Jar-din-air-ah (or Giardiniera)

Oh these fun to pronounce ingredients! Is it giardiniera, giardano’s, or giada?? I chose Alex Guarnaschelli’s (gwar-nah-shelly) cookbook Cook With Me for Cookbook Club. We love Alex! In my opinion she is the princess to the queen Ina Garten 🙂 The recipes in this book are all easy to follow, with simple ingredients. So let’s go!

Alex has quite a few cocktail recipes, as well as non-alcoholic sodas, in her cookbook. We chose the Spiced Negroni, even though we had featured a Negroni in a previous club meeting (See No Reservations About Rao’s Restaurant). This drink was not a winner for any of us, with the Campari overwhelming the rest of the ingredients. A little addition of club soda did help though, and luckily there was plenty of Italian wine to drink.

Nancy brought the appetizer, a Salami and Cheese Platter – and yes, this is in the cookbook! You can see why we love Alex – easy peasy! Actually the hardest part for Nancy was trying to find some good Italian cheeses, which led to the conversation “Why doesn’t Springfield have a good Italian deli??” Ughhhh!! Anyway it was delicious as always!

Dee made the salad, which was Iceberg Giardiniera – iceberg lettuce cut into wedges, with the dressing being as simple as giardiniera (store bought is fine, but she does have a recipe for homemade in the cookbook) and its brine, Dijon mustard, and mayonnaise. We all thought the giardiniera was a little spicy, but delicious! This is a salad that I will definitely be making again.

So, how do you say giardiniera? I wish I had a video of all of us trying to say it LOL … Nancy found a t-shirt that Jeff Mauro was wearing with the correct pronunciation – jar-din-air-ah. So there you have it!

Since I was the host, I chose to make both the Godfather and Goodfellas Spaghetti and Meatballs. The meatballs are the same in both recipes, the difference is in how they are cooked. The Godfather sauce has spicy Italian sausage in it, and is more “saucy” to me. The meatballs are cooked in the sauce. The Goodfellas sauce is more basic, includes onions, and the meatballs are added to it once they are browned in a skillet. The Godfather Spaghetti and Meatballs was the winner, mainly due to the addition of the spicy Italian sausage. But both were yummy and very easy!

And last but not least, dessert, and the reason I picked this cookbook in the first place. On the back cover of the cookbook Alex has a picture of her Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars. I have been obsessing about these, and asked Laura to make them. So delicious! Definitely going to make these myself!

So, to recap – giardiniera is not scary, Springfield needs an Italian Deli, and Alex is great!

Favorite Dishwasher

Food and Fun in Southwest Florida

It was time to head to Florida and visit my good friend who had recently moved there. She is a fan of the blog and wanted us to do some cooking together during our visit. We’ll call her E, since she is sort of like M from James Bond – badass, totally in charge, and likes her privacy 🙂

First of all, the last time I had been to Florida was in early 1990’s, and I have never been there on vacation or a leisurely visit. So this was something new to me. My vision of Southwest Florida was completely different than what I experienced. I expected loads of traffic and lots of “old people” (like me I guess LOL). Instead I found a really vibrant community with lots of amenities, great Happy Hour specials, excellent places to purchase wine, and lots of shopping and dining options. What’s not to love??

After a day of traveling we just wanted to relax, and E made a delicious taco casserole that night. Actually, she was the sous chef and I put it together – so nice to cook with somebody! This recipe is really good and forgiving – for example, we didn’t have enough red salsa for the casserole, so we used what we had and added some salsa verde. Same with the corn – just add another vegetable if you have it for some bulk. It was really easy and delicious, and just what we needed. Lots of leftovers!

We have a tradition when we are staying with E of having a little drink of bourbon before calling it a day. The first night we had Dave Phinney’s (of Orin Swift fame) bourbon called The Burning Chair. It is a delicious bourbon, easy going, and I would say it would appeal to those who are either new to bourbon or don’t like the burn you can sometimes get when you drink it.

The next day we drove over to Sanibel Island and had lunch at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille – super casual and yummy food! On the way home we stopped at ABC Fine Wines and Tommy Bahama’s in Coconut Point for a little retail and wine therapy 🙂 Did you know you could get a drink at Tommy Bahama’s? Who knew??

The next night we prepared the meal I want to highlight in this post. We started the day by going to DeRomo’s Gourmet Market & Restaurant in Bonita Springs to pick up some shrimp. I think if I lived in the area I would go to this market every day! The biscotti is the best I have ever have, and the store itself is just so interesting and inviting. Obviously we don’t have anything like this in Central Illinois!

Best Biscotti!

When we got back to E’s house we started preparing the Key Lime Pie. Confession – we almost forgot about it! But I’m really glad we didn’t – the pie needs about three hours in the refrigerator to set up.

For our side we had the Bang Bang Cauliflower – again, so good and easy! Very flavorful too, so if you like spicy but not too hot this is for you!

On to the main dish – Spicy Shrimp with Charred Poblano Romesco. Another very simple recipe that comes together quickly. Quick note- do not turn your back while you are toasting the almonds – it does not take too long to toast them, and you do not want them burnt. We may or may not have had to do this a couple of times 😀 Good thing we had bought more than we needed! E does not have a grill yet so we cooked the shrimp under the broiler, and they turned out perfectly!

E is big on presentation as you can see – which made the meal even better!

The next day we wanted to go to brunch at Three60 Market & Wine in Naples before heading to Marco Island. This is a pretty small location, but we found out that they are expanding to a much bigger space across the street. The brunch was good – I ordered an omelet, but I had food envy for the tomato pie that E ordered. It was so delicious, and what they are known for.

French Press Coffee!

When we returned to E’s house that night, we just wanted to stay in, and luckily we had the leftover taco casserole. I was able to use crescent rolls and make a “taco stuffed wreath” for dinner. I’m sure you all have done that before, and it is a good way to change things up a little bit with leftovers.

Last day in Florida! We drove to Naples and did a little window shopping in their downtown area, and stopped in at The French for a cocktail. Florida knows how to do Happy Hours the right way! Delicious cocktails and small bites held us over until we went to dinner later that night.

Dinner was at Yabba Island Grill. It was great to eat outside in December – something we can’t do in the Midwest. We started with The Original Swimps, and I had the Crispy Crab Stuffed Grouper for main dish. The Christmas decorations were beautiful, and it was a great way to end our trip.

Even though we were only there for a short time, I can see the appeal of either moving there permanently or being a “snow bird”. And I’m definitely not going to wait another 30 years to visit Florida 🙂

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 🙂

You’re Shrimply The Best

Fall is just the best time of year! Leaves, bonfires, warm apple cider … I could go on and on. It’s also this time of year that our friend Jacob has his annual Shrimp Boil.

You remember Jacob (see Cioppino in the Garden) – wine connoisseur, foodie, dog dad to Libby, and works part time at our favorite place. He’s also a great host and loves to entertain. We are so lucky to know him!

For this shindig, Jacob served pulled pork, homemade vegetable soup, and of course the shrimp boil (with sausage, potatoes, and corn).

This pulled pork – OMG! It was so good! I had a little, and when I turned around it was gone! Here is Jacob’s recipe for Pulled Pork:

I used Salt/Pepper, Black Magic from Spiceology, and Garlic Powder as the rub, let that sit for 60 minutes. I mixed 1/3 cup of berry jam, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2-3 tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons honey mustard as a glaze.

Put into an oven preheated to 275 for about 40 to 45 minutes per pound. Internal temp of the pork shoulder should be 185. Let it rest for 15 minutes at room temp then start shredding the pork.

So good!

Here is Jacob’s go-to recipe for shrimp boils – great for a crowd!

The vegetable soup was amazing as usual, and Jacob shared his recipe with me:

Jacob’s Veggie Soup

6 cups of chopped veggies (cut to about an inch)
Caramelize 2 medium Onions
1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups red wine
2 cans of crushed fire roasted tomatoes
1 can of chopped fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup of lentils or quinoa (I used French lentils)
1 cup of chopped corn (I used one bag of frozen corn)
8 cups of vegetable stock

Caramelize the onions then add the garlic.

Chop the vegetables, toss them in oil, salt/pepper, herbs d’province, and roast them on 375 for 30-45 minutes.

Put the tomato paste and balsamic vinegar in the onions and stir to incorporate. Add the vegetable stock and wine to the onions/garlic and cook the lentils till almost finished. Then add the tomatoes, frozen corn, and roasted veggies.

I used 1 tablespoon of the Oh, Canada seasoning from Robert’s Seafood (Spiceology) and 1 tablespoon of Braggs Aminos.

Simmer for 20 minutes…then ready to serve.


Guests brought side dishes and appetizers … and I kind of messed up. I have a lot of phyllo dough left over from Cookbook Club (see Movin’ to the Country, Gonna Eat a Lot of Peaches) and my plan was to make some Spanakopita Bites. Two problems – I thought I had a mini-muffin pan and I don’t, and secondly, I forgot to get the phyllo dough out of the freezer in time to make these. So …. on to Plan B since I didn’t want to go empty handed to the party.

I found a recipe (Spinach Feta Dip with Lemon and Oregano) on Pinterest that pretty much used all of the ingredients I had purchased for the Spanakopita Bites, minus the phyllo dough. I will admit, it wasn’t too bad! I served it with pita chips, but I think you could even warm this up and serve it over pasta.

Another successful party for Jacob! Great times, great friends, and great food! It was “Shrimply The Best”!

I Like Big Buttes (in Sedona) and I Cannot Lie

Being flexible during the pandemic is really important – you should always have a Plan B and Plan C if Plan A goes awry. Our Plan A was to go to Belize for a week – but 30 days out from our trip Belize goes on the “Do Not Travel” list from the CDC and State Department for high COVID numbers. UGHHHHHH! What to do? It was easy to decide to postpone our trip to Belize, but we still wanted to go someplace fun. So we got together with our travel buddies Jamie and Karen and came up with a plan – go see one of our favorite musicians, Frank Turner, then fly out to Arizona and travel to Sedona.

You really need to check out Frank Turner if you have not heard of him – he is just amazing! In concert it was just him and one of his bandmates, Matt Nasir, playing for a couple of hours. They were very funny and loose, and the audience really connected with them. We saw them at Delmar Hall in St. Louis, which is a great venue! Check it out!

On to Sedona! We flew into Phoenix – easy peasy – then went to get a rental car. I feel like I need to mention this next part as a PSA for those renting cars right now – sign up for any program that allows you to go directly to your car and not the counter – seriously. Jamie and Karen were able to go directly to their car (they’re smart) while Tim and I stood in line for two hours (not smart).

When we arrived in Sedona it was already dark, so I had no idea of the majestic beauty we were traveling through. We stayed at the Poco Diablo Resort right outside Sedona – great location, close to the town of Sedona and hiking trails/scenic routes. It was a Monday, and a lot of places were closed, but we found a great little pizza place called Sedona Pizza Company and had a bite to eat and some wine. Travel days are always so exhausting.

The next morning Tim and Jamie got up and hiked the Cathedral Rock Trail. According to Tim, it was a lot more challenging than the “moderate” rating listed. When they returned we drove the Red Rock Scenic Byway. I don’t think I would ever get tired of this view!

Afternoons are made for relaxing, and I don’t know a better to relax than with a glass of wine 🙂 We headed to Vino Di Sedona, a place that had come highly recommended by several of our wine store peeps. Wes Schemmer, the owner of the wine bar, used to live in the Chicago area and worked for a wine distributor whose territory included Springfield. He’s got a great place in Sedona and we loved it! You can buy a glass, flight, bottle, drink it there or take away, food, cocktails, beer, you name it! They also have music every night and a really sweet patio. Tim and I loved it so much we went there twice during the trip!

After wine we headed up to Airport Mesa to Mesa Grill to eat dinner and watch the sunset. Gorgeous views and great food! The shrimp and grits were especially good – the pork belly was yummy.

Our next day consisted of more rocks, more wine, and more food – of course! Karen and I even did a little hike 🙂

We went to the Art of Wine for some pre-dinner drinks and snacks. Very cute place close to everything in Uptown Sedona. Our server Ruben did a great job helping us pick out our wine.

For dinner we went to the The Cowboy Club, a restaurant that back-in-the-day hosted several of Hollywood’s greatest Western movie stars. The food and drink was really good!

Finished the night off with Orin Swift’s 8 Years in the Desert – it seemed like a very appropriate wine for the area!

Sadly, Jamie and Karen left the next day to go back home. Tim and I did a drive through Oak Creek Canyon – it was just beautiful! Unfortunately no pictures since I was the driver 😦 Trust me, it was amazing!

After the drive we went back to Vino Di Sedona – of course! We really loved this place, and was introduced to some delicious Arizona wines.

Our last day – boooooo! A “must see” site in Sedona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. But if you don’t get there early (like right when they open), you will have trouble finding a place to park, and it will be overrun with people. We tried to go there late morning on the previous day (Thursday), and I almost had a panic attack with the amount of people and cars that were there. Different story on Friday – the gates open at 9:00 a.m., and we were there by 9:01 a.m. No problem!

The chapel is located at one of the vortexes in Sedona – and I think I felt a spiritual cleansing and calmness while I was there, but I am sure I did not the day before with the tons of people of and cars. Anyhoo, I highly recommend going. The view from the chapel is unbelievable!

So on to Arizona Wine Country! Yes, you heard me right – Arizona has great wines! Our friends Nancy and Zach recently returned from a trip to Arizona, and when she told me Arizona wines were legit, I was skeptical. But after having a couple of these wines during the week, Tim and I ventured to the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

The wineries we visited are only about a 30 minute drive from Sedona on easy roads. We started at Page Spring Cellars, and Caden was our server. She was really awesome, and talked to us about each wine as she was pouring. This winery grows their own grapes, and if they need extra they get them from Mexico. Caden also explained that they made Rhone-style wines, which is probably my favorite style at the moment. We really enjoyed our time here 🙂

Less than half a mile up the road is Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery – another great place to visit! We were very lucky that the weather was great and not hot, and were able to sit outside on their patio. We did not eat here but their charcuterie plate looked awesome!

The last winery we visited was Javelina Leap Winery – you could literally see this winery from Oak Creek Vineyards. We had a nice glass of wine there and listened to some music – a wonderful way to spend the day 🙂

Exciting things are on the horizon for Arizona wines – we learned while taking to everyone at these wineries that Arizona is on track to be the next AVA – which is great news! Don’t be afraid to buy an Arizona wine – you’ll be happy you did 🙂

I had one last thing to do before getting on the plane and heading home – we had lunch with Tish, an old friend/co-worker who had relocated to the Phoenix area and is loving life! So good to see her and reconnect! I would also recommend eating at the Perfect Pear Bistro – it’s close to the airport and the food is amazing. Check it out if you are in Phoenix!

I’m not saying goodbye to Sedona, I’m saying “See you later!” Here’s to Plan B’s <clink, clink> May our Plan A’s work out as well!

Please Pass the Jello Salad

Doing a 1950s-themed cocktail party has long been on Nancy’s list. And since Laura was the host and had the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, it seemed like the perfect time to do it!

Instead of a main entree, we decided to make several appetizers, a couple of salads, and dessert.

But first, the cocktail – we went old school with a Tom Collins. Very refreshing and easy to make, a perfect drink for anytime! There is also an interesting back story to the Tom Collins cocktail if you are in to that kind of thing.

Dee is still off alcohol, but she found an interesting non-alcoholic wine from Gruvi that she can enjoy in the mean time. It tastes so much like real wine that she almost didn’t believe there was no alcohol!

I was in charge of the salads, and of course one of them had to be a molded Jello salad. The first thing I think of when I think 50’s Dinner Party is a molded salad LOL … and there were many to choose from! I chose to make the Perfection Salad, which according to the cookbook is a “Molded version of an old church supper favorite from the Gay Nineties”. It was comprised of lemon Jello, salt, cabbage, celery, pimientos, and sweet pickles. The cookbook suggested serving it with a dressing of mayonnaise and tomatoes (I added some red wine vinegar and salt and pepper). Hmmmm ….

The consensus – it wasn’t too bad! Something like a palate cleanser … even so, I will not be making it again! LOL

My second salad was called Star Salad. From the cookbook – “Alternate wedges of lettuce and tomato in effective star design on large round chop plate. Garnish of lacy watercress or crispy endive.” I served it with Western Dressing, a favorite salad dressing of mine from way back when. It couldn’t have been easier!

So on to the appetizers! Dee volunteered to bring Shrimp Cocktail (from Robert’s Seafood – they have the best shrimp and cocktail sauce!) as well as the Cheese – Olive – Anchovy Spread with Ritz Crackers (of course!). Can’t go wrong here!

Nancy brought the Savory Mushroom Canapés and Peanut Butter and Bacon Canapés. Confession – we picked these out for her. They really liked their toasted bread in the 50’s! Oh, and mayonnaise! Anyway, these were both tasty options.

Laura made the Hot Cheese Puffs and Hot Crabmeat Puffs, and Miniature Pigs in Blankets. More toasted bread and mayo! And who doesn’t love a pig in a blanket??

For dessert Laura made Chocolate Frosted Brownies – all I can say is yum!

So, 1950’s Cocktail Party – Check! Please, no more Jello Salads 🙂

Guess who saw The Rolling Stones in St. Louis!

The Lincoln to Mackinaw Valley Vineyard Trail

We got a little later start on our trip than I intended due to my doctor’s appointment going a little longer – which I am not complaining about! Our plan was to head north and eat lunch in Lincoln, then head up to the Mackinaw Valley Vineyard.

Now where to eat lunch … the only place I knew about in Lincoln only serves dinner, so I went to one of my fountains of information – my mother! I knew she would know, and she did! Funny thing is that Sharon was also doing her research, and they both came up with the same place – The Blue Dog Inn.

I cannot say enough good things about The Blue Dog Inn – with the first thing being so obvious – they love dogs! There are dog pictures and paintings all over the walls – I love it!

The second thing I love about this place is the history – the lady working that day told me the building used to be part of (or maybe just next door to) a hotel that burned down several years ago. Gangsters (think Al Capone) from Chicago and St. Louis would meet at the hotel in Lincoln since it was out of the way plus in-between the two cities, and play cards and drink in the building where The Blue Dog Inn is today. So, when you are there, you are walking on the exact floors that Al Capone or Bugsy Moran may have walked on. Pretty cool!

And the third thing I love is of course the food and service – nothing fancy but really good food! And of course the service was great! We will definitely be coming back 🙂

I like ketchup on pretty much everything!

So onward to Mackinaw Valley Vineyard! Sharon and I had decided on our last road trip that we wanted to take more local roads and less interstates to and from our destinations. It is a much more relaxing way to travel – kick back (unless you’re the driver LOL) and enjoy the scenery and conversation.

Randy may or may not have been asleep 🙂

I had heard a lot about Mackinaw Valley Vineyard over the years, and I really couldn’t believe I had never been there. My first impression when we pulled in was that it was very organized, and had many spots for people to congregate with friends and family. The grounds are very beautiful and well maintained, with a pond as a backdrop for pictures and lazing around with a glass of wine. They host lots of weddings and usually have a band or some other event on the weekends.

We were greeted by Carly, who we found out later is the owner’s daughter and a winemaker herself! She described all of the wines to us, and gave us some helpful hints about tasting. Tim and I (and Randy and Sharon) each shared tastings of six of the wines. We all like dry wines the best. Our overall favorite was Alexander’s Conquest, which happened to be an Off Dry wine – and Carly does a good job explaining the difference between dry and off-dry wines. Regardless, Alexander’s Conquest was the winner to us, and also a 2021 Double Gold Medal Winner at the Illinois State Fair.

When we finally left, we realized we would be going through Lincoln again around dinner time – and if you are in Lincoln at dinner time you really need to try Guzzardo’s Italian Villa. It is a BYOB place, and conveniently there is a craft beer and wine shop called Spirited Republic located at the entrance to Guzzardo’s. Basically you go to Spirited Republic (located on the square), pick out your wine or have a pre-dinner craft beer, leave through the back, and voila – there is Guzzardo’s!

We were very hungry, so we ordered two appetizers and the each of us got an entree – seriously, this was enough food to feed eight or more people! I think next time we will share an entree, thought it was nice to have leftovers for a couple of meals.

Another fun day out – I think I will keep this retirement gig! Until next time!

Milwaukee’s Best (Wine Bar That Is)

We headed north for our first real musical outing since 2019 – it’s really hard to believe! One of my favorite bands was playing at Summerfest in Milwaukee, and since the venue was requiring either a vaccination or a negative COVID test to get in, we thought “why not”!

Milwaukee is one of my favorite places to go … it’s only about a 4 1/2 hour drive from Springfield, the weather is normally cooler in the summer (which to me is better), and the people are really friendly. Plus I may have found my “home away from home” wine bar.

We found Vino Third Ward a couple of years ago during one of our treks to Milwaukee – it was either Irish Fest or German Fest (two festivals that are also super fun). If you are staying downtown you can walk to there, and it is close to the Summerfest grounds so it is a logical stop (in my mind anyway) on the way to the festival.

What I really love about Vino Third Ward is it reminds me almost exactly of my favorite wine place in Springfield – It’s All About Wine. They sell wine by the glass/bottle to either drink on premise or take away. Vino Third Ward also serves cheese and Italian sausage to nibble on.

They have their regular crew that shows up every Saturday as well (sound familiar??) Everybody knows everybody, and even if you are not a so-called “regular” you get drawn into the conversations.

After two visits on this trip we felt like regulars, and will definitely make sure we go there when we visit Milwaukee 🙂

Oh and The Struts really rocked it!

Hidden (When They Say Hidden, They’re Not Kiddin’) Lake and Copper Dock Wineries

Some days girls just wanna have fun … and that’s the kind of day Sharon and I had when we decided to drive south of Springfield and venture to Hidden Lake and Cooper Dock Wineries.

First of all, it was a beautiful day – really gorgeous! All of the heat and humidity, as well as the unlimited rain, just seemed to leave the area once September arrived.

So on the road we go! We decided to go to Hidden Lake Winery in Aviston first since on a map it looked like it was the furthest away, and we could jog over to Copper Dock before heading home. Hidden Lake Winery is a little over 100 miles from Springfield, and we had a plan to get there by lunchtime. Take I-55 South to Exit 33 (IL Route 4) and go towards Lebanon. After you get to Lebanon, turn towards Trenton (which by the way has a very cute ice cream shop called Dairy King). After this you will definitely want to use your GPS if you are not familiar with the area (like us). Turn on to Wesclin Road, then turn on to Wellen Road, wind around a bit, then you will find the Hidden Lake Winery!

It was a really beautiful drive, and could lead to a discussion about the differences between a highway, 2-lane road, hard road, black top, gravel road, lane, etc. Just sayin’ …

There is so much to like about this winery – beautiful grounds with lots of seating. We shared the chicken bacon ranch flatbread and a small charcuterie plate which was plenty for the two of us. They also have cabins for rent – I see a future road trip here again!

On to Copper Dock! It is located in Pocahontas (home to Gretchen Wilson) and will take you about a half an hour to get there from Hidden Lake Winery. Another beautiful, very peaceful, setting on a lake with lots of outdoor seating. They also serve food here, which is something we will have to try on our next visit.

We had a table right next to the lake – I could see the little fish from where I was sitting, and very scraggly looking turtle scared me LOL! He must have been looking for food.

We decided to stay off of the interstate highway and instead took the long way home – which is much better in my opinion if you have the time.

We went through Old Ripley, believe it or not, which led to a conversation about how towns and villages were named. Sharon and I are both familiar with a village named Ripley located in Brown County, so was Old Ripley originally just called Ripley? And then this new village unknowingly also decides to call itself Ripley, so the oldest of the villages just becomes Old Ripley? Why is there not a New Ripley? Maybe there is …

We realized we were going to go through Hillsboro, so naturally we had to stop at Cozy Cafe for egg rolls. I was introduced to these delicacies by my friends who own the wine store – they (or their family members) would bring them to the wine store, and I would be lucky if I could get one. Seriously, these are the best! I had actually never been to Cozy Cafe, so another first for me on this trip.

Lots of corn ready for harvest on the drive back … to me it is a beautiful site.

I would say Girls Day Out was a success – Cheers until next time!

Let There Be Brunch

Few things get me as excited as a good brunch – usually something sweet, something savory, and of course day drinking! Nancy was the hostess for this shindig, and nobody loves brunch more than her 🙂

Every good brunch needs a good drink (or two), so Nancy set up both a Mimosa and a Bloody Mary bar. Can’t go wrong here!

On to the food! Robert’s Seafood is the best place for seafood in town. It’s a cute little specialty grocery store, and I love it! Nancy got some smoked salmon there, as well as a very addictive dip called Mango Crab Chutney.

Nancy also made a delicious Peach Tomato Caprese salad. This salad screams summer! It’s peak peach and tomato season here in Illinois, and this was of course delicious.

I had been wanting Nancy to host a brunch so I could bring Ina Garten’s Cranberry Orange Scones. These are so delicious and easy to make – I have made a few other scones and in my opinion these really are the best.

No brunch is complete without a quiche or some sort of egg dish. Nancy served Zucchini Quiche with Basil – another great choice since we have zucchini in abundance.

Add some grilled sausage, a cheese tray, some fruit, bread, and shrimp, and there you go – Brunch!

Even dogs enjoy brunch 🙂

Our after-brunch entertainment was reading the Hillsboro Journal – nothing better than local news with insight from the Hillsboro natives! We learned many things, including a man’s love for junking 🙂

An egg-cellent time was had by all!