Chickens Steal the Show

Tall Boys Tavern & Catering in Hobson, MT,  hosted a Farm to Fab Unveiling Tuesday, September 19th, highlighting Loni Carr’s unique photography. Cheese, wine and micro brews complimented the vibrant display of art adorning the walls of the bar and dining room.

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Loni Carr in front of a few photographs.
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Hostesses, and models for some of the artwork.

Whether portrait or pin-up, Loni’s pastoral photographs feature horses, dogs, chickens, cows, and the occasional goat. Sometimes black and white, but often vividly colored, old barns or pickups often embellish the setting. During a quiet moment’s reflection, Loni’s subjects seem bathed in shades of light or cigarette haze. One could label the artwork but it is simply honest. Loni captures light and reality in her cheeky compositions and will bring a smile.  Check out her images at http://www.whiskeyginger.com.

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Even when Tall Boys is not hosting a bit of culture and art, it will meet your steakhouse, fine dining, or original lunch option expectations. This “Fancy, but not fancy!” establishment’s atmosphere is modern but rustic. Their appetizers range from Curry Fries ($9) to Rocky Mountain Oysters ($18).  Experience a finely crafted soup or perhaps the spicy crispy fried buffalo chicken salad with buttermilk bleu cheese, bacon, and green onions ($12.95 ). The sandwiches will not disappoint either. Try a Tavern Beef  with shaved prime rib, Swiss, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions on ciabatta ($12.95), or the Carolina with house smoked pulled pork, creamy coleslaw, their famous Carolina sauce, on a brioche bun ($10.95), or just get to the meat of the matter with Oven Roasted Prime Rib after 5 on Fridays and Saturdays, and all day Sunday.  Using Certified Black Angus Beef,  the ribs and flat-iron steaks are also cooked to specification and artfully paired with favorite sides. I recommend the Shannon Ridge Cab. Remember the fish and poultry options as well. Perhaps a Curried Walleye served with cilantro lime cream ($25) or the grilled Spinach Artichoke Chicken ($18.95) excites the palate. There is also a kids’ menu and a separate catering menu. All options can be found at http://www.TALLBOYSTAVERN.com

 

 

I Have Become a Biker Babe!

The first time I saw A ROMAN HOLIDAY with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, I fell in love with the idea of riding a Vespa through the cobbled streets in Italy. Because my recent trip to Florence fell on my birthday, I decided it was an excellent time for such whimsy. Walkabout Florence Tours put the whole experience over the top.

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After determining our ability to ride the adorable bikes, Angle, our guide (on right, below), escorted us in a Vintage Fiat out of Florence and into the nearby hills where the views were postcard perfect. I enjoyed immensely sharing my birthday and the tour with three American sorority sisters. We thought we should have secret agent code names. Riding a scooter is a hoot! After multiple photo stops, we were ready for our included lunch at a beautiful facility set on the side of a hill. A little wine,  penne pasta in tomato sauce, and a desert of unparalleled perfection made me exclaim “This is my wish!” when they asked me to blow out my candle.

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I loved this tour so much, I considered doing it again the next day. I was off to Siena, however, and still had to navigate the Italian bus system. Most people believe that travelling by train is best. However, the train station is at the bottom of a hill, stops along the way, may include changing trains, and takes longer. The bus trip from Florence to Siena is about 50 minutes and the station is centrally located.

I stayed in Siena at Hotel Italia on Viale Cavour, which is a short walk to the historic center. After getting my bearings and finding my spot, Al Peccatore on Via Camollia, where I enjoyed both fresh and aged pecorino cheese served with honey for drizzling, as it should be, rustic bread and a glass of red, I prepared to enjoy my five days in Siena. I was still thrilled by my Vespa tour in Florence so enlisted the aid of the exceptionally friendly and accommodating staff at Hotel Italia to book another Vespa tour.

Though not vintage, this Vespa was bright red. I joined a group of folks from Ohio, and one couple from Mexico, who all drove Fiats. In spite of a good drenching and fog, the ride was thrilling. For the first few miles, I needed wind shield wipers on my glasses. After we stopped in an ancient village and then enjoyed lunch and a little wine at Poggio Amorelli, a small winery, the rain gave way to sunshine and puffy clouds. We toured the Monteriggioni castle and thus ended my second Vespa tour.

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My Cincinnati Fix

For the last three years, celebrating Thanksgiving for me has meant flying to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit my niece, a textile conservator at the Cincinnati Museum. Cincy, as the locals affectionately call her, reclines casually out from the Ohio River across history toward America’s Rhineland. Cincinnati may appear elegant and sophisticated but she is not without a little edgy drama. Interested people are taking back Cincy’s sketchy parts, one neighborhood at a time.

One such neighborhood referred to as “Over-the-Rhine” (OTR) due to the extensive German immigrant population is a damned cool place to enjoy some food and wine. Begin with a simple address: 1215 Vine Street. 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab tucked into a deep narrow chunk of Cincinnati’s historical downtown, sports a back bar of abundant wine soaring to the mysterious depths of the ceiling. A casual, trendy, romantic, full bar offering the usual fair is perfect for after work cocktails or before dinner wine. Our restaurant texted us just as we finished our cheese plate.

Directly across the street at A Tavola (at table), 1220 Vine Street, the casual atmosphere perfectly complements the handmade, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, wines, craft beers and cocktails. Carnivores will appreciate the wild boar or Cinghiale meatballs in the house red sauce over rice with artichoke and greens salad with one of the best house balsamic vinaigrettes anywhere. The meatballs were savory, juicy delicousness the size of a pool cue.

A Tavola's Cinghiale meatballs and salad.
A Tavola’s Cinghiale meatballs and salad.

Vegetarians will love the asparagus and mushroom pizza with piles of cheese. Our meal was not super expensive either. Three of us enjoyed wine and dinner for less than seventy bucks before tip.

Also in the OTR near Cincinnati’s impressive collection of breweries, Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market provides a bright, festive display and year round gastronomical choices from the humble potato to the sweetest honey. Located at 1801 Race St., Findlay Market hosts farmers’ markets and other outdoor vendors, street performers, and special events from March to December. We indulged our sweet teeth with sumptuous pumpkin spice fudge that alone would make me go back!

With Cincinnati’s abundant and varied dinning and drinking experiences, we upped our interest a notch by throwing art into the mix. The 21c Museum Hotel on Walnut is a combination contemporary art museum and boutique hotel, at once intimate and universal. With a glass of wine from the ever-rotating selection of world wines in the bar, we wandered through the exhibits throughout the first two floors. The Metropole restaurant inside the hotel fulfils elegant expectations by retaining the historical mosaic tile floors and arched windows, but adds a layer of casual comfort and warmth in a sublime balance. The Metropole features an “old world fireplace” on which the region’s sustainable farm products are prepared. Our starters – three for $16 – were the seven-hour egg, hot olives, and the Hudson flower, a sheep cheese. While my palette failed to discern the difference between the seven-hour egg and one boiled in the usual fashion, I will never eat a cold olive again! Every variety of olive ever grown seemed to be on display: an amazing array of sizes and colors from deepest purple to pale chartreuse. Chef Michael Paley’s menu at the time included burnt carrot salad featuring watercress, feta, red onions, and grilled shallots all topped with flavorful vinaigrette, for $9, and yellow fin tuna with quinoa fritters, and yellow beets. A savory and rich entrée of smoked woodland farm pork with Kentucky grits, roasted autumn crisp grapes and Brussels sprouts paired well with a side of charred sweet potatoes with pistachios and pomegranate. We also enjoyed a lemon tart created by Pastry Chef Suzanne Church.

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It had just the right touch of cardamom and lemon in a buttery delicious shell with nuts. The presentation was so superior we hesitated before mauling it with our forks. We also enjoyed a moderately priced 2009 Serra Barbaresco from Italy. Their current Executive Chef is Jared Bennett. Check out their site at www.21cmuseumhotels.com for a full menu, or better yet, think of an excuse to go experience it yourself. If you are into art and urban awesomeness, Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel is the place.

Visiting Cincinnati is like getting a big old American hug from your favorite Aunt, the cool and hip Aunt. It is a lovely town, a beautiful city, in picturesque and historical surroundings. So I will return because Cincinnati is a city to soothe the rough edges of any rural existence or brighten an everyday routine with some big city glam.

BIGGEST BONEHEAD TRAVEL STUNT OF ALL TIME

I love a good adventure. I love playing the travel odds. But even I got caught by the biggest bonehead travel stunt of all time. I was ready to embark on my three week excursion to Italy commencing on my birthday, Monday, March 23rd. They allow twenty-four hour advance check-in on line, so on Sunday, I attempted to do so. There was a request to check in with a ticket agent. Hmmm … *shrugs* oh well, it must be because it’s international. So with hours to spare and bags packed: lap top in carry-on (otherwise it’s considered an import) with slippers and change of clothing and shawl (aka blankie) and best damned travel pillow ever, I journey to Delta check-in. I tell the gal I think I need to talk to her because of the recommendation when I tried to check in early but I tell her I thought it was because it’s international. She is as confused as me until I point out that maybe it’s so close to my expiration date. At this point I’m still believing that I’m going on this trip. My passport is valid, I know so. I checked the date before I planned the trip. It was one of the deciding factors in when I was going. I wanted to get the trip in before my passport expired. I even got on the web site and perused “Renewal” to see if I had enough time to get that done before I left. Savvy traveller lesson #2: READ EVERYTHING. Not all web sites are the same. She asks me where I’m going and says she believes I have to have six months left on my passport before I can go. We read the web site. Yep, Italy requires three months out after your last day. So, I’m thinking, let me get this straight. I have a passport that has not expired, but it’s not valid? I ask her how a person is supposed to know that six month thing. I wonder out loud why they sell international tickets to people who do not have that six month window. Now here’s the part where the ticket agent’s face gets all stoney as she expects me to lose my cool. She says I must have missed that notice. I’m trying not to throw up on her counter. All I can think about is all that money I’ve racked up on this trip, my ticket, about a thousand dollars worth of frequent flyer miles on my Capital One Venture card, reservations secured with that card, friend contacts made … rather than say again, “Are you kidding me?” I ask her “What do I do now?” She gives me a Delta number to call and tells me to hurry down to the post office (federal, see) and speak to the passport representative, but she carefully — with her calm tone like she’s addressing a child who might pitch a tantrum — tells me she believes it will still be a couple of days before I can get an expedited renewed passport. I ask, “So, I’m not going to be on this flight?” She looks at the clock, and I give her credit for that, and says, “I don’t see how.” She then tells me how sorry she is for the inconvenience and I tell her it is not her fault and creep away with my humiliatingly fushcia carry-on slumped sadly atop my meticulously packed wheely bag.

So, since I put the cab company number into my phone ages ago, I call a cab to take me back to my vehicle and zoom to the post office down town, Great Falls, Montana. I used to live in Great Falls. I am a fourth generation Montanan, a state with an agricultural base. Very few of us consider ourselves worldly or well traveled or even particularly cultural. Some of us try to keep up digitally. The lady at the post office is not among those. She had a little placard in her window declaring she was currently taking passport pictures and would be right back. I waited, feeling dismal. Presently she came in, smiling benignly, said, “You must be my next appointment.” I responded that no I was not that but that I had travel problems. I told her the gal at the airport had sent me down there. I told her my passport was short of validity and I didn’t know what to do next. Seemingly offended by my lack of appointment, she instructed me it took a month to get a new passport. I asked her about an expedited passport and she backed that time up to a week and a half. Then she got out her big ominous looking three ring binder and gave me the U.S. passport services number which I have in my phone and suggested that maybe I could fly into one of the cities who have a passport service but she was very strict in telling me that I would have to make an appointment and get the passport and it might be done in a day or two. Clearly she considered me an idiot who wouldn’t make an appointment. I wrote down the number she gave me and was dismissed.

Dejected, miserable travel buffoon that I was, I wandered out to my vehicle to call the Delta representative. After a short wait, a Sherri Thomas came on the line. I began by telling her I had indeed pulled the biggest bonehead travel stunt of all time and I didn’t know what to do next. I told her I had been to the post office and that lady had suggested the going to Atlanta or Detroit or somewhere to get a passport while I’m in that city. I’d have to make that coveted appointment, leave the airport, and hang out over night and I still wouldn’t get to my vacation for several days. Trouble with that plan is I can’t use the already purchased ticket because it is international and I can’t get on the plane because my passport is short of validity. So dear Sherri begins to look up costs of flights to these cities. She says I’m looking at 3800 dollars and that wouldn’t include the return flight and I’d be better off trying to get a cheap ticket off the internet. But the very first thing she said was, my ticket was good until March 2, 2016. I told her I couldn’t afford 3800 and I was worrying about all those Venture Capital One miles. She said they’d be gone if I didn’t use the ticket I had. And then the wonderful helpful Sherri Thomas said she would waive the 300 dollar penalty fee on my ticket and even put it in the system and wrote it on the ticket. What it amounts to is a credit with Delta good until March 2nd of next year. It is no surprise to me that more people fly Delta than any other airline. Hence, travel rule #3 arises: be flexible!

But now to the issue of the passport. Really? I’m asking myself. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. It’s a renewal. It’s not like the thing is expired. There must be a faster way to get your passport renewed. I get on-line. First of all, you need to fill out an application. The passport agent at the post office could have handed me the application. Maybe I needed to make an appointment to get that from her. There is a fee, of course, and you need to have two photographs taken within the last six months. CVS Pharmacy takes passport photos. So does Costco. Triple A does it for free. But here’s the thing. It can all be done digitally on-line. It is possible to fill out the application on-line, send your picture from your computer (most have cameras) or you can attach a file from your smart phone, and send your money electronically these days. You can pay extra for a RUSH. You can just get an expedited one in twenty-four hours. TWENTY-FOUR hours! They have passport books with chips in them now so your information is stored somewhere else electronically. It can also allow for quicker movement through customs. It’s sure too bad the passport agent at the post office didn’t know ANY of that. I would think that as a paid employee of the federal government behind her little window with “Passport Services” above it, she might be expected to be up to date on those services.

It took me two days to discover all of that information and get my reservations and contacts cancelled and refunds on my museum passes and wine tours. With the exception of the non-refundable room (which was my own fault for not adhering to Travel Rule #2: read everything on a site) I got all my money back. I could have soldiered on and made my vacation two days later, but I learned much from this experience and hopefully now so have you.  Now I can learn more Italian and lose more weight! So my Italian trip has been postponed but between now and … May?, September?, I’ll have more adventures to relate. And the minute I pick a new date — one minute after I have that renewed passport in my hand — I’ll start all over again on my Tuscan Corkscrew Adventure.