Friday, October 30, 2009

Time Marches On....

As we climb the asymptote trying to catch up to current time, Wednesday was spent riding back from Hannibal, which as is the case with most trips, took about half the time as was spent in riding out. The skies were gray and people were beginning to face the reality that the tour was over and life was about to resume again.

Since the return flight to BWI was late in the afternoon, there was time allowed for the group to take a tour of Budweiser (a wholly owned subsidiary of….), and the Missouri Botanical Garden. We had not been to either in quite a while, so it was almost new to us The brewery tour turned out to be mostly a promo for product (we take pride in our “Green” process for brewing the world’s best beer), although seeing the Clydesdales and the architecture of the brewery are worth it. Plus (as the guides pointed out several times) we get free beer at the end. We were surprised at the “visitor” center, it was much more ornate than we remembered

I was also surprised at the amount of beers that AB produces, not in quantity, but in numbers of labels. Heard of Shock Top? Chelada? Stone Mill Pale ale? It goes on

We were ushered by our guide

And taken through the brewery,mostly the bottling line with a lot of bud light, although I didn’t see any 10 ouncers…

and the architecture. Recognize/remember Bevo?

After the (free) beer tasting experience (did you know Stella Artois is a product?) we re-boarded the coach and headed off to the Botanical Garden. Again, we had not been there in a while, and we were reminded what a great spot it is. There is a calm peacefulness about the place with nature and man made treats for the eye

They’ve sort of adopted Dale Chihuly, but I’m not sure it integrates very well. A certain amount of clashing..

After that, we bid the tour folk adieu, and retired to the airport suites, wherein we had our wonderful pizza dinner.


We awoke to more rain (rain is the new sun!), and spent part of the day driving around our hometown Clayton, seeing what’s new. And, there are changes. Around noon time we met a friend for a little business, and then accepted an invitation to lunch (Happy Birthday) at the nearby (what used to be) Il Bellagio in Creve Coeur. However (after some unpleasantness with the Las Vegas contingent), now is called Il Bel Lago, I think roughly translated to “nice lake”. Whatever its name is, it provides a great spot for lunch. Although sort of “store fronty” in appearance, once you’re inside the dining area is secluded from the outside (and miserable weather) and is nicely decorated with muted draperies on the ceiling, and (in this case) blue covered tables, nicely set. There are booths along one wall that are partially obscured if you have a need for more privacy. And yes, the feeder has pulled in his horns about those white paper squares. There they were, I guess it must be a custom, and I have to learn about that sometime. Anyway, one wall is devoted to the wine rack and they have some nice wines on display. Silver Oak, Mt. Veeder, Chimney Rock, and Robert Craig (new to me) among the Cabs. The wine list is pretty impressive, with many reasonable to show off selections.

Of course as you might have guessed the cuisine is Italian. The (luncheon) menu features appetizers, soups, salads, and some Pizzas as you might expect, but also a nice selection of pastas, and heartier entrees. Most every category includes (selection) del Giorno, thus allowing the kitchen some flexibility. Service was immediate and kind – no Hi, I’m…. just an explanation of the “Giornos” and asking if we would like a drink. The wine list was brought, and we finally settled on a bottle of ’06 Taz Pinot (Santa Barbara County) which I had not had (La Crema was our next choice), and got down to ordering.

MFO chose the seafood del Giorno which was a tilapia with a lemon butter sauce, I chose the risotto (I’m a sucker every time), and our friend got the pasta del Giorno which was (as memory serves) a wide pasta in red sauce with maybe some veal. We had the house salad and our friend chose the soup of the day (which is how it’s described on the menu!), a rich soup for a cold rainy day.

The wine was poured, some fresh bread and olive oil supplied (let it be noted that for once I did NOT wear any on the shirt when I left), and we had some great conversation. Water glasses were kept full, and service continued to be attentive. Every time I leave the Park, I am amazed to find how often “service” means just that. Anyway, the salads and soup arrived and were very much enjoyed. More wine, more conversation and then the main courses were served. My risotto was cooked just right (although I have to admit it was right on the edge of (IMHO) being too tight) but the rice was al dente as it should be, and the roasted garlic and pungent shitakes made a great dish. Quantities were large, so some resides in our little fridge. The fish was also nicely done with a great sauce of nice consistency, and the pasta was enjoyed. A great lunch. I like lunch.

So, if you’re ever in Creve Coeur and want a nice quiet Italian lunch (or dinner) I would recommend stopping in at “the Lake”. In fact, I’d put it on the “drive to” list.

Since the rain appeared to be continuing for the rest of the day, clever planning our part included a stop at Straub’s in Clayton and we purchased a pound of the legendary Chicken Salad along with more bread, another bottle of wine (’07 Domaine Chandon Unoaked Chardonnay), and a brownie. Year after year, that chicken salad is to die for.

Oh, before consuming the above (and the to die for chicken salad), I met another friend at Trailhead Brewery in St. Charles for a post work beer and catch up session. Reasonably priced beers, nice selection, but they allow smoking!!!! C’mon St. Charles/Missouri, get into the twenty first century! Good grief.

Tonight is the highlight of the culinary side of the trip, and you can bet we’ll be


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last Day in Twain Country...

A quick fast forward. We’ll document the last full day (Wednesday) in Hannibal in a minute, but we’re now safely ensconced in STL by the airport after a rather cold and busy day of traveling and local touring, and we were wondering what to do for dinner. Go to Clayton? The hill? Hey! How about numming down evening with a pizza and watch World Series game one? Done! Turns out there’s an Imo’s close by our hotel nestled in the heart of Earth City, with contractors, tourists and so forth. We went to a close by Schnuck’s got some adult beverages, cheese (smoked gouda), and a demi baguette.

Back to the local digs, spread the cocktail material on a small table, and began to relax without the “tour” be here, go there, schedule. Eventually we ordered a Pizza from a local Imo’s: a 14 inch, original crust two topping (pepperoni and mush). More cheese, wine and bread, and eventually a knock on the door brought the Pizza. Alert readers will remember the Feeder’s lament about no good pizza (with an exception for ruddy duck) in the Park. So here we are in the lowlands of Earth City, home of contractors, AYCE devotees, and we got this pizza. You know what? It beat anything available to us in the Park. Super thin, crunchy crust, the cheese forming a silky solid guardian of the pepperoni and mushrooms. Just RIGHT! Taste was fine. Good mouthfeel, and the ingredients shone through. You talk about comfort food? This IS IT

Okay, back to the trip. Our last full day in Hannibal on Wednesday consisted of a Trolley trip to the outskirts of the city. We toured two cemeteries which had Clemens/Sawyer ties, more statues (there must be more statues of Sam per square foot than anywhere), an over look, and finally the “Becky Thatcher” cave.

Through a curious set of circumstances, we were joined by a group of youngsters/kids (it’s all relative) that are doing an excursion down the extent of the Mississippi on a replicated“York Boat”. It’s called the “old man river” project. They hope to produce a documentary of their journey, and we were pleased to have them with us. Youth is good. Since they are producing a documentary, they were behind their equipment most of the time,

but I hope they had a chance to absorb some of the scenery. They have a blog associated with the trip. There’s 4 Canadians and one Aussie. They were able to take advantage of recently vacated rooms at Lula Bell’s, so win all around. They were fun. As the average age of our tour was in our range, an injection of youthful exuberance was fun.

We were extremely fortunate to have the Curator of the Twain Museum(s) with us, and he supplied information on all the sights. What a knowledgeable resource

I am always amazed at the knowledge of others. After the tour we retired once again to the Boyhood Home museum, where the same curator gave us a little presentation showing things in the collection not open to the public.

Like first editions, letters, and things. Wonderful stuff.

The project people taped the whole thing

Our “final dinner” was held on a river boat.

Were the weather better, the sun out, it could have been a fitting closing. Sad to say we were treated as just another fare, get ‘em in, get ‘em out, processed cattle. We were ushered (through the gift shop) to the “lounge” on the boat, set with tables and a musician playing a banjo.

Set down, we were asked for drinks (water, tea?) while the buffet was being hastily constructed before the stage. Steam tables hustled out (pre-recorded messages about the river were ignored), and assembled, then the food brought out in the chafing dishes. We were urged to start dining. We did, first to the out of the bag salad, then a “what’s this?” pasta salad, some green beans apparently courtesy of Del Monte. Approaching the “main” steam dish were asked if we would like beef or chicken, or both. I selected “both” and was given a couple of slices of if not lunch meat, gray slices of tough protein. The chicken was a boneless breast with a pink (paprika?) coating. If you took both (the Feeder) you got a couple of slices of that shoe leather beef and a breast. If you took chicken (MFO), you got a breast, one piece of chicken. Dessert was served half way through the mains, and while we attempted to eat the food, the buffet tables were cleared moments after the last guest was served, table linens removed tables knocked down, budda bing, see ya folks.

Meanwhile the boat did some unfathomable (get it?) turns in the river, completely obscured by the dark and lowered ceiling. Wandering around the boat, I was asked by the (only) server: Did you enjoy your meal? Cop out: “the chicken was okay”.

Meanwhile the musician continued to play the guitar, with some period pieces (St. Louis Blues), and mountain music (Doc Watson), and Gordon Lightfoot. He was actually pretty good, but mostly playing to an open house. Eventually we returned to port, and walked back to our rooms.

and took off our


That pretty much ended a three day immersion in Samuel Clemens. Comments saved to a wrap up at a later date. Yesterday we climbed aboard the coach to return to St. Louis, doing a brewery tour and Missouri Botanical Gardens before leaving the group at the airport.

Got some good pics of beer and flora, hope to get out later today. Tomorrow night is the culinary highlight of the trip.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day Two..

When we occupied our “Purple Passion” room at LuLa Belle’s, aside from the limited living space, we noticed a few little packets resting on the night stand:

We sort of wondered why they were there, allowing as how maybe because of thin walls or something they would help drown out any room to room noise. We looked out the window and were somewhat mollified to see we were right next to the levee, and had a fairly nice view of Old Muddy…(note yesterday’s report).

So, after our dinner at Ole Plantation (note yesterday’s report), we retired to our Purple Passion room and got into bed. In a few minutes we said; “oh, listen! there’s a train!”, as the seldom heard (anymore) whistle romantically droned in the distance. A minute or so later, we heard it again, but closer. Again. Closer, until it seemed it was right outside our window, which essentially it was. It dawned on us that levees are usually accompanied by road beds, and sure it enough it was. To be fair, the building didn’t shake nor was it lighted up by the headlight, but at least nine more times during the night, the whistle blared at each of the many RR crossings within town. Sleepless in…..Hannibal.

At breakfast the next morning the tour director expressed sorrow that it had not been checked out in advance, and immediately said we should move to a nearby Best Western where we currently reside (along with several other transplants). LuLa Belle’s also contains what some consider the best restaurant in town, and we had breakfast there. Being with a group we were offered a plated breakfast of eggs, biscuits and gravy and potatoes. Hearty and artery clogging.

After breakfast we re-boarded our coach and headed south to visit the birthplace of Sam Clemens in Florida, Missouri.

Turns out it was named Florida because of the abundance of flowers in the area. Anyhow, the complete cabin as been preserved and a “Shrine” built around it as part of a state park.

Humble beginnings for a great man!

We saw a very nice film on the life of Sam, and they also display some furniture from his final home in Connecticut. After leaving Florida (current population, zero) we retraced our journey back to Hannibal. We were fortunate to have our guide be the curator of the Twain Museum(s) here in town, and he provided a great commentary along with some quotes in Twains own words about his boyhood. Upon reaching Hannibal we toured “Huck Finn’s” house, the actual boyhood home (and famous ) fence, the “Becky Thatcher” House, and Sam’s father’s law office. We were then released for lunch on our own, and went to a little coffee shop run by a friend of one of the tour directors, and had a very nice cup(s) of (bean and tomato bisque) soup and a Panini of chicken and pesto along with a roast beef sandwich. Both were good and we thought the soup was especially good.

Then a brief respite and back to the Boyhood Home Museum for a discussion on the book Pudd'nhead Wilson, led by the museum’s director (our pre-trip assignment was to read the book). It has a very interesting plot/story, but will leave any discussion of that for another time. After that, we had another wine and cheese relaxation period, and then all went over to LuLa Belle’s for dinner. After hearing those good reports, we were anxious to see for ourselves. The dining room carries the theme of the upstairs former offices for romantic occupations

We were seated in a separate room that contained the bar, and were presented with menus. In the interest of time, we’ll skip the details, but there were numerous choices under Appetizers, Beef, Chicken, Pasta, Seafood, and Pork. With any entrée, you get peel & eat shrimp, a Caesar or special salad, twice or baked potato with the usual set of fixings (including blue cheese). A lightly poured scotch helped with menu selections and after a good bit of dithering, I took the Yellow Fin Tuna (Grilled Fresh Fish) with the Tarragon butter option, and MFO took the Pork Tenderloin with Portobello mushroom and sauce. I did Caesar and MFO did special salad. The shrimp arrived along with a couple of tubs of sauce, and I figured they were about 24 count shrimp, but did have some taste, although deveining was a good idea. After that the salads arrived, and the special salad was greens, and my Caesar was romaine, but overdressed with no discernable anchovy component. Eventually the mains were auctioned off) and although I think I got the tuna with sundried tomato, it didn’t make much difference, the tuna was gray from top to bottom. My “twice baked potato” was essentially potato skins with some potato like stuffed piped atop. There was definitely a crust under the potato stuff.

The pork was the same, except the mushrooms were not portobella and MFO claimed not much taste

A plate of Prime Rib at another spot did look good, and everybody who had beef was quite pleased with it. Maybe poor choices on our part, or maybe the Feeder is just too exacting.

We were also joined at dinner by Richard Garey, who does Twain interpretations, much like Hal Holbrook

After dinner we trouped over to a little theater and greatly enjoyed Mr. Garey’s performance. It's quite a nice little theater. Oh, and of course we were

DFD and DFT(heater)

tomorrow continued tour and how we met the "old man river project" people!

Monday, October 26, 2009


doing/chronicling again....,

Our travels Sunday found us on the banks of two rivers, the Missouri to begin with and the Mighty Mississippi to end. We left the Marriott in STL in a spacious coach (coach, not a bus) and headed west along I70 to St. Charles. It, like our more familiar St. Mary’s City, was another “First Capitol”. We had a very nice tour of the restored city on their little trolley:

with commentary by a very knowledgeable guide, a lady who has been doing it for 25 years and really knows her history of St. Charles.

A complicated one it is, with the city being under rule of the Spain, France, and then the Germans. As you all know, it entered the Union as a state in 1821 as part of the Missouri Compromise. Accordingly there are buildings that display characteristics of all its mixed heritage, and several examples of each were pointed out. We then were “turned loose” for lunch and shopping. We met FOJTE and wife for a lovely lunch at the Garden Café ala Fleur, a little place with a large patio which the weather allowed us to take advantage of. We were seated not far from the spot where Lewis and Clark started their famous expedition (we know knew). The fare was sort of standard café offerings, sandwiches from Reuben’s to Burgers, salads from Caesars to fruit, and a few small plates. We were immediately informed that Tiffany would be taking care of us for lunch. Oh, well, it’s a friendly small town. We decided on a cheese plate to start with, and ordered drinks. I found a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, an IPA style (beer brewed in the UP of Michigan) of beer with a lovely label of a rainbow trout. I noticed after my second bottle that it was 7% alcohol. MFO went with a Mirassou Chardonnay (a disappointment) and FOJTE took a Paulaner Oktoberfest Ale, and his wife chose some Peach Iced Tea. Service was, well, slow, but it was a pleasant afternoon and a good people watching place. We shooed tiffany off a couple of times and then ordered a half and half for the flutters (white chicken chili/reuben; potato soup/tuna salad;) a bowl of same for MFOJTE, and a wrap with raspberry chipotle (which was nice to pronounce) for FOJTE. After another longish wait the cheese arrived, somewhat disappointing, but still an okay starter, and after another interlude the food appeared. It was pretty good, especially the soups. A pleasant afternoon and after a couple of those 7% beers, the gentle coach ride to Hannibal seemed pleasing.

We started out on 70 west bound. We were impressed by the development of western STL which now extends to Wentzville without cessation of strip malls, centers, various little businesses, almost everything but trees and fields. We could remember when Wentzville was “out there”. Turning north on US61 the sprawl finally gave way to rolling hills and some color although rain showers were intermittent. Along the way our trip leader gave us some background on Hannibal and Samuel Clemens. A little nap interceded somewhere in there, and after coming through the “new” part of Hannibal we arrived at the historic part of the city. Our accommodations there were scheduled to be at a riverfront B&B, which was resurrected from its former life as a well, look at the color of the light over the sign.

Trepidation began to creep in as we ascended a stair to the rooms, which confirmed their former use. Just a hall with a series of doors, with colorful names.

We were given the purple passion room, and although it contained a shower which some of the rooms did not, was a bit, well, rustic.

We reluctantly accepted the room and changed into duds appropriate to DFD and then attended a little reception in the board room of Samuel Clemens’ boyhood home museum. We had sort of a private tour, seeing some of the original Norman Rockwell illustrations used in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

We then walked a block down the street to the Ole Plantation Restaurant, which has been in business since 1976.

They are not usually open Sunday evenings, but made an allowance for our tour party. I think my “just fits” comes into play here. It’s obviously a long time venue, and has lots of pictures of “the old days” on the walls together with various memorabilia. Being a typical river town, floods play a large part in their culture, and there were scenes of high water, and the owner showed us how all the outlets were place on walls above a pretty healthy flood stage. We were seated at a single long table, with paper place mats (conveniently giving us the number for Shawn’s Bobcat Service, a dog grooming service, and a couple of local gift shops), and rolled up silver. Their specialty is smoked meats, and this evening our choices were: Beef, Ham, Brats, or Pork. That’s it. Pick your protein. All else falls out. MFO ordered the Pork, and I took the Brats. There was an iceberg salad bar (fits) and a selection of Bud products along with Fitz’s soft drinks. Sides were not elective and included green beans with bacon and onion (and garlic?), corn, and potato salad. After all selections were made and trips to the salad bar completed, entrees started to arrive (five at a time!). Just fits, the beans and corn were of the canned variety, the potato salad Germanic with vinegar, air bread on the table. MFO’s pork was generous and cut in long strips with sauce, and I was surprised that my Brat was just that, only one brat, not Johnsonville length, but maybe almost a foot long. It was nicely browned and had some very mild Kraut atop. The flavor of the Brat was not spiced at all, but had a nice beefy taste. Dessert was included either a German chocolate or apple pie. MFO did the chocolate, and I the apple. Winner me, fresh juicy apples. Since we were the only patrons of the restaurant, the owner gave us a little history of the town and the restaurant’s role. A fun evening, showing the advantages of being a part of a group

Tomorrow we recount the evening's rest at LuLa Belles and our re acquaintance with the railroads and its result, plus Today's (Monday’s) adventures. Oh yeah, we were more than


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tour Law?

A legal question to begin our journey to the Midwest: Who owns the armrests in airplanes? The answer on Southwest yesterday appears to be the window and aisle seaters. Through some quirk in the highly automated SW seating system, MFO and I (finally – “See agent at gate for seating”) were issued passes Nos. C20 and 21. The last person allowed down the jetway was number C23. “All seats are full, please put all carryons under seats”. All of this resulted in two hours of agony shoehorned into a middle seat in almost a fetal postion with basically arms crossed in front of me and toes fetched up against laptop and camera bags. MFO had a similar experience in some other part of the airplane. “Have a nice flight!”

Before boarding the airplane from Hell, we were treated to see a plane load of WWII vets arrive, to a standing ovation. There were several active military folks around and they all came over and shook the hands of the vets. A touching scene…

Thus began our “Twain Tour”, bringing us to St. Louis yesterday, and then on to Hannibal today. After the effects of the airplane wore off we had a nice time with our other travelers and seeing some sights of good old home town St. Louis. After checking in to the nice Marriott here by Harry’s on Jefferson we took the hotel shuttle down to the old court house, did a little tour there, and then wandered down to the Arch.

Being a lovely day, I didn’t join the majority who wanted to “do” the underground museum and tram to the top, but just wandered around with my camera.

Somebody replaced all the young trees with mature ones while we were gone!

As the weather cooled we headed back to the Hotel, and started to deal with dinner. The specter of a “tour” brings the “group dinner” into play. We did a quick call to Trattoria Marcella, and as expected was told that two could be served no earlier than 8:30, so we decided to cast our lot with the group. They’re a fun bunch, so not a problem. Some had heard of the Schlafly Tap Room, and since it was in the three mile “Free Zone” we were again able to use the hotel shuttle, and ten of us packed in the van and off we went. St. Louis residents might remember that Shlafly is an old St. Louis name associated with beer (along with that “other” St. Louis company). They have renovated an 1904 building and it now houses their brewpub. The place is huge and easily swallows apparently any amount of visitors as it was pretty packed but although we had to break into separate parties, we were seated immediately. High ceilings, brick walls, many people means, LOUD. And it was. Although seated across a two top from MFO conversation was strained: “What?” “What’ll you have?” What?”. The menu is basically bar food although they call it “European inspired Pub Fare”. Lots of Apps, soups, salads, sandwiches, and large plates. Oddly enough no flat breads or pizzas. The appetizers have some interesting entries, Bangers and Mash, Smoked Liverwurst, Steak Frites, all appear. We selected a “meat and cheese” platter for starters along with a couple of glasses of Wyndham Estates Shiraz and Toasted Head Merlot (and yes, I know it was a brew pub). Later I found the beer list attached to the wall. For dinner I had the (whoops we’re out of the grilled steak sandwich) roast beef sandwich, and MFO took an interesting looking “Fried Egg and Ham Toastie’.

Our platter of meats arrived before the wines, and it was very good. It had about 12 things scattered around a chopping block, several sausages, some nicely pickled carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, and some huntsman cheese, with an ample amount of toasted bread slices. Could almost have made a meal of that. Very nice for 9 bucks.

Sandwiches were one for two, MFO’s ham thing was very nice. It actually appeared that they carved the ham from a ham rather than lunch meat and the warm potato salad was sharp with vinegar and plenty of bacon. The eggs were still a bit runny, a good sign from the kitchen. She deconstructed it and just ate the innards. Other choice was vinegar slaw. No fries here. My shaved roast beef was dried out and gray, I guess a testament to “slow roasted” description on the menu. The roll it was served on was not distinguished. I accompanied it with a glass of American Pale Ale which was refreshing.

There were a wide array of other diners/eaters, some of which were in Indianapolis Colts garb. (The Colts will destroy the home town Rams today). The gentleman next to us had sort of a dunce cap woolen affair that never was removed with a big horseshoe embroidered on it. Travel and touring and the acoustics finally wore us out, and we returned to the Hotel just in time to learn the Spartans avoided handing the Hawkeyes their first season loss on the last play of the game. Way to go, Sparty..

So today we “do” St. Charles, and then bus to Hannibal for what will surely be a big adventure. Tonight we’re staying at LuLu’s bed and breakfast.. not sure about food accommodations, but whatever, we’ll be


Saturday, October 24, 2009

On the road again....

Well, here we go again.. about to depart for an adventure in the Midwest, including a couple of days with a group from Historic St. Mary’s City in Hannibal focusing on Samuel Clemens. We’re then going to stay a couple of extra days in STL to see FOJTE and Y, and have a joint culinary experience.

Yesterday I received what will be my last issue of Gourmet magazine. I had been anticipating it figuring there would be a reprise of the last 40 years or so of publication, maybe a lament by Ruth Richl, something to mark it’s passing. Nope. The standard November picture of a brown turkey on the cover, this year’s twist on thanksgiving articles, you’d never know it was the last. Sort of disappointing, going out with a whimper as it were. Time marches on.

So we’ll try to document our progress, include some photos and I think there will be ample material for the feeder..

Hopefully the internet will be more accessible this time..and we’re taking duds to


Thursday, October 22, 2009

As You Like it...

We recently had a guest over for dinner at the digs. Since the weather was reasonably good, we unfroze a couple of steaks from Nick’s and decided we would grill them. We got some baking potatoes, and some mushrooms for a sauce (more later), together with some greens for a salad, just a homey dinner focused on conversation and companionship, hopefully aided by some good chow.

Having dined with our guest before, we knew that there was a preference for “well done” steaks. After a couple of glasses of wine, we got into a discussion on “how do you like your steaks?”. Our guest apologized for wanting it cooked that way, and recounted how there have been times in restaurants where recriminations were made for ordering it that way. I know there are sometimes asterisks on menus leading to some comment about how they cannot guarantee the quality of a steak cooked past medium, yadda yadda, and often will punish the person by serving up a hunk of (often butterflied) charred leather from the blazing grill. What crap. You know what? It is possible to cook a steak to pinkish gray or even gray without completely burning it. It might take a little more care and attention, but it can be done. A kitchen should be able to respond. True, there may not be as much juice with it, but that’s when a good sauce will help. It seems to be popularly believed that the best steak must be rare, and oozing blood to be a “real steak”. Whoops! There’s that word again! – Best.

Well, what’s best for this person is a well done but not destroyed piece of meat. They know what they’re going to get, and that’s what they want. Nobody should be put down for wanting something different from what you might personally prefer. A restaurant is there to give you what you want, not what they want you to have. If they can’t supply it, they shouldn’t be in business. Nobody should ever have to be embarrassed or apologize for ordering what they want and how they want it prepared: “Of course. Thank you, we’ll take care of it.”

As for our protein, Penzey’s Chicago Steak Seasoning was applied about 20 minutes prior to cooking, the grill preheated (as much as my pitiful grill will allow), and I committed the steak to the hottest (as much as my pitiful grill will allow) part of the grill just long enough to mark it and form a little caramelization. I then flipped it to a cooler portion of the grill and allowed it to cook further without forming any more crusting. I left it there until the press test (and okay, the instant read thermometer) indicated a wellish done consistency and temperature, and transferred it to a platter in the warming drawer for about 15 minutes while we enjoyed the salad. I sliced the steaks diagonally in about a half of an inch slices. The meat was moist and a very nice light gray color with a nice crust. I fanned it on the plate, applied the mushroom sauce and it was much enjoyed. Not all that hard.

Oh, the sauce was pretty good. Just some sliced mushrooms sautéed in (lots) of butter until they were nice a moisty brown, added some heavy cream and about a half teaspoon of fresh chopped tarragon, a spoonful of Dijon, salt and pepper and allowed it to reduce until a good consistency. Starch was the standard baked potato and sour cream. Why mess with success.. . Voila! Nice meal all around. Good friends, food, and wine (Solomons Island Winery ’07 “Maryland Artist Series” Cab Franc/Merlot) and all were


PS: There is a concert today at noon in St. Mary's Hall at St. Mary's College - Bach, Beethoven, Brian (Ganz) and Beverly (Babcock) - along with friends Jose Cueto (violin) and Suzanne Orban (cello). More nothing to do....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lunch on the go...

A busy week leading up to the trip to MO this week, so probably hit and miss publication

A couple of lunches (I notice that retirement seems to elevate lunch chances) lately, probably worth commenting on. The first was at Coffee Quarter in the ever changing milieu of the dining scene in San Souci. Their update is that they now offer beer and wine, which can’t hurt anybody. I am not sure if the menu has been revamped as well, but there is a lunch and dinner side of the same sheet of paper. Dinner centers on “tapas”, and also offers pizzas, sushi (?!), crab sliders, a pork loin with apple slaw, and other “little plates”, along with sandwiches and salads. We used the Luncheon side, which offers at least 13 sandwiches (dubbed “gourmet”) along with salads and those pizzas. I know they used to feature Boar’s Head products, and I assume they still do, although I noticed that the description of the “ovengold turkey breast” sandwich claimed it was home baked. Hmmmm —how’s that work? Anyway, I ordered a Reuben (and a Dogfish Head ale), while my companion had some soup of the day and the Hummus with Tabbouleh salad. In true coffee house fashion, the existence of your order is signaled by calling out your name: “Bill!!” and you go pick it up at the counter. My Reuben was nicely put together, with what looked a whole lot like BH corned beef, on rye along with the cheese and kraut. The soup was reported as very good, but the Hummus was the best dish. Creamy Hummus with pita points, and the green tabbouleh made a for very nice light luncheon dish, nicely paired with the soup. The beer was cold and good. The day we were there, it was fairly busy, but there were no delays in service. Another option for the ever popular lunch.

My second lunch was with MFO at Panera, the occasion mostly engendered by wanting to further investigate the demons that seem tohave infested my laptop causing random and whimsical connections to the internet. I could not connect at CQ, and wanted to try another network, and reports are that Panera’s is robust. Since there are 4 order takers, those unfamiliar with the drill at Panera are almost immediately confronted with somebody wanting to take your order. The “menu” consists of large board posted behind them so you have to look up and try to figure out where the hell the sandwiches and salads and luncheon “stuff” are. MFO cleverly avoided the awkward gawking by ordering a “new” barbeque chopped chicken salad advertised on a board as we walked in. I, on the other hand was wallowing around in the “Café”; “Panini”; and “Signature” sandwiches, trying to figure out what the difference was. There is also “hand tossed signature” and “hand tossed café” salads. What’s up with that? Why can’t there be just sandwiches and salads. Leave the adjectives out please. Who cares? In fairness, I must report that soups are just soups. Not “slow simmered” or anything, but they’re probably working on that. Anyway I panicked into the Asiago Roast Beef (which is signature, by the way), described as: “Oven-roasted beef, smoked cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions & creamy horseradish sauce, on our Asiago Cheese Demi”. Okay fine. We chose drinks and chips, and now exhausted by the ordeal, shuffle down the line, Soup Nazi style with paper in hand to the receiving end. By the time we selected our table our number was being called, amazingly fast service. Always taking data, I noticed that the numbers are seemingly random. Our 4361 was called after 1545, and the next one was 3617. Maybe a scheme I am not aware of. Anyway, the fast food, was, well, fast. My sandwich looked hastily put together, and the “smoked cheddar” was in the form of a velveeta like square, lopping out both sides. The red onions were not particularly sliced, rather in long strands. The “oven roasted” beef looked again like luncheon meat. But, it did have some taste. The bread was fine and crunchy. I looked, but didn’t see any signature anyplace. MFO’s salad was a pile of greens, with some “roasted corn” scattered about, some of that chopped chicken and a squirt bottle application of BBQ sauce atop. Portions were rather large. I did see one of those hollowed out bread bowls of soup go by. Sheesh. I guess people still eat those things. Anyway, if you want in and out, processed, there you go food, visit. Probably fairly consistent. Oh, I was able to hook to their net. Go figure. Demons asleep and not


Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday, monday...

Hi Moms and Pops! Well, the sun and spirits rose this morning after three straight days of downright miserable weather (see below). My weekend consisted mostly of hanging out at the fairgrounds, helping out with the Oyster Festival. Time was split between dispensing adult beverages and timing the Shuckers. I therefore didn’t get to observe any of the cooking aspect of the Festival, although I did taste some of the results. It’s amazing what people can think of to do with the humble oyster. Sometimes simple preps of simple food is a good thing – one of the entries in this year’s cookbook for instance has a recipe for “Cordoba Oysters over Lemon Scented Linguine”, with 15 ingredients. A nice dish probably, but maybe more to catch the judge’s eye than the consumer’s palate.

From the beer stand you can pretty much keep track of the attendees, and although numbers were held down by the miserable weather (see below), there were still more than we had feared. And, despite temperatures in the 40’s, the golden liquid poured from the taps almost continuously. Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest probably was the highest seller (only other options were Coor’s Light, Killians, and Blue Moon). Guinness was also available at another stand. I am always somewhat bemused by those customers who, upon finding that Bud Light is not available and only Coor’s is on the list, will turn and walk away. Discerning.

Being around the oyster shuckers (called “openers” in Europe) is always a fun experience. With a few exceptions, they are mostly the same set from year to year and they really enjoy themselves. Most work in raw bars, so if hands aren't holding an oyster knife, they probably are gripping a beer and/or cigarette. Very friendly folk. This year’s overall National Champion was Scotty O’Lear from Florida with a winning time of just over 3 minutes, resulting from actual opening time plus added penalty points for off the shell, cut, not completely released, or dirty oysters. I think he had just over a minute of added seconds, so the real shucking time was under two minutes. Try that at home with two dozen of the balky bivalves!

One of the experiences I will always remember from this year was standing at the back of a pickup truck with tailgate down, positioned behind the shucking stand, where the oysters are “prepared” for shucking (cleaning, knocking off doubles, etc.). It was bone chilling cold, the rain was coming sideways, we were in almost ankle deep mud, but we had freshly scalded oysters (propane cooker), hot sauce, crackers, and beer in plastic cups. Life can be good.

Left Turn

Another annual feature on Festival Weekend, is Tom Sietsema’s annual Dining Guide in the Washington Post Magazine. This year was the 10th edition and thank goodness it wasn’t centered on the economy, (value meals, early birds, etc.) but contains his 50 favorite restaurants. He also added another to the “four star” category, an Indian restaurant. The “four stars/superlative” are: CityZen; Komi; Rasika; Inn at Little Washington; and Restaurant Eve’s Tasting Room. All save Rasika (Indian) are “contemporary American” cuisine. Somewhat surprisingly, Michel Richard’s venues of Citronelle and Central garnered 4½ and 3 stars. Our old favorite Kinkeads didn’t even get listed. The ebb and flow of the restaurant world. Tom claims that over those 10 years, he has consumed 4000 restaurant meals. That’s more than one a day! Not sure the feeder is up to that level..

The Miserable Weather:

A busy week ahead, followed by yet another road trip!! Ee hah and an opportunity to


Friday, October 16, 2009

Fast Friday

After surviving nearly 3000 miles in 8 states without any particularly close calls for the Momster, it was nice to be welcomed back by St. Mary’s County drivers again. When I grew up and took driver’s training, we were taught that a double yellow line was not to be crossed. That is, black tires should not touch yellow paint. Ah, I was wrong again. Once again, in SMC traffic “laws” are treated as suggestions to be followed only if convenient. At the end of our main street, it “T’s” into Millstone landing which eventually meets Rte. 235 at the demon infested lights there (where they are alive and well, I can report). Anyway, our main road butts into Millstone at the top of a little hill with just enough slope that a car can sort of “hide” there and suddenly appear during your execution of the right hand turn. To avoid this, despite wanting to turn right, I always cozy up to the protective yellow line to get as much view down the hill as I am able. Well, such a stupid driver as I am, that forces anybody who wants to turn left onto Esperanza from Millstone to actually go way out of their way and turn left completely into their right lane. A much preferred path is to begin the left turn a couple of car lengths before the road, and get all four wheels actually on “my” side of the line, crossing all four tires on yellow paint. I have had to brake hard approaching the intersection to allow them to execute this turn. Another version is when you’re sitting at a major(ish) intersection wanting to turn left anxiously waiting for the light to turn. I always position myself well within the protective barrier of the double yellow line on my left, and back from the broad white line in front of me. When the green arrow releases the river of steel wanting to turn left in front of me, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve held my breath figuring “this is it!” as cars come within inches of my left front, sometimes getting a glare. Sigh…

On a more pleasant note, I happened on a little Scotch tasting last night. It was conducted by Gordon Wright, a near legendary distiller of single malt scotch whiskeys, who started “Alchemist” He was a charming host, and gave a very understandable little talk on the processes involved and why there is such a variation in single malts. What barrels are used for aging, the amount of peat smoke in the malting of the barley, barrel aging, and even the air (which I am not sure I believe) all result in the wide range of tastes and “nose”. I am not particularly a single malt guy, but I did find one I very much liked, called Bruichladdich (I believe roughly pronounced “broo laddie”. Prices can be pretty steep, but on the other hand, a bottle will last quite a while (with some restraint on the owners part), so maybe the cost per drink might be competitive with wine. We also tasted some very nice Armagnac, Calvados, and a Rum which was different than anything I’ve ever tasted. So much to learn, so little time..

And, this weekend is the annual Oyster Festival, home of the National Oyster Shucking Championships as well as the expanding “cook off”. It appears that the weather will supply typical oyster festival conditions, which usually results in rain and wind. But, oysters are a cold season food anyway, so come on out to the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds and have a great time. Oysters any way you like them, and plenty of cold beer (I think including Guinness) to wash everything down. I’ll be in the main beer stand in the mornings and timing shuckers in the afternoon. After that I don’t know if I’ll


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Goodbye to an Old Friend

One of the reasons the flutter’s basement is so crowded is that I have every single issue of Gourmet since 1994 stored there (along with Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, etc., etc.). So it was with some surprise and sadness that I learned my collection will stop with the November issue. I heard about it on our trip, but more pressing matters (like fried pickles, perch, and whitefish) kept it off the pages.

I’ve read a few articles on “why”, and while the immediate cause was lack o’advertising dollars in this economy, the underlying reasons maybe told more about us. Things like “too complicated recipes”; “stuff we don’t care about”; “articles about chefs we’ve never heard of”; were mentioned. As most loyal readers know, I ranked it right up there with the top of the magazines I get (Saveur secure in number one – I hope!) for offering in-depth articles and recipes for stuff I do care about. Ruth Reichl is an icon in the food world, although I will admit I won’t miss that stock photo of her grinning at me every month. I'm sure she'll find work if she needs it. Conde Nast, the parent company, elected to axe Gourmet while keeping Bon Appétit (Best Ten Minute Mains!) plus a couple of bride magazines, and some others. Stats are quoted that show the newsstand sales for Gourmet were down 25 percent, ad pages 32 percent, with less figures for the more plebian Bon Appetit, apparently saving it (for now).

There was also a piece in USA Today (hey – it was free at the Hotel, okay?) about Gourmet with little inset photos of Rachel Ray, Paula Deen, Sandra Lee, and Chris Kimball (I think for his “America’s Test Kitchen Show). Their take was that the food world is changing away from the “old timey” haute cuisine Gourmet approach. There’s a “dizzying array” of recipes available at your keyboard, along with specialty ingredients, blogs (I’m sure they mean this one), how-to websites and so forth. Anybody can be a food expert now. They also mention television resulting in “rocketing to stardom such cooking gurus (italics mine) as Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Paula Deen, Chris Kimball, Bobby Flay, and Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss”. Who the hell is he? Paula "Y'all" Deen a guru? With her face on every chunk of Smithfield Ham? Not to me. Sandra Lee tells us how to do "Elegant meals partially made with store-bought or prepared ingredients". Oh, Goody. Sorry Mr. local farmer we don't need you - we got Kraft now! No mention of Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Jacques Pepin, Michel Richard, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Julia, or a host of others which provided the base for these fluff masters (excluding CK) to build on.

It also lists the 5 most popular epicurean titles on the news stand as (in order): Every Day with Rachel Ray; Cooking with Paula Deen; Cooking Light; Taste of Home; and Everyday Food. The last one is the only one I’ve ever seen. Thank God. Did I mention that Rachel Ray’s magazine is published by the Readers Digest empire? Fits, doesn’t it? Probably have a large print edition.

Chris Kimball wrote an article in the New York Post, talking about the plethora of amateur bloggers, instant cooks, and those star chefs that pretty well summed it up for me:

“To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice. Google “broccoli casserole” and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks”.

I can't improve on that, and, I’ll bet he

Reeling in the Years .. Last Chapter

After re-living my youthful escapades “up North”, we wended our way finally to East Lansing, my boyhood home (isn’t this riveting reading?) for our 50th High School Class reunion. Our last visit to East Lansing was for our last reunion, although the number escapes me at the moment. The sprawling MSU campus is still sprawling, and the town is showing its age, although a few of the shops remain. We took the opportunity check out my house at 258 Gunson, which given our mutual age is holding up pretty well.

A lot of the trees are gone and replaced by younger ones, but the street is still okay

With a tip of the hat to Mr. Wolfe, to some degree, you CAN go home again I guess..

We then began the purpose of the trip, the reunion. Friday night was homecoming for East Lansing High School, and we had planned to be in the parade

But the rainy weather canceled those plans (and the parade). Friday night began with a Pizza buffet at Coral Gables (still there) and our first chance to start re-acquainting ourselves with each other. I may have opined on this before, but it has been an interesting evolution of reunions culminating in this 50th. At first, say under 20 years, when we got together people pretty much stayed in the same cliques that they did when in high school. The jocks hung out together, the “in” social set of women who were cheerleaders kind of thing, and then there was the “nerd” crowd to which we belonged. Mostly ignored by the high profilers. But as the years do what they do to people, the edges got rounded (in a lot of ways), and you find out as always people are just people. Many have gone down different paths to various degrees of success, kids, changed marital status, and now we’re all friends. You get hugs from somebody who wouldn’t look at you in high school. It was a really fun time. Saturday night we had the dinner in the University Club on campus. There were tables with memorabilia on them,

some people brought our yearbook, pictures were taken, there were nice centerpieces with throwback stuff in them (the original Crackerjack boxes, for instance). There was no organized “program” although there were a few remarks made, but mostly we just socialized. The food was a buffet, but actually I’d have to say the food was good. There was some nice grilled flank steak, a glazed salmon dish, and I believe chicken. But the focus was generally on conversation. A fun time. Stuff like this

And we were honored to have our (State Championship) basketball coach join us, Mr. Gus Ganakas. Although he was Gus to us, some might remember that he was head coach at MSU from ’69 to ’76.

Again, as MFO said who would care about this stuff? Well, we did and as you know I sort of live my life on this thing, so wanted it to be part of the record. A highlight for me was catching up to one of my best friends in high school and finding out we still had a lot in common, and will continue to e-talk. Turns out he’s as much a beer connoisseur as much as I try to be about wine. In fact, he took a side trip to visit a brew pub in Grand Rapids as well as going to a special store there. His drive home will be with a full trunk.

So, that’s about it for “the trip’. Fun to see something different and re-kindle old relationships. Be sure to do it if you get a chance.

Roadie Notes:

Stats: 2733 miles, ~150 gallons of gas, 30 state license plates

Signs: Frog and Towed Towing Co.; Bedrock Liquors; Birdbath and Beyond; Pasties

Bumper Sticker: I survived cash for Clunkers

Quote: Speaker conversation overheard at a drive through at Fazoli’s: “welcome to Fazoli’s, I’m (Suzy) and I can take your order”.

Sights: Drive from La Crosse to Escanaba; seeing “aunt lee’s” store

Biggest Frustration: every day a new day trying to connect to the @#%$&&%@ internet

Foodie: Fried Pickles, Planked Whitefish, Perch, don’t worry about Butterburgers, Breakfasts at the Hungry Peddler (fer shure).

And through it all we


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reeling in the Years -- Chapter One

Although we're back in SOMD, the reports from the road will continue for a bit. That old "doing" instead of "writing"....

My mother had a sister, Leila Craig, my “Aunt Lee”. Their mother was a first generation Canadian, and both girls grew up in Michigan’s “Up North”, around Onaway, Rogers City, and Millersburg. Their father was a Scott/Irish photographer who made his living going around to the lumber camps taking photos of the crews and selling them as well as doing studio work in Rogers City. There were stories of him living “in the bush”, and eating blueberries to survive. Another story for another time. I am told that what sense of humor I retain probably comes from Frank.

The paths of the two girls parted, with my mother going to college in Mt. Pleasant and becoming a teacher, with the ordinary, plain, steady life style as you might imagine. Aunt Lee, on the other hand, stayed Up North, and lived quite a different life. She married my uncle, Bill (Barney) who was quite a character and an entrepreneur in and around Petoskey. They opened a linen store called "Barney’s Linens" in Petoskey and catered to all the expensive summer homes and residents in the area. So they moved around in those circles and “Aunt Lee and Uncle Bill” were quite well connected. They also had a store in Ft. Lauderdale, FL which they migrated to in the winter (this was before skiing was so big). Their specialty was fine linens, beautiful imported embroideries, Damask table cloths, napkins, monogrammed lush towels, and so forth. Every summer, I was allowed to go visit them for a week or so. There are many fond memories of fishing for perch on Crooked Lake, swimming in Walloon Lake, and having wonderful dinners of planked Whitefish in Julleret’s in Charlevoix. Uncle Bill had a brother named John who owned “Barney’s Bar”, and I spent many a night (probably without my mother’s knowledge) perched on a bar stool in Barney’s Bar listening to stories between Uncle Bill and his brother. Although I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I don’t think I ever saw Uncle Bill without a can of Budweiser in his hand. He was also quite the cook, and was legendary for preparing his “bittersweet chocolate sauce”. He guarded the recipe with his life, and I believe it went with him to the grave. Too bad.

So, after our lovely dinner in Harbor Springs and pleasant evening at Boyne Highlands we detoured a little bit and re-visited Petoskey as we hadn’t been there in we couldn’t remember how long. The original Barney’s Linens on Lake street, now the historic “gas light district” (thanks to Uncle Bill), is now Robert Frost’s

The Barneys lived in the apartment above the store (three windows) which you got to by going up several flights of stairs (door to the right over car). The land falls away toward Little Traverse Bay behind the store so the back side of the building had three levels. The basement, the store, and the apartment. Their back porch on the third floor had a lovely view of the bay, and again I spent many hours just sitting there with Bill and his Bud. The porch and the memories are still there:

As their business did well, they eventually moved across the street to a larger location located on a corner, now a furniture store.

Once again, they lived above the store with the same good views, but no porch. I missed that porch. MFO and I went in to the furniture store, and of course the current occupants didn’t know of the Barney’s or their successors Kalcheck Linens who bought the business after the Barney’s could no longer keep it going. Petoskey has changed, but there are still the memories of Buds, Perch fishing (and eating), Chocolate sauce, and Barney’s bar. If you have a chance to go there, be sure to visit the gas lamp district thank Uncle Bill

On the way down to East Lansing, we stopped off at another landmark in Grayling, Ray’s Canoe Livery. I had many float trips on the Au Sable River originating from there, as my father was an avid fly fisherman.

Cherish the moment, because sometime it will be the past.

It was nice to think of Aunt Lee and Uncle Bill and visit their legacy, and you can be sure they