We just got back from two weeks in Great Britain. We took a Trafalgar tour that took us from London, through southern England, northern Wales, the Lake District, and finally to Edinburgh, Scotland. We saw some amazing sights and some truly beautiful scenery. The weather was perfect and the people we met on tour were great. It was an awesome trip. Here is a short video showing some of the highlights. I also have a number of pictures in my photo album.
Although many people are unaware of it, St. Louis County boasts a world-class wolf sanctuary. Originally founded by Marlin Perkins, the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka houses several species of endangered wolves and foxes from around the world. We spent the final day of our staycation on a tour of the facility. I guess we had pretty good luck because we saw quite a few wolves and some of them were active despite the heat. I’m including a short video below of our wolf-watching adventure. We followed it up with a fantastic seafood lunch at Gulf Shores in Creve Coeur.
It’s not often that you get a St. Louis weather forecast in August that calls for highs in the low 80s, so when you get one, you have to take advantage of it. Day 5 of our staycation found us enjoying a day at Six Flags. Here are the video highlights of our day.
Day four of our staycation took us to see the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, a rather incongruous blend of Romanesque architecture and Byzantine art that took almost 70 years to complete. It houses one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world, all of which are stunning. The kids were impressed with the size of the space inside, and Noah really liked the stained glass windows. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in St. Louis almost my entire life and I’ve never visited before. They currently have on display a bronze cast replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta, a marble statue at the Vatican.
We ate lunch at the Central Cafe and Bakery that serves a refreshing menu of Lebanese cuisine. Dixie and I enjoyed the babaganoush appetizer, and I had a very flavorful salad of vegetables and herbs with some yummy lamb kabobs. Luckily their menu also includes a cheese pizza that was a hit with the kids. We followed this up with a walk around the block to The Cup for gourmet cupcakes for dessert. Dixie had a “Graceland” that is banana cake with peanut butter frosting. They even provide free candles if it’s your birthday.
We ended the day with a tour of the Herbaria Soap Factory on The Hill. They make all natural cold process soap with essential oils for scent and color, and if you ask, they’ll take you in back of the shop and give you a tour of the soap-making process, and even let the kids cut out their own bars of soap using cookie cutters. Humans have been making soap for thousands of years, and it is somewhat surprising that the process has remained unchanged in all of that time.
Having made reservations a full five months in advance, I had a long time to anticipate Dixie’s birthday dinner at Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville, Missouri. Prior to attending the Chef’s Tasting Dinner last Friday, I had read that St. Louis Magazine had given them the Best New Restaurant award when they opened in 2009, and had named them Restaurant of the Year again in 2010, so my expectations were pretty high. Chef Carl McConnell and his culinary creations did not disappoint. However, I did find a few aspects of the overall dining experience that could be improved.
The food was simply fabulous — a unique blend of distinctive flavors, with many fresh ingredients from local farms and gardens. A bisque made with corn harvested that morning. A potato puff with black truffles and locally picked morel mushrooms. One should keep in mind that it is a tasting, so the portions are small, but with six courses and a few extras on the side, no one leaves hungry. We also chose to include wine pairings with our dinner (at an additional charge), and the selections (two white, two red) were very good.
The restaurant is a restored cottage that dates from the 1850s, with a small dining area that seats about twenty people, at well-appointed and candlelit tables. Having Chef McConnell personally deliver most of the courses to our table and comment on them only adds to the intimate atmosphere. But, my only criticism would be of the dining area itself. The room was dimly lit, and as we approched the final courses, well after sunset, I could barely see what I was eating, which is a shame since a great deal of effort goes into the presentation. With its hardwood floors, the room is also loud, and the night we were there, a boisterous party of 10 made it difficult at times to carry on a conversation. So I would think they might benefit from a few area rugs (if not wall-to-wall carpeting), and a few tapestries on the walls perhaps, as well as turning up the dimmer switch just a bit.
Overall, our meal was fantastic, and I would strongly recommend this cozy place to anyone looking for a unique dining experience to celebrate that special occasion.
In almost every project around our house, we invariably reach the point where this phrase is uttered. It happens so often that it’s a running joke. Today, Father’s Day, was no exception. It began with us simply wanting to swap out the hangers in both of the kids’ closets. Noah’s clothes have gotten big enough that they don’t stay on the baby hangers anymore, and if you’re going to go to the trouble of swapping them in one closet, you might as well do both of them. Josie’s room also involved moving in an antique dresser that’s been in the family for over 100 years. So it quickly devolved into a complete remodeling of her room, including plans for a play table like Noah’s, and a frantic search on Craigslist for a doll house. About an hour later, as we realized that moving Josie’s toy bins into the closet would require rearranging the modular shelving, I looked at Dixie and smiled. “This is the part where I go to Lowes,” and we both burst into laughter. Now, four hours later, the closet has been redone, her room is rearranged, and I am now working on Sketchup plans for a new doll house/play table thing. That’s how we roll.
Day two of our staycation took us to see the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. We watched Albert Pujols et al finish a three-game sweep of their long-time rivals the Chicago Cubs, defeating them 3-2 in the 10th inning. It turned out to be a beautiful day despite the forecasts of record heat and humidity, and though we were in the “nose bleed” seats, we were thankful for the shade underneath the stadium roof. We finished the day with dinner at Balducci’s, and I had what might have been the best cannelloni I’ve ever eaten. The personal deep dish pizza was fabulous too (according to my sources).
Dixie and I celebrated our ninth anniversary with a trip to the Boathouse in Forest Park. The weather could have been better, but the food was excellent and they even had a live band. But the biggest attraction at the Boathouse is, of course, the boats. You can rent either a paddle boat or a kayak by the hour and enjoy the scenery and wildlife while exploring the extensive waterways in Forest Park. We opted for a paddle boat and worked off our dinner as we plied our way to the Grand Basin and tried to imagine how “indescribably grand” the World’s Fair must have been. The Boathouse is truly a unique dining experience, and I would recommend it. Make sure to save room for dessert, and save your energy for some serious pedaling.
Well, here we are at the end of another 30 days. I don’t know if it’s because I have so much other stuff going on, or I’m just running out of things to write about, but this was the hardest year so far. For those of you following along, I hope it wasn’t too painful — I tried to keep it interesting.
Like last year, I have a few ideas that didn’t make it into the rotation, so you can probably expect to see those pop up in the weeks ahead. But I won’t bother resolving to write more often, since I know that never works out for me. So we now return to our regular sporadic update schedule. Until next year, see ya around the ‘net. Maybe next year I can convince Dixie to join me with her shiny new blog.