Roanoke,VA; Asheville,NC and Great Smokey Mountains, TN

April 23-April 28, 2021

We started our “yeay we’re vaccinated” spring trip with a visit with Dan and Emily in Roanoke, VA. We brought some wine along with us from the Wine Spot and did a virtual wine tasting in their beautiful back yard along with some tasty takeout from one of their local spots.
We ended the evening with a slightly drunken Catan game 🙂
Went for a hike the next morning at a beautiful spot.
Stopped at Parkway Brewery on the way back for a beer and listened to the band.
Obviously a Donald Trump voter.
On our way to Asheville the next day we stopped at Chris’s place in Johnson City, TN and had a nice lunch enjoying his great view.
Made it to Asheville late afternoon and were very happy with our Airbnb up in the woods…
…with an awesome hot tub. Especially at sunrise.
Started our day in Asheville the next day at the North Carolina Arboretum.
Went on a nice hike through the woods…
…and enjoyed the late spring blooms.
next stop: Biltmore
We started by walking around the beautiful, huge grounds.
There we lots and lots of azaleas that were on their last legs
So happy to be outside and in the sunshine.
Inside the greenhouse with a plant material Biltmore model.
We climbed up a hill way in the back of the property…
…that led to a great view of the house…
…and the perfect picnic spot for the picnic that we smuggled in.
Beautiful views everywhere
hundred year old wisteria vines in the Italian garden next to the house
the famous circular staircase from the outside
I didn’t take many pictures inside the house – which was amazing of course – but I liked this little display that was tucked away in one of the rooms
more beautiful views
stopped at New Belgium Brewing after for a few cold ones in their lovely beer garden
Started the next day with a sunrise hot tub dip
We spent the morning driving north on the Blue Ridge parkway.
Beautiful scenery on a beautiful spring morning
We stopped and hiked at different points
craggy gardens path
Stopped at Forestry Camp in Asheville that evening for cocktails
And had dinner at Hillman brewery. Lots and lots of good breweries in Asheville.
We left Asheville the next morning heading south on the Parkway towards the Smokey Mountains.
We took our time, taking the long route and stopping along the way.
we made it to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park early afternoon and saw an elk wading through the river
Stopped at Clingman’s Dome and walked way up to get to this observation area.
Our airbnb was not as nice as the Asheville one but did have a great view
Hiked the Elkmont trail the next day which was one of the nicest hikes we’ve ever done
Abandoned cabins with just the remaining chimney were dotted around the area.
The porch on one of the buildings from an old camp that was being restored
picnicked at chimney’s picnic area which was another amazing spot
Had a nice dinner on our last night at Red Oak Bistro to cap off a great trip

Las Vegas, March 2021

Wednesday, March 10th 2021

Courtney, Claire, Corey and I spent a long weekend in Las Vegas visiting Grace and having a real vacation. We took off from our house bright and early as our flight was at 0700. Flight was no problem – kind of a pain to wear a mask for the entire time – the flight was 99% full also – but we made it with no troubles. We rented a really nice car at the airport and immediately took off for the Grand Canyon. We’ve never been to the Grand Canyon and its always been on our bucket list so we were excited to finally be going. We stopped at a Target to stock up on some road trip supplies and after a few stops for pregnancy related emergencies we were on our way. It was about a 4 hour drive from the airport and after taking in two different time changes it was about 4:00PM when we got there. We went to the south rim of the canyon and stayed at one of the lodges there – Bright Angel Lodge which was a 1940’s era lodge smack on the edge of the canyon. Courtney and I had a little cottage that you literally walked out the front door and you were at the edge of the canyon. It was really nice. After quickly unpacking we went on a short hike around the rim trail. It truly is an amazing sight. Picture don’t do it justice. We had a dinner reservation at El Tovar which was a fancier hotel just a short walk way. It was a very nice place with great canyon views. It was nice to sit, relax, have a cocktail and have a really nice dinner. We were very tired after dinner after a long day of travel so were happy to go right to bed.

We flew on Spirt which was super cheap – and just fine.
Welcome to Las Vegas
We stopped in Kingman, Arizona on Route 66 on the way to the Grand Canyon for lunch. We had a nice lunch at one of the local bars.
This was the cute little cabin we stayed in for the night at the Grand Canyon. You walked down this path…
…and you were right at the edge of the canyon. It was really cool.
vacation selfie
amazing views wherever you look

Thursday March 11, 2021

We woke up early as we were still on eastern time but we planned on going to one of the lookouts to watch the sun rise so we were happy to be up early. We were surprised to see snow on the ground when we woke up. We met Claire and Corey and then took the shuttle bus that was right around the corner farther down the trail and got there in perfect time to see the sun come up over the canyon. Although it was cold out – it was beautiful out and a blessing as there was pretty much no one around – we had the whole place to ourselves. We walked for an hour or two down the trail taking in all the beautiful views. We shuttled back to the lodge, grabbed some coffee and pastries from the diner there and had breakfast in our cottage. We walked around some of the buildings and studios in the village, packed up, checked out and then drove to the main visitor area where we walked around a bit and then took the shuttle to another area a few miles down the road. We hiked again for about an hour back to where we were parked and then it was time to start the trek back to Vegas. I wish we had a bit more time to explore – but it was worth it to make the trip. We hit the road back to Vegas about noon and stopped on Rt 66 again for lunch at a mom and pop place that turned out to be really good – taking home some banana cream pie and carrot cake that looked too good to resist. We stopped at the Hoover Dam on the way back – driving over the Dam to the Arizona side, parking the car and then walking across the dam. I was there a few years ago so I have seen it before but it is quite an amazing thing to see. We then drove the last 45 minutes back to Vegas. Courtney and I stayed at the Mandalay Bay which was nice and we had a really nice room. After settling in we drove to Grace’s place which was just a 15 minute drive. It was good to see Grace and her new apartment. We went to dinner at Pinches Tacos which was right around the corner and had a good dinner of tacos and margaritas. Claire and Corey were staying at Grace’s and we took off back to our hotel room and stayed up and gambled all night…. ha ha… went back to our hotel room and promptly fell dead asleep.

I loved all the weather beaten trees
checking out the Hoover Dam
the huge bridge on the other side of the dam
lots of art deco details
scary bathroom break place… the actually didn’t go in as it was too sketchy
view from our hotel room looking down the strip…. where’s the sun??

Friday, March 12th, 2021

We slept well and didn’t get up too too early on Pacific time. I went downstairs to the casino in search of coffee and found the Starbucks with about 30 people in line. I found another bakery kind of place with a shorter line and grabbed coffee, fruit and pastries and we had breakfast in our room. The weather looked like it was finally starting to clear a bit so we took off mid-morning to hike down the strip. Mandalay Bay is at the very southern end of the strip so we walked north going through all the casinos – always interesting people watching and seeing how the casinos are trying to reel you in. There were not a lot of people out and about which was nice – but it was still early. All the casinos were open but it looked like about 50% of the food places were closed and all the shows due due the pandemic. We stopped at the Eataly in Park MGM for some more coffee and pastries. Note to self: stay at Park MGM next time as there is no smoking there. We continued down the strip as the sun came out and it thankfully got warmer and warmer. We met up with the kids at Fashion Show and did a bit of shopping and then looked for a place to lunch. We ended up at Virgil’s, a BBQ place in the LINQ promenade. We got a table outside and had beers and BBQ and watched the increasing larger crowds walk by. We took off walking back towards Mandalay Bay and the kids went to explore some more. We took a nice rest and then got ready for a night on the town. We drove down to Old Las Vegas around 5:00, got a beer on Fremont street, walked around a bit and then met everyone at Circa – the new casino on Fremont street that just opened this year. We had a reservation at The Legacy Club, their bougie bar way up on the 60th floor. We met Grace’s boyfriend Thomas and had a nice cocktail hour checking out the view and enjoying our pricy cocktails. We had dinner at 8 East, a pan-asian place that was also in the Circa. We had a great meal in our own little room sharing dumplings, pork belly bao, brisket fried rice and other things. Everything was great. We joined the growing crowds on Fremont street and made our way to El Cortez where we played black jack for awhile. No more $5 tables… just $10. I came ahead $40 playing just for 1/2 hour which is all I gambled the whole trip. We left the kids there – still going at it – and we made our way back to Mandalay Bay where we hung out in one of their bars for one more beer and then hit the hay after a long, fun day.

starting our journey down the strip inside The Luxor.
New York, New York
an excellent croissant and a teeny tiny lemon tart at Eataly
Heading up to Aria
Bellagio fountains
outside Caesars Palace
it was getting warm out finally
wow my hair was long… shaved it all off a week later
having lunch on the Linq promenade
Grace and Claire
taking in the Fremont street craziness
cocktail hour view at the top of Circa
amazing patio
all masked up and ready to go
Love El Cortez

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

We drove to Grace’s in the morning and had bagels and donuts for breakfast and then drove to Red Rock Canyon park which was just a short drive away. Red Rock is a beautiful place – we did the loop around stopping at several spots but didn’t go on any lengthy walks as it was still pretty chilly and we weren’t dressed very appropriately. I don’t remember what we did for lunch…. mmmhhhmm? The ladies went out in the afternoon to get their nails done and Corey and I went to the grocery store and to search for bean bags. We spent cocktail hour playing bean bags and soaking in the sun. We grilled steaks and vegetables for dinner at Grace’s nice set up and enjoyed a quiet evening relaxing.

a little more blue sky today
Red Rock Canyon
Grace has a built in bean bag court with cement boards outside her door
Found some nice bean bags… Happy Birthday Grace!

Sunday March 14th, 2021

We were taking the red eye home tonight at 11:00 so we relaxed in our room in the morning, packed things up, checked out of the hotel and met the kids for brunch at ARIA. We went to a french bistro called Bardot Brasserie and it was fabulous – best meal of the week. We all had bloody marys, mimosas and Corey had a morning manhattan. Everyones food was first rate but the french toast I had was truly a work of art. After brunch we walked around the strip enjoying, finally, some warm sunny weather. We stopped at Momofuku milk bar in the Cosmopolitan for some treats, walked through the spring exhibits at the Bellagio and people watched at the growing crowds of Vegas humanity. We made our way back to Grace’s where we chilled, sat by the pool, and played some more bean bags. Thomas came over later and we got burgers and fries from In & Out. We packed up around 8ish, not looking forward to the flight home. We made it the airport, turned in the car with no problems and all survived the red eye back to CLE.

real blue skies this morning
Courtney and I walked around for awhile before meeting for brunch – enjoying the blue skies and interesting angles
brunching it
My french toast was half a loaf of brioche bread, almond brittle, some kind of buttery creamy goodness and almond syrup… one of the best things ever.
Inside the Bellagio
outside the Bellagio
cereal milk ice cream at the Milk Bar.
relaxing by the pool
more posing

Montana Brownies

This is my Mom’s brownie recipe that she has used for years and years. Kirsten is the official brownie maker these days.

  • 1 cup margarine
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 7 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (we usually skip)
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream margarine and sugar. Add eggs, cocoa powder, flour and salt. With electric mixer at medium speed beet for three minutes.. Stir in vanilla and nuts. Bake in greased 9 x 13 pan at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Snickerdoodle Blondies

Washington Post

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for the topping
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for the topping
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan with cooking oil spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper.

Combine the butter, the cup of granulated sugar and the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for a few minutes, until lightened and a little fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract; beat on medium speed until well incorporated.

Whisk together the flour, teaspoon of cinnamon, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, then add to the mixer bowl; beat on medium-low speed until well incorporated. The dough will be quite soft.

Transfer to the baking pan, then spread the dough evenly all the way into the corners. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with the amount of cinnamon you prefer; we recommend 1/2 to 1 teaspoon. Sprinkle that mixture evenly over the surface. Bake (middle rack) for about 25 minutes, until golden and still slightly soft at the center. 

Cool completely (in the pan) before serving or storing. It’s best to lift out the slab and slice on a cutting board; discard the parchment before cutting.

Top 5 Books of 2020

My goal for 2020 was to read 48 books. I crushed it and read 54 – by far the most I have read in a year. I love end of the year “best of” lists – that’s where I get most of the books to add to my reading queue. So here is my Top Five of 2020.

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry; PJH rating: ***** I was listening in to Courtney’s work book club a week or so ago and they were talking about the next book they wanted to read – something different than the “chick lit” they usually read – something more “manly”. I googled “manly novels” and Lonesome Dove popped up so they agreed to it for their next book. (Before everyone realized it was 800+ pages I should add). Anyways… I poured through and it is so good. Really a masterpiece. So many good characters, action, well written and it of course made me cry several times. Pulitzer Prize winner: 1986

In Cold Blood; Truman Capote; PJH rating: ****1/2 I’m not sure what made me pick up this 1966 classic (perhaps because 1966 was such a good year) but I couldn’t put it down once I started. I thought it was so direct, so well written and to the point. I really enjoyed it.

The Testaments; Margaret Atwood; PJH rating: ****1/2 The follow up to Atwood’s classic The Handmaids Tale did not disappoint – even after having to wait 20+ years for it to come out. We have greatly enjoyed Hulu’s version of Handmaid’s Tale which was so well done and this novel followed along with those new plot lines nicely. The completely unexpected plot twist is just amazing and satisfying. I have always loved Aunt Lydia and Margaret Atwood is a genius.

American Dirt; Jeanine Cummins; PJH rating: ****1/2 The harrowing tale of a Mexican family crossing the Mexican border was a favorite of many this year. I thought it was an intense novel and a good read. It was interesting reading about the protests about the book in regards to culture appropriation which I think was unfair. Fiction is fiction?

Inheritance; Dani Shapiro; PJH rating: ****1/2 After a routine genetic test a woman discovers that she has a different biological father. A surprisingly readable memoir that was suspenseful as well.

Other 4 1/2 ratings from 2020 that I consider “highly recommend”:

Beheld; TaraShea Nesbit

Bossypants; Tina Fey

Dear Edward; Ann Napolitano

The Bookshop of the Broken-hearted; Robert Hillman

What Belongs to You; Garth Greenwell

Esther Thorpe

I’m not sure why these are called Esther Thorpe – it’s what the woman I used to work with who gave me the recipe called them and what we have always called them. I’ve heard people call them “Christmas Crack” also. It is such an odd recipe but they are so good.

the salty saltines are what make this so good I think
you want it nice and bubbly when you take it out of the oven
add the melted chocolate
et voila

Esther Thorpe Saltines

Helen Gutin

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar -light or dark works fine
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • saltine crackers
  • 1 bag of chocolate chips – milk or semi-sweet work fine
  • 1 bag of toffee bits – or crushed up heath bars
  • preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease it. Lay out the saltines so they cover the sheet in a single layer.
  • In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and brown sugar. Let cook until bubbling and then cook at the bubbling stage for a few more minutes. Make sure you are constantly stirring this for the entire time.
  • Pour the bubbling brown sugar mixture onto the crackers and spread it evenly as best as you can.
  • Bake for 5-10 minutes. Time may vary – keep a close eye on it. You want the mixture to be bubbling over the entire sheet and once at this point let it cook for another 2-3 minutes. If you smell the sugar mixture burning take it out of the oven for goodness sake.
  • Once out of the oven immediately cover the saltines with chocolate chips evenly. Let this sit for about 5 minutes.
  • Spread the melted/melting chocolate evenly over the saltines until you have coated the crackers in a layer of chocolate.
  • Sprinkle the toffee bits on top. (I put some crushed up candy canes on the ones I just made too for holiday spirit.)
  • Let sit until firm and cut and serve.

Thanksgiving, 2020

Thanksgiving turned out to be very nice all things considered. Grace and Sophia flew in at 6:00AM Thanksgiving morning taking the red eye from Las Vegas after Sophia spent a week and a half with Grace. Claire and Corey came over for drinks around 5:00 and we converted our recently re-done garage into a a nice open air lounge. Claire and Corey stayed for socially distanced drinks and apps and then we loaded them up with food and they ate at home.

our Thanksgiving garage lounge
It was actually very nice
Thanksgiving Dinner for four – just as much work as dinner for 20 by the way!

Thanksgiving 2020 menu

  • Turkey on the grill. Used this brine recipe with about two cups of apple cider and the rest water. Brined the turkey starting Wednesday evening. Turkey was PERFECT. Grilled on M-O-M to L-O-L for about 3 1/2 hours for the 13 1/2 lb turkey. We got the turkey from Fresh Fork CSA along with their Thanksgiving bag full of good vegetables and other good stuff.
  • Gravy. Used this recipe and this one to make it ahead of time and it turned out great. Beautiful dark brown color with nice flavor. I started it on WED and finished it THU morning. I used extra turkey wings and backs as well as the neck and heart from our turkey.
  • Cranberry sauce. Perfect recipe from Bon Appetit that we have used for years.
  • Regular sausage stuffing. Not as good as my Mom’s… but I keep trying.
  • Claire made corn bread GF stuffing
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Roasted Root Vegetables – butternut squash, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds and walnuts – inspired by NYT recipe this year – although I just realized I forgot to add the walnuts.
  • Creme brĂ»lĂ©e. I made these sugar coated cranberries for garnish that were super cool and tasty too. We didn’t make pumpkin pie and the world did not end 🙂

Florida, 2020

We had to reschedule our cancelled spring break trip from April, 2020 to a different date so we randomly picked the week of October 17th, 2020. We’re glad we did as we had perfect weather and everybody was able to come enjoy the beach.

Courtney, Jack, Sophia and I left CLE on Fri 10/16/20 around 7:30AM and drove all day to just south of Nashville. We stayed at a brand new Hampton Inn and Suites a bit south of Franklin, TN. Had BBQ for dinner at a place called Moe’s that was delicious. Headed out next morning and made it to Grayton Beach around 2:30PM with no troubles. The door lock wasn’t working… but we were early so went down to the beach and were able to get in around 3:00PM. Claire, Corey and Grace flew in to Destin, rented a car and arrived around 5:00ish. We stayed at the same house we stayed in 2 years ago and it was perfect for the week… beach around the corner and a deck and screened in porch facing the sunset that was beautiful every night. Our days were pretty much the same very day: early bike ride with a stop for coffee, late breakfast, hit the beach around 10ish, come up for lunch, back to beach and then up for sunset cocktails and dinner. As it is COVID times we only wet out to dinner once to the Red Bar and went to Seaside once for appetizers and drinks. Other than that we stayed on the beach.

We stopped at Party Source in Kentucky on the way. The biggest liquor store in the world is a site to behold…. stocked up big time too.
Entering the Beer Cave on first night’s stop in Tennesee
Had BBQ at a place called Moe’s
BBQ happiness
there was live music going on in our hotel – got to get it any way you can these days
the beach was beautiful as always
We were unsure what this time of year would be like… but we lucked out and had perfect weather all week
The post sunset sky was beautiful from the deck of our house
Seaside kitty
Sandcastles were primo all week
assuming the position
it was nice to have the beach practically to ourselves
beach god
oysters with a view
royal reds

cocktails at Seaside
frozen mojitos
back in time for the nightime sky
Sophia and Jack were doing remote schooling the whole week
stopped for a hike on one of our bike rides
the rebuild Red Bar looks just like the old one. We lucked out and got an outside table with no wait at all
post dinner selfie on Grayton Beach
early morning river
Amavida avocado toast. The pickled onions and everything bagel seasoning has become a standy in our house now.
beautiful light
Beach King
nobody on the beach this afternoon
heres to the year 2020

Clambake 2020

a few pics from last weekends clambake. I quit Instagram, Facebook and Twitter so have to put them somewhere.

Sophia and I put together some nice looking cheeseboards
It turned out to be a nice afternoon – chilly but nice and sunny
Rosie came too
Sophia and Aidan
Connor and girlfriend
Only cool people wore turtlenecks
fire pit

Thanks Mom and Dad for another great clambake.

Clambakes from the past: some things never change… THANK GOODNESS:

Clambake 2019

Clambake 2015

Clambake 2014

Clambake 2013

Clambake 2012

Clambake 2011 – not sure what happened to the picutres from these old ones??

Peach Custard Pie

This is the famous Nora Ephron peach pie recipe. I have a phobia about pie crust and this pie crust is so easy and so tasty… so is the pie.

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 tblsp sour cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tblsp flour
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 3-4 peeled sliced peaches

Put first 4 ingredients into a food processor and blend until a ball is formed. Pat out into a buttered pie plate. Bake 10 min. @ 425 degrees. Remove from oven. Beat 3 egg yolks slightly. Combine with 1 cup sugar, flour and sour cream. Arrange peaches in crust and pour egg mixture over peaches. Cover with foil. Reduce oven to 350 and bak 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes or more until filling is done.