Good Table Family Restaurant, Kentland, Indiana

After leaving Sycamore, we headed toward Indianapolis, and we decided, once again, to take "a road less traveled".  The countryside in Illinois and Indiana was filled with signs of the Autumn harvest, and wind farms  are springing up all over the Midwest.  The windmills are gigantic, and the blades look like the wings of giant birds as they spin slowly.

Before we knew it, it was mid-afternoon.  So we decided to stop for a late lunch so we could "hit the ground running" when we arrived at our destination in a suburb of Indy.  We zeroed in on Kentland, Indiana.  I did a little research on my smart phone and discovered that Kentland was the birthplace of George Ade, the famous turn of the century humorist and author who was also the partial namesake of Ross Ade Football Stadium at Purdue University.  It was also the home of former Indiana governor Warren McCray who was later convicted of mail fraud and forced to step down from office in 1924.  I guess every town has it's highs and lows!  :-)

We noticed this little roadside spot...
Good Table Family Restaurant.

I was hungry for some down-home comfort food, so I chose an open faced hot turkey sandwich. Then our server asked me what kind of soup I wanted.  I told her I wanted a hot turkey sandwich...but she informed me ALL meals come with SOUP!

So...since I was FORCED...I chose homemade ham and bean soup...

And it was DELICIOUS!  (Almost as good as MY recipe on this blog!)

Then my hot turkey sandwich arrived.  The turkey was REAL, ROASTED TURKEY BREAST...not that thin sliced stuff from the deli.  YUM!

The gravy was not great.  Sort of a paste flavor.  But the potatoes and turkey made up for it.

So after this rib-sticking "lunch" we headed on to Indy.

And I knew no matter WHAT I cooked for our son and his family that night...I would NOT be eating it.  Rib-sticking lunches like this one will last until BREAKFAST!

Elleson's Bakery, Sycamore, Illinois

Elleson's Bakery is a fixture in downtown Sycamore.  (It's located directly across the street from the hotel.)  So after we checked out of our hotel room, we stopped to pick up a treat to take with us to Indy.

The array of baked goods was amazing...

I finally settled on one of their specialty items...Cinnamon bread.

And WHERE did one of those famous round loaves of cinnamon bread end up??

On the breakfast plates of three little girls in Indiana!

(The french toast was delicious!)

Tommy O's...Sycamore, Illinois

After a good night's sleep we walked a block to a small restaurant called Tommy O's.

Fred remembered we had eaten there several years ago, so we decided to go back...and we're really glad we did!

 The restaurant has new owners, Jesse and Camile,  They followed their kids to Sycamore from New Jersey when the kids moved to attend college.  And let's just say the owners made us feel like we had been invited to their home for breakfast!

Camile...A Whirlwind of Energy--and SMILES!

Chef Jesse...AWESOME!
The menu was filled with wonderful choices, and Camile made sure we were happy with everything we ordered.

The kid's menu brought back fond memories, since the breakfast choices included a Mickey Mouse pancake. That reminded me of breakfast in a restaurant somewhere down South almost four decades ago. The chef in that Mom and Pop restaurant looked out from the kitchen and saw our son Aaron (he was three at the time), so the chef decided to surprise him with  a cute Mickey Mouse pancake for breakfast.  Unfortunately, we were on a road trip to Disney World at the time to SEE Aaron refused to eat Mickey Mouse!  I still have to smile when I remember that meal.  Travel memories last forever...

So...Every kid's  meal at Tommy O's comes with a small drink...and a scoop of ice cream...EVEN BREAKFAST!  Every kid's DREAM COME TRUE!

I couldn't help but notice how CLEAN the restaurant was.  It was spotless. Camile informed me she's a "clean freak"...and it shows. Everywhere.

I ordered Eggs Benedict...and it was truly the BEST Eggs Benedict I've had in...forever!

And Fred's breakfast was served exactly as he ordered it.  DELICIOUS.

So once again, we made the right choice for breakfast.

Now...If only I could magically move Tommy O's (And Camile and Jesse) to IOWA CITY...Then our search for the prefect breakfast spot at home would be OVER.

FAT BOYZ Pub and Grill, Sycamore Illinois

We love "hole in the wall" places where we find friendly locals.  And this spot did not disappoint! Bartender Lindsey was a breath of fresh air in Sycamore.

This pub was filled with history.  Exactly the kind of place where you REALLY find out about a town and it's traditions...

And even though the kitchen had closed for the night, Lindsey offered to make us any of their appetizers, so we kept things simple and ordered a plate of chips and salsa.

Even though Lindsey has only lived in Sycamore for several years, she should be getting TWO paychecks.  One from her bartending job...and one from the Chamber of Commerce since she did everything in her power to leave us with a positive impression of Sycamore and it's traditions.

Did you know Sycamore Illinois is the DECORATED PUMPKIN CAPITAL OF THE WORLD???

A Store Next Door...Ready for their BIG EVENT!!!
Apparently PUMPKIN FEST draws thousands of people to the little town...and everyone is invited to decorate a pumpkin and leave it on the courthouse lawn for judging!  It sounds like there are festivities to please all ages...

That's the kind of information you can get from a GOOD bartender.  And Lindsey was THE BEST!

 In fact, she asked us if we had ever tried Cajun potato salad.  When we told her no, she disappeared into the kitchen, and returned several minutes later with a sample for each of us!

This delicious concoction is served she even took the time to cook the breakfast potatoes that make up the dish!  This is the kind of friendly, unexpected service that makes us LOVE to travel...And you don't find surprises like this at franchise restaurants...GUARANTEED.

So after a wonderful visit and our unexpected treat, we headed back to our hotel.

Another day in the small town paradise we call The Midwest...
And a BIG thank you to Lindsey for making it so special for us!

MVP Sports Bar, Sycamore Illinois

We're always on the lookout for a good Sports Bar...and the MVP was our first choice in Sycamore.

We decided to order some of their famous homemade potato chips...and we were slightly disappointed when the chips were NOT served warm!  The flavor was good...but still...not the homemade I was expecting.

When I read on the menu they have a Sky Deck...I walked upstairs to check it out...

I was pleasantly surprised at how awesome the outdoor space was!

Unfortunately, the weather was too chilly for our thin Florida-Winter blood, so I only looked, and snapped these photos...

But I can see how this would be an AWESOME place to spend a summer afternoon or evening!

The sunset reminded me of our magical roof-top dinner in McMinnville, but the view was certainly NOT as awesome as our Oregon spot.  But for a Midwest rooftop it was pretty cool.

The service downstairs was OK, but our server forgot to offer us a "Happy Hour" price on our drinks, and she wasn't quick to check on us, so after we shared six wings (pretty good!) we headed out to explore the rest of the town...

ROAD TRIP! Sycamore, Illinois

We LOVE small towns.  We stumbled onto Sycamore, Illinois several years ago, and we were anxious to go back.  We pulled into town and were sad to see parking meters everywhere...but our sadness turned to laughter when Fred dropped in a DIME and got TWO HOURS of parking!

The Cheapest Meters In The Midwest!
The Main Street in Sycamore is PURE AMERICANA...

And we LOVE old hotels...especially ones located in the heart of small towns.  It makes exploring on foot a real treat!  And Sycamore has a beautiful one that meets all our criteria...
The Jane Fargo Hotel.

The decor is a step back in time...

Beautiful Woodwork...
And our room was spacious and comfortable...

And we were THRILLED to see THIS sign at the front desk...

 So after checking in and exploring the hotel, we headed out on the town...

Big Brother's Birthday!

Our oldest grandson, Jackson, just celebrated his 9th birthday...and his sister Sophie was quick to offer to help decorate his cupcakes.  She did a GREAT JOB turning cupcakes into FOUR types of sports balls...

Baseballs, Basketballs, Soccer Balls and Footballs...

These birthday treats...Made with LOVE...

And a little SASS...

For her AWESOME Big Brother!

In fact, Jackson was so kind he even let his two little brothers open his birthday gifts for him!!!

What a guy.  Really.
Not bad for a nine year old...

The Blue Bird Diner, Iowa City

As many of you know, we are searching for a local diner to take the place of our Sunday breakfast spot  at The Wedge in downtown Iowa City.  (A sad story of a SUCCESSFUL restaurant...closing for reasons not yet made public, Really too bad for the MANY patrons who love the place...and for the 40 plus employees and chefs who are now searching for other jobs!)

So we headed back to a spot many in Iowa City say is an awesome place...The Blue Bird Diner.  We ate there several years ago and were underwhelmed, so we went back to check it out again.

First impressions?  You walk through curtains strung on a rod to enter the open dining room...a rather odd entrance.  And once seated, you begin to notice how LOUD the place is.  Every conversation is magnified ten-fold since there is no sound buffer or privacy between the tables.

Our food was average, at best...and everything on my plate was COLD.  And the most average item on the plate was the rye toast I ordered.  Usually, rye bread is a highlight, since it's usually a rustic, thick slice of rust-colored brown bread, toasted to perfection.  This was NONE of the above.  In fact, it looked and tasted like white bread with some caramel coloring added.

Our server was OK, and the coffee was OK.  Everything was just OK.  Not the kind of place that will draw us back week after week.

So the search goes on...And on...

Don't Mess With Texas!

I saw this sign in the paper last week...

Not a great place to be a door-to-door salesman, I guess...

Watermelon With Fresh Mint and A Sweet Balsamic Glaze

This dessert is just what the title says...


1/2 C. Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 C. water
1/4 C. sugar
1 tsp honey (optional)
1 handful mint leaves

Mix and cook in a saucepan over medium high heat until slightly thickened (about 10 minutes) or until mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Slice watermelon into wedges.  Drizzle with the glaze (not too much!) and top with torn mint leaves.
Serve...and ENJOY!

ZAZA'S Pasta Shop and Italian Market, Iowa City

While driving through a residential neighborhood on the East side of Iowa City, I passed by a shop I've been meaning to check out.

ZAZA'S is located in a cute little bungalow on Bowery Street that has been home to many businesses through the years...and I was surprised and happy to see it has been converted into a quirky little pasta shop and Italian market.  (Don't let the lack of parking scare you away.  If you pull into the alley beside the store, you'll find two parking spots behind the building.)

Check out this link to their website:

K.T. was operating the pasta machine today, turning out some beautiful Tomato Basil pasta.  The flavors and types of homemade pasta offered for purchase will varies from day to day.  They even offer a daily "Special", according to their website.  And the best news...They can ship anywhere!

The shelves are filled with authentic Italian products, and the deli case holds a variety of meats, cheeses, desserts and salads ready for purchase.

The place was spotless, both inside and out...a rare occurrence in many food establishments today...I only wish they served LUNCH, since the spot felt so cozy and inviting.  And who wouldn't love a bowl of homemade pasta on an Autumn afternoon!??

The sunlight was streaming in through the huge front windows of the shop, and I hated to leave the warm glow and friendly surroundings.  It's my kind of browsing spot...

It's awesome to see a small niche business finding pound of pasta at a time!  And it proves once again, that in Iowa City you don't have to go far to find locally-sourced, high quality ingredients and products made with pride.  And remember...ZAZA'S will ship their products to you, wherever you are.

Washing and Storing Fresh Herbs

I've found an easy way to wash fresh herbs, whether picked in your garden or from the grocery store shelf...

Simply fill a BIG glass or vase with cold water.
Grasp the bunch of herbs like a bouquet.

Turn the herbs upside down and plunge them into the glass of water.
Use an up and down motion to agitate them in the water.
Empty the water glass several times and refill and repeat with clean water.

When the herbs are clean, simply shake off excess water.
Lay the herbs on paper towels laid on top of a clean dish towel, and blot dry with paper towels.

I sometimes keep a bouquet of cleaned herbs in a short glass (in about one inch of water) in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Or wrap the cleaned herbs in a slightly damp paper towel and place in a zip lock bag in the refrigerator until you need them.


I HATE to waste fresh herbs!  So here is a way to save them for later...

Chop up fresh herbs and place in ice cube trays.  Fill with water to cover.  Then freeze. 
When frozen, simply pop the cubes out and store in freezer bags.  

When Old Man Winter returns, just throw several "herb cubes" into the pot when you make soups, sauces, or stews.  It's a real taste of summer...whenever you use them!

Cooking With Fresh Herbs-Class Highlights

Last night was my Cooking With Fresh Herbs class, so I thought I would share some photos from the evening.  The students were AWESOME, and the foods they helped to create showcased the use of many of the herbs that grow in my garden.

Drink Up!  Mint, Cucumber, and Lemon Water

How many Herbs can YOU name?

Herb Roasted Potato Prep Station

Herb Compound Butter Under Skin Of Chickens...and stuffed with Herbs, Onions and Lemons

Dill Seed Herb Bread...Ready To Assemble

Students Practicing Knife Skills and Making Their Own Compound Butters To Take Home

Bread...Ready For The Oven

Roasted Chickens...Resting!

Bread...Fresh Out Of Oven

Serve Yourselves!  Chive Carrots and Herb Roasted Potatoes

Caption NOT Required! :-)
Pan Sauce To Enhance the Meal
Oops!  I forgot to take a photo of dessert...A wedge of watermelon, drizzled with a sweet balsamic glaze...and sprinkled with chopped fresh mint.

And the best thing about my classes??  I make new friends EVERY time!
Thanks to all who participated.
Now...Get in your kitchens and HAVE FUN COOKING!