Are You a Coke Fan?

Do you like Coke? If you’re in Atlanta with little (or even big) kids you won’t be able to escape a trip to the World of Coca-Cola. Billed as an “experience,” it’s really a 4-D movie, museum, and taste testing place all-in-one. 

IMG_0634_2.jpgAs part of our whirlwind tour of Atlanta, we spent a couple of hours learning about the history of the soft drink and seeing all kinds of Coca Cola memorabilia.

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The best and most memorable part of our experience was tasting the different soft drinks (over 100 according to the website), from various Coke iterations to other fizzy drinks from around the world, like Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil, Japan, and Costa Rica. At first, the liquid slid easily from our tastebuds down our throat, but after several samples, we were more selective, enjoying some and gagging at others. When our tongues and our tummies couldn’t handle anymore, we made our way to the exit and the gift shop where you can buy just about anything emblazoned with the Coke logo. 

Though not inexpensive, it’s a fun way to spend a few hours. But whatever you do, don’t go on an empty stomach. For more photos and another person’s experience, check out this blog.

Trip taken February 2015.

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Where Can You Find Good Mexican Food in Tucson?

When searching for good Mexican food last June, we went to the oldest Mexican restaurant in Tucson, Arizona, El Charro Cafe.

El Charro 1

We arrived early and were seated quickly inside. Northern Sonora-Mexican food choices and a few Tucson ones fill the menu with the typical Mexican items of burritos and enchiladas plus grilled asada, hand-made tamales, chilaquiles, and ribs. There are gluten-free options and vegan ones, and plenty of cervezas. Overwhelmed, I gave up the opportunity to eat my usual Mexican food standby, fish tacos. Instead, I elected to sample many of the menu’s flavors by sharing a taco platter and a plate of tamales with my family.

The “Charrocuterie” a la Plancha includes a large vintage platter of carne asada, carnitas ranchero, grilled chicken, grilled peppers and onions, guacamole, pico salsa, sour cream, queso casero, applewood bacon, salsa, arroz, frijoles refritos, and corn or flour tortillas.

El Charro Tacos

The tamales looked good, too, so we added an order of three handmade tamales: pork carnitas, chicken tomatillo, and fresh corn.  The flavors were rich and deep, with just enough spice. 

El Charro Tamales

El Charro opened in 1922 and is the oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family in the United States.

Trip taken June 2015.

How to Find Gluten-Free Food on the Road

My daughter doesn’t eat gluten, not because she doesn’t like it or prefers not to, but because it makes her sick. She has celiac disease. So when we travel, we often use the Find Me Gluten Free app to discover places she can eat.

On a recent trip to Tucson, Arizona, our friends took us to a place for lunch called “Beyond Bread.” While the name sounded like it might be a good source of gluten-free food, just by walking in, we knew it wasn’t. Beyond Bread is all about the bread with a few salads and soups thrown in. While it may be fine for those who choose to eat gluten free, anyone with an allergy to gluten should beware.

After the rest of us got our gluten fix, we checked out the Find Me Gluten Free app and made a slight detour. Just a few miles down the road, we entered a green building with a cornucopia of gluten-free food – breads, sandwiches, cookies, even beer.

gluten-free options

Gluten-Free Bakery

Gourmet Girls Gluten-Free Bakery/Bistro is open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday.

Trip taken June 2015.

Do You Plan Your Wanderings?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Happy Wanderer.”

I’m a planner. I admit it. But whether or not my children believe me, I wasn’t always one. When I traveled to Ensenada, I let my friend plan our weekend. When I traveled to San Felipe, I went with the flow. On my trip to Australia, we were free and spontaneous. We chose where to stay and for how long, money and a flight home our only boundaries. Even my first trip to Paris and Zurich were simple – I stayed with friends, brought guide books, and decided each day where I would be a tourist.

But then I had children. And the world became more crowded. I discovered that summer camps would fill up before spring. With a child with food allergies, spontaneity was difficult and wrought with disappointment and a hungry child. Slowly, I learned to plan. And now, I always plan.

My hesitation and anxiety about traveling to South Africa was lessened by learning more about the country, where we could and would go. Planning has allowed me to avoid long lines and eat gluten free at Disney, visit our sponsored child in Lesotho, camp at Pawtuckaway State Park every summer for years, be led by a tour guide through Gettysburg National Park, and visit the Senate on a trip to Washington.

But I still love spontaneity. And while doing a little research before traveling to a new place helps me to find the special and unique, or avoid those well traveled and touristy, destinations, spontaneity allows us to change course. To listen to recommendations from other travelers or discover new places ourselves.

Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have attended a hearing for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, watched the surfers in Half Moon Bay, or listened to the Wave Organ in San Francisco. I wouldn’t have spent the night in a treehouse, picked strawberries in Pescadero, gone hiking with the Hobart Bushwalking Club, or danced Nia in Santa Barbara. Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have met Terry from England who later invited me to her wedding in Athens. I wouldn’t have stayed with the dairy farmer in Auckland or gone hot air ballooning outside of Alice Springs.

The travel world is so different than it was – the internet provides information and access to so many places, and apps like Yelp can allow a little bit of spontaneity with less risk of disappointment. You can read about where to go and what to see on blogs and share your experiences on social media.

But there’s nothing quite as freeing as just setting out, doing what you feel like doing at the moment, eating when you’re hungry, and being ready to just let things happen.

Eating Gluten Free in New Orleans

We were in New Orleans where much of the food is cream based and fried and definitely not gluten free. I was leery about finding gluten-free food, but my fears were unfounded. Using our favorite app, FindMeGlutenFree, we were able to eat without getting sick and most importantly, to sample and enjoy some of the local food for which New Orleans is famous.

Where and What We Ate:

Cafe du MondeThe coffee is gluten free, but the beignets, a square piece of dough fried and covered with powdered sugar, are not.

Jacques ImosThough the gluten-free menu was brief and somewhat misleading, the waiter filled in the gaps, and we discovered several gluten-free options, including Cajun Bouillabaisse (though it comes with bread so be sure to tell the waiter), Shrimp Creole, and Lamb.

Meals from the Heart Cafe: We tried the gluten-free blueberry pancakes and a gluten-free breakfast sandwich at this cafe. Even the po’boys can be made gluten free. We sat at a counter in the middle of French Market, chatted with the owner, and watched the people go by.

Mother’s Restaurant: We sampled the many different foods that New Orleans and the South are famous for, including red beans and rice, chicken jambalaya, turnip greens, grits, and shrimp creole. If you go, be sure to avoid the gumbo, fried chicken, fried fish, po’boys, and desserts.

Mr. B’s BistroMost of Mr. B’s dinner items are gluten free, including Mr. B’s Barbecued Shrimp (just be sure they don’t add any bread), the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp and Grits, and Wood Grilled Fish. Be aware of the Panko crusted fish specials, desserts (except the ice cream), and the basket of bread.

The restaurants in New Orleans are many. And so are the gluten-free options. We will be back!

How to Make a Christmas Baby Feel Special

Do you know anyone who was born on Christmas Day?

I do, and my mother, Marialyce (aka Rusty), is one of them. Maybe that’s why she made such an effort to make birthdays such a celebration for her children. Because December 25th was never just her birthday. As a child, her parents put a candle on a mincemeat pie for her birthday cake, and many of her gifts were combined Christmas and birthday presents.

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I started making birthday cakes for Mom with an Easy Bake Oven some time around age 6 or 7. After a molasses cake was a flat fiasco, I turned to Mom’s Julia Child cookbooks. For years, I made an orange chocolate cake with mocha frosting (Le Glorieux with Chocolate-Butter Icing, which just happens to be gluten free). A few years later, we began separating the occasions; opening up Christmas presents in the morning and birthday presents with cake in the evening.

Although she planned parties for many, birthday parties for Mom were few over her lifetime (she could count them on one hand). So when she turned 75, we decided to surprise her.

That Christmas, Mom and her husband planned a visit to my sister’s home in Alabama for the holidays. On Christmas Eve, my husband, our two kids and I flew into town, rented a car, and drove to my sister’s house. Posing as carolers, we rang the door bell about 9:30 pm. As we sang “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” my sister called Mom to come see the Christmas carolers. As she came into view, we switched to “Happy Birthday” and watched her smile changed from delight to incredulity.

I’ll never forget that Christmas and what fun it was to surprise her. We’ve all heard that sometimes it’s better to give then receive, and that year, it definitely was.

Merry Christmas! Or should I say, “Happy Birthday!”?

Trip taken December 2004.

Finding Gluten Free at the Denver International Airport

While searching for a safe gluten-free meal at the Denver International Airport, we were surprised and excited to find an Udi’s Cafe on Concourse B near Gate 22.

Udi's Cafe DIA

That was in 2013. In April 2014, the company changed the name of its restaurants to Etai’s. I guess after 20 years in business and the success of their bread, they decided it was time.

Although I haven’t been to the cafe named Etai’s, it appears that there is no change from the cafe named Udi’s, at least according to the company’s website and Yelp. Most everything is gluten free or can be. There is no online menu for the airport location, but you can get an idea of the dining options by checking out one of the menus for the other restaurant locations on Etai’s website.

If you want some ideas for eating in other airports, check out this blog.

Trip taken July 2013.

Where to Eat Brunch on the Upper West Side

Although Yelp and Trip Advisor do a good job of helping the tourist discover those out-of-the-way and less touristy places, sometimes it’s nice trusting a native.

I looked in the window at Cafe Lalo where Meg Ryan waits for Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail.” but decided to eat at Good Enough to Eat, just a short walk away. Both serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and include a plethora of yummy looking baked goods.

Good Enough to Eat

What to Eat? There were apple pancakes, waffles, omelettes, and French toast. After much debate, I chose the Gramercy Park omelette – slices of Granny Smith apple and Vermont sharp white cheddar cheese served with buttermilk biscuits. Mmmmmmm.

Trips taken July 2008 and July 2012.

How to Style Your American Girl Doll’s Hair

When your daughter, niece, or granddaughter’s favorite doll is injured, it’s time for a visit to one of the American Girl Places.

Kaya’s hair was a wreck. So matted and snarled that we thought she would need to go to the American Girl Doll Hospital (to get a new head!). Instead, I was assured that an appointment with the American Girl Doll Hair Salon on 5th Avenue in New York City ($25) just might do the trick.

Kaya (the doll!) sat on a stool while her hairdresser worked patiently and carefully on her hair. My daughter and I watched as her hair was unsnarled, unmatted, and braided. Although she wanted to get her ears pierced, we decided that she was too young. Instead, for an additional $5, we gave her the pampering plus manicure and facial.

To celebrate Kaya’s recovery, we ate lunch at the American Girl Place restaurant. Kaya was seated in her own attached high chair. She was served in tiny tea cups while my daughter and I ate a gluten-free lunch and gluten-free birthday cake.

We skipped the show, electing instead to see Mary Poppins on Broadway.

Trip taken 2008.