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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Slowly Do I Wake

Slowly slowly do I wake, sunlight in my eyes
Awash with glassy daydreams, alive with wispy sighs.
Shall I amuse with tales today of travels in the mist,
Or relive my vanished youth of girls I longed to kiss?

Or plan a garden, busy green, adored with April flowers,
Or splash some color with a brush and while away the hours?
Perhaps I'll read a thrilling book and fly from page to page,
Discover lands I never knew and dance upon life's stage.

Beauty beauty everywhere and I can sleep no more.
I must arise, abandon sleep, adventures to explore.
My morning swirls in fantasy, flooding through my mind
A day to treasure happily the pleasures that I find.

My every day begins anew, with each new sunny blast,
A change to silent yesterday before today is cast.
No need to brood or scoff, or step aside the fray
For until tomorrow's dawn, my future is today.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Naples and the Best Pizza Ever!

                            Naples and the Best Pizza Ever!

When you wander the streets of Naples, you never know what’s going to turn up.  Not saying you should take a pass on such historic sites, as Pompeii and Herculaneum.  And as all three of my faithful readers know, I’ve written about both. 

BUT, neither should you neglect a stroll through both the wide avenues and narrow alleys.   On a recent trip, we stopped for a gelato in Naples’s famous Galleria, a palace of a place in the heart of the shopping area. 

Not quite true.  I had a gelato.  My companion had a chocolate martini.   There-in lies one of the glories of Europe.  Sit down at a wonderful gelato parlor and sip a chocolate martini and nobody bats an eye nor offers a discouraging glance.  Europeans view alcoholic beverages as savory delights to make the afternoon sparkle.  Americans often view them as a shameful participation in a mind-altering dance with Satan and all his henchmen.

In fact, Americans tend to be more guilt-ridden in general.  But, we were in Italy, so sinfulness took to the wing and bothered us not at all, while I gobbled gelato and my companion cheerfully sipped her delightful gift from the twin gods of chocolate and alcohol.

After that it was more strolling and a bit of shopping and staring at the artistic and architectural features of this grand city.

By mid afternoon, hunger raged within us.  We left the major areas and turned down a narrow street filled with neighborhood shops of every sort.  Hardware shops with windows filled with power tools, and electrical shops that had flashing light bulbs, and household shops packed with brooms and buckets spilling out onto the street. We were no longer in downtown Tourist-ville.

As we walked uphill, a very thin man approached us sporting old shorts, a loose shirt, a straw teardown hat, a five-day stubble, and carrying a menu.  He suggested vociferously that we eat at his friend’s restaurant.  Well, why not?  So we followed him up a block and turned a corner onto an even narrower street.  On the corner was a tiny place, with three tables on a fenced-in porch.  We were barely separated from the well-worn and well-traveled street.

The thin man disappeared and a waiter suddenly appeared.  His name was Vincenzo, which was a good start.   So Italian!  V stood about five feet tall, had a beautiful smile and welcomed us in perfect English.

“So, Vincenzo, where did you learn to speak English?”

“I lived in Miami for six years.”  Immediately followed by,  “May I offer you a little something to start and perhaps a bottle of wine?”

Knowing nothing about native Neapolitan wines, we went with Vincenzo’s suggestion.  First sip of this white wine made me think I’d made an error. Then the appetizer arrived, small plates of pasta, dressed simply with chips of roasted tomato and bits of garlic.  Delicious!  And what was more, the wine was a perfect accompaniment!

What would we think about some fresh sardines?  Hey, bring ‘em on!  V walked the five paces across the street to the neighborhood fishmonger’s.  From our table we watched the fresh catch transfer from fishmonger to Vincenzo.  

Within ten minutes we had freshly fried sardines in front of us, with a simple pizza margarita and more pasta on the way.  If you haven’t tried them, freshly fried sardines, with a squeeze of ripe lemon are crunchily delicious. You eat them head and bones included.

As soon as we’d finished, Vincenzo arrived almost immediately with the rest of our meal.  The pasta was similar to the appetizer and also just as delicious.  BUT, the pizza was the star of the show!  Naples is known as the home of pizza, so we expected a very good pie, but this was better than good…far better, with only four ingredients on top of the crispy edged crust…. fresh tomato sauce, cheese, basil leaves and a light olive oil.  Simple is often best and it was the best pizza either of us had ever tasted.  No other pizza, before or after has come close to the delicacy Vincenzo brought us.

For one thing, fresh ingredients are always better and with fresh tomatoes, there’s no need to add dried herbs, or garlic, or anything else.  For another thing, only a stone oven, with the pizza in the middle, surrounded by a hot wood fire, brings out the best of a hand made crust.  By design, the dough is baked unevenly, just barely done in the center, but charred on the edges.  You simply cannot duplicate this in a conventional oven any more than you can duplicate pit barbeque without the pit.

Some months later, I still think about that pizza with reverence and passion. 

So, I hope you’ve learned my lesson:  Walk the back streets, listen to the thin man in shorts, and when the Italian waiter selects your wine, go with it!  And, if you’re in Naples, don’t be afraid to sip a chocolate martini for breakfast and later stop in at a tiny restaurant that serves pizza!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Louisiana Lagniappe

Louisiana Lagniappe

So there I was in Orange Beach, Alabama, spending a few days with some reprobate American friends I’d met in Okinawa, Japan.

It’s a long story and to protect the guilty, I’m not going to tell.  Just accept that when you travel the world, sampling food and drink and whiling away the hours on random beaches, you meet strange folk and form bonds that can even overcome the darkest bourbon and brandy dreams of perfection.

One member of this group set up a luncheon for a dozen or so fellow travelers at a fine restaurant called Louisiana Lagniappe. Lagniappe is a Cajun word meaning “Before we attempt to kill some gators barehanded, let’s have another drink.”

No, that’s not quite accurate, but close.  Lagniappe means:  A little something extra, and to save you the frustration, its pronounced lan yáp.

Louisiana Lagniappe is a little something extra in so many ways.  First of all the restaurant is located on the second story of a large orange stucco building, with an imperial twist of white stairs to take you up.  There may also be an elevator, but being of sound body, if not mind, I raced up those stairs with all the speed of a hesitant, one-legged monkey.

And once you step through the doors, if you’re not wearing a tux, you’ll feel underdressed, even though Louisiana Lagniappe, overlooking a Marina, caters to the casual dressers.  But, I did hear a couple of sport fishermen, when offered a seat at one of the white linen draped tables say, “We better just get the food to go.  We’re not properly dressed.”

Yes, stiffly starched white linen, cloth napkins, and bright silverware, with wait staff attired in black and white livery, would give one an edgy feeling in wrinkled shorts, gym shoes and stained Hawaiian shirts.

So what about the food?  Excellent seafood, which is what most of our so-called friends ordered.

First came a New Orleans staple, plates of light and fluffy beignets, crowned with white, powdered sugar.  Been to the Café du Monde in New Orleans across from Jackson Square?  Louisiana Lagniappe’s beignets will whisk you back at first bite.

And then libations?  Mais oui, bien sûr.  I soon grasped a narrowly stemmed  glass of  Mimosa in my eagerly trembling fingers.  One sip and I knew another would surely follow.  My lunch companion opt for Milk Punch.  Heavenly gifts from Bacchus’s little know brother Belchus. 

And then the food arrived.  I, being a delicate eater, and not so delicate a drinker, dined on a cup of crab bisque and an accompanying salad, while my traveling companion chose eggs benedict on crab cakes, with a generous side of cheese grits.  These choices could not stand the test of my envious eyes, so in mid meal, we swapped plates.

After all, I planned on writing this blog and it was only reasonable to taste everything, a thought which occurred to others at the table, causing them to stop all conversation and guard their plates.

The crab bisque was superb, delightfully rich and tasty, with an abundance of crab.  The salad, with very light vinaigrette, was crisp and refreshing.

Eggs benedict with crab cakes were also gifts from the gods and by the end of the meal, every plate at the table was empty and every mouth owned a smile.  And everyone ordered another drink.

The Louisiana Lagniappe really is a little something extra, from the elegant décor, to the liveried, polite, and well-trained wait staff to the sumptuous food.

Can’t make it to Orange Beach?  The first location is in Dustin, Florida.

Pick one and you’ll pick it again and again.  I swear by my formerly full glasses of Mimosa.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Mill Top Tavern, St Augustine

Mill Top Tavern

Even though I’ve spent much of my adult life in foreign lands, I appreciate Americana and especially American history.  During our crawl down the eastern seaboard, we found just the place to immerse ourselves in both.  Sure, I’ve wiled away days in Charleston and Savannah, but St Augustine has a special feel, like a city that hasn’t outgrown it’s parade of conquistadors and pirates and invasions by the French and British.  And yet, the atmosphere is not completely like any of those.  It’s a mixed blood French, English, Spanish Lady who speaks with an American accent.  The ancient walls, what’s left of them, the massive Castillo de San Marcos guarding the harbor, and the French Huguenot cemetery speak to other times and other cultures that still cling like the remnants of last night’s party.

Chances are, in a vain effort to educate all three of my faithful readers, I will write more about the wonders of St Augustine, but today I’ll walk down a certain street and grab a bite at a certain restaurant, The Mill Top Tavern on St George Street.  This narrow walking street marks the beginning of the historic district.

People often ask, “How do you find these places?”  Well, I don’t thumb through guidebooks, I ask people.  In this case, I sauntered over to a uniformed guard and inquired about a good place for lunch.  First thing out of her mouth, as she pointed toward the swarm of folks ambling the cobblestones and gazing at the endless clusters of tiny shops on either side, was “Mill Top!”

The Mill Top Tavern is built on the site of an 1880 grist mill and opened as a bar in 1950.  In 2016 it required a complete restoration, which was completed with an eye toward keeping its historic charm and appearance.

Wasn’t hard to find.  About a block down from the old city gates, with a sign pointing upstairs.  Two open air rooms, separated by a compact bandstand where a fiddle playing, gray haired lady and guitar strumming younger man about twice her size, played music with a country twang.  I admit, normally, being prone to conversation over lunch, I view a live band as I would a concert of Johnny and the Maniacs accompanied by several children banging trash cans.

But, Sue Tice on Fiddle and Matt Fowler on guitar are practiced musicians, with the sound of their instruments just as important as Matt’s mellow baritone.  I also admit I love fiddle music, done right, and Sue Tice is a virtuoso.   Between the two of them, the sounds are perfectly blended and allow someone to eat, enjoy the music and converse.

Our server, Annette, was just as cordial as the music, and experienced and polite enough to offer suggestions, then disappear and reappear as exactly as needed.

Plus, the seating is ringed by open half walls that allow heat to escape and a comforting breeze to refresh the senses.

So, what did we order, my companion and I?  We had light appetites.  I opt for (yes, folks, op is the singular and opt is the past tense and there ain’t NO opted) for black bean soup crowned with diced fresh onions and my companion got a pressed Cuban pork sandwich, with small sides of grilled vegetables and potato salad.

Black Bean soup, as it should be!  Well herbed and served hot!

The pork, seasoned Cuban Style, and accompanying roasted vegetables and potato salad were excellent!

To allow us to continue to stagger through town, we opt to swig some strong coffee.

Our lunch was perfect on that gloriously sunny day.  But, it wasn’t the end of our St Augustine adventure.  We walked St George St for a while, stopping to see American’s oldest wooden schoolhouse, then moving on.  We still had old worlds to re-conquer.