Getting a New Perspective- A Day Trip on Route 66

Northern Arizona backroads

It’s funny how one thinks of the destination and often forgets to enjoy the journey, especially when it’s been a habitual route for so long.  Life in general can get that way.  Sometimes all you need is a different perspective. And it can be the discovery and adventure right under your nose.  Enter the DAY TRIP…

For the past several years, my husband and I have been driving on Interstate 40 in Arizona and flying past communities that were once vibrant and full of life on Historic Route 66. Whether our trip took us to Las Vegas, California or even Flagstaff, we would blow by these little towns off the long stretch of interstate.  This day we decided to spend the day discovering one of these little towns as a tourist and enjoying the journey as an explorer…in Williams, Arizona. Less than an hour away from our backyard. 

The back desert roads we take allow us to fully experience the changing topography of Northern Arizona. The high desert with the low shrubs of the creosote bushes and cacti soon turn into blooming juniper trees and eventually sweet smelling, tall ponderosa pines. 

Northern Arizona BackroadsThis beautiful drive makes us question why we don’t venture out off the highway more often and take that road less traveled.

We arrive in the town of Williams from the south with Bill Williams Mountain to the west of us.  Both the mountain and the town were named after “Old Bill” Williams, an explorer and trader in the early 1800’s who was known to have befriended many Native American tribes. Bill Williams MountainOur road drops us directly onto “The Mother Road”- Route 66- the very road that was one of the original highways that served as the main artery from the Midwest city of Chicago, Illinois to the west coast city of Santa Monica, California. This historic highway is a part of America’s soul, as it represents our love affair with the automobile and moving west in search of wide open spaces.Route 66Old town Williams is situated right on the historic Route 66.  October 13, 1984 it became the last town on historic Route 66 to be bypassed by the freeway. Williams is considered to be the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon” and is home to the Grand Canyon Railway.  The streets are brimming with smiling tourists taking pictures and speaking an array of different languages (my French speaking husband identified a group of French visitors immediately!). It’s a proud little reminder of how our beautiful state is visited by so many.

Grand Canyon RailwayAn eclectic mix of the Old West is combined with the nostalgia of the heydays of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  We find old saloons, Wild West steak houses and western outfitter shops right alongside 50’s diner fare and an homage to Elvis Presley. 

ElvisWe step into each souvenir shop thumbing through the Route 66 key chains and t-shirts. We enjoy the aroma of smoked pork and chuckle at the quirky tin signs while listening to the 50’s classic, Rock Around the Clock.  Today, we are tourists soaking up the culture. route 66 signsAfter meandering the streets of Old Town, we decide to eat at an Italian eatery.  The juxtaposition of the retro red and white Texaco gas pumps with the contemporary metal Bistro sign lures us in.

Italian Bistro Route 66Inside this 100 year old building, we find a very hip urban industrial styled restaurant with local brews and local wines. The Carbonara Pizza we order is utterly delicious with its wood fired thin crust and toppings of crispy pancetta, loads of mozzarella and a very Euro addition of an egg on top.  Carbonara PizzaOur day trip culminates with our discovery of a wine tasting room located right next door to our bistro.  Our reception at the Grand Canyon Winery tasting room is warm and inviting and immediately feel the small town charm. The decor is smart and trendy.  Wines are written on oversized chalkboards and the walls are decorated with various modes of transportation from bicycles to airplanes to convey their label’s tagline of “Travel Far. Drink Local.”  A perfect fit for this tourist town keeping to its roots.

Grand Canyon Winery The tasting room has an assortment of Arizona wines in addition to their own label. We taste several varietals- a light and fruity red blend of Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Syrah; a rosé that can hold its own against any Provence rosé; and my personal favorite-The Voyager-a full bodied red blend with hints of cocoa and berries.  Grapes grown in Arizona, bottled in Arizona, sold in Arizona…now that’s sustainability!Grand Canyon WineryThe wind is picking up so I put on my new Route 66 sweatshirt and we make our way out of town.  Today we are reminded that sometimes in life all we need to do is take a different “route” and look at things through the eyes of another to feel enlightened and refreshed. And often times it’s just about a little tweaking here and there. Like a backroads drive to lunch. 

Northern Arizona backroads

“Too often. . .I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” – Louis L’Amour

 

 

Rediscovering Las Vegas

las-vegas sign

I so adore Las Vegas.  My husband and I try to make a trip there a couple times of year.  I really could never tire of it, but this most recent visit to Sin City has me seeing it with different eyes and falling in love with it all over again.

Our usual getaway to the city that never sleeps consists of leisurely window shopping the expensive designer shops, playing (losing) the quarter slots while enjoying some complimentary white wine, enjoying an overpriced meal at one of those “famous chef” restaurants and finally returning to our quiet room with the darkening shades and fabulously comfortable bed and pillows.  No lie…I do love where we stay and wouldn’t change a thing.  I affectionately call our hotel my Chocolate TowersEncore in Las Vegas

This trip was different. No mellow  morning with room service.  Upon waking up in our room in the Chocolate Towers, we quickly showered and put on our hiking clothes.  We hopped into the car and drove to a coffee shop off the Strip to buy ourselves a reasonably priced cup of coffee and scone. Then we were off with our water bottles in hand.

Located just about a 45 minute drive northeast of the Strip is a stunning state park in the Mojave Desert called the Valley of Fire.  The drive is mostly dead desert, but when you arrive to the park these bright fiery red sandstone formations seem to burst from the ground out of nowhere!  Valley of Fire State ParkThese magnificent formations-from arches to beehives- were created here over 150 million years ago. This whole area was once a seabed.

Valley of Fire State Park-Beehive

Valley of Fire State Park-arch

The 70 degree weather was perfect for our day of hiking. We climbed rocks, went into little valleys and saw petroglyphs from the ancient peoples who lived there from 300 B.C.E to 1150 C.E. Valley of Fire State Park-Petroglyphs

Valley of Fire State ParkAfter our day of exploring, we decided we weren’t in the mood for a fancy meal on the Strip. We wanted the exploration to continue.  Driving back to town, we located an authentic Mexican food worthy of a President.  Seriously!  When we walked into Lindo Michoacan, there was a wall full of photos of past diners and there, among the mix, was President Clinton!

This Mexican cuisine hit the spot perfectly.  We started with two grande margaritas and the Queso Fundido with champinones and freshly made flour tortillas.  The mushroom cheese dip melted in our mouths.  The premium tequila in the margaritas made me question how I will ever drink Jose Cuervo again.queso fundido mexican foodThe authentic south of the border décor complete with colorful tiles, pottery and Mariachi music made the Las Vegas Strip seem a country away.  We were in heaven.  Our entrees were smashingly good, too.  My Pollo Rebeca was made with a tender butterflied chicken breast, cactus, onions, jalapenos and cilantro galore! 

Excitement, beauty and incredible food were discovered on this Vegas trip and it didn’t include the slots, the Chanel store window or a meal that involved a $75 bottle of wine. BUT… this is not to say that won’t be on my next itinerary to Las Vegas…

Proud to have this featured on The Tablescaper Blog!

Tiramisu Chocolate Birthday Cake

Tiramisu Chocolate layer cake

To many people, March represents spring break vacations, spring training baseball games, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and the beginnings of spring with buds on the trees and breaking out with the Easter decorations complete with bunnies and pastels.  For me, March represents all of that, PLUS the “birthday month”.  We have 6 family members with birthdays this month and that includes mine and my husband’s! That means a lot of birthday meals and birthday cakes. This year I thought a change was in order for the traditional 2 layer frosted birthday cake.

We celebrated my mother’s birthday with a birthday brunch. Eggs Benedict with homemade Hollandaise sauce, smoked salmon and capers, mini yogurt and berry parfaits and mimosas were on the menu.  20140323_101815 I needed to add the dessert-the birthday cake finale.  So what type of cake (besides a coffee cake with a streusel crumble) would go well with a brunch? I asked myself.  Then I flashed back to my visit to Italy last fall- that tasty coffee dessert of tiramisu.  The attempt at the perfect Tiramisu Chocolate Layer Birthday Cake was thus born.

Tiramisu is an Italian dessert that literally means, “pick me up”.  This delicious concoction is traditionally made with espresso, a sweet Marsala wine, mascarpone cheese, and ladyfinger cookies. There are so very many variations of tiramisu out there, that is was difficult to decide which one to make.  I chose to make a layer cake version with a buttercream frosting and modify the ingredients to my mother’s tastes.  Amaretto is my mother’s favorite liqueur, so I used that in place of a Marsala wine and instead of a white or yellow cake, I chose CHOCOLATE, of course.  Milk chocolate is my mom’s fav, but dark chocolate would work wonderfully, too.  I did decrease the amount of mascarpone cheese and made a substitute due to the high cost- thus the cream cheese in the recipe.

This is a cake that is a labor of love, but it is worth the time.  This scrumptious dessert is certainly to be savored and seems to intensify in flavor as the days go by (I had a lot of leftovers and they keep calling my name when I walk past the refrigerator!).

Enjoy!

 

Tiramisu Chocolate Layer Cake

INGREDIENTS

Cake

1 box MILK CHOCOLATE cake mix

Ingredients on cake box – water, eggs, oil (I always substitute ¼ cup of the water with nonfat plain yogurt for extra moistness)

Coffee Syrup

¾ cup Italian roast coffee (strong) or espresso

3 Tablespoons amaretto

Mascarpone Filling

1 cup mascarpone cheese

1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese

¼ cup whipping cream

2 Tablespoons sour cream

2 Tablespoons amaretto

1 cup whipping cream (whipped)

Buttercream Frosting

1/3 cup butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

¼ cup milk (may need more to get to spreading consistency)

Garnish

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder for dusting on top of cake

Dark chocolate shavings

Ladyfinger cookies or Stella D’oro Margherite Combo Cookies (I used the latter)

 

DIRECTIONS

Make the cake:

1.            Prepare cake as directed on cake mix using 2 8” round cake pans.  Bake. Cool.

Prepare the coffee syrup:

1.            Brew ¾ cup strong coffee or espresso.  Cool.

2.            Add 3 Tablespoons of Amaretto

Prepare the mascarpone filling:

1.            Whip the 1 cup whipping cream until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.

2.            Combine the mascarpone cheese, cream cheese, ¼ cup whipping cream , sour cream, amaretto and powdered sugar until well combined and fluffy.

3.            Fold in the whipped cream.   Set aside.

amaretto

Prepare buttercream frosting:

1.            Cream butter and vanilla until fluffy.

2.            Gradually add powdered sugar alternating with milk until well mixed. Add more milk , if needed, for spreading consistency. Set aside.

Assemble the cake: (FINALLY!)

1.            Remove cakes from pans.  Place one round on cake stand.  Slice the other round in half (horizontally!) with a serrated knife or cake slicer.

2.            Brush the tops of each 3 layers with the coffee syrup.

3.            Spread the ½ of the mascarpone filling on the bottom cake layer.

cake1

4.            Place the second cake layer on top of the bottom layer.  Spread the remainder of the filling on top.

5.            Place the third cake layer on top of the second.

6.            Frost the sides and top of cake with the buttercream frosting.  Place the cookies around the sides of the cake.  Dust the top with cocoa powder and garnish with chocolate shavings.

7.            Be sure to KEEP REFRIGERATED.

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The “Talkers” and the “Doers”: Living Your Dreams

There are cat people and dog people. There are truck people and car people. There are city folk and country folk. There are wine drinkers and beer drinkers. The list goes on and on. Chances are you’ve already put yourself in one of the categories. Me? Well, I’m a wine drinking, car driving, dog loving country folk (ok…I’m on the fence in regards to city or country!).

Then there are the “talkers” and the “doers”. You know the people. The ones who talk incessantly about what they want to do in their life and the ones who talk about what they would like to do and actually end up doing it. I’m talking about the friend who says, “I’m going to run a marathon” and then by the next week they’re up to 3 miles a day training, the marathon is registered for and new running shoes have been bought. hannah halfOr the co-worker who announces that he’s done with this career of 25 years and wants to start a bakery making cinnamon rolls. And he’s already got the business license! There’s something about the “doer” that is so enviable.

Who is the “doer”? They have an idea or a dream. They take that idea and envision it, verbalize it and immediately start steps towards making it a reality. They seem to have no fear, no barriers and don’t really care what other’s opinions are about their idea or dream. They know this dream is theirs and nothing will shake them. Doers usually have a great planning system. Goals and objectives are easily created and achieved. If a detour presents itself or they fall, they go around it or get up. (more…)

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