Eats off the beaten path


This past Christmas I gave my mother-in-law, June, the John Steinbeck book, “Travels with Charley.”

June is a resident of Pleasant Meadows in Chrisman and enjoys it when I visit and read a book with her. She always loved to travel when she was able and has visited places all over the world so I thought this book might interest her. She loves dogs as well and from the book’s description it was about the famous author traveling across the USA with his dog, Charley. It was a perfect choice. When I read to her I always make sure her roommate Doris is also able to enjoy the story, and all three of us are loving it.

“Travels with Charley” inspired me to write this column about travel and regional food. Whenever one travels, if you get off the beaten path, and I hope you do, it is fun to enjoy the local cuisine.

In early January, I had an opportunity to take a great trip to Florida with two of my dearest friends Sue Stine and Sue O’Neill. I called it traveling with the SUESUE Travel Agency as they really knew how to take care of me.

Stine has been going to the Anna Marie Island area just south of Tampa for more than 40 years. She knows the best places for fresh seafood. We started the days leisurely, enjoying coffee and a light healthy breakfast. Lunch was always at a great place and when the forecast for back home showed temps in the 20s it made eating outside even more special. Watching the gorgeous scenery was an added plus.

After lunch, it was time for walking on the beach, shopping, more walking on the beach and then my perfect kind of dinner in the evening. Cold shrimp, smoked salmon, assorted cheeses, crackers, hummus, red wine, fresh fruit and Key lime pie. We always made sure to eat local, not at a chain, and one of our favorites was the Cortez where patrons can watch the seafood coming in as they eat.

The two Sues and I have been friends for a long time. We never run out of conversation and while we were enjoying our first beautiful sunset and the ocean breezes, our neighbors at the condo happened to hear O’Neill mention Clarion, Iowa, where she had grown up and a particular sandwich she loved called a Maid Rite. It turned out our condo neighbors were from the same area in north-central Iowa, and they also had a fondness for Maid Rite sandwiches, an Iowa food specialty. They had a happy time reminiscing about places they both knew.

Great food, exercise, over 10,000 steps on my Fitbit, friendly neighbors and each of us trying to take the perfect sunset picture made for an amazing vacation.

As I said earlier, the SUESUE travel agency really knew how to take care of me. Friday was the last full day as O’Neill and I were flying home Saturday to Indianapolis. Stine was staying for another month in this fabulous condo on the beach she had rented – smart lady.

Someone told us to watch for the manta rays swimming very close to the edge of the shore but it turned out the correct name was skate fish which are much smaller. We probably counted at least 70 and then turned to go back to the condo for a brief respite before finishing our 10,000 steps.

Unfortunately for me I never made my last 3,000 steps. I fell on the stairs going up to our condo. Fortunately I did not break my head, arm or hip. As it turned out, I fractured the second metatarsal of my left foot, which is why I have been in a boot for several weeks. Even more fortunate was that O’Neill the other half of the SUESUE travel agency is a nurse practitioner who can read an X-Ray when necessary.

The urgent care person down there told me I had broken my toe.

“Wrong,” O’Neill said, having observed my severely swollen foot, “look at that again,” which they did at her insistence. They found it was not a broken toe, but a fracture to the second metatarsal. Had it not been for O’Neill looking out for me, chances are I would have split the bone even more and may have required surgery when I got home. From now on I may only want to travel with Sue and Sue. They are the best. O’Neill made sure I was properly taken care of at the airport in my wheelchair at Tampa and Indy and promised to send me the recipe for Maid Rite sandwiches. She found this recipe in her grandmother’s collection of Iowa recipes and included another recipe she said her grandmother always made at Christmas – suet pudding and sauce. I had never heard of suet pudding and thought suet was only used for bird feed. Amazing what you can learn when you travel.

She also sent a recipe for Pride of Iowa Cookies, which I made and everyone loved them.

Just a bit more advice. Travel while you can. Don’t make excuses about being too busy. Evenw just a long weekend helps one to gather a new perspective on life and appreciate regional food. Iowa isn’t that far for a true Maid Rite sandwich. Even closer for regional food is a Horseshoe or Pony sandwich invented in Springfield and then take time to visit a few historic places. Does anyone know how far south one has to travel before local cafés stop serving hash browns with breakfast and start serving grits. I am not talking chain restaurants but local eateries.

If physical condition no longer allows physical travel, use a good book for a mental journey. June, Doris and I are traveling with Charley across America, thanks to John Steinbeck. We are not the fastest travelers as we are still in Maine and heading west. All three of us are loving it and can’t wait for the next adventure in the book.