Thank you, Mother Nature, for the beautiful welcome-home party with all the al fresco trimmings.
You have to hand it to Ohio and Michigan to pull one more magic trick out of the winter bag. Big fluffy snowflakes falling on an ice-covered lawn: The scene is almost worth taking a picture for the Florida friends who said I was crazy to come home so early.
Many things considered, it's not too early, especially for the three cats waiting at home. This little taste of winter is just enough to make me realize what I missed in December, January, and February.
Despite the cold and snow, I did make a quick dash onto the front porch to unveil a birdhouse that was protected by two plastic bags. After watching two sparrows circle the wrapped house several times and land and chirp on the porch railing, it dawned on me that this was their house and they wanted to move in and get the early-bird special spring rate. Once the bags were removed, they did indeed move in. Nature is fascinating. That must be a sign of an early spring.
Did I drive from Florida to Posey Lake without stopping, like many people who spend the winter in Florida do, then brag about it?
No way. I say smell the roses and sip the wine on the way home. My favorite place to drag out the long drive is Aiken, S.C., just over the line from Augusta, Ga.
Four reasons direct me to Aiken whenever I am in the neighborhood. First, the Aiken Hotel, an historic landmark in downtown, is pet friendly in the adjacent motel. Pets are not allowed in the main building, but Digby and I get a very nice large room in the motel. It takes the two-night stay to review and refresh my Aiken dining appetite at the Green Boundary and Riley's Whitby Bull.
I always hope former Toledoans Gene Roach and Richard Enk will have made reservations at the Green Boundary, an elegant private club in a former Aiken mansion. When I dress for the road trip home, anything goes, but I always keep a dress-up ensemble, high-heeled shoes, and jewelry near at hand in case we go to the Boundary. There are so few chances to dress up anymore. In fact club rules forbid denim, which is surprising in a city with many horse stables and paddocks.
I was not disappointed. The Boundary service, as expected, was beyond reproach. The club manager came to the car to escort me inside under an umbrella. For the record, the entree choice, Tasmanian trout, is a first cousin to salmon in color, flavor, and texture.
Riley's Whitby Bull is a one-of-a-kind place. It would be impossible to maintain a bad mood after you have been met at the door by Lorraine Riley, whether it's for Sunday brunch, lunch, or dinner. She is a graduate chef from the Culinary Institute of America as is her husband, Will, a native of Norwalk, O.
The petite lady with a broad grin wears a jester's hat complete with a ringing bell on the toppling peak, and a chef's coat over tight tights. Lorraine's toys bring a smile. She waves a fairy wand before every guest as they enter and again at the table. The wand emits a beckoning melodic tune as it is waved, and you are happy to be there.
Lorraine and Will's approach to restaurant operation is not standard. She writes a newsletter. She gladly shares recipes for Guinness Fruitcake and Brown Irish Soda Bread, and she has a Q and A handout that answers questions customers may, or may not, have about the Rileys and their home where the business is located.
Q and A examples are: How did you arrive at the name, how old is the house, how long did the renovation take, where did you train, and how do you keep your orchids so healthy?
I don't really care how the Rileys grow their orchids, but I would like to know how Lorraine maintains such enthusiasm that transfers to the guests. On this last visit after a few wand wavings, she insisted that we try a slice of the watermelon pink cheesecake that was the same color as the walls in one dining room. She had concocted it by adding black cherry Kool-Aid and dried cherries to a basic four-egg cheesecake batter. Next week, it will be pink lemonade Kool-Aid. Why not?