Spa Holiday For Food Lovers

With a long history going back to the Romans, who built baths around thermal and mineral springs, Germany and Austria are home to some of the world’s best spa and wellness resorts. Spas known not only for their health facilities, many are also destinations for food lovers from around the world.

Europeans seem to understand the benefits of taking a spa holiday and know that good food is as much a part of the whole travel experience as is relaxation, clean air, mountains and rivers…all contribute to a sense of well being. They visit the spas to benefit both their body and mind.

Whether called a spa, wellness center, therme or bad, these modern spas have a variety of steam rooms, dry saunas, hot tubs, indoor and outdoor pools, cold plunges and relaxation areas as well as quiet rooms for spa treatments. Spa goers can totally unwind from the stress of their busy lives.

While on their holiday, they make every effort to enjoy the fresh air in the resort’s outdoor surroundings. They go horseback riding, play golf, hike, bike, and perhaps swim in the cold waters of a pristine lake.

.Just imagine a day where you receive a massage with hot stones then get wrapped in a thick terry robe and relax in a lounge that has floor to ceiling windows with views of a beautiful lake or mountain scenery. After a day of pampering, you dress for dinner at one of the resort’s gourmet restaurants and enjoy fine regional cuisine of the area.

If fine dining is as important to you as a relaxing massage or facial, then you will want to follow along over the coming weeks as my husband and I travel once more to Europe and visit “spas for food lovers”. This year, we will be staying at eight outstanding spa resorts, four in Germany and four in Austria.

While we enjoy traveling to many other parts of Europe, the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in Germany and the states of Tirol and Salzburg in Austria are more appealing to us than some of Europe’s more famous but overcrowded destinations. With their good roads, postcard vistas, pristine villages and friendly residents, these regions keep drawing us back for another visit.

Each of the fantastic resorts have something special about them…one is a restored 18th century German hunting lodge, one sits high up on a 4600 ft. plateau surrounded by the Austrian Alps, another has the largest private Lipizzaner stud farm in Europe with 40 white stallions, and another is a stylish lakeside retreat just 45 minutes from Munich. One thing they all have in common is beautiful spa facilities that focus on wellness. Each hotel has excellent restaurants, some accumulating many fine dining awards. Two of the spa resorts have well known restaurants that have been awarded three stars by Michelin.

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“Beauty, relaxation, vitality, joy and pleasure…they are a vital part of life”, is the philosophy promoted at Wellness-Residenz Schalber, one of the top rated spa hotels in Austria. That seems to sum up why spa holidays are enjoyed by so many Europeans.

 

 

 

 

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Chicken Cordon Bleu With An Italian Twist

Cordon Bleu, the name is French for “blue ribbon”, is a cutlet of thinly pounded veal or chicken wrapped around ham and cheese, breaded and then pan fried or baked. While France, Germany, Italy and the U.S. claim to have invented different versions of this dish, food historians say that it first appeared in cookbooks in Switzerland in the 1900’s.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Served With Lemon Risotto And Zucchini

Chicken Cordon Bleu Served With Lemon Risotto And Sautéed Zucchini

Think of Chicken Cordon Bleu as stuffed fried chicken and you can understand why this classic dish is now making a comeback…even to the family dinner table. With its crunchy seasoned breadcrumb coating, savory Italian rosemary ham and melted cheese, this moist and tender chicken dish will be a big hit when served to both friends and family. The nicest part about this recipe is that the majority of the prep work can be done early in the day or even the day before.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Serves 4, adjust the recipe accordingly

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, well trimmed
  • 12 very thin slices of imported Italian rosemary ham
  • 6 to 8 slices of Fontina, Gruyère or Münster cheese (I’ve tried several and personally like Münster as it melts well but doesn’t seep out during the cooking process)
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten well
  • 3 – 4 Tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 c. Panko bread crumbs, depending on the size of the cutlets
  • 1/2 c. Italian style seasoned bread crumbs, depending on the size of the cutlets
  • 1/4 c. olive oil, depending on the size of the sauté pan
  • 3 Tbsp. butter

Wash the chicken breasts, then place each one between two sheets of plastic wrap and carefully pound thin. Unwrap and spread each breast on one side with a light coating of mustard then season with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder to your taste. Place three slices of ham on each cutlet then top with cheese (it will take about 1 and 1/2 slices to cover each breast). Fold in the long sides of the cutlet and then roll up.  Wrap the roll in plastic wrap and twist the ends tight to look like a sausage. Refrigerate the rolls for at least 30 minutes to firm up. (Can be made ahead up to a day in advance).

Place the flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs in three separate bowls. Take plastic off the chicken, skewering if necessary to hold tight, then roll lightly in the flour, shaking off the excess. Then dip into the eggs, then coat in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing the crumbs so they stick. (Can be made to this point earlier in the day and placed on a rack on a tray in the refrigerator. If any wet spots have appeared in the crumbs at the time of cooking, dab with extra crumbs).

Heat the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan over moderate heat and when hot cook the rolls on all sides just until lightly browned (about a minute on each side). Then place on a rack on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

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While very popular at dinner parties and weddings in the ’60’s and ’70’s, the dish lost its appeal as new food tends became popular in later years. As tastes have changed once again, Chicken Cordon Bleu is now true comfort food.  Cut open its golden crispy crust and watch as the melted cheese slowly oozes out and you’ll know why the dish is worthy of a blue ribbon. If you want to gild the lily so to speak, you can serve this chicken with a sauce but it certainly isn’t necessary.

What makes this dish go from ordinary to one of the best chicken dishes ever is the quality of the ingredients used in its preparation. Please don’t use packaged boiled ham and cheese from the refrigerated aisle of your local grocery store, instead buy the ingredients from your deli where you can taste and purchase the very best and most flavorful ingredients available.

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Home Decor, It’s All In The Details

We all can appreciate a home that is decorated well and, if you are like me, you love going on house tours. While spending a week with good friends at their summer home on Nantucket recently, I mentioned to my girlfriend how photogenic her house was and asked if I might photograph and share their lovely home with my readers. I held my breath as I waited for her answer and was delighted when she said “yes”.

A Beautifully Decorated Nantucket Home

A Beautifully Decorated Nantucket Home

My friends purchased their house located on a cliff road above downtown Nantucket some years ago. Even though the old house needed to be completely renovated to suit their family’s needs, they had a clear vision of what it could become. They designed the house with a nod to the past, keeping the best of the old features but added modern conveniences throughout.

The home is decorated with easy summer living in mind. Soft neutrals and shades of green seem to bring the outdoors in on the first floor living areas. Large windows on all sides of the house let in lots of natural light as well as the cooling breezes the island is known for during the summer.

The core of their house is their family room, a large, comfortable and welcoming room where family and guests like to gather. There is a relaxed but stylish mixture of upholstered furniture that is perfect for watching a movie in the evening or reclining with a book on a lazy afternoon. Every corner features charming vignettes…do you see the two little children’s wing chairs at a small table ready for games located next to the fireplace?

(Click on any photo in this article to enlarge and see a slide show.)

Bigger is not necessarily better and that can be seen in the pretty parlor. While on the small side compared to the family room, the parlor is bathed in natural light and the green tones give it a restful feeling. Small touches such as the writing desk and chair on the right side of the fireplace give the formal room a personal touch.

The bright and airy dining area is divided into two sections and has a mix of vintage and designer pieces of furniture. The white painted beadboard walls are a perfect background for the botanical prints that line them.

One Of Two Dining Areas

One Of Two Dining Areas

The room is casual yet chic, a pretty wire and crystal light chandelier hangs over a white painted antique dining table with rush seat chairs.  My girlfriend can serve sandwiches and salad as easily as a three course dinner in the room. While always entertaining with style, making her family and friends comfortable is very important to her. She will tone down the formality of a multi course dinner with casual table settings and wild flowers (pokeweed and queen ann’s lace in these photos) in tall, decorative handblown vases on the table. It’s again, the small details that give the room an inviting feel.

They are both collectors of antiques and art, having a sure eye and a great sense of style and it’s their attention to the details that has filled their home with warmth and reflects both of their tastes and personalities. They love to hunt for antique treasures and art and that can be seen throughout the home with collections that have been gathered over time, piece by piece, and displayed in interesting ways.

Even the halls offer visual appeal, dark wood floors, a beautiful wide staircase with a seat before reaching the second floor, all showcasing their collections.

The bedrooms have each been decorated in a style that makes any guest feel welcomed. Here again, it is the details that make each room enjoyable. A special lamp, shell encrusted keepsakes, chenille covered wicker or an antique ship diorama give each room a special feeling.

Even the bathrooms have special little features that give them a wonderful charm. Antique claw foot tubs and sinks remind you of the history of the house but they are accompanied by modern showers and toilets.

I hope you have enjoyed taking a peek inside one of Nantucket’s most beautiful homes. I think you will agree with me that where home decor is concerned, it is all in the details. They are what give an overall impression of comfort and charm to the homes we live in.

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I want to thank my dear friends for not only inviting my husband and I to their Nantucket home over the years, I also want to thank them for opening up their home to my readers. My girlfriend kindly gave me permission to show you her lovely home and who among us wouldn’t want to while away the summer hours there if we had the chance.

 

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Nantucket Getaway

Before summer comes to an end, join me for a visit to the idyllic island of  Nantucket. Less than thirty miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the picture perfect island, with lighthouses guarding its shores and beaches edged with sand dunes and sea oats, has an unmistakable New England charm that has attracted artists, writers and thousands of summer visitors for years.

Brandt Point Lighthouse

Brandt Point Lighthouse, The Second Oldest Lighthouse In America

After arriving on the island, either by plane or ferry, take a walking tour down the cobbled streets of downtown and you see evidence of its importance during the late 18th and early 19th century, when its whaling port made it one of the wealthiest communities in America. Brick mansions and grand homes clad in white clapboard, many with widow’s walks perched high on their rooftops, were built for the wealthy sea captains who prospered during the bygone era of whaling. Today, some of those historic buildings are lovely inns, B & B’s and popular restaurants.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slideshow.

Downtown is filled with mixture of trendy high end boutiques, art galleries and antique shops that cater to the wealthy who have summer homes on the island and more affordable clothing, gift and souvenir shops that are popular with the summer crowds that visit the island. One store you shouldn’t miss is Murray’s Toggery Shop which locals think of as Nantucket’s department store but is especially known for  selling “Nantucket red” trousers.

Walk over to wharfs and you will find more boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants as well as the ferry terminal. Docked at the wharfs, you see mega yachts of the rich and famous, sailing boats of all sizes, working fishing boats as well as boats for charter and rental. During the course of the summer, sailboat races with small day sailors such as the Rainbow Fleet or large multi masted America’s Cup boats are held in the nearby waters.

After enjoying all there is to see and do in the downtown area, be sure to take time to visit other parts of the island. Just three and a half miles from downtown, the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum honors the islanders who risked their own lives to save the victims from over 700  shipwrecks in the surrounding waters. The most memorable exhibit is about the tragedy and the rescue of victims from the Andrea Doria. In 1956, the Italian ocean liner, collided with the Swedish ocean liner, Stockholm and sank 45 miles south of Nantucket.

Siasconset or ‘Sconset” as the locals say, is an old fishing village where fisherman’s tiny houses have now been turned into charming little cottages. Stop at Claudette’s for an excellent sandwich then head over to the seaside edge of town for a stroll along the “Bluff Walk” to enjoy wonderful sea views and the impressive bluffs. The high bluffs are slowly being eroded away by fierce storms that ravage the shoreline at certain times of the year. Some of the cliff side homes have become so close to the edge that they will soon need to be moved or lost to the sea.  This is also the area of the island where you can see the Sankaty Head Lighthouse which has been moved three times because of the shoreline erosion.

Besides the natural beauty of the island, one of the things I enjoy while visiting Nantucket, and I believe most people will, are the wonderful homes. It doesn’t matter whether they are a multi-million dollar new house or a small older cottage, all the island homes have an architectural style that is controlled by strict preservation codes. Covered in weathered gray cedar shingles, doors and windows trimmed in white, they are all special in their own way as far as I’m concerned.

With the moist, cool ocean air of summer, gardens tend to thrive on the island and add to the beauty of each home, no matter its size. While some of the large homes are hidden behind huge privet hedges for privacy, many of the cottages are surrounded by white wooden fences, which during summer, are covered with hundreds of pink rose blossoms and honeysuckle. It is nice to be able to walk by slowly and enjoy the sweet smells as you admire the profusion of perennial flowerbeds surrounding the homes.

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After our move from New England last September, I didn’t think I would be returning this year but was delighted when good friends, who’ve had a home on Nantucket for years, invited us back for another visit. Being on the island once again was a special treat.

The Beaches Are Edged With Sand Dunes And Sea Oats

The Beaches Are Edged With Sand Dunes And Sea Oats

The rugged beauty of its cliffs constantly pounded by the cold waters of the Atlantic, charming gray shingled cottages with their lush flower gardens, the sweet smell of roses and honeysuckle, all memories that I won’t soon forget. I must thank our dear friends…a week full of laughter, cooking together and reminiscing about our friendships for oh so many years was absolutely wonderful.

If you get a chance to visit the delightful island of Nantucket, even if only for a couple of romantic days, I know you will love its wonderful New England charm. Tell me, have you ever been to the island and if so what made it special to you?

 

 

 

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A Garden Transformation

When you live in a small residential community, the homes and the landscaping around them often look very similar, especially if the community is governed by a Home Owners Association. Wishing to have a garden that would distinguish our house from the other forty-nine in our gated community, my husband and I decided to hire a landscape professional to redesign and plant gardens that would be different from what the builder originally provided.

Our New Tropical Landscaping

Our New Tropical Landscaping

The only plants in our front yard that we wanted to keep from the “landscape package” that was included in our building contract was a Pygmy Date Palm, a small Oak Tree, which was mandated by a county ordinance, five Gold Capella Arboricola shrubs, two Gardenia bushes and several dwarf Xanadu. We also were keeping two large Sylvester Palms that we purchased and had planted in our front garden right before moving into our home.

Our New Home With Original Plantings

Our New Home With Original Plantings

Narrow Backyard With Swale In Front Of Oleander Hedge

Narrow Backyard With Swale In Front Of Oleander Hedge

The problem with our narrow backyard was not only the lack of any plantings but also a swale that runs the length of our property in front of a large Oleander hedge that is part of the community’s and our back property line.  The swale has a storm drain that allows excess rain water to flow into an underground system that slows and filters the water before it reaches the Indian River Basin and the Atlantic Ocean just a couple of miles from our home.

View Of Back Yard From Great Room And Patio

View Of Back Yard From Great Room And Patio

Because of our home’s open concept design and large glass sliding doors that lead out to our patio, the swale was one of the first things you noticed from our great room…not a very pretty sight by any means.

While some might not think our landscaping was that bad, it was the one thing that I didn’t like about our home. I wanted to have gardens that would complement the design our new home in Florida…a tropical garden with a mixture of plants that would make us feel like we were on a vacation in your own backyard.

Over the past eight months, we had three different landscapers visit our home but were not happy with any of their proposals. Then I discovered  Jennifer Bevins of Construction Landscape one day while I was looking at Houzz on the internet.  Jennifer was a BEST OF HOUZZ AWARD WINNER for the last three years. From our first meeting with Jennifer, where she listened to differing ideas from my husband and I, all the way through to the four days of installation, she was a delight to work with. Let me show you our garden transformation.

 

In a hard tropical downpour, mulch in the garden area would wash away so Tennessee river rock in beige earth tones was used to slow water flow as well as a durable and low maintenance ground cover. A landscape fabric was laid under the stone to keep it from settling into the ground. The fabric discourages weeds yet it is permeable enough to let water slowly drain through it.

Tropical Plants

Tropical Plants

The rounded stones of various sizes add both texture and color contrast between the driveway and walkway pavers and the dark brown mulch. The curved rock area is planted with low and compact Liriope to soften the look yet they won’t overtake the walkway when mature. Gold Capella Arboricola, Flora Nora Aunte Lou, Breynia Disticha Snowbush, Dwarf Ixora, Foxtail Fern, a Furcraea Foetida (similar to an Agave), a Queen Palm and Spindle Palms were planted behind to create height, visual interest and color. The design makes the walkway look and feel wider.

Plants Of Different Colors And Textures Add Interest In The Garden

Plants Of Different Colors And Textures Add Interest In The Garden

Shape And Texture In A Tropical Garden

Shape And Texture In A Tropical Garden

We now have a tropical landscape design that will grow into an overlapping mixture of palms trees, shrubs, and boarder plants of varying heights with layers of texture and color. The palm tree’s fronds create much needed shade for the under plantings during the hot summer months.

Palms Will Add Much Needed Shade In Summer

Palms Will Add Much Needed Shade In Summer

Our yard was too small for a backyard pool but landscaping has given it a resort like feel. The covered and screened patio is now surrounded by new plantings that create a nice view from our great room out to our patio and the backyard. A Gardenia that was once planted by our front entrance is now growing just outside the screened patio where the breeze will perfume the area with its heady fragrance.

A stately Dypsis Decaryi Triangle Palm with Pigmy Date Palms flanking its sides and a underplanting of colorful Codiaeum Croton Magnificent, Flora Nora, Dwarf Xanadu Philodendron, Philodendron ‘Rojo Congo’ and Dwarf Oyster Plants now can be seen as you enter our great room.

Even while small, the patio garden is distinctive with both sharp edged spikes, soft rounded leaves, lush green mixed with brightly colored leaves and variegated foliage that add both texture and light.

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We are very happy with the transformation of our gardens and can’t wait to see how the landscaping will look when the plants grow to maturity. They are hardy, low care plants for easy maintenance that will work very well with our new lifestyle when we are gone weeks at a time traveling.

The New Gardens Complement The Style Of Our Florida Home

The New Gardens Complement The Style Of Our Florida Home

I now have gardens I can be proud of and I think our neighbors will approve when they pass by each day. What do you think, have you done something similar with your yard? Did you do all the plantings yourself or did you hire a landscaper to help transform a garden?

This post is dedicated to all gardeners and landscapers, both amateur and professional, whose tireless work makes our world a little nicer place in which to live and work.

 

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Schnitzel / What To Order In Germany

What to Order In A German Restaurant can be intimidating for those not familiar with the cuisine or language. After staring at the menu (speisekarte) trying to decipher words that seem to have way too many letters, your eyes settle on one word you recognize…Schnitzel. The word means “cutlet” and you slowly breathe a sigh of relief. While maybe not the most adventurous item on the menu, you can be assured of getting a dish that everyone loves, the locals and tourists alike.

Technically this simple classic is an Austrian specialty rather than German but is widely eaten across both countries. The Austrian dish that most of us are familiar with is Weinerschnitzel, a cutlet that must be prepared with veal. It is pounded thin, coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then quickly fried in butter. It is absolutely delicious and a popular dish that you can’t go wrong in ordering.

German Pork Schnitzel, "Schweineschnitzel"

“Schweineschnitzel”, A Classic Pork Cutlet

Schweineschnitzel is equally popular in Germany because it is more economical and richer in flavor. It is a classic cutlet of tender pork that is encased in a crispy golden crust on the outside and is juicy and flavorful on the inside.

German Pork Schnitzel,  “Schweineschnitzel” 

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly

  • 2 – 3 pork cutlets, pounded thin (about 1/2 inch thick or less if you prefer)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I also like to use garlic powder and onion powder for extra flavor)
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 – 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 c. fine breadcrumbs
  • peanut or canola oil, enough to come halfway up the side of the cutlets
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • finely chopped parsley, for garnish
  • sliced lemons

Pat the cutlets dry with paper towel, season each side well with salt and pepper then dust lightly with flour, shaking off any excess. Dip the cutlets into the beaten egg, letting the excess dip off. Coat both sides of the cutlets into the breadcrumbs. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and oil over medium high heat. Add the cutlets and fry until golden brown on the first side, about 3 or 4 minutes, turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes more until golden, being careful not to overcook. Drain on paper towels then plate, garnish with parsley and serve with sliced lemons.

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If you look at a menu written in German more closely, you will see schnitzel as the second half of many of the entrée items listed. These are variations of schnitzel, each with a different name depending on the meat used and how it is garnished.

Jägerschnitzel, Pork Cutlet Topped With Mushroom Gravy

Jägerschnitzel, Pork Cutlet Topped With Mushroom Gravy

Jägerschnitzel is topped with mushrooms gravy, Zwiebelschnitzel is topped with fried onions, Holsteinschnitzel is topped with a fried egg, Rahmschnitzel is topped with a cream sauce and Schnitzel Wiener Art means a schnitzel made in the style of Vienna but with a meat other than veal. If you don’t want to eat veal or pork, schnitzel is also made with chicken Hänchenschnitzel or turkey Putenschnitzel.

Schnitzel is good anytime of the year. In the warm months, schnitzel served with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkled with parsley would go well with kartoffelsalat which is potato salad or gurkensalat which is a cucumber salad and in the cold months, schnitzel is delicious served with a hearty mushroom cream sauce and kartoffel which are potatoes or spätzle which are egg noodles, and perhaps rotkohl which is a sweet and sour red cabbage.

If you are traveling to Germany or even Austria, I would suggest buying yourself a menu translator before you leave home. I’ve had mine for years and it helps me order in confidence if no English menu is available in the restaurant where I am dining. That will be the case in many restaurants unless they cater to tourists. I’ve also found that many German waiters and waitresses speak English and are more than happy to explain dishes that I can’t find in my translator.

My husband and I will be heading to Germany in October and I know that one meal we will enjoy on the trip will be schnitzel. Even if you aren’t planning to fly off to Germany or Austria anytime soon, you can prepare a delicious schnitzel dinner at home that everyone will enjoy.

Guten Appetit

 

 

 

 

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Vero Beach, Gateway To The Tropics

When my husband and I moved from New England back to Florida, I was unaware that Vero Beach was called “The Gateway To The Tropics” until after we had settled into this charming little seaside resort town. Now that we are spending our first summer in this section of Florida, I would have to agree with the experts. The hottest month of the year is July when the average high is 90 degrees and very humid but thankfully we are saved most days by breezes coming off the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon.

Tropical Fruits Such As Pineapples And Mangos Can Be Bought From Local Farms

Tropical Pineapples And Mangos From Road Side Stands

Frequent summer rainstorms provide the needed moisture to create a jumble of lush green vegetation which is an unusual mixture of massive oak trees with palm trees rising through the oak’s fern and moss laden branches. Drive out west and you discover tall pine and oak forests growing next to acre upon acre of citrus groves and plant nurseries specializing in palms, orchids and bromeliads.

Beautiful Orchids Are Raised And Successfully Raised In This Tropical Climate

Beautiful Orchids Are Successfully Raised In This Tropical Climate

Winters are generally mild to cool here in Vero Beach. The coldest month of the year is January with an average low temperature of 52. The town doesn’t usually doesn’t get a hard freeze so colorful plants typical of the tropics grow in everyone’s front yards. where as just a little further north they would not thrive. Cordyline Red Sister, Gardenia and Xanadu Philodendron grow together in my garden.

Tropical Plants Happy Grow In Vero Beach Gardens

Tropical Plants Happy Grow In Vero Beach Gardens

At anytime of the year, you will find farmer’s markets and roadside fruit and vegetable stands where farmers are selling just picked crops. On a recent Saturday outing, we made a quick U-Turn after seeing signs for fresh picked pineapples. Pineapples are certainly a tropical fruit but one I’ve thought of as being imported from Hawaii. How nice to discover Nature Farms, seven miles away from our home, which grows pesticide free pineapples, picked at the peak of ripeness, and sells them in front of their home and farm.

Fresh Picked Pineapples At Nature Farms

Road Side Fruit Stand Selling Fresh Picked Pineapples

As you can see from the photos below, there is a huge difference between a pineapple picked green and shipped from Hawaii, South America, Africa or Southeast Asia to the local grocery store and a locally grown one picked when it turns a bright yellow-orange color. Standing in the middle a grass field sampling a just sliced piece of pineapple was a taste treat beyond description. After the first bite, I knew I was taking a pineapple home. Actually, my husband and I bought seven small pineapples, they were irresistible.

Typical grocery store pineapple on the left and ripe field picked pineapple on the right.

After twenty wonderful years living in beautiful New England with homes in both New Hampshire and Maine, I didn’t believe that I would ever be saying this, but I really love Vero Beach. I’m now living in a tropical paradise although I do wish there was a little less heat and humidity. Since there is nothing I can do about the climate in my little part of Florida, I can at least head to the beach and enjoy its cool breezes.

There Is Always An Ocean Breeze At Vero Beach

There Is Always An Ocean Breeze At Vero Beach

After a day of sun and fun, I can then go home and enjoy the tropical fruits that we are lucky enough to be able to buy from our local farmers. Now you might wonder what I had planned for seven pineapples? I used one of the pineapples for one of my favorite salsas that I make with mangoes and pineapples.

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin With Mango Pineapple Relish

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin With Mango Pineapple Relish

The beautifully ripe pineapples and mangoes, both the color of sunshine, are mixed with jalapeño, sweet chili sauce and a splash of rum to create a sweet and slightly spicy salsa. I served the salsa with slices of tender spice rubbed pork tenderloin with a rum glaze, you can find the recipe here. One bite of this meal makes you feel like you are in the tropics…oh wait a moment, I am.

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Strawberry Shortcake, Gluten Free

Strawberry Shortcake, the classic summertime dessert, made with sun ripened strawberries piled on top of a buttery shortcake and finished with a large dollop of freshly whipped cream is a taste of heaven and this one is gluten free.

When I had strawberry shortcake growing up, it certainly wasn’t like the one I’m sharing with you today. No, back then it was made with pre packaged little sponge cakes that we bought at our local grocery store and, more times than not, the strawberries we used came from the frozen food section. We had it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream but I don’t ever remember having the dessert with real whipped cream. Our life was very simple and I had no idea that strawberry shortcake was served any differently until I had it in a restaurant years later.

Strawberry Shortcake, A Summertime Classic

Strawberry Shortcake, A Summertime Classic

Fast forward to last week. We were having a middle of the week impromptu dinner with our friends but I was given a challenge. Make a gluten free meal as one of our friends is being checked for an autoimmune condition. We served arroz con pollo along with a salad for dinner and strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Since my husband and I don’t need to eat gluten free, I didn’t want to buy a lot of special ingredients that I might not need again. I found a pre packaged gluten free scone mix and made scones as the base for the dessert. We all loved the dessert so I thought I’d share the recipe with you.

Strawberry Shortcake, Gluten Free 

 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the cooking rack placed in the top third of the oven.

  • 1 (13 oz.) bag Pamela’s Biscuit & Scone Mix*
  • ½ c. sugar plus a little more for sprinkling
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp.) butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup milk (I used 1/4 c. milk plus 3/4 c. half and half) plus about 1 Tbsp. for brushing the tops
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat (Silpat) or parchment paper.

Combine the dry mix and sugar in a bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Do not overwork the dough. Add the milk then mix until the dough just comes together. Scoop onto a piece of parchment or cling wrap then gently pat into a round, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches high. (If dough is sticky, wet fingers help shape the dough.) Cut into 8 wedges with a knife and place on the prepared cookie sheet using a spatula. If you wish, brush the scones with a little cream and sprinkle with sugar before baking. Bake 20 to 24 minutes until the tops are cracked and just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and let rest on the baking sheet (they are very tender) for a few minutes then place on a wire rack to finish cooling.

Strawberries

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and quartered
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier (optional)

Place clean and quartered strawberries into a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Pour in the lemon juice and liqueur, if using, and stir. Let sit for several hours.

Whipped cream

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar, or to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. vanilla (optional)

Place all the ingredients in a chilled bowl and whip with an electric beater until soft peaks are formed. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Place a scone on each dessert plate, top with strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream.

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If you think you don’t have time to make dessert when you are entertaining friends, you might want to try this classic summertime dessert. In thirty short minutes, earlier in the day, I made the scones along with preparing the strawberries and whipped cream. All that was necessary, at serving time, was to place a scone on each plate, top with several spoonfuls of strawberries and their delicious juice, then add a dollop of whipped cream. During the winter, I could see making this dessert with pears poached in red wine.

These strawberry shortcakes are the perfect ending to a meal. Quick and easy to prepare, these buttery shortcakes topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream are delicious. I guess you could say…“summertime and the living is easy”.

Tell me, do you ever have spur of the moment dinners for your friends with only a couple of hours to prepare a meal? If so, do you make dessert from scratch, use packaged mixes or do you buy something ready made from your local bakery?

*I mentioned the scone mix that I bought but have not been compensated in any way. I was very pleased with this mix but I’m sure there are others like it on the market. I was happy that I could make our friend a gluten free dessert he could enjoy, without me having to buy lots of ingredients I might not use again. I’d definitely make gluten free scones again, even though my husband and I don’t have to worry about gluten in our diets. No one will ever know the scones are gluten free unless you tell them.

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Broccoli And Cauliflower Salad

Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with smoky bacon, pine nuts and raisins is an updated version of a classic broccoli salad that appeared at most potluck dinners and backyard barbecues that I attended as a young girl growing up in Texas. I loved it but my mother never made the salad because my father didn’t like broccoli. He wasn’t a very flexible person when it came to what he ate. There is no way he would have eaten a raw broccoli salad. Even though the salad had lots of bacon, cheddar cheese, raisins and a sweet mayonnaise based dressing…not once would he ever give it a try.

My husband isn’t much better when it comes to broccoli. He thinks if you are going to eat broccoli, it should be covered in a cheese sauce. Apparently they are not alone when it comes to broccoli, even one of our former presidents didn’t like it. President Bush said “I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!

With that kind of history, why did I decide to make a broccoli and cauliflower salad? I like broccoli and I’m the cook now! Actually, my husband enjoyed this delicious side dish and I think you will as well.

Broccoli And Cauliflower Salad With Smoky Bacon, Pine Nuts And Parmesan Cheese

Broccoli And Cauliflower Salad With Smoky Bacon, Pine Nuts, Raisins And Parmesan Cheese

Broccoli And Cauliflower Salad

  • 2 c. broccoli flowerets
  • 2 c. cauliflower flowerets
  • 2 – 3 strips of thick cut bacon, diced
  • 1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 c. raisins (dried cranberries or dried cherries can be substituted)
  • 1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving

Vinaigrette

  • 1 small clove of garlic, grated or minced fine
  • 3 – 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, red wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste

Blanch the broccoli and cauliflower in a large pot of salted water until tender crisp, about 1 minute. Drain well in a colander then place on paper towel to absorb any remaining water (a salad spinner works well to get all the water out of the veggies)  then put in a mixing bowl.

Fry the bacon until brown and crispy then add to the vegetables.

Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until it has emulsified. Pour the vinaigrette over the warm broccoli, cauliflower and bacon then toss. Add the nuts, raisins, and grated cheese and toss well. Taste for additional seasoning. A little extra lemon juice or vinegar will add a little more zip if it seems to be lacking in flavor. Once the vegetables are seasoned to your taste, place in a serving bowl. Just before serving top with additional grated cheese, if you wish.

****

This is a salad for all seasons. In the hot summer months, you might want to refrigerate the salad for a couple of hours for a cool side dish to serve along with grilled meats, hot dogs and hamburgers.. The rest of the year you might want to serve the salad at room temperature, it goes great as a side with a roasted chicken dinner. While I still think the original broccoli salad is good, I think my version is healthier and that makes me happy.

Tell me my friends, what are your feelings about broccoli. Do you like it and do you serve it to your family and friends. Or are you like President Bush and my father and won’t touch broccoli…I’d love to know.

 

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A Blogger’s Anniversary

Five years ago, I sat at my laptop and wrote “Little treasures discovered while exploring the back roads of life” as a tag line for Back Road Journal. I asked you to spend a few minutes of your day with me and I would share life’s little discoveries I’ve enjoyed while traveling the back roads of New England and beyond.

Along the Wine Road In Alsace

A Back Road Through The Wine Region Of Alsace

I’ll never know how many people have even noticed the tag line in my header but something has brought many thousands of readers like yourself to Back Road Journal and for that I’m very thankful. Some of you leave thoughtful comments letting me know that I have inspired you to try something new in your kitchen or to plan a vacation to a place that I have visited during my travels and that always makes me smile.

For this anniversary, I thought I’d share some of my photos from the past five years for those readers who may have just started following Back Road Journal. For those of you who have been here from the early years, I hope you will enjoy looking back as well.

I’ve written about my passion for food, whether it was a seven course meal prepared by a famous three star Michelin chef in Europe or a simple dinner I’ve made in my kitchen.

You have followed along as I’ve traveled the east coast of America from the seacoast of New Hampshire down through Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

I’ve hopped on a plane to show you Germany and to prove that there is much more to the country than sausages and sauerkraut, you really must visit someday.

I’ve taken you to Austria where the beauty of the countryside can almost take your breath away. It makes you want to start signing “The hills are alive with the sound of music“.

I’ve shown you Italy, from Portofino with its grand yachts to the majestic Dolomites in the north.

Last but certainly not least, there was France where we visited its sunny coast and the wonderful Alsace region that is featured in my header photo.

Our historic home in New Hampshire was featured many times on the blog. The keeping room kitchen decorated for Christmas was in Country Woman magazine  but everyone’s favorite photos seemed to be the snow covered house at Christmas time.

No matter the season our apple orchard was always of interest, both in the spring when the trees were in bloom and in the fall when the apples were ready to pick.

I shared Monet’s beautiful gardens and others not nearly as famous as well as my own efforts growing both vegetables and flowers in New Hampshire and in Maine.

Summers at our lake cottage in Maine can never be forgotten…they were fun and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery everywhere we visited in the state.

Before I started writing my journal, I had no idea of the friendships that would be made with people who I will probably never get a chance to meet in person yet each of you feel like part of an extended family. You’ve wanted to hop into my suitcase and follow along on my journeys, you’ve shared your prayers and sympathy at my mother’s passing and you’ve all wished me happiness when my husband retired and we moved to Florida to start a new adventure in our lives. I can’t tell you how much all of that has meant to me.

Hopefully you will continue to follow along as I start my sixth year of blogging. I’ll be showing you around Florida in case you would like to plan a trip here to enjoy the beaches or escape winter’s cold. My husband and I are heading back to Germany and Austria for almost a month this fall and I’ll be sharing those adventures. And of course, you know that I’ll be cooking up a storm and sharing my recipes with you.

 

 

Posted in photography, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 349 Comments