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Highlights from a vacation

I recently returned from a well-deserved vacation to Rhode Island. Now, most people don’t immediately think of Rhode Island when making vacation plans. I didn’t either…until I visited the state some years back. My first trip there was meeting up with my (now ex) husband on a business trip. It was late October, and so conveniently coincided with that year’s late color. Of course, being out of season, all the touristy places were closed. No matter. It was beautiful-both the trees and the coast. And we ate well.

The next time I visited was during the summer season. Understandable, it was packed. Newport is where people go “to summer.” Again, I ate well. And it was still beautiful…even though I practically had to park in Massachusetts.

Fast forward a few more years. Vacation time was needed. Rhode Island was the first thing that came to mind. I have a friend there who graciously put me up for a few days. So, with no further plans than to find a few beers and some sailboats to watch, I set out for R.I.

The weather mostly cooperated and we (my friend and I) took advantage where we could. The first day, we wandered into Newport. I wanted to visit my favorite pub for lunch. The Brick Alley Pub has been in Newport for many years. And while it’s not a pub in the traditional English or Irish way, it’s still a great little bar and restaurant with some amazing food. The last time I was there I had a lobster and scallop pasta with cream sauce that I thought was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Sadly, it’s no longer on the menu, but I still found a winner. Called the Lobstacado, it’s an open-faced sandwich consisting of a toasted English muffin, mashed avocado, a healthy dose of lobster meat, topped with melted Muenster cheese. With this lovely creation I drank a Magner’s Irish cider. New to me, it was dry and crisp, just the way I like cider.

Side trip: a stop at Coddington Brew Company to sample their Blueberry Blonde Ale, which they serve up with fresh blueberries. Gotta love New England.

Dinner, however was a disappointment. Flo’s Clam Shack offers an all-you-can-eat crab dinner on Thursdays. Flo’s is an institution in Middletown/Newport, having been there since 1936 and surviving multiple hurricanes. We should’ve stuck to the clams. The crab was so waterlogged….blah. The view of Second Beach was amazing, though.

Cliffwalk and the mansions across the water.

Day two: Anthony’s Seafood was up. Originally a wholesale market, Anthony’s now has a small seating area. If you want fresh seafood, this is the place. Lobster, clams, oysters, shrimp, crab…they have it all. After pouring over their menu, I finally gave up and got a lobster roll. How can you go wrong? A traditional New England-style split top bun jam-packed with lobster meat? A squeeze of lemon juice and a side of Newport Storm Rhode Island Blueberry Ale. Smooth and fruity…. While we were there, we picked up some steamers, crab legs and a couple stuffies. Stuffies are a Rhode Island stuffed clam using big quahogs, bread crumbs, chourico and seasoning baked right in the shell. Pass the hot sauce and lemon juice!

Side trip: Greenvale Winery for a tasting. They make some lovely, crisp whites. Perfect for summer. Of course I bought two, a Vidal Blanc and their Skipping stone. Both are crisp, floraly wines but the Skipping Stone is a bit sweeter.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on a little beach, Island Park, down the road from my friend’s house. It was here that I had my first beer and sailboat experience. Newport Storm Amber Ale. An ocean breeze. A good friend.

We then met some of my friend’s friends at the nearby Beach House bar. Laughs over beers.

Sharon & John

Day three: the rain moved in. Lunch consisted of Anthony’s stuffies. Just one is big enough to be filling.

That afternoon I took a side trip to Bristol. It’s a waterfront town between Newport and Providence. It has all the historic charm of Newport without the summer crowd. I tucked into a little pub on the water, Aiden’s, and ordered up some Magner’s. I grazed on their appetizer menu and enjoyed the view of the rainy harbor.

Last day: picture day! The sun was out and there was a slight breeze. Perfect. I had failed to get many pictures the first few days mostly because I let the opportunities pass. This day would be different. We got in the car and did a tour of Aquidneck Island. I got some great harbor shots at Melville Grille, located at New England Boatworks, next to Newport’s Naval base. Here we sat on their patio, me sipping Magner’s Pear cider (awesome! Better than the regular) and enjoying the view. Too bad we ate the rest of our Anthony’s seafood, because the Melville smelled amazing! Next time…

We then meandered a bit longer, ending up at Anthony’s. We split a shrimp cocktail, almost enjoying the cocktail sauce more than the fresh, juicy shrimp. It’s definitely not Heinz. I cannot even describe the taste other than it was tangy, sharp and I think it had cilantro.

Newport Winery was right up the road, so we decided to stop and have a tasting. Newport Winery has a whole range of wines, from sweet dessert whites to big peppery reds. I tasted three whites and two reds before settling on two to purchase. I picked their velvety Merlot, and their Rising Tide a slightly dry white.

After a good long rest, it was time for my last meal in Rhode Island. We picked Scampi’s, a seafood restaurant with an Italian lean located near Island Park beach. I feasted. Appetizer was a bacon-wrapped bay scallops. Following that, I enjoyed a simple green salad topped with Saratoga Blue Cheese dressing. I want to find this cheese. The main course was lobster ravioli topped with a lobster bisque-style sauce and garnished with chopped tail meat. The pasta was fresh, as was the lobster. There was just enough sauce so the raviolis weren’t swimming. I didn’t need dessert after that. That meal was amazing. As we were eating, a storm rolled in. Luckily, we had a great view of the water. Such a beautiful sight.

Another Rhode Island vacation has come to a close. I can’t wait to go back… (I might actually take pictures of the food next time!)


Moving and Mexico

I recently moved from one apartment to another. While I did get a bigger kitchen, at least by square footage, I lost counter space and cupboards. It’s still a tiny kitchen, but I can still cook. In fact, the kitchen was the first room I unpacked. All of my dishes and pans are put in their place. All my spices and dry goods are set. The cookbooks take up several two-foot stacks against the wall. The rest of the apartment is mostly in boxes. I hate moving. I live among boxes for a long time until the new place “speaks” to me. I just don’t know where I want things until I live in a space for a while.

One box that did get unpacked was the collection of travel memoirs. You know, the Under the Tuscan Sun, Year in Provence-type books, and one called On Mexican Time. It’s a languid postcard from Mexico by Tony Cohan. There are no recipes or funny stories of locals, but a beautiful read none the less. It makes me long for Mexico.

I’ve been to Mexico just a couple of times. One time was a day/evening trip to Tijuana just to wander the streets, eating 3-for-a-dollar tacos and drinking Mexican Pepsi. The other trip was a 10-day excursion to Puerto Vallarta, for a honeymoon (for an ill-fated marriage).  That trip was spent mostly on Bahia Banderas at Juan’s beach shack, drinking Sol and eating whatever he caught that day. There was occasional forays into town, and brief sightings of whales.

What do I remember most from my trips to Mexico so long ago? Tortillas and the warmth of the Mexican people.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Mexico. I go through phases of food, but often go back to the simplicity of Border and coastal Mexican food. Re-reading On Mexican Time came at the right time. Making some sort of meal to put in tortillas is about as easy as it gets, and since I’d just moved…  I ended up trying homemade flour tortillas, re-fried beans and rice. I found a simple recipe -no lard!- for tortillas in my trusty Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison. And surprisingly, a good recipe for beans in Better Homes and Gardens Mexican (2012). Some good, fairly authentic recipes in that magazine.

My very loved Border Cookbook

The flour tortillas came out quite tasty, but I needed to added a bit of salt to the beans. I’ve been eating everything in the tortillas all week. Give them a try for this weekend.

Texas Flour Tortillas

from The Border Cookbook

2 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil

3/4 c lukewarm milk or water

Sift together flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Pour in the oil and mix with your fingertips to combine. Add the milk or water, working the liquid into the dough until a sticky ball forms.

Dust a counter with flour and knead the dough vigorously for 1 minute. The mixture should be “earlobe” soft and no longer sticky. Let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth, for about 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 balls, and cover again with damp cloth, for about 15-30 minutes. (At this point the dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours. Bring the dough to room temperature before proceeding.)


Dust a counter with flour again and roll out each ball into a circle approximately 1/4 inch thick. *this was far too thick for me. I rolled them to about 1/8 inch and they were still too thick. Obviously, the thickness is up to you. These will be irregular shaped. If you want a perfectly round tortilla, feel free to cut into a circle. To avoid toughening the dough. try not to re-roll it.

No fancy gadgets needed

Heat a dry griddle or heavy skillet over high. Cook the tortillas 30 seconds on each side, or until the dough looks dry and slightly wrinkled and a few brown speckled form on both surfaces.

Almost done…

Keep warm in a cloth lined basket, or reserve for future use.

Re-fried Beans

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens ‘Mexican’ (magazine)

8 oz dried pinto beans (1 1/4 cups) (I used a combination of pinto and white beans. It’s what I had)

8 c water

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp bacon drippings or olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

Rinse beans. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven combine beans and 4 cups of the water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. (Or place beans in water in pan. Cover and let soak in a cool place overnight.) Drain and rinse beans.

In the same sauce pan, combine beans, 4 cups fresh water, and the salt. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until beans are very tender. Drain beans, reserving liquid.

Mash away

In a heavy large skillet heat bacon drippings. Stir in garlic. Add beans; mash thoroughly with a potato masher. Stir in enough of the cooking liquid (about 1/4 cup) to make a paste-like mixture. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until mixture is thick, stirring often.*I added more salt because the beans were too bland for my taste.

Homemade re-fried beans…that taste good!

I served the beans and tortillas with a side of quick “Mexican” rice. That is, cooked riced with onions, salsa and spices. Leftover tortillas and beans make a great grab-n-go breakfast with the addition of some cheese, salsa and eggs. This style of tortilla would also make a good substitute for flat breads in a variety of Middle Eastern dishes. Heck, use them to make quick, individual pizzas. The possibilities are endless…