Friday, December 9, 2016

Our Christmas Collection

Laurie and I have a sizable collection of Christmas ornaments and sundry decorations.  They range from an ornament that David II made when he was about 9 years old (many, many years ago!) to a big artificial tree, a number of wreaths, door knob hangers, window lights, tree lights, holiday candles and Christmas stockings.  In addition we probably have over 500 ornaments ranging from the simple to the ornate and from the new to quite a few antique items…

In addition, we have quite a few Santa Claus figures.  There is a box or two of small porcelain, glass or pottery figures, plus windup musical Santa Claus’s.  In this blog posting I’ll be sharing part of our collection, especially focusing on some Santa Claus miniature dioramas/creations that we purchased when I was working at Montgomery Ward’s headquarters in Chicago back in the 1990s. 

Even before our purchases while I was with Montgomery Ward, Laurie and me acquired this handsome stylized Russian Santa Claus at a gift shop near Rockford Illinois…

Laurie has a collection of Teddy Bears and these 4 are appropriate for the season.  The wooden Santa Claus was also purchased in Illinois.  He originally had wheels…long gone now.

This was probably the first of the ‘diorama’ style Santa’s that we purchased.  It’s simple but even so, there is a fair amount of detail to absorb if one really looks it over carefully.  GO CUBS!

This Santa with a Saint Bernard and sleigh is on our fireplace mantle.  Note the detail and complexity of the scene with all those presents, the harness on the dog and Santa’s scarf.  All of these creations were imaginatively conceptualized and painstakingly assembled by a former Human Resources Vice President at Montgomery Ward. 

Here’s an overview of our mantle and you can see the previous 2 Santa’s in the center and at the right of the photo.  Another nice Santa from a different source is at the left.  Note the Christmas stocking at the left.  My mother made that for me about 70 years ago…

Here are 2 other acquisitions from that Montgomery Ward artist.  The Santa was purchased elsewhere but the little rug covered with presents and that loaded wagon are both miniature examples of her work.  Her name is Judy Gustafson.   Her boss Bob who was the EVP of HR and I used to see who could buy up the best examples of her work.  (For some ‘unknown’ reason he usually succeeded in buying the best Santa’s!)  

This miscellaneous grouping of Santa’s is on display on an antique Eastlake Desk in our foyer.  All of the Santa’s were purchased in various shops in the upper Midwest but the little toy box in the front and the loaded sleigh are Judy’s creations…

Finding space to display this JG creation with the horse and big sleigh is a challenge.  This is one that I managed to grab before her boss had a chance to snatch it up!

Every Christmas season, we would have a big arts and craft show and sale in the lobby of one of the Montgomery Ward corporate buildings.  There were cloth creations, watercolors, oil paintings, quilts, etc. and Judy’s Santa’s.  It was a fun event…

You can’t really appreciate Santa, his horse and sleigh until you look closely at his cargo.  Judy must have had a mini-warehouse for all these bits and pieces in order to put all of these miniatures together…

Here is a view of the other side of that loaded sleigh of goodies.  It even contained food items and tools, not to mention that spinning wheel.

Another loaded sleigh with Santa…  Note the little bunnies next to the sleigh.  Some lucky child (with unfortunate parents) is getting a drum for Christmas!

Then there is Santa on snowshoes trekking through the snow covered landscape to deliver his gifts.  His escort is a big black bear who provides a little extra security on their march through the wilderness…

Again it’s all about the details!  Santa’s backpack is loaded with candy canes and all kinds of toys…

That’s almost it for our special big Santa’s… This is our new large ‘flat’ table top Christmas tree.  It is about 1 foot deep and 4 feet wide and it came with permanent lights.  We are done wrestling with our giant tree and it took way too much space out of our living area.  The only downside to this small but festive tree is that we could only put a hundred or so ornaments on it!

Note: That handmade ornament, (a horse), that our son made with paper, glue and 2 different colored beans is in the midsection of the tree and slightly to the left. (It is 38 years old this Christmas!)    

This is an overall view of our fireplace with its Christmas themed mantle and hearth next to our new Christmas tree…  Note one more attractive Santa Claus at the right on the hearth.  It was a gift from our son and his wife several years ago. 

That’s about it for now… We hope that you enjoyed looking at part of our Santa Claus collection.  FYI, beginning today, there are only 16 days until Christmas!
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave and Laurie

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Donkeys, Food, etc…

Not too much to report this week… At the moment, things are a bit slow and peaceful in our household.  Luckily for us, we live about 70 miles away from those terrible fires in East Tennessee that were centered in and around Gatlinburg.  Gatlinburg will be open for business by this coming weekend and we’re planning to go over there to do some shopping, visit the aquarium and have a big lunch or early dinner.  To keep folks employed during the expected long term recovery they need customers…

Visit and Shop in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Tennessee!

In the meantime, here are a few photos that we’ve taken in the last month or so that really didn’t fit into any single blogging category.

Howdy!  This is one curious donkey… We ran across a group of donkeys in a field not too far from our home.  We both love donkeys.  They’re especially smart and curious, plus they all seem to have lots of personality!

She seems to be getting a little excited!  What has stirred her up?

Donkey Factoids:

·       Donkeys have been used as a working animal for at least 5000 years.

·       There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world.

·       A male donkey or ass is called a jack, a female a jenny or jennet and a young donkey is a foal.

·       Jack donkeys are often used to mate with female horses to produce mules.
·       The biological "reciprocal" of a mule, from a stallion and jenny as its parents instead, is called a hinny.

Doesn’t this donkey have the sweetest face?  Despite the calm, something has drawn her over to the fence by the road…


·       In some areas of the world, including parts of the western USA, populations of donkeys have reverted to their wild form.  Australia alone may have a population of 5,000,000 wild donkeys!

Ahhh!  There’s the reason all of those donkeys are so interesting in us.  Laurie discovered that she had a bag of peppermints in the car and donkeys, like horses, love peppermints!  She only gave them a couple each before we escaped from the growing crowd…

Change of topics… We love a good chicken pot pie, especially if someone else makes it!  Good commercially made chicken pot pies are hard to find.  This one from Fresh Market was actually pretty darn good.  I should have taken a photo of a serving of pot pie on a plate.  We did cheat in the sense that we heated up a jar of chicken gravy and Laurie spiced it up as an accompaniment to our pot pie.

Remember this beautiful standing beef rib roast that we had for our Thanksgiving dinner?  I’d posted this photo along with the rest of the meal.  I had some serious leftovers to consume…a ‘tough’ assignment to be sure.  I had a roast beef sandwich, I gnawed on a meaty rib bone, I ate a slice of beef cold with a little horseradish…but still we had leftovers!  What to do?  

How about finishing that rib roast off the old fashioned way…with hot open faced prime sandwiches on crusty bread with enhanced beef gravy?  Yum!
It’s going to be a rack of lamb for Christmas when Dawn Marie is here…followed by a giant beef pot roast with roasted potatoes and vegetables when our son and his family arrive after Christmas. Mac & cheese too for the grandsons!  Back to the gym in January…

I haven’t published any breakfast creations recently either… Just the other day I toasted an English muffin, slathered it with Amish butter, added 2 slices of sharp cheddar cheese and microwaved the combo for 20 seconds to melt the cheese.  Then I added 2 warmed up sections of a leftover split smoked sausage and topped each of the muffin halves with an over-easy fried egg.  Then of course, I had to splatter this very satisfying breakfast with a bit of Tabasco sauce!

To end this post with a note of change… This house is nearing completion just 2 lots up the street from us.  We’ve been told by the builder that starting in January he’s putting a house on the lot right next door to us!  Yikes!  So much for the woods that the local deer and turkey love to roam… Plus we’ll have noise for 3 or 4 months too!  The good news is that the woods across the street and on the master bedroom side of our house is still going to be intact…for now!

That’s about it.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Truck Stop/Travel Center Dining!

Laurie and I were out driving around looking for 'The Gentle Barn', a farm animal rescue operation here in East Tennessee, and we passed a truck stop along the Interstate.  We observed that it had a big restaurant off to one side and we commented that we’d have to give it a try. 

So a couple of days later we decided to go out to dinner and we invited friends Linda and Norm.  They are the only couple we are aware of who knows more about restaurants in this area than we do!  Despite Linda’s personal rule which states “Never eat where people pump gas!” she did agree to give this truck stop/travel center mecca a try…

This is the truck stop/travel center that we’d chosen for our dinner excursion… Most of the big TA/Petro travel centers include either an Iron Skillet Restaurant or Country Pride Restaurant to provide people fuel.  There are also a few other restaurants serving other TA/Petro travel centers.  In any case, there are about 65 Iron Skillet locations across the country.

TA/Petro is not a small operation!  They claim to be the largest full-service travel center companies in the USA.  They have about 250 locations with sales in the billions… In addition to the travel centers, the company owns Minit Mart Foods Inc. convenience stores and the Quaker State and Lube restaurant chain.

This is a 24-hour 7 days a week operation…and it was a bustling place when we stopped by for dinner.  A lot of truckers apparently make this a regular stop along the Interstate!  The dining area was spread out and extensive.

Let’s not ignore the shopping possibilities at this ‘travel center’.  A large retail space occupies the other end of the building opposite the Iron Skillet Restaurant.  That large display case features leather purses and wallets.

Diners can order from the menu or they can choose the buffet option.  I avoided the temptation to overeat by staying away from the buffet.  We all commented on the size of the salad bar (top photo) and the scope of the choices it offered.  There was discussion about returning just to sample that particular dining option…

In addition to the buffet, the menu itself is huge!  You can order breakfast anytime, plus there are burgers, other sandwiches, Skillet baskets, pasta, steaks, seafood, chicken and more.

Norm went for breakfast, ordering the Meat Lovers Omelette, 3 whipped eggs packed full of ham, bacon and sausage then normally smothered in sausage gravy and then topped with shredded cheese.  He opted for his gravy on the side.  Omelets are served with a choice of home fries, hash browns or grits plus toast or a biscuit.  Norm went for crispy hash browns and rye toast.  He enjoyed his omelet, liked those crispy hash browns and thought that the sausage gravy was better than average.  His only wish was that the cheese had been inside the omelet as a binder for all of that meat.

This was Linda’s diner… It’s a large bowl of the Navy Bean and Ham Soup paired with a Parmesan Crusted Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  She thought that the soup was very good and she liked her grilled cheese sandwich too. 

I had ordered a bowl of this soup with my meal.  I also thought that it was very nice with bits of ham and plenty of beans.  It was thick and flavorful plus the Iron Skillet had Tabasco available to kick it up a notch!

Laurie ordered the Soup and Parmesan Grilled Cheese Sandwich but she went for the Cream of Tomato Soup instead of the bean soup.  She liked her soup and her sandwich.  I tried the tomato soup and it was not as creamy as it was chunky with pieces of tomato throughout.  Of course, the important thing was that my wife liked it!

Little service issues popped up here and there.  On the positive side, I’d forgotten to pick up a soup spoon when I got my bowl of soup from the buffet and an alert server noticed me ‘pilfering’ silverware from the adjoining table and he brought me a spoon.  On the other hand, the kitchen sent tomato soup instead of the bean soup with Linda’s order so the waitress had to get her a bowl of ‘replacement’ soup. 

Since I’d avoided all of those calories and temptation by staying away from the buffet, I of course ordered a “light” meal for myself… This is the Chicken Fried Steak with white pepper gravy and Eggs with crispy hash brown potatoes.  I had buttered rye toast on the side.

You will note that the first photo lacked the egg component of this dish.  Apparently the kitchen messed up the order and our waitress had to have them fry up a couple eggs which I had her slide on top of this creation before I added my Tabasco.  One ‘over-easy’ egg was overcooked but the other still had a runny yoke.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this massive breakfast offering.  The breading on the chicken fried steak was better than average as was the pepper gravy.  I really liked the crispy hash browns. 

Despite a couple of issues, our waitress was just fine.  It took a bit too long for our orders to come out of the kitchen but we weren’t in any hurry.  The amount and quality of this comfort food was better than average and it was a good value for the money.  We will return to try the buffet!

This particular TA/Petro Shopping Center and Iron Skillet Restaurant is located at Exit 369 (Watt Road) off of I-40/I-75.  Address: 722 Watt Road, Knoxville TN.  Phone: 865-693-6542.  Iron Skillet’s website is found at

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for some comfort food!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Friday, December 2, 2016

So She Had a Hankering for Squash Soup!

Laurie has been texting back and forth with Linda who is one of our neighbors.  The primary topic tends to be food since Linda and her husband Norm are THE premier restaurant adventurers from our area.  In any case, Linda had mentioned to Laurie that she had enjoyed a great bowl of Squash Soup at the local McAlister’s Deli in the Turkey Creek shopping complex.

So…being the wise older person that I am…it was off to McAlister’s for lunch!

This is the McAlister’s Deli in Knoxville’s Turkey Creek shopping area.  Founded in 1989, McAlister’s® Deli is a fast casual restaurant chain known for their sandwiches, potatoes, soups, salads, desserts and their ‘famous’ sweet tea.  Currently, this franchise operation has about 386 restaurants in at least 26 states.  There are 4 locations in Knoxville and there is another in Alcoa Tennessee.

This fast casual restaurant is spacious.  This photo only shows a few tables and the service/order counter but there are rows of tables on either side of this photo.  At McAlister’s Deli, you go to the counter and place your order.  You pay and you receive a number which you post at your table.  A server brings your order to your table when it’s ready.

This was Laurie’s bowl of Autumn Squash Soup. ($4.99) It was huge and it was excellent…perfect for a late fall day.  Laurie was very happy.  Thanks Linda!

In addition to soup and sandwiches, McAlister’s offers nachos, giant ‘spuds’/potatoes, plus several salads and desserts.  The giant ‘spuds’ can be ordered with a plethora of different ingredients and you can design your own.  The Spud “Max” comes with ham, turkey, bacon, cheddar jack cheese, green onion, black olives and sour cream for $7.19.

Laurie hadn’t eaten any breakfast so she also ordered McAlister’s Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich with mayonnaise accompanied by a pickle and a fruit cup as her side. ($6.49) The size of the sandwich was just right and she gave it two thumbs up!

Now I had eaten something for breakfast but what the heck!  What formidable meat laden sandwich creation could I order?  I decided on the New Yorker. ($9.99) This behemoth of the sandwich was loaded with 10 oz. of warm corned beef and pastrami with melted Swiss cheese and spicy mustard on that marbled rye bread.  

While this creation couldn’t challenge a similar deli creation from Manny’s in Chicago or Carnegie Deli in New York City, it was a very nice sandwich…the best of this style sandwich that I’ve had here in East Tennessee!

McAlister’s Deli in Knoxville’s Turkey Creek shopping complex is located at 11140 Parkside Drive.  Phone: 865-966-1011.   Find it on the web at

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for soup and a sandwich!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hunter’s Bakery and Café in Sweetwater Tennessee

It’s a fact that each year my wife celebrates her birthday from sometime in November until sometime in January of the following year… This is despite the fact that her big day is in early December! 

The result of this rolling birthday celebration is that we never know when the next birthday treat or present will suddenly appear.  However in this case she knew what she wanted!  Back in October she and her sister Bonnie had visited Natural Element Interiors at 1225 Murray’s Chapel Road in Sweetwater Tennessee and she’d found a nicely framed French antique horse print.  Today was the day that we’d determined that we go and buy it! 

I will admit that Natural Element Interiors is a quality shop with lots of decorator items and gifts…and I don’t like to shop!  To learn more about this tasteful decorator store, go to  

In any case…exhausted as I was from shopping, I decided that we should stop for lunch before heading home.

 This is Hunter’s Bakery and Café in downtown Sweetwater Tennessee.  Downtown Sweetwater is occupied by a number of antique and gift shops that range in quality from very classy to ‘they have a lot of stuff’!  The center of town consists of many old buildings and Hunter’s is located on a corner in one of those classic structures.

Established in the 1850s, Sweetwater today is the largest town in Monroe County Tennessee with a population of about 6,000.  It is the home of the Craighead Caverns which contains the “Lost Sea”, the United States' largest underground lake.  See

Hunter’s Bakery and Café has been in operation for several years now.  The dining room is long and narrow with an old tongue and groove wooden ceiling.   There are a couple of bakery display cases at the front of Hunter’s by the entrance and baked goods can be purchased to go as well as dessert items for diners…

It was lunch time.  Laurie ordered the Beef and Mushroom Philly Sandwich. ($7.99) This creation consists of hot beef tips, sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and pepperoncini peppers, all served on a hoagie bun.  She chose the potato chips over the steak fries or sweet potato fries.

The beef was tender and of good quality and quantity.  Since she never gets mushrooms at home, (my fault), she really enjoyed that change of pace.  She told me that she’d order this sandwich again without hesitation!

I decided to take a chance and I ordered the New York Strip Sandwich. ($8.99) As per the description from the menu, this was a hand-cut New York Strip steak chargrilled to perfection and served on a hoagie bun.  I asked for the lettuce and tomato with my sandwich and I chose the steak fries as my side.

I will admit that I had low expectations for an $8.99 New York strip sandwich.  What kind of a grizzled hunk of meat could a restaurant provide for such a reasonable/low price?  The answer was a pretty darn decent hunk of steak, grilled medium rare as ordered!  It was no puny, thin little piece of flavorless shoe leather… It was thick, tender and it was nicely seasoned.

Our experience at Hunter’s for lunch was positive indeed.  The only downside was that by 1:30 PM they’d run out of their 2 daily soups.  Our waiter was pleasant and helpful.  We will return!

Hunter’s Bakery and Café is open Monday – Thursday from 11 AM to 4 PM, on Friday until 8 PM and on Saturday until 5 PM.  The menu does include several entrée items for those who want a full dinner style meal.  Hunter’s Bakery and Café is located at 101 East Morris Street in Sweetwater Tennessee.  Phone: 423-351-1098.  Their website can be found at:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving Dinner – 2016

Have you ever gotten tired of turkey for Thanksgiving?  Well, we have!  First of all, the focus on today’s turkey’s is on white meat and my better half always feels a bit cheated as she much prefers the more moist and flavor packed dark meat.  Secondly, cooking a turkey isn’t difficult but I’m tired of dissecting the bird for leftovers for the freezer after dinner…

So this year I suggested that we go for a change of pace!  Simple to cook, delicious, great leftovers and easy to clean up when we’re done. 

Our families weren’t visiting this year and we weren’t able to visit them either.  However, we did learn that Larry (aka Big Dude at was on his own for the Thanksgiving Holiday.  He was more than happy to join us for the big feast!

So Laurie and I were off to Fresh Market where we picked up some crusty fresh baked bread, some fresh Brussel sprouts and a 6.5 lb. prime rib roast. (I love leftover prime rib roast!)

First, Laurie took the roast out of the refrigerator and rubbed it with kosher sea salt, repacked it in the butcher paper and left it on the counter for 3 hours to get to room temperature.  Then she rubbed the rib roast with grape seed oil and doused it with Kirkland’s Steak Seasoning from Costco before she popped it in a 500 degree oven for 15 minutes before turning the temperature down to 325 degrees for roasting…

As for the Brussel sprouts, Laurie cut them in half.  Then she applied grape seed oil to a flat baking pan, also brushing the sprouts with more grape seed oil.  Then she seasoned them with a generous sprinkling of Webber’s Savory Herbs with Roasted Garlic Seasoning.  She also added just a touch of that Kirkland’s Steak Seasoning. (350 degree oven for half an hour while the rib roast was ‘resting’)

Looks pretty good doesn’t it!?  The prime rib was roasted in the oven until the thermometer read 120 degrees.  Then Laurie pulled it out of the oven and tented it so it could rest.  The temperature increased to 130 degrees before I began my carving efforts.   

Larry/Big Dude brought a bottle each of white and red wine.  He also constructed 3 of these delicious holiday appropriate salads using lettuce, cranberries, candied walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, carrots and raspberries.  For a salad dressing he provided a tart vinaigrette salad dressing which perfectly complemented the ingredients in the salad.

Finally, I was permitted to start carving up the rib roast!  All 3 of us prefer medium rare so the roast came out perfectly.  One convenience is that Fresh Market butchers separate the bones from the roast itself and then they tie it tightly back to the ribs so the flavor is maintained and it’s much easier to carve…

Note: Even though I prefer medium rare beef, I do have a ‘thing’ for the end cut from a prime rib roast…and I had one of those for my second serving!

This is what the Brussel sprouts came out looking like… They were caramelized and almost decadent!  Believe me they were all gone when we finished dinner.

Here is one of our dinner plates ready for action.  The mashed potatoes were from Bob Evans with creamy local Amish butter blended in. (Why make dinner prep difficult when these potatoes are so good?) The au jus was courtesy of Heinz with added garlic and pepper.

Larry and I both had seconds of everything!  In addition, we sent him home with some mashed potatoes and a big meaty rib bone for him to gnaw on at his leisure.  We know that the mashed potatoes will be fried and topped with an egg for breakfast.   

Sticking with simple… This apple crisp pie also came from Fresh Market.

Dessert consisted of a slice of the apple crisp pie heated and then topped with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream from our local ice cream maker…Tic Toc Ice Cream in Loudon Tennessee.

What a great meal!  Kudos to my desire for something different for Thanksgiving, Laurie’s cooking skills, as well as Larry’s imaginative salad and wine.

I’ve already started thinking about what we should serve for Christmas dinner…

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by to see what we’ve been up to!  We hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving…

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave