledding, ice skating, or other outdoor winter activity with your family. A great time to schedule this is on Christmas day, after the gifts are opened, the meal is eaten, and everyone is getting antsy from being inside.

8.  Use an advent calendar to count down to Christmas. There are many varieties of advent calendars. Some suggestions for different types of calendars are 25 small candles that you burn one candle a day, 25 boxes of small gifts or tasty treats that you open one box a day. You can even put an adult spin on an advent calendar by creating a wine calendar with 25 mini single glass sizes of wine bottles and you have one bottle a night with dinner.

9.  Set aside one night each week to watch a holiday movie or television special, such “Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

10.  Have your child start an ‘I Am Thankful’ list. Have him/her add one thing that he/she is thankful for each day. You can turn this into a decoration by having him/her write it on a paper Christmas tree or snowflake that you then hang across the fireplace or some other area.

11.  Purchase or make a holiday ornament for each child every year. This is a great reason to reminisce during holiday decorating.

haddon-sundblom-coke-santa

12.  Sit down with your child and write a letter to Santa.

13.  As a family, write your holiday letter. Have each member contribute one memorable moment from the year to share with friends and family.

14.  Make holiday decorations yourself! Decorate windows with paper snowflakes, glue glitter onto pinecones and arrange in a bowl, and visit crafts sites to get creative and fun ideas that will involve your children.

15.  Start a holiday village display. Add a new house or shop to your display each year.

Miniature_Christmas_Village,_Birkenhead_(2)

16.  Camp out in front of your Christmas tree one night. Keep the tree lights on, read holiday stories, and snack on holiday treats.

17.  Volunteer your time as a family at a soup kitchen or a food bank that hands out food to families in need.

18.  Find a giving tree that allows you to sponsor a family in need or purchase toys for children in need. Go shopping for the items together and donate them.

19.  Deliver cookies and treats to your local fire station, police department, or the staff at your local hospital to show your appreciation for their service to the community and for working through the holiday.

20.  Visit your local senior citizens center. It can be rather lonely for some seniors during the holidays.

21.  Invite family, friends, and neighbors over Christmas evening for games, dessert, and to decompress from the holiday.

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Put this on your list of must do’s when in DFW

Pizza Truck
Pizza Truck

This past weekend was the  The Great Texas Food Truck Rally in Dallas, Texas and we had the distinct pleasure of attending. We had a great time! We got there a bit early and thereby avoided waiting in lines which meant that we could sample more foodie delights in less time but also we had our choice of delights before supplies starting running low!  There was such a wide variety of trucks and eclectic dishes, there was something for everyone whether it was pickle flavored shaved ice cones, to a grilled peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich, to Mexican street tacos and of course the favorite standbys, hot dogs and home made ice cream.

Executives in Action
Executives in Action

Celebrating its second year, The Great Texas Food Truck Rally was created to benefit Executives in Action, a pro bono firm that supplies consulting advise to other non-profit organizations in the areas of management and organizational needs to help that company operate more effectively and efficiently so that it can support its mission and expand its reach to those in need.

Live Music
Live Music

There was a good turn out for the Food Truck Rally with around 28 trucks and hundreds of people. There was live music, a beer garden, and of course, lots of food to choose from! Some of my favorite palette tantalizing trucks were:

DOWN TO EARTH

food truck
Down to Earth

Celebrating their 1st anniversary this year, Down to Earth, vegetarian and vegan cuisine and catering based out of Keller, Tx. is owned by two “crazy vegetarians who love to cook!”.  Maribel Rubio and Alma Rangel whip together for your delight menu items Lentil Sloppy Joes, Black Bean Burgers or my favorite, Mexican Veggie Torta which has black beans, roasted zucchini, roasted red pepper and a chipolte crema fresca. What about desert you ask? They have that too! Try the NSB Panini, a French brioche with Nutella, strawberries and bananas, how can you say no to that!

Mexican Veggie Torta

The idea for a food truck was developed after continuous frustrating dining experiences where the vegetarian/vegan selections were minimal at best. They realized that if they were frustrated with menu selections then others would be as well. Being avid foodies themselves they knew that they could create delicious meals that are both good for you taste great! It was then that they decided to embark on a mission to change the way that people think about vegetarian/vegan meals, which is lacking in taste and texture or it had to be fried.

We are all about living a healthy life style by eating healthy delicious meals without compromising or negotiating being a foodie… we CAN have it all!

What are the future plans for Down to Earth? Rubio and Rangel foresee a dream of opening several restaurants in the DFW metroplex in addition to offering nutrition classes and partnering with local non-profit organizations to offer healthy meals to the homeless and other groups in need.

VEGAN NOMS

Vegan Noms
Vegan Noms

Have a sweet tooth but can’t have gluten or dairy? Then you have got to check out The Vegan Noms! Envisioned and created by Allison Catalane who had no intention of relinquishing her beloved sweets in order to eat healthy! After much trial and error, Allison developed her recipes for her delectable cookies and cupcakes, which are quite delectable! Trust me! The Snickerdoodle cookies and Banana Bread Cookies are superb!

“when you try my treats, you won’t even know they are vegan!”

Allison is a firm believer that a well designed vegan diet will bring harmony to the mind and body.  Sweeten your day the healthy way with some of Allison’s vegan desserts!

 

BELLATRINO

Bellatrino wood fired Pizza
Bellatrino wood fired pizza

Love pizza? Then you have got to try  Bellatrino. This is not your run of the mill food truck, Bellatrino is based out of Southlake, Tx and is DFW’s ONLY wood fired pizza oven food truck! They will create for you a fabulous lightly smoked wood fired pizza that is full of flavor and delicious melted cheese all you need to do is bring the beer! They also have salads, desserts and appetizers. Their key ingredients are imported from Italy with its greens bought locally and organic.

wood fired pizza oven
wood fired pizza oven

 

PARROT ICCE

Parrot Icce, Licensed to Chill is a Hawaiian shaved ice specialty truck that has a large selection of flavors from the old tried and true raspberry, lemon-lime and cherry to flavors like fireball, margarita and even pickle!

 

THE GUAVATREE TRUCK

Yucca Fries
Yucca Fries

The Guavatree Truck  which has been on The Great American Food Truck Race on FoodNetwork is a Cuban American truckstaurant that brings a twist and some uniqueness.  The GuavaTruck has been rolling around Texas since 2012 with Onel and Pam Perez at the wheel. Inspiration for their menu was derived from Onel’s traditional Cuban family recipes, with a twist, of course! Some of their more popular tasty treats are Cuban sandwiches with guava mustard, Yucca Fries (a very dense and heavy starchy root) loaded with Black Beans, Queso Fresco, Cuban Donuts (a spin on a traditional Guava and Cream Cheese Pastelito), Ropa Vieja, and many other Cuban specialties. The Guava Tree is sure to satisfy your Cuban Fare Cravings.

THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN MEAT PIE COMPANY

The Great Australian Meat Pie Co
The Great Australian Meat Pie Co

The Great Australian Meat Pie Company which is based in Plano, Texas came into existence when the owners returned to the US after spending several years in Australia and decided to offer delicious  meat pies  from Australia with an American twist.They   have a passion  to feed people and it shows in the quality of their  food. They have some of the best meat pies that I have ever tasted! A tower of delightful flavors!!  We had the chicken pie, it was so good with a creamy white sauce with onions, mushrooms, chunks of chicken on a dumpling  and all of it liberally sprinkled with shredded cheese. They have a large selection of pie varieties including an Australian mainstay, Vegemite Sandwich.

Chicken Pie
Chicken Pie

Did you miss this once a year event?  Did reading about all this delectable variety of food make your mouth water? Never fear! Every weekend on Woodal Park Freeway, nestled in between the Dallas Museum of Art and Klyde Warren Park you will find a pleasant selection of food trucks, bistro tables to sit at while you are munching on the assorted tasty delights that have been offered in addition to being entertained by watching the variety of people that enjoy relaxing in Klyde Warren Park.

Another food truck haven in the DFW area of Texas is the newly opened Richardson Food Truck Park located at 522 Bishop  Ave, Richardson, Texas 75081.  They are open Sunday— Thursday 11:30 am-8:30 pm  and Friday-Saturday 11:30 am-12 am. Newly remodeled with plenty of tables to sit at to eat your  morsel adventures, beautiful landscaping  and even restrooms. Here you will find the trucks that I have mentioned in addition to many others.

How to have an Unforgettable, Adventure-packed weekend in New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans is a truly amazing city! It is incredibly diverse and eclectic offering a wide range of activities for every interest from historical landmarks to new age vape shops and haunted tours to shopping for antiques or listening to live music in any one of the many bars or on the street corners and dancing in the street to getting married and parading down Bourbon St.

street dancing wedding procession

10 ACTIVITIES THAT SHOULD BE ON YOUR LIST

  • GO ON A TOUR!

There is such a variety of tours available you may not be able to decide between going on one or multiple tours! To give you an idea of the variety available, there are ghost tours, grave yard tours, historic haunted tours, plantation tours, whiskey tours, haunted bar tours, swamp tours, trolley tours, bicycle tours, foodie tours just to name a few!

Three tours that we went on that are definitely worth mentioning are Dark Crescent Tours Plunder & Booty Tour, Haunted History Tours and Jean LaFitte Swamp and Airboat Tours.

dark crescent tours dark crescent tours tour guide

Dark Crescent Tours offers a plunder & booty tour which is a drinking tour that is both very informative and fun. On this tour we walked (yes, this is a walking tour) to an assortment of bars and historic buildings and heard engaging and mysterious tales about the pirates, scallywags, thugs and call girls that lived in New Orleans, some of which are rumored to haunt their old hang-outs. Our tour guide for this 2 1/2 hour tour was a very animated and entertaining woman by the name of Angel who whole-heartedly embraced her role as a pirate, dressed in pirate garb complete with the 3-point hat, cape and fingerless gloves and, of course, plenty of arghs and aye’s mixed into the stories of piracy, plunder and even love. This tour includes 1 drink from each of the 5 bars that are visited during the evening.

Haunted History Tour     historic tour

Haunted History Tours is a locally owned and operated tour company that offers a wide range of tours from garden district, to voodoo, vampire, and ghost tours. They also offer a special tour, 5 in 1 ghost and mystery tour, for those who only have time for one tour but want to get a taste of several tours. Our tour guide for the 5 in 1 was the very knowledgeable, friendly and captivating Natalie who delighted us with tales of mystery, intrigue and murder in the French Quarter from the reins of both the French and the Spanish rulers. Natalie regaled us with many stories, one of the most mysterious was of the Sultans Palace where there was a massive massacre of all the inhabitants of the house, every man, woman and child had been hacked up and their body parts strewn through every room of the house. It was a very bloody and gory scene, but who did it and why has never been discovered and remains a mystery to this very day.

Jeanlefitte tour  Jean Lafitte tour  Jean lafitte tour Jean Lafitte Tour

Jean LaFitte Swamp & Airboat Tours will take you on an almost 2 hour adventure in Louisiana’s murky bayou’s meandering through floating islands of marsh grass and flowers in yellows and blues. As the trained guides expertly maneuver the boats smoothly through the ever-moving and changing channels of the bayou they will tell you about the wildlife that lives in the swampy bayou. They will point out the alligators as they sun themselves on the grass or as they glide through the water looking for a morsel to snack on. They will point out the egrets as they are gingerly walking over the floating islands and shallows looking for fish. The airboat ride was surprisingly smooth and gentle as it glided over the water.

  • DRINK ABSINTHE

Have a glass of absinthe at the Pirate’s Alley Cafe at 622 Pirate’s Alley and learn how this anise and fennel or black liquorish flavored distilled spirit drink is made by dripping ice-cold water over a sugar cube to create the swirled creamed look while you hear about the history of this illustrious drink that was favored by many famous artists and dates back to the 1800’s. Surprisingly, this drink really did help settle our queasy stomach from too much imbibing the night before!

Old Absinthe Old absinthe Old Absinthe Old AbsintheTHE old absinthe

  • GO TO FALULKNER BOOKSTORE

After you have your drink and lesson in absinthe, meander next door to the Faulkner Bookstore and check out their selection of poetry, unusual books and newly published books.

Faulkner book store

  • EAT OYSTERS!

New Orleans has some of the best tasting oysters that I have ever tasted! You can get them on the half-shell, fresh and clean with a bit of lemon juice or tobacco sauce, stuffed with fresh crab, breading and a buttery garlic topping, or Rockefeller with parmesan and garlic baked to perfection. My favorite was a slightly smoky, mouth-watering grilled oyster from The Royal House Oyster Bar. Just talking about it makes my mouth water!

Oysters

  • HAVE A BONE SHOOTER

Only in New Orleans have I seen or even heard of a bone shooter!  Of course, if most people cringe, I am going to try it! Go to Meauxbar on Rampart St. First of all, this is Not listed on their menu, you have to request it. Order the savory escargot that is served in the bone as an appetizer, this is not the shooter but part of the shooter, you have to tell the waiter that you want to do the shooter when you order the appetizer.. Don’t let the server get your bone (slight pun) because the waiter will bring a shot of absinthe that be poured through the bone to your mouth.

bone bone shot

  • HAVE A DRINK AT THE REVOLVING CAROUSEL BAR

The Hotel Monteleone has a fun and entertaining feature in it called the Carousel Bar. The bar revolves in a circle, no, it is not like a carnival ride, it is very slow so you barely feel the movement, unless of course you are already toasted then you will feel the room move if you are sitting in a stationary chair!

carousel2

  • EAT AT TROUP’S MEATERY

For all the foodies out there you have got to order the meatery board and the covey rise vegetables at Troup’s Meatery! They offer a delicious selection of patés, cracklins, sausage, boudin balls, cured sliced meats, seasonal vegetables and heirloom tomatoes grilled in a bacon vinaigrette. Truly unique and flavorful!

troups meatery       troupsvegies

  • HAVE A DRINK AT LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP

LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop is reputed to be the hang out of the pirate Jean Lafitte in the late 1700’s, yes, some think he may still be there from time to time, the building its self is thought to be the oldest structure that is used as a bar in the United States! This is a hopping place to be in the evenings for a drink and the patrons spill into the street as is common for nearly every establishment in New Orleans!

lafitte blacksmith lafitte blacksmith

There is so much to see and do in New Orleans that no matter what is on your list to do, there will always be more to see and do! There is no way to do even half of the activities available in one weekend. So, my advise to you…. just plan right now to make a return trip or two! You will be glad you did!

8 Things to do at the Texas Renaissance Festival

TRF
Arrgh!

In the small town of Todd Mission, Texas approximatetly 50 miles northwest of Houston is the largest renaissance festival in this country. The Texas Renaissance Festival is 55 acres of fun, fantasy and merriment. Founded in 1974 by George Coulam, the festival welcomes half a million guests annually to be transported via their imagination to another time and land.

The Texas Renaissance Festival proudly tips its hat to the over 500 costumed performers on 17 stages, and nearly 400 shops featuring unique artisans, merchants, craft vendors, human-powered rides and a diverse assortment of food purveyors offering mouth-watering dishes with a home-cooked flair. The festival runs 8 weekends from October to November annually. Each weekend has its own theme which in turn influences the vibe of the festival, the performances, games and contests for that weekend.  The themes for the eight weekend event are Oktoberfest, 1001 Dreams, All Hallows Eve, Pirate Adventure, Roman Bacchanal, Barbarian Invasion, Highland Fling and Celtic Christmas.

There is so much to see, do and taste that there is not enough time in one day. Thankfully there are hotels and B&B’s near by that you can book a room at or bring your camping gear or RV and stay at the festival in one of their camping locations for a nominal fee.

8 THINGS TO DO AT THE TEXAS RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL:

Watch a live show

With 17 stages there is a wide variety of music and performances to choose from. They are all geared towards fun and frivolity with audience interaction.

TRF
Polka Band in the German Village
TRF
Pirate Band

 

 

Hang out in a pub

Have a seat in one of the many pubs and drinking (non-alcoholic drinks are served as well as mead, wine and beer) establishments, rest your feet and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You never know who you might meet! We met an individual who was a fire spinner performer at the festival but for her day job she was a legal assistant who also dabbled in interior design!

imageTRF
Say hi to your neighbor
imageTRF
You will meet some interesting people!
TRF
Enjoy and have fun!

Watch a jousting match

The jousting is entertaining to watch with knights vying for the maidens hand.

TRF
Jousting

Try your hand at playing a game

There are many games for the young and young at heart to play. Not into games? How about a ride?

TRF
Rides for kids
TRF
Play one of the many games

 

 

Watch the vendor parade

The vendors gather together with flags and small displays of their wares to show off in a parade around the festival grounds.

TRF
Watch the parade
TRF
Displaying wares

 

 

Go to the weekend kick off pre-party

Every Friday and Saturday there is a  pre-party (21 and over) to celebrate the start of the weekend. The decorations are elaborate and amazing to see! There is a costume contest for the best dressed and a D.J. that plays a wide variety of dance music.

TRF
Dance! Dance! Dance!
TRF
Acrobatic entertainers

 

 

People watch

There are so many interesting people there, both in costume and not, this is a whole entertainment venue on its own!

TRF
So many interesting people
TRF
So many things to see
TRF
The creatures we discovered!
So much to see!
So much to see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY

What ever you do, have fun! There is something for everyone! Sample the food, wash it down with a cold beverage, cheer for the performers and browse the huge selection of shops with hand crafted one-of-a-kind goods!

TRF
Unique flavors to try
TRF
Many selections to choose from
TRF
Wash lunch down with a cold drink

Try these yummy dishes at your next pub visit

lamb burger
lamb burger

The UK is best known for their warm, hearty and flavorful foods. Recipes which have been handed down for generations are a mixture of delightfully flavorful vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas, peas, potatoes, and meats such as lamb, venison, chicken, and veal.

Sweet potato Chips (fries)
Sweet potato Chips (fries)

If you want to sample this countries vast and unique array of savory dishes, pubs are a great place to accomplish this. The pubs of the UK are as diverse as the people who inhabit the country and the food that they eat. Familiar menu items in a pub are their hearty and savory pies which they call pudding, made with a selection of vegetables and meat in a delicious thick brown gravy topped with a flaky buttery pastry top and a side of mashed peas.

Steak and Kidney pudding Quick Recipe:

1 package of Pre-made pie crust (2 crusts  per box)

1 packet of Brown Gravy mix

1 lb, of stewing steak

4 oz. of kidney (lamb or ox)

Preparation

  1. Line a greased pie pan with 1  of the pie crusts

  2. Cut meat and kidneys into small pieces

  3. Mix the meats together and put into the pie pan

  4. Pre-mix the gravy and pour over meat

  5. Put the other pie crust on top sealing the edges by dampening your finger in water and running it around the bottom pie crust.

  6. Bake at 350 for approximately 3 hours or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are just starting to bubble out

A pint of Guinness or a Stout is a great accompaniment with this dish. Just saying… pretty yummy!

ploughman's platter
ploughman’s platter

Another great dish you will find is the Ploughman’s Platter which consists of a tasty selection of roasted and cured meats, aged cheeses, both hard and soft, and a small loaf of freshly baked bread that has a crispy buttery top sprinkled with oats and a warm soft interior that makes it an excellent pull-apart bread. There will also be small sides of homemade berry jams and churned butter.

When you are done with your main course and you still feel a bit peckish, try one of their dessert items such as the Bread Pudding that has raisins that have been plumped by soaking them in brandy or whisky, the Jam Suet Pudding (much better than it sounds) or the cranberry orange scones with a spot of tea or coffee.

ahhh! Dessert!
ahhh! Dessert!