What is the first thing that pops your head when I say graffiti? Spray paint on a wall in the form of anti-social behavior in a city. However, in recent years graffiti has transformed into street art, and Wynwood Walls in Miami is where this genre has a home.
Traveling for work, I got the opportunity to spend some time in Miami. The conference I attended was in Miami Beach, but since I registered late, my closest option was on the mainland in the Wynwood Design District. My hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites Miami Wynwood Design District, was tidy, comfortable, and with great staff, but it was an oasis in an urban desert.
I do two things when I travel for business: do something cultural and have an excellent city-specific meal. Visiting Miami was no different. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much free time due to the distance and traffic going back and forth between the conference venue and the long days at the event, so I needed to make the best of my free time.
Venezuelan Arepas and Giant Cream Puffs
I always ask the hotel staff for local recommendations. I wanted a Miami experience. Lucky for me, they directed me to little hidden gems right around the corner.
La Latina Miami specializes in Venezuelan Arepas. While I’ve been exposed to many different food cultures, I know little about South American foods. Arepas are Venezuelan comfort food often sold by street vendors. They are unleavened stuffed cornmeal cakes that are crispy outside and fluffy inside. Arepas contain ingredients like roast chicken or pork, eggs, beans, pumpkin, cheese, and more. I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be a vegetarian choice. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the options. I chose one with cheese, sweet plantains, and avocado. Delicious.
Of course, after having something savory, I needed something sweet. Lucky for me, there was a fantastic bakery next store. All the senses awake when walking into DBakers. As in if Willy Wonka made cakes. I asked for a recommendation, and the friendly fellow behind the counter suggested their specialty, Ferrero Cream Puff. OMG. Seriously. I brought it back to my hotel room. I kidded myself, thinking I would only have a couple of bites and save the rest for later. Nope. I. Ate. The. Whole. Cream Puff. I make no apologies as it was a religious experience. I was proud that I didn’t go back there every day.
Having checked off having a great meal, I set off to have a cultural experience. I’m big on exploring my surroundings on foot, but I found where I was that being a pedestrian wasn’t ideal. Miami is a car city. And while the Wynwood Walls were only a couple of miles walk which is the usual distance walked around Newport, I was told by the front desk to take a Lyft. They were pretty horrified at the thought of me or anyone walking.
Off I went in a Lyft to see the Wynwood Walls. As we snaked through the streets and traffic, street art was everywhere. The idea of Wynwood Walls came from Tony Goldman, a community revitalizer, in 2009 as a way to transform this warehouse district. He thought that Wynwood’s large warehouse buildings would make unique canvases to bring the most incredible street art ever seen in one place. Goldman succeeded. The art is diverse.
The Miami Experience
The highlight of the conference was what I called “The Miami Experience,” held at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. The food represented a mixture of Miami’s cultures. And so did the activities: Dominos, cigar rolling, and dancing.
I’m looking forward to returning to Miami in 2023 and really exploring Miami Beach properly and discovering Haitian food. Adios. Have you been to Miami? And what are your highlights?
The summer of 2017 was a life experience where for the month of August we were roaming nomads. It is a polite way of saying we were without a home for 30 days as we moved from Tarboro, North Carolina to Newport, Rhode Island. It was not planned that way, but when life gives you opportunities just take them. I know I am a better person because of it… for me, it was a profound life experience.
My husband, Jeroen, accepted a teaching position at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. It is his dream job teaching architectural history and preservation. This is why he came to the United States from the Netherlands to pursue a Ph.D. It was to teach. When the opportunity came to him, we decided it was a one-in-a-life-time chance to make a dream come true.
Selling the House
The choice was made: accept the position and move up to Rhode Island. Our house was an old Queen Anne-style cottage from 1904 in the historic district of Tarboro and restoring it was on-going. We did, but mostly Jeroen, three years worth of work on the house in two months. Lucky for us the word got out we would be moving and folks started to offer to purchase our house before we even put it on the market. We sold our house to a lovely woman, Jennifer, and her sweet family. When you own an old house, you are more a caretaker than an owner and Jennifer was of the same mindset as us.
When we agreed on the closing date of 31 July, we didn’t actually know where in Newport we were going to live. Yes, crazy I know. The rental market in Newport is VERY tight and expensive. My son and I ventured up to Newport in June. We lost out in every place we looked it. It was feeling bleak when we looked at this one rental, which the owner had just found out their tenants were moving out in August making the house available 1 September. The house was a duplex built in the early 1900s in the “local” section of Newport. It has the number of bedrooms and bathrooms was right. It had an office space. A good kitchen. It was within walking distinct of campus for my husband and school for my son. Down the hill was a “Main Street” of shops and restaurants. Newport is really a walkable and bikeable city. Perfect for us.
And the journey begins
So on 31 July, we passed this old house caretaker role to Jennifer. We packed all of our stuff up on a moving truck to go into storage for a month. Jammed our cars with everything we would need for a month on the road. My car had Oppie the Cat and all of his things as well as my son and kitchen items. Off we went with our two cars, a cat, a child, and Opa.
Well Worn Apron Travels
The Well Worn Arpon begins its travels. I filled a tub with all my important spices, teas, tea kettle, knives, tools, and utensils as well as my slow cooker and Dutch ovens I love to use on a daily basis. And of course, the well-worn apron made it in the back of the car. I was looking forward to experiencing new cooking opportunities using local ingredients. For me, I love sourcing new and/or local ingredients. Going to a local grocery store or regional chain is fun. I enjoy just looking at what is different and special to locals. You can tell a lot about a place by what is in their grocery stores.
Northern Neck of Virgina
We are lucky to have great friends and are so thankful to them for their generosity. They offered their water house on the Chesapeake Bay of Virgina to us as they were traveling the month of August. We gladly accepted and stayed for three weeks. The Northern Neck is one of my favorite place on the planet. Maybe it is because of our wonderful friends, Dick and Sandy, who have made their home such as positive and warm place. The regional is filled with coastal beauty and deep history.
Staying in the Northern Neck gave me an opportunity to explore the Northern Neck of Virginia with its rich food culture of fresh produce and seafood. I became addicted to fresh heirloom tomatoes, corn, and nectarines again going through tomatoes like they were candy. I ate them every day for three weeks. It was wonderful. The selection of produce and seafood made it very easy to get fresh and healthy. Add in the water views, swimming in the Bay, and walks along the beach, I felt amazing. The best I have felt in years.
After an overnight stop in Princeton, New Jersey, we settled into our Airbnb in Madison, CT, for the last two weeks of our trip. We used Madison as our base to jump back and forth to Newport. First was our first Airbnb experience and didn’t know what to expect. It was super. Our host was amazing and helpful even though she was traveling Europe with her family. We chatted a lot. Madison is the picture-perfect New England town. It was quite lovely with an active Main Street scene. We did day trips to explore the area. We went to two open-air history museums. Mystic Seaport was one of the day trips and the other one was Sturbridge Village.
Newport, Rhode Island
Driving over the bridges to our new house and new life was a great feeling. It was like we were coming home though we have never lived in Rhode Island before. Our landlord was great and we got the keys a couple of days early. Unfortunately, the moving company did not arrive with our stuff until seven days later. We made the best of it. We urban camped as I called it. I am so glad to be living in Newport, Rhode Island. It is a great place to live. The people are nice and friendly. The foodie scene is strong. You can’t beat the nature and beach. Since arriving in Newport, I have never been so hopeful and excited about living anywhere. I feel healthier both mentally and physically.
The Life Experience
Living out of bags for a month as we traveled up the East Coast was a good life experience for me. It made me aware of what I really needed in life. And it is not tons of stuff. I had my favorite cooking pots and spices. I had clothes to wear. My iPhone and laptop to communicate and write.
Most importantly, I had my family and friends. We were able to spend quality time together. For 30 days, we were free of the typical American life where everyone is busy doing something. We slowed down to enjoy the simple experiences of life such as taking walks together, cooking, and long conversations. I have continued those feelings to Newport. While we were a close family before this, I believe this has made us stronger as a family.
I loved the travel and living in new places experiencing the regional differences especially the food. This life experience was good for our family. I set a goal for myself that in three to five years, we will travel somewhere during the summer for one month living there as locals. I am lucky with my chosen profession that I am able to work anywhere in the world as long as I have access to high-speed Internet. And now that my husband is a professor with a more flexible schedule, we have more freedom with our time. Currently, I am working to build my business.
if you could travel for a month, where would you go?
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Disappearing Tangier Island
Tangier Island is a small island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. It is disappearing due to a change in climate. This post is not about climate change, but the loss of a unique community and culture.
Tangier Island has a rich history dating back to the 1770s when settlers from England made the island their home. They started out as farmers; however, they found harvesting crabs and oysters more profitable. The island is now known for their blue crabs and having one of the most productive fleets in the region… and their distinct accent.
It has been said that the accent is derived from a 17th Century English lexicon and phonetics. It reminds me of the dialect of North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks. To my ear, it sounds faintly like Welsh or Irish. Many think it sounds like pirate talk. I have not met many 17th Century pirates so I can not confirm it. It is a waterman accent based on the isolation of the sea living on an island can do. Though with the influx of tourists and access to radio/TV/Internet, the accent is becoming less pronounced. The accent is not disappearing as fast as Ocracoke for the fact that more outsiders are moving to the Outer Banks to live and accents are intertwining.
It is a beautifully stark place. Windswept. Battered by the waters of the Chesapeake Bay for thousands of years. You can stand anywhere on the island and all you can see is water; no land in sight. The island is only 1.2 sq mi (3.2 km2) with about 700 full-time residents who are mostly watermen and those who support them. Tourism is popular, but crabbing is the main driver.
When you step off the ferry, you move to a different beat. A slower beat. The roads are narrow and are not paved. As you walk around the island you can hear the crushed oyster shells under your feet. Bikes and golf carts are the modes of transportation. Only a handful of cars on the island and honestly I am trying to figure out how they got there since the ferry service only carries people.
When the captain says be back at a certain time, then be back by that time or you will be spending the night or hope that either the supply boat or mail boat is there. There are only a couple of ferries coming from both Virgina and Maryland. Once they leave for the day, then that is it. Lucky there are a few B&Bs on the island and there are a few who do spend the night. We were there when the supply boat came in and unloaded. Golf carts were lined up to get their items ordered. While the island is a tourist attraction, daily life goes on around the tourists.
Crabs, Crabs, and More Crabs
The thing that makes Tangier Island famous is everywhere: crabs. Crab pots. Live crabs. Crab remains.
The Crab Cakes
You can not come to the island and not have crab cakes. And I love a good crab cake. We had lunch at the Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House. It is an all-you-can-eat family-style dining experience. I enjoy that experience. It is fun to talk to folks from all over visiting for the day. It is simple country dinner fare. The crab cakes are the star of the meal and if you keep eating them, the ladies will keep bringing them out to you. They are the size of baseballs. Also, clam cakes are served.
Tangier Island is worth a day visit to explore the island and culture.
Boiled Peanuts are an NC specialty.
Unless you are from eastern North Carolina then you most likely have never heard of boiled peanuts. They are a well-kept secret. It is a very seasonal and local specialty. You know it is that time of year when stands pop up all over the backroads of eastern North Carolina. The peanuts are sold out of pickup trucks. Some are well-oiled operations with tents and boilers while others are just a pickup truck with plastic bags of the warm peanuts. There are no worries about them getting cold since they are sold out quickly. People just know. And they just crave them regardless of age, gender, race, or economic status. It is a comfort food.
Now, most folks from eastern North Carolina are skeptical about anyone not from there liking it. They will raise an eyebrow at you if you are lacking the correct accent. That said, they will gladly share and talk to you about boiled peanuts. Though they are pretty sure you are not going to like it. It is nice to prove them wrong.
What are Boiled Peanuts?
All boiled peanuts are not created equal. Having lived in Tarboro, North Carolina, I have only eaten what I would call eastern-style. All the locals will firmly tell you that if it is from anywhere else it is just plain wrong and that those folks are not doing it correctly. Tarboro is in Edgecombe County just off I-95. It is a rural community where peanuts, cotton, and tobacco are the main cash crops. In fact, much of the peanuts you eat at baseball games come from eastern North Carolina and southern Virgina.
Not to embarrass anyone so I will just get it out of the way. Peanuts come from the ground like potatoes and other root vegetables. They are not from bushes. Honestly, unless I lived in Tarboro, I never would have known where peanuts came from. And yes I am educated and have traveled the world. Just never crossed my mind.
What makes boiled peanuts special in eastern North Carolina is the peanuts are new green peanuts. Other regions in the United States South dry the peanuts then boil them. Apparently, it changes the texture and taste. And as the Edgecombe County folks say it is not as good as their way. (Word of advice, never challenge someone from North Carolina about pork BBQ and boiled peanuts because you are going to lose. They are passionate and proud about their food culture.)
Everyone has their own way of preparing them like most comfort foods. They are simple to make: green peanuts in the shell, water, and salt. That is it. The secret is the ratio of water to salt. And that takes practice.
There are two ways of enjoying the peanuts. You just put one in your mouth then crack the shell and sucking out the peanut and juice. Or my preferred way, crack the peanut out with your nails. Eat it like you would an oyster with the slurping and all. You have to have the salty juices. I was unable to keep myself neat with salted peanut juices running down my arm… and ok my chin. It was not a dignified affair. After a bunch my fingers became wrinkly. Well worth it. Best not to eat in public until you have the form down or like me you will look a sight.
Go Ahead and Try Them
I am not going to fib to you, but it is an acquired taste and I rather like it. It only took me seven years of living in Tarboro in Edgecombe County to try them. I was always too late and would miss the small window they are available. It is worth giving it a taste. So if you are traveling the backroads of eastern North Carolina then stop and buy a bag for some local flavor.
It is worth giving it a taste. So if you are traveling the backroads of eastern North Carolina then stop and buy a bag for some local flavor.
Brake for Farmers Markets
I know I do whenever I get a chance. I spent the morning wandering through a farmers market on the Northern Neck of Virginia. In our move up the East Coast, I am enjoying the regional food culture of wherever we are staying. The Northern Neck is rich with farmers markets and produce stands dotting the countryside. The markets here tend to rotate among towns very weekend. It is not just fresh produce, but locally-made cheeses, bread, and meats that are sold.
I cannot help myself; I always have been that way. I have to stop and check out these markets and stands out. Growing up, my family had a huge garden on the side of the house on Greenlake Drive in Middletown, NJ. During the summertime, what we didn’t grow, we would go to produce stands along side of the road. Everywhere I have lived there was a summer farmers market. Lexington, Kentucky had the best one to date. It was huge and the products offered was of an amazing variety. They were very progressive by taking credit cards and accepting food stamps. The market made it easier for you shop fresh and wholesome regardless of your economic status. The last town I lived in, Tarboro, North Carolina, just formed a farmers market with the leadership of local business owners and town government. Every market day it is getting bigger as more vendors and visitors come. Having access to fresh, affordable produce is important to the health of the community.
There is something special about picking out fresh off the vine tomatoes while talking to the farmer about the weather. The farmers are very passionate about what they produce and are very proud of it. And you should too be passionate about what you eat. The produce you purchase is in season and fresh. Most of it came from a couple miles away and often you can see the actual farm where it was grown.
Visiting a farmers market forces me to think about food and meals. You never know what kinds of produce will be offered that day. It depends on what is ripe and ready. Today I came across butter beans, tiny tomatoes, green tomatoes, sweet pepper, and big sandwich slicers. That sets my thought process as to what I can make with these fresh ingredients. Lots. I plan on making a tiny tomato butter bean salad where I will add some asparagus and a vinegarette. With the green tomatoes, I will make fried green tomatoes. The sweet pepper and some of the tiny tomatoes will go in tonight’s hummus roasted veg tart.
This summer and fall, think local for your produce. It will open your mind and taste buds to new flavors.
In Search for Newport’s Best Lobster Rolls
As many of you know, I am moving to Newport, Rhode Island shortly. We recently went up to Newport to scout it out. That is a whole another story filled with drama. And I am not a mama for the drama so I will spare you most of it. Instead, let us talk about food. Fresh lobster rolls on the beach. Foods with Italian and Portuguese flavors.
Mad Max: The Northeast Movie
We had traveled for two days on I-95 through some of the consistently worst traffic over 500 miles and me having the nastiest summer cold known to humankind made the drive even longer. The journey should have been called, “Mad Max: Mom’s Driving The Honda.” OK, it was more like the children’s book, “Axel Annie” and her catch phrase, “both hands on the wheel and nerves of steel.” Though I have to say by exit 8A on the Jersey Turnpike I was back to driving like someone who grew up in the Northeast. All the Southerner driver politeness left my body that has gathered in me over the decade I have lived in the south. As of the photo above, I did not drive and shoot. This was me going zero mph on the George Washington Bridge for thirty minutes. It may have been longer, but I drive a 5-speed and may have blocked out the pain.
Rhodies are Foodies.
My Rhode Island foodie experience started at the rest stop on I-95 northbound. We stopped for a quick wee break. I started chatting to the security guard. Our conversation turned to food quickly. We talked about BBQ and how nice smoke eel was. This was a good sign. He also told us how to get to Newport in a more scenic way. An even better sign.
After driving through the rolling hills, we came to the water. I felt like I was home. When we drove over the Jamestown Verrazzano and the Newport Bridges a certain level of glee overtook me. It was breathtaking. The weather was perfect. Beautiful blue skies with white fluffy clouds. Sailboats in full sail gliding on both sides. The impressive Naval War College standing guard on the water. It was a postcard of perfection.
The Lobster Roll Quest
Of course finding a place to live, a school for my son, and business networking were important… but really finding an outstanding lobster roll was top of my list. I like food. I like good local food. And I really like lobster rolls. My first one was in Maine years ago at Reds Eats in Wiscassetout, Maine. In other words, I had the best first and my standards are high as a result.
I did not consult guides or online review sites. I went straight to the source: locals. They know best. And the best lobster rolls do not come from the tourist area of the Wharf or Thames Street. I mean I’m sure that they are good, but I am not paying $50 for a lobster roll or anything else.
Now like with everything that has to do with “traditional” foods, there is always a debate about its origins. The lobster roll is no exception. Many stories about, but what we can be sure of is that it started out in a humble way. It is a simple meal with regional differences. In Connecticut, the lobster roll is served warm with butter while in other parts of New England, it is chilled with mayo. Honestly, I will eat it anyway it is served. Fries or potato chips are standard sides. I am sure it started on plain white bread folded, but nowadays, a toasted hot dog bun. This is not fancy food, just good food that makes your mouth happy.
The Snack Bar
Yes. The Easton Beach Snack Bar is where I found the lobster roll. It is an unassuming place. It is a snack bar. Really. It is on Newport’s public beach Easton Beach above the lifeguard office. Unless you knew to look for it, you would not know it is there. It is open seasonally and closes early evening. Lots of locals seem to come in and take the food home since parking is free after 4 pm in the lot. The seating is simple. Shirts and shoes are optional.
The twin lobster rolls with fries for less than $17.00 with an amazing view. Hello. I plan on getting very used to this during the summer. And my goal is to get a chair named after me.
They also served Rhode Island Stuffed Quahogs. Honestly, it looked cool being served in a shell so I ordered one to try not having a clue what it was. Quahogs are a large, rounded edible clam found in New England. Stuffed Quahogs are minced Quahogs, Portuguese Chouirco sausage, spices, and bread stuffing. It was quite good.
You will have to be very careful with the seagulls apparently. They seem to be an organized gang of winged thugs bent on getting your food. Glad they had the sign to warn folks. I drove through I-95 hell for this lobster roll and I did not plan on giving it up to a seagull. And these were the biggest seagulls I have ever seen. I watched them pick through someone’s beach bag and fly off with a windbreaker. I am afraid they could fly off with a small child or Yorkie.
I am looking forward to the move to Rhode Island and experiencing Rhode Island’s food traditions and culture. Rhode Island here I come… ready or not!