Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Maryland Blue Crab & Hot Jalapeno Dip

Blue crabs, those yummy little things that make us roll up our sleeves, grab a beer, and dig in for the dirty job of cracking and eating a spicy, sweet delicacy. Those little 10-legged sea creatures are the second most consumed crustacean, behind shrimp. Maryland (or more specifically, the Chesapeake Bay) claims to have the best crab in the country. Two girls from New Orleans may have a tough time believing that after years of wonderful crab from the Gulf.

Maryland designated the blue crab as its state crustacean and it appears to have been widely accepted as the unofficial mascot of the Chesapeake Bay. It is estimated that anywhere between one-third to one-half of the nation’s crab harvest comes from the Chesapeake Bay.

Female blue crab (note the painted "nails.")

Blue crabs are named so because of the brilliant blue color on their front claws (females have red tips –as if they painted their finger nails). But these delicious sea creatures also play the vital role of environmental health indicator. Blue crabs are extremely sensitive to environmental and habitat changes, and many populations, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay, have experienced drastic declines. Blue crabs also play a key role in managing the populations of the animals they prey on, and constant overharvesting has had wide-ranging negative effects on the ecosystems they inhabit. The past efforts to clean-up the Chesapeake Bay have been rewarded with increased populations of blue crab as well as other commercially and recreationally important aquatic organisms.

Crab is a very versatile food, from being the highlight in the ever-popular crab cakes to enhancing a fillet mignon by being piled on top. One of my favorite crab dishes is crab dip. The recipe below is a combination of sweet crab meat interspersed with salty cheese and spicy jalapenos.  This simple dish works great as an appetizer or a dish for a pot-luck dinner. Feel free to assemble the night before and refrigerate overnight (just let it come to room temperature before placing in the oven).  Enjoy!


HOT JALAPENO CRAB DIP
Ingredients:

1 pound lump crab meat
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
½ cup chopped pickled jalapenos
¼ pound Monterey Jack cheese with jalapenos, grated
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup mayonnaise
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (or parmesan cheese)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the crabmeat, garlic, jalapenos, Monterey Jack, Worcestershire, hot sauce, salt, and mayonnaise in a medium-size mixing bowl. Toss gently until mixed. Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof bowl and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, approximately 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Crystal Coast of North Carolina

The “Crystal Coast” is the general term given to towns located in the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina. We won’t name all of the towns because there is a dozen, but some of the larger ones are Beaufort, Newport, Emerald Isle, Morehead City, and Harker’s Island. The Crystal Coast is no different that any coastal town in that life revolves around the water. The oceans’ bounty is displayed on restaurant menus, there are maritime museums, a nearby lighthouse, and daily activities that either include something related to the ocean. There are an endless array of activities that include visiting historic structures, shopping in quaint historic districts, diving a shipwreck, trying your hand at landing “the big one,” or simply sitting in a beach chair watching the surf role in. Each little town presents its own distinct feel and personality. We did our best to visit all of them during our 5-day stay in Newport.


Downtown historic Beaufort, NC.
The town of Beaufort was established as a seaport in 1722. The town is pronounced “Bo-furt” which is not to be confused with Beaufort, South Carolina (pronounced “Byew-fort” – apparently there are some deep seeded issues here between the two cities). The downtown is the hub of all activity. The streets are lined with unique shops and interspersed with restaurants and visitor attractions. While in Beaufort, we visited the Historic Beaufort Site. The Beaufort Historic Site depicts 18th and 19th century living in coastal North Carolina. Living history demonstrations, guided tours, and special events vividly describe the lifestyles, customs and architecture unique to this coastal area. Located on the two acres are nine beautifully restored buildings including homes, businesses, jail and courthouse which are open for touring and interpretation. While we were there, they were having the annual “Publick Day” - a flea-market type event where individuals bring food, arts, and crafts to sell. The history of this event dates back to Colonial Day when the arrival and business of the circuit court judge would draw a crowd including merchants who found the gathering to be good for business.
"Publik Day" at the Historic Beaufort Site.

Locked up at the Historic Beaufort Site jail.














A “don’t miss” in Beaufort is the North Carolina Maritime Museum - one of three such free museums along the coast. This little gem is a bundle of information providing a look inside coastal maritime history and culture. Featured exhibits interpret the state’s rich seafood industry, life-saving stations and lighthouses, and sailboats and motorboats. The Museum is the official repository for artifacts from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, which ran aground near Beaufort in 1718. For 270 years, the ship was lost at the bottom of the sea, covered by sand, and forgotten by time until a private company discovered its whereabouts in 1996. Opening in June 2011 is a new exhibit featuring more artifacts and history of the legendary pirate’s flagship.
Across the street from the museum is the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center. This facility preserves the craft of traditional boatbuilding and comes alive with the hum of saws and clangs of hammers. Visitors are encouraged to watch as boats are being crafted or take a more active role by participating in a boatbuilding class.
On the outskirts of the “Crystal Coast” lies a sleepy little town called Swansboro. While Swansboro has the historic homes, shops, and docks to indicate that it was once a bustling seaport, the main attraction is Yana’s Ye Olde Drug Store and Restaurant. With Elvis greeting you at the door, you enter to find Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Betty Boob, and more memorabilia adorning the walls. While we did not have time to eat there, the moans and groans from happy patrons made us wish we had. Their breakfast and lunch menu features the usual fare of eggs, pancakes and sandwiches, but it is the old fashion floats and fritters that get the real raves.
Downtown Swansboro.













A trip to this area would not be complete without a drive out to Fort Macon State Park. This park is so much more than just the site of a Civil War-era fort. Public access leads beachgoers to the sun and surf, while land-lovers will find secluded sites to picnic and hike. Construction on the fort began in 1826 and was used on and off until 1946, when it was deemed surplus by the U.S. Government and given to the state of North Carolina. The fort itself is surrounded by a large visitor center, gift shop, and environmental learning center. Inside the fort are excellent exhibits illustrating what life was like in the fort throughout its 80-year existence. The visitor center shows a wonderful free movie that illustrates the fort’s colorful history and uses throughout the years. As with any government project, the fort was constructed, barely used, refurbished, barely used, refurbished, given to the state, retaken from the state, refurbished, barely used, and given back to the state. By far, this is the best fort we have ever visited. Thank goodness the state has it now, because there is no other fort we have visited that has such great exhibits that keep all ages entertained and informed. Definitely, don’t miss Fort Macon if you are in the area!
A mobile bookstore in Historic Beaufort.

Dowtown homes in Historic Beaufort.

The waterfront in Historic Beaufort.  The boardwalk is lined with shops, restaurants, and boats.

Historic Beaufort waterfront.

One of the exhibits in the Maritime Museum illustrating a mechanics shop.

A life saving boat being constructed in the Watercraft Center.

Wooden skiffs under construction.

The environmental learning center in Fort Macon State Park.

Fort Macon State Park.

Inside the old fort are exhibits displaying what life was like for the soldiers. 
Above is the kitchen and dining area.

The entrance to Fort Macon, constructed in 1826.

Shop in downtown Swansboro.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The RV has Temporarily Stopped a GoGo’ing

As you may have noticed on the map, we took a detour to Baltimore, Maryland. Our trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Virginia Beach were cancelled due to the need to attend to our dog Otter’s medical condition. Prior to leaving New Orleans, we were treating her for (what we thought) was a simple urinary tract infection. The problem has not gotten better after three doctors’ visits and equal treatments of antibiotics over six weeks along the way. We decided to high-tail it to Baltimore where we could get her thorough medical treatment and follow-up. While she does not seem to be in pain or show symptoms to indicate a serious problem, we did not want to take any chances if we were isolated in the Outer Banks without a full treatment veterinary clinic.

Baltimore was a likely choice for two reasons: it is a large city where there are ample veterinary specialists and it is home to my sister and her family. While we are here, we can attend to Otter’s needs and visit with my sister and her family. We are not sure how long we will be here, but sure are thankful for the hospitality.

It seems strange being in a house after living the last six weeks in the motorhome. We actually miss living in the motorhome. Despite how wonderful this house is, I guess we think of that as our true “home.” Otter seems to really like it here and is very comfortable. She loves the nice thick grass and wide-open spaces afforded in a house and a real yard. We keep telling her this is only temporary – unless my sister wants to add a Labrador retriever to her already busy repertoire of kids, husband, and beagle. Of course we came north quicker than we wanted to and it’s cold here!

Thanks to everyone for the concern and we will keep you posted. Hopefully, we can get caught up on posts we would like to write and trip planning for the rest of the summer. We plan to visit quaint areas around Baltimore while we are here so stay tuned as we’ll be reporting on them.

Otter on her bed as we travel down the road in the motorhome.


Otter likes to lead the way on trails.  We hope she clears the snakes for us.

Not sure why, but the last campground had a very large frog on the picnic table!



Thursday, April 21, 2011

BLUE STAR MEMORIAL HIGHWAY

Have you ever seen a sign along a road that says “Blue Star Memorial Highway?” I have noticed these signs for years but never knew what a Blue Star Memorial Highway was. And now that we are driving down many of them, they are much more noticeable to me. Curious, I did some research and here is what I found.

The Blue Star Memorial Highways are a tribute to the men and women serving in the armed forces that defend the United States of America. The idea dates back to 1944 when the New Jersey State Council of Garden Clubs beautified a 5½-mile stretch of road by planting 8,000 dogwoods. The Garden Clubs wanted to honor the men and women serving overseas with a living memorial so that upon their return they would see what a beautiful country they were fighting for. After the beatification was complete, the New Jersey Highway Commissioner, Spencer Miller, Jr. suggested that this program be carried out nationwide while giving a speech at the annual convention of the National Council of Garden Clubs (National Council) in 1945. This was just the kind of project the National Council had been looking for.

Using the New Jersey project as its model, the National Council made a study of the inter-regional highways of the United States. A Blue Star Highway system was outlined, consisting of one east-west and seven north-south highways. (Today we have many more.) Highway Commissioners were informed of the plan as were also the Garden Clubs in each state, and all were invited to participate. Every State President was asked to secure collaboration of the State Highway Department before undertaking a Blue Star project, as this was considered vital to the success of the plan. A uniform marker was adopted to show memorialization, the design of which was a gift from Mrs. Frederic Kellogg, founder of National Council. The Blue Star, taken from the blue star in the service flag, was chosen to symbolize the memorial because it was used during World War II on flags and homes of families that had a son or daughter in the service.

Today there are more than 70,000 miles of highway designated as Blue Star Memorial Highways. The Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker program has not died and it continues on today. Many State Legislatures and municipalities are today dedicating additional highways and erecting new memorials.

So next time you are driving along and see Blue Star Memorial markers, say thanks to the men and women who serve in the armed forces and the National Council that keep their memory fresh in our minds.





Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SATURDAY NIGHT IN THE BATHROOM

OK, so where were you this past Saturday night? Picture us, two women, a dog and a bottle of wine sitting on the cold cement floor of the women’s restroom at our RV park for 2 hours! Why? We traded hurricanes for tornados when we left New Orleans……seriously.

  I know everyone must have heard about the extremely bad weather that came across the country and into North Carolina where we were this past weekend. It was verified that 62 tornados hit North Carolina alone. One touched down just several miles near us and came across a major highway and destroyed homes.


Our safe haven.....the interior walls were concrete and the safest place in the park.
We had heard the weather reports and when it got dark, the wind was whaling and we saw the sky lighting up constantly with the oncoming storm, we ran for the only cement block building in lieu of our motor home. And that was the restrooms. We are writing this to call attention to the need to protect yourselves when this situation arises. Two things that are extremely important: buy a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (a.k.a. NOAA) weather radio and know the county that you are in (the bottle of wine is optional!)  We can’t emphasize this enough because we were about to leave the restroom after one hour because the radio said that the tornado warning was lifted when the report came back and said not to leave safe places because the tornado warning had been extended. That’s when the tornado went through very close to us. All of the power was out in the park and if we hadn’t had the radio, we would not have known what was going on around us. There are many brands of weather radios out there.  We have one that has a hand-crank in case the batteries run out.  (The brand we have is Eton FR300.)  Living in New Orleans for the past 15 years has taught us that power can be out for a very long time so we feel this is an important feature.
Also, it’s so important to know what county you are in because that’s what the weather stations constantly report on – it is counties and not towns!


One of the signs says "Seashore Memories"....that about sums it up!  At least it did not say "No Pets, No Alcohol!"
 It wasn’t a fun night but at least we felt safer than being in the motorhome. Seeing the damage the next morning was an eye opener so thank God for restrooms……..and wine!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Bear With Us!

Where in North Carolina can you find the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, home of the first printer and newspaper, the first capital, and 50 fiberglass 7-foot tall bears? If you guess New Bern you are correct. I can hear you now…. “where?” New Bern lies in the central part of North Carolina’s east coast. (Kind of confusing I know.) It is bordered by the Neuse River on the north and east and the Croatan National Forest and Trent River on the south.

This picturesque little waterfront town was born in 1710 by Swiss Immigrants and Germans fleeing persecution. In memory of their home town in Switzerland, Bern (which means bear), the immigrants named it New Bern. Beautiful historic homes, buildings, cemeteries, and churches set around a picturesque seaport make this town attractive. Charming shops, restaurants, and gardens are mixed with interesting museums, water activities, hotels, and B&B's that are successful in luring tourists. New Bern residents take pride in their town and it shows.

We spent one morning walking the tree-lined streets and admiring the historic homes. Homes date back to the early 1700’s and display a myriad of architectural styles, all reflecting the periods in which they were built. Actively managed as a historical district, strict building codes are enforced and 200-300 year old houses are in near pristine condition.

First fire engine in New
When in New Bern, one should not dismiss a visit to the Fireman’s Museum. Much to our surprise we received a guided tour which kept us captivated and eagerly involved in fire history. Andy Acasio gave us a thorough tour and explanation of the museums exhibits and artifacts. On display were early steam pumpers, an extensive collection of early firefighting equipment, photographs, and even a mounted head of “Fred” the fire horse. Fred was the beloved fire horse that raced the pumper and firemen to town blazes. Fred was able to recognize different fire-house alarms. This was important to his role as a fire horse because when not attending fires he pulled the sanitation truck. When an alarm sounded, he was unhitched, and galloped to the fire house in need. He was on the job protecting the town for 28 years until he had a heart attack while answering an alarm.














What we now call Pepsi-Cola actually started out as “Brad’s Drink.” Caleb Bradham was a medical school dropout that moved to New Bern when his father’s business went bankrupt and he could no longer afford tuition. After a short time as a school teacher, he opened a drug store in downtown. Like many other drug stores of the time, it housed a soda fountain. In 1893, Bradham invented a concoction of carbonated water, sugar, pepsin, kola nut extract, vanilla and “rare oils” which became known as “Brad’s Drink.” The drink was renamed in 1898 to highlight two of the ingredients - pepsin and cola. These two ingredients were believed to aid in digestion and the drink was coined as “healthy.” After enjoying years of success, the company went bankrupt in 1923 and the assets were sold for $30,000. Obviously, the soft drink survived new ownership (multiple times) and is now part of a successful global company.
The original location of the drugstore where Pepsi-Cola was invented.

"Freedom Bearer"
Finally, we get to the subject of the bears that stand tall along the sidewalks of New Bern. In order to celebrate the city’s 300th anniversary, local artists and corporate/civic sponsors placed life-size, hand-painted, fiberglass bears throughout the city. The Bear was selected for this project since it is the symbol of the town bestowed on New Bern by the Swiss founders. The whimsical bears invite on-lookers to study them to gain insight into the town’s history and personality. Bears are cleverly painted and named after fore-fathers, virtues, and scenes of the area. Bear paws are painted on the sidewalks to guide visitors to the next town mascot. The bears are a definite photo-op for tourists and reflect the pride townspeople have in their city.

New Bern was only going to be a day-trip for us. But we were fascinated by its history, nearness to water, cleanliness and ambiance. We are so glad we stayed for three days. We both said, “we could live in this town.”

More pictures below.


Three of these bears where given to the city by the town of Bern, Switzerland.  Not as cute
and welcoming as the fiberglass bears.

County court house.

Protestant church established in 1817.
Grounds of Christ Episcopal Church (founded in 1715).  Proudly on display
are Communion Silver given by King George II in 1752.

The oldest chartered school in the state.  Built in 1806.

A re-creation of a classroom inside the school house.
Historic downtown home.

Historic downtown home.

Mitchell's Hardware store....way more than just hardware!

Betsy and Elvis outside a downtown antique store.

Downtown New Bern.


"Mitchell's Bear"

"Captain Black B'eard"

"Bearon de Graffenried"  Named in honor of Baron Christofer de Graffenried - the
town's Swiss founder.

"Coloniel Bearman"

"Flag Bearer"  This bear displayed the New Bern flag, the NC state flag, and the US flag.

"Flag Bearer"