Watts Towers of Simon Rodia

Cardboard Cutout of Simon RodiaOnce upon a time, a tiny slip of a man decided to build a tower in the backyard of his modest house in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. The man was an Italian immigrant and dreamed that his tower would resemble a tower he remembered from his homeland. So he searched far and wide for bits and pieces of iron and steel and decorations such as broken pieces of colored glass, mirrors, pottery and tile and when he had enough stockpiled, he started to work on his tower.
He bent his steel pipes on railroad tracks, tied them together with wire mesh and covered all with layers of concrete. He placed tidbits from his collection of broken pretties and shells and rocks and other found objects in pleasing patterns in the wet concrete. Over and over he followed the routine. His tower grew and grew and grew to amazing heights. The decorations shimmered and shined in sunlight.

Tower by Simon Rodia by Susan Manlin Katzman

Inside Look at Simon Rodia Tower by Susan Manlin Katzman


When his tower reached the sky, he started on another and then another and then another.

Collage of Towers at Watts Towers by Susan Manlin Katzman


Collage of Watts Towers by Susan Manlin Katzman


He added a “boat” to the towers and a gazebo and a fish pond and surrounded the masterpieces with a scalloped wall.

Collage of Boat and Tiers at Watts Towers by Susan Manlin Katzman

Collage of Wall at Watts Tower by Susan Manlin Katzman
Collage Details at Watts Tower by Susan Manlin Katzman

Unlike many people at the time the man had a paying job, some say as a construction worker, some say in a pottery factory, some say as a tile setter. Obsessed with building, he started paying others to bring him materials—scraps of iron and broken pretties, yet he always worked alone with the simplest tools. Instead of fancy drawing board designs he used his imagination for patterns. Instead of scaffolding he used a window-washer’s belt and buckle to climb heights. Instead of machinery he used hand tools and a bucket that he would carry as he climbed the towers one rung at time.

Detail at Simon Rodia State Historic Park by Susan Manlin Katzman


He worked on his towers in all his spare time, night and day, for 33 years. Then, in 1954, he abandoned all, giving his house and towers and land on which they stood to a neighbor. He left Watts, never to return.
When Sabato Rodia (aka Simon Rodilla, Simon “Sam” Rodia and, sometimes, Don Simon ) completed the project that he named Nuestro Pueblo (Spanish for “our town”), he left 17 major sculptures in place.

Sculpture at Simon Rodia's Watts Towers by Susan Manlin Katzman
Today The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia are a National Historic Landmark, a State of California Historic Monument, a State of California Historic Park and a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument. The towers are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and considered one of the top four iconic must-see L.A. sites.

Arched Wall at Watts Towers by Susan Manlin Katzman


Barcelona has Gaudi, Paris has Eiffel, and L.A. has Simon Rodia and his remarkable, quirky, mosaic structures, which are open to the public on guided tours certain days and hours of the week.

Ticket Information at Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park by Susan Manlin Katzman


Although signs along the fence surrounding the park tell Simon’s story,

Collage of Signs at Watts Tower by Susan Manlin Katzman

and one can catch a limited look at the towers without entering, only on a tour can one catch the full magic.
Adjacent to the towers is an Arts Center

Arts Center at Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park by Susan Manlin Katzman

where visitors purchase tickets for tours as well as view a movie about Simon Rodia, shop for souvenirs and view art exhibitions.
Call it what you will, folk art, naive art, outsider art, or simply a magnificent achievement of a poor and probably illiterate immigrant, Simon Rodia’s towers stake a forever claim in the history of art and serve as a stunning tribute to man’s powers of dedication and persistence.

Painting of Simon Rodia


Heart in Cement at Simon Rodia's Watts Towers by Susan Manlin Katzman
For more information see: Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park




Laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) is more than a Cajun French catchphrase; the motto captures the spirit of Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana especially at Mardi Gras, when the city costumes in fluff and finery and parades and parties like no other. (And by like no other, we mean no bare breast nor intoxicated crowds of other Mardi Gras celebrations, but rather joy-filled pizzazz filtered for family fun.)
But one doesn’t have to be in Lake Charles at Mardi Gras to let the good times roll. The city’s year around charms include casinos, Cajun and Creole cuisine and culture, and a copious supply of nature.

Here are just a few delights awaiting visitors:

One can bet on most of Lake Charles’casinos to provide great gaming, gourmet dining and fine accommodations, but visitors booking a room at the new Golden Nugget Lake Charles hit the jackpot. The prize winning resort includes state-of-the-art gaming, 740 luxurious guest rooms (with more to come in summer of 2017), a slew of restaurants, bars and lounges; a full service spa; a large swim pool; an 18-hole golf course with country club facilities and pro shop; a man-made beach and a marina.

Golden Nugget College by Susan Manlin Katzman

Golden Nugget Pizzazz collage by Susan Manlin Katzman


Lake Charles sits on the banks of three bodies of water: Lake Charles, Prien Lake and the Calcasieu River. And gracing the surrounding area visitors can find a plentiful number of nature trails, wildlife refuges and protected parks. The whole of Southwest Louisiana bursts with outdoor activities to the delight of nature lovers who enjoy birdwatching (about 400 species in the area), wildlife viewing (perky alligators), fishing (in fresh, brackish and saltwater) and crabbing (divine Louisiana blue crabs). Drivers especially like to hit the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, a scenic byway that meanders through landscapes showcasing marshes, prairies and 26 miles of beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.

Southwest Louisianna Nature Collage by Susan Manlin Katzman

Lake Charles at Sunset by Susan Manlin Katzman


The tiny pocket of Southwest Louisiana sports about 75 festivals and fairs per year. Yes. You read that right. Seventy five. The fun includes a Beer Festival, the Iowa Rabbit Festival, a Fur and WildLife Festival, the Black Heritage Festival, Contraband Days Pirate Festival and numerous music and food festivals plus, of course, the biggest festival of them all Mardi Gras.
Although Mardi Gras covers certain calendar days, the magic lives on in Lake Charles’ Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, where displays include the largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes in the world and exhibits explain characteristics and history of the celebration.

Mardi Gras in Lake Charles collage by Susan Manlin Katzman


Oh my! What glory! Praise be the tongue-twisting delights that flow from the kitchens of Southwest Louisiana! Topping the list of favorites:

Boudin (pronounced boo-dan)—a cajun smoked sausage containing meat (mostly pork), rice and seasonings, but sometimes made of seafood or alligator. The region is so famous for Boudin, that it sports an official Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail guiding folks to about 34 stops at restaurants, markets and convenience stores selling the tasty speciality.

Boudin by Susan Manlin Katzman


Cracklins (‘crak-linz)—to die for (literally and figuratively) crunchy, bacon-like tidbits of deep-fried hog heaven. Head to Guillory’s Famous Foods for a local-favorite sampling.

Famous Foods collage by Susan Manlin Katzman


King Cake—a sweet and colorfully iced coffee-type cake served during the Mardi Gras season and sometimes found at other times of the year. Click HERE to learn more and find the mail order best.

King Cake by Susan Manlin Katzman
Seafood—a glorious supply of succulent crab,

Crab by Susan Manlin Katzman


Shrimp by Susan Manlin Katzman


Oysters by Susan Manlin Katzman

and crawfish

Crawfish by Susan Manlin Katzman

that cooks boil or fry or slip into famous Louisiana dishes such as Étouffée, gumbo and jambalaya and serve to appreciative diners throughout the region.
Seafood lovers can’t go wrong at any Lake Charles food outlet, but will swoon with joy at Steamboat Bill’s, a super casual Lake Charles based restaurant chain (four outlets) that has been voted # 1 for Best Seafood in Southwest Louisiana.

Steamboat Bill's collage by Susan Manlin Katzman
Kathy Vidrine by Susan Manlin Katzman“The secret to our popularity” says owner Kathi Vidrine, “is we use real ingredients.” The secret to their success, says Sweet Leisure is that they use an overload of real ingredients such as butter, cream and seafood and serve truly generous portions, as in the following:




Yield: 8 large servings.

8 tablespoons butterSteamboat Bill's Corn and Shrimp Chowder by Susan Manlin Katzman
1/2 cup diced white onion
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1-1/4 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 cups whole corn
1-1/2 cups cream style corn
1 medium Idaho potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
About 1-1/2 tablespoons Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (see NOTE)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
About 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups half and half
2/3 cup cream of mushroom soup
1-1/4 pound popcorn shrimp (or any other shrimp)
About 1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cool water
Shredded Cheddar cheese, for garnish
Chopped chives, for garnish
Sign at Steamboat Bill's by Susan Manlin KatzmanPut butter in a large saucepan and set over medium heat to melt butter. When butter is hot, add onion and green pepper and sauté 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add broth, corn, potato, Tony’s seasoning, garlic powder and black pepper. Stir to combine ingredients. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes chunks are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add half and half and cream of mushroom. Stir to combine ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally for 5 to 8 minutes.
Add shrimp and simmer until shrimp are cooked, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Stir into chowder and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until chowder is thick, about 5 minutes.
Ladle into bowls, garnish with shredded Cheddar cheese and chopped chives and serve.
NOTE: Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning is a seasoning blend available in grocery stores, speciality shops and online. It’s a staple for Louisiana cooking.


LAGNIAPPE (a little something).

Mark Twain wrote about the word lagniappe in Life on the Mississippi, “We picked up one excellent word–a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word–‘lagniappe.’ They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish–so they said.”
As a bit of Lake Charles lagniappe, we bring you a peek at Zydeco music as performed by Rusty Metoyer and The Zydeco Krush. Just listen:

Rusty Metoyer and The Zydeco Krush

For more information click:
HERE for information about Lake Charles.
HERE for information about Bayou Rum and a cocktail recipe.
HERE to know more about the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road.





One can gamble on any restaurant that is run by Don Yamauchi being terrific and Asia, at Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri, is a sure winner.

Don Yamauchi by Susan Manlin Katzman

Chicago born Yamauchi grew up with a love of fusion food fed by his second-generation Japanese-American father and Filipina mother. After attending culinary school, he worked in a variety of restaurants, adding French culinary skills to his repertoire and racking up awards such as “Top Ten New Chefs in America” (Food & Wine Magazine) and “Top Five Rising Chefs in America” (James Beard Society).

Ameristar Casino won big time when they hired Yamauchi as Executive chef in February of 2016.

And Yamauchi hit the jackpot the next September when he hired Hai-Ying Bushey, a native of Guagzhou China, to head the casino’s remarkable Asia restaurant.

Hai-Ying Bushey

Hai-Ying Bushey

Asia sit on the casino floor, tucked into a quiet spot behind the gaming tables. A see-through partition filled with tea sets divides the main dining room from a smaller one that can be used for a private party as needed. With a sleek, sophisticated design, Asia offers a lovely, quiet setting to showcase it’s remarkable food.

Asia Restaurant Interior
The Yamauchi-Bushey team was on a winning streak when collaborating on Asia’s menu. Part Chinese, part Vietnamese and all heavenly, the menu features dishes that look and sound familiar, but up the ante on flavor. We particularly liked:

Pot Stickers and Crab Rangoon

Pot Stickers and Crab Rangoon


Pho Dac Biet and Shrimp Fried Rice

Pho Dac Biet and Shrimp Fried Rice


Hot Chili Catfish and Sizzling Black Pepper Beef

Hot Chili Catfish and Sizzling Black Pepper Beef


Jumbo Seared Scallops and Hainanese Chicken

Jumbo Seared Scallops and Hainanese Chicken


Fluffy Ice and Coconut "Custard"

Fluffy Ice and Coconut “Custard”

and the divine

Honey Walnut Shrimp

Honey Walnut Shrimp


Yield: 2 to 4 servings.
Whites from two eggs
Ground white pepper
Soybean oil
1 pound medium to large shrimp, shelled and deveined
Honey walnut sauce (recipe follows)
Candied walnuts (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
In a medium-size mixing bowl, lightly beat egg whites with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon white pepper. Beat in 1/4 cup cornstarch and then 1/2 cup soybean oil. Add shrimp to bowl and toss well to coat all shrimp with mixture. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Put enough soybean oil to cover shrimp in a deep fryer, wok or skillet and heat to 350°F.
Drain shrimp well and then toss with 2 cups cornstarch. Shake shrimp to remove excess cornstarch.
Drop shrimp into hot oil and fry 2 minutes. Drain shrimp and put in medium-size mixing bowl. Add honey walnut sauce and toss until shrimp is evenly coated. Transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with candied walnuts and green onions.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Put all ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl and stir until well blended.

Yield: 1 cup.
1 quart water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup walnuts
About 1-1/3 cups powdered sugar
Soybean oil
Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Add walnuts and blanch 20 seconds. Drain well. Put walnuts in a container with sugar. Put lid on container and shake well to evenly coat nuts with sugar.
Put enough soybean oil to cover walnuts in a deep fryer, wok or skillet and heat to 350°F. Add walnuts and fry for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes.
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread walnuts over parchment paper. Cool to room temperature. Store in an air-tight container.

Bill in Giant Fortune CookieWhen it comes to Asian restaurants, you can bet your bottom dollar that diners who hit the tables at Asia come out big winners. And as an extra stroke of luck, the bill comes in a super large, delicious fortune cookie. Win win all around.

For more information see: ameristar.com/st-charles.

Asia Open Hours





Kane Tiki Bar and GrillYep. It’s true. I love rum. So imagine my delight discovering a rum bar at the newly refurbished and rebranded JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort.
The bar is named Kane—I thought because rum is deliciously divinely made from sugar cane and drinking too much can muddle spelling, but not so. Marriott officials say that the tiki bar & grill was named for the ‘Polynesian God of Creation and Growth.” Growth of cane and creation of rum? No again. The Polynesian thrust is to honor the Indonesian-Inspired food served as snacking tidbits at the bar.
Kane stocks a numbing number of rums—around 40 on an unofficial count. And the rums come from here, there, everywhere good rum is commercially made.

Rums served at Kane
The staggering bounty could be overwhelming, but Kane helps those with high spirits for rum, but low capacity for imbibing, by offering a series of flights—ideal for exploring variety.

Rum Flights at Kane
Kane also specializes in rum-soaked cocktails.
My favorite is the Turtle Season Lights Out.

Turtle Season Lights Out
Located at the southernmost tip of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Marco Island offers much to intoxicate. Being the largest inhabited island in the Ten Thousand Island ecology, the island sports a generous amount of tourist amenities (restaurants, dolphin excursions, golf, the JW Marriott resort),

JW Marrriott Marco Island

JW Marrriott Marco Island

yet the island has a natural Island-getaway ambiance enhanced by a glorious stretch of beach with sand so white that it glistens by both sun and moon light.

Beach at JW Marriott Marco Island

The beach draws tourists by day and, at certain times of the year, turtles by night. With respect for turtle population growth, the island bans night lights during turtle season, giving the cocktail it’s name—although “lights out” could also refer to mental capabilities after downing a couple.
But rum isn’t all. Kane’s cup runneth over with delights. The open-air, A-frame, thatched-roof bar places tables on sand (shoes not required) with great views of the celebrated Marco Island sunsets.

Kane Tiki Bar and Grill

Sunset at Marco Island

With live music playing in the background; beach, sea and sunset in the foreground and rum at hand, Kane offers a perfect spot to relax to the max and enjoy the lights out—whether Island-mandated or rum-induced.


Turtle Season Lights Out at Kane1 ounce Coco Lopez (cream of coconut)
1 ounce orange juice
! ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce Flor de Canya 5 year (or white rum)
1/2 ounce Clemente Coconut (or coconut rum)
1/2 ounce Bacardi Select (or dark rum)
1/2 ounce Wicked Dolphin (or Captain Morgan) spiced rum
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce Grenadine (recipe follows)
Crushed ice
Orchid flower (for garnish)
Pineapple leaf (for garnish)
Put all ingredients except ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Fill a funky island glass (or collins glass) with crushed ice and stain drink over ice in glass. Garnish with orchid flower and pineapple leaf. Add a colorful straw.
Mix simple syrup with an equal amount of POM pomegranate juice.






Some folks might say that Disneyland is L.A.’s top attraction, or Universal Studios, or the grand art museums, or restaurants, or beaches. Me? I love the flea markets.
Flea markets reveal the overall tone of a place. By selling collections and discards, treasures and trivia—both splendid and spent, flea markets showcase the life-styles of locals, revealing a veritable storehouse of consumer culture.

Flea Market Culture collage by Susan Manlin Katzman
L.A. flea markets provide even more than a peek at residents’ recycling magic. In addition to an opportunity to score the unique and useful, L.A. flea markets offer sunshine, look-at-me shoppers perfect for people watching, star sightings and a dribbling of super-special, straight-from- Hollywood, movie-making leftovers.

Shoppers collage by Susan Manlin Katzman
Although L.A.’s Melrose Trading Post never disappoints,

Melrose Trading Post

the blow-out-biggie of L.A. flea markets has to be the Rose Bowl Flea Market and Market Place held rain and shine the 2nd Sunday of each month in Pasadena.

Rose Bowl Flea Market by Susan Manlin Katzman
It may not be “The Greatest Flea Market on Earth,” as advertised, but it is a sensational secondhand-shopping extravaganza not duplicated elsewhere.

Rose Bowl Flea Market Find by Susan Manlin Katzman

According to brochures, the market draws about 20,000 shoppers to buy from a million items on sale from 2,500 vendors. As scope and size can stymie first-time visitors, especially tourists new to L.A., we’re listing some tips telling newbie out-of-towners what they need to know to go:

Masks at Rose Bowl Flea Market by Susan Manlin KatzmanMapQuest directions to 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, CA 91103. Driving the freeways can be the pits for newcomers. (As an alternative to going alone, try to find a flea-market-loving L.A. friend and hitch a ride or join a tour group and leave the driving to them.)


Rose Bowl Parking LotKeep looking and you will find a free parking spot on one of the grassy lots edging the Rose Bowl or on the street. A handicap parking lot is near the entrance (also free). VIP parking lots closest to entrance charge a fee. Bottlenecking happens, but compared to driving the freeways, parking is a piece of cake, easy as pie.


Admission Tickets Rose Bowl by Susan Manlin KatzmanLine up to buy admission tickets. The line moves quickly.


Ticket Window at Rose Bowl Flea MarketVIP admission  (5-7 a.m.) runs $20. Early bird tickets, ( 7-8 a.m.), cost $15. Express tickets  (8-9 a.m.) ring in at $11. And general admission (9 a.m.-3 p.m when ticket sales stop), cost $9. Kids under 12 are free with an adult.

Flea Market Coral by Susan Manlin KatzmanTo find the choice pieces, dealers, decorators and the stars usually show up first thing in the morning.


Rose Bowl Flea Market Art Some vendors like to shop before opening their own stands, grabbing early bird bargains in the morning and reselling the items for a profit later in the day. This means that not all vendors are set up before 9 a.m.

Hollywood for Sale at Rose Bowl by Susan Manlin KatzmanBargain hunters do well after 3 p.m. when vendors start to break down their stands and sell items cheaply rather than  tote them home. The public can shop until 4:30 p.m.



Seeking Shade at Rose Bowl Flea Market by Susan Manlin KatzmanDress for the sun and space. Wear sunscreen and a hat, or carry a sun umbrella (can buy both hat and umbrella on the spot). Keep shoes comfortable. Mornings can be chilly—afternoons, blazing.


Rose Bowl Flea Market Find by Susan Manln KatzmanBring your own water; vendors sell water, but at an inflated price.



ATMs at Rose Bowl Flea Market by Susan Manlin Katzman


Bring cash. ATMs are located on site, but charges apply.





Pick up a map when you walk in door. Head first to the areas that most appeal. Chances are you’ll cave before walking all seven miles of aisles. Shop til you drop is not a cliché at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

Map of Rose Bowl Flea Market
Oddities at Rose Bowl Flea Market by Susan Manlin KatzmanMerchandise prices vary from ridiculously low to unreasonably high. I picked up a small green plastic buddha. Saw that it was marked 80. Thought it was 80 cents. The vender said $80. I don’t think he was joking. On the other hand, I bought four charming desert plates for $2.50 and a vintage dress and three cashmere sweaters for total of $15 dollars. (I know the black turtle neck must have belonged to Marilyn Monroe as it was from her era and looked just like her. What a score!)


Vintage Jewelry by Susan Manlin KatzmanBargaining works, but be California laid-back, friendly and polite.






Just for Pets by Susan Manlin KatzmanNo pets allowed.
Cart cartsMany vendors will let you purchase an item and will hold it for you until you finish shopping—if you can find them again. You can buy rolling carts on site.






Food and drink concessions polka dot the market. (The $5 slushy Freshers lemonade is worth it!)

Collage of Food at Rose Bowl Flea Market by Susan Manlin Katzman


As 20,000 visitors can’t be wrong—join the throng, have fun, treasure hunt. I’ll join you—every second Sunday rain or shine (mostly shine).

Now here’s a recipe for a cake perfect to serve on my new/old plates. The recipe comes from Carol Gray, a marvelous L.A. cook and flea market aficionado.

Carol Gray's Sunny California Cake by Susan Manlin Katzman


Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Butter to grease cake panCarol Gray's Sunny California Cake by Susan Manlin Katzman
1-1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
Lemon curl for garnish
Sweetened whipped cream for serving.

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter a 9-inch, deep (should be 2-inches high), cake pan.
Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Set pan aside.
Put powdered sugar in a small bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
Add more lemon juice, a little at a time, if necessary to make a smooth
thin glaze; set glaze aside.
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl;
stir to blend. Put buttermilk, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla in small bowl
and whisk to blend. Pour buttermilk mixture and melted butter into flour
mixture; fold gently with a spatula until just blended. Spread batter
evenly in prepared pan.
Set pan in preheated 350°F oven and bake until cake pulls away from
sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30
Remove cake from oven and immediately run a knife around edge of
pan. Put a rack on top of cake and invert cake onto rack. Remove pan.
Place another rack on top of cake and invert again so that cake top is top
side up. Immediately stir lemon glaze, adding more juice if glaze is too
thick to spread.
Spread glaze over top of cake coming within 1/2-inch of edge. Set cake
aside to cool completely.
Before serving, garnish center of cake with a lemon curl.
Serve with sweetened whipped cream.




What do Ernest Hemingway, Francisco de Goya, Nancy Reagan, the King of Spain, Jack Nicholson, a Belgian diplomat, a Japanese engineer and a dentist from Ohio have in common?

Will give you a hint: Madrid.
And another: the oldest restaurant in the world.
Along with countless writers, artists, heads of state, celebrities and tourists, the above have dined at Restaurante Sobrino de Botín, Madrid’s most famous restaurant.

A French cook, Jean Botín, first opened Casa Botín in 1725. When the cook and his wife died, a nephew took over accounting for the name change to Sobrino de Botín (Nephew of Botín). The restaurant sold to the González family in the 20th century. Despite surviving13 monarchs, two World Wars, and a slew of nasty coups and uprisings, the two families kept Restaurante Sobrino de Botín thriving through the centuries.

José González Gozalbo

José González Gozalbo

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Sobrino de Botín as the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world.

Botín still occupies its original space on Calle Cuchilleros (aptly translated cutlery street) in the heart of medieval Madrid, a few steps from Plaza Mayor. And the restaurant still cooks in its original wood burning stove and still serves traditional Castilian food to throngs of admiring diners.

Original Oven at Botín by Susan Manlin Katzman

Dining at Botín. Collage by Susan Manlin Katzman

The restaurant’s four floors, creaky wood stairs, ceiling beams, tile floors, white table cloths, stone walls, old paintings, award plaques, cobwebbed cellar, and musty, smokey garlic scent handed down through the centuries, add to the ancient tavern ambiance,

Collage of Wine at Botín by Susan Manlin Katzman

Collage of Decor at Botín by Susan Manlin Katzman

but the dining experience is not just about participating in history.
Botín’s food is unbeatable.
The must-order dish remains cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) with a runner up of of cordero asado (roast lamb).

Roast Suckling Pig at Botín by Susan Manlin Katzman
Botín gets their pigs from Segovia and roasts them in the restaurant’s original oven until the skin turns crispy crunchy golden brown locking in the meats rich succulent tenderness.
Old-style Castilian specialties supplement the roasted meats, with sopa de ajo castellana con huevo (garlic soup with egg) a most popular starter.



Yield: 4 servings.
About 1/4 cup olive oil
4 to 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
About 2-12 ounces Serrano ham, slivered
2 to 3 crusty white day old bread rolls, cut into 1/4-inch thick chunks (about 3 cups chunks)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
Salt to taste
4 cups hot water
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Cover the bottom of a medium skillet with olive oil and put over high heat. When the oil is hot, add garlic. Fry about 30 seconds then add ham. Fry another 30 seconds and add bread. Sauté, tossing with a spatula until bread absorbs the oil and light golden brown. Sprinkle with paprika and salt. Toss well. Add the hot water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil 5 minutes to release and blend flavors.
Divide the soup among four heat proof bowls. Break an egg on top of soup in each bowl. Place bowls in the preheated 375°F oven and bake until egg is set, about 5 minutes.
Serve immediately.

For more information about Botín click HERE.

Pig Head at Botín by Susan Manlin Katzman





Taking a photographic safari in South Africa is a once in a lifetime experience, especially if the safari is connected to Sabi Sabi, a private Game Reserve adjoining South Africa’s massive Kruger National Park.
Climb onto a land rover

Boarded on a Land Rover Ready for Safari

and head into the sandy landscape on a Sabi Sabi safari and a zoo’s worth of wildlife will wander by your camera lens.


Lions sleep near dusty roads.

Sleeping Lion by Susan Manlin Katzman


Giraffes graze on leaves growing on gnarly trees.

Giraffes Graze at Sabi Sabi by Susan Manlin Katzman


Elephants guide their young through the shrubby bush.

Elephant Family by Susan Manlin Katzman


Leopards come so close that one can smell their musty scent.

Leopard at Sabi Sabi by Susan Manlin Katzman


The sightings are so abundant, that one could think Sabi Sabi is a theme park designed by Disney, but to the contrary—all is real, wild, exciting and exhilarating.

Abundant Animal Sightings at Saba Sabi by Susan Manlin KatzmanAnimals at Sabi Sabi
The Big Five (the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot) crisscross the land unencumbered by fences and thousands of other species thrive in the protected African environment—all to the benefit of tourists seeking to see and photograph wildlife in its glorious natural habitat.

At Sabi Sabi
But Sabi Sabi isn’t just about the wild and feral. One takes safaris from a base of the reserve’s four highly civilized places to stay.
Each property in the Sabi Sabi luxury lodge collection offers similar amenities, including gracious suites, fabulous safaris, and luscious food (see recipe below) and drink.

Food and Drink at Sabi Sabi


Designed to fit into a “yesterday, today and tomorrow” marketing theme, the four safari properties differ most in size, décor and price.
The eight-thatched suites of Selati Camp sport romantic, historic railway decor and fit the “yesterday” theme. The six luxury suites in Little Bush Camp, and the 25 air-conditioned, kid-friendly suites at Bush Lodge represent the best of “today’s” safari lodging. And the 13-suite Earth Lodge thrusts visitors into “tomorrow.”

Bush Lodge

Bush Lodge

I stayed at Earth Lodge and although I am a writer, I have a hard time summarizing the magnificence of the experience.

Earth Lodge Sign
Earth Lodge is a work of architectural genius—a completely contemporary masterpiece built to make the least impact on it’s landscape. One can be at the front entrance and not see evidence of any building.

Entrance to Earth Lodge

Entrance to Earth Lodge

Earth Lodge has been described as “the most environmentally sensitive lodge in Africa.” I would say it is also the most dazzling—but then again, I was upgraded to Earth Lodge’s Amber Presidential Suite, so I am basing my opinion on unmatched glory.

Exterior of the Amber Suite

Exterior of the Amber Suite

Sculpted tree trunks weave into the Amber Suite’s dining room table, sideboards and bedroom headboard. Huge African beads, hanging on thick threads, accessorize each room. The egg-shaped bathtub overlooks the bush where one can submerge in a bubble bath and watch for animals coming to drink at the suite’s outdoor plunge pool.

Interior of the Amber Suite

Interior of the Amber Suite

Although the Amber Suite sits in a class all it’s own, the whole of Earth Lodge is a live-in work of art.
Individual suites are sculpted into the landscape as if absorbed by the environment.
Art from natural materials decorate the lodge’s open-air main building housing the reception desk, dining areas, bar, boutique and lounges.

Artistic touches at Earth Lodge

Artistic touches at Earth Lodge

Creativity, environmental savvy and a pampering staff

Cooks and Guides

Cooks and Guides

elevate Earth Lodge to a special stratosphere that is nature focused and utterly glamorous, totally natural and engagingly sophisticated.
Although Earth Lodge receives the lion’s share of my accolades, the other Sabi Sabi lodges offer exceedingly comfortable stays. Combine a choice of fine accommodations with safaris showcasing a lavish amount of wildlife and Sabi Sabi ranks as an unbeatable destination for travelers wanting both beauty and the beasts.



Gnocchi and Pomodoro Sauce by Susan Manlin Katzman

Yield: Serves 12 as first course or 6 as an entree.

Make gnocchi:
Coarse salt
4 russet potatoes
1 large clove garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 egg, beaten
About 3/4 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Sprinkle salt over the bottom of a roasting pan. Set potatoes on salt. Put in 350°F oven and bake 40 minutes. Prick potatoes with a fork and continue baking until potatoes are fully cooked and “dry,” about 20 minutes more. Meanwhile,
set garlic on a piece of foil and roast in the same oven until soft and tender, about 20 minutes.
Cut potatoes in half and scoop flesh into a mixing bowl. Peel garlic and add to potatoes. Mash potatoes and garlic with butter until mixture is smooth. When cool enough to handle, stir egg into potatoes. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Stir in about 1/4 cup flour. Mix well. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a dough that is firm, but not wet nor crumbly.
Divide dough into four portions. Put each portion on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll tightly into a log about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Tie plastic securely at both ends of log.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce heat. Add plastic coated logs to water and simmer for 1 hour.
Gently remove logs from water and set aside to cool. When cool, refrigerate until firm.

Make pomodoro sauce:
Yield: About 2-3/4 cup sauce.
Olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 bay leaves
3 cloves
10 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced (or 1 ( 28-ounce) can whole peel tomatoes, diced)
About 10 basil leaves, slivered
Salt and pepper to taste
Put 2 to 3 tablespoons oil in the bottom of a large saucepan and set over medium heat. When oil is hot add onion. Sauté, stirring often, until onion is translucent and just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves and cloves; sauté, stirring often for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice to saucepan along with basil. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer mixture, stirring often, 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves and cloves. Season to taste.
If a smooth sauce is desired, let sauce cool slightly, puree in a blender or food processor and then pass through a sieve.

To finish and serve:
Fresh herbs for garnish
Remove plastic from gnocchi logs and cut each log into 1/2- to 3/4- inch thick rounds.
Melt butter in a large frying pan and sauté gnocchi rounds in butter until beautifully browned.
Put several spoonfuls of sauce in the bottom of large shallow bowls. Top with gnocchi rounds. Garnish with fresh herbs. Serve immediately.


Sunrise/Sunset-All is Perfect at Earth Lodge

For more Sabi Sabi information: http://www.sabisabi.com.

To customize a Steppes Travel tour:  http://www.steppestravel.co.uk




It’s chic and cheap by Paris standards, but those aren’t the only draws. Celebrity chef Christian Constant’s newish baby bistro, Les Cocottes de Christian Constant, serves casual and creative casseroles popular with locals as well as tourists from around the world.

Les Cocottes de Christian Constant Tour Eiffel by Susan Manlin Katzman
Located in Paris’ tony 7th arrondissement, at 135 rue Saint-Dominique, the small restaurant offers casual counter service and some high tables, often shared.

Counter and High Tables at Les Cocottes by Susan Manlin Katzman
The menu limits choices to a few salads, soups and verrines (succulent small dishes served in glass jars); several starters (such as country style pate);

Country-style pate at Les Cocottes by Susan Manlin Katzman

and an array of desserts.

Main courses take the form of cocottes, or inspirational one-dish casserole combinations, attractively served in small cast iron pots (cocottes), which are manufactured by the French company Staub.

Dishes at Les Cocottes served in Staub Cocottes by Susan Manlin Katzman
Chef Philippe Cadeau and his capable staff change menu items frequently and daily chef’s recommendations are a must…then…again…so is everything else.

Philippe Cadeau (center) and Staff

Philippe Cadeau (center) and Staff

Wine Served with a Smile at Les Cocottes


Order wine by the bottle (short list) or carafe or glass—the later served by tap.

To avoid long waits, show up either quite early (at the beginning of service) or quite late (as service winds down).

Unless things have recently changed, Les Cocottes does not take reservations and the place fills fast.

In addition to good food, drinkable wine and a fun dining experience,
the restaurant sells a variety of products including Staub cocottes, logo wine glasses and Christian Constant’s cookbooks, from which I copied, for you, a recipe for Les Cocottes signature dessert: la fabuleuse tarte au chocolat de Christian Constant.





The Fabulous Christian Constant Chocolate Tart served at Les Cocottes by Susan Manlin Katzman

Recipe for Christian Constant's Fabulous Chocolate Tart

As to lagniappe, the Eiffel Tower sits just around the corner from Les Cocottes and provides magnificent scenery for after dinner stroll.

Eiffel Tower from the Seine River by Susan Manlin Katzman





Yellowstone Park sign by Susan Manlin KatzmanThe park is packed. Yellowstone National Park hosts about four million visitors a year with numbers swelling in July and August. Most people book lodging about a year in advance and make their dinner reservations well before arriving. Although not impossible, last minute reservations are rare, however most park restaurants have a first come, first served policy at breakfast and lunch allowing those without reservations to savor top eating spots.
For several reasons my favorite place in the park for lunch is the Roosevelt Lodge.
Roosevelt Lodge

Located in an Historic District at the northern part of the park, The Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins complex feels remarkably uncrowded.
The setting supports a feeling of serenity. Mountains sit at the back, a sage-brush filled meadow graces the front, streams trickle through and a surrounding pine forest not only shades the property but also deliciously scents the air.

Roosevelt Lodge Surroundings

Without crowds of fellow travelers, one can hear horses neighing in the background and birds chirping above. The attitude is that of a summer camp or dude ranch or gentle Western frontier town.
Built in 1919/1920 near a site where Yellowstone enthusiast President Teddy Roosevelt once camped, the property contains a grouping of individual wood cabins—all rustic and sparsely furnished.

Cabins at Roosevelt Lodge

The more expensive “Frontier Cabins” include shower, toilet and sink while the bare-bones “Roughrider Cabins” are heated with wood burning stoves and share “facilities” a short walk away.

Cabin at Roosevelt Lodge
In addition to cabins, the property sports a general store,

General Store at Roosevelt Lodge by Susan Manlin Katzman

a corral complex offering horseback and stagecoach rides

Corral at Roosevelt Lodge

and a log-lodge with with gift shop, bar, front porch and restaurant.

Porch at Roosevelt Lodge

Although the porch offers an ideal place to relax while waiting for a table if the restaurant is full—or recoup after a meal if you are full, it is the lodge restaurant, with its unpeeled log posts, copper light fixtures, great stone fireplace and luscious food that lassos my heart.

Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room
Branded with a hodgepodge of popular as well as unfamiliar dishes, the lunch menu include such specialities as barbecue ribs, wild game chili, bison burgers and linguine topped with bison and elk bolognese.

Dishes at Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room


The dinner menu ups the ante to offer all lunch items as well as a broader variety of chicken, fish and beef dishes and the Lodge takes it’s good food on the road by rustling up Old West Dinner Cookouts in a remote setting reachable by horseback and stagecoach.
Justly famous, Roosevelt Beans show up on all Roosevelt Lodge menus. The beans are the favorite dish served at the Lodge and probably the post popular in the park itself. Wrangle up a batch with the following recipe and you will understand the hoopla. The dish will win raves whether served in Yellowstone or your own home on the range.


Yield: 8 to 12 servingsRoosevelt Beans by Susan Manlin Katzman
8 ounces ground beef or sausage
8 ounces bacon, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 can (16 ounces) pork and beans
1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans
1 can (15 ounces) lima beans (see Note)
1 can (15 ounces) butter beans (see Note)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Put beef or sausage and bacon in a large skillet. Set over high heat and cook, stirring frequently until meat looses it’s red color. Drain excess fat from pan. Add onion and continue cooking, stirring often, until meat browns. Stir in remaining ingredients.
Bake in a preheated 325°F oven for 45 minutes or simmer on low heat for one hour.

NOTE: For a thicker dish, drain lima and butter beans before using.




Liz Munson

Liz Munson

Who serves the best grits in the United States?
This is a rhetorical question because I know the answer. It’s Liz Munson at Liz’s Where Y’at Diner in Mandeville, Louisiana.

Where Y'at Diner Sign by Susan Manlin Katzman









On the other hand, everything served at Liz’s is special—not just the grits.
I love the biscuits & debris,

Biscuits & Debris by Susan Manlin Katzman
the overloaded chocolate-rich waffle,

Chocolate Waffle by Susan Manlin Katzman
the scrambles and the Where y’at Bennies (Eggs Benedict and Benedict derivatives ).

Bennies at Liz's Where Y'at Diner
Oh Lordy, Liz’s breakfasts are heavenly.
Lunches rank high too.
Liz Munson spreads joy—and not just with food. Her diner’s quirky colorful decor shouts happiness.

Eat Good Food and Share


Her mottos, plastered here, there, everywhere tout love.

Peace and Love to All Who Enter

Love Mottos


Her friendly waitresses wear hearts on their chests.

Waitress at Liz's With Tray of Delights

Her vivid extravagant Southern-style hospitality brings smiles to all lucky enough to step into her sunshine.
“Come in and see me. Where Y’at, Baby!,” Liz writes on her menu, beaconing the crowds who show up Monday through Friday starting at 6 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 7 a.m. for breakfast, brunch and lunch, to fill tables until closing at 2 p.m. each day.



But back to the nitty gritty of grits. I lked Liz’s so much that I asked for her recipe.

”Here ya go, baby,” she replied. “It’s pretty complicated….lol.”



Creamy Grits from Liz Munson

(from Liz Munson at Liz’s Where Y’at Diner)  Decor at Liz's Where Y'at Diner by Susan Manlin Katzman
1 cup of grits
1 cup of water
1 stick of butter
Salt to taste
1/2 & 1/2 to your liking { the more the creamier}
Everything in a pot bring to a boil stirring constantly.
Cook on low heat til creamy creamy.
There ya go.