I eat. I drive. I write. I check out cute guys. I’m a single woman traveling — and living — solo. It occurred to me there are a million “mommy blogs,” but very few blogs for single women who aren’t sitting at home waiting for Prince Charming or watching their biological clock. Consider this the “non-mommy” blog. Think Anthony Bourdain meets Bridget Jones.  

Tourist Trap

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I have driven past this crazy roadside stop about a million times without stopping and decided it was high time to check it out. When you pull in the driveway it rings a bell and the proprietor followed me in to open up the shop and bathroom. She warned me about the mannequin in the bathroom, which is probably a good thing because yes, it probably would have spooked me. Actually it did anyway — I asked her if she was familiar with the movie “Tourist Trap,” which she was.

That 1979 movie featured Chuck Connors as a nut who has this tourist stop full of mannequins that have a nasty habit of moving by themselves and a car load of teenagers start ending up dead. It sounds silly, but it has some really creepy moments. And as I started thinking about the fact this lady knew the film and some of the decor was reminiscent of it, I started hoping she wasn’t a serial killer.

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Anyway, I shot these on the monochrome setting so I could see the results in black and white, and using a red “filter.” The red filter darkens the sky and increases contrast, but also increases noise, so even though it’s ISO 200, noise reduction in Photoshop was generously applied. The monochrome filter can be removed in your RAW processing software so you aren’t giving up the color option if you change your mind later. Which I rarely do when it comes to black and white.

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Raisin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Caramel Sauce

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Mmmm, if you want a really decadent dessert/comfort food, what is better than bread pudding? Okay, there might be some things better, but it’s definitely near the top of the list. This is delicious even before the sauce, and downright heavenly with it. If you live alone, be sure to invite someone over so you don’t just sit and eat it all at once. It’s that good.

You could use plain bread, but I say the more raisins the better. I love the vanillas from King Arthur, and I used a Mexican vanilla they sell for this recipe.

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First, you combine the bread and raisins in a large bowl, then melt the butter in the milk before adding to the dry mixture.

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Then you let it all soak up that milky, buttery goodness for 10 minutes. Add remaining pudding ingredients and pour into a greased 1.5 quart casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes until center is set.

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It already looks pretty darned good, doesn’t it? Wait till you smell it. When I made this, my landlords also owned the house next door and had a man doing contracting work. He always commented about the heavenly smells coming from the kitchen, poor guy!

But now, it’s time for the icing on the cake, so to speak, or the sauce on the bread pudding.

Combine all sauce ingredients but the vanilla in a saucepan (1 quart) and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Add vanilla.

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Then pour all that  that warm, gooey love over bread pudding. To. Die. For.

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Raisin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Caramel Sauce

Raisin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Caramel Sauce

Ingredients

  • Pudding
  • 8 slices of raisin bread (4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 TBSP vanilla
  • Sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 TBSP vanilla

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cube bread and combine with raisins.
  3. Heat milk and butter in saucepan till butter is melted and pour the mixture over the bread.
  4. Let soak for 10 minutes.
  5. Add remaining ingredients and pour into a greased 1.5 quart casserole dish.
  6. Bake 40-50 minutes until center is set.
  7. Sauce
  8. Combine all but the vanilla in a saucepan (1 quart) and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens and comes to a boil.
  9. Add vanilla.
  10. Serve warm over bread pudding
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In the company of women

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I was thinking I was having trouble getting motivated to write during the Yahoo holiday because I’m spoiled by almost instant approval and pay, plus some extra hours I picked up at the day job…but I’m realizing as I sit down tonight working on my interview with The Voice finalist Beverley McClellan, who I interviewed only a couple of days before my phone interview with Grammy nominee Linda Chorney, that talking to two such extraordinary women artists who have carved their own path for so long (aged 42 and 51 respectively) and gone through the adversity of sticking it out as artists without compromising themselves…has completely blown a fuse. Serious overload. In a good way, but…overload. But I’ve flipped the breaker switch and getting back on track now, albeit a bit slowly.

It’s also got me thinking a lot about the importance of the “Hail Mary,” as both sort of did their own versions of them, with last ditch efforts that paid off. I think there is definitely a story in there beyond an interview with one or the other, but about being women who have sacrificed any kind of conventional life to live as an artist, and not giving in to that pressure we all get – but especially women – to settle down and raise a family and give up our “silly dreams.” The key phrase in that sentence being “give up.”

Luckily, for those of us of a certain age, my independent poll conducted that week of exactly three women over 40 shows that 3 out of 3 of those women really don’t give a shit what other people think. The one good thing about getting old.

And speaking of extraordinary women artists of a certain age:

Pack your bags: Audio books and Kindle Fire

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As a bibliophile living on the road, I love my Kindle Fire for keeping a virtual library of books and magazines at my fingertips, not to mention music and movies. But it has it’s limitations for the heavy traveler. Sometimes I want to get my book fix on a long cross country drive, which is where audio books come in.

They’ve created and opportunity to catch up on all those great books I want to read while I’m in the car. N0t that you need to travel to use them — they also work great for you multi-taskers out there who like to play on your computers all day. Like, say, photographers who spend endless hours slaving in Photoshop and Lightroom who can reap great benefits, as well.

And even if you don’t travel, next time you move and have to haul all those books, think about how nice it would be to carry them in a little tablet. Sure, I love the feel and smell of old books, too. But sometimes you just have to embrace the new technology and go with it.

If I can learn to love audio and ebooks, so can you.

If you want to try audio books, check out Audiobooks.com for a great signup deal: Right now if you signup and download the app for your iPad, iPhone or Android, you get a free book and a free 7-day trial to see how you like it. Would you rather be texting, or listening to a great novel?

(That should be a rhetorical question.)

Here’s a sample of what to expect, including new releases and many genres to choose from.

The great outdoors: Moab, Utah

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“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey called Arches National Park the “most beautiful place on earth” in the opening to his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” drawn on his time as a ranger there. Few who have visited Arches or its the nearby parks around Moab, Utah, would argue that point. Trails and traditional campsites allow visitors to enjoy this majestic setting, but to fully embrace its rugged beauty, the adventurous leave the beaten path for primitive camping.

Arches National Park

Plan on walking at least a mile to set up primitive camping in Arches National Park; all visitors must make camp at least one mile from any road, designated trail and any named arches on the USGS maps. Keep campsites out of sight of those areas, as well. In addition, further restrictions prohibit camps within 300 feet from of any archaeological sites or non-flowing nonflowing water, and 100 feet from flowing water. The main park road cuts right through the middle of the park, so meeting the requirements provides a bit of a challenge. Permits are required for all primitive camping and may be purchased at the visitor center, To protect the fragile environment in the park, all campers must follow “Leave No Trace” principles to leave the area as they found it. The maximum group size is 10, but smaller groups are strongly encouraged to reduce environmental impact.

Canyonlands Camping

In the nearby Canyonlands National Park,  campers need permits for all overnight backcountry trips. You may reserve them in advance, unlike Arches National Park. But like Arches, all primitive campsites must stay outside a one-mile radius of roads, and at least 300 feet from water sources or archaeological and historical sites, with river corridor camping as the only exception to the rule regarding water sources. No wood fires are permitted at primitive campsites except along rivers, and pets are not allowed. Permits expire after seven consecutive days on at any one site.

BLM Lands

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates many primitive campgrounds without water or facilities in the Moab area and charges no fees. Most cannot be reserved in advance. Check the BLM website to find maps and more information about the individual campgrounds. Guests may not stay more than 14 days in any 30-day period. Note that you may share these sites with RVers, who love the free “boondocking” on BLM lands.

Food and Water

You’ll find no drinking water in the backcountry around Moab, save the occasional flow from outside the parks where livestock graze, which needs boiling and purifying to be potable. Even if you do follow those precautions and drink that purified water, don’t expect it to taste good. One way or another, plan for at least one gallon of water daily per person, which person — a gallon weighs eight pounds. If you plan to cook, bring in a camp stove as stove, because few of these areas allow fires. Use extra caution when lighting stoves during high winds and keep any flames away from dry grass, as fires grass. Fires in this arid region can catch and spread quickly.

Leaving No Trace

The old saying goes “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” To practice “leave no trace” camping principles, either bring a portable toilet system or dig a “cat hole” four to six inches deep and at least 300 feet from any water source. Toilet paper and any feminine hygiene products must be packed out, as well. Swimming or washing up directly in pools violates these principles, but you may collect water in a clean container and use it for washing at least 300 feet away, using bio-degradable soap only. An ecological consideration particular to this desert climate involves taking care not to disturb living soil crusts with misplaced footsteps. The crusts, which look black and bumpy or red and smooth, consist of living cyanobacteria, lichen, fungi, algae, algae and moss. Try to stay in dry washes or on rock as you hike to and from your site to avoid destroying this soil-enriching life form, as well as setting up form. Set up your camp itself on a rock foundation.

Safety

These remote camping areas around Moab give campers dramatic views of towering rock formations and sweeping sunset views, vistas, but can be hazardous to the inexperienced and experienced alike. Know basic topographic map reading map-reading skills and come prepared for whatever temperatures you may face during your visit. The most common safety issues relate to dehydration and careless hiking or climbing, especially on slickrock and sandstone. The former is easier to climb than descend, and the latter can crumble or and tends to get slippery when wet.

Exercise caution by shaking out and checking clothing, bedding and shoes for unwanted visitors, such as scorpions, black widows or rattlesnakes; never reach into dark places blindly to avoid bites and stings. Thunderstorms pose a serious threat to backcountry campers and hikers. Do not take refuge under rock overhangs or in caves, but proceed directly to your vehicle. If your hair literally stands on end, quickly  remove any metal objects such as pack frames, squat near the ground, and cover your ears. Sudden thunderstorms can turn a dry wash into a raging torrent in a matter of minutes, so avoid setting up camp there.

Sunday dinner: Fried green tomatoes

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Now, being a recent transplant to the south, proper (Arizona is technically a southern state, but not really a “southern” state, if you know what I mean) I’ve been embracing my new-found cultural heritage. And from a culinary point of view, you simply cannot be properly southern without eating — and making — fried green tomatoes.

If a menu offers it, I gotta have it, everywhere I go.

Lest I go broke eating out and ordering appetizers all the time, I figured it was high time to give it a go myself, despite my culinary limitations.  And let me be clear here, just because I’ve started a food blog, that doesn’t mean I fancy myself a cooking expert. Far form it after 47 years of bachelorette-hood. But with my determination to overcome my microwave dependence, I’m going to learn to cook if it kills me.

And given my culinary skills, it just might.

But I’m experimenting with different recipes for this classic southern comfort dish, and while there are a million ways to prepare it, this is the general idea. Ironically, the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” was playing this weekend on HBO. I highly recommend watching it whether you saw it many years ago or never have, and I have to read the book, which I am sure is much better than the movie, like they always are. Kathy Bates is hilarious as a frustrated housewife taking women’s self help classes to try to give her life some meaning and get her husband’s attention from the TV.

That poor woman has the worst luck with husbands in her movies.

But the movie centers around the story of two friends who open up a cafe in 1920’s Alabama to make  a new home for themselves as sort of fringe characters —  Ruth has left her abusive husband and although it’s never clearly stated, Idgie seems to be a lesbian in a time where that probably didn’t even have a name. The cafe also becomes home to a cast of characters, from a drunk they take under their wing, to the black folks that eat out back.

It’s a movie about a lot of things… the power of friendship, overcoming tragedy, and how groups of misfit people can come together to form their own family, amongst other things. And as they always say on those food competitions, cooking with love. And like they always say on “Chopped” when their dishes are torn apart by judges, they “cooked it with love,” like that somehow makes up for it.

So I say unto you, I hope you like this, but if you don’t… I cooked it with love, bitches.

Start with three to four firm green tomatoes. This could be a challenge to find unless you live in the south or have your own garden.

Slice them up to approximately 1/2 inch thick slices:

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Set up on plate or bowl with your wet ingredients of one egg and a half cup buttermilk (You can use regular milk if you don’t have buttermilk), and another with your breading mix. This is where most of the variations come in — I’ve seen various mixes of cornmeal, flour, panko crumbs and bread crumbs. But so far, my favorite is 1/3 cup each of flour, cornmeal and plain bread crumbs, with a healthy dose of pepper and seasoned salt, to taste. If you want a little heat, add a pinch or two of cayenne or Cajun seasoning.

Yeah, I know that’s not very precise, but I won’t be confined to such mundane things as measuring spoons with my new culinary emancipation. At least not on this. I’m free at last, I tell you!

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Then dip in the wet bowl (bowls being much better but plates showing it better for photo purposes), the one more time in your dry mix. Voila, that ‘mater is ready for fryin’.

For frying oil, I recommend peanut or even coconut oil to minimize the damage, but if you’re on a budget, I mean really… we’re talking about fried tomatoes, so so-called healthy oils aren’t going to make it wholesome, now are they? The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond recommends adding some butter to your oil in her pork chops recipe, which seems like a swell idea for my fried green tomatoes, as well. So I recommend 1/2 cup oil and one tablespoon butter heated on medium heat. Then carefully add your tomatoes so you don’t splash yourself with hot oil.

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Fry for 3-5 minutes before turning, cooking each side to a golden brown.

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Thank goodness for long lenses so I didn’t get splattered with hot grease in the name of art.

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Most people serve these up with some kind of sauce or remoulade, but like the fried green tomatoes recipe itself, you’ll find about a million variations for the special sauce. I like this one from Simply Recipes or this buttermilk dipping sauce from the Neelys.

Want a handy, dandy visual reference? Or just like pretty food pictures? Pin this to your Pinterest account for reference:

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Mmmmm, these are tasty. What’s your favorite variation of fried green tomatoes?

Travel photo of the week: Garchen Institute

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The Garchen Institute in Chino Valley, Arizona is one of my favorite places to get away from everything, including TV, internet and even conversation at times, as some of the people there have taken vows of silence. High above the Prescott Valley, all you hear is the sound of the Buddhist prayer flags in the strong winds that blow on the mountain where the retreat is located.

The Big Empty: Travel photography on Hwy 8

The Big Empty: Travel photography on Hwy 8

Most people come home from a trip with nice photos of sunsets, beaches, and smiling tourists. I come home with travel photography of abandoned buildings, barren landscapes and roadkill. Or at least I did on this roadtrip from Tuscon to San Diego. Obviously I travel with my camera with a little different agenda than most people. I’ve always been drawn to the desert for so many reasons I don’t even understand them all. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth… and one of the most deadly. It’s ruthless, yet there’s something about looking across that vast horizon with the sun beating down on you, but storm clouds gathering in the distance. Or slivers of late afternoon sunlight peeking through the clouds, selectively lighting the mesas. There’s a great monologue in the film “25th Hour” where Brian Cox is supposed to be taking his son, played by Edward Norton, to prison in New York. He talks to him about making a wrong turn and just driving west to find a small town for him to disappear and start over, and while the whole thing is powerful, there was one part in particular that stood out to me.

“Every man, woman, and child alive should see the desert one time before they die. Nothing for miles around. Nothing but sand, and rocks, and cactus and blue sky. Not a soul around for miles. No sirens. No car alarms. Nobody honking at you. No madmen cursing or pissing on the streets. You’ll find the silence out there. You’ll find the peace. You can find God.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are things a lot more pathetic than a table for one

There are things a lot more pathetic than a table for one

“Is that a snide smile from the hostess? Did that couple just snicker and whisper behind their napkins? Is there anything more pathetic for a single woman than having to utter the words “Table for One?”

I read that the first time and, to put it bluntly, it really pissed me off. After being single and childless my whole adult life, the idea that someone could really think that dining alone, or going to a movie alone, or simply sitting at a bar and having a cocktail alone was such a  horrible thing and a great shame is beyond ludicrous. Keeping one’s own company and enjoying the pleasures of life without the need to make small talk is, indeed, one of the greatest joys in life.

Really. I swear to you.

So to answer the question: Yes, there are many things more pathetic than a single woman asking for a table for one.

  • Staying at home
  • Making a microwave dinner… or two, cause those suckers sure are small
  • Going through a fast food drive-thru instead of a nice restaurant
  • Eating dinner with a co-worker you really don’t like for the sake of having another pulse at the table, because god knows you don’t spend enough time with co-workers you barely tolerate already
  • Going out on a date with a man you don’t like so you aren’t sitting home alone, because you certainly can’t go out alone on a weekend. What will people think?
  • Using a service that will match you with a woman you don’t even know so you can dine together to avoid “embarrassment” and fill your meals with inane conversation or awkward silence. But you’ll look good to other diners, and that’s all that matters, right?

I should note the author of this piece agrees with me, and was responding to an article on CNN.com about a new “service” that matches up single women with other single women so they don’t have to dine alone.

Really? Is this the high school cafeteria modern businesswoman-style? Junior high?

Fortunately, I learned a long time ago to embrace being able to dine in peace and often find myself smiling to myself just a little at the pure joy of just keeping my own company. And when you do that, the people around probably aren’t wondering why you are such a loser sitting there alone, but envying your freedom from their boring date or their whining kids, and their fear of doing exactly what you’re doing.

You are now an international woman of mystery. Embrace your solitude. And turn that silly notion that it’s a bad thing on its head.

To read the quoted article by Elisa Doucette, visit Forbes.com. You never know, it just might inspire you to run out to that fancy restaurant by yourself. Or even start a whole blog based on the notion that our own company is more than good enough.

A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style

There are many benefits to traveling off-season besides the obvious: missing the huge crowds and the elevated prices. When you visit a town in its off-season travel, you get a rare chance to really get to know the locals, and hang out like they do. Normally, when you’re looking for restaurant, a crowded parking lot is a good sign that there is good food, if you’re willing to wait. But on this particular day in Ouray, Colorado, I just didn’t feel like waiting, so I went to the restaurant with the empty tables.

I was greeted at the door of The Silver Nugget by a huge black dog wagging his tail at me, and a cowboy reading the newspaper in the corner. He told me I didn’t need to be scared of the dog, which I wasn’t anyway and we were the only folks in the whole place. Turns out the cowboy was the proprietor and the cook and the waiter on this particular weekday in Ouray, before the full ski season hit and many while businesses were on vacation.

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I decided to get the front here breakfast just because of the something different: your basic eggs and hash browns but with an Idaho rainbow trout on the side instead of bacon and sausage. As my cowboy friend went into the kitchen to cook my breakfast, I walked around the restaurant snapping photos and chatting with him about the town. I make no secret that this is one of my favorite towns in Colorado, and a must do travel destination if you like small towns and like to mix with real people who are friendly and welcome visitors. This place is no exception.

When he served up my breakfast, he chastised the dog to stay away. As if. When the cowboy cook went back to the kitchen to busy himself, my canine friend trotted back up and sat there patiently begging the whole time, hoping I would drop a little fish or some eggs either accidentally or on purpose.

On purpose, in this case. How could I resist a face like that?

OurayRidgewayJan2013 030 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
The Silver Nugget is right on the main drag in downtown Ouray, Colorado, and if you do decide to make a visit, make sure you bring cash because they don’t take debit cards. prices are reasonable and you can get a wide variety of old-fashioned hearty breakfasts or a Gravalanche of yogurt, fruit and granola. Later in the day, try a burger or veggie sandwich, or even pizza.

The food is tasty, and the company is friendly without a long wait, not that you should be in a hurry anyway. At least if you hit it at the right time, during off season.

There are many benefits to traveling off-season besides the obvious: missing the huge crowds and the elevated prices. When you visit a town in its off-season travel, you get a rare chance to really get to know the locals, and hang out like they do. Normally, when you’re looking for restaurant, a crowded parking lot is a good sign that there is good food, if you’re willing to wait. But on this particular day in Ouray, Colorado, I just didn’t feel like waiting, so I went to the restaurant with the empty tables.

I was greeted at the door of The Silver Nugget by a huge black dog wagging his tail at me, and a cowboy reading the newspaper in the corner. He told me I didn’t need to be scared of the dog, which I wasn’t anyway and we were the only folks in the whole place. Turns out the cowboy was the proprietor and the cook and the waiter on this particular weekday in Ouray, before the full ski season hit and many while businesses were on vacation.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 037 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
I decided to get the front here breakfast just because of the something different: your basic eggs and hash browns but with an Idaho rainbow trout on the side instead of bacon and sausage. As my cowboy friend went into the kitchen to cook my breakfast, I walked around the restaurant snapping photos and chatting with him about the town. I make no secret that this is one of my favorite towns in Colorado, and a must do travel destination if you like small towns and like to mix with real people who are friendly and welcome visitors. This place is no exception.

When he served up my breakfast, he chastised the dog to stay away. As if. When the cowboy cook went back to the kitchen to busy himself, my canine friend trotted back up and sat there patiently begging the whole time, hoping I would drop a little fish or some eggs either accidentally or on purpose.

On purpose, in this case. How could I resist a face like that?

OurayRidgewayJan2013 030 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
The Silver Nugget is right on the main drag in downtown Ouray, Colorado, and if you do decide to make a visit, make sure you bring cash because they don’t take debit cards. prices are reasonable and you can get a wide variety of old-fashioned hearty breakfasts or a Gravalanche of yogurt, fruit and granola. Later in the day, try a burger or veggie sandwich, or even pizza.

The food is tasty, and the company is friendly without a long wait, not that you should be in a hurry anyway. At least if you hit it at the right time, during off season.