Sangria, Apples, and Wine in the Metro East

Another girls trip! The guys were busy, so just me and Sharon this time. We decided to go south again, and started at The Weingarten in Belleville. It is about a an hour and a half drive to get there (maybe a smidge longer). The last time I was in Belleville was for my high school best friend Anne’s wedding, and that was in 1988! So it’s been a while …

The Weingarten may technically be in Belleville, but it seems to me to be on the outskirts. It is in a really nice setting, situated on 20 acres of countryside. And … there is a cemetery! This may sound weird but I really love cemeteries … really. Lots of history and mystery, and some spookiness.

We were greeted by Kyle, and he instantly made us feel welcome. It was a Friday, and I was surprised we were the only ones there. The benefits of retirement! Kyle explained the wines to us – they do not make their own wine, and they are known for their sangria and a whiskey drink called Honey Pot. They were featuring Apple Strudel Sangria, and we were surprised that it was red instead of white. Kind of like a mulled wine but cold – and really good! We both ordered the sangria, and had a yummy lunch of grilled cheese, tomato soup, chips, and spanakopita bites.

After lunch we took a “walk-about” to the cemetery – some really old stones but well maintained. A great final resting spot.

So where to next? We noticed Eckert’s on the way to The Weingarten – like really close by, lucky for us. I had heard of Eckert’s before but had never been. You can “pick your own” apples if you want, or you can head into their store (which is amazing by the way) and buy them already picked. Guess what we chose? The store of course! We both got some apples and something from the bakery – yum!

Our plan was to then start heading back north, but hopefully stop at a couple of wineries. We found Bella Vista Winery in Maryville on the map, so off we go. Sharon thought she had been there previously for a wedding, but was not sure. It was a memorable wedding because she wore a sleeveless dress and the wedding ended up being outdoors (which she didn’t know until they were almost there) and she froze her buns off. So if your husband/boyfriend invites you to a wedding, be sure to take a peek at the invitation so you know whether it is outdoors or indoors :).

Bella Vista Winery has only been open a couple of years – there was a different winery at this location previously. It is really cute with lots of seating indoors and outdoors. We sat at the bar and talked to a very friendly person – and I feel really bad I didn’t get her name. The winery is owned by the same people who own Hidden Lake Winery (see previous blog post about our trip to Hidden Lake).

The last winery we visited before heading home was Shale Lake Winery in Williamson, Illinois. This winery is located about an hour from Springfield. It has a very eclectic feel to it – lots of different spaces located inside the winery to go have a drink – plus a large patio when the weather is good. If you are lucky you may see some deer or turkey! We were warmly greeted by who I think was the owner. Sharon and I each got a glass of wine and then explored the different spaces – this would definitely be a fun place to go with a group of people.

They have cabins to rent as well if you want to spend the weekend there. As we drove back to see the cabins, a deer ran in front of our vehicle. So exciting! But I was glad I was only going about 5 mph. This would a great place to unwind.

We drove back to Springfield on Illinois Route 4. Lots of cute towns to explore on this route! And another fun day with Sharon 🙂

Beivuma! (Let’s Drink!)

Three of my favorite things to do are drinking wine, talking about wine, and learning about wine. I still feel like a wine novice, so when It’s All About Wine offers their Wine School Wednesdays, I’m all in!

Wine School Wednesday is normally held the third Wednesday of the month, but check out It’s All About Wine’s Facebook page or call the store to verify. These is a nominal fee (usually $10), but you will be tasting some outstanding wines, and learning from the professionals. Space is limited, so make sure you reserve your spot ahead of time if you plan on attending.

So on to the wine tasting! This one in particular intrigued me – right now I am in the midst of planning a trip to Italy, and not only were we going to be drinking Italian wines from some outstanding smaller, family-owned vineyards, but Michael from Beivuma Imports was coming to give the talk.

The Wines

Volpe Pasini Ribolla Gialla – This is a white wine from the Friuli region, located in the northeast corner of Italy, north of Venice and bordering Slovenia. Volpe Pasini is one of the oldest wineries in North East Italy, built in the 16th Century. We all thought the wine tasted very fresh, like an apple, and very affordable at $22.99 per bottle. I could see myself drinking this in the summer on the patio. Delicioso!

Marramiero “Anima” Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – Moving south! This is also a white wine but from the Abruzzo region of Italy. According to their website, the vineyards are located along an old sheep trail, overlooking the “Bella Addormentata” and Maiella massifs, not far from the Adriatic Sea and less than two hours from Rome. The tasters at our table all thought this wine was more full-bodied and complex than the Ribolla Gialla. This is a very yummy, fruity, unoaked wine that could be enjoyed with a nice cheese, or on its own, and also a good price at $24.99 a bottle.

Chiappini “Ferruggini” Bolgheri Rosso – On to the first red of the tasting! This wine is comprised of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Syrah. The Bolgheri appellation is located on the Tuscan coast, just south of Livorno. The wine is made through an entirely organic process, and if you love Bordeaux-style wines, you will love this wine. It would make a great “every day” red wine! Priced at $32.99 a bottle.

Bruno Rocca “Trifole” Dolcetto d’Alba – This family-owned winery in the Barbaresco appellation of Piedmont has been into viniculture one way or the other for over two centuries. This particular wine though is a Dolcetto d’Alba, which according to Wine-Searcher.com, is a title covering red wines made from the Dolcetto grape variety and produced in the 36 communes around and predominantly to the southeast of the town of Alba, in the Piedmont wine region of northwest Italy. The tasters at our table thought this wine was very dry, easy drinking, and would be great with food. At $24.99 per bottle, the price is also great!

This is the best kind of studying!

Ettore Germano Serralunga d’Alba Barolo – On to the big boys! This is another wine produced in the Piedmont region of Italy. So what makes a Barolo? It is made from the Nebbiolo grape, and is aged for at least 36 months after harvest, of which at least 18 months must be in wood barrels. There are also a bunch of very specific production codes for the vineyards that you can read about. Also, note that all Barolos are Nebbiolos, but not all Nebbiolos are Barolos (not confusing at all LOL). But, there is not a test on this! Just sit back and enjoy one of Italy’s finest wines made from one of the most accomplished wineries in Piedmont. In this wine, we tasted a hint of licorice, anise, or fennel. Also noted were high acid and high tannins. At $54.99 a bottle, this is an excellent value for a Barolo.

Valentina Cubi “Morar” Amarone – The last wine of the tasting, and it was a biggie! This winery is located in Valpolicella, the most famous red wine district in Italy’s Veneto wine region. After harvest, the grapes are dried out for three months before they are processed, making for a more concentrated flavor profile. This is also a high-alcohol wine, with the latest release coming in at 17%. We tasted raisin and figs, as well a some black pepper. This bottle sells for $52.99.

All of these wines (and more) are available for purchase at It’s All About Wine. I hope to see you at a future Wine School Wednesday! Salute!

My Favorite Hummus

Who doesn’t love hummus? Well, a long time ago I didn’t. In my 20’s, I would make fun of people who would bring it to parties (sorry to those I’ve offended!). In my 30’s I realized “this is some pretty good stuff!”, and now that I’m in my 50’s I can’t get enough of it!

I’ve tried many different hummus recipes, and making it from scratch just didn’t make sense to me. I could never get it smooth enough – until now.

If you’re not following Half Baked Harvest by Tieghan Gerard on social media, do it now! Seriously, her stuff is so good, and I trust every recipe! I found this hummus recipe in her cookbook “super simple”, and that’s exactly what this is – super simple and super good!

If you love hummus, you will love this recipe. If you don’t love hummus, you may learn to 😊

Extra Smooth Hummus by Half Baked Harvest

2 (14 ounce) cans chickpeas

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed (I use a large lemon)

1/2 cup tahini

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

Flaky sea salt

Toasted pine nuts, for serving (optional)

In a large pot, combine the chickpeas, the liquid from the cans, and the garlic. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the chickpeas are falling apart, 20 to 30 minutes. You can also use a pressure cooker for this step – cook on high pressure for 10 minutes.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and drain the rest (I actually keep all of the reserved liquid since I usually need it). Transfer the chickpeas and garlic to a food processor and pulse until mostly smooth, about 3 minutes (It doesn’t take me 3 minutes to do this). Add the cumin, lemon juice, tahini, and olive oil and pulse to combine, about 1 minute. While pureeing, slowly add the reserved cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, until your desired consistency is reached (I actually use all or almost all of the reserved cooking liquid to get the hummus really smooth). Taste and add salt (and extra lemon) as needed.

Spoon the hummus into a bowl. Serve with olive oil and toasted pine nuts, if desired. Store the hummus refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Tieghan also has a great recipe for Spiced Lamb Hummus – hummus for dinner! I made this a couple of days ago and it was delicious 😋

Thanks to Tieghan and Half Baked Harvest for this recipe – Bon Appétit!

That Time We Visited The Land of Make “Belize”

We started planning our trip to Belize in the spring of 2021 … you all remember that time, full of hope, right after the COVID vaccines were made available? We were going to travel to Placencia with our good friends Jamie and Karen in October 2021 … and then came the COVID variants. So, we pivoted, decided to travel in the US in 2021 (see I Like Big Buttes (in Sedona) and I Cannot Lie) and delay our trip to Belize until October 2022. And nothing was going to stop us!

Belize is a not an island, but bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the south and west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Less than 500,000 people live in the country. We flew into Belize City from Dallas, and then took a 30 minute puddle jumper to Placencia. The other option is to hire a driver or take a bus from Belize City, and I had visions of the bus ride from the movie Romancing The Stone, so we took the plane. I later heard it is not a bad ride at all, and in fact part of the trip is on a road known as The Hummingbird Highway.

I’m not scared LOL!

On to Placencia! We were staying at the Caribbean Beach Cabanas (CBC) for the week. Several of our friends have stayed here and loved it – and now we are part of the crew! We were picked up at the airport by Emer and taken to the resort, which is right on the beach. There is a sidewalk behind CBC that runs the length of the beach with easy access to the beach, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, gift shops, and other hotels.

We were welcomed by Jasmine and treated to rum punch while we checked in. It was so good and refreshing after our flight! After that we were shown to our rooms and given a tour of the grounds. We had reserved the two front cabanas closest to the ocean – Luna and Sol. I was literally gobsmacked when I saw how close we were to the ocean! The views were amazing!

Before I go on, I want to emphasize how amazing the staff at the CBC were – they bend over backwards to make sure you are enjoying yourself! Lucas, Leo, Emer, Jasmine, and the entire staff made us feel at home from the moment we stepped on to the property. If for no other reason I would go back to CBC just to see these guys!

Our first morning there we decided we would treat ourselves to a good breakfast in the village, even though breakfast is available at the CBC (not only is it delicious, but they bring it to your room). So we set off around 9 am, and we weren’t too far into our walk when Karen and I were both wilting. It didn’t seem that hot temperature-wise, but high humidity and no breeze made it stifling. And when we were almost to the restaurant we were informed by a local that it was closed for renovations! We walked back into the village, a hot and sweaty mess, and had a traditional Belizean breakfast at Strange Brew. Tim and I ended up at Strange Brew later in our trip, for drinks, and met a bunch of American expats living “la vida loca” 😂

The afternoon consisted of pool time and beach time. And this sounds crazy, but it actually felt a lot cooler in the afternoon than the morning! A nice breeze would come in every day around 3:00 PM, maybe a slight sprinkle of rain, and it would really cool things down.

So most of our days were like that – breakfast/lunch at CBC, lanai time, pool time, beach time, and then dinner in the village or on the beach. I brought some makeup and stuff to do my hair, but didn’t use any of it. It was something I could get used to!

We did take a few excursions, so I will start with one I highly recommend – Taste Belize. Our friend Nancy has been to Belize several times, and while we were in Placencia she texted us that Taste Belize was looking for a few more people to join their lunch-time Placencia Village Food Tour. This was a highlight of our trip! Lyra was our guide, and she was wonderful! Her passion for organic and sustainable food, as well as the history of Belize, made this a tour not to miss! We took it towards the end of our trip, and I wished we had taken it the first day.

Curried Lobster

One of the days we rented a golf cart to scoot around the peninsula. Note to self – next time make sure all of the seats are facing forward. Our golf cart had four seats, but two of them were rear facing. Traffic on the peninsula is light, and consists of golf carts, bicycles, and motorized vehicles. It was a little alarming for me and Karen to see a car or pickup truck come barreling up to our little golf cart! Plus the road has several speed bumps, and if you are riding in the back, there is a chance you could get bumped off if the driver doesn’t take it slow 😜 We ended up having lunch at the Maya Beach Hotel Bistro – can anyone say lobster grilled cheese?

The last excursion we took was quite an adventure. Let me start off by saying we visited Belize in between two hurricanes. Hurricane Julia hit Central America about 10 days before our trip, and dumped about 30 inches of rain on Belize. Something I should have thought of when we booked the Monkey River Tour.

When we booked the Monkey River Tour, we were told it would be a nice excursion on a boat through the Monkey River, with an easy 15-minute walk through the jungle to look for howler monkeys. Lunch was included at a small village on the river. Something fun and unexpected was that all of the guests staying at CBC booked the same excursion, so we were able to meet and commiserate with our fellow lodgers.

The boat itself was pretty small, but the ride to Monkey River was fun – it took us about an hour to reach the small village at the mouth of the Monkey River, where we stopped to stretch our legs, use the facilities, and pick up a local guide. We then glided along the river for several minutes, and saw some howler monkeys and iguanas in the trees.

We beached the boat along the edge of the river, and had to jump off the boat either into the river or into the mud. This should have been my first clue to stay on the boat! The trail was completely muddy and flooded from the rains received from Hurricane Julia. It was worse than an ice rink! I wore the only tennis shoes I brought on the trip, which were also the shoes I would be wearing later in the week on the plane ride home. One of the girls on the excursion wore wedge sandals, and another one wore flip-flops! So I guess I should be thankful that I at least wore tennis shoes.

Due to the muddy and flooded trail, our 15-minute walk turned into over an hour trek through the hot, muggy, and buggy jungle. I couldn’t look up into the trees to see any wildlife because I was trying not to fall! All I could see were the killer ants on the floor of the jungle, just praying that I didn’t fall and get eaten in a swarm.

Well, I ended up falling anyway! Three of us on the trip fell – me, Karen, and another guy – and Karen was almost to the boat when it happened. So not only were we sweaty and buggy, but now muddy, and Karen had turned her ankle. And we had to climb back into this boat!

Lunch in the village was delicious – a traditional Belizean lunch with chicken and rice.

We got back to CBC and our guys Leo and Lucas took care of the whole crew – many drinks were drunk that afternoon! 9/10 WOULD NOT recommend this tour – unless it was completely dry. Jamie actually enjoyed it – he’s weird like that 😂😂

Have I mentioned the staff at CBC? Lucas and Leo were THE BEST! After our tour with Taste Belize, I asked Lucas if he could cut down one of the coconuts from the trees on the resort property so we could have some coconut water (Lyra suggested this, and it was a great suggestion). He not only cut down coconuts for us, he had us taste the coconut water, then made it better by adding coconut rum! And Leo, he offered to do our laundry after the Monkey River excursion 🙂 And I can’t forget Emer – the television in our cabana wasn’t working, and he figured out it was the cable. We saw him digging up the cable in the hot weather just to make sure we could watch football.

But just in general the people of Belize are awesome, kind, and want to make sure you have a great time. Our first night in Belize we went out to dinner at The Tipsy Tuna, which is just a short walk from CBC. Our server was Dani, and she was really good! We ended up coming in the next night as well, and as we walked in she’s shouting “Hi Dora! Hi Karen!”. Such a sweetie!

It was a great week – and you better “Belize” I am planning on going back there 😉

Oh, Canada! Part 3 – Niagara Falls and Wine Country

When our Canadian friends Greg and Carol realized we were serious about coming up to Ontario for the Mariposa Folk Festival, they suggested we spend a few days in the Niagara Falls area on the way home. Not only would we see the falls, but this area is home to several wineries. Right up my alley!

Niagara Falls is about a two and a half hour drive from Orillia, so we planned on having lunch at the falls. We ate at Table Rock House Restaurant – pricey but the view alone is worth it! I was blown away at how beautiful and majestic the falls really are! Do yourself a big favor and be sure to see the falls from the Canada side, not the U.S. side 🙂

Our friends Greg and Carol suggested that we stay in Niagara on the Lake, which is about a half an hour drive from Niagara Falls. It was a great suggestion! We passed several wineries on the way, and decided to stop in at the winery owned by “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky.

I am usually underwhelmed by wineries owned by celebrities – so I was pleasantly surprised by Gretzky Estate Wines! Yes, there are a lot of hockey pictures paying homage to the owner, but very tastefully done. We were able to do a tasting right away, and were escorted to their tasting area and seated at a table. Our wine server was very knowledgeable about their wines, and they were really good! If wine is not your thing, they have beers and spirits. We especially liked their sauvignon blanc and purchased a bottle to take with us to the hotel.

Niagara on the Lake is a well preserved colonial-style village, with an Old Town that reminded me a lot of St. Charles, Missouri – lots of boutiques, restaurants, pubs, bakeries, coffee shops, etc. We stayed at the Oban Inn – I had initially found it after researching several places, and our friend Greg also recommended it. The inn is situated on Lake Ontario and within walking distance of the restaurants and shops of the Old Town. Our room was great, with a fireplace and a view of Lake Ontario.

We ate dinner across the street from the Oban Inn at the Niagara on the Lake Golf Club Restaurant. Great food and views of Lake Ontario 🙂

The next day was designated as our “wine day”. Woo hoo! There are lots of wineries in this area, and we were only going to go to three of them. I did some research prior to our trip, and if you plan on going to this area checking out these blogs: The Best 25+ Niagara Wineries That’ll Have You at Merlot and Niagara on the Lake Wineries Guide. Since we were visiting the wineries on a Tuesday I did not make reservations ahead of time – though if I was visiting on a weekend I would recommend making a reservation. Also, some of the wineries are not open on Mondays and Tuesdays, so do your homework before you go!

Our first stop was at Chateau des Charmes. I was seriously wowed by the beauty of this winery! It looked like a French Castle in the Canadian countryside. We each did a tasting, and were very impressed with their Riesling. I’m normally not a fan of Riesling wines, but theirs was very good! Their other white wines were also tasty! The red wines tasted to me a little thin, but that may just be my experience and taste buds. They were not bad, but I preferred their white wines.

Our second stop was Peller Estates. Instead of doing a wine tasting, we chose to have lunch at their restaurant. Another gorgeous wine estate … and another good white wine! I see a pattern emerging 😉

By the way, the weather was stellar while we were there!

The last winery we visited was Reif Estate. They really made us feel welcome there, and again I enjoyed the white wines!

But what did we do on the way back to the inn? Stop at the Wayne Gretzky Estates for a bottle of their sauvignon blanc!

I looked on a map later and saw that the New York Finger Lakes Wine Country is basically located at the same latitude as the Ontario Wine Region – future wine trip!

We ate dinner that night at The Old Angel Inn. We had a nice walk downtown and ate some delicious food.

The next day we headed back to the U.S. and home after 10 wonderful nights in Canada. My three takeaways from this trip:

  1. Canada really isn’t that far – you can easily drive or fly there and not feel jet-lagged.
  2. The exchange rate for the U.S. dollar in Canada is very favorable – $1 US = $1.35 CAD
  3. And I feel like this is the most important – the people are great! I mean really great!!

Goodbye Canada – for now anyway!

Oh, Canada! Part 2 – Mariposa Folk Festival

After Toronto (please see Oh, Canada! Part 1), we headed north to Orillia for the Mariposa Folk Festival. Ever since we had talked about this festival with Greg, Carol, and their friends, we knew we wanted to go!

We were smart and headed up to Orillia on Thursday, ahead of the weekend crowd. From what I understand this part of Ontario is the start of “cottage country”, with lots of people getting out of the city to spend time at their weekend cabins.

Orillia is about an hour and a half drive from Toronto and is situated by Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe. I noticed lots of things named Simcoe, so I did my research and found out that John Simcoe was a British army general and first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. So why did this sound so familiar to me, a Yank? For those who watched the series Turn, it is that John Simcoe. And if you haven’t seen it put it on your list!

The Mariposa Folk Festival is a big deal for this small community, and we were lucky to get a room at the Best Western Plus Mariposa Inn & Conference Centre. There is another Best Western very close to the festival that would be a better choice, but it books up fast.

We decided to check out the area. The festival is held at J.D. Tudhope Memorial Park, next to Lake Couchiching. It’s a beautiful setting. For those interested in a little gambling, Casino Rama is just a few miles away. I decided to donate a few dollars, and we struck up a conversation with a friendly bartender who steered us to Quayle’s Brewery. The beer was really good! It was a gorgeous day to sit outside.

The next day we met up with Greg, Carol, and their friends. Greg was our driver the first half of the day, to show us all of the ins, outs, and secrets of getting around Orillia and the festival. This is his old stomping grounds, so he really knew his way around! Armed with this “secret” knowledge, we felt comfortable enough to drive ourselves to the festival.

In addition, Greg used to be on the board of this great festival, and knew practically everybody! It was great to be with an “insider”! In addition, Greg surprised Tim with a VIP pass so he could rub elbows with some of the performers 🙂

Tim and I have been to many music festivals, and Mariposa really shines compared to the others! Two things stood out – (1) It is a family-friendly event, with alcoholic drinks limited to two areas; (2) Everything they sell is eco-friendly, and they even have trash attendants to make sure you dispose of items in the correct bin.

The food was definitely top notch – excellent food trucks with a variety of different cuisines catering to pretty much whatever you would want.

I should add that Canadians are some of the friendliest and trustworthy people I have ever met. We would set up our chairs at the main stage early in the day, even leaving some items at our seats (like t-shirts or sweatshirts) and didn’t have to worry about chairs or items being moved or stolen. Maybe we are just overly cautious here in the States, but that is something I would normally not do.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were exceptionally beautiful days to hear music! Most (but not all) of the performers are from Canada, and although I was familiar with some of them, it was great to discover some “new to me” musicians! The highlights were Kathleen Edwards, The Strumbellas, Blue Rodeo, Allison Russell, and Gordon Lightfoot (who by the way is from Orillia, and was being inducted into the Mariposa Hall of Fame). We discovered Irish Mythen and Susan O’Neill – if they are performing in your area go see them! Irish’s personality actually reminds me of my cousin Kim Still – if you know Kim, then you know you would love Irish! Tommy Prine, Mavis Staples, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, The Small Glories, The Arrogant Worms, and Serena Ryder – all wonderful performers!

I am so happy we decided to venture outside of our comfort zone and attend this wonderful festival – I could definitely see us doing it again! The music, location, and especially the people were unforgettable 🙂

After the festival was over, we drove to Niagara Falls. More to come!

Oh, Canada! Part 1 – Toronto

We met Greg and Carol (and friends) in the Dominican Republic at John Prine’s All the Best Fest in 2019. It was fantastic! Little did we know this would be one of John’s last performances and two years of isolation were on the horizon. We learned that Greg had been on the board of a music festival in Canada that he thought we would like – and so the seed had been planted 🙂 Greg and Tim continued a virtual friendship, and once travel restrictions started to be lifted and it looked like live music and festivals were back on, Tim and I decided to head north to Canada.

Canada really isn’t that far for us in the Midwest – only an approximately seven hour drive, just across the bridge at Detroit. And we were going to need a car while we were in Canada. So, we drove to Windsor and spent the night at the Caesar’s Casino. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing to cross the border, but it wasn’t terrible either. We were crossing on a holiday weekend for both the U.S. and Canada – our Independence Day on July 4 and their Canada Day on July 1. We had to wait in line on the bridge for approximately one and a half hours, but once we got up to the drive-up window it was very quick.

Caesar’s Casino at Windsor is a very nice casino/hotel. And of course I did a little gambling while I was there. We had a really nice view in our room of Detroit across the river.

We were headed to Toronto, and really didn’t know what to expect. I mean Canada is a foreign country after all, so there had to be some things different along the way. One thing we noticed right away was how nice their roadways were. Another nice thing is their rest areas have gas stations and multiple places to get something to eat. Just remember to gas up at the rest area while you are there – I missed the turn get into the rest area gas station, and just thought I would get off on the next exit to get gas. Well, the next exit is several miles (or kilometers), and the towns along the way are pretty small and much farther from the expressway than we are used to.

By the way, gas is super expensive in Canada, so quit your complaining! Just saying …

Toronto is a great big city on Lake Ontario, and in many ways reminds me of Chicago. We stayed downtown at Delta Hotels Toronto – really close to Rogers Stadium (home to the Toronto Blue Jays) and the CN Tower. This hotel was perfect for us!

Tim has alway wanted to go to a Canadian Football League game – don’t ask me why. I actually think it came from watching one of this favorite television shows, Corner Gas. In one of the episodes, the gang attended (or tried to attend) the Grey Cup (the CFL Championship Game). It’s a hoot – check it out!

We attended the Toronto Argonauts vs Winnipeg Blue Bombers CFL game. It’s like the NFL, but different – it’s kind of hard to explain. But it was fun! The game was held on July 4, and I felt really proud when they played the U.S. national anthem in honor of our Independence Day. The Argonauts lost 23-22 in a close game.

The next day we headed out to explore the area. First stop was the St. Lawrence Market. So much to see here! I was on a mission to try a peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery. Now I can say I’ve tried it LOL!

We explored the food stalls – this is a great place to grab a snack, lunch, or dinner. Outdoor seating is available, and even thought it was raining there were a couple of musicians entertaining us.

Next up was the Hockey Hall of Fame. Tim is fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, and since I knew virtually nothing about hockey before I met him, I am a fan of the Blackhawks (and I sometimes cheer for the Blues 🙂 ). It was raining a little, so this was a great place to spend a couple of hours.

Time for a beer! We headed to Steam Whistle Brewing, and got here right before they closed. Tasty beers close to Rogers Stadium – a perfect place for game day.

Since Steam Whistle was closing, we headed towards the lake and snagged a table at Amsterdam Brewhouse. The views are amazing here!

The next morning Tim and I ventured to the CN Tower. This is Toronto’s version of the Willis Tower (which I still refer to as the Sears Tower). The views are awesome!

Later that morning our friends Greg and Carol joined us in Toronto. We took a ferry to Toronto Island and had a lovely time at Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co. catching up with them. It was a great afternoon!

That evening we met Greg and Carol at Touhenboku Ramen. This was my first time having ramen, and I loved it! This is something you can’t get in Springfield!

This was our last night in Toronto. There is so much to love about this city! I really enjoyed our time there, and am already thinking about the things I want to do on our next trip.

The next day we headed north to Orillia – stay tuned!

Big Chill Weekend in Kentucky

When I married Tim, I gained a whole new set of friends, who are like family, from his days at Northern Illinois University – the Mighty Huskies!! I met them all about 28 years ago at an NIU football game 🙂 In the ensuing years people have moved around the state and country, and when we found out the Mighty Huskies were playing at the University of Kentucky, it just made sense for us to go.

Our friend Peggy (married to John, Tim’s college roommate) found an awesome house for us to rent in Paris, Kentucky, about 20 miles outside of Lexington. The home, known as Mt. Lebanon, was built by the second governor of of Kentucky, James Garrard, in 1785. The house is like a museum – lots of antiques to explore! And even though the furnishings were old, the bathrooms and kitchen were all updated with modern appliances.

The beds were also of that period, and in fact I needed a step stool to get in and out of bed!

This home even has a cemetery in the yard – talk about spooky! We joked about ghosts in the house, but I didn’t see or hear anything. This would be a great place to be for Halloween!

View of the cemetery from our room on the second floor

Tim and I arrived Friday early evening, and we were the last to get into town. The festivities had already started! Friday night we planned to stay in and grill steaks provided by John and Peggy – everybody else provided the appetizers and side dishes. John brought so much meat that we cut one of the beef tenderloins into steaks for grilling, and the other one was roasted for sandwiches the next day. It definitely reminded me of the movie The Big Chill while we were getting ready for dinner that night!

The next day was game day, and we knew traffic was going to be bad. Lucky for us we did find a parking lot for us to tailgate pretty close to the stadium. And the University of Kentucky fans could not have been nicer!

Kentucky was ranked No. 8 in the country, and our starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi was out with an injury. We weren’t really expecting much, but NIU hung in there and we were actually tied at halftime, and ended up only losing by eight points. I think that was pretty respectable, all things considered.

We checked out of Mt. Lebanon on Sunday and headed to Bardstown. It was a beautiful day, so we headed about 15 miles outside of Bardstown to the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. You could definitely spend a whole day here!

We headed back to Bardstown and checked into the Talbott Inn, adjacent to the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest western stagecoach stop in America. The place was just really cool! There are rooms to rent in the old part, and some of the rooms have historical significance (like the Jesse James Room), but we opted for the newer inn next door.

Jesse James Room – with bullet holes

We had dinner that night at the Scout & Scholar Brewing Company, and I highly recommend this place. I went for the smoked bologna sandwich – how many times are you going to see that on a menu? It was really good, and the beer was top notch!

John and Peggy left for home the next day, but Tim and I stayed for one more day to do some exploring. If you are planning on visiting Kentucky Bourbon Country I would recommend that you make reservations at least a month in advance before your trip. That being said, we were able to get a tasting at both Willett and Heaven Hills Distillery that day. Both were excellent, and really close to Bardstown. On our way back to the inn, we stopped at My Old Kentucky Home State Park and toured the mansion that inspired Stephen Foster’s song.

Willett Distillery
Heaven Hill Distillery
Heaven Hill Distillery
My Old Kentucky Home

We ate dinner that night at the Old Talbott Tavern, and I decided to go full-on Kentucky by ordering the Hot Brown and the Talbott Tavern Pie (same as Derby Pie). I’m probably a little biased, but Springfield’s Horseshoe beats Kentucky’s Hot Brown by a mile!

We drove back home the next day, full of bourbon balls, whiskey, and memories of a great time with great friends.

The Best Weekday Salad Dressing

I haven’t purchased bottled salad dressing for years – I love making my own! It is super easy, whether you just want a simple oil and vinegar based dressing or something more elaborate (I order the salad dressing mixes from Penzeys).

But, my new most favorite salad dressing is even easier to make! It takes only two ingredients, and you don’t have to wait for the flavors to meld to use it. I found it on the Bon Appetit website, and since I kept going back to it I decided to share it with my friends.

The two ingredients are sour cream and pickled pepperoncini – or whatever pickled vegetable you have on hand. I have used jalapeños and banana peppers, and it has turned out delicious.

The recipe – take a plop (about 1/4 cup) sour cream, 2 tablespoons of the brine from the pickled vegetables, and 1 tablespoon chopped pickled veggie. Mix together. Serve. That’s all. Voila!

I think it is a great substitute for Ranch Dressing, and you could also serve it as a dip with spicy chicken wings. Thank you Bon Appetit!

Gooooaaaaaallllll! U-S-A! U-S-A!

It’s kind of hard to believe that I had never been to Orlando – no Disney for this kid! But when the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team announced they were playing Panama in Orlando, in what could be the match that put the U.S. in the World Cup, of course we were going!

Tim has always loved soccer. He had season tickets to the Chicago Sting “back in the day”, and we still have some drinking glasses commemorating the team! I have become a fan, mainly because of him. It can be a “beautiful game”, but to a soccer novice like me it can also be very frustrating and boring. I’m still learning though!

This was going to be a quick trip since we had just returned from California a couple of weeks prior. The plan was to get into Orlando early so we could see the USA vs Mexico soccer match that night. Our flight was at 5:30 a.m. and we landed in Orlando a little after noon. It was pouring down rain – buckets! The airport was closed when we were getting ready to land due to the weather, and once we finally landed we had to sit on the plane for another 30 minutes due to lightening in the area.

We were staying at The Aloft in downtown Orlando, and ventured out to Church Street to have lunch at Artisan’s Table. This restaurant was recommended by the hotel, and we loved it so much we ended up going there twice. Delicious food!

I didn’t realize the USA v Mexico soccer match would be starting at 10:00 PM in Orlando … stupid East Coast time LOL!! We ended up watching it back at the hotel since I wasn’t sure I could stay awake for the whole thing. Also, we had a big day planned for Friday.

The next day (Friday) was our Disney Day. Woo hoo! Remember, this was our first time at any Disney Park, and neither of us knew what to expect. Prior to our trip we had done some research and consulted with some Disney fanatics to decide which park to go to, and decided upon Epcot. I’m not going to lie – I had some sticker shock!

We took a Lyft from our hotel to Epcot and arrived at the park around 10:00 AM. The first ride we encountered had a line of around 20 minutes – and at the time I thought that was too long. Newsflash – that would be the shortest line we saw our entire time at Epcot for any of the rides. Most of the lines were 90 minutes. I’m not much of a ride person anyway, which I guess is a good thing. The only ride I regret not going on was Soar. We found out later that the bartender at The Aloft Hotel was the project manager for this ride, and it sounds fantastic.

Lots of strollers!

One thing adults can do at Epcot is drink and eat “around the world”. There are food and drink pavilions, as well as sit-down restaurants, at each country highlighted in the World Showcase. Pretty neat!

Tim meeting his first love

After several hours of eating, drinking, and wandering, I was getting tired (like a little kid) and hot, a little buzzed, and wanted to go home. I originally wanted to try and stay and see the fireworks, which I have heard is fantastic, but there was no way I could stick around until 9:00 PM!

We took a Lyft to The Wellborn to have a drink and a snack before heading back to the hotel. This place was awesome! It is located on Lake Lucerne, and is an eclectic combination of a large courtyard with patio tables and an older home that is now set up with bars and seating areas. Needless to say we loved it here – it was the perfect way to end our Disney Day!

Best Friends Means Friends Forever – may be the best drink I have ever had!

We did a little more exploring in Downtown Orlando on Saturday. Garth Brooks was playing at one of the nearby stadiums, so the city was full of cowboys. There was a pre-party set up on Church Street that got pretty crowded, so we opted to take a walk around Lake Eola. We have become the “typical retired person” and are now obsessed with birds LOL! We saw lots of birds you don’t normally see in the Midwest!

Dinner Saturday night was at a Soco – so delicious!

Sunday was Match Day! We were so excited! The stadium was within walking distance of our hotel, which worked out great. The American Outlaws Orland Chapter was meeting up at a local brewery close to the stadium, so we decided to go check that out. It turned out to be really small, with the line for beers snaking out the building. Remember how I don’t like to wait in lines? So, we ended up walking back to the stadium and found a small sub shop where we could get a bite and a beer.

There was a tailgate party next to the stadium sponsored by U.S. Soccer. It was pretty cool, family-friendly, but my only complaint – no bathroom facilities! There were two port-a-potties outside of the tailgate area, and it looked like they were there for the construction crew working on a nearby project. Oh well – poor planning!

The stadium itself is really cool – not a bad seat! Our seats were in the second deck, but we had a perfect view of the pitch.

The match itself was so much fun! Basically cheering, chanting, and drum beats the whole game! And the U.S. was scoring like crazy – the end result was 5-1. What a game!

We left Orlando to travel back to the Midwest the next day. Our message to U.S. Soccer:

We love you, we love you, we love you,
Where you go we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we’ll follow,
Cos we support the US,
The US, the US,
And that’s the way we like it,
We like it,
We like it

And our message to adults going to Epcot – start later in the day (like 5:00 PM) so you can see the fireworks 🙂

So Many Wines, So Little Time (Paso Robles)

This is my second time in Paso Robles Wine Country. We came out here to visit in 2019, and I really fell in love with the area and especially the wine. I think they produce some of the best wine in California. So of course when our friend Cheryl moved to Morro Bay and started working at a winery in Paso Robles, we were definitely coming out to visit her!

The Paso Robles wine country is about 30 minutes from Morro Bay, and the drive is really pretty, through rolling hills. We picked up lunch in Paso Robles at Red Scooter Deli. I highly recommend this place for picnic lunches at the wineries. They will deliver, but we decided to pick up.

We decided to visit Brecon Estates the first day in Paso Robles, since that is where Cheryl works. She had scheduled time off for our visit, but it really made sense for her to work on the day we planned to visit Brecon Estates. I can see why Cheryl loves working here! It is a very cute, boutique winery that makes amazing wines. We met Damian, the owner/winemaker, who is from Wales. How did a Welsh man end up in Paso Robles making great wine? Well, you should all go out there and visit with him to find out 🙂 We discovered he even spent time in St. Louis before ending up in Paso Robles.

Brecon Estates is named after the Brecon Beacons, which is a series of caves in Wales. And Wales is where Doctor Who is filmed … I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. If you did not know already, you should know that Tim is a HUGE Doctor Who fan, and loves to talk about it whenever he finds a sympathetic ear or a kindred fan 😀 Lucky for us, Damian was both – and they discussed the episodes of Doctor Who filmed at the Brecon Beacons, as well as the delicious wine made at the winery.

It was so great meeting Cheryl’s co-workers as well. Vanessa works alongside Cheryl in the tasting room, and she was super sweet. Tony, the Cellar Master at Brecon Estates, gave us a tour and talked about the winemaking process, from grape to barrel. He is such a nice guy! He even brought all of the ladies working at the winery flowers that day for International Women’s Day! As Cheryl said, his mother raised him right. Needless to say we joined their wine club.

Tim with Roy, Brecon’s Employee of the Year

Our second stop of the day was for an olive oil tasting at Pasolivo Olive Oil, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Brecon Estates. Lots of flavored olive oils and vinegars to taste and purchase – if you are tired of tasting wine this is a good stop to make.

On to the the last stop of the day, which was Dilécta Wines – another “in the neighborhood” winery to Brecon Estates. It was a beautiful day, and we sat outside on the patio and really just soaked up how lucky we were to be in Paso Robles. Oh, and the wine is really good too!

We headed back to Morro Bay and ate dinner that night at Harbor Hut. Friendly service and good food!

The next day (Wednesday), Cheryl and Ed both took the day off of work, so the four of us ventured back to Paso Robles. Since Cheryl was driving she took the “short cut”, which is really curvy! Our first stop was at Daou Vineyards. This place is just “WOW”! The tasting room is situated on top of a hill, with a magnificent view of the vineyards. The wine is really tasty too! Cheryl, being in the “industry”, got the red-carpet treatment. Our server was Austin, a chemistry major/surfer dude, and he had recently visited Cheryl at Brecon Estates. Austin was so interesting! He did a great job taking us through the Dauo line-up, and we really enjoyed our time there. It is just a beautiful setting, and you can’t beat drinking wine and eating cheese for lunch!

We were enjoying our time at Dauo so much that we didn’t realize we were going to be late for our next appointment. Never fear, Cheryl was driving! Or as Tim would say, fear for your life! 😀 Cheryl was clearly used to driving on the windy roads, and I felt very safe with her driving.

Cheryl and Tim talking about the drive from Daou to Clos Soléne

We were about 15 minutes late for our appointment with Clos Solėne, which thankfully ended up being no big deal. I found out later that Clos Solėne, along with Benom and L’Aventure Winery, are affectionately known as the “French Mafia” in Paso Robles. All three wineries are owned and operated by French people, and they are all connected to each other. It is a really interesting story, that I can relate in person (and probably embellish), so just be sure to ask me next time you see me 🙂

But why Paso Robles when you can make great wine in France? The answer is simple – control and creativity. If you are making a Bordeaux in France, there are lots of rules and regulations you must follow, and not deviate from at all. In California, you can experiment with the winemaking process and get creative with your blends.

Our tasting room host was an intern from France, who was learning all of the ins and outs of running a tasting room. She was great! We really loved the wines at Clos Solėne, and joined their wine club.

We still had time to visit one more winery before dinner, and decided to visit Venteux Vineyards. The winery had been recommended to Cheryl by some of her customers, and we can see why. It is a really fun place! They have a lot of room to spread out, and there is a stage on the property for them to host bands – if you check out their website it looks like they have music most Friday nights. Our tasting room host was awesome and a lot of fun. As a bonus we got to meet the winemaker, Toby. He was great, and had been at the winery and in the industry for many years. When he found out where we were going for dinner that night, he gifted us a bottle of wine for us to drink that night. What hospitality!

Our dinner that night was at La Cosecha Bar and Restaurant, a tapas restaurant in Paso Robles. It was so good!!

Our last full day in Morro Bay and Paso Robles was Thursday, and it started off by Tim and I finding out that poor Ed had to go to the Emergency Room the night before, and he and Cheryl got home around 6:30 a.m. Bummer! We let them rest, and Tim and I took off on our own for Booker Wines.

We have been a wine club member at Booker since 2019. They were the first winery that we visited in Paso Robles during our 2019 trip, and their wine really set the bar high for other wineries in the area. Luckily our favorite wine store carries Oublié, as well as My Favorite Neighbor and Harvey & Harriet.

The winery has expanded dramatically over the last couple of years – the tasting room we used back in 2019 is now the tasting room for My Favorite Neighbor. The main tasting room is absolutely gorgeous! It is modern, elegant, and hip – they even have a record player where the customers can play the owner’s vinyl records. Their wine is just amazing, and I highly recommend a visit to this winery when in Paso Robles.

Our next stop was in Tin City. This is another “must visit” for visitors of Paso Robles. Tin City is an industrial area that is home to wineries, breweries, and food. It is like a “one stop shop” to go for wine if you have limited time in Paso Robles. I suggest watching the documentary Tin City before you go – it is eye opening!

Cheryl met us in Tin City at Benom Wines (remember the French Mafia?). Arnaud (Benom) and Guillaume (Clos Solėne) Fabre are brothers, winemakers, farmers, and BFFs. We couldn’t wait to taste the wines here! And they were delicious! If I hadn’t already joined three wine clubs on this trip, I would have definitely joined this one. I didn’t really care, but Tim (the accountant :D) was the voice of restraint. I can’t wait to go back there!

While we were in Tin City we stopped at Etto Pastificio and picked up some lasagna and salad for dinner that night. A nice bottle of wine, a beautiful sunset, and great friends – who could ask for more?

Tim and Jack the Cat

Unfortunately we were leaving the next day. We had accumulated a good amount of wine during our travels, and luckily found a place who would ship it back for us. If you are in Morro Bay, Perry’s Parcel & Gift is the place for your wine shipping needs!

We had a fantastic trip, and can’t wait to come back and discover more wine, but most importantly see our friends Cheryl and Ed ♥️