About Susan McKee

Susan McKee

Susan McKee is an independent scholar and freelance journalist specializing in history, culture and travel. She honed her craft as a general assignment reporter for more than a decade at a major metropolitan daily newspaper before fleeing corporate journalism for the peripatetic life of a freelancer.

Susan writes for a wide variety of publications, both print and online. Bylines have appeared in Global Traveler USA, JaxFax, HGTV's Front Door, Global Foodie and Road Trips for Foodies.

Latest Posts by Susan McKee

The Sandestin Gumbo Festival in Mid-February

February 7, 2015 by  



florida_sandestin_gumboThe 26th annual Gumbo Festival takes place February 13 and 14, 2015, at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, 9300 Emerald Coast Parkway, Miramar Beach, Florida.

The event takes over the Village of Baytowne Wharf during Presidents’ Day weekend. The kick-off event, a seafood boil, starts at 4 p.m. February 13. The gumbo cook-off takes place from noon to 4 p.m. February 14.

Tickets are $30 on event day. A portion of festival proceeds go to the Sandestin Foundation for Kids.

(Photo courtesy of Sandestin Gumbo Festival)

Fine Art and Wine Festivals in Arizona This Month

February 7, 2015 by  



arizona_scottsdale_art-wineBoth fine art and wine will be celebrated in two Arizona cities this month.

The Waterfront Fine Art & Wine Festival takes place from 10 a.m. to5 p.m. February 13 to 15, 2015, in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. Look for it just south of Nordstrom’s at the south bridge pedestrian walk.

The banks of the Scottsdale waterfront will be lined with juried fine arts, fine wines, chocolates and musicians from the Southwest. Admission is $3; a wine tasting ticket with souvenir glass is $10.

Another fest is set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. February 17 through March 1, 2015, in downtown Carefree, Arizona. Tickets for Carefree Fine Art & Wine also are $3, and a wine tasting ticket with souvenir glass is $10.

(Photo courtesy of Thunderbird Artists)

The Annual Austin Food and Wine Festival

February 4, 2015 by  



texas_austin_food-wineOver 40 demos and tasting sessions stocked with kitchen secrets, war stories, and more — that’s what’s promised at the Food & Wine Festival set for April 24 through 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas.

Kickoff is the evening of April 24, when Taste of Texas takes over Republic Square Park, 422 Guadalupe Street, Austin, Texas.

The Grand Tasting is April 25 and 26 in Auditorium Shores, 800 West Riverside Drive, Austin Texas. It will showcase 50 beverages from across the nation plus 40 food artisans from Austin and beyond. Chefs from Central Texas will be serving up samples of classic dishes in the Chef’s Showcase.

(Photo courtesy of Austin Food & Wine Festival)

Foodie Guide to Cake Trendsetting

February 3, 2015 by  



wilton_marvellous-meringue Layered meringue cookies, aromatic flavors, bold colors and patterns are just a taste of what’s to come in the food and dessert world this year.Here is a sneak peek at some of the trends.

*Marvelous Merveilleux
The Marvelous Merveilleux (pictured above, left), is a trendy treat that is popular in French and Belgian pastry shops, and it’s making its way to America. Merveilleux (pronounced mahr-vee-ooo) means “marvelous” in French. When you combine light and airy meringue cookies, layered with whipped cream filling and ringed in decadent toppings, like chocolate shavings, caramelized hazelnuts or colorful sprinkles—the end result is quite marvelous.

*Middle Eastern & North African Flavors
Inspired by the aromatic flavors of a spice market, Middle Eastern and North African spices are becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in baking and other sweet treat making. International ingredients like, harissa, zaatar and Aleppo peppers, introduce complex flavor profiles that pair well with dark chocolate, creamy custard and many sweet treats.

wilton_smoke-meets-sweet*Smoke Meets Sweet
Deep smoky flavor has been big in the culinary world for a while, and in 2015 it moves onto the dessert plate. The match made in heaven introduces woodsy notes of smoke-infused flavor, adding decadent depth to the dessert menu. Rich, smooth, smoked flavor pairs well with almost any sweet treat. Add a dash of smoked sugar or smoked cinnamon for a hint of wood fire flavor. Or opt for unmistakable flavor using ingredients such as smoked coconut, smoke-roasted apples and whiskey dripping with smoky notes.

*Dessert Mash-Ups and Re-Mixes

We’re serving up classic treats with a twist. Familiar favorites are taking on ultra-indulgent new forms. Cake flavors merge into cookies, cookies into pies, pies into ice cream. . . and the list goes on. From banana walnut French toast cupcakes to red velvet cookies and pecan pie cheesecake, there’s no telling what we’ll come up with next.

*Fruitful Possibilities

Produce sections are piled high with an ever-expanding selection of fruit. Heirloom apples like Orange Pippin and Pitmaston Pineapple are sold alongside newer varieties such as Pink Lady. Each type boasts its own signature flavor, texture, fragrance and color. This fruit expansion continues beyond apples with special varieties of mandarin oranges, grapefruit and kiwi.

wilton_geometric *Geometric Sugar Art
Bold geometric patterns are taking shape in sweet new ways. Geometric sugar art exemplifies the grace and beauty of crisp clean lines and simple shapes. Mix-and-match sugar art shapes to decorate cakes and sweet treats with trendy geometric patterns and abstract designs.

*Dazzling Delectables
Gold, silver and bronze take first place in all categories. Whether adding shimmering accents, depth to detailed designs or completely color blocking sweet treats, metallics are in. The luminous metallic colors make a bold, stylish statement.

*Fondant Watercolor
Fondant is our blank canvas and our inspiration is reminiscent of great watercolor artists. We’re taking traditional watercolor techniques and applying them to the artistry of cake design, creating soft sweet effects and vivid floral arrangements.

*Revolutionary Color Confectionery
Adjust shades and hues of any color under the sun. Combine colors to create surprising new palettes with unexpected pops of unique color. Play with color combinations to create new pairings using everything from stunningly chic neutrals and soft pastels to opulent jewel tones and vibrant primary colors.

wilton_statement-flower*The Statement Flower
Make a bold statement with “look-at-me” flower pieces. Larger than life fondant and gum paste flowers are simply stunning with lifelike detail and realistic color techniques. Freshly bloomed blossoms such as poppies, peonies and ranunculus breathe life into cake design with lush petals and beautiful colors.

(Photos courtesy of Wilton Enterprises)

Foodie Places to Eat in Cologne Germany

January 21, 2015 by  



sion-lunch The tastiest part of travel is sampling new dishes in unfamiliar restaurants. When your Road Trips Foodie was in Germany last fall, she tried to stick to the “local specialties” part of the menu at each stop.

Here are the standouts in Cologne, starting with the Rheinischer Wurstsalat mit Bratkartoffeln (Rhineland-style sausage salad with bacon/onion home fries) at Brauhaus Sion (pictured). I don’t think I’ve ever had sausage presented in narrow slivers like this before. Of course the only logical beverage in Cologne is the local brew, Kölsch.

Kölsch isn’t a brand of beer, but the particular style of beer brewed only by members of the Cologne Brewery Association. Every restaurant in town serves its favorite (and often eponymous) version of Kölsch in a tall, thin cylindrical 0.2 liter glass. Characterized by its clear straw-yellow hue, the brew is a bit hoppy and less bitter than the standard German pale lager.

Kölsch also is the name for the traditional dialect of the region, and is the adjective for local specialties.

Peters Brauhaus, Mühlengasse 1, in the Altmarkt just to the south of the Cathedral square, is a popular gathering spot. You’ll probably end up sharing a table with strangers (but that’s the norm in Germany).

rote-grutzeTheir Kölsch specialties include black pudding, broad beans with smoked bacon, and boiled pork with sauerkraut.

I had the marinated beef with potato dumplings — and rote grütze (pictured) for dessert. This is a northern German sweet made with all sorts of red fruit (currants, raspberries, cherries) and topped off with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream. And a glass of Peters Kölsch, of course.

Im Roten Ochsen, Thurnmarkt 7 in the Heumarkt neighborhood since 1798, is a bit more pub than restaurant. Have a sandwich with your Reissdorf Kölsch.

Wine rather than beer is the beverage of choice at the Wienhaus Brungs, Marsplatz 3 — tucked away on a sidestreet near the Rathaus between the Altmarkt and the Heumarkt.

And, instead of a regional dish typical of Cologne, try one of their Alsatian “pizzas” — a thin layer of pastry topped with crème fraîche and then a choice of toppings (I had arugula — called rocket in Europe — and sliced tomatoes). Plus a nice glass of chablis.

lasagnaWhen you’re wandering about near the cathedral, a great place for lunch is Café Ludwig im Museum in (no surprise) the Ludwig Museum — which is on Heinrich-Boll-Platz, between the Roman-Germanic Museum and the Rhine River. They have a rotating limited menu of specials — I had Thursday’s choice: lasagna (pictured) — that include (of course) a glass of Kölsch.

(Photos by Susan McKee)

Top 10 Restaurants in America Are…Drum Roll Please

January 19, 2015 by  



wine-glassesOpenTable, a provider of online restaurant reservations, has announced the 2014 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Best Restaurants in America.

These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Of that list, the top 10 Best Restaurants in America, in rank order, are:

SeaBlue Restaurant & Wine Bar – North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Sushi Nakazawa-Sushi Bar – New York, New York
Fearrington House Restaurant – Pittsboro, North Carolina
n/naka – Los Angeles, California
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards – Santa Rosa, California
Ski Tip Lodge – Keystone, Colorado
Twenty Eight Atlantic at Wequassett Resort – East Harwich, Massachusetts
Kai – Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort – Chandler, Arizona
The French Room – Dallas, Texas
Highlands Bar and Grill – Birmingham, Alabama

(Photo courtesy of OpenTable)

Travel the World Through Chocolate

January 10, 2015 by  




Sometimes journalists get sneak peeks into concepts still in development. The Platinum LEED-certified green manufacturing and chocolate lifestyle house under construction in Chicago, Illinois, is just such a place.

Part of the industrial complex that produces Vosges Haut-Chocolat, 2950 North Oakley Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, it will include all sorts of visitor magnets including a café, factory tours, garden and event space. While the shop and factory face Oakley Avenue, the “lifestyle” area will front the North Branch of the Chicago River.

It was introduced to a group of travel writers who were covering IPW, a trade show sponsored by Brand USA to showcase America destinations to travel agents and tour operators from around the globe. I’d held off on writing about it, hoping it would be finished — but it isn’t yet. You can only dream about getting the inside story on Vosges Haut-Chocolat.

Definitely not candy for kids, this company produces high-end chocolates flavored with everything from the expected (bacon? beer?) to the never-heard-of-before (lucuma? maca?). (Some of the flavorings are in the photo, above.)

Katrina Markoff (Vosge’s founder and CEO) puts it this way, the “fusion of indigenous spices, flowers, roots, herbs and liqueurs with premium chocolate creates a sensory experience that nurtures awareness of and appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures”.

roadtrips1During our tour, we sampled all sorts of flavors combined with chocolate, including paprika, chilies, cardamon and curry blends as well as peanut butter, marshmallow and caramel.

Since you can’t take that tour yet, the next best thing is a candy sampling. Vosges Haut-Chocolat has shops in Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

What to order? Now there’s a First World problem. The super dark truffle collection includes baobab (yes, from baobab fruit), blackstrap (as in molasses), turmeric, rosemary, E3 (blue green algae + chia seeds + pink Himalayan salt) and almond.

This is “heart healthy” dark chocolate plus bee pollen, pineapple, muira puama bark, manuka honey and other superfoods. Or, as Vosges says it, “Everything you’d expect from a decadent chocolate truffle, with health benefits you wouldn’t.”

What about a “Library of Exotic Chocolate Bars”? These 12-bar boxes that look like books are tasting collections. Or the Milk & Dark Chocolate Truffle Collection. Or the Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee. Or….

Here’s a video about Vosges Chocolate Ganache Recipe:

(Photos ©2014 by Susan McKee; video courtesy of Vosges)

San Francisco Beer Week Touts Over 100 Events

January 8, 2015 by  



california_sanfrancisco_beer-weekThe seventh annual San Francisco Beer Week is set for February 6 through 15, 2015, in San Francisco, California, and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

It’s massive — there are something like 100 different events ranging from mega-tastings to gourmet pairings.

The opening gala is already sold out, but you can still get in to the Hair of the Dog Beer Brunch, Japantown Beer Walk.

Dates run through February 15, 2015.

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