Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Indian Mounds, Food and Cake!

     Saturday was a beautiful day in Illinois. It was much too pretty to stay inside, so we decided to take a road trip to Cahokia Mounds. We have talked about going for years, but we always seem to put it off. Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico. I always thought it was all burial mounds, but actually it was once a large city and the mounds had a variety of purposes. The Late Woodland Indians settled here around 700 AD. The Mississippians arrived between 800-1000 AD and created a large community that after 1050 AD became a regional center with a population of 10-20,000 people. The community centered around Monks Mound (above) and a huge Grand Plaza where public gatherings took place.  

     Some of the mounds were used as final resting places, but others had buildings on top and were used for other things. There are several walking paths that you can take and each mound has a name/number. Some have be excavated, others have not. 

     Above you see a an example of what they have found to be one of the Stockade walls that once formed a boundary around the central part of the city. Excavation showed the deep holes where the posts had once been and they reconstructed a segment of the wall.

     Monks Mound is the one mound that you can actually climb to the top of. It is the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the New World. The base covers over 14 acres and it rises in four terraces to a height of 100 feet. The front of the mound is called the South Ramp. They found indentations in the South Ramp that they believe came from wooden steps that were once placed there. Thankfully, they have added new steps so that you can climb in the same place the Prehistoric Indians did, in a slightly easier way (although it is quite a climb).

     Above you can see the people on top of Monks Mound and below, you can see our view from about halfway up the stairs.

     The view from the top is amazing. You can see the St. Louis Arch in the distance as well as the buildings in the city. From the other side you can see another Stockade reconstruction.

     There is a lovely Interpretive Center at Cahokia Mounds with a gift shop, displays, restrooms and vending machines. It has a walk through museum type area that explains more about the history of the site. Cahokia Mounds is free, but they do have donation boxes around to collect money to continue research and maintenance. 

 The Interpretive Center

A mural that shows how the city once looked.


 Part of the exhibit showing how the Indians lived.

     After all the exercise we decided to have lunch. I had done a little research and found a place called the Oatman House Tea Room.  It was a cute little house with tables inside and out. We sat outside because it was such a gorgeous day. It will be much prettier when things are actually in bloom in the back garden area, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway.

     We were greeted with strawberry muffins. We also ordered their specialty cinnamon iced tea, which was so good we bought some and brought it home. 

     My husband had the Cobb Salad and I had their Quiche of the Day, which was bacon and spinach. Our food was delicious and the service was as if we were in someone's private home. We would certainly go back. 

     From crazy cows years ago in Chicago, to Peanuts in Georgia, Mickey Mouse in Kansas City and Pigs, Alligators and Cars...we have seen decorated "things" in many cities during the past decade. As St. Louis celebrates 250 years, there are 250 decorated birthday cakes all over the area. Below is the one placed at Cahokia Mounds! How fun! If you want to read more about the cakes, click here.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Looking for What the Locals Know

      I am addicted to Tripadvisor. When we travel, even if it is only an hour from home, I check out the reviews of restaurants and if it is an overnight, the hotels and the listed "things to do". We love to find restaurants that feature local foods or something unique and if we can avoid the chain restaurants you find in every city in the country, we do so.  We took our time on the way home from my daughter's wedding. We wanted a little post wedding down time, so after staying a couple more days in Florida on the beach, we headed north. Our first stop was in Prattville, Alabama. We stay here often on our way to and from Florida, but we always grab dinner someplace very close to the hotel. We had read on Tripadvisor that the number one restaurant was Uncle Mick's Cajun Café, so we decided to give it a try. It was located in historic downtown Prattville, just a short drive from the area with all the hotels. We knew it wasn't going to be fancy, but everyone claimed the food was fabulous and it was!

     The Cajun food is authentic and served cafeteria style, on Styrofoam plates. "Uncle Mick" greets you and asks if you have been there before...if you say "no", you are suddenly given sample bites of everything and anything you want to try. I walked in thinking I was going to have one thing, but after my sample mind was completely changed. The plate above is mine. The Shrimp a'La Crème was the best thing I ever tasted (and I usually hate fish in a cream sauce). What you see is a half order of the shrimp and a half order of Crab Meat au Gratin, which was also delicious. My meal came with 2 sides and you can see I selected the deviled eggs and tomatoes with feta. 

     My husband had the Shrimp Piquant over rice with the Tomato and Feta and Corn Maque Choux and he loved every bite. Our dinners were both about $9.00 each. We took their Bread Pudding back to our hotel for later and it too was delicious. It was just like eating in New Orleans only we were in a small restaurant in Alabama!

     Our second night on the way home we spent in the Franklin/Nashville area. We have always loved Nashville, there is so much to see and do there. We met for dinner with a dear friend we hadn't seen in almost 30 years, it was wonderful. If you get the chance to reconnect with someone, take it!

     We stopped by The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville and we were greeted with the World of Wicked museum display. Wicked the musical was in town and this display was so much fun. We saw Wicked several years ago in St. Louis and it is one of my favorite shows. It was a small exhibit but there were original costumes and the soundtrack was playing, so fun!

     Our last night was in Paducah, KY. It isn't a long drive to our home from there, but we just had to make the short drive from there to Metropolis, IL to blow $20 at the Casino (we love Casinos, but only play the penny slots and only spend $20, doubt we will ever get rich). We did not love this Casino, it felt dirty to me. We won't go back. We also stopped to see the famous Superman statue.

     Once again I turned to Tripadvisor to find an interesting place to have dinner in Paducah. We would never have found this place without reading about it, it is in town, but down a road that appears to lead to nothing and there isn't a sign. Flamingo Row is a Caribbean restaurant and as we were driving to it, I wondered what we were getting into.
The outside was very colorful and the inside...was just fun!

     My husband had the Baja Bash, grilled chicken breast topped with Caribbean Mango Vinaigrette on a bed of coconut lime rice, with black bean salsa, avocados, salsa and topped with  toasted pumpkin seeds.  It was $10.89 and much prettier than my phone picture shows.  

     I had the Coconut Grove, fried coconut chicken tenders, bananas, pineapple, spring mix, toasted coconut, almonds, and Pina Colada yogurt dressing for $11.99. I  couldn't eat it all, it was so big. Our food was interesting and great. We would definitely go back.  
     I think it is much more fun to find those hidden spots, not the tourist spots. The food is usually delicious and the prices are often much less. The next time you have a road trip, check out Tripadvisor, Yelp or just ask the locals in your hotel or a store where they may find a new favorite place!
     I wasn't compensated by any of the above websites/locations, just sharing my opinions.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

     A few bunnies have shown up around my house in the past few days. The baby above must have slipped away from her mama as she was sitting in the backyard for a while and we kept the big bad beagle away until she was gone, hopefully back to her nest. I really wanted to pick her up and cuddle her, but I knew her mother might not take her back if I did.  
     My other bunnies aren't nearly as cute, but at least I did bring a little Easter into the house. When we were in  Florida in March I found a William Sonoma Outlet and bought these cute little bunny plates. I actually did a tablescape, not for the blog, just for me. It had been a long time and I forget how nice it makes the house look to have a pretty table.

     The only new items are the bunny plates. I had the egg shaped placemats and matching napkins, the flatware I have used many times and the dinner plates are Fiesta. I used my favorite garage sale wine glasses and that was it.

This is my favorite plate!

     The centerpiece is a basket (of course, it is Easter). I used silk flowers that I already had and tried to make them look as real as possible. I added a few eggs and a moss bunny to create a natural, simple look for the table.

     I think it is easy to forget that not all tablescapes have to be elaborate or expensive. Keeping it simple is quick and easy and it is a great way to add a seasonal look to your home without a major decorating project.
     Blogging has obviously taken a back seat to life these days. We have taken on a major project at our house. We are cleaning out, re-packing, decluttering and getting rid of almost 40 years of stuff. We know that an early retirement is coming in the not too distant future and along with that will be a house sale and a major move. We knew we had months of work ahead of us, so we decided to get started. Our first project has been Christmas things. While all of you have been decorating for Easter, I have been going through about 100 boxes of Christmas decorations. Many of our things were already in tubs, but some were in boxes. We are getting rid of things that we either don't use, don't like, or have had for so many years we are just sick of them. The things we are keeping are being packed into tubs and labeled. My goal was to get things down to a dozen tubs, it didn't happen. We probably did cut the Christmas collection in half. Progress. Next up, our kid's toys that they saved. I am loaded with Ghostbusters, Raisin Men, Ninja Turtles, Fraggle Rock, Tonka, Legos, Dolls and all the things that go with them and who knows what else.
     The problem we have is that our kids don't have the room to take their own things and they also don't want us to get rid of them. We also have many, many family pieces that pull at my heart strings. I read an article that was about the challenge of my generation getting rid of things. We have items that belonged to our parents and grandparents (and great-grandparents), we have things that our children want but can't or won't take and of course our own things. One of the quotes was, "that sweater your mother gave you isn't your mother" and I am trying to remember that as I go through things. It is only "sort of" working. I am too sentimental but I truly am trying to only keep things that really mean something to me. This is an all consuming task, but one that needs to be done and should have been done years ago!
     Other than that, not much is happening in our world. We both got sick as soon as we got home from Florida. It took 2 rounds of meds to get me back to close to normal and my husband (who wouldn't call the doctor) is still not 100%. We, like many of you, have been trying to get our yard back to normal after the harsh winter. We mowed over the weekend when it was almost 80 degrees and tonight we have snow in the forecast. Crazy!
     I will be catching up with some of you over the next few days. If there is a post you really want me to read, leave it in the comments please!