The first place I look...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Saint Awesome (aka Saint John, Canada) and its dancing lobsters stole my heart!

Weirdly enough….This Texas girl has no idea what to do with Canadian weather. Sailing into port on the Carnival Sunshine was unremarkable…why? You ask? Well, the fog was so thick that you could not see anything past the ship, not the water, not the dock, not anything. Yes…it was this weird floating sensation with no visible horizon, waterline, or otherwise. Once we disembarked we walked into the Saint John port, and right away I was pretty impressed. The terminal was fairly modern, well secured, extremely clean and nice-smelling, and had police officials at every turn. We were immediately greeted by local volunteers who showered us with maps and recommendations of how best to enjoy their town. We opted to take the free, self-guided “Loyalist Trail”, which traces the footsteps of the Saint John founders, some 40,000 British subjects who fled persecution during the American Revolution. The happy Canadians provided us with an easy to follow map that started at the County Courthouse built in 1825, and took us past Steamers Lobster Company, which advertises to the cruise ship crowd with two VERY friendly people sized, walking, waving, dancing lobsters who will not take no for an answer when they want to give you a hug! The walk takes you in a nice little circle through the historic area of Saint John, and included 20 sites, with the Old Burial Ground in King’s Square and Trinity Church by far being our favorites. The Old Burial Ground’s oldest tombstone dates to 1784, Conradt Hendricks, and the entire cemetery is quite a peaceful, serene location situated on a rolling hill, immaculately kept, with lighted walkways and ornate iron gates that easily take you back into time. Even with the rainy, chill in the air it was a pleasant walk thru the stones and on the meandering paths. I was especially taken aback by how green it all was even in the hottest part of summer! (C’mon, I’m used to everything in Texas being dead and brown by July 1st!) The moss growing on the markers and the trees made me feel like I had stepped into a novel somewhere in a far away place. King’s Square, which runs right next to the burial ground, is a quaint little park with sidewalks laid out in the Union Jack pattern straight from the British flag. Numerous benches, gazebos, and places to sit and chat, along with the cool breeze and 65 degree weather, made this spot just about perfect for taking a break. Well, until a happy, dancing lobster comes along encouraging you to visit his namesake seafood place for lunch. My personal favorite spot in Saint John was Trinity Anglican Church. The original wooden structure built on this spot in 1791, was replaced by the grand Gothic Revival beauty there today in 1880, after the Great Fire of 1877 burned the original. It still displays the Royal Coat of Arms of the House of Hanover, from the reign of King George I, who became King of England in 1714. The coat of arms was “rescued” from Boston’s Council Chamber by Colonel Edward Winslow during the American Revolution (and was again rescued during the Great Fire of 1877). This gorgeous church demands attention as it sits as a beacon at the top of the hill overlooking the Bay of Fundy. The interior is no less regal with granite pillars, exquisitely detailed black ash woodwork and gilded carvings, stained glass windows, porcelain figure of Queen Victoria, and most prominently, the Royal Coat of Arms. There was also a very nice indoor mall, boutique-style stores, city market, as well as many places we did not see. I loved its historic charm which really allowed us to see firsthand what happened to the people on “the other side of the war”. As wonderful and fun as it is to show my children their American history roots in places like New York and Boston, I feel it very important to also show them that there were also real live people on the other side, who didn’t win the war, who lost their homes and family members, and who were forced to flee to an unknown far away place to attempt to rebuild their lives. I can’t say enough positive things about the welcoming spirit of every Canadian we met, the very noticeable cleanliness everywhere, and the laid back vibe of this small town, which the locals dubbed “Saint Awesome . I am very much a loyal and proud American, but I cannot help but be a bit jealous of Canada’s perfect July temperatures and those oh so very happy dancing, hugging lobsters. (You just can’t get either one of those anywhere near Texas!)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano Texas

Of all the small towns in Texas…Llano has stolen my heart, and my stomach. It all started with a very pleasant drive south on Texas Highway 16 from Goldthwaite. Once you pass through the tiny town of Cherokee, it looks like God himself painted the roadside with every color of imaginable. We visited during April, and this sea of wildflowers covers both sides of the road for miles and miles. The little girl in me just wanted to jump out of the car and take a walk through them, but thankfully the adult brain kicked in, so I stayed in the car…it is snake season after all. Once we arrived in Llano, we made our way straight to Texas-famous Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. Here, they claim “It’s all about the meat”, and they definitely aren’t kidding. You wait in a cattle chute style line just to get to take a look at a giant steel outdoor box filled with smoked meats. Next thing you know, it’s your turn and you have to actually pick how much, and which kind of meat you are going to try. The staff must be used to hearing, “gimme a little bit of everything”, because he sliced off pieces of brisket, sausage, turkey, steak, chicken, and ribs, dipped them in Bar-B-Que sauce, then slapped them down on a big red tray. So happy to please me, this young man even took his time allowing me to choose what side of the meat slabs I wanted my selections cut from. With salivary glands already going into overdrive, I walked inside with my tray of goodness. We were parted for only a few moments while they weighed each meat, which allowed me to choose sides and desserts. At this point, my eyes were much bigger than my stomach, so I choose not only corn on the cob, fresh store-made cheese, but also a big ol’ bowl of pecan cobbler. When I asked for beans, since no Texas girl would ever eat Bar-B-Que without them, I found out that they are not only all-you-can-eat, but they are also FREE! I nearly ran to an open spot at one of the picnic tables, to get started on my feast which cost less than some fast food meals. It is impossible to state here which meat was my favorite, but I will mention that their ribs were “fall-off-the-bone” soft and tasty, and their steak, though cooked in huge slabs, was tender, juicy, and black pepper seared perfection with zero gristle or fat. I hardly had room for those sides I purchased, but the sharp, cheddar cheese and few bites of beans with a hint of jalapeno that I was able to sample were more than enough to mark this day down in taste bud history for me. And just when I thought I might burst, I took a tiny bite of pecan cobbler. This was the cherry-on-top to this already perfect meal. The fresh made cobbler contained straight off the tree San Saba pecans, flaky cobbler crust, and sweet, brown-sugary sauce, that despite my already bulging belly, I had to finish. I then had to sit awhile before I could move, but then met some new friends at the sit next to your neighbor style tables. They agreed with me that Cooper’s is definitely food heaven.