Friday, October 7, 2016

This Year's Huntsman Trip Pictures Posted

The pictures for this year's trip to the Huntsman Games are up now. They include photos taken at Bisti Wilderness in New Mexico, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capital Reef National Park, Utah. My favourites are the pics from Calf Creek Falls, the high point of a six-hour hike. Carly liked that part best, too.
Bisti Wilderness

Capital Reef

Devil's Garden
Calf Creek Falls

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Good Food in Albuquerque

Mac's La Sierra
6217 Central Avenue NW, Albuquerque
(just east of Coors Boulevard)

For a South Texas boy like me, finding acceptable Mexican food west of the Pecos is a challenge; finding good Mexican food was, I thought, beyond hope. I feel renewed now, though.

The desk clerk at our hotel recommended this place; I almost didn't take up her suggestion, because it seemed a little too far, especially since my experiences of Mexican food out here have all been pretty dismal. But what the hell, I decided; the alternative she suggested was Chili's, which held no attraction for me either. At least, I figured, I might get a good, snarky review out of the local place.

First, the look of it: straight out of a Southwestern version of Happy Days, the show they should have made, but with Nacho instead of Fonzie. The place looks like it was built in the 50s, added onto in the 60s, and untouched since. Could use a larger parking lot, but otherwise it exudes a working-class cultura-coche charm: soda fountain-style stools in the front, tables and booths in the back (and I think there was another dining room beyond the kitchen). All done up in a red shade you haven't seen since before Nixon resigned, with some classically uninteresting prints on the walls.

Next, the service: after an initial bobble -- a pregnant pause before menus and water appeared -- the service was excellent, and included an apology for the misunderstanding between staff members that resulted in the delay. The waitress was very helpful as we tried to make our selections (one of the big problems with trans-Pecos Mexican food is the language barrier: they use the same words, but for all different things). And all her recommendations proved solid.

The food was almost great. The chips were only so-so, but the salsa was pretty good. My wife chose the daily special for her meal: green chili stew. I had just a taste of it, but found it delicious and piquant, and it sure looked good, with nice chunks of potato and other good things in a deep dish of ... well, green chili salsa. My own dish was the "house special," steak fingers and enchiladas, with an egg added (one of the waitress's recommendations). It was served with charro beans, some pretty good Spanish rice, a little salad, three very small breaded steak fingers (which looked kind of sad all by themselves on a side plate), and puffed bread called sopapillas. (Sopapillas are a dessert dish back home....) Because I'd ordered the egg on top, the enchiladas were served open, and topped on one side with red salsa (which they call "chili" here) and on the other with green salsa.

My biggest objection to the style of Mexican food out here is the amount of chili powder they use in their red salsas: it's overpowering. But tonight I discovered that if you mix a runny egg yolk into it, it becomes quite good. Better than merely acceptable. And except for the puniness of those steak fingers (which still tasted good; well, they're fried, you know, and fried food is always tasty. You could deep fry squirrel leg and it'd be good eatin', as I'm sure most of my peeps in West-by-God-Virginia can attest), everything was really enjoyable. The salad was fresh, the tortillas in the enchiladas had excellent texture, the cheese was creamy and not so profuse as to be overdone (a common affliction of many  American adaptations of ethnic cuisines), and even the bread was flavourful, if not as tasty as a good flour tortilla.

We had all this for about ten bucks a head. That, I think, is pretty good value.

FOOD: 4 1/2 chili peppers (out of 5)
SERVICE: 4 1/2 chili peppers
AMBIENCE: 3 1/2 chili peppers
VALUE: 3 1/2 chili peppers
Mac's La Sierra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Recipe Post

I keep a supply of paperback books in the car, for those unexpected times when I find myself with time to read. The current book -- I don't even know the name of it, but it's a spy story about a guy who can't keep it in ... you know -- anyway, this book closes each chapter with little synopses of the preparation of dishes mentioned in the chapter. This one I've made a couple of times, and really like it:

Kremlevskiye Griby so Shpinatom
(Kremlin mushrooms and spinach)


olive oil
sliced mushrooms (as much as you want, depending on how many servings you want)
fresh spinach (you can use other greens instead, like chard) (if you're going to use this recipe as an appetizer, chop the spinach first)
capers, drained (I use about a tablespoon for 2 servings)
salt and pepper to taste
prepared mustard sauce (regular, Dijon, or spicy, depending on your preference)
vinegar (any kind, but the taste will be very much affected; I prefer white wine vinegar, but would also recommend a good balsamic)

If you're making this as an appetizer, you'll want a bunch of large mushroom caps too.

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushroom slices and sauté until the edges begin to brown; about 7 minutes. 

2. Add the spinach or other greens, and the capers; toss until wilted, about 4 minutes. 

3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, and add mustard and vinegar. Spoon sauce over greens until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Serve lukewarm.

If making appetizers, stuff the mushroom caps with the spinach mixture.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

County Count Synopsis

With the unfortunate but long-expected demise of my old Dell computer running Windows XP (which, I confess, I prefer to this Mac Airbook running OS-X), I can no longer access old WordPerfect documents ... like the document where I kept my list of states with a count of how many of their counties I have been to. Rather than recreating it in Apple's "Pages" format -- which I find tedious and unintuitive after 30 years of word processing -- I'll just put it here, where I can update it whenever.

So here goes:

States I've been to all the counties in:
as of August 2016
Mississippi (just finished this last trip)
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York (also just finished)
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Dakota
Vermont (also just finished)
West Virginia

States yet to finish (with number of counties remaining):
Alabama (1, of 67)
Alaska (there aren't any counties there; haven't decided how I'll count it when I eventually go)
California (6, of 58)
Colorado (2, of 64)
Florida (7, of 67)
Georgia (68, of 159; counties there are really small)
Idaho (10, of 44)
Illinois (14, of 102)
Indiana (9, 0f 92)
Iowa (43, of 99)
Kentucky (28, of 120)
Massachusetts (2, both islands; of 14 -- the only counties left to visit in New England)
Michigan (20, of 83)
Missouri (7, of 114)
Montana (20, of 56)
Nebraska (10, of 93)
North Carolina (4, of 100)
Ohio (6, of 88)
Oregon (12, of 36)
South Carolina (11, of 46)
Tennessee (15, of 95)
Utah (2, of 29)
Virginia (16, of 95, plus a few of the independent cities, which I haven't decided whether to count)
Washington (5, of 39)

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Trip Goes On: Montreal

So we've moved our base of operations to an interesting little motel in Laval, Quebec, right across the bridge from Montreal, where we've been spending the last few days. Pics from the time we've been here, covering the botanical garden, the bug house, the Oratory, the harbour and miscellaneous parts of town, are now up on the web. Click here to see 'em. We have one more day before N&J have to go back to Colorado, and S&I will be off to Niagara Falls, and then home.
Old Montreal

penzou, botanical garden

St Joseph Chapel altarpiece,
Oratory of St Joseph, Montreal

Friday, August 5, 2016

Oh, By the Way...

I hardly ever post restaurant reviews here anymore. Nowadays they're all on If you want to know what I think of a place (though I have to wonder why you would), you can find it at I hope.

A Week in Vermont

Since my last post at the start of the week, I've figured out how to add descriptions to the photos in my Google Photos albums. Of course, unless you click on the little "info" icon (an "i" in a white circle near the top right corner) you won't see those descriptions; and you'll think, "Huh...I wonder what that's a picture of. Oh, well, it doesn't matter." And you'll be right, of course, but probably less impressed with my composition.

Stowe Village, from the back side
Anyway. So the first day in Stowe, a Sunday, we didn't do much of anything, after a very late night due to airline delays. We went to the farmers' market for stuff for meals (then to a grocery store for other stuff), then in to the village center where we had some ice cream ("New England" is, I'm sure, an old Algonkian term for "really good ice cream") and got lost on the "quiet trail," an unpaved walking trail where bicycles aren't allowed. Ended up walking quite a ways around the village and back down the main highway. Everybody got all their Fitbit steps in that day.

The next day it rained all day. We puttered around the apartment for a while, then went to a couple of shops down in the village. We, the members of the Once-a-Year Bowling League, went to the one bowling alley in town, which has 8 lanes and opens at 2pm and charges by the hour for the privilege of bowling under flashing disco lights between groups of children who don't know the first thing about bowling (and who are supervised by nominal adults who don't know the first thing about teaching children proper behaviour in public). They had a waiting list and said they'd call us when a lane opened up. So we went and did things, ending up eventually at a yarn shop in the Village where the wimmenfolk spent entirely too much time. Then the bowling alley called, yay! and we went and threw balls at pins in the dark for about an hour. Came back and had burgers at the condo.

The Round Church
We went down to Ticonderoga the next day, with a couple of stops along the way, first at the Round Church in Richmond, Vermont, and then at the old lighthouse on Lake Champlain at Crown Point, New York.

Steamboat dock and
Lighthouse on Lake Champlain

Fort Ticonderoga from
Mt Defiance

I heard so often about Ticonderoga when I was in school that I was pretty sure it must be an important place. Having been there three times now, I've come to the conclusion that it was a mistake for the French to put a fortress there in the first place, but that, once that mistake was made, it became necessary for competitors, British and American, to take the fort. In a nutshell, the fort's only real relevance to American history is that it provided the guns that forced the British out of Boston, and helped keep the Americans from taking Canada later on. The fort was completely destroyed by the British when they evacuated it at the end of the Revolution, and would have been an unlamented loss had not some rich guy bought the property for his country home, and then had some layabout descendants who thought rebuilding it would be a Good Thing. Well, okay, so they spent a lot of time and money doing just that, and the foundation they set up to operate it is making plenty with it (and Mount Defiance, a better location for fortifications and the undoing of Ticonderoga); still, had they not it wouldn't be missed.

The bulk of our Wednesday was spent at Ben & Jerry's, down the road at Waterbury Center; and then going up through Smuggler's Notch and down to Bingham Falls, both very pretty places near Stowe.
Smuggler's Notch
Bingham Falls

Moss Glen Falls
On Thursday we hiked down to Moss Glen Falls
first thing in the morning, then went to the Shelburne Museum. Like Ticonderoga, the latter is operated by a foundation dedicated, it would seem, to keeping alive the memory of a local heiress, her children and their friends. It's a collection of old buildings brought together from around Vermont, spread over 20-something acres of well-tended landscaping. There are bits and pieces of living history, and some very knowledgeable curators and guides on hand, but basically it's about the woman who owned the place in life, and her family and friends. Get past that self-glorification, though, and you can enjoy your time on the property.

Hansom cab
There are some very interesting things in the museum. I was interested in the collection of vehicles, except that they include a lot of sleds and sleighs. For me, it was all about the carriages. And the train. And the 60 or so vehicles that I didn't get to see.

supposed bust of
Crazy Horse 

After the museum, we headed into downtown Burlington for a bit, but there wasn't much to see there, so we just had dinner in their pedestrian mall and headed back home.

Today -- Friday, our last day here -- we went for a drive up through Hazen's Gap, just so that I could go through the last two counties in Vermont. Now I've been to every county in New England except the two island counties off the Massachusetts coast. Next week (after Montreal): New York state.

And after lunch, we found this covered bridge right outside of Stowe. Built in 1844. Some of the timbers are original. (The bridges were covered to keep them from rotting. Seems to work.)

These pictures, and many others, can be seen in my 2016 Vermont Trip album.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The 2016 Condo Trip, So Far

OK, so I hardly ever post anything on this blog anymore.... But here's an attempt to share, with anyone who might be interested, the pictures from this year's Condo Trip.

Here's a link that (supposedly) will work:

Let me know if it doesn't.

The pictures start with New Orleans, then across Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia before heading up to Philadelphia (where we went in spite of the Democratic convention). I then dropped my friend Roland off in New York City and headed up to Maine, where I delivered my sister's dog to her. From there, I drove down to Boston to collect my wife, and over to Burlington, Vermont, to collect my sister-in-law and her husband for our week in Stowe, Vermont. The pictures in the album so far cover that trip through one day in Stowe.

By the time the album is finished it'll include a week in Vermont, a few days in Montreal, and the trip home with my wife, by way of Niagara Falls.

Oh, and I finished the County Count of Mississippi, and got a number of counties in Alabama and Georgia; and I've already been to 3 of the 5 remaining counties of Vermont; I'll get those last two on this trip, and will be done with Vermont.
The "Grand Canyon of Mississippi," a road wash-out

Alabama Natural Bridge

Philadelphia ... some ol' bell

granite quarry in Maine

Stowe, Vermont

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Hit and a Miss

Two Plays Previewed at the Hollywood Fringe

Sometimes you just get lucky. In a city like Los Angeles, two strangers can find themselves with way too many choices for their entertainment. That's how we found ourselves this evening, debating whether to see this or go there or do that. In the end, we trotted down to Santa Monica Boulevard for a press-preview production of a new play, and ended up seeing two, as this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival shakes out the bugs in anticipation of next week's official opening.

The first play was The Big Snake, or How I Got Eaten Alive on National Television and Lived to Tell About It.  Billed as An American Farce by Tom Cavanaugh, it had the rough feeling of an unfocussed rant tossed off in an afternoon, staged on short notice with minimal rehearsal and little thought given to some stage basics. The character of Justin, played by Mykee Selkin, seemed particularly lost on the stage in his early scenes, resorting to aimless pacing as though no blocking had been discussed beforehand. He gave the impression that he was a late addition to the cast, on more than one occasion missing the timing of his lines, like a starving artist with a hot sandwich waiting for him in the wings. (In fairness, I should mention that as the play went on, this impression lifted and he grew some into the role.)

The play revolves around Justin's attempt to produce a reality television program involving the titular Big Snake. There are some gratuitous jokes about the pathetic nature of reality television, which got some knowing laughs from the show-people crowd, most of whom seemed to be connected in some way with the festival and the people in this production; afterwards on the sidewalk they exchanged hugs and air-kisses and congratulatory lauds, despite the almost painful shortcomings of the show. Justin and his wife Corinne (played by Jen Faith Brown) enlist Jake "The Snake" lePetomane to star in their idiotic pilot about ... well, you figure it out. Damien Luvara's performance as Jake was easily the worst of the night. It hurt to listen to his accent wander the English-speaking world, jumping in a single line from Hobart to Hilton Head and back.

The best part of the production was the writing for, and performances by, the first five characters introduced: The Director (played by Bob Telford), The Critic (Allan Steele), The Patron of the Arts (Marina Palmier), the Romantic (DeAnn Odom), and the Ticket Buyer (Mary Cavaliere). These spurious audience members brought on stage had most of the best lines, and performed their parts with gusto and zest, while the play-within-the-play languished for want of energy, polish and wit.

This could be a rough-cut gem; with more than a week to go before the next showing there's plenty of time for tightening of the script and polishing of individual performances. And maybe the costumes could be given a little professional attention. It could be that this play is worth taking a chance on, when the festival proper gets under way.

The second play, Macdeth, is already good enough to heartily recommend. A romping retelling of the unmentionable Scottish play, it will prove a treat to anyone with a love of the great Bard's cadence and an appreciation of rhyming couplets as an art form. Putting aside the writer's fuzzy opinions about American politics and recent events, and accepting the now obligatory unexamined and approving views of nontraditional sex, this spoof is great fun well done. There is no fourth wall anywhere in the show; the audience is brought into it at the very beginning and pushes along with the cast through the entire thrilling tale, barely able to digest one elegantly funny line before the next strides into the fray.

From an all-round excellent cast, it proved difficult in conversation with a friend after the show to single out the finest performance of the piece, and I had to settle for naming three ... no, four. These were Ryan J-W Smith, author of the play, who portrayed the title character; Helena Grace Donald as Lady MacDeth; Jason Linforth as Banquo; and Ryan Stiffelman as both a fruity Duncan and the hilariously hammy MacBuff. If I did have to pick only one, it would undoubtedly be ... no; no, I can't choose. I just can't.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

County Count Update

World's Largest Sandhill Crane,
Steele, North Dakota
North Dakota is one of the states that I thought would be about the last one I would finish with. It's as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get, without actually being there. It's not really on the way to anyplace. It's big and remote and, in tourist terms, uninteresting. But yesterday, I did it: I took a drive out of Bismarck, east to Kidder County (where stands the World's Largest Sandhill Crane, to go along with the World's Largest Cow about the same distance from Bismarck in the opposite direction); north to Wells, then West as far as Dunn County, at which point I entered the last of the state's 53 counties.

That makes 22 states that I've been to all the counties of; tomorrow, as I start for home, I'll pass through the last of South Dakota's counties (having been through 2 new ones on the way up to Bismarck). That'll make 23 states done; and this summer, when I head up to Vermont (if the trip goes according to plan), I'll finish three more: Mississippi, Vermont and New York. By the close of the year I'll have been to all the counties in half the states of the union. And quite a few others, as well.

(And if you're keeping track -- but why would you be? -- the states I'm done with are: Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.)