Notes From Swan's Nest

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Traveling Vicariously

Last weekend, my husband Randy and I attended the Dallas Travel and Adventure Show at Dallas Market Hall. We’ve always loved to travel – by car, airplane or cruise ship – and the Travel and Adventure Show was the place to dream BIG!

After years of enjoying summers in our Colorado mountain home – though those first years, our efforts were entirely focused on restoring our 1898 historic home "Swan's Nest" and bringing it up to 21st-century standards – we started exploring destinations we could reach in a day or two on the road. These were places we’d always wanted to see – Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado’s Western Slope and eastern plains.

So, imagine my surprise last weekend in Dallas, with visions of faraway destinations in my eyes, one of the first booths we stopped at was the RAWAH Colorado Wilderness Ranch. Hosted by ranch managers Tim and Meg Dyer, we learned this historic guest ranch and fly-fishing lodge, established in 1948 and situated just south of the Wyoming border at an elevation of 8,400 feet, is named after the Ute word for abundance. Surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks and wilderness, this dude ranch offers guests an authentic Western experience in unspoiled natural surroundings. www.rawahranch.com.

As we continued to stroll the aisles, expansive photographs of rushing water caught my eye. It was the Rivers & Oceans booth hosted by owner Robby Pitagora and his team. This Arizona-based company matches guests with their perfect water adventure, whether that means white water rafting in Africa or the Grand Canyon, sea kayaking in Baja or Belize, or expedition cruising in Alaska, Galapagos, or Antarctica. www.riversandoceans.com

The Amadeus River Cruises booth, hosted by director of sales David Holmwood, offered water adventures of a more tranquil nature. River cruising is immensely popular along Europe’s waterways, and offers the advantage of docking just steps from historic cities and exciting points of interest. With a fleet of eleven luxurious ships, superior cuisine, and special interest cruises such as classical music on the Danube and Christmas market tours along the Rhine, Amadeus ensures guests a memorable experience infused with Austrian hospitality. www.Amadeus-RiverCruises.com

An interview with Narciso Moreno, Puerto Rico Tourism’s director of sales for North America brought back many fond memories. Randy and I have visited Puerto Rico on three occasions, and I fall in love with the island every time. It’s turquoise waters and white sand beaches always beckon me, but most of all, we love exploring historic Old San Juan – a designated World Heritage site founded in 1520 by Ponce de Leon. Narrow cobbled streets perfect for strolling, windows accented with black iron rails sometimes overflowing with flowers, impressive government buildings painted pale yellow with stark white trim for an air of Caribbean elegance, and fascinating shops and restaurants for every taste. For me, a trip to Puerto Rico isn’t complete until we’ve visited one of the old fortresses, where hundreds of years of history come alive. Puerto Rico’s flavors take center stage during the annual Saborea food and wine festival – a weekend of food, drink, music, culture, and fun that has made Puerto Rico the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean”. This festival features local culinary stars as well as international personalities. Speaking of food, Narciso introduced me to a sweet Puerto Rican tradition – Panetela de Guayaba – Guava Panetela Cake, tempting, tender layers of yellow cake with guava filling and a generous dusting of powdered sugar. And who can forget Puerto Rican rum! www.seepuertorico.com

Because I can never spend enough time in the Caribbean, I also visited with PJ Douglas Sands, senior manager of the Bahamas Tourist Office. The islands of the Bahamas are one of the ultimate escapes for fun, relaxation, and exploration, where they boast a full calendar of events such as Carnival, FIFA beach soccer world cup, and summer festivals. For families on a budget, PJ recommended Grand Bahama Island, where many vacation packages feature Kids Under 12 Eat Free, and kids can swim with the dolphins. For the golfer, PJ suggested the Greg Norman-designed courses in Nassau and championship-designed courses of the Exuma Islands. Popular with millennials and girls’ getaways, Bimini offers superb snorkeling and diving in sapphire waters during the day, and lively casinos for evening entertainment.

Throughout the Dallas Travel & Adventure Show, informative destination seminars were offered, so I took an opportunity to learn more about the U.S. Virgin Islands from department of tourism’s Heather Gibbs. St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, and each features a distinctive experience. This year, St. John celebrates 100 years of being a U.S. territory. The island, which is two-thirds National Park, offers eco-tourism experiences, farm-to-table cuisine, the opportunity to explore the underwater trail of Trunk Bay, the most intact sugar plantation ruins in the Caribbean at the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, and gorgeous beaches. St. Thomas, which I’ve always referred to as “the shopping capital of the world”, offers everything from food trucks to Five-Star dining, a sophisticated downtown atmosphere, unlimited shopping, safari taxis to take guests everywhere around the island, and walking tours that explore food establishments and history. www.visitUSVI.com

African safari companies were well represented at the Dallas Travel and Adventure Show, and I was drawn to the Wild Rainbow African Safaris booth by the genuine, friendly smile of owner and guide, Jody Cole. Jody went on her first safari in 1998 and found “It moved me on a profound level”. Several safaris later, another guide asked her to assist with their safaris, which eventually led to the founding of her own company in 2004. Today, Jody is considered one of the most qualified female guides in the industry. When I asked why most of her clients decide to take a safari, she replied that it’s usually a life dream, which may explain the 18% increase in travelers from the U.S. in the past year. www.wildrainbowsafaris.com

The travel show also provided guests an opportunity to glean useful tips and travel inspiration from celebrities such as Rick Steves, Peter Greenberg, Angel Castellanos, and Jack Maxwell. I had the privilege of interviewing actor Jack Maxwell, host of Booze Traveler on the Travel Channel. In preparation for our interview, I visited Jack’s website, where I viewed a brief video in which he explained his passion for his South Boston hometown and connecting with people over a cocktail or beer. For him, it’s all about the stories that unfold, and the life experiences shared, no matter where in the world folks gather. I found that same genuine passion and connectedness during our interview, albeit there were no cocktails in sight. Our 15-minute interview became 25 minutes, and I could easily see what makes Jack’s travel show so popular. http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/booze-traveler/articles/meet-jack-maxwell

There are eight Travel and Adventure Shows annually in major cities across the U.S. To attend one near your home, please visit https://travelshows.com

Happy Travels!

-Christy

Mardi Gras Magic

You don't have to be in New Orleans this year to add magic to a Mardi Gras celebration. It's easy to create a festive atmosphere at home, even at the last-minute. Mix traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, gold, and purple into your table setting, and you’re on your way to a special celebration of Fat Tuesday.

When I create a tablescape such as the one pictured, I begin by selecting a predominant color that sets the theme for the entire table. In this case, amethyst Waterford crystal champagne flutes and a matching crystal vase I recently received as a gift were my starting point because they’re a bold Mardi Gras color. On the other hand, inexpensive glassware in a similar shade would have worked just as well, or even clear glassware on a purple coaster or cocktail napkin.

Next, I searched my cupboards for accessories in other shades of purple – chargers, napkins, and candles. To expand the three-color theme, I chose gold-rimmed dinnerware, antique salad plates with an elaborate gold raised pattern, wine glasses trimmed in gold, and finished off the table decor with colorful masks and an abundance of green, gold, and purple beads. The overall effect is simple, but dramatic. Open your cupboards and see what kind of Mardi Gras magic you can create! Laissez les bons temp rouler!

-Christy

BIG Flavors For The BIG GAME!

Millions of American football fans will be tuned into their television sets this Sunday to watch the faceoff in Houston, Texas between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. Yes, I’ll be in front of my TV set too, but I’m mainly there for the ads and the FOOD!

These days, it seems the game-day buffet is every bit as popular as what's happening on the football field, and that can be a good thing, because food has always been a conduit to bring family and friends together. Chips, dips, hearty sandwiches, pizza, ribs, wings, and beer – traditional football fare is as varied as the household hosting the party. One thing these menus all have in common though, is bold flavors and food that’s easy and fun to eat.

On Sunday, my buffet's main feature will be crunchy, juicy, chicken drumsticks with two dipping sauces. I know…wings are on most cooks' radar these days, and there are many popular restaurants built around the wing theme, but I prefer something meatier on my plate. In my book, wings are just too much trouble to eat. Three bites, and they're gone.

Being a girl-from-Texas, even if I love spending as much time as I can manage in the Rocky Mountains, I adore fried chicken, but traditional preparations of this Southern favorite are higher in fat – and it's messy to boot! So, for my Oven-Fried Chicken Drumsticks with Sweet and Smoky BBQ Dipping Sauce and Teriyaki Dipping Sauce, I've taken plump, skinless chicken legs, dipped them in a crunchy coating of ancient grains cereal, bread crumbs, flaxseed meal, wheat germ, and seasonings; then baked them in the oven until the meat is done. The coating seals in the chicken's juices, while providing the crunchy texture I adore with every bite. You can even prepare the coating one day ahead; then dip and bake just before game time. That’s a real winner in my book!

-Christy

 

Oven-Fried Chicken with Two Dipping Sauces

Ingredients:
2 cups Heritage Flakes® or other whole grain cereal flakes
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large package chicken legs, about 14 pieces
2 -3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons buttermilk (optional)

Early in the day or one day ahead, crush the cereal flakes in a pie plate or shallow bowl with your hand until the flakes are approximately ¼-inch size. Add breadcrumbs, flaxseed meal, wheat germ, salt, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. Stir to mix well and set the mixture aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a large roasting pan, and set it aside. Using a paper towel for a better grip, pull the skin off the chicken legs and discard. In a medium shallow bowl, whip egg, water, and buttermilk together with a fork until it is well blended.

Dip a chicken leg into the egg mixture and turn it to coat all sides of the meat. Roll the meat in the crumb coating, sprinkling any uncoated areas with additional coating as needed. Place the meat in the roasting pan, and continue with the remaining chicken legs.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes, uncovered, or until the meat is done and the coating is brown and crisp. Serve immediately with dipping sauces.

Yield: 14 oven-friend drumsticks

 

Teriyaki Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 drops Worchestershire
1 large clove garlic, peeled and mashed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons honey, reserved

Pour the soy sauce into a small saucepan. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the water, whisk it together to form a slurry, and stir in the remaining water. Pour the slurry into the pan, add brown sugar, vinegar, Worchestershire, garlic, and ginger, and stir well to mix.

Heat the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cooking 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce is smooth and thick. Add honey, stir, and cook 3 to 4 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Remove the sauce from the heat, cool, and serve. Sauce may be made one or two days ahead, covered, and chilled.

Yield: 1 ½ cups teriyaki sauce

 

Sweet and Smoky BBQ Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup sweet onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 teaspoon Liquid Smoke

Preheat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan, and stir in the onion. Sauté the onion 3 to 4 minutes until it is soft, stir in the garlic, and cook 1 minute more.

Stir in ketchup, chili sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, molasses, and Liquid Smoke. Cook the sauce until it comes to a low boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the sauce from the heat cool, and serve. Sauce may be made one or two days ahead, covered, and chilled.

Yield: 1 ½ cups BBQ sauce

Soup To The Rescue!

The first two weeks of the New Year have yielded historic snowfalls in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Here in Breckenridge, it's snowed almost every day, and shoveling the sidewalk has become a challenge as I try to toss each shovelful over the huge pile I've created on either side of the walk. It sure is great exercise, though!

Much of our country has been brought to a standstill at one time or another this month because of ice and snowstorms, and that can make trips to the supermarket difficult or even impossible. While I have a four-wheel drive vehicle, I prefer to stay off icy roads, rather than risk an accident on my way to or from the market. Thankfully, as winter approaches, I always stock my pantry and refrigerator with essential ingredients that will enable me to create healthy, flavorful meals no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

A few days ago, during another heavy snowfall, I craved a hearty bowl of soup – something healthy, hearty, flavorful, and preferably vegetarian. I knew I had celery, carrots, onion, and fresh baby spinach in my refrigerator crisper drawer, and a quick glance in the pantry yielded canned white beans and a large container of vegetable broth. Within minutes, I had chopped the veggies, and as they sautéed and their aroma filled my kitchen, the comfort soup evokes was already making me smile in anticipation.

I’m delighted to share the recipe I created this week for Winter White Bean Soup. This flavorful pantry-to-stovetop soup, featuring creamy white beans and tender vegetables served over a bed of fresh spinach, is a real lifesaver on a cold, wintry day. Enjoy!

-Christy

 

Winter White Bean Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups carrots, rinsed, peeled and sliced to 1/4-inch thickness
1 1/2 cups sweet onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups celery, rinsed and sliced to 1/4-inch thickness
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
4 cups prepared vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves and stems
1 bay leaf
  Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 15-ounce cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed and dried

Preheat a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, add oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add carrots, onion and celery, and sauté 10 minutes or until the vegetables are starting to soften. Stir in garlic and sauté 1 minute more.

Add vegetable broth, water, thyme, bay leaf and black pepper, stir, cover the pot, and raise the heat to high. When the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently 1 hour, or until the vegetables are knife-tender. Stir in the beans, and heat until they are cooked through.

Place a small handful of fresh spinach in the bottom of each soup bowl, ladle in the hot soup, and serve.

Cook’s Note: For a richer flavor, simmer the soup (minus the beans) for several hours, stirring occasionally. Shortly before serving, add the beans, heat until they are cooked through, and serve as above.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Route 66

Last week, my husband Randy and I put our busy lives on hold for a few days and took the road less traveled. Instead of driving the same highway to Texas that we've traveled since our sons were small, we opted to leisurely explore our way through eastern New Mexico to discover what – if anything – we’d been missing all these years.

Our route yielded glorious vistas of aspens displaying eye-popping hues of bright yellow, set against Carson National Forest's dense fir and spruce trees. Not to be outdone, groves of towering oak trees, at the peak of their autumn finery, hugged the meandering river beside us, and made it impossible to drive without pulling over to take photo after photo.

Our ultimate destination was Tucumcari, New Mexico, where the vestiges of Route 66 remain. Route 66 was one of the first U.S. highways, and during its heyday, it became one of the most-traveled roads in the country. During the Dust Bowl years, folks traveled the highway west in search of work, and during WW II, the road was heavily used by industrial manufacturers to transport equipment needed for the war effort. As a result, the growth of Route 66 spawned the development of numerous small towns. After the war, exploring America by automobile became a new pastime. Remember the ad sung by Dina Shore? "See the USA in your Chevrolet!" And Route 66 was one of the most popular ways to get there!

Eventually overtaken by superhighways, driving on Route 66 now takes a bit more effort. With a guidebook and map in hand, we exited Interstate Highway 40 at Santa Rosa and navigated our way onto a two-block area of Route 66. Sadly, not much was left of the 1940's and 50's buildings, so after a quick photo, and we were on our way to Tucumcari, just 52 miles east. This is what we had come for – two miles of vintage hotels, some outlined in neon lights and others featuring colorful, nostalgic artwork painted on the walls; a gas station with pumps usually found in museums; and everywhere we looked, the mystique of Route 66 on display for……

- Christy