Bogota: Day 2 of the Colombia Adventure

Here we go again--another Colombian, who we did not know before our trip, who gave up a day to be our tour guide.


This time, the Colombian was the sister of CC's avocational Spanish teacher in Atlanta. He sent the teacher a message, merely asking her for suggestions of tourist spots, restaurants, etc. She volunteered HER sister, who lives in Bogota to take us touring. Sure, we thought. What person is going to volunteer to take strangers around to various spots, we asked ourselves? You guessed it, sister Laura-Bogota sent us an email and gave us a CHOICE of places and days we'd like to tour. Who are these people, we thought? We found out. It's another generous Colombian.


Laura arrived at our hotel at 8:30 AM, promptly, with a driver to take us the the Salt Cathedral (Catedral del Sal), one of the places we knew we wanted to go. Ironically, Laura had not been there before.




Our driver and guide, Laura, on the way to the Cathedral


The Salt Cathedral is about a 1 1/2 hours from Bogota. According to Michelin, the second structure in the cave (1995) was built above a former cathedral completed in 1951. Visitors are guided (in English for us) past a series of small chapels carved from salt which represent Stations of the Cross. It is a true cathedral. You've probably visited caves formed by rocks. This is one formed by salt.



Get ready for the experience of a lifetime!


As you make your way into the cathedral, you marvel at the magesty of the space and the carvings that you behold. It all takes your breath away and is well worth a visit. We were so lucky to have a tour guide who spoke English who gave us explanation of what we were seeing.




Remember: the carvings are from salt and one of the Stations of the Cross




You are looking at salt


If you want to try your hand at salt mining yourself, you can take a tour within a tour and go mining for salt. I chose to view the emeralds that were on display in the gift area and when that was over, I visited the First Aid station even though I wasn't sick. The guy is there to rescue any explorers feeling ill. He looked a little bored, so I stopped off to have my blood pressure taken and chat with him in my less- than-perfect Spanish. (It gave me, and probably others, comfort knowing he would render aid, if needed).




Here's one of the pseudo miners trying his luck. (I was glad I was at the first-aid station).


One the way back to Bogota, we stopped off at Chia at a one-of-a-kind restaurant named, Andreas. I've seen a lot of restaurants in many countries in the world, but Andreas has to be the most fun one I've ever been in. The guests were families, couples, singles and anyone who wants to have a good time (and good food, too). We were there right before Lent, so the celebration was up a notch.




You must try their signature cocktail as Laura is doing




If you can lift the 67 page menu, you must order some food. (And, the food was good, surprisingly enough)


The staff is always ready to dance--right in the middle of service




The servers in a little line-dance


If you think all the action was indoors, wait until you go outside for more of the same. Keep in mind, it's pouring rain by now.




The "girls" were looking for cute guys




We really could have joined in, but we needed some other clothes!


Needless to say, we ended our day on a high note with sounds of music dancing through our heads.


Next: Touring, Bogota, the city

Bogota: Day 1 of the Colombia Adventure

Ordinarily, a person (me) would not expect a friend of a friend to take a day off work, hire a translator and take you wherever you wanted to go. Colombia is not an ordinary country, nor are its natives. My friend of friend is a Colombian registered dietitian (Patricia) and friend of a Colombian who lives in NY (Lorena). Patricia and I had met once before. As my new Bogota friend, Patricia, took us on a unique adventure. It probably never occured to Patricia to back-out of the day--a Colombian would not do that.


Patricia's first stop was the city flower market with an array of plants and flowers, ready to go into any garden. It was lovely here, but we didn't linger since we wanted to get to the food.




The next stop was the city food market where saw, tasted and admired so many fresh fruits and vegetables that I had never seen, much less tasted. Along the way, Patricia, bought and instisted that we taste the fruits. The range of colors and characteristics were endless.


The seafood and fish were different from what I was used to and strange looking to me, not being familiar with the area.




 Mystery fish to me


 There were rows and rows of various potatoes which made my heart sing, being the potato-lover than I am.



Sacks and sacks of potatoes were everywhere.


The fruits and vegetables were a dietitian's dream. I wondered if all these wonderful fruits are the reason that I saw very few obese or even overweight Colombians? Was I in Paris? (where most everyone seems to be slim and trim). With the moderate climate and rain, fresh food is readily available. The overall market experience was a highlight of our trip.




 Color at its best




Our dear friend, Patricia, took us on other adventures. Here she is with a handsome stranger--a gringo I suspect.


The next post: Day Two of Bogota 




Colombia: Why Go?

I'm big on rewarding myself for "being brave, or doing the right thing or just feeling like I need a reward." The latest one was a reward/milestone trip. Last February through June, I spent a great deal of time recovering from surgery, radiation and the ravages that those entities place on one's body. I was/am one of the lucky ones in that I did what I was told (mostly) and have had a good report from my doctors. No visible cancer. My surgeon confirmed that this week.


The reward: a trip in February to Colombia. Not Columbia, South Carolina, not Columbia University or Columbus, Ohio, but Colombia, the country in South America. Most often the questions from uninformed friends were, "why are you going to Columbia? Aren't you afraid you'll be kidnapped" and other such queries. For the last 4 or 5 years, we've wanted to travel there, but but chose other trips instead.


Enough of the excuses, we thought and off I went planning our trip with our Buenos Aires, AR, travel agent (that's another story). What better time to go than February a year after my surgery and recovery. We read a lot about Colombia but just coudln't get the essence of the country. Our travel agent, through a Colombian agency, put the trip into perspective for us and gave us a plan.


We knew we (I) didn't want to go the jungle, so that eliminated one area of the very large country. The plan was to visit Bogota, a city of 8 million, Medellin, 2 million and Cartagena, 1 million. Flying and not driving between cities was a must because of the mountains. (Eg, flying time: 1 hour; driving time: 19 hours). Besides that, driving is not recommended for tourists. Flying also increases the cost. Being frugal travelers, that fact gave us pause. We downgraded our hotels to fly and cut out other "niceties"...flying was the only way since I've been on long bus trips and they don't work for me.


Keep in mind, Bogota is about 4 hours from Atlanta and in the same time zone. Airfare: about $800. California is 4 to 5 hours with a 3 hour time change and it's about $350 if you get a deal. Why? Ask the airlines. I do know that I felt a lot better arriving in Bogota than I do in San Francisco or the west coast because of the time difference.


My plan is to talk about each city we visited and what we liked/didn't like about each. The next post will be about Bogota. Please join me!

The Menu Planner is Back!

After an absence of many months, the Menu Planner is back. Since my last blog post, I've been recovering from my bout with The Annoyance, traveling, cooking many new recipes for my column and generally enjoying life as it is for me now, happy to be alive and well. Cancer does that for you, or it did for me. The world and the people in it take on a whole new look. I find myself saying or thinking, '"it" could be worse, it could be cancer." I don't think anyone can understand this trite expression better than someone who has been there.


I hope this is the last time I have to write a paragraph like the above. It's much more fun to talk about food I've cooked or tasted and places I've visited.


Coming up--a vacation in Colombia, South America. Stay tuned. 


Thank you for allowing me to begin "anew."



It Takes a Village: Part II--The Food Brigade Forms

Three days post surgery, CC became ill with a serious respiratory ailment that lingered for over two weeks. You got the picture: instead of being the recipient of attention from my care-giving husband, I became The Nurse, Cook and general Care-Giver for both of us. He, who was supposed to take on this responsibility of care-giver, felt so horrible that I felt sorry for him!


During this time, our meals continued to deteriorate. After about a week, an angel sent a message via email. It read, "I've been out out town for about a week, how are you doing and can I drop something by?" YIKES. Help is on the way I said to myself. Never one to turn down help when I need it, I responded "yes, that would be lovely." What I was thinking was, YES, YES, Yes...we need food!


The angel, Charlotte Margolin, not only brought food but set up a website for anyone who wanted to participate in the food brigade. Friends could sign up for a date and list what they would bring. The site is ( It even has a place for those non-cookers to order food delivered to the friend in need. I was so happy about this turn of events that I could have cried. Now, I did not have to worry about preparing food (for once). Please understand that I have many friends who are highly accomplished cooks and chefs and they came through like the friends and colleagues they are. They just didn't know or think that we needed meals because I am the "7-Day Menu Planner," right? 



Charlotte Margolin - our angel (full time working mother and wife)


Once the "system" went into play, every day or so a friend would bring a meal. Often the quantity carried us through for an additional meal. We do love and apprciate leftovers so another meal waiting for us made for happy sickies.


My bookclub brigade arrived first with Sue Kineslla, Holly Campbell, Karen Hudson, and the above mentioned Charlotte. All delivered food to us. Sue, being Sue, brought several meals in addition to stocking the freezer with yet more meals.


Next, fellow members of the Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier joined the food brigage. Mealtimes are looking up!


TBC....more food arrives. 

It Takes a Village: Part One (diagnosis and surgery)

Never, ever do you want to get the phone call that says "it's cancer." As one friend said, "it's a big club that no one wants to be in." Nevertheless, the call came sometime in mid February after a series of tests to rule out the possibility. "Immediately make an appointment with the surgeon," advised my doctor. It's one of those OS moments that you wish you'd never answered the phone. It's hard to get the worms back in the can after they crawl out and crawl out they did.


Two days later I'm sitting in the office of 3-inch, high-heel-wearing surgeon, Dr Richardson. (I liked her immediately because of her non-sensible shoes.) Heather Richardson gave me the once-over and ordered more tests after explaining the time line and procedure. (It takes a lot of tests to see where they will whack and how much they will whack-out. Note: these are not medical terms). Heather had been down this road before as she gave analogy after analogy, one including an elephant. That's all I remember--something about an elephant. (Always take another person with you for an appointment that involves a scalpel.)




Heather Richardson, MD. My beautiful surgeon.


Meanwhile, a lot of tests followed before surgery was scheduled for February 28. (Since I had a speaking engagement in Napa three weeks later, timing was important). You may know the surgery drill: arrive at 6 AM, sit in the waiting room until they call you, give you a bag to put your valuables in and try to relieve all your anxieties. Yeah, right.  Naturally, I cried like a baby. The surgeon arrived (sans high heels) to see if I had bolted and to offer words of assurance.  A few more "tests" followed before this cute anesthesiologist arrived and said I didn't look my age....right before he knocked me out. It was a good memory to hang onto. That's all I remember except waking up in the recovery room asking the nurse if I was still alive. The nurses said I was still on earth and "get ready to go home". 


We're home by 2 PM to sleep off the anesthesia. Up by 3:30 calling friends that I was still alive. No doubt the drugs were working overtime. What's for dinner? Not that much (another part related to food will follow).


For the four or five days, I stayed on the couch watching wonderful TV. My favorite that week was "The Cat From Hell" on Animal Planet (for two straight hours). Smoke and Flash were not at all crazy about that show as they provided nursing care.



Smoke and Flash showing their nursing skills.


The next few days were a blur but I do remember loving ice packs. Also, I remember having some of the worst food I'd eaten in years. (I was not quite up to testing recipes and so we had to "make do" with the little we had on hand and my less than stellar planning.) I noted my appetite was not suffering even in my condition. I took this as good news; bad news. CC's appetite had not wavered either, ever.


To be continued..............The Food Brigade Arrives!






Hats Off to Frank Buda, MD: World's Best Host for "Hats On" Easter Brunch!

Frank Buda is one of or the most generous guys I know (and, we share the same birthday and neither one of us is talking about what year!). Twice a year he hosts a big party for his friends of which he has many. We are so lucky to be on this invitation list. On Easter he always has an indoor/outdoor soiree in his historic Ansley Park (Atlanta) home. The Easter brunch features a hat contest with X-rated prizes. If you don't arrive in a hat at this party, one is issued to you at the front door. It's much better to wear your own!


The party consists of four parts. The first part is a greeting a the door where each guest is greeted by the host who always wears a different outfit. This year was the year of "Cowboy Frank." 




The host, Cowboy Frank and Susan


Part two is mingling and oogling at the hat creations. Some guests spend hours designing and making their hats. Some spend 15 minutes at Marshall's or TJ Maxx making a choice. Some hats are creative and beautiful; some tacky and some aren't worth mentioning.




Check out the hats! Note the color-coordinated shirts.





You have to have very good posture to wear the hat on the left. He did. The other hat is good for rain or shine.




These guys preferred to bring their own Easter bunnies.


Part three is the buffet with choices of meats, cheese, salads and desserts all artfully displayed on the dining room table. Most of the people at this buffet are NOT on a "diet." 




CC filling his plate from the beautiful table. Look at that centerpiece! CC fits right into the color scheme as does the guy behind him.


Part four is the awarding of prizes for best hats at which time the x-rated gifts are handed out.




Waiting for the awards. (I thought the lady in the white dress should have won the Audrey Hepburn award. I also like the hat beside her--not CC).




Best Couple Hats! This is one of many awards.


We always leave saying Frank is the most generous man we know and we appreciate being included on the guest list. If we're lucky, we'll see some of these same folks on Christmas Eve.


We love you, Frank! Happy Trails to you until we meet again.......




Frank Buda, MD


The Invisible Diners: Us!

Had this evening not happened to us I would never have believed it. We'd heard about and wanted to go to Top Flr in Midtown, Atlanta for a long time. This was the night--our first and last visit.


We arrived on time at 8 and were seated quickly. Good. After waiting about 5 minutes and asking for a server, the menus arrived. Most of the wines were out of our price range (yes, we're frugal) so I ordered the best I could under the circumstances. CC had a beer. They arrived in good time. We ordered a salad and that arrived within a reasonable amount of time. When it arrived, we ordered our entrees and side dishes. That was about 8:25. That was the last we saw of any service staff at our table without flagging someone down.


At 9 PM we asked about our entrees from a guy with a clipboard (we'd already asked the waitress who told us they would be out in 5 minutes--10 minutes earlier). The clipboard guy said he'd check. After getting his attention again (he did not let us know what was happening after he "checked"-- we had to ask again). His said "there's been a glitch in the kitchen and I'll take care of it." About 9:30 (I'm not kidding), the entrees arrived (scallops for me; trout for CC). Mine was good, although not very hot. He thought his trout was "fishy" but we each ate every bite because we were quite hungry by now. The pearl barley dish was good, too.


Not having enough to eat, we ordered a dessert to share. After 10 minutes we asked another server, not ours, about our dessert. He said "they do take time." (We ordered a tart). Ten minutes after that, the dessert arrived, but not what we ordered. We ate part of it anyway. 


The check arrived (after asking for it). CC did tip; the clipboard guy did take off our entrees and a glass of wine. Did we see anyone on our way out? No, there was no one around. We left about 10 PM.


In retrospect, the evening was more like a battle than a pleasant experience. And, we kept saying, there was no one in obvious charge. Is that anyway to run a business?




Celebrating a Birthday in a Tent--Who Me?

No one could believe it when I said I wanted to go Glamping for my birthday this year. First, they said "what the heck is Glamping?" Then, after I explained they said "you've got to be kidding. You? Glamping?Have you lost your mind?" You see, Glamping is a combination of camping with a glamorous touch. You don't arrive and then put up a tent, like I hear some folks do. You arrive, and are escorted your "tent" and taught how to operate the "equipment."


Full disclosure: I'm not a camper, never having slept outdoors in my life. In other words, I'm not much of an outdoor girl, but these tents and the outdoors were different from our Girl Scout days.


The tents are about 10 by 12 feet, with walls, floor, en suite bathroom with shower, heat, coffee pot, and if you're lucky, a cat to sleep at the foot of your bed. Oh, did I mention, also comfy twin beds.




Our tent




The front porch


Day One: Our arrival was on Friday afternoon with plenty of time to gather in the ceramics studio of our host, an artist. It's kinda the "living room" for campers. The cozy room was furnished with a large sofa, multiple chairs and a big table. Right out the door was a huge fire pit, for later in the evening. Lisa brought music and we all (6) brought food and beverages to tide us over until dinner time.


After the fire pit was revved up and we had a few adult beverages, we sat around the fire and told war stories. (All girls will understand what consistes of a "war story" and we're not talking!) The scene was just perfect with mountains in the background and a huge meadow before us. Rather than risk life and limb for dinner out we opted for a pizza delivered to us. To end the evening, I carried one of the resident cats "home" with Lisa and me and the beautiful gray girl slept at my feet the whole night, a perfect companion (and foot warmer).




By the fire, but mIssing two of the six


Day two: We woke up and Lisa and I were frozen like logs. All you could see were our heads sticking out from under the covers. Our heater had run out of propane during the night. We were told at "orientation" that we were to call immediately if such a thing happened. Within a few minutes, help arrived and we were toasty warm. After a huge breakfast, we visited Blue Ridge, GA, a lovely town in the north Georgia mountains a few miles away. It was a girl-shopper's paradise. (We all agreed that no man we knew could have lasted more than 5 minutes in this town.) It was a day of touching and searching for the perfect prize. I won it (as far as I was concerned).....a St John dressy a much reduced price. We all agreed it was perfect.


The town of BR has some respectable restaurants. When I say that, I mean restaurants that have good food and don't gouge tourists (like so many towns I could name and won't). You won't believe this, but we all ordered the same entree. Yes, we were a compatiple bunch.




Elaine treated us to lunch in Blue Ridge. (From left to right, Lisa, Bobbi, Margaret, Elizabeth, Susan and Elaine).


The big birthday dinner came later that evening and bountiful it was. The meal, along with a perfectly decadent birthday cake, made by Elizabeth, kept us all on a chocolate high for many days following. Bobbi brought French champagne, so we were in heaven. Naturally they had put those candles on the cake that won't go out as I huffed and puffed until I had help from the audience.




Dinner and Cake with the Owner and Hostess of the Glamping Grounds supervising





Birthday Girl:


Elizabeth, The Thoughtful, gave me this tiara and a wand to go with it. I granted many wishes. After all, what are friends for? Another dear friend (Margaret) gave everyone t-shirts that said "Sensational Susie Sisterhood." It made me cry.




Love the t-shirts! We're on about the fourth course by this time.


Following dinner, we once again experienced the fire pit. This time, I was led into the dark by the hostess who commanded I make a wish and then I was to release a fire-filled Chinese-like lantern. Into the sky the lantern floated up and down over and over until it disappeared into the distance. What a perfect ending to a wonderful weekend with special friends.


What I have to do now is figure out another out-of-character celebration. Sky-diving, anyone?


Glamping? We were at the Martyn House in Elijay, Georgia. We filled 3 of the 4 tents.








What! Me Bring Dessert?

Dear friends hosted a small New Year's Eve gathering at their downtown Atlanta high-rise condo. The hosts always do an outstanding job of creating a fun party with interesting guests, good food, lively music and great martinis and other beverages. For a previous party, they did all the food and beverages and had a bigger group. For the New Year's celebration, she decided that everyone would participate and bring some of the food. That was a good idea and fair. Good idea until she said to me, "bring dessert." I'm more of a main plate girl and not at all interested in appetizers (except to eat) or desserts (except to eat). We were going to a restaurant after appetizers and back to the condo for dessert, so I was cooked. No escape.


Of course, I stewed over this turn of events and made several suggestions of what to prepare to CC (my husband) that he didn't like. (Notice how easy it is to dislike if you don't have to produce? I noticed that, too.) The other couple was bringing appetizers, so how could I not step up to the plate and do my part. How?


Full Disclosure: You should know as a child, I was quite a dessert producer (and eater). My cakes were at least one half inch tall (rather than an inch or more) for a simple reason. I ate half the batter before it went into the oven. (We didn't worry about raw eggs then.) I even won a prize in elementary school for the best cake (I resisted the batter for that one). That was then. How could I rise above my anxiety? "Charge on," I said to myself.


Here's what I came up with. It had a really nice flavor. Might have been the dark rum?? Look for this cake in an upcoming 7-Day Menu Planner column.




Rum and Sour Cream Pound Cake with Walnuts

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Susan Nicholson is an Atlanta-based cookbook author and registered dietitian.

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