real life test kitchen: nepenthe’s chopped salad with roquefort vinaigrette

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It’s not often that I want a recipe for salad dressing after eating out at a restaurant, but after my last trip home to the central coast of California, it happened. I was having lunch at the iconic Big Sur landmark Nepenthe with two of my oldest and dearest friends, enjoying the amazing view and basking in the warm sun (which is reason enough to pay a visit, honestly), and ordered one of their famous Ambrosia burgers with a salad. And for the dressing? Jaime, a seasoned Nepenthe pro, leaned over, and insistently whispered “Get the blue cheese”. This was no normal side salad with bottled fake dressing, no — what I got was the best blue cheese dressing I have ever tasted. The vinaigrette was balanced between tangy and sweet, and FILLED with chunks of greenish-blue veined, sheepy roquefort cheese. Even better, was after seeing the delight I took in said dressing, Jaime leaned over and whispered five of my favorite words: “I’ll send you the recipe”. And she did. And I made it — only thing missing was the view. So, from the pages of the beautiful My Nepenthe cookbook by Chef Romney Steele, I bring you a taste of manna, in salad form! — Megan B.

above: (top) my version of Nepenthe’s Salad, (below) the restaurant version, with burger, beer, and peek-a-boo of the view.
click for the recipe and the rest of the amazing view, after the jump! (more…)

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the magic of disney’s gardens

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Before we made our first family trip (and my first trip) to Disney World, we got a lot of great advice from friends on what to do (Chef Mickey’s), what to take (strollers!) and what to buy when we got there (autograph books). The one thing no one mentioned, however? The gardens. Maybe it was because we left the brown Midwest to a Disney World in full bloom that the gardens seemed as magical as the rest of the place. Maybe it was just the overall vibe and the welcome warmth. Maybe I’m just a flower freak. But I’m guessing it was mostly because no detail in the Magic Kingdom seems to be overlooked, right down to every last green space.

While there were topiaries everywhere, my favorite was in Fantasyland. On the Alice in Wonderland topiary, variegated ivy formed her pinafore, giving a pop of contrast against the rest of greenery.

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Even landscape left to it’s own devices, like Spanish moss-covered trees, was transformed at night by lighting.

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While I’m not going to go topiary crazy or create a giant Mickey head in the backyard, our trip has definitely inspired me to think on a different scale.

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In my shade gardens, I tend to go for height and layers, building up around trees. Yet one of the features of the beds at Disney that struck me the most was the bare tree bases. Whether it was repeating rows of cyclamens, a mass of violas or groupings of tickseed, the trees became sculptural. Of course it helps that there were thousands of dollars worth of plants and a team of horticulturists to keep them perfect, but the idea is definitely something I can try on a smaller scale. What’s your garden inspiration for the spring? — Sarah L.

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help! what should I know about going on a cruise?

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Stop the presses: I’m going on vacation. Yes, a real vacation. It has been years since I’ve had a chance to get away but in a few weeks I’ll be setting sail on my very first cruise and I’m excited but also uneducated. When it comes to cruising I know two things: first, that there is never any good press about cruises (thanks, travel writing 101) and second, that there are some people, including a few going on this trip, who are cruising connoisseurs, have gone on many and know everything there is to know about them. I also know that when it comes to giving travel advice, no group beats our readers! So I’m throwing it out to you: What should I pack or not pack? Is there anything I should know about the food, the rooms, and the ship? There are so many theme nights and schedule options that I don’t even know how to begin preparing, so spill your secrets! What should I know about going on a cruise? — Sarah C.

Image courtesy of The National Maritime Museum.

From our partners

thrifty home and travel source: army/navy surplus

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I don’t think I ever entered an Army/Navy surplus store before moving to Seattle, and it took me three years to go inside the one here. I think I was expecting flak jackets and gun holsters and knives — and yes, they do carry some stuff like that. But I wasn’t expecting the wide variety of very useful stuff they carry at screamin’ deals! So far we’ve purchased camping gear like water bottles and mini stoves — they have a generous selection of small camping items at prices below what I’ve seen at the big outdoor stores. Last trip in, I noticed some nice looking daypacks for a smidge under $50 — the kind designed to let your back “breathe” on a hot day. There’s a huge selection of wool-blend blankets that would lend a nice industrial-chic touch to a bedroom, and they are crazy cheap, many under $30. There are also camp mess kits, foldup cots, travel gear, canvas messenger bags, and camp showers. (You might also find some really stylish caps for just $4.99 — my husband’s new favorite hat — waterproof parkas, rows of rain boots, and lots of sweatshirts…the list goes on and on.) If you don’t have one in your town, shop here or here. — Mary T.

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take the tour: heath ceramics

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Recently I spent an amazing week in San Francisco hanging out with my sister and celebrating my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday. One of the highlights of my visit was taking a field trip to Sausalito and touring the Heath Ceramics factory in Sausalito. Heath was started in the mid-forties by Edith Heath, and has remained one of the few mid-century potteries in existence. Each and every piece is made on the premises using decades old methods (some of which Edith pioneered!), and their dedication to quality and craftsmanship is certainly apparent. If you love distinctive glazes and handcrafted stoneware, Heath is your dream come true. A quick trip over the Golden Gate bridge, the factory is located just outside the bustling Sausalito “main drag.” They have twice-daily tours and a factory store that’s worth checking out. If you’re ever in the bay area and need an adventure, Heath is an excellent place to spend an afternoon! – Rebecca F. Click for a tour of Heath Ceramics! (more…)

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