The Marys’ Annual Drive-By Trip
By Mary Ann Fitzmorris (MA) With Mary Leigh Fitzmorris (ML)
We got the car and quickly dropped in on St. Stephen’s before leaving Budapest. The surface roads brought us past Lake Balaton, a beautiful and enormous local lake and resort area. We jumped out to dip our feet amid puzzled locals. ML was nervous about holiday traffic with the day’s itinerary. She finally coaxed me back onto the highway.
We were detained when we crossing the border into Croatia. ML tried to control her panic as we waited outside the car in our holding space. As a committed scofflaw, I wondered if my NOLA parking tickets would show up.
ML was fixated on our incident in Bratislava. Passports back in hand, she asked–almost shaking–“Gosh, how do spies do this? Or criminals?” Before I could answer she said, “Oh yeah, they have a heartier constitution than I do.”
We lost a lot of time there but didn’t shave the itinerary. We stopped first in Zagreb, a delightful sleeper town with a medieval center surrounding a charming church. The despondent-looking novitiate at the door told me it’s from the 13th century. I excitedly whispered that to ML, who replied, “Yeah. You ready?”
I was. At the church, but not done with this adorable town dominated by young people. Maybe because of The Museum of Broken Relationships? (No kidding, it really exists.))
Too long a wait to get into the museum, but there was a fun outdoor hangout with a view. In a booth was a man selling some green concoction he described as lime, lemon, mint, and ginger. I didn’t care what it was, it was liquid. And if the excitement of the bees covering it was an indication, this stuff was good.
I remarked about the bees to the man, who explained that they were his friends. He said this with one on his nose. They were literally everywhere on him. He was like a beekeeper sans suit. The drink was okay.
A few stalls down was another grease pan with about seven different sausages that didn’t register on either extreme of the gross meter. Here was my sausage!!! But I never could get the kid selling them to be interested in selling one to me. He hung out with his friend at a table away from the stall.
ML wanted to take the back road into Slovenia, hoping that a soft border crossing might be less stressful. They just redirected us to the highway. Backroads border crossing are for locals only. More lost time.
It was sundown when we made it to Ljubljana (Loo Bee Yana), the capital of Slovenia and a definite Euro hotspot. Easy to see why. Cafes, shops and people flanking both sides of the river. Cobbled streets and hipness everywhere. Wish we had more than an hour to spend here.
We arrived in Lake Bled as the sun set. Even in the dark it was obvious that this was a miss. ML calls it GatlinBled, and I say that knowing I will offend all those who view Gatlinburg as something other than impossibly cheesy. We went to our hotel, where the directions to the room could have been “Follow the stains.”
With nothing to do for the evening, we set out to find a better hotel, learning quickly that there were no better hotels. This was Nowhere, Slovenia.
We looked at four other places and discovered sunken maroon velvet sofas from the Cold War era, creaky floor boards and prison cots for beds. One of these places was a summer home of President Tito. I don’t think the furniture has been changed.
We pulled into a space behind tall hedges in our hotel’s parking lot. I called Tom to tell him we had arrived safely at our destination. I omitted one tiny detail. ML crawled into the back seat and went to sleep. I stayed awake in the front. It was chilly in the mountains. At daybreak ML was strangely excited. “I knew from our first trip that one day it would happen-we would sleep in the car. Now it’s not hanging out there any more.”
We drove around the beautiful lake and up to the castle on the cliff, passing a steady succession of cars full of sleeping people.
Driving, again on no sleep was hanging out there. But we pressed on to Triglav National Park to see the gorge and the Soca River, which ML has wanted to see since she watched “The Chronicles of Narnia” as a little girl.
After we swam, she pitched the idea of going into Salzburg that evening and cutting the trip short a day. Great idea.
We stopped first to see the hilltop where Julie Andrews twirled and sang the opening of “The Sound of Music.” The silence was deafening up there. It is impossible to describe the beauty that presents itself with every hairpin turn up here. Profound, stunning beauty. I hope its residents don’t ever take it for granted.
We got into Salzburg late afternoon, heading straight to Nonneberg Abbey, where the nuns hid the Von Trapps in the movie. The abbey sits atop a hill overlooking the city and is reached through a charming neighborhood. It smells great up there! Floral air.
Directly below a choir rehearsed in a cathedral and loud strains of the hometown boy came from everywhere. It was an assault on the senses, if assault can be used to describe something exceedingly pleasant. I stood there smelling and listening, listening and smelling. And feeling very alive.
But not for too long. The schedule intrudes. We moved on to Villa Trapp, and, dreading the hotel, the hotel. It was the Leopold Palace which was the Von Trapp home in the movie.
Beautiful grounds, and the house is used as a venue. Hotel guests stay in the pink building next door, with fans but no air conditioning, and harvest gold carpets and dirty walls in the halls. The room itself had a hip new bathroom and prison cots with clean sheets.
We left again, this time for a quick glance at Mozart’s first home, and to eat something. We got some artichoke ravioli at arthotel Blaue Gans. $44 for two large bottles of water and ravioli. I was grateful for the two baskets of bread and some delish pesto butter.
ML and I were so tired and hungry we were almost stumbling. And so cranky we were getting testy with each other. I looked forward to my 5am two hour drive to Munich. It meant that we would soon be back in the States. Food. Water. Sleep.
These trips are less vacation and more social studies. Before this trip, I didn’t know that Slovenia smelled like manure, and Salzburg flowers. I didn’t know that sunflower seeds were a huge crop in Slovenia (probably the fallow fields breathing releases the manure smell) I didn’t know that corn was the other major crop everywhere we went. I didn’t know sheep were so social. They hung around the snack bar at the gorge and rested their heads on people’s feet. It was interesting every evening to see locals walking and biking along paths next to the road. Where did they live? Beyond these fields? They came out as families, skating, on horseback, walking their dogs. Where do they go?
I got a lesson in speaking Hungarian from our concierge in Budapest. In short, pay no attention to those extra zs. And because there is no z after the s in Budapest, pronounce it pescht. You see?
Not much to say about the hotels. We played it safe with American luxury brands in the big cities. We learned that in the smaller hotels that a Sheraton is $500 plus a night. To have an American style luxury sleep, be ready to pony up $1,000 a night, IF such a place exists. In the smaller places there are no really comfortable options. Expect two clean cots. And maybe a time warp.
Cafe Kor is Budapest is in city center. Reservations a great idea. AMEX and cash only. Highly recommend it. Friendly service, great food. Charming vibe.
Coolinary @ Pelican Club Until Sept 30
French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504.
I told you back at the beginning of this year’s Coolinary Restaurant promotion that after almost all the Coolinary Dinner have been finished, the Pelican Club would keep on going, with the most extensive Coolinary menu in town. Chef Richard Hughes has performed his editing job on the menu, and here is the result.
Pelican Club Summer Coolinary Menu: $39 (choice of appetizer,
entree and dessert) Limit 12 guests. Please no sharing.
Smoked Duck, Andouille & Shrimp Gumbo
Creamy Corn and Crab Bisque
Onions, avocado crema, mango and house tortilla chips
Escargot in Casserole
Baked with mushroom duxelle, garlic butter & puff pastry
Seafood Martini Ravigote
Maine lobster, gulf shrimp, jumbo lump crabmeat with yukon gold potato salad
Pelican Club Baked Oysters
Half shell, applewood smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, parmesan & garlic herb butter
Heirloom Tomato Burrata Salad
With basil vinaigrette and grilled ciabattta
Local Jumbo Lump Crab Cake
With roasted pepper scallion aioli and frisee salad
Local lettuces and arugula with goat cheese, toasted almonds and a creamy balsamic dijon vinaigrette
Pecan Crusted Louisiana Catfish
With fried popcorn shrimp. With rum butter sauce and pineapple chipotle salsa served with Caribbean slaw
Jumbo Lump Blue Crab Spaghetti Fino
With sweet corn, butter, lemon, vidalia onion and parmesan
Pan Seared New York Strip Steak
Crispy onion rings and a roasted poblamo chimichurri sauce
Served in a black iron skillet with freshly baked jalapeno and
Sweet onion corn bread
1 Lb Whole Maine Lobster
Butterflied and Stuffed with, Sea Scallop, Jumbo Shrimp, Gulf Shrimp,
Beurre blanc sauce and brabant potatoes (add $7)
9 Oz. Rack of Lamb
Marinated and roasted with rosemary pesto crust and port-mint demi-glace with truffle mashed potatoes and asparagus
Whole Crispy Gulf Fish
Sea scallops, jumbo shrim, citrus chili sauce, jasmine rice (add $5)
Louisiana Cioppino In Its Own Pot
(Vegetarian/vegan available) gulf fish, shrimp, scallops, mussels and little neck clams in a fresh basil tomato sauce served with a side of linguini
DESSERTS CHOOSE ONE
Chocolate Decadence Cake
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Coconut Cream Pie
Bourbon Pecan Pie
Vanilla Bean and Brandy Crème Brulee
August 28, 2017
Coolinary Summer Specials End: 4.
Annals Of Condiments
Today in 1837, pharmacists John Lea and William Perrins introduced the sauce that bears their name, and the generic name Worcestershire sauce. They concocted it from fermented anchovies, tamarinds, molasses, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers, cloves, and a few other things, on the orders of Lord Marcus Stanley. Stanley had just returned from many years in India, and he was trying to duplicate a sauce he’s become addicted to there. (Most likely, it was something along the lines of Southeast Asian fish sauce, variations of which are widely used in cooking there.)
The first attempt tasted horrible. Lea and Perrins left it in a barrel in their basement and forgot about it for two years. When they found it again, they discovered that it had fermented into something rather good. And the rest is history. We use it constantly in our cooking, as does most of the English-speaking world.
Food On The Air
Today is the anniversary of the first paid-for broadcast commercial. It aired on New York radio station WEAF for an apartment development, today in 1922. Until that time, everyone was excited about radio, but nobody had figured out what would pay for the costs of broadcasting. This dilemma was one of the first in which new technology steps in and shows the way. The same things is happening right now, as radio listeners explore HD Radio. My radio show on weekdays is now on HD, finding the next way to attract listeners.
To that end, the radio station is giving away HD car radios, for free. Go to one of the several locations of Mobile One and tell them you want the WWL HD-2 radio. The radio and installation are free. There may be a small parts charge if your present car’s wiring or antenna is incompatable.
It’s National Cornbread Day. Cornbread has a distinctly country, home-cooked identity. When you start talkin’ ’bout cornbraid, ya gotta git yersef into a Southern draaaawwwwwl. I guess that’s why we only rarely see cornbread in restaurants. Or it could be that restaurants can’t buy ready-made cornbread of any quality. It must be baked on site. But why not? It’s simple enough: cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, eggs, milk, oil. Unless you want to get ambitious an add cheese and jalapeno peppers and the like. Which is not a bad idea.
Most cornbread is baked in a cast-iron pan, from the kind that has impressions of ears of corn to full-size black iron skillets. The main controversies over cornbread are over texture and sweetness. The more flour in the mix, the smoother the crumb. You use more cornmeal if you like it good and crumbly. All cornbread has at least a little sugar in it, but some recipes have quite a lot, and taste distinctly sweet. Both flavors have vocal partisans who love one and hate the other.
Cornbread may be too assertive to be served as the only bread on a dinner table, but certain dishes cry out for it. Red beans and rice, fried catfish, and barbecue come to mind. The best cornbread in New Orleans is the jalapeno cheese cornbread at K-Paul’s, followed closely by Emeril’s cornbread with whole corn kernels inside. Most of us have always had our cornbread at home, for breakfast. My mother gave it to us right out of the oven, with cane syrup to dip it in. Dat’s good stuff, yeah.
Dressing Point is an island in the center of Matagorda Bay, an arm of the Gulf of Mexico coast of Texas. It’s ninety-one miles south of Houston, the last half-mile of it over water. That water is very shallow–you could wade out the island if you wanted to. The highest point on Dressing Island is two feet above sea level. I guess that’s where you’d make the dressing for the salad, or for the turkey. You may well be the only one there, not counting millions of birds and fish. The nearest restaurant is Sting Rae’s Waterfront Grill, nine miles up the marshy shoreline.
Cream, Wisconsin is near the Mississippi River, some forty-six miles from Eau Claire, in hilly corn country. The nearest big city is Minneapolis, about 133 miles northwest. Cream is little more than a junction on State Hwy. 88, with several large barns for storing grain. The nearest restaurant is in the Waumandee House resort, about eight miles away.
Food In Medicine
Today in 1878, George H. Whipple was born. He’s the man who discovered that pernicious anemia, a problem you don’t hear about much anymore, can be addressed by feeding the patient liver. Or the essence of liver, which is how it’s done now. I’d much prefer to eat the liver, especially if it’s the Provimi veal liver at Clancy’s or Pascal’s Manale. . . Also, the Oral B trademark for dental floss was registered today in 1951. Now it’s on everyone’s lips.
This is the feast day of St. Augustine, former man about town, gourmet, lover of wine, and all-around playboy who reformed and became one of the greatest early philosophers of the Church. As Bishop of Hippo, in Northern Africa, he he came to be revered by those of African descent. I was baptized in St. Augustine’s Church in the Treme section of New Orleans, and spent first and second grades in St. Augustine’s grammar school. This is probably not mere coincidence: St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest permanent European town in the United States, was founded today in 1565.
Anne “Honey” Lantree, the drummer with the British rock group The Honeycombs, was born today in 1943. . . Former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Rosemary Ginn was born today in 1912.
Words To Eat By
“If you ever have to support a flagging conversation, introduce the topic of eating.”–Leigh Hunt, British writer, who died today in 1859.
Words To Drink By
“A guy once told me I didn’t need to drink to make myself more fun to be around. I told him, I’m drinking so that you’re more fun to be around.”–Chelsea Handler.