“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”
Edward Abbey called Arches National Park the “most beautiful place on earth” in the opening to his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” drawn on his time as a ranger there. Few who have visited Arches or its the nearby parks around Moab, Utah, would argue that point. Trails and traditional campsites allow visitors to enjoy this majestic setting, but to fully embrace its rugged beauty, the adventurous leave the beaten path for primitive camping.
Arches National Park
Plan on walking at least a mile to set up primitive camping in Arches National Park; all visitors must make camp at least one mile from any road, designated trail and any named arches on the USGS maps. Keep campsites out of sight of those areas, as well. In addition, further restrictions prohibit camps within 300 feet from of any archaeological sites or non-flowing nonflowing water, and 100 feet from flowing water. The main park road cuts right through the middle of the park, so meeting the requirements provides a bit of a challenge. Permits are required for all primitive camping and may be purchased at the visitor center, To protect the fragile environment in the park, all campers must follow “Leave No Trace” principles to leave the area as they found it. The maximum group size is 10, but smaller groups are strongly encouraged to reduce environmental impact.
In the nearby Canyonlands National Park, campers need permits for all overnight backcountry trips. You may reserve them in advance, unlike Arches National Park. But like Arches, all primitive campsites must stay outside a one-mile radius of roads, and at least 300 feet from water sources or archaeological and historical sites, with river corridor camping as the only exception to the rule regarding water sources. No wood fires are permitted at primitive campsites except along rivers, and pets are not allowed. Permits expire after seven consecutive days on at any one site.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates many primitive campgrounds without water or facilities in the Moab area and charges no fees. Most cannot be reserved in advance. Check the BLM website to find maps and more information about the individual campgrounds. Guests may not stay more than 14 days in any 30-day period. Note that you may share these sites with RVers, who love the free “boondocking” on BLM lands.
Food and Water
You’ll find no drinking water in the backcountry around Moab, save the occasional flow from outside the parks where livestock graze, which needs boiling and purifying to be potable. Even if you do follow those precautions and drink that purified water, don’t expect it to taste good. One way or another, plan for at least one gallon of water daily per person, which person — a gallon weighs eight pounds. If you plan to cook, bring in a camp stove as stove, because few of these areas allow fires. Use extra caution when lighting stoves during high winds and keep any flames away from dry grass, as fires grass. Fires in this arid region can catch and spread quickly.
Leaving No Trace
The old saying goes “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” To practice “leave no trace” camping principles, either bring a portable toilet system or dig a “cat hole” four to six inches deep and at least 300 feet from any water source. Toilet paper and any feminine hygiene products must be packed out, as well. Swimming or washing up directly in pools violates these principles, but you may collect water in a clean container and use it for washing at least 300 feet away, using bio-degradable soap only. An ecological consideration particular to this desert climate involves taking care not to disturb living soil crusts with misplaced footsteps. The crusts, which look black and bumpy or red and smooth, consist of living cyanobacteria, lichen, fungi, algae, algae and moss. Try to stay in dry washes or on rock as you hike to and from your site to avoid destroying this soil-enriching life form, as well as setting up form. Set up your camp itself on a rock foundation.
These remote camping areas around Moab give campers dramatic views of towering rock formations and sweeping sunset views, vistas, but can be hazardous to the inexperienced and experienced alike. Know basic topographic map reading map-reading skills and come prepared for whatever temperatures you may face during your visit. The most common safety issues relate to dehydration and careless hiking or climbing, especially on slickrock and sandstone. The former is easier to climb than descend, and the latter can crumble or and tends to get slippery when wet.
Exercise caution by shaking out and checking clothing, bedding and shoes for unwanted visitors, such as scorpions, black widows or rattlesnakes; never reach into dark places blindly to avoid bites and stings. Thunderstorms pose a serious threat to backcountry campers and hikers. Do not take refuge under rock overhangs or in caves, but proceed directly to your vehicle. If your hair literally stands on end, quickly remove any metal objects such as pack frames, squat near the ground, and cover your ears. Sudden thunderstorms can turn a dry wash into a raging torrent in a matter of minutes, so avoid setting up camp there.
I am obsessed with two things currently: cast iron cookware and roasted vegetables. Instead of seeing them as a “tolerable” food I “should” be eating, I have discovered the joys of roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots.
Ain’t it grand when good food is healthy for you too? That is a rhetorical questions, folks.
I’m also trying to get my 10″ Lodge frying pan good and seasoned, which means oven cooked bacon everyday now that I’ve seasoned it a couple of times the conventional way. It occurred to me when looking at all that leftover bacon grease from a handful of slices I needed to be using it for cooking other things, and had already been planning on trying roasted Brussels sprouts.
There are a million recipes floating around online for roasted Brussels sprouts, and this particular batch was sprouts, crushed garlic, and pepper. As I cooked them in leftover bacon drippings with a little olive oil to stretch it and completely coat the sprouts, I felt it was salty enough. You may want to add a little salt yourself.
Or if you really want to be
lazy efficient, pick up a pack of pre-seasoned and pre-cut sprouts at Trader Joes.
For thriftier folks, wash your Brussels sprouts, trim off any damaged outer leaves, cut the base off and slice the bigger pieces in half. I mixed the ingredients in my iron skillet since some of the oil I wanted to coat my veggies with was already in the pan after cooking bacon (400 degrees for 20 minutes FYI).
Add three cloves of crushed garlic if you are a garlic lover like me, a little extra olive oil to make sure all Brussels sprouts are coated in oil, and season with pepper and/or salt to taste. Mix those little suckers around to make sure they are good and coated with oil.
Roast your Brussels sprouts at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, stirring them 2-3 times to make sure to maximize the carmelization to all sides.
These smell downright heavenly, and have become a new staple of my diet. Sure, there is a little bacon fat in there, but it’s better than fixing up boiled veggies with no vitamins or flavor left, then drowning them in butter to compensate, right? Yes, that’s another rhetorical question.
Now, being a recent transplant to the south, proper (Arizona is technically a southern state, but not really a “southern” state, if you know what I mean) I’ve been embracing my new-found cultural heritage. And from a culinary point of view, you simply cannot be properly southern without eating — and making — fried green tomatoes.
If a menu offers it, I gotta have it, everywhere I go.
Lest I go broke eating out and ordering appetizers all the time, I figured it was high time to give it a go myself, despite my culinary limitations. And let me be clear here, just because I’ve started a food blog, that doesn’t mean I fancy myself a cooking expert. Far form it after 47 years of bachelorette-hood. But with my determination to overcome my microwave dependence, I’m going to learn to cook if it kills me.
And given my culinary skills, it just might.
But I’m experimenting with different recipes for this classic southern comfort dish, and while there are a million ways to prepare it, this is the general idea. Ironically, the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” was playing this weekend on HBO. I highly recommend watching it whether you saw it many years ago or never have, and I have to read the book, which I am sure is much better than the movie, like they always are. Kathy Bates is hilarious as a frustrated housewife taking women’s self help classes to try to give her life some meaning and get her husband’s attention from the TV.
That poor woman has the worst luck with husbands in her movies.
But the movie centers around the story of two friends who open up a cafe in 1920’s Alabama to make a new home for themselves as sort of fringe characters — Ruth has left her abusive husband and although it’s never clearly stated, Idgie seems to be a lesbian in a time where that probably didn’t even have a name. The cafe also becomes home to a cast of characters, from a drunk they take under their wing, to the black folks that eat out back.
It’s a movie about a lot of things… the power of friendship, overcoming tragedy, and how groups of misfit people can come together to form their own family, amongst other things. And as they always say on those food competitions, cooking with love. And like they always say on “Chopped” when their dishes are torn apart by judges, they “cooked it with love,” like that somehow makes up for it.
So I say unto you, I hope you like this, but if you don’t… I cooked it with love, bitches.
Start with three to four firm green tomatoes. This could be a challenge to find unless you live in the south or have your own garden.
Slice them up to approximately 1/2 inch thick slices:
Set up on plate or bowl with your wet ingredients of one egg and a half cup buttermilk (You can use regular milk if you don’t have buttermilk), and another with your breading mix. This is where most of the variations come in — I’ve seen various mixes of cornmeal, flour, panko crumbs and bread crumbs. But so far, my favorite is 1/3 cup each of flour, cornmeal and plain bread crumbs, with a healthy dose of pepper and seasoned salt, to taste. If you want a little heat, add a pinch or two of cayenne or Cajun seasoning.
Yeah, I know that’s not very precise, but I won’t be confined to such mundane things as measuring spoons with my new culinary emancipation. At least not on this. I’m free at last, I tell you!
Then dip in the wet bowl (bowls being much better but plates showing it better for photo purposes), the one more time in your dry mix. Voila, that ‘mater is ready for fryin’.
For frying oil, I recommend peanut or even coconut oil to minimize the damage, but if you’re on a budget, I mean really… we’re talking about fried tomatoes, so so-called healthy oils aren’t going to make it wholesome, now are they? The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond recommends adding some butter to your oil in her pork chops recipe, which seems like a swell idea for my fried green tomatoes, as well. So I recommend 1/2 cup oil and one tablespoon butter heated on medium heat. Then carefully add your tomatoes so you don’t splash yourself with hot oil.
Fry for 3-5 minutes before turning, cooking each side to a golden brown.
Thank goodness for long lenses so I didn’t get splattered with hot grease in the name of art.
Most people serve these up with some kind of sauce or remoulade, but like the fried green tomatoes recipe itself, you’ll find about a million variations for the special sauce. I like this one from Simply Recipes or this buttermilk dipping sauce from the Neelys.
Want a handy, dandy visual reference? Or just like pretty food pictures? Pin this to your Pinterest account for reference:
Mmmmm, these are tasty. What’s your favorite variation of fried green tomatoes?
The Garchen Institute in Chino Valley, Arizona is one of my favorite places to get away from everything, including TV, internet and even conversation at times, as some of the people there have taken vows of silence. High above the Prescott Valley, all you hear is the sound of the Buddhist prayer flags in the strong winds that blow on the mountain where the retreat is located.
I’ve never been to Prague, Czechoslovakia, but it was love at first sight. It was back in the 80s, at the height of my obsession with INXS, and particularly, singer Michael Hutchence. If you’re at all familiar with their music and their videos, you probably know I’m referring to the video for the song “Never Tear Us Part.”
Michael sang this romantic love song around various locations of Prague, including Charles Bridge. It was a perfect fit for the song and the man, and implanted a deep desire in me to see the city before I die, a desire that has not lessened one bit in almost 25 years.
Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and if you love that old school architecture and high Gothic embellishments, boy is this the city to visit! It was spared much of the damage that other nations received during World War II, and as such, now has one of the most varied and extensive collections of architecture you will find anywhere in the world: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau, Cubist, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern.
I’ve often looked into taking a course to teach English as a second language, and when considering the classes in an international setting, product is my first choice destination. I obsess over it. Apparently I’m not alone, as Prague is now ranks sixth among the most popular cities in Europe for visitors behind London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.
Lest you think this city is nothing more than a pretty picture, remember that before was the Czech Republic, it was Bohemia, and the birthplace of the term “Bohemian.” Aside From the obvious tourist attractions, some more unconventional sites to check out include Bunkr Parukarka , a 1950s cold war bunker turned techno night club. Housed underground in what was a 1950s nuclear bunker, this quirky nightclub welcomes revelers through a graffiti-covered door that juts out from a hillside.
And if you really want a rough things up after hours, go to the suburb of Zizkov, with more than 300 bars in the neighborhoods to square miles. No need to dress up for these dive bars, where you can expect your beer in plastic cups. That should give you little feel for the neighborhood.
For a more open space outdoors, ride the railway to the top of Petrin Hill, Which has an eclectic assortment of attractions in itself: a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower, a mirror maze, and the Church of St. Michael–a 17th century wooden building relocated from a village in the Ukraine.
And of course, there’s food. You knew that was coming, right?
In get your food, beer and accommodations all in one at the 550-year-old Hotel Midvikdu. As this is the home of the infamous X-Beer 33 with it’s alcohol content of 11.8% (the strongest in the Czech Republic), the accommodations will come in handy. They ferment this dark lager for six months in an oak barrel. Fortunately, they also have a menu that guarantees you won’t want to drink on an empty stomach: half of duck with potato, white bread, bacon dumplings, red and white cabbage; larded roast beef with rosehips sauce and croquettes; boar steak with baked apple cranberries and potato chips; and their signature Brewers pork steak with homemade beer sauce, bacon and fried onion, with a side order of french fries.
That almost sounds American.
Or if you want to go high-end La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, but allow plenty of time for this six course tasting menu, which can take up to three hours to complete. It seems they no longer have the “gelatinous tomato meringue that melts to release honey and balsamic vinegar,” but I’m sure they have found plenty of suitable replacements surprise and delight your palate.
I found some fantastic images on Flickr by Moyan Brenn under CC ATTRIBUTION AND NO DERIVATIONS licensing, so I included a gallery below–check out the wonderful photos on his site. And, of course, the video that inspired me so much to add Prague to my bucket list.
If this sounds–and looks– good, you may want to consider a couple of great tour options to drink in Prague. Monograms offers independent tours of Vienna and Prague, over six nights. Your in country transportation, hotels, breakfasts and must see site admissions are included, as well as having your own city guide available to consult. And without the big herds of a traditional tour. If 2 1/2 days in Prague isn’t enough for you, you can add on a four-day Prague city package. Or just do the four-day package on its own. Vienna to Prague starts at $1497 pp, and the four-day Prague tour starts at just $663 pp.
What’s better than those Mississippi restaurants that serve up comfort food made from fresh produce and home-style cooking? One that also sells the produce, quirky gifts and a little liquid sunshine with a smile.
Now, I appreciate those fancy Mississippi restaurants as much as the next gal, and the kind of gourmet food where you aren’t really sure what it is, but you know it’s supposed to impress you. But I also enjoy a slice of down-home cooking served up with friendly service, and The Tomato Place in Vicksburg, Mississippi, has garnered quite a reputation for both in these parts.
I ventured in the first time on a lark, after I had done some shopping at the local Big Blue Generic Warehouse of Goods down the street to check out the place. First of all, watch for it closely as it’s literally just an extra-wide shoulder of the highway and you can easily drive on by. Second, you may not have much parking space, as this cafe stays pretty busy all day.
But if you find it and park your booty there, you’re greeted with brightly-colored buildings and very casual outdoor seating area. There might be some homemade pork rinds cooking outside, smoking up a bit. One building is cooks only, but the other is a produce stand and a wall of freezers full of delicious and nutritious smoothies to go.
Or stay, if you choose.
Inside you’ll find sauces (try the Mississippi Fever made with real tomatoes and fresh hot peppers) and containers of rice or beans for sale, but also hats, gifts and local-themed odds and ends, like the wonderful book I discovered there, “Eat, Drink, Delta,” full of lovely photos and stories from Delta restaurants and kitchens.
And of course, the cafe.
You know they gotta have fried green tomatoes, but also some other expected classics like fresh squeezed lemonade, po’ boys, fried catfish and burgers, but prepare yourself for plenty of surprises, like the meatball plate: Three large meatballs on a bed of stone ground cheese grits, with tomatoes, and your choice of squash or green beans. Or maybe get a southern-style BLT, as in BL and FGT (Fried Green Tomatoes) in case your arteries aren’t quite clogged enough.
But all that matters is dying with a smile on your face, right?
A decidedly non-southern popular meal is the Jamaican Burger plate, with fried yams and jerk sauce. And check out this list of available side items: fried okra, mac and cheese, cheese grits, fried yams and baked beans, just to name a few.
I had the Tomato Place Pie plate, and it sounds sort of lasagna-like or even a little pizza-like, but much milder on the spice, and shouldn’t kick up the ol’ reflux. As I had the misfortune of coming on a Sunday evening after the huge rush of the day, I had to go with okra instead of green beans. And the salad was a marinated cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, and… why, I believe they threw some watermelon in there.
I have to tell you, I’m not a big raw tomato or cucumber person, but that was a very good salad, and refreshing sitting outside in the heat. Personally, I think I’d kick up the spice just a bit on that tomato pie, but it was tasty, and with all the food I had, I took a healthy portion home.
Perhaps I’ve watched one too many episodes of “Chopped,” but I “transformed” those leftovers into a nice breakfast hash the next morning, and that was mighty tasty. Alex Guarnaschelli would have been so proud. Or Geoffrey Zakarian, who I have personally dubbed, “The Silver Fox.”
I’m a lonely woman, okay. I use cable to window-shop hot guys.
Anyway, the fried green tomatoes here are very lightly breaded with mostly a cornmeal breading, and btw, if you want to make your own, this is one place you can find green tomatoes for sale. If they haven’t used them all themselves. But this appetizer here is light with a zesty remoulade sauce making it a nice start to any meal.
They have nice little indoor dining area, but plenty of outdoor seating if you can take the heat. Check out lots of photos below, and make a little trip south of Vicksburg on Highway 61 for some casual, comfort cuisine.
I love casual bars and dining, and especially a good Irish pub. Fortunately, I don’t seem to be alone, so you can find them in even remote places, like Ouray, Colorado. In this case, O’Brien’s Pub and Grill, right on the main drag in Ouray, with lots of wood, mirrors and good Irish whiskey.
And, of course, some good Irish eatin’.
I popped into the pub on a weekday afternoon when it wouldn’t be too busy to satisfy a craving I had for some Irish food for weeks. I had first tried to check it out during their holiday off season, when many businesses have their breaks. But today I was going to score me some traditional Irish cuisine, and after debating over the Fish and Chips, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Bangers and Mashed, I finally decided I was going to get me some Shepherd’s Pie or die trying.
(Well, maybe not DIE trying, but it sounds good, right?)
Now calories and watching ones’ waistline is generally not a high priority if you walk into an Irish pub and grill, but I was glad the side dish served with it was a salad to compensate for the ridiculous calories I was going to consume. It’s sort of like having Diet Coke with your Big Mac… it cancels out the Big Mac calories… everyone knows this.
But even the Shepherd’s Pie was actually lighter than I expected. More like a stew with some potatoes on top. I’m not sure that’s traditional, but it was a refreshing surprise. Now, I’m not naive enough to think it wasn’t loaded with stuff that’s bad for me, but hey, that’s the whole point of going to a bar — doing things that are bad for you. But delightful.
The lamb was tender and smelled wonderful. In fact, it caught the attention of the bartender who confessed he has never tried it, but he thought it looked and smelled pretty tasty and liked the fact it seemed more like a soup and salad dish than a huge stuff-till-you-burst entree.
Since I was so good and had a salad with my Shepherd’s Pie, well, I had to have dessert. DUH! So I had the warm bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Oh, it was so good on a snowy day. Or any day, but especially with a chill in the air and snow on the ground.
Now, most people expect to read about the Guinness at an Irish pub. I must confess, I haven’t developed a taste for it yet, but I suspect I just had a cheap version when I tried it. So I did not partake of the Guinness, but… I do love my Irish whiskey. Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey, to be precise.
O’Brien’s takes it’s patrons on whiskey flights if they choose, where they get four different shots of whiskey to sample. For instance, the Middleton Distillery Flight where you get one shot each of Powers Irish Whiskey, Paddy Old Irish Whiskey, Tullamore Dew and Redbreast Aged 12 Years for the bargain price of $13 at the time of this writing. You can also opt for a Cooley Distillery Flight, or John Jameson Flight, but my choice on this one was a no-brainer: bring on the Bushmill’s Flight, bitches!
For a mere $24 I had a shot of Bushmill’s, Bushmill’s Black, Bushmill’s 16 Year Old, and Bushmill’s 21 Year Old. Now that’s good drinkin’ y’all. You can add a pint for $3.00, but I decided I wanted to remain upright and be able to sober up for the drive back to my hotel later.
This place would be deadly on an overnighter.
Check back in for more articles on Ouray, which is one of the coolest towns I’ve ever visited, and it’s nearby neighbor Ridgeway. These are real gems off the beaten path in Colorado, along with Silverton and Durango. The best of Colorado in this old girl’s opinion, and that’s saying a lot.
(I still have some photos of Ouray and Ridgeway as well as one more restaurant review coming. I need to get back to cover more, as I LOVE Ouray!)
Moab, Utah is known for magnificent scenery and an outdoor sports culture. I was hellbent on checking out the local Arches National park, and sampling some nostalgia at the Moab Diner, but hit a small distraction on the way.
The Blu Pig.
Even cruising by on the highway entering town, the Blues, Brews and BBQ sign was about to make me slam on the brakes, because anytime you want to combine good food, alcohol and music, I’m down. Unfortunately, I had many hours to fill till they opened at 4 pm, so I did my hiking/photography thing and pulled in as the full moon was rising over the blue neon.
The restaurant is laid out with a huge table running down the middle, and the servers seemed to be preparing for a big party. Bummer – I like a nice, quiet and preferably empty setting when I’m going to geek out taking food and restaurant photos.
My waitress was friendly and very professional, and told me they do have live music Wednesday through Sunday, but on this Tuesday night I had to settle for piped in blues. Eh, I’ll take that. It beats the hell out of Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, or whatever top-40 douchebag du jour is on heavy rotation on the radio.
Even though I wasn’t very hungry, I opted for the three meat platter, choosing sausage, smoked turkey and pulled pork. Call me crazy, but I have yet to meet a Texas brisket I’ve liked, so I left that for another day. You also get two sides with this order, and they have a huge selection, including southern favorites like fried okra as well as more traditional sides of baked beans.
As I figured I’d be hard pressed to find anyone else offering red beans and rice in a radius of, well… several states, I went with that, and asked for a recommendation from the waitress for my second side. She recommended the coleslaw – a classic BBQ side, and a simple dish, but one so many restaurants can’t seem to get quite right.
I got my corn bread before the main meal was served, and after smothering it with butter, couldn’t resist starting in before the rest of my food arrived. It was moist and fresh, and a nice start to the big plate that came out quickly after.
Thank goodness for take home boxes.
The waitress explained each of the sauces at the table: Carolina mustard sauce, Kansas City-style and their “house” Texas BBQ sauce. The smoked turkey comes with a special BBQ sauce, as well. And the pulled pork uses the house Texas sauce, so I tried the Carolina and Kansas City-style both on a little turkey, as well as the turkey BBQ.
Much to my surprise, I liked the Carolina sauce best, perhaps because it stands out so much from more traditional sauces – I found the Texas and Kansas City somewhat similar.
The red beans and rice was a little bland, and it occurred to me afterwards it really needed the sausage mixed in with it to give it some kick, as it didn’t really seem to have any in the side dish by itself.
But the coleslaw… I swear they resurrected my mama and had her back in that kitchen making slaw. It was a creamy, fresh cabbage (not browned, old cabbage like so many restaurants serve) adding a nice contrast to the BBQ sauces.
Good tip for me, means good tip for you, Ms. Waitress.
The sausage was my favorite of the meat offerings, with good spicy flavor and nice and juicy. The turkey had just a hint of smoky flavor, but paired well with all the sauces offered. The pulled pork was moist, tender, but a little less flavorful than some pulled pork I’ve had, but hey, we’re in Mitt Romney/Mormon country, not the deep south or Kansas City, so how high can you really set you BBQ barometer? Especially for a girl who used to live less than a quarter mile from Slo’s BBQ in Detroit.
Tasty food, good service and good music, in a beautiful town. You can’t beat that.
“I’ve always wanted to get as far away as possible from the place that I was born. Far away both geographically and spiritually. To leave it behind…”
You would think that being free to roam this country now with my mobile income would satisfy me, but it feeds that unquenchable need to explore and experience new things: I don’t want to confine myself to the borders of one country, or even one continent. I want it all. Even though I know there is no place or number of places I can go to where I say, “Aha! This is it. I am finished as I have now seen everything I ever want to see.”
It will never happen. I know that now.
I crave something that doesn’t really exist, at least not in a tangible way. It can’t be summed up in a bucket list, although they can serve a purpose. It’s something deeper I suppose. Living with a sense of purpose. A sense of adventure. A sense of wonder.
Some people say when you give up your dreams you die. I’ve given up so many dreams… and found new ones, but I’m still alive. The thing that I think really kills you? Giving up your sense of wonder. Your sense of the sheer madness of the world, the brutality, the suffering and all the horrid things that threaten to break you but make you really understand and appreciate the preciousness of the beautiful moments… watching the sun rise over a desert mesa, the silence under a sky of stars and no other soul around, the sound of the surf and the wind in your hair as you ride your bike along the beach, wine-buzzed laughter among companions, the sun-weathered face of a 103 year-old Navajo woman studying the strange alien creature you are in her world. Driving into the sunset… literally, with the top of the convertible down and Elvis Presley blaring. Or maybe The Gun Club… or Sonny Boy Williamson… or all of the above.
Of course, most people can’t just run away and live as an expat in Morocco or Thailand. But you really don’t have to. It’s all a state of mind… a different way of seeing everything, even the most simple or mundane encounters. It means engaging and being present, not thinking about your shopping list or all the shit at work you have to deal with or who the hell is going to win “American Idol.”
Hey! This is your life! Right here! Right now!
You can find that adventurous spirit and your sense of wonder in your backyard. Slow down and disconnect from technology a bit, like I did at The Garchen Institute outside Chino Valley, Arizona, the home base of H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist lama and the embodiment of pure grace. You don’t have to be Buddhist to go there (although I have been a spiritual tourist as well as physical and geographical), nor to appreciate the sense of transporting to another time and place. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist to recognize the holiness of man who walks the talk, after spending over 20 years in a Chinese prison.
Being in the presence of Rinpoche is sort of like being spiritually stoned. You sort of get this weird feeling and find yourself sort of staring in a daze. Then he chuckles, pats you on the head and carries on.
Don’t bother with cell phones or trying to find wi-fi or TVs if you go there. Really, you can live without them a few days. Many retreatants have taken vows of silence, so don’t expect much noise up in the mountains except the sound of wind and flapping prayer flags. Which is to say, it is divine.
As is everything around you if you see it with the right eyes.
If you’re one of those people who think small town cafes mean frozen beef patty hamburgers and onion rings, Happy Belly Deli in Norwood, Colorado will definitely redefine small town cuisine for you.
The restaurant is also a bakery and coffee house, but forget any vision of pretentious open mike nights and all-vegan bohemian staff. The menu boasts a variety of healthy – and not so healthy, in a good way – dishes that cover any diner or group.
Opening at 6:30 am (5:30 am during hunting season), you can start with breakfast in the colorful dining area, where local artists display their work. They have some fancy mixes of espresso and teas, but for a good ol’ cup of joe, it’s self-served family style by the ordering counter. There’s a daily special, but also a choice of breakfast bowls and sandwiches that make great to-go items.
And that egg, cheese and meat sandwich on a homemade croissant… ooh-la-la, that puts Burger King to shame (not that that’s hard, but you get what I’m saying.) I go pepper jack on the cheese for a little southwestern spicy kick and extra crispy bacon… yeah, it’s not good for you, but it hurts so good, right?
The Benny breakfast bowl seems to be a popular favorite, which features the usual eggs and potatoes, but has a hollandaise sauce thrown in the mix. I was going to get that on my last trip, but confess I got sidetracked by the daily special – an omelet with cheese, bacon and carmelized onions.
Likewise, you can grab a single serving quiche fresh from the oven, or a selection of pastries and huge muffins overflowing their wrapper. And they always have a gluten-free option if you need one.
Now, when you move to lunch, things get a little healthier, thank goodness, or this whole town would be dead or on the heart transplant list.
The chicken pesto sandwich is tasty, stuffed with chicken, of course, and cream cheese, pesto, tomatoes and sprouts. There are vegetarian options, if needed, such as the Mediterranean roll: hummus, feta cheese, carrots, pepper rings, olives, cucumbers, lettuce and Greek dressing in a whole wheat wrap.
The food is very good, but even better is the friendly ambience, and the local hang out here. I’ve witnessed conversations from ballroom dancing to the counter gal asking a customer if his house was unlocked so she could go by and take a look at it, as she was thinking of renting it after he moved. And of course, it was.
That is a conversation you’ll only hear in a town of 400 or so.
If you’re passing through Norwood, Colorado, stop by the Happy Belly Deli – before 3pm when they close – and give yourself a happy belly, indeed.