Sunday, November 25, 2007

What I have always liked about the Thanksgiving meal is the variety of side dishes that accompany the Turkey. Of course, there are always those traditional side dishes that get made every year. What are some of yours? By the way, this is Grandpa and nine-month-old Henry at my daughter's dinner table in Chicago. We enjoyed nice driving--a few flakes of snow included--and a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.

In our family, two traditional dishes are baked corn dish and crustless pumpkin pie that come from my mother. The baked corn dish uses creamed and whole kernel corn, bacon, green pepper, onions, celery, and a secret ingredient. The crustless pumpkin pie became popular as an alternative for my oldest son, who, as a child, liked pumpkin pie, but not the crust. Both of these are now traditional. Thanksgiving dinner is not proper without them. This year, my daughter also served a spinach au gratin, two kinds of squash--a traditional serving and another with gorgonzola cheese and pecans (very tasty). Of course, all this was accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravey, an old American standard, cranberry sauce and cranberry relish, and turkey.

On Friday we visited the Lincoln Zoo in downtown Chicago. It is a fun place for kids because the exhibits allow visitors to get relatively close to the animals. I'm not sure how well the exhibits conform to current practices for zoo exhibits, but it was fun to see some of the animals. In the photo here, Char and our granddaughter, Annabella, watch an otter who was very interested on showing off to anyone who wanted to watch.

This is my daughter, Katherine, with her husband, Scott. Baby Henry is riding along in the back pack. Talk about a nice way to travel. Actually, you see many young parents taking the kids along this way. It's pretty nifty, really, but it does require two adults to work really well. We enjoyed a sunny Thanksgiving Friday at the zoo. It was a bit brisk, but by no means unbearable. After visiting the zoo, we took our time getting out of downtown Chicago. The Windy City is one of those towns that I always seem to enjoy visiting. There's always something to do, and you have to get pretty unlucky to find a bad restaurant.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chicago-bound For Thanksgiving

For 25 years, I drove with my family to my hometown of New Ulm, Minnesota, to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mother. My wife and I dutifully packed up the kids and made the two-hour drive from St. Paul. My mother died in 1999--during Thanksgiving, as a matter of fact--and after that I decided that our time had come--my family would now come to our house for Thanksgiving, and other holidays.

T'ain't so!

Turns out that, since my daughter got married and moved to Chicago in 2004, we have been going there for Thanksgiving. Now, instead of driving 100 miles, I drive 400 miles for the holiday! And in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the Thanksgiving weekend is extremely volatile with regard to weather; read, we can get some nasty snow storms. As I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2007, it is snowing in St. Paul and in Chicago!

But--we are expecting the snow to be light in both places, so off we go. I actually enjoy the drive as long as I don't have to fight the weather.

Stay tuned. I'll show you a few pictures before the weekend is over.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Solstice Strawberries

If you are traveling in Minnesota in June, be aware of one of the great summertime treats of all time. About the time of the summer solstice, one of my favorite delicacies avails itself to us in Minnesota: strawberries. Many people pick and buy them for making jam, sometimes combining them with other berries or rhubarb to create savory and delicious spreads. Some use them in fresh salads or serve them fresh and whole with a dipping chocolate. But to me, the best of all possible ways to enjoy fresh strawberries is to have them chopped, sweetened with sugar, and served with cream.

The key to preparing strawberries and cream is canned mushrooms. If you buy a seven-ounce can of mushrooms, which is typically four ounces drained, you have the device that will properly chop and crush the strawberries. Prior to the strawberry season, or even during, open the can of mushrooms and use them in a favorite dish. Save the can. Then, after peeling off the paper wrapper, take the can opener and cut off the top, rolled edge of the open end. This will create a sharp, round edge. Then, turn the can over and, with a can opener that punches a triangular hole in a lid, punch two holes opposite each other in the remaining cover. This lets air into the can and keeps it from clogging as you chop. Now you have an efficient and inexpensive food chopper.

Now, using either a glass or steel bowl, fill it two-thirds full with fresh strawberries. Of course, the size of the bowl and the size of your family will determine the amount of strawberries. But take the can chopper and chop the strawberries. You will find that you can easily pick the consistency you desire. You can leave the strawberries chunky or continue to chop until they become a sauce. I prefer the latter consistency. After that, add some sugar. Real sugar, not sweetener. Taste test so that it is sweet, but not too sweet. Then set is aside for a bit, maybe thirty minutes, to let the berries absorb the sugar as it dissolves.

Then, when you're ready to serve them, spoon them into a bowl and do one of two things: serve them with half and half or with freshly whipped cream. If you use half and half, pour it carefully and lightly over the top of the sweetened strawberries, trying to keep the half and half on top of the strawberries. Because of the consistency of half and half, pouring it as described will create a white topping streaked with the redness of the sauce that peeks through. To use cream, choose heavy whipping cream. Put it in a bowl, add sugar, and with a wire whisk, whip it until it forms a thick consistency, but stop before it becomes firm. Try to achieve a consistency that will allow you to pour the sweetened cream over the top of the strawberries. In this case, you will have strawberries completely covered in white. It's really, really good.

The neat thing about strawberries and cream is that it can be enjoyed as a wonderful dessert, or simply as a really great bedtime treat--especially for the kids. You could even have it for breakfast. And you can sneak a bowl when everyone else is away and never tell. That is the best part; it's a gift to yourself.

Always use fresh strawberries, real sugar, real half and half, or real cream. This is not a diet treat. But don't be surprised if, after two or three summers of doing this, that the kids (and even your spouse) begin to look forward to it and, as time goes on, incorporate it into the family stories.

This year the strawberries are particularly good. They are large, like golf balls, juicy and sweet. This is one of those years when nature provided optimum growing conditions. If you buy some, buy them from one of the roadside growers or from the farm itself. Or even better, take the kids with you for a strawberry-picking outing. It's not necessarily easy (lots of bending and picking), but it will be a great story for the kids and it will make eating this delightful treat so much more special.

Strawberries and cream is one of the absolutely greatest delicacies I have ever had and something I will always remember and look forward to enjoying again and again.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Powell Street at Night

It is nearly 11 p.m. here, 1 a.m. in the Twin Cities. Music from the street musicians you see in this photo fills the street and they have been playing for the past couple of hours. One is a guitarist and the other, an Alpine horn player. Their music has an erie sound and reminds me of music that simultaneously sounds mddle eastern and mid-70s rock. It echos off the buildings. If I could not see them, I might think it comes from someplace other than the corner across the street. I am sitting at a small desk in our room looking out onto Powell Street about a half block from Union Square. I am across the street from the Villa Florence Hotel, the Segafredo Cafe Bar Restaurant, the Asia Express Pizza, the Gold Dust Lounge (est. 1933), and an art gallery. All kinds of people move along the sidewalk in both directions. They have done so since we returned from our day trip to the Napa Valley. I have the last of a fine bottle of merlot next to me. I hear the voices. But I don't understand the words. They are lively, laughing. In front of the Gold Dust Lounge one man and woman stand talking, and a few feet from them, two men engage a woman in conversation. Long black hair flows down her back to her belt. She puts out her cigarette and they leave. A bald man in shorts walks toward the street musicians juggling some balls. A pregnant woman with an arm in a cast and a backpack follows a man with two small children. I find this fascinating. It reminds of so many years ago in Europe. If the guitar player comes back tomorrow night, I'm going to go down of the street and listen to him.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Think I Did It

Well--I packed my bags tonight. I am a modular guy. Got everything I need into one carry-on size suitcase. Well, I won't carry this bag on the aircraft because I carry such things as a pocket knife in my possible bag. Rather, the bag I actually carry on to the aircraft will contain my computer, camera, and other electronic devices. If I ever take my dream trip, which is to start in Trinidad and Tobago and island hop along the volcanic rim of Caribbean islands all the way to Cuba, I will have to be even more frugel in my packing. My problem is how to take a computer along. Maybe I should just leave it at home. I can get along without carrying a lot of clothing--that's fairly easy. Traveling light is kind of challenging, but is the best way to go.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Off To San Francisco

I'm headed for San Francisco this week to the wedding (Saturday) of my good friend's daughter. Interesting, because Friday (15th) is our 33rd wedding anniversary. Not sure what, if anything, we will do special. For the past 15 years we have spent our wedding anniversaries at our son's baseball games. At least this is a little different. I am toying with the idea of visiting my boss--who works in SF and whose office is actually just 10 blocks from our hotel. I could take Char along. Probably not too romantic, though. What do you think?

Anyone have a good suggestion for me? If you're a guy, what would you do? And if you're a woman, what would you like?

One of my goals for this trip is to take everything I need in one carry-one bag--suit, shoes, extra clothes--everything. Can it be done? The last time I was successful in taking everything I needed in one suitcase (or bag, actually) was in 1972 when I spent six months in Europe. I didn't have anything more than what amounted to a large purse! But since then, I've never quite been successful in getting everything I need into one carry-on.

One excursion we will be making is to the Napa Valley, albeit for a day (Thursday). It will be my first time there and I'm looking forward to it, although I realize that our efforts to see the valley will be truncated by our time restriction. Still, I'm hoping for a neat discovery of some kind.

Check in to see what we're up to Friday through Saturday. I'll let you know of anything worth putting in your "Book of Places to Visit," and watch for any ideas you may have.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ever Tried a Podcast?

I know I'm way behind on the use of this technology, but yesterday I finally got around to it yesterday. While I was here at the Internet place, I took the time to download some public radio shows to the computer. When I got back to the apartment, I downloaded them onto my iPod. Is that way cool! It suddenly occurred to me that an iPod with podcasts of your favorite shows would be a great way to pass the time on a long flight. So, I'm trying to find episodes of The World (the nightly new hour from Public Radio International) to download for the trip home. I already pulled off Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, MarketPlace, and Weekend America. Like I said, I'm way behind discovering what others have been doing for several years. But--if you're taking a long trip, it may be worth you while to explore. (The photo is courtesy of Javier's assistance. You can also see a little of what his place looks like.)

What is a Pulmonia?

I got an inquiry from a blog reader wondering how Pulmonia translated into English, so I asked Javier, the guy who owns the Internet cafe that I'm using. Believe it or not, pulmonia actually translates as a sickness of the lungs. Evidentally, when a person is in the open a lot, as at sea, they are susceptible to contracting some sort of pulmonia. As Javier explained, the little golf-cart-like vehicles are called that because they are open and it's riders are subject to the wind. I was completely surprised! There may be another translation, or perhpas the meaning of the word has now evolved to include these little carts, but it sounds as if Javier put me onto the words origins.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Walking, Walking Everywhere (Almost)

In order to get exercise, I often walk to the Internet cafes or other places I want to go. It's a good way to get some exercise. But I did bite off more than I should have on Sunday. Remembering the little Internet place I went to last year, I set off on foot. I had forgotten how far into the city it was, and before long I was getting really tired. And lugging 15 pounds or so of computer and associated materials along with me didn't ease my task. I passed by an Internet cafe actually quite close to my hotel (about 20 minutes into the walk), which was open, but I passed it up for the favorite spot from last year. You know what's coming, right? I got to my destination only to find it closed. Bummer! That was after about 40 minutes of walking. I was exhausted and was reminded that I need to get on the Nordic Trak machine for a month or so before I take off on trips like this!

So I headed even deeper into the city. A secondary destination was an instant cash machine, and I found that. After getting my cash and catching my breath, I took off again, this time quite leisurely, taking time to look into the shops. I came accross a little food store that is a cross between a convenience store and a small grocery store. I bought what remaining items I needed, and set off again. Eventually I ran out of gas, which is embarrassing for me, because I pride myself in being able to walk about when I travel. But, I gave in; enough was enough. I hailed a pulmonia, a kind of open-air taxi (like the one in the picture), and paid for a ride back to the condo.

Then I took a nap.

Time for Reading

Hi, everyone. I have to tell you that I finished reading a science fiction fantasy, Web Mage, by Kelly McCullough. I spent all of Monday afternoon and evening and all of Tuesday reading. I finished it this morning with coffee. It is so much fun to be able to take a large block of time and just sit and read. It's pure luxury, something you should afford yourself every so often. Web Mage is a fast-moving, delightful book, rich with Greek mythology. Kelly has a rich imagination in how he sets up the interactions among the gods and the demigods, one of whom is a magician-college-student who is a descendent of the Fates. By the way, Kelly was the instructor for the fantasy writing class I took at The Loft a couple of years ago. So I have enjoyed that. Now I would like to turn my attention to writing, but I still have to walk on the beach and spend a little more time downtown.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mazatlan 2007--Getting There and Through Customs!

Northwest Airlines really makes you pay the price when you cash in Frequent Flyer miles. I took a NWA flight out of Minneapolis to Tuscon, and then got handed off to to AeroLitoral and Aero Mexico. Got on the twin-engine puddle jumper you see in the photo. I had to land three times more in order to make it to Mazatlan.

First stop was Hermosillo (pronounced air-mo-SEE-yo). It’s straight south of Tuscon in the state of Sonora about 1-1/2 hours. I was confused and worried about my luggage getting passed through, about customs, and the language barrier and the lack of clear sinage in the airports.

Well, when we got to Hermosillo, I found some official-looking young man and told him I was going to Mazatlan. He asked me if I was coming from Tuscon, and as I was, he directed me through Customs. So I filled out all of the requisite paperwork and got my passport stamped and all that. I thought I was going to have to get my luggage and have it inspected there, but instead he directed me to the gate area. After a 3-hour layover and some anxiety about whether I would find the right flight, I ended up on another puddle jumper and headed for Los Mochis, which is again almost straight south and in the state of Sinaloa (same as Mazatlan). Finally, after one more hop, I was in Mazatlan.

By the way, these small aircraft are SAAB 340Bs and carry maybe 36 passengers. There is one row of seats along the port side of the craft, and two seats along the starboard side. Kind of cozy. Fun to fly in, really. They are very responsive--kind of like a rally suspension on a sports car--you can feel every gust of wind and bump along the way.

I go to get my luggage and find—get this—it’s the second bag on the conveyor. Usually I feel like my bag is always the second-last bag. ☺ So I am preparing my story about how my wife must have put that sausage in my suitcase as a surprise and that I had no idea it was there. I show the Customs agent my paperwork from Hermosillo. She sees that I have already passed through Customs, so she waves me right through. No stop light button to push—nothing. I walked right in. Could have been carrying guns and dope!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

On My Way To Mazatlan

I am getting ready to head for Mazatlan during the first week of February. Will be there Feb. 2 thru Feb. 10. What should I do? Mazatlan is an old city, known for the Gold Zone (tourist zone). But while I am there, I want to do something fun or exciting. I need something to write about, something that would make folks like me--a boomer--want to go there.

Any ideas?