Post # 51 Get Your Kicks on Route 66!

September 26, 2012 at 10:32 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 51 Get Your Kicks on Route 66!

Yesterday, House Guest, Father-In-Law, and I took a drive to ride on historic Rt 66.  For any who are not familiar with it, Rt 66 is a historic roadway in the U.S. that was originally built in 1926.  It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles for a total of 2451 miles.

It was known as the Great American Highway, and also as The Mother Road.  It was the pathway to the west, particularly during the depression and the Dust Bowl years.  It led people out of despair.  Many businesses grew up along the roadway and became hugely successful.  As the modern system of interstate freeways was developed, Rt 66 was less traveled.

Many of the businesses that sprang up along the way were restaurants and diners.  People were usually in a hurry to reach their destination so a diner that could provide a good meal for a fair price and quickly was in high demand.  There was a lot of competition so diners and restaurants had to stand out to make people want to stop.  Some used food as their gimmick, offering something unusual, or offering a lot of food for next to nothing.  Some used their building as the gimmick and people would find themselves eating in a shoe, or an airplane, or a hat.  The only that limited the owners was their own imagination.

As quickly as those businesses grew, so did they fall.  When Rt 66 was bypassed by the interstate road system, people didn’t travel it so much and the owners either moved their business or went out of business.  Then late in the last century, a nostalgia kick swept through the country, and many people wanted to travel the old road again.  Business grew up again, but this time with modern sensibilities.  Some people created new businesses, while others restored old businesses.  Some people repurposed old buildings, capitalizing on the nostalgia people were feeling, and selling old junk as antiques, and old candy that people remembered from their youth.

We stopped at a place called Pops.  It’s a diner and gas station that specializes in soda pop.  It’s a modern business, not having been around in the original heydays of Rt 66.  It’s a specialty place.  It specializes in soda pop.  So much so that they created an art piece that stands out for a couple of miles alerting people to something special and fun up ahead.

It’s a bottle of soda pop with a straw sticking out of it.  They feature over 600 different flavors of soda.  They have all the standards, plus creations of their own.  The building is glass sided with glass shelves holding all their sodas.  It’s a huge multicolored sight you won’t forget soon.  The sculpture is lit at night with various colors depicting the flavors they have.

The diner is okay.  I got a burger and fries and it was good, but not spectacular.  The fries were of the commercial frozen variety, but they gave me a ton of them.  Way more than I could eat.  Father-in-law ordered a basket of fried okra and they fried the entire okra pod.  I’ve only ever seen cut into slices or small chunks then fried.  Everything was good, but as I saw, not spectacular.  It was typical diner fare.  There was one standout, the grilled cheese sandwich.  I almost ordered it.  It used five different cheeses on thick sliced bread.  I looked like more of a challenge than I was up to at the moment.

Since we are so near to the Great American Highway, we’ll likely start exploring and hopefully finding the fun and out-of-the-way diners.  I’ll keep you all posted!

Post # 50 Our State Fair is a Great State Fair . . . . . . .

September 24, 2012 at 9:18 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Yup, we went to the state fair on Saturday.  I wanted to post about it, so I held off the Friday post.  Then I remembered that Saturday was also Mabon, so I posted about that instead.  So now I’m posting about the fair, albeit a little behind schedule.  Sigh, whaddaya gonna do?

In our house, we’re all morning people.  Our energy levels are highest before two in the afternoon.  With a good breakfast, we can go hours without eating.  So we stopped at one of our favorite out of the way diners called Boomarangs.  There’s a cable TV station called Boomarang that shows a bunch of way old cartoons like The Banana Splits, and Space Ghost.  I don’t think this diner is affiliated, but they keep a 1950’s theme going.  The food is excellent, and plentiful.  The staff are pleasant, helpful, and funny.  So we left there with our stomachs full and ready to tackle the fair.

Crazy Old Man, the father-in-law, wanted to see all the things from his youth.  He wanted to see antique tractors, and livestock competitions, and the 4H exhibits.  Spouse wanted to just see the fair and remember it against what he remembered from growing up in very rural California.  I wanted to see the 4H exhibits and the wood turning exhibits.  House Guest just wanted to aborb the atmosphere.  We all wanted to see the chuckwagon demonstration.

So when we arrived at about 9:15, while the fair was technically open, there was nothing really open except a few of the food trucks.  Talk about an OMG moment.  There was more food stands, trucks, kiosks, and actual really-real diners than there were exhibits or rides.  We scoped out the the layout before really looking into the exhibits, most of which weren’t open yet.

We wandered through the cattle and horse pens, and looked at the petting zoo.  We found a butterfly cage that claimed to have over 5000 live butterflies in it.  I wondered who counted.  I’m not a fan of butterflies.  They’re nasty creatures.  We walked through a mobile home that seemed as palatial as any $500k home out there.  I was completely gob-smacked by it.

By the time we’d finished with that area, most of the exhibits were open, and the rides were starting to gear up.  It’s weird to walk through a fair seeing the rides motionless.  We went into one building that advertised all kinds of shopping and it was true.  All kinds of shopping as long as all you wanted was the kinds of things that could only be found at a fair.  Lots of leather wallets and purses, cheap t-shirt material dresses, cowboy hats made of odd materials, siding for houses and barns, and candy.  There seemed to be candy everywhere.  Then we went into a building where we thought we were going to see the wood turning exhibit and chuck wagon demonstration.  Nope, no such luck.  We did get to see the wine country section, and an area where baking and salsa was popular.  We even saw one vendor who was selling not only Halloween decorations, but the materials to make your own.  We bumped into an information desk and the man directed us to where we wanted to go.  True to form, we ran off course.

We finally found the area where the wood turning and chuck wagon was.  I watched the wood turning demonstration for several minutes as the man talked about it.  He used tools and techniques that were used several hundred years ago and seemed to be hoping to preserve a culture.  I also watched some blacksmithing going on at the next area.  Turned out the chuck wagon demo was a no go for some reason.  All the stuff was there, but no people were manning it.  Go figure.

We went into one last building and hit gold.  This was the 4H exhibit that I wanted to see.  There were entries for baking, quilting, crafts, science, nature, and nearly all of it was from kids 6 to 18.  There was one section that was for adults and those were naturally more sophisticated, but the things the kids cranked out were amazing.  We ran into a cooking demonstration of kids making pancakes from scratch.  It was so cute, even after father-in-law made us face-palm ourselves by going to the front and asking if he could buy a bottle of water even after we told him it was  cooking competition.  Then, we turned a corner and found the wood turning demo that I’d been looking for!  This was with power tools and modern technique.  It was fascinating.  After several minutes there, we decided to head out.  It was nearly noon, it was hot, and the place was filling up with people.  The last few walkways we’d been on were so crowded we felt like cattle being herded in one direction or another.

Overall, the atmosphere was permeated by food and drink.  Every-single-where you looked there were multiple food carts.  It was like they believed that if anyone had to walk more than ten feet for food, they were going to collapse.  The selection and variation was overwhelming.  Within feet of each other a person could choose from fried pies, cotton candy, funnel cakes, elephant ears, roasted corn, indian tacos, spaghetti and meatballs, greek gyros, popcorn, candied apples, fried twinkies, frozen cheesecake on a stick, corn dogs, polish sausage, and a sausage monstrosity on a stick that looked like it was two feet long.  Any kind of soda, beer, wine, lemonade, and water was available.  If you got hungry or thirsty at this place, it was your own fault.  I joked about walking through the food court when we first arrived, but every step of the way was a food court.  All the walkways were divided by the food vendors.  There was so much stuff, and so many aromas, it was almost nauseating.  But the looks of happy excitement on the faces of all the kids more than made up for it.

“A good time was had by all.”

Post # 49 Autumn Equinox

September 22, 2012 at 4:45 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Today is the day that autumnal equinox.  Light and Dark are exactly equal today.  After today, Dark starts getting imperceptibly longer, until that day in mid-winter when Dark has its longest time.  Then Light starts taking over again until a day in Spring when Light and Dark are exactly equal again.  If you remember my post from August 1st about Lammas, you’ll recall that the equinox is one of the major holy days.  Today is also the day that marks the first day of the calendar season of Autumn, or Fall.

In the larger scheme of things, this day marks a day of balance and of preparation.  Even though the days are still hot, the nights cool off, and the mornings are chilly.  We see fewer and fewer insects.  Plants that are affected by the chill start to close down.  Spiders find their way indoors.  The dogs are friskier.  Squirrels start burying nuts with a vengeance.  The leaves start changing colors and dropping off trees, becoming a natural mulch and barrier to the cold and snow that’s coming.

A century ago, people were more in tune with the rythym of nature.  They could tell when to do certain things by the way nature was behaving.  The harvest matured in time to stock pile and preserve against the winter.

This day is also called Mabon, pronounced any way you like.  It is known for the foods that ripen at this time of year.  Apples, pears, nuts of all kinds, pumpkins, and squash are all foods we see as traditional.  Gourds are another thing we see at this time.  The celebrations held now are reflected in throughout our country.  The ancients celebrated the harvest.  Right now, there are country fair and state fairs all over the country being held which celebrate the same things.  I went to our state fair today and saw exhibits on the fruits of the harvest.

Today marks a time, however brief, when everyone take a moment to breathe, to relax, and to reflect on the upcoming seasons.  Autumn is bountiful and giving.  It turns nature into a color palette that sends people packing in hordes to view the resplendent countryside.  We watch trees turn from vibrant green to blazing reds, yellow, golds, and browns.  Fields of grass turn to gold and amber, with seed heads waiting to be harvests and swaying in the breezes.

There are lots of foods that are traditional to this time of year.  Apple pie, pecan pie, nut candy, pumpkin soup, roasted corn, roasted squash.  This is a busy time as the harvest comes.  There’s no time to say that I’ll do it tomorrow.  The harvest won’t wait and food will spoil on the vine.

One of my favorite parts of this time of year is the grape harvest.  Knowing that all those grapes will be turned into new wine that I can drink in just a couple of years makes me happy.  Plus I like to eat grapes.  Grapes are good stuff.

One of my favorite ways to eat grapes, apart from just eating them right off the bunch, is to wash them thoroughly.  I rinse them, then put them in a bowl with water and lemon juice.  I let them soak for a few minutes, then drain and rinse.  I sprinkle them lightly with sugar and put them in the freezer for about a half hour our so.  They don’t freeze completely, and with the sugar on top, they make a great, tasty snack!


Post # 48 Tasty Mexican Food

September 19, 2012 at 10:56 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 48 Tasty Mexican Food

I grew up in Arizona, near the border with Mexico.  Mexican food runs in my veins.  I never dreamed of going to a fast food mexican place until I had left Arizona and needed to feed my mexican food fix.  When I arrived in the DC area, one of the first questions I asked was where are any good Mexican restaurants.  Silly me, I thought they would understand what I meant by “good.”

I was directed to a restaurant several miles up the road I was living on to a place called Chi-Chi’s.  I was told it was good, so I invited a friend along with me who had grown up in Corpus Christi.  When I told her the name of the place she looked blank for a moment, then asked, “Why would they name a restaurant that?”  Turned out that while it was passable, it wasn’t what I considered “good.”  I went back several years later with my in-laws, who loved the place, and it was the same.   They liked it, I didn’t.

Then, my sister-in-law took me to a hole in the wall place called Los Tres Amigos.  It was Tex-Mex and actually had some flavor to it!  We went back once during the two and half decades I lived in the area.  I don’t know why I never made it my go-to place.  While I lived in Manassas, another friend suggested a chain restaurant for Mexican food that was decent.  Since it was just a couple of blocks from my house, I went there regularly.  The biggest thing they had going for them was great portion size and fresh made tortillas.  They made their corn chips from the tortillas so the chips and salsa were great.  Nachos not so much.

I moved to North Carolina for a short time and continued my search for good Mexican food.  The chain that I knew in Manassas was there, as well, so when the urge got to be too bad and no one felt like cooking, we could go there.  Then we bumped into a restaurant in the parking lot of one of our favorite stores and finally got good flavor Mexican food in North Carolina!  We went there a couple of times before we had to leave.

So now here we are, in the Great Plains and the first thing we decide to do is find a good Mexican restaurant.  There’s a fast food chain here called Taco Bueno.  Oddly enough, for a fast food chain, it serves really delicious Mexican food.  Lots of it, too.

However, our go-to now is a great place called Chelinos.  It’s a local chain, with about half a dozen stores around the area.  We first discovered the place on our first trip here when we were looking for a house.  There was a Mexican restaurant next to our hotel and we asked our real estate agent about it.  He said the best place was just down the road from our hotel so we went there.  Chelinos restaurants are smaller places, but they’re always busy.  At least, they are when we’re there.  They use all the correct spices and chiles and the portions are generous.

The first time we were there, partner/spouse got Chile Rellenos, the standard order to check out a Mexican restaurant.  I usually get either tacos or a quesadilla for my first order.  If they can screw up something as simple as cheese grilled in a flour tortilla, they will screw up everything.  But I noticed they had something that I hadn’t had since I was a kid.  At home in Arizona, we called it Mexican Stew (see recipe at right) but at the restaurant they called it something else beginning with a G and seemingly named after someone.  I ordered that.  It came with rice and beans and warm flour tortillas.  It was wonderfully, bitingly spicy and I ate as much as I could.

The meal starts with fresh made tortilla chips, and a bowl of fresh salsa for each person at the table (no sharing!) and a bowl of queso dip for each person at the table (again, no sharing!)  The salsa was fresh, chilled, flavorful, some of the best I’ve ever had, excluding my own.  The queso dip was a wonderfully flavorful melted cheese with onions.  I ended up spreading a spoonful of salsa and a spoonful of queso dip on a flour tortilla and making my own quesadilla (sort of.)  Then the main entree is brought on giant hot plates that are filled!  No way can one person eat an entire plateful, although the father-in-law does.  But I think that’s mostly a generational thing.  Clean plate and all.

They also do a bustling take out service.  We’ve done that many times.  And every time, whether it’s eat in or take out, they give more than their fair share of tortilla chips with salsa and queso dip.  Good stuff!


Post # 47 The Drink That Saved The World!

September 17, 2012 at 10:43 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I have a cholesterol problem.  It’s genetic and I don’t worry too much about it.  It doesn’t matter what I eat or how much exercise I take, my numbers always remain high.  Or low, depending on which one you’re looking at.  But they’re never good.  The only thing that has any real impact on my numbers is drugs.  When I take the little pills, the numbers plummet.  Or soar, depending on which one you’re looking at.  However, my liver doesn’t metabolize long-term medications well, and I always have to take time off of the drug(s) for my liver to recuperate, which sends my cholesterol numbers soaring or plummeting, and isn’t really all that good for other things I’m concerned about.

My doctor and I have discussed alternative therapies at great length.  I once went an entire half-year eating nothing but rice and vegetables with small amounts of olive oil.  Oh, and oatmeal.  I hate oatmeal except in a cookie.  For a short time, I went on a vitamin treatment but my whole body reacted badly to that one and after two and a half months, I had to stop.  And the numbers remained barely changed.  We were both flummoxed and discussing the situation.  He said, “Well, they say one glass of wine each evening is supposed to be good for you.”  I replied, “Well, that’s certainly why I drink it!”  We both laughed and went on to other areas.

The thing is, wine really is good for you in moderation.  So is beer.  And ale.  And mead.  And any of the other distilled alcoholic beverages.  The problems they pose are when they are taken in excess, just like anything else.  Hell, even water will kill you if you drink too much of it.  Ask any marathon runner.  Alcohol, though, saved civilization.

Water is a great drink when it’s pure.  It’s a simple combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms that work to make sure that humans can live.  It keeps the body regulated, and flushes out toxins and other nasty stuff.  The trouble is that water, for the greatest part of human history, hasn’t been all that pure.  Every municipality in the United States spends a large chunk of their budget making certain that the water that comes out of your tap is as safe as they can make it.  The bottled water industry is one of the largest in the world.  Water filtration systems for the home or the individual is so common place now that even small convenience stores sell some form of it.

Funny aside:  When I was in college I stayed with my sister and her husband.  The had some new gadgets for their house that they were explaining to me and one was a reverse osmosis water purification system.  It spit out water that was hydrogen and oxygen, and not much else.  It had the sweetest flavor I’d ever tasted in water.  A few weeks later, she and I were grocery shopping and she was picking out toothpaste.  I wondered why she didn’t get one with fluoride.  She said, “We get that in our water.”  I just stared at her and said, “You spend thousands of dollars on a filtration system to take everything out of your water.  What makes you think fluoride is slipping through?”  She looked startled for a moment then bought the toothpaste with fluoride.

Impure water has been the cause for literally hundreds of outbreaks of disease.  In the ancient world, water was always a suspect drink.  They didn’t know about germs or bacteria or other organisms living in water that might kill you, or make you wish you were dead.  They just knew that if you drank water you would die.  But what were they supposed to do?  There wasn’t much else.  Milk as food for humans wasn’t prevalent.  It was used mostly for animals.

Then some enterprising person, probably a monk somewhere, happened upon the distillation process and created alcohol.  Not alcohol in its pure form, but a fermented drink using grains and hops and malts.  Suddenly, people could drink brewed water and not die!  No one really understood the processes involved.  They just knew it worked.  Once the recipe was known, everyone could make their own beer or ale or mead.

Innkeepers became famous for making an ale that tasted great.  Peasants could make their own beer and use it to pay their taxes.  Huge tracts of land were given over to farming just the ingredients for it.  Because it would not kill you!

Over time, various innovations were added.  Different grains were used, different flavors were created, different methods and times.  Honey was used.  Grapes were used.  Suddenly, people could drink something and live!

Now, I don’t want you think that everyone everywhere were dying of thirst before beer showed up.  They weren’t.  They were drinking water from the rivers, lakes, and ponds.  They were collecting rain and melting snow, etc.  A large part of the time, it wouldn’t kill them.  But as humans gathered into cities, and waste disposal became an issue to be ignored, water became less and less healthy.  Water found outside the cities was a toss-up.  There were always micro-organisms growing in water that weren’t great for human consumption.  Some people found that boiling water and letting it cool before drinking would help.  But it was alcohol, the result of fermentation, that really allowed people to drink healthy for the first time.

People weren’t a bunch of drunkards in the early days.  The fermentation process was necessarily cut short on time because this was a commodity people needed and wanted.  They didn’t have much patience.  So it wasn’t fermented as fully as it could have been.  Ales and beer in particular were “short”, falling into very low levels of alcohol content.   People could drink whole pitchers without getting terribly tipsy.   Public convention, religious morals, the king’s taxes, they all played a role in regulating the production and strength of the things they were drinking.

So enjoy your favorite knowing that it’s the stuff that saved the world.

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