Hampton Inn, Cleveland

Hampton Inn, Cleveland MS

Room: This room’s furnishings were average Hampton. The Cleveland (MS) Hampton has the interior corridor, but seems older than most. It has only 57 rooms total. I think the room’s decorations were done in the 80’s since there is such an abundance of hunter green (carpet/coverlet/wallpaper border). Important is that our room had one of the least comfortable mattresses we’ve ever slept on.

Lobby: Average.

Service: Average.

Food: We didn’t try the breakfast that comes with the hotel stay.

Extra: We wouldn’t stay here again because of the uncomfortable mattress. By all means, if you can, drive over to Greenwood and stay at The Alluvian (they were already booked this particular evening).

Shopping: Bookstores, Large and Small

When Av and I travel around, we almost always visit at least one bookstore, whether it be an independent or big-box since we both really like regional books, and I like design and home magazines.

Small independent bookstores are the best, even though they’re more expensive. The best small bookstores we’ve found are:

Alabama Booksmith
Over the Transom
Bienville Books
Capitol Book (update: now closed)

Dancing Rabbit Books (update: now closed)
Lemuria Bookstore
Square Books


Passover Supper

Here’s what I served 2nd night:

Simple salad of mixed greens w/ cucumbers, super-red tomatoes, scallions, red onions, and a red wine vinaigrette (I wasn’t crazy about the vinaigrette so I’ll not put the recipe here. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be.)

Poached Salmon Fillets with Dill Sauce (recipe based on one in the Spring 2005 ‘O at Home’ magazine, but (esp. the sauce) re-interpreted by me…)

For the stock:
2 cut-up carrots, 2 cut-up celery stalks, bay leaf, few peppercorns, salt, 1/2 cup or so of nice dry white wine

For the salmon:
Buy a salmon fillet (one of the loooong ones) that will be a proper size for the number of servings you will need to slice. Wait to slice the fillet to serving sizes just until you’re ready to prepare this dish – it keeps fresher that way.

Preheat the oven to 300*. Combine all stock ingredients (except wine) with enough water for the poaching process (go ahead and make more stock than you need, it’s easy to toss out or freeze what’s left). Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes or so. Add wine and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Cut salmon pieces into individual servings and place in baking dish (I used Corningwear). Pour hot stock over salmon – make sure the level of liquid covers the tops of the salmon completely. Place lid on Corningwear (or you could use foil) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, remove cover, and let set for 10 more minutes.
Transfer salmon to another dish (throw out all the stock) and wrap this dish tightly with Saran. Refrigerate until just before ready to serve, when you’ll remove the skin from the bottom of the fillets), and place on a pretty dish.
This is great served cold (I placed it on a bed of arugula) with the sauce below.

Dill Sauce (this is a little more than enough to cover 15 salmon fillets) Recipe and Directions:3 garlic cloves, diced finely – 4 tbsp capers – 5 of the little stalks of fresh dill (just remove the stem part and use the fine dill) – 1&1/2 cup olive oil – salt & pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Adjust seasoning to taste. Pour over salmon when ready to serve. Yummy!

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Artichokes, Lemons, and Capers (recipe based from one in the Foster’s Market Cookbook, but significantly re-interpreted by me…)

Ingredients (based on 4 chicken breasts, so use the multiple you need):
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts – 2 tbsp fresh thyme – matzah meal for breading – one 14oz can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained – 1/4 c. capers – 1 lemon, sliced thinly – 1 c. good dry white wine – olive oil for cooking

Rinse chicken. Place one breast at a time in a freezer bag and flatten it with the bottom of a mason jar or something else you like that would work, until the chicken is about 1/3″ thick all over.
Put chicken breast into a dish with the matzah meal, and coat it as you would fried chicken. Shake off the excess.
Heat a skillet with olive oil (I put my stove on a 7.5 setting), and fry the breasts. Make sure to leave room between the pieces (if you don’t you’ll be steaming them too much). Cook until done but not overdone (be careful since they’ll still be going in the oven later that you don’t let them get super-dry on the inside).
When chicken breasts are done, take them out and put them in a plate for reheating later, and place in the refrigerator. Deglaze the pot by pouring in some of the wine. Let it simmer a while to thicken up, then pour that in a bowl and refrigerate.
When ready to prepare the finished dish, preheat the oven on 240*. Put chicken breasts in baking dish, top with the deglazed sauce and top with the capers, lemons, and artichokes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 45 minutes or until nice and warm.

Roasted Lamb

Recipe (based on 2.5# leg of lamb w/out bone):
Make slashes in top fat. Rub with rosemary and lots of garlic, and a little salt & pepper into slashes and all over. Place in roasting pan at 300* and cook for about 22 minutes/pound. Let rest for about 20 minutes before cutting.

Roasted New Potatoes (recipe: Cut new potatoes into halves or 4ths. Put in bowl with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper. Spread in one layer on baking sheet lined with foil, bake at 400* for 25 minutes or until tender & browned nicely on side facing bottom of baking sheet)

Roasted Asparagus (recipe: Cut 1/4″-1/2″ off bottoms of spears. Toss with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper. Spread in one layer on baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 400* for 8-10 minutes, depending on thickness of spears)

Roasted Carrots (recipe: Peel carrots, slice diagonally into manageable pieces (they’ll shrink a little while baking). Toss with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper. Spread in one layer on baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 400* for 20-25 minutes, until carrots have nice consistency – not terribly soft but certainly not still hard. This way of cooking carrots is great because it really brings out their sweetness)

Matzah Balls (I have to admit that I can’t tell a huge difference between my made-from-scratch matzah balls and the ones in the box, so…….)

Chocolate-dipped Strawberries (melt semi-sweet chocolate pieces in a double boiler, and dip strawberries. Place dipped strawberries on wax paper for chocolate to harden. After a big seder meal, these are perfect)

Road Trip Seder

This year, we did 2nd night seder at our house. First night is very traditional, including the food, but since we do the whole thing over 2nd night, this year we decided to try to make it really fun!

We decided this year to have a “Road Trip Seder” since we go on so many road trips.

We actually started in the future, with Star Trek (Av did this for the intro: “Sinai. The primary frontier. These are the voyages of the Jewish people…..”). He did really great with this one. It got corny, but still funny.

Then, we traveled on to Star Wars, where Av was “Darth Seder”, which was hilarious! For the different sons portion, we did different Star Wars characters that corresponded with the attributes of the four sons.

For the plagues, we traveled back to earth and went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. We gave out beads representing the different plagues, and had everyone guess which they stood for. We had really cute ones with squeaky frogs, red beads for blood, those huge white ball/beads for hail, I hot-glued a plastic grasshopper to a set of beads with lemons for locusts. For boils, we got one of the beads that had on it all the ingredients for a crawfish boil.

For the part where the different elements of the seder are pointed out, we went to Japan to the set of “Iron Chef”, where Av did the whole Chairman Kaga thing: “Allez Cuisine!……..maror.”

After supper, we went to Hawai’i for the Hallel and had a Hallel-luau. Everybody got one of those $.75 flowery leis from Party City, and that was fun.

We then went to NYC to the set of Conan O’Brien’s show and several of us took part in a ‘In the Year 6000’ bit. One of them was: “In the year 6000, the Chief Rabbi of Israel will throw up his hands and say ‘what’s the point of Passover rules’ when a line of Kosher for Passover doughnuts is announced by Krispy Kreme”. There were a bunch (funnier) others.

For the 4th cup, we went to a football stadium and (this is Av’s family tradition) did their school song in addition to the regular blessing.

We ended with the rest of the songs, including the fun (English) camp version of “Who Knows One?” and those of us who don’t do the Hebrew for Chad Gadya did the animal sounds. Everybody had a blast!

Next year we’re thinking of doing 2nd night all in retro television shows. Who knows?

Trips Past: Niagara Falls, Chip Trucks at Canatara Park, Bavarian Fried Chicken, and Two Jews in Bronner’s

We’re going to take a *real* vacation this summer!

We always try to take *some time* out of every business trip to do ‘us’ stuff, things we think would be fun, which IS fun. But….later this summer we’re just going to take off for a couple of weeks and see where we land.

Planning our vacation makes me think about fun trips we’ve done before.

About three years ago when Av and I were going to a conference at Northwestern University (where we stayed at the Hotel Orrington (which we didn’t think was especially good, and overpriced – but they’ve recently done a $34 million renovation so it may be really great now)) we took the loooong way around.

From home, we drove up into New York state and over the bridge to Ontario to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side (better than the US view). We stayed at the Sheraton Fallsview, which was nice – especially the huge window in the room.

That afternoon, we planned on going on the Maid of the Mist, but it was closing for the day just as we walked over. I had been on it back around 1995 when I was still in college and it was fun – not something you necessarily need to do more than once, but if you’re there at Niagara already, you should do it.

We had supper at the revolving dining room at the Skylon Tower, which was good. The town of Niagara Falls really reminds me so much of Gatlinburg – wax museums, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not, candy places, that kind of thing.

There were three different things I wanted Av to try food-wise while we were in Canada:

Mr. Sub (which we didn’t get to, but will next time)
Tim Horton’s (which we did get to – there are Tim Horton’s everywhere.)
chips (to us Americans, french fries) from a ‘chip truck’ at Canatara Park in Sarnia

Canatara Park¬†in Sarnia, ON is on Lake Huron – and under the bridge are a few chip trucks that serve *the best* fries ever. They’re served with vinegar and salt, the idea of which didn’t really appeal to me until I tried them on my first trip to Canada – and wow(!) are they ever great!

After our chips, we went back over the bridge into the US, and headed over to Frankenmuth, Michigan. Frankenmuth calls itself “Michigan’s Little Bavaria”, which is akin to Helen, Georgia, a “Bavarian-style hamlet”.

I think there are really three main draws to Frankenmuth for most people – one is the Bavarian-like architecture, another is the fried chicken, and the last is Bronner’s (although there are plenty of other shops that you don’t find other places).

Somehow, fried chicken is big in Frankenmuth. There are two main restaurants there: the Bavarian Inn, and Zehnder’s (both places are family). We had a late lunch at Zehnder’s (which seats 1500(!!)), which was really very good.

This is what’s served when you order – which we did – the “Zehnder’s World Famous Family Style Chicken Dinner”:

Noodle Soup, Cabbage Salad, Cheese Spread and Chicken Liver Pate With Garlic Toast, Stollen and White Breads and Butter, Preserves, Cottage Cheese, Relish, Frankenmuth Golden Fried Chicken, Grandma Zehnder’s Dressing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Noodles, Vegetable, and Ice Cream.
Part of Zehnder’s hotel was demolished for new construction as “Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark” which is opening June 17th of this year.

We also went to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. ((I know, ‘what are y’all doing there!!??’)) but everything there is so pretty, and the kitschy part of me just looooves to look at the Department 56 villages. When I was in college, I even bought the Disney Village set that Dept. 56 made. Dept. 56 has a few different non-Christmas pieces now.

There is a very small section of Jewish/Israel things at Bronner’s, and we bought five or six Chanukah window-clings, and a super-pretty sequined hamsa.

Hampton Inn, Tupelo

Hampton Inn, Tupelo MS

Room: This room’s furnishings were average, but the room was a little smaller than most Hamptons, I think. The Tupelo Hampton Inn actually has two hotel buildings: one is the old style with doors to the outside, the other is the newer style with the interior corridor. This room is one of the ones in the newer building.

Lobby: Nicer than average.

Service: Average.

Food: We didn’t try the breakfast that comes with the hotel stay.

Madidi Dreams Dashed

Av and I were in Cleveland and considered having supper at K.C.’s, but decided that since we were going to be back there in a couple of weeks, that we would go on up to Clarksdale and have supper at Madidi.

Madidi has been written up *a lot*. It’s probably best known because it’s part-owned by Morgan Freeman, who still lives in the area. We had read so much about Madidi that we were really happy to finally give it a try.

It being the evening before the annual Juke Joint Festival, the only tables available were in the section with the bar, which was fine with us. We were seated in the back, and although the noise was at times a little loud, we were still very happy.

Av orders the spicy catfish cake for appetizer and the petite filets and lobster for his entree. I ordered the lobster bisque and the ‘Delta fish and chips’, which was sea bass (although when I think of a Delta fish, it’s catfish) and the chips were squash chips.

The catfish cake was good but not seasoned enough – especially for it to be called ‘spicy’ – and the sauce that covered the plate was completely tasteless, although made for an attractive presentation. The lobster bisque was also good but not extraordinary.

We were still having a very good time and feeling good that we had *finally* after all this time come to Madidi. Then something bad happened. There was a roach on the wall behind Av. Not a giant palmetto bug, but a roach nonetheless. Now, I don’t handle bugs well, but I was very calm, and when the gentleman who filled our glasses came by, I very discreetly mentioned to him that he might want to take care of the *bug* on the wall behind my husband when he gets a chance. I said it in a giggly non-threatening this-is-not-freaking-me-out way, and he saw the bug and left. I saw him mention it to our waiter.

At this point, you would think one of two things would happen, or maybe both. One would be: very discreetly remove the offending insect. Two would be: move the diners.

Neither happened. The bug stayed on the wall, walking around, doing his own thing the whole time we had supper.

I was thinking that I could be very cool about this, and that some stupid bug wasn’t going to ruin our supper. Bugs are gross, but I shouldn’t be some prima donna that thinks that insects never enter restaurants, no matter how clean, right? I mean, he probably just walked right in the front door earlier that evening and perched on the wall. He probably wanted to see what Madidi was like, too.

And it wasn’t like the wall was two inches behind Av, it was…I don’t know…far enough away so that we were just going to be cool about it.

So our entrees came. Av liked his steak and the lobster, and I thought that my dish – the fish and chips – was especially good. I liked the way that the fish was placed on top of a strip of nova, and what a good match that made.

We were getting to finish our entrees when I looked over at Av and RIGHT NEXT TO HIM ON THE TOP OF THE CHAIR THREE INCHES AWAY WAS YET **ANOTHER** ROACH!!!!

Yuck! It took everything I had not to make a scene. I very quickly backed away from the table, motioned to Av, and we both very hastily sat at another table.

The person who filled our glasses as well as someone else came over and cleaned our original table. We just sat at the other table in shock (okay, I was in shock, Av was icked). Our waiter came over after a couple of minutes and asked if everything was okay. I hesitated (because let’s be real, nobody wants to utter the word ‘roach’ in a restaurant) and then told him quietly our little story. I told him that we really just wanted to pay our check and leave. In the meantime, I left to go sit in the car. I was really trying to be cool about what had just happened, but I was so grossed out that I really just wanted to get out of there. Av says that the waiter came back and told him that our check was taken care of and that they were very sorry. Av told him that he wanted to pay, but it was already done. Well.

So all the way to the hotel that night I had these imaginary bugs on my legs and arms! Ick!!

I **really** wanted to come back and tell everyone how great Madidi was, but…….

Sand Mountain Music

Well, phooey. I **really** wanted to get over to Terrific New Theatre’s production of ‘Sand Mountain Saturday Night’, but it ends Saturday and there is just no way I can get to it.

My Nanny’s people – the Gilberts and the Fossetts – came from Sand Mountain, specifically Grove Oak.

I don’t know how musically-inclined the Gilberts were, but the Fossetts were something else. My (great-)PawPaw Fossett (Azzie Franklin Fossett) could play piano by ear! PawPaw and his brother V.O. sang together, and V.O. Fossett is in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame:

V. O. FOSSETT— – Dekalb County, Alabama

  • Renowned for his thoroughness in gospel song work.
  • He was a teacher, an accompanist, a member of the Baxter Quartet, a writer of hundreds of songs, and editor-in-chief of song books published by the Stamps-Baxter Company.

V.O. is probably best known for writing the music for a song *everyone* knows – “I Shall Not Be Moved”.

The song has been recorded by (this is only a short list): Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Mississippi John Hurt, Joan Baez (recorded in Spanish!), Peter, Paul, and Mary, Ricky Van Shelton, Joe Thompson, U-Roy (a reggae version), The Carter Family, and Jessie Mae Hemphill. If you have iTunes loaded on your computer, just go to the ‘music store’ and search for the song.
“I Shall Not Be Moved”, or “We Shall Not Be Moved”, was also used as a very popular civil-rights song, and the lyrics were modified a bit and made into a labor/union song.
V.O.’s songs are Christian – that whole side of my family is – but (although I’m Jewish) I am so incredibly proud of that part of my family and their contributions.

Ocean Springs, MS

We spent a few hours earlier this week in Ocean Springs, which is just a little east of Biloxi. We’ve spent time in this area on several occasions.

Miner’s Toy Store (927 Washington Ave) – this is a *great* toy store (lots and lots and lots of just really fun, good toys), with lots of beautiful play-withable baby dolls (not just the ones that people put on a shelf and look at) and Playmobil, which I adore.

Shearwater Pottery (102 Shearwater Drive – there are signs to get to it from town) – founded by Peter Anderson, brother of Walter, and continued by Peter’s decendants. A book about the history, etc. is available here. I picked up a little fish pendant there three or four years ago.

Walter Anderson Museum of Art (510 Washington Ave) – Walter did all sorts of different types of art – block prints, murals, pottery…but I think is probably best known for his watercolors.

The Art House (921 Cash Alley) – A co-op of local artists.

There are many, many other little shops along Washington Avenue in Ocean Springs to spend a day in…… This trip, we also visited the Tato Nut (1114 Government Street), a doughnut shop that uses potato flour in its yeast-based doughnuts. They were good. But if you’ve ever had a Duchess doughnut, or a Krispy-Kreme, there’s no comparison. ūüôā

Grand Casino, Biloxi

Grand Casino Hotel Room, Biloxi MS

Room: We have stayed at the Grand Casino in Gulfport, but this was our first time at the Grand in Biloxi. These casinos are owned by Caesars Entertainment, which also owns Caesars, Bally, Flamingo, and the Paris casinos. The room was comfortable as well as a nice size. The Grand Casino here actually has two hotels onsite (just like the one in Gulfport) – the Islandview Hotel, and the Bayview Hotel. The Bayview is less expensive because it is across the street (although there is a climate-controlled skywalk, so unless you mind two minutes extra of walking, it is **really** worth it to save the extra money).

Lobby: The Bayview Hotel lobby is very nice. Lots of seating.

Service: Front desk was friendly.

Spa: They didn’t have any appointments available, but we did get a menu of services. Many services were offered, but the prices seemed higher than what I pay here in B’ham at the nicest spas.

Food: We had supper at LB’s Steakhouse, which was very good. I had the prime rib ‘Grand’, and Av also had a very nice steak. The prices are comparable to Ruth’s Chris. We had breakfast at The Marketplace buffet onsite, which was a disappointment. The best casino breakfast – and even though I generally detest buffets – is at the Beau Rivage.

Extra: We didn’t bring our swimsuits, but the pool at the hotel looked very nice. We would definitely stay here again.