On The Strip and Fried Pickles

This past weekend was a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas to celebrate our daughter’s wedding reception. We’d been at the actual chapel wedding back last summer (no, not done by Elvis), but this was the Covid-free mix and mingle of the families.

The Strip is a unique place, and it really is fun to visit. It’s not a place the locals go unless they have visitors in town. I’ve been in Vegas a lot over the years, often trapped in a single hotel for days on end during a conference and never stepping foot outside the MGM Grand. This trip, my husband and I took advantage of our position on the far end of the strip at Excalibur to take an early morning walk while it was still relatively cool — 80 degrees at 8am, but it’s a dry heat. Bonus points for those who get that movie reference (answer below*).

We started on the sunny side of the street first. Everything on the strip is further away and takes longer to walk to than you’d think it would, and involves a lot of up and down as pedestrians are routed over the streets on walkways. Most of the time, the escalators work, but if you want a serious workout, take the stairs. My quads were screaming by the end of our walk, but it was worth it. I also washed my hands multiple times, as I did have to grab the handrails. If Covid has done nothing else, it has made me a prompt hand-washer.

I was very impressed with the Aria and its adjacent high-end shopping mall. It’s exactly as if Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was transported indoors. The air conditioning was welcome, even after only fifteen minutes of walking.

We saw men working on the fountains at the Bellagio. There’s an odd job—fountain maintenance. It was fun to watch them don their scuba gear and hop off their boat, presumably to clear trash away from the fountains so they could do their thing unimpeded later in the day.

The inside of the Bellagio is lovely. Nice bathrooms too.

Caesars Palace is iconic and less tacky than you’d think. I can never see the outside of it without thinking about the cataclysmic end of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” I remember a long time ago when it first opened, you could get into the place, but it was hard finding your way out. Now they have convenient signs helping you with arrows to point the way. I love the shops at the Forum. The ceilings here (and in the Venetian) are all painted in trompe l’oeil style, to fool you into not knowing what time it is. You could swear the clouds were moving.

We crossed the street to the shady side. It was 10am, and the strip was starting to bustle with tourists and the street pros had their hustle on. Girls in bikinis and big feathered headdresses coaxing to take a picture for a fee, men with placards proclaiming the end was near, costumed characters, and a crazy shell game guy that rooked someone out of $600 while we watched. We popped into the Venetian for some more coolness. It has marble floors for miles and a canal running through it, with gondoliers who can belt out an opera tune or two as they paddle. It also boasts a full replica of St. Mark’s square, and you can have a gelato there. We didn’t indulge, but you could.

Our son and his wife were meeting us at our hotel, so we had to dash back past the venerable Flamingo without going in, but I noted from the billboards that Wayne Newton was still headlining a show there. He is 80 years old, bless his heart. Bet he can still make ‘em swoon.

We ended up having lunch at an Irish pub in New York, New York. Maybe it was the 20,000 steps we’d walked, but the fried pickles there were the best we’ve eaten. Here’s a recipe to make your own at home: Fried Pickles – Sugar Spun Run

Afterwards, we checked out the Hershey’s store. I did not buy this item, but it caught my eye.

I’ve been curious for years about the Luxor, the Egyptian-themed hotel that has a light on the top of it that can be seen from space. It’s literally the brightest light in the world. (Side note: as you can see from this picture, our hotel window faced this light but thankfully the Excalibur had excellent black-out curtains.) It is accessible via moving walkway and tram from our hotel, so I dashed out on our last morning to take a gander

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The interior is pretty fun. It reminded me of those old Holiday Inns where all the rooms faced into an interior courtyard. This hotel, along with the Excalibur, is dated… but if you’re of the mindset that you just want a place to sleep at night, but still be on the strip they are good, economical choices. One thing though—even though these hotels have been renovated, the smell of old cigarette smoke lingers. And since pot is legal… prepare for contact high as you walk along. Good times!

*Aliens. Bill Paxton says this quite ironically in the movie and it’s become one of those quotes our family uses often. It’s always funny to us.

On Urban Hiking in the Suburbs

If you’re a constant reader (thank you!) of this blog, you know I love to go for walks. While most of the time, its best for me to be out in nature, I also enjoy a good urban hike. It’s a great way to get to know your own city. We’ve been to downtown Dallas several times, and still have a lot to see there, but the suburbs also have plenty to offer.

Recently, my husband and I visited the Dallas suburb of Carrollton. As is usual for us, the initial lure is discovery of a different cuisine. Afterwards comes the wander-about in the area. I forgot to wear my watch, so all the steps weren’t counted, but by the way my legs and feet felt, I bet we did a good five miles of strolling. Plenty to make up for the yum food we found.

In this case, it we ended up visiting two large malls. One was exclusively Korean, the other had multiple Asian restaurants to try. There was a huge supermarket with all sorts of interesting foods. I loved the pre-packaged section.

The fish section always intrigues me. Everything seemed super fresh.

These are some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen.

I admit, I always want to buy them and then set them free. That would mean a trip to Alaska, I believe. Which might not be a bad thing…

There was a fantastic bookstore there, with lots of Anime and Manga, as well as art supplies and candles and journals and inks and stamps. As with any bookstore, it takes a group effort to get me out of it.

There was also an “everything” store that sold all sorts of different things. Great for a wander to get out of the heat. We were actually looking for ice cream, but ended up just going to Braum’s later for a double dip, as the lines for the soft-serve place we found were out the door.

We had some pretty good Korean food the first time we went up. It tends to be a little spicy for me, but the kids all loved it. I will definitely try more another time. The second time we went up we decided on Japanese food.

I had a new-to-me street food this time, along with my usual Ramen. It is called Onigiri. It is a large rice ball, wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with various things. I had the salmon one and it was delicious. As in, I need to go back up and eat it again. I might try the sour plum one next. The Ramen was delicious as well.

Below are a couple of great recipes for Ramen and Onigiri. You can try these at home, or do your own urban hike and get your steps in. Not that you have to justify what you’re eating, of course. It’s all about balance.

https://www.forkknifeswoon.com/simple-homemade-chicken-ramen/

On Urban Hiking, Finding Peace, and Guacamole

I like people. I really do. Just not in big doses. Or over long periods of time. The length of a televised pro football game is about as long as I can hang. Which is good, as I quite like football, and make a killer guacamole that I’ll bring to your house when we watch the game. Recipes below for an Easy Guac, and a more time-consuming one.

While there are days when I wish I had my very own cone of silence to retreat into and just breathe until my metaphorical inner ear finds its balance again, most of the time I content myself with either curling up with a cup of tea and a good book on my kindle, or I go for a nice walk.

Goodness, that was a long sentence. You’d think I was Charles Dickens writing at a penny a word for a periodical.

But I digress, which happens to introverts who’ve been around too many people for too long. Thoughts scatter and it gets difficult to stay on track. We fray around the edges and need to regroup. These days, simply going to more than two stores in a row can create this state, even if one of them is a bookstore.

On a walk, I don’t listen to books or music. I enjoy hearing the birds and the way the dried leaves and scattered acorn husks crunch underfoot. The rustling and clacking trees make when the wind bends them. That soundtrack is part of my centering process. Within that song, that I regain my sense of peace. It’s also when my book characters speak to me, or new ideas filter up from the creative pond muck.

Yes, I prefer my walks to be nature-heavy. I wish I lived in Colorado year-round so I could just do a mountain trail, but there are nice areas here too. There’s a lake in Dallas that works quite well for that if you go at odd hours. Otherwise, there are lots of bikes and, you know, other people on the path too. Defeats the purpose. But it’s lovely. There are several long trails that branch off of the one around the lake, too. Only thing about those is that there are people living beneath the multiple overpasses and it makes me feel awkward and like I shouldn’t be there.

I’m lucky that I live in a neighborhood where I can just step out my door and go on a walk for an hour or so. Three miles does the trick most of the time. Sometimes I need longer to unwind, and I’ll go for five. I see all sorts of things on my walks.

The only time I don’t like to walk in the neighborhood is when the political signs go up in yards. It’d be nice if I didn’t think less of people because of their affiliations, but I do. I’d much rather admire their holiday decorations or pretty flowers, or the way their porch invites you to come up and sit for a spell.

You never know what you might see, or what could happen on an urban hike. Yesterday my walk took me next to the high school football stadium, and they were blasting old Madonna songs before a soccer game. My pace picked up. I *might* have busted out a move or two. The mail delivery person saw me and laughed, and she danced in the street too. It was fun to Vogue again.

I will say while the streets here in Dallas are pretty bad, which you wouldn’t think they would be, seeing as how the weather is sunny and warm 80% of the time, the sidewalks (if you get any) are worse. Here is an example of a bumpty sidewalk. There are lots of these as trees planted when the neighborhoods were originally built have grown into massive, towering things with big roots that don’t care about the strip of concrete. They’re going wherever they please. The shade in the summer is much appreciated, so I won’t complain about them, I’ll just keep a sharp eye out for where my feet are going.

Soon the insanely hot weather here will once again push my walks to before sunrise. That’s a different sort of walk. You get the double gift of seeing the sun rise and feeling smug about it, but you also have to deal with the people who’ve been in the bar all this time and are just now weaving home. During this brief winter interlude, I’m enjoying going out anytime I need to find my peace again. It’s a blessing.

GUACAMOLE: Easy and Less So: Both serve about 6 people. Double if you need/want to.

EASY: Get 4-5 ripe avocados and a container of TJs Pico de Gallo (I prefer mild). Mash avocados, drain Pico, dump in and mix. Seal tightly and refrigerate.

LESS SO: 4-5 ripe avocados, bunch cilantro, washed and stems removed (this is the time-consuming part), juice of one seeded lemon, 5 seeded and chopped Roma tomatoes, 1 bunch green onion, diced, 1/4 red onion, diced, dash of cumin, pinch of salt. Put lemon and salt in bottom of bowl first, then add onions and tomatoes. Mix. Dice avocado and add the cumin. Mash to desired consistency. Seal tightly and refrigerate.

On Eating and Walking in Washington, DC

This past week my family and I flew into DC for our son’s graduation from his Master’s Program at GWU. Just like last year for his undergrad degree, there was no actual ceremony, but we gathered all the same, getting an Airbnb that was problematic but in a good location. More on the dangers of renting on VRBO or Airbnb in another post. Suffice it to say that NEVER AGAIN will we rent from either one, and that had it not been for the kind intervention of a lobby receptionist, we would have been scrambling for a place to stay.

After our rocky start, it was a wonderful odyssey of being together while eating and walking, with the occasional Metro ride or Lyft thrown in the mix. We’ve all been to DC multiple times and its one of our favorite cities; the monuments and museums, the diversity of neighborhoods, and of course the great restaurants.

A highlight of the trip was being some of the first to step back into the National Portrait Gallery and the American Museum of Art. They have huge collections thoughtfully curated. I always appreciate plenty of cushy places to sit down and contemplate art, and these museums (they are attached and flow into one another) have plenty. In the center of the two is a huge rectangular atrium with flowing water and lots of orchids. Do try and make your way up to the third floor where the conservationists work behind glass, like a zoo exhibit.

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This trip we walked from the Mall around the tidal basin, and saw the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials, along with the “forgotten” patriot, James Madison. They were right, I didn’t know who he was – without really saying so, the memorial lets you know that Mr. Jefferson cribbed a lot of his material from Mr. Madison. I found the Jefferson to be disappointing. As one of our party said, it seems to be last on the list to get repaired. There’s a small museum underneath the giant rotunda. You take a very slow, creepy elevator down. It takes so long that you start to wonder if you will end up trapped and entombed there yourself. The museum (when the elevator door finally opens) is dingy, sparse, with a sad little gift shop. The poor clerk in there was so happy to see people. We bought magnets out of pity.

The FDR monument is fantastic. It is completely outdoors, and is built with giant blocks of stone. Water was planned to move through the whole thing, but that seemed to be a repair that has been indefinitely on hold as well. Bronze statues and carved paragraphs highlight the events and words (All we have to fear is fear itself) of his four terms in office. I was struck by something Eleanor said about him – that it was his disease that gave him both the compassion and the resilience to become the President we needed.

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MLKs monument makes it look like he is striding out of a mountain and it has his wonderful words and thoughts carved into the walls surrounding it. The whole walk around the basin was pleasant and not too strenuous. That said, we were walking an average of 20,000+ steps a day (roughly 10 miles a day) so you might want to take that last sentence with a grain of salt.

Another jaunt was to Georgetown and the oodles of cute townhouses all snugged up against one another, painted in various colors. The waterfront was enjoyable, if a bit stinky, and I finally got to cross off a bucket list item – climbing up the 75 steep “Exorcist Stairs.”

Taken by my son Steven, who had run up ahead of me. Show off.

We had our share of coffees and snacks as we did our walks, and ate at local faves such as the Old Ebbitt Grill by the White House. It’s a stuffy dark wood place where I had a great Caesar Salad. We also popped up to Union Market where you can get your choice of street food. My kids opted for Miso soup and a tasty breakfast, while my husband and I shared a really good eggplant parm sandwich.

Other tasty places were Poets and Busboys (hint: get the Vegan Nachos and share – they are pictured at up top) and the fun Fisher’s Farmers Bakers by the waterfront where I had the most delicious sandwich of Brie, Avocado, and Roasted Veggies on a fantastic apple walnut raisin bread. I did not share. Don’t forget to grab some chocolate there too – they sell it by the half pound. However, highlights of the eating portion of this trip were all found by our graduate. He picked several winners. The first was chef Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, which featured Mediterranean mezze plates and fortified sangria. We shared plates, ate, and talked for three hours as the staff whisked away empty plates and replaced them with more tasty bites and an endless supply of flatbread. I’ll dream of the lemon sorbet for a long time.

The second was located just off of the DuPont Metro stop, Mission, which had a fun bar scene vibe, and lots of outdoor seating if you wished it. The food was tasty tacos (the vegan mushroom ones were outstanding) as well as some good sizzling fajita platters. You are not going there for the service, or the comfortable seating, so just enjoy your tangy margaritas and the company.

The topper for me was our final fancy meal, at Rasika. It’s Indian food to the nth degree. Stunningly delicious food and impeccable service made this my favorite meal. I even hopped off my vegetarian diet to have the Halibut Malai in creamy yellow curry as my main dish. I love a good curry, and this was by far the best I’ve ever eaten. It came with its own side of fluffy basmati rice. The kids all had super spicy dishes that made my nostrils quiver, such as Lamb Mirchi Korma, and Chicken Tikka Masala. Sides included delicious truffle Naan and a variety of chutneys. If you go you MUST get the side dish of the crispy spinach called Palak Chaat.* Palak, I learned from our quirky waiter, is a type of spinach you can find at Asian markets. I’d fly back to DC just for that dish. We went all out on the desserts here, sampling a black rice pudding with an edible silver garnish (ooo lala) and a spectacular apple/cardamom sorbet.

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Needless to say, with all that eating, it was a good thing we clocked about 60 miles of walking on our 6-day trip. Side note: folks seem ready to travel, the planes and airports were packed. And even though we had our shot cards laminated and ready to show if asked, nobody did.

*Here is a version of the Chaat from THE CURRY GUY: just click the link to get to it.

 Spinach Chaat | Crispy Spinach Snack THE CURRY GUY (greatcurryrecipes.net)