Celebrating my 70th on the Freedom of the Seas

 

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It has become almost a tradition, at this point, to take a cruise in February to celebrate my birthday.  Before leaving one of my friends, Bill asked, “You still like going to the Caribbean?”  Using my friend Rachel’s favorite word, I replied, “Absolutely”.

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I explained that it really is not the destination but the journey that I look most forward to.  “I just love being on the water,” I said.  I also explained that even though we would be returning to islands that we had visited many times before there was always something new to discover.  There are always new excursion adventures to participate in, new local restaurants to visit and, at times, just returning to a beautiful beach, finding a comfortable lounge chair and enjoying the sun, sand and water is just perfect.

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Randy and I were both very excited about our cruise to the Western Caribbean on the Freedom of the Seas.  Our winter months had been chaotic, a little colder than usual so we were looking forward to calm days, warmer weather and calm seas.  Our cruise was taking us to Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and, Cozumel, Mexico.

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DSC07651My birthday celebration started as soon as we got to the door of our cabin.  There was a birthday cupcake decal on the door and the inside of the cabin was festive with colorful decorations hanging from the ceiling, flowers on the coffee table and a bottle of White Zinfandel chilling in ice.  The flowers and wine were compliments of our wonderful cruise consultants, Andy and Karen Skolnick.  Lovely, lovely, lovely!

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But, that is not where the excitement ended.  For this cruise we had decided to stay in a junior suite.  I could not believe my eyes when I opened the cabin door.  There was so much room.  I usually have to walk sideways between the bed and the wall to get to my side of the bed in a normal cabin; not in this cabin.

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The room was large with a queen-size bed, wall unit for storage and desk, a sitting area with couch, coffee table, a comfortable stuffed chair with hassock, and a balcony large enough for two lounge chairs, small table and sitting chair, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a tub.  A tub!!!

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After getting settled and enjoying our lovely, large cabin, we made our way to the Diamond Lounge and met a very nice couple Bev and Jan from Phoenix, Arizona.  We had a very nice time getting to know one another and exchanging stories about other cruises we have taken, the weather in Arizona and what we were looking forward to on this cruise.

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DSC07665Anchors up, the ship started making its way through the channel.  As we sailed along we  passed one of Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, the Quantum of the Seas.  As we made our way past it appeared as though the captain of the Quantum raised its bubble arm, the North Star,  in salute and our captain blew his horn in response.  The bubble-like feature rises to 300 ft. giving passengers a 360 degree view.   I thought that was very cool.

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By now, Randy and I have cruised enough on Royal to know the menu fairly well.  I was looking forward to some comfort food and ordered the Caesar salad and Linguini Pomodoro for dinner.  The dinner was light and not too filling, just perfect.  We spent the rest of the evening walking along the Promenade stopping at the Bull and Bear for an after dinner drink before returning to our cabin and a good night’s sleep.

Our hopes for tomorrow we will be spending time on a sunny day poolside.

Enjoy,

Mary

Posted in Celebrations, cruising, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Rich chocolate treat for my Valentine

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If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk forever in my garden. ~Claudia Adrienne Grandi

There are so many ways to express love for someone.  There are the gifts of flowers, candy, beautiful cards, romantic dinners, jewelry and so much more.

But for me, the most meaningful way of showing love for those I hold dear on Valentine’s Day is to be in the kitchen preparing their favorite dishes as well as a new sweet delight that will make their palate happy and their heart sing.

I remembered tagging a recipe I came across in the November 2014 holiday cookbook double issue of Cooking Light Celebrate!  The magazine featured a collection of recipes entitled, “Our richest chocolate treats”.  I read each recipe and decided I would make the Five-Ingredient Chocolate Cakes recipe.

This recipe was perfect as I had the necessary five ingredients, the ramekins and, best of all, it included chocolate.  What better way to say, “I love you” than with chocolate?

Five-Ingredient Chocolate Cakes

Cake:

Cooking spray

¾ cup sugar, divided

½ cup water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 large egg yolks

2 ounces (about ½ cup) cake flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

Dash of salt

3 large egg whites

Sauce:

¼ cup water

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

½ teaspoon cake flour

Topping:

2 large egg whites

2 tablespoons sugar

Mint leaves (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. To prepare cake, coat 6 (8 ounce) ramekins with cooking spray. Sprinkle ramekins evenly with 3 tablespoons sugar, tapping out excess.
  3. Combine ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons butter, and egg yolks in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk until completely combined. Weigh or lightly spoon 2 ounces flour (1/2 cup) into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine 2 ounces flour, 1/3 cup cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to yolk mixture, stirring until well combined (mixture will look a little grainy).
  4. Place 3 egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until foamy. Gradually add ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating mixture at high speed until medium peaks form. Gently stir one-fourth of egg white mixture into batter; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture. Divide batter evenly among prepared ramekins; place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. Run a knife around edge of ramekins; carefully invert cakes onto dessert plates.
  5. To prepare sauce, combine ¼ cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, 1 tablespoon butter, and ½ teaspoon flour in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat; keep sauce warm.
  6. To prepare topping, combine 2 egg whites and 2 tablespoons sugar in the top of a double boiler, stirring with a whisk. Cook over simmering water until sugar dissolves (about 2 minutes), stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour mixture into a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed using clean, dry beaters until stiff peaks form (about 2 minutes). Top each cake with about 1 ½ tablespoons chocolate sauce and about ¼ cup meringue topping. Garnish with mint leaves, if desired. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 (serving size 1 cake)

CALORIES 274, FAT 9.3g (sat 5g, mono 2.7g, poly 0.8g); PROTEIN 6g; CARB 45g; FIBER 2g; CHOL 108mg; IRON 2mg, SODIUM 81mg; CALC 27mg.

These little cakes are light, rich, chocolaty, and delicious.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Enjoy,

Mary

Posted in cake, Chocolate, Cooking Light, Food | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

A Banana Bread, Peanut Butter Cookie, Baked Bean Day

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For nine years neighbors have gathered to compete in the “Torrey Pines Butt Kicking Chili Cook-off” Competition.  But like so many traditions this one was nearing its end.  During those nine years more than 100 chilis had been offered up in this friendly competition.  It was time for a change.  The group of neighbors wanted to keep the sense of camaraderie alive that they had nourished over the years so decided to have a pot-luck the next year and decide how to keep the group coming together each year.

The last winners of that competition were Virgil and Jeannette Green with their Easy peasy crockpot chili.  They graciously offered to host a, “Good old Bar-B-Q and Pot Luck” this year.  Virgil and Jeannette would be serving barbeque chicken, pork and ribs and the beverages with the rest of the group providing, “The rest of the vittals”.

We had been away when the invitation was sent and so, I called Jeannette and asked what she needed.  I mentioned that I had thought about bringing baked beans and she said, “Perfect”.

I had not been in the kitchen for a while and thought that as long as I would be making the beans I would make a few of Randy’s favorites as well.

Early morning found me making his favorite Banana Bread  .  This recipe is very simple with only a few ingredients needed and is perfect for breakfast, an afternoon snack or dessert later in the day.   This recipe came from my 1989 copy of The Pillsbury Cookbook (The All-Purpose Companion for Today’s Cook).

Mid-day found me back in the kitchen baking Peanut Butter Cookies.  This is one of Randy’s favorite cookies.  I got this recipe from my mother-in-law, Myrtle, back in the 70’s and it instantly became one of my family’s favorites.  My daughters have carried on this tradition making batches of these old-time cookies for their children.

Finally, I had to start preparing the baked beans for the neighborhood get-together.  I wanted to make something special so went searching on the Food Network.  I looked over several recipes, all sounding wonderful, but in the end I chose a baked bean recipe by Dave Lieberman.  The recipe sounded yummy, easy to prepare and, I thought, would be a wonderful compliment to any barbeque.

Baked Beans-Dave Lieberman

Ingredients:

8 slices bacon, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

¾ cup ketchup

¾ cup tomato puree

½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 twenty-eight ounce cans red beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Put a heavy-bottomed pot (with a lid) over medium-high heat.  Add the bacon and cook, stirring often, until the fat renders and bacon begins to crisp, about 6-8 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes more.  Stir in ketchup, tomato puree, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire, salt, pepper and cayenne and mix well.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Stir in the beans until well coated, cover, and bake in the oven for 1 hour.  Remove lid and continue baking until sauce thickens and the beans begin to brown, about 15 minutes more.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool at 15 minutes before serving.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

The beans were wonderful.  The cayenne pepper gave the beans just enough of a kick without being overpowering.  I was tempted to add a little maple syrup but decided I wanted to taste the beans as is.  They were delicious but next time I will add the maple syrup.

Back row: John, Marvin, Bob, Virgil and Randy.  Front row: Elaine, Lorraine, Johanne, Mary, Jeannette, Sandy and Sally

Back row: John, Marvin, Bob, Virgil and Randy. Front row: Elaine, Lorraine, Johanne, Mary, Jeannette, Sandy and Sally

Hot out of the oven, Randy and I made our way to Virgil and Jeannette’s.  The evening was perfect.  The barbeque chicken, pulled pork and ribs Virgil and Jeannette provided came from the OakWood Smokehouse and Grill  and were absolutely delicious.  Other members of the group brought a delicious sausage dip, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, a beautiful green salad and a cake for dessert.  The cake was in honor of Jeannette’s birthday.

The beans were a hit!  There was no competition this year but all the cooks were winners.  Everything was just delicious!  What a joy it is to live in a neighborhood of good cooks!

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We all enjoyed an evening of delicious food, fun music, a little dancing but most of all a friendship that has held fast over the last thirteen years.  We discussed the future of the get-togethers and voted to have a soup contest next year.

Enjoy,

Mary

Posted in baked beans, Food, Recipe, restaurants | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

One foot in the kitchen, one foot on the road

Orange Beach, Alabama

Orange Beach, Alabama

It seems as though I no sooner get my feet firmly planted in my kitchen than I am on the road again.

After completing an amazing trans-Atlantic trip last fall and spending time with family in Virginia for the holidays, Randy and I were called away to look into an on-going stressful family matter in Alabama.

I have always been one who ascribes to the phrase, “Every cloud has a silver lining” and found two on this most recent trip.

Our first silver lining was visiting with our beautiful granddaughters, Fiona and Lauren catching up to their very busy lives, hearing about their future plans and breaking bread with them and my son-in-law Roger, at one of our favorite restaurants.

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The first time we went to the Ol’ Heidelberg restaurant Randy fell in love with their cucumber salad.  He loves it because the cucumbers are as thin as a sheet of paper and the dressing is light and delicious.  The restaurant is filled with images of Germany, cuckoo clocks and beautiful beer steins. The strains of German music played as the waitress set our delicious dishes on the table.

Randy, Fiona, Roger, Lauren and me

Randy, Fiona, Roger, Lauren and me

Chicken Schnitzel, yummy!

Chicken Schnitzel, yummy!

Roger, Fiona, Lauren and myself ordered different varieties of Schnitzel.  Randy ordered the Bratwurst platter.  All the dishes were delicious and all our plates were returned to the kitchen almost as clean as they were when they were first picked off the shelf.  The girls and I wanted to share a dessert so I sent Lauren and Fiona on a mission to the front of the restaurant to look at all the desserts on display.  They chose a slice of Black Forest cake.  The slice was so big each one of us had a good sampling.  We said our goodbyes in the parking lot and went our separate ways until the next time we come up to visit.

Later that evening I posted a picture of our visit to the restaurant with the family on Facebook. Our friends Paul and Rachel spotted it and posted an invitation, “If you ever find yourself near Orange Beach please let me know”.  I looked at Randy and said, “Guess where we are going on our way back to Florida?”

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I responded to Rachel telling her that we were heading home on Tuesday and could swing by and how great it would be to see them again and suggested that we could get together for lunch.   Rachel sent along directions and suggested we meet at Hurricane Grill and Wings restaurant at Orange Beach, Alabama.

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We met Paul and Rachel while on our trans-Atlantic cruise last fall and we really looking forward to connecting again.  We arrived a little early and took a seat.  The restaurant was small but had a nice, friendly atmosphere.  The menu offered a nice variety of land and sea choices.

Smiles and hugs all around and then we settled down to good conversations and delicious food.  We started with Fried Pickles and Firecracker Shrimp.  We definitely needed liquid refreshment to cool off the palettes.

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The time slipped away quickly as we talked and talked.  So much time had passed that they invited us to spend the night at the condo and get a good start in the morning.  Paul and Rachel snowbird each year in the Gulf Shore area.  Their condo was on the beach with a beautiful view of the beach from their 8th floor balcony.

After our tour of the condo, Rachel suggested that we take a walk on the beach.  I had my shoes off and my pants rolled up in no time and off we went.  The sun was bright and the air crisp, just perfect for a leisurely stroll on the beach.

I love walking on the beach.  Walking on Orange Beach was like walking on confectioner’s sugar.  It was so white and soft and I loved the way is made its way up through my toes.  The sand was so cool to the touch.

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We spotted a woman digging in the sand and wondered out loud if she was trying to dig her way to China.  I walked over and asked her what she was doing.

“I am digging for shells,” she replied.  “New sand had been added to the beach recently and is filled with beautiful shells”.

I took a moment to look at her collection and she was right, they were beautiful.  The shells were different colors and shapes and all beautiful.

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She went on to say, “After you take a walk on the beach what else is there to do?”

I could not help but wonder: What else is there to do?

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As Rachel and Randy continued to talk to her, I looked around and watched a flock of pelicans circling above the water and then one-by-one they nose-dive into the waves hoping to catch their evening meal.  I turned again to watch a flock of seagulls flying above the waves.  Several landed on the beach and scurried here and there as the water rolled onto shore.  I watched as a couple talking in hushed whispers walked hand-in-hand down the beach.  And, then the best treat of all, I watched as the sun started to set at the end of the beach and lit the sky with hues of yellow and gold.  What else is there to do on the beach indeed!

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We walked a little further and then turned back towards the condo to spend the rest of the evening lounging on the balcony watching the sunset, listening to the waves and talking.  It was a beautiful day.

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Before settling in for the evening we agreed to have breakfast at the Waffle House.  Oh, my, I had forgotten just how wonderful the pecan waffles were.  We said our goodbyes, thanked them for their wonderful hospitality and then, we were back on the road again, this time heading home.

These two events, spending time with our granddaughters and spending time with our new friends made, what otherwise would have been a very sad trip, memorable.  Life is truly good!

Enjoy,

Mary

Posted in Food, restaurants, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tea time at Erika’s Tea Room

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Do you like teatime?  My friend Genny loves tea and is constantly combing the local newspaper for new and wonderful tea rooms for us to visit.

Our most recent ‘Ladies Day Out’ took us to Erika’s Tea Room & Gifts in Clermont. Erika’s has only been open since last August but seems to be doing very well as we watched  small groups of women come and go while enjoying our tea.

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The walls of the front lobby of the restaurant are lined with shelves full of beautiful tea pots, cups and saucers and other little treasures.  There is another gift area beyond the dining area.

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The tea room is small and intimate with soft colors on the wall, fringed tablecloths, lovely flower arrangement centerpieces, lighted sconces and pictures of flowers and landscapes covering the walls.

Genny, me, Maureen

Genny, me, Maureen

Genny, Maureen and I ordered the ‘The Lady of the Lake High Tea’.  This tea included milk chocolate and plum scones with Devonshire cream and preserves; small cucumber, egg salad, tuna salad and turkey sandwiches; a variety of desserts and tall pots of warm and flavorful tea.  The desserts included Chocolate Lava cupcakes, chocolate chip biscuits, pumpkin trifle and red velvet cake with a decadently delicious whipped topping.

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The variety of teas to choose from was expansive.  There were green, black, white, oolong, dessert, herbal and seasonal teas. Genny chose the Mango, Maureen chose the Peach Apricot and I ordered the White Winter Chai.  Unfortunately, the tea I ordered was seasonal and was no longer available.  I ordered one of my very favorite flavors, Jasmine. At one point we taste each other’s tea.  While each choice was delicious, we all agreed that Maureen’s Peach Apricot was the best.  Before leaving Erika’s, Genny purchased a container of the Peach Apricot to enjoy at home.

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There is also a variety of smaller tea choices on the menu as well as soup of the day, salad, quiche of the day and a tray of 4 miniature desserts.  Many of the teas on the menu are for sale.

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I really enjoyed the scones especially the plum scone.  I enjoyed the sandwiches although I did find that the tuna and egg salads were a little dry and needed a little more moisture (mayonnaise).  My favorite sandwiches were the cucumber and the turkey.  What I really loved about the sandwiches was the bread.  Each sandwich was served on a different variety of bread.  There was a white, a wheat, a marble rye and pumpernickel; all delicious.  I asked our server where the bread came from.  She said that the bread is baked especially for the restaurant at a local bakery.

By dessert time I was a bit full and only ate the pumpkin spice trifle.  I brought the rest home for Randy.

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DSC07360After tea we spent a little time looking at all the beautiful tea pots and other lovely things.  I fell in love with and bought a beautiful tea pot, creamer and sugar bowl for my granddaughter Madalyn.

Having tea at Erika’s was a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon with friends.  I look forward to having tea there again.

 

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Mary

Posted in Desserts, Food, restaurants, scones, tea, tea rooms | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Yummy 3-Way Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

Now that the holidays are a distant memory and Randy and I have conquered a miserable cold/flu/cough, I am finally back in the kitchen.

While in Virginia for the holidays, I got a hankering to visit the Hard Time Café and enjoy a dish of their delicious Cincinnati Chili.  Unfortunately, because of time constraints, it was not to be.

One day I started some research on the computer for a good Cincinnati Chili recipe.  I started by looking for the Hard Times recipe but the one I found did not list all the ingredients instead listing their package of prepared mix.  I wanted to know what the ingredients were and how much to use.

So, I continued my research and came upon many recipes, some claiming to be the ‘authentic recipe’ and many recipes with slight variations.  Some used hamburger meat, some used beef chunks.  While all the recipes called for cinnamon the other spices varied a little.  Some recipes called for the meat to be sautéed and other called for the meat to be covered in water and then left to stand overnight.  It was hard to choose.

I eventually chose the one from What’s Cooking America and decided this was the one.  One reason I chose this recipe is that I had all the ingredients already in my pantry, or so I thought.  I already had the meat in the pan when I realized I did not have one of the main ingredients, cinnamon.  YIKES!  I called my next store neighbor, Sandy, and she came to my rescue with a jar of cinnamon saving the day.  The second reason, I loved reading the history that came along with the recipe.

Cincinnati Chili

1 large onion, chopped

1 pound extra-lean ground beef (hamburger)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon red (cayenne pepper)

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or ½ ounce grated unsweetened

chocolate

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

½ cup water

1 (16-ounce) package uncooked dried spaghetti pasta

Toppings

Preparations:

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté onion, ground beef, garlic, and chili powder until ground beef is slightly cooked.

Add allspice, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne pepper, salt, unsweetened cocoa or chocolate, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, and water.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour 30 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions and transfer onto individual serving plates (small oval plates are traditional).

Ladle Cincinnati Chili mixture over the cooked spaghetti and serve with toppings of your choice.

Two-way: Chili served on spaghetti

Three-way: Additionally topped with shredded Cheddar cheese

Four-way: Additionally topped with chopped onions

Five-way: Additionally topped with kidney beans

This recipe was so easy to prepare and the end result was delicious with a rich hardy flavor, a bit of a kick and the cinnamon was wonderful.

As the chili was cooking, the aroma brought Randy into the kitchen and he spent a few minutes sharing his experiences with Cincinnati Chili.

“I had Cincinnati Chili at the original Hard Times Café in Alexandria, Virginia when I worked there in the 60’s,” Randy explained.

Randy said that during his career he traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio for work and went to a Skyline Chili restaurant there or just across the river in Covington, Kentucky.

After that first visit Randy said, “I used to go there each time I was there on business.  The taste was so different from other chilis and was great over the spaghetti and smothered in cheese”.  With what can only be described as a reaction these pleasant memories and, the wonderful aroma that was filling the kitchen, he exclaimed, “YUM!”

The last time Randy remembered having Cincinnati Chili was the time he took me to the Hard Time Café near his home in Springfield, Virginia when we first started dating.  I remember that evening too and remembered how much I loved the chili.

I sent over a portion of the chili to my two favorite taste testers, Bob and Sandy.

A few days later I received an email from Sandy saying, “Mary, I can’t believe how lucky we are to live next door to you when you take a notion to “cook something different”.  This chili was so different, so flavorful and so wonderful.  WOW!  Kind of makes me wish we lived in Cincinnati…Not!”

Yummy Cincinnati Chili dogs

Yummy Cincinnati Chili dogs

Before sending over some for Bob and Sandy, I reserved just a little chili to use for a hot dog dinner the next evening.

I eventually asked Randy what he thought of the two chili dinners.

“I thought your experiment with making Cincinnati chili was a wonderful success.  The taste was quite similar and I really enjoyed it,” he said.

“The chili dogs were tasty.  I think the chili sitting overnight made it a bit spicier and complemented the hot dog quite well.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the chili would taste like on one of the German sausage dogs we had on the Oasis of the Seas at the new Dawg House.  I would like to have that again!!!!!”

As for me, I loved the chili both ways too.  I have to say though, I remember the chili being a little looser and so I will try to replicate the original Skyline chili in the next few weeks.

Until then, I am happy and content being back in the kitchen.

Enjoy,

Mary

Posted in cheese, Chili, chili dogs, Cincinnati Chili, Food | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Last thoughts for 2014

DSC07031bEpilogue

As we pulled into the port at Ft. Lauderdale, the sun was rising over the horizon just beyond a Holland America ship, the Zuiderdam.  We watched as several other cruise ships made their way into port.  There was a Princess, a Carnival and two more Royal Caribbean ships.  All cruise lines we have traveled on at one time or another; each one bringing back wonderful memories.

After a very long and tedious effort to disembark the ship and exit the terminal, we boarded our bus for the trip home.  It was 9pm before we made it back to the McDonald’s parking lot in Summerfield.  Although tired, Randy and I were so happy to see the faces of our friends Bob and Sandy.

These lovely people had come to pick us up and bring us home.  They had also prepared a dinner and breakfast for our return and left it in our refrigerator.  We were just too weary to eat and just dropped our luggage, changed into our pajamas and dropped into bed.

Catching up with Genny before the holidays having lunch at City Fire

Catching up with Genny before the holidays having lunch at City Fire

We slept for what seemed a lifetime.  Eventually, we got back into the swing of being home preparing for the holidays, socializing with friends and making contact with our new friends from the ship.

I ran into Dory one day at the doctor’s office and was pleased to learn that she had finally received her lost luggage and all was good.  We chatted a bit about getting together in the New Year for lunch.

We made contact with Doug and Sue and arranged to get together over dinner.  As soon as the door opened Sue said out loud what I was thinking since leaving the ship, “I missed you”.  A week later we had a delicious dinner at their home and Jim and JoAnne were there too.  Life is so very good.

Not everyone lives close by so Facebook has become a link for Sue, Barbara, Rachel and I to keep in touch.

Barbara is busy working on her mystery novel.  Rachel and Paul have winged their way south for the winter and are enjoying the warmer weather.  Doug and Sue are spending the holidays with family and friends up north before sailing away again on yet another cruise adventure.

Me, daughter Jennifer, granddaughter Madalyn and daughter Kristine at the Chantilly High School's production of "A Christmas Carol".

Me, daughter Jennifer, granddaughter Madalyn and daughter Kristine at the Chantilly High School’s production of “A Christmas Carol”.

We spent our holidays in Virginia visiting our children, grandchildren and friends.  We were very excited to see granddaughter Madalyn in a wonderful production of A Christmas Carol.

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Kristine and Elle having a great Christmas morning.

 

Elle playing with all the new toys Santa left under the tree.

Elle playing with all the new toys Santa left under the tree.

There was lots of Christmas shopping just days before the big day.  Then we enjoyed watching Madalyn, Derek, Kevin, Jennifer, Kristine and Elle opening presents on Christmas day.

Having fun with friends!

Having fun with friends!

We were also able to spend a wonderful evening with special friends that, unfortunately, we only get to see once in a while.  We had a great time breaking bread together, catching up and having fun playing a gift exchange game.

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Before leaving Virginia, Kristine finally put all the magnets we collected while on our wonderful trip on her refrigerator.  Now, not all of these are from this trip, there are some from various trips we have made over the years as well as others friends have given her over time.  I think the refrigerator looks really cool.

Between spending long hours in the car and hotels, Randy and I found ourselves reminiscing about our tour through Europe.

I started the conversation asking Randy, “What were some of the places or events you enjoyed the most about our trip?”

“I loved Seefeld, Austria, The Castles in Germany, going up in the Eiffel Tower in Paris, seeing London and, I really enjoyed going back to Naples to revisit the places I remember from my childhood,” he answered.

“My favorite event of the trip was attending Oktoberfest in Munich,” he continued.

When Randy asked me the same question I did not have to think before telling Randy all the places that we visited that were my favorites and those that I would like to return to someday.

“To tell the truth,” I said, “I loved everywhere we visited and everything we did”.  “I loved Seefeld and would like to return and stay awhile,” I said enthusiastically.

“Without a doubt though Oktoberfest was one of the most exhilarating events I have ever had and would love to attend another sometime in the future”.

I explained to Randy that I would love to return to the medieval city of Rothenberg and spend a whole day exploring this beautiful medieval city.

“I want to return to Florence and visit all the museums, churches and stand on the Ponte Vecchio once again.

I loved going up into the Eiffel Tower but I would like to visit Normandy if we return to France. I loved the beautiful city of Florence, our first day in Montecatini, visiting the Eiffel Tower and the wonderful restaurants in Paris, and I loved the hotel in England,” I said to Randy.

I went on to say, “But one of my very favorite evens of the trip was getting to visit with my nephew Steve, his partner Dave and their dog Olga”.

Since returning home I have been asked by the German-American Friends club here in our community to prepare a video presentation and talk about out visit to Cologne, Rothenberg and Munich.  I am so excited.  I will begin work on this project at the beginning of the new year.

Today is the last day of 2014.  What a year it has been!  And, next year promises to be just as exciting as our first grandchild will be graduating from high school, we have already booked two cruises and, we are working on a third.

One of our cruises will take us to Ireland, France, Belgium, England, Denmark, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Finland and Sweden.  I am so excited.

Until then, I will be back in the kitchen whipping up some delicious dishes to share with everyone.

I would like to thank all my loyal followers and new followers for not only stopping by but also for leaving encouraging words; they are greatly appreciated.

I want to wish everyone a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

DSC07305Enjoy,

Mary

 

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