Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Still in Rockport, Texas

We are still in Rockport, Texas and are finally able to enjoy the area. Of the first 15 days we were here 14 and ½ of them were rainy, cold, foggy, cloudy, or all the above. While it was raining we worked on the historical review of our many trips to Albuquerque, New Mexico but to be honest we were getting a little stir crazy. We began this journey we thought rationally knowing that every day was not going to be 70ยบ and sunny but 15 straight days of YUK was beginning to drag us down. It got so bad that after a while that even looking at the freezing temperatures up north would not console us. That is the way this roughly 3 month journey has been, every time we start feeling good about this lifestyle change then something happens to pull us back.

But then the weather broke and we are now in our 5th straight day of temperatures in the mid to high 60’s which we hear from the regular visitors to the area is pretty much normal for this time of the year. We have to say this has done wonders for our attitude and has allowed us to get out and walk around the park and along the bay. We went to a market day at the Rockport harbor and walked around the Rockport Historical District. Yesterday we went to the Mosquito National Wildlife Refuge, oops it was the Aransas NWR, but the mosquitoes were thick and we were without repellent. We got out of the car and immediately Bob’s legs were black with mosquitoes, it looked like he had pants on. We thought the mosquitoes were bad in Canada and although they are probably bigger they seemed more aggressive here. Remember the 14 days of rain while the entire area is one big swamp now. Needless to say this turned into a driving tour and although we saw an Aplomado Falcon which is fairly rare it was pretty much a bust otherwise. We wanted to see the Whooping Cranes which winter at Aransas but we would have had to gotten out of the car.

One thing the weather has not impacted and that is our ability to find good places to eat and we would like to tell you about a couple. We will publish a full review of the Rockport area after we leave but wanted to mention Alby’s which is a fresh seafood market that also is a carryout restaurant. The po boys are some of the best we have had and the fresh oysters are incredible. One meal was crawfish fettuccine and shrimp scampi ravioli which were both tasty. Surprisingly a very good southwest chicken salad is also available. The other place is Charlotte Plummers which served up a very good shrimp quesadilla and the very best oyster stew we have had.

We still have some sightseeing to do and it may be a stretch to work it all in since we had about a month of sightseeing planned out and now only 15 days or so to see it all, ah to be a full-timer.

Till next time,

Bob & Jo

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Albuquerque (Historical 1980-2007)

Both of us have traveled to Albuquerque on business on a number of occasions so you might find it surprising when we say it also is a great place to vacation. The following is a compilation of all of our trips, both business and vacation.

The first thing we like to talk about in any area is generally the food and Albuquerque is no exception. Albuquerque is smack dab in the middle of “chile” country and the dominant cuisine is “New Mexican” a variation of Mexican but it is not Mexican or Tex-Mex or what we call gringo. “New Mexican” is a style all its own and our favorite of the numerous Mexican cuisines. That is not to say that other cuisines are not represented because they are, in fact one of Bob’s favorite Italian restaurants of all time, Vivace, is in Albuquerque.

When talking about New Mexican cuisine the first thing you have to mention is the chiles, either green chile or red chile depending on the stage of ripeness in which the New Mexican chile peppers were picked. Green chile has to be the defining ingredient of New Mexican food since you can order it with just about anything from the expected tacos, enchiladas and burritos to omelets, to cheeseburgers and pizzas. The prevalent New Mexican soup is a green chile stew that is a heavenly potato, meat and green chile concoction. Make no mistake we are talking chile with an E and not an I. This is also not to be confused with chile which is a red or green sauce that is used over tacos, enchiladas, burritos, in fact just about anything. If states had official questions New Mexico’s official state question would be ‘red or green?’ Green chile sauce is made from peppers not fully ripened that are fire roasted and red chile sauce is made from ripened peppers. Mixing red and green chile sauce results in a sauce the locals call “Christmas”.

A good question for you to ask when ordering is which sauce is hotter that day because it can vary tremendously from day to day and a good recommendation for a newbie is to get the sauce on the side so you can gauge the flavor and hotness because we are not talking gringo hot here. Consider ordering both so you can figure out your answer to the state’s official question. One question we have never gotten a satisfactory answer to how the roasters know the heat of the peppers. We have been at farmers markets when they are roasting freshly picked chile peppers and there will be choices of hot or medium or mild from peppers pulled from the same gunny sack. A good time to visit New Mexico is during chile roasting season which depends on the harvest dates but generally is in late August and September and this is a great time to vacation there with the temperatures being nice in mid to late September. Other notable differences in the New Mexican cuisine are the side dishes that instead of rice you get potatoes, generally papitas which are little cubes of fried potatoes, and instead of refried beans you get whole beans.

We just have to mention a couple of dishes that are unique to this style of cooking. One of our favorite dishes is a chile relleno, what makes the chile relleno unique for this area is that the New Mexican chile pepper is used, not the poblano used elsewhere. A chile relleno is a whole green chile stuffed with cheese, dipped in an egg batter, and deep fried. One of the best chile rellenos we have ever had was at La Salita on Eubank. Breakfast burritos also have the New Mexican flair with potatoes & green chile in addition to the usual meat, egg and cheese. We have traveled all over the country but the only place we ever get asked the question flat or rolled enchiladas is in New Mexico. The traditional flat enchilada is covered with, you guessed it, chile sauce and cheese and optionally a fried egg and can be made with a blue corn enchilada. Huevos rancheros are a favorite of Bob which are fried eggs with chile sauce, cheese, papitas and tortillas. Carne adovada, pork marinated in red chile sauce, is also a local favorite. Finally we offer the sopaipilla, a piece of fried bread that is usually served with honey as a dessert. The corner is bitten off and honey drizzled throughout. But that is not the only use for a sopaipilla which is sometimes served with soup and can also be stuffed like a burrito.

New Mexican cuisine is so unique that we felt like the first timer needed an extensive overview. We apologize for the amount of coverage and in no way want to give the impression that food is the only reason to visit this area. The Albuquerque area is full of sightseeing opportunities with the perhaps the biggest attraction being the yearly International Balloon Fiesta in October. The Balloon Fiesta is not the only attraction though, in the city there is a nice Biopark (zoo, botanic garden, aquarium & aquatic park) that one ticket gets you into all, plus the zoo is reciprocal with a lot of zoo memberships across the country so we got in free for all attractions with our Kansas City Friends of the Zoo membership. Old Town is also neat to visit for old buildings, especially the old church, San Felipe de Neri, which has been there since 1793. No visit to Albuquerque would be complete without visiting the Sandia Mountains and taking a ride on the tram, which is the world’s longest aerial tram at 2.7 miles long. You can dine at the base of the tram at Sandiagos or at the top of the tram at High Finance but let us warn you as the tram goes higher so does your restaurant bill. Both places serve great food with excellent views. New Mexico is the 5th largest state and has one of the lowest populations so there is a lot wide open spaces to explore. Bird watchers can have a great time in the nearby Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. A day trip to consider is to visit historic Los Alamos with the drive in the mountains there breathtaking. On your way back to Albuquerque from Los Alamos visit the cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument and continue past Bandelier and take the back way on Route 4 through the where you will see a huge caldera from a long ago volcanic eruption. Santa Fe is a day trip away but really deserves more time so a future blog entry will be about our adventures in Santa Fe.

Best New Mexican – there is no bad restaurants in this category, there are just some better than others. This is our attempt at the current list of the better than others but there are great places everywhere in town.

* La Salita – currently the place that if we could eat only one meal this would be the place. Located in a tiny place at the end of a strip mall on Eubank and a new location on Coors Blvd. everything on the menu has been excellent from the best chile relleno in town to the best sopaipillas. You cannot go wrong with anything on the menu.

* Hello Deli – to us the best breakfast burrito in town.

* Monroe's – been in business since the early 60’s so they must be doing something right. Had green chile meatloaf there one night that was terrific but not on the regular menu.

* Los Cuates – large menu but the huevos rancheros and carne adovada are the highlights.

* Cervantes – close to where the business part of our trip was but worth the drive even if it was not close.

* El Pinto – ambiance with outdoor seating is the draw here but the food is excellent too so best of both worlds. Only place we know of that offers mild green chile sauce in addition to the hot.

* Sadies – at one time, when it was in the bowling alley, it was our favorite place in town. Moved to a new location near the bowling alley and had some growing pains which unfortunately was during one of our trips. Understand that it has gotten better again so we shall see our next time in town.

* Taco Sal – truly a dive but some of the best New Mexican we have had, probably the best stuffed sopaipilla that we have had.

Best alternatives – sometimes green chile three times a day can get to you if you know what we mean.

* Vivace – as mentioned before this is a great little Italian restaurant, try the puttanesca.

* Tuscanos Brazilian Grill – a Brazillian steakhouse in downtown Albuquerque but not as expensive as others

* Christy's – a sandwich place only open for lunch, try the avocado BLT

* Pelican – surf and turf kinda place but we usually just get the turf. The blackened prime rib is excellent and Bob had one of the best rib eye steaks he has ever had.

* Lin’s Buffet – if you just have to have Chinese and a lot of it.

* Gyros Mediterranean – for a great gyro sandwich.

Chain Restaurants in the area – there are some that denigrate the chain restaurant and will not eat there if possible but for the full-timing couple the familiar food and surroundings that a chain restaurant offers is very appealing. Some of our favorites that are in the area

* Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen – try the pasta madri gras and oysters on the half shell are priced reasonably. If you know my friend malex then you need to call him when you are in the restaurant and let him know where you are.

* Rudy’s Bar-B-Que – out of Texas this place serves up some of the best brisket we have ever tasted. Like the fact that you can order your brisket extra lean. Love the t-shirt worn by workers and sold there that says, “I did not climb all the way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables” or something like that.

* Lubys Cafeteria – good homestyle cooking served cafeteria style at a reasonable price

* Landry's – ate with some friends in Branson and really liked so decided to give it a try in Corpus Christi and both times have been excellent, along with a long ago visit at the Albuquerque location.

* Cracker Barrel – breakfast served all day, great RV parking, this is a great chain and welcome sign for full-timers.

Hate to see that they are closed

* Ron’s El Camino Real – may have been the best carne adovada known to man.

* Carraba's – one of our all time favorite places to eat, the Chicken Bryan is divine and probably the best sirloin steak Bob has ever had.

* Rockfish – decided to try it the first time thinking it was a Bonefish that we always wanted to eat at but was very happy with the food no matter what it is called

Next time – from the above it looks like we have a lot of eating to do the next time we go to Albuquerque. Add to the list the following which we have compiled but never tried yet.

* Barelas Coffee House

* Weck's

* Dos Hermanos

* Eloys

* Ttrombones

* Monte Carlo Steakhouse

* Sophia’s Place

* Cecilia's

* Standard Diner

We know we have left off some great places to eat and places to see but hope this entry helps you decide to spend more time in Albuquerque rather than just passing through on I-25 or I-44.

Till next time,

Bob & Jo

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our first Christmas while full-timing

Although we have traveled to Clearwater Beach Florida before at this time of the year it sure is a different experience knowing that our stay will last longer than a week or so. But we are sure we will adapt as it is cold and snowing in our old stomping grounds of the Kansas City area right now while it is 72 degrees here. We are still at Watersedge RV Park in Rockport Texas and will be until January 4th and as you can see from the photo we are literally on the waters edge. We only had to walk a few steps to take this photo.

That is not to say that it has not been cold here. A couple of days after we got here the temperatures got to near freezing and we saw some snow flurries during the day. It snowed much more inland but we are so close to the water that it dampened the effect. No matter how much snow you get or don't get it still is very nice to watch it snow all day from the warmth of our new home and not have to worry about going somewhere. All day long we were using the furnace since it was too cold to run the heat pump. About 10p that night we started getting a little chilly and only then realized that the furnace had not run for a while. Bob made sure there was propane and tried a couple of things but it was not to be. For just such an emergency we had brought along a ceramic heater. We brought that heater out of the rear storage area but could not get it to work so we had to make a mad dash to Wal-Mart, by now it is close to midnight, and buy a couple of small heaters. They did the trick and kept us toasty overnight. While putting up the heaters the next day Bob discovered that the heater that we had brought along actually did work, the problem was the timer somehow got engaged and it was set to not work during that time. Once that was corrected it works perfectly. Now we have three heaters for the next furnace emergency. The good news is that the temperature got warmer the next day and we have not needed the furnace since.

For our first Christmas while
full-timing there is one area that we already have seen an improvement in and that is we got Christmas cards earlier this year than we have for a long time. We also have decorated indoors for the first time in a while. We are not sure what to do outdoors so we may get ideas from walking around the park and wait till next year.

We will be doing a full blown review of the Rockport area later but we wanted to mention our dining adventures at Alice Faye's on the Bay which is a couple of blocks from our park. Oysters are in season so we have had fresh oyster shooters, not on the half shell here, and they are some of the best oysters we have ever had. So far we have eaten there twice and got the exact same thing both times; dozen oysters, shrimp po boy and oyster po boy. Not only are the oysters good both fresh and fried in a po boy but the shrimp fresh from the gulf is also hard to beat. They have lunch specials we want to try and they serve breakfast, we sense a shrimp omellete in our future.

As we plan what to see and do next in this area we are a tad bit overwhelmed by all that there is to do. We are 30 miles from Corpus Christi so a day trip there to see the USS Lexington (the same class carrier that Bob's dad served on in WWII) and the Texas State Aquarium. Another day trip to Corpus Christi could be for the Museum of Science and Industry and the Marina/Bay Front Park. Right in the immediate Rockport area is the Fulton Mansion and the Texas Maritime Museum. Just north along the coast is a National Wildlife Refuge where the whooping cranes winter. Along with the whooping cranes the area is known for the vast number of bird species that can be spotted since this is along migratory routes. We also like just driving along the coast or driving to a park on the water and sit and read a book, or look at the water and shore birds. At first a month seemed like a long time but a lot of our neighbors here are here for 3-4 months which is something we may consider the next time we are in this area.

Till next time,

Bob & Jo

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Addendum to Livingston update

Some of the best advice we have received about this lifestyle has to be about what to pack first; your sense of humor, and boy did I need it tonight. As mentioned before we are heading next to Rockport Texas near Corpus Christi. Since we are leaving tomorrow we have some things we do the night before like dumping the tanks and putting up the sewer hose and king pin stabilizer. Our black tank has a spraying system and since Bob left the y-adapter back in Peculiar Missouri the city water hose needed to be disconnected so the hose used for connecting to the sprayer could be added. Bob relieved the pressure at the docking station and then went to disconnect the city water hose. Immediately there was a spray of water and Bob thought all he had to do was to loosen it more quickly so the back pressure could subside. All that accomplished was to increase the spray of water now soaking Bob's head and the side of the fifth wheel. Only then did Bob realize he forgot to turn off the water at the hydrant. By now Bob is thoroughly drenched but there is good news, when it began to rain shortly thereafter and Bob was still working outside he could not get any wetter than he already was. We are certain this is going to show up on youtube sometime soon.

Another reason for this addendum was that we forgot to mention the 146 Grocery and Deli which is close to the park. On the outside it looks like a gas station, which it actually is an Exxon, but on the inside is a grocery store, a deli that has daily lunch specials, and a small meat market that has great cuts of meat. A tip would be to get a cheeseburger from the grill because they get their meat right from the meat market. Also don't pass up the chance to get a pizza here too. The 146 Grocery and Deli has thick and thin crusts and about 10 ingredients. If you are ever in the Livingston area do not pass up the opportunity to eat at Florida's Kitchen which I mentioned previously and at the 146 Grocery and Deli on the days that Florida' is closed (Sunday-Wednesday)

Till next time,

Bob & Jo

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