Archive | Dining RSS feed for this section

Our Big Northwest Adventure

22 Jul

We just returned from a trip to Washington and Oregon that I affectionately call the Big Northwest Adventure. It was an awesome excursion that took us to some places that I had never been and to a lot of places that my wife had never been. Each day was filled with adventures that could expand into several long blog posts. Instead of doing that, I decided to provide a brief description of the days along with my favorite picture from each.

Day 1 – Mount Rainier

Although the hotel bartender told us not to go because of the traffic, we had to see Mount Rainier. We had to wait a bit at the entrance, the traffic was not that bad. We made our way to Longmire, where we hiked a trail to nowhere. We saw some poop along the path that my wife Necole worried belonged to a bear. Unbeknownst to me, she was planning our escape from the bear for the rest of the hike.

After that hike, we walked across a river of snowmelt that led to my favorite picture from that day.

On the way back from Mount Rainier, we stopped at Chipotle. That meal made us feel like the fictional bear must have felt on the side of the trail.

Day 2 – Seattle

On vacation, I would rather see small towns that big cities. However, we were staying in downtown Seattle, a city that we had never visited. That meant that we needed to spend some time there. We checked out the University of Washington because my stepdaughter has shown interest in going to school there.

We also went to Pike Place Market, a famous landmark where people can buy fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, cheeses, flowers and trinkets. I took a photograph on one colorful stand.

We had a great meal but missed out on getting coffee at the original Starbucks because the line was a little long.

Oh yeah, we also had dinner at Aqua, a place the concierge recommended. When we saw one entrée for $142, we lost our appetite.

Day 3 – Olympic National Park

We got up early to begin the road trip portion of the adventure and immediately grew concerned. GPS was taking us to the ferry, which is not what I had planned. It was not what Necole had planned, either. She was not sure about getting on a three-hour boat ride. After all, we had seen Gilligan’s Island. We reconfigured the GPS and made it on dry land.

After some hits and misses on my part, we finally made it to Hurricane Ridge outside the town of Port Angeles, Washington. The ridge has the best hike in the park. On a clear day, you can see forever. Yes, I stole that line. Anyway, it was not clear on the day we hike, which may have been a good thing.

Remember when I wrote that my wife worried about seeing a bear after we saw poop on the trail? Well, we saw a huge bear along this hike. It was playing around in a foggy meadow. If the sky had been clear, then we could have seen its true size. At that point, we may have frozen in place rather than casually sauntering back the way we came. I did not get a picture of the bear, but I got a picture of this.

We spent that night at Lake Crescent Lodge in another part of the park. I think we could have spent a few days in that peace and tranquility.

Day 4 – Olympic National Park

This day was a continuation of our visit to the park. Yeah, it is that big. We hiked to a waterfall. We had lunch in Forks, Washington. Necole said that this town was the setting of the Twilight series. I have never read those books or seen those movies, but I know that is cool.

After lunch, we headed to the beach. Do not let Necole tell you that I never want to go to the beach. I have always wanted to go to this beach, and it was my highlight of the trip. Ruby Beach was everything that I expected.

It was certainly better than the meal we had that night. We stopped at an interstate hotel and asked for a good place to eat. The restaurant they recommended certainly did not have a $142 entrée.

Day 5 – Mount St. Helens

From childhood, I can remember the coverage of Mount St. Helens. The weeks of rumblings. Harry Truman, who would not leave his home. The eruption. The aftermath. It is something that I will never forget. It is also a place that I wanted Necole to see.

Several years ago, I visited Mount St. Helens with my dad, my brother and my nephews, and it was stunning to see what was left of a mountain that was once covered with snow and dense forest. It is truly a place where the destructive force of nature can be visualized.

From there, we drove through Portland and made our way to Oregon Wine Country in the Willamette Valley. We also made it to The Allison Inn, our lodging for the next couple of nights. It was amazing.

Day 6 – Vineyards

We hired a driver to take us to a few wineries. The first, Archery Summit, was recommended by a friend. The second winery is where I took my favorite picture of the entire trip.

The third was Utopia, a small family owned operation. We had a great conversation with the owner and his daughter, who is a History major. They told us about how they got into this business at that location. We also talked about music. It was good to see that the growing of grapes is not just done my wealthy investment bankers and corporations.

Necole chose The Painted Lady, a famous local restaurant, for dinner. I can only describe it by saying that it is similar to The Catbird Seat in Nashville. Unfortunately, my wife is not a fan of The Catbird Seat. It is a long and winding story that I will not get into. Just know that she likes to bring up the night that I took her there when we were dating. That will probably stop because I can now bring up the night that she took me to The Painted Lady. If you want to know about The Catbird Seat experience, then you can click here.

Day 7 – More Vineyards

We visited more vineyards, but I did not take good photographs. I should have because they were beautiful settings. However, this was the day that our adventure started to wind down. After a few stops, we drove back to Seattle for a night near the airport. You know things are becoming more normal when you have dinner at Jack in the Box. The next day would be a flight home

The Big Northwest Adventure was great, but the real world was waiting. Here is the thing. The real world is pretty great, too.

 

Advertisements

Childhood Memories – Chilly Chili

2 Jul

A few days ago, I overheard a conversation where one of the people said, “It’s chilly in here.” That statement sent my mind through a wormhole to my childhood, a time when I did not understand the concept of that phrase.

When I was a kid, I never understood why people used the word chilly to describe it being cold. Why would they say that when my mom’s chili was never cold? In fact, it was hot to the point where I had to crumble a bunch of crackers into it and blow on it before I could taste it. If my mom’s chili was hot, then why did people say it was chilly when they were cold?

My brain could not wrap itself around this idea.

Obviously I, as a college professor, have grown to understand the different meanings between two words that sound the same. However, it still freaks me out a little when someone says, “It’s chilly.”

A few weeks ago, we were in Waffle House, which is often known for its powerful air conditioning. Although it was super hot outside, my wife was wearing a jacket inside. The guy in the booth next to us said, “It’s chilly in here isn’t it?”

I cringed inside. It was almost like nails on a chalkboard. He could have said all sorts of things like:

It’s cold.

It’s freezing in here.

It’s colder than kraut.

Brrrrr

I’m getting frostbite.

It’s cold enough to kill hogs.

I can see my breath.

All sorts of things could be said other than chilly.

Yes, I have learned that chilly and chili are not the same. I have also learned that there are things out there hotter than my mom’s chili. The green chili in New Mexico put your tastebuds in a place of fiery ecstasy.

I can promise you there is nothing cold about this stuff.

Picture This – New Mexico

24 May

We just returned from our annual field trip to New Mexico. For those who may not know, every spring another professor and I take students on a journey through the land, art and cuisine of the Land of Enchantment. This was one of our best experiences with great students and great learning opportunities. Instead of chronicling the entire venture, I decided to post my favorite photograph from each day.

On the drive out, we stopped at Cadillac Ranch, one of the most famous examples of Pop Art, and we all added our own touch to the masterpiece. 

On the second day, we made our way closer to the final destination of Santa Fe. However, we stopped at the home of artist Peter de la Fuente along the way. He is the grandson of Henriette Wyeth and Peter Hurd and does everything he can to carry on the family tradition. Currently, he does it on an 80,000 acre ranch.

Once in Santa Fe, we went on daily excursions that included hikes and moments of historical instruction. However, the highlight of the next say was our meal at Horseman’s Haven. If you love breakfast burritos covered in green chili sauce, then that is the place you need to go.

By far, my favorite hike is at Tent Rocks. It is a stroll through a slot canyon before a climb to the top of a mesa. Its true name is Kasha-Katuwe.

Our most time-consuming excursion is the drive to Chaco Canyon, the home of the Anasazi. No one knows for sure what if the canyon was a religious center, a commercial center or the home to thousands. It could have been all of that. 

We also drove to Taos. However, we did not stop in town. We went straight to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and walked across to get some great pictures and some great shakiness over the height.

Acoma Pueblo is always one of our favorite stops. It is the oldest inhabited community in North America. There are great views from the top of the mesa on which the pueblo sits. However, I am always amazed by the streets within the community. I expect Henry Fonda to ride up on a horse at any minute. In fact, he did ride up on a horse in My Name is Nobody.

We also visited the ruins at Bandelier National Monument. Climbing the 140 foot ladders is always a highlight. However, it best moment is when we convince the students to sniff a tree.

On the final day, we did something completely different and new to our trip. A few of us went to Meow Wolf, an interactive art experience supported by Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin. It was a weird and awesome thing to do.

After that, we made the long drive back to Tennessee. Hopefully, this trip to New Mexico was a learning experience for everyone.

Talking About Acting in a University Cafeteria

15 Mar

Today, I had lunch in our campus cafeteria. The big crowds had yet to arrive, and I saw our Theater Director eating alone. I loaded up with my grilled cheese sandwich and french fries and sat at his table. We have had many conversations through the years, but I had never asked what everyone should ask a Theater Director.

Who, in your opinion, is the greatest actor of all time?

His immediate answer was Laurence Olivier. He also thinks that James Dean was a natural and that Marlon Brando tried too hard. When I asked about current actors, he said that Denzel Washington is at the top of the list along with Meryl Streep. Although, Streep probably gets nominated for awards when she should not because of who she is.

It was an interesting conversation that delved into acting styles, acting teachers and the mistakes that he feels people have made with each. However, it got really interesting when he asked this question.

Have I ever told you about my older brother?

This is the story that followed.

His older brother dropped out of college and went to Hollywood. He was a handsome guy with dark hair, green eyes and a great smile. In short, he fit the mold. Like most people, he struggled for work and was constantly being turned down at auditions. However, there was a time when everything clicked.

He auditioned for a new television series and got the call. He had a role in the show.

Unfortunately, he received another call from a friend with news that he did not want to hear. His name had come up, and he was going to receive his draft letter. The friend said that there was no way to stop it. If he wanted to get out of being drafted, then he had to immediately sign up for the National Guard. That meant giving up the role in the new television series.

The decision was made. He turned down the role and went into training with the National Guard. The producers of the show replaced him with a slightly older actor who was beyond draft age.

The television show was Rawhide. The role was Rowdy Yates. The replacement actor was Clint Eastwood.

Our Theater Director’s brother returned home to Nashville, fell in love and got married.

Clint went on to a modicum of fame.

The Oddity of Appetizers

5 Mar

We dine out quite a bit. Nashville has developed a vibrant restaurant scene, and we try out as many trendy places as we can. The menus are always filled with choices that all sound delicious, and we cannot help but try a variety of items. That usually means getting an appetizer before our main course.

At most places, the appetizers bother me.

It is not the taste. In fact, I have found few appetizers that I did not like. Rather, it is the number. I have noticed that many restaurants serve their appetizers in odd numbers.

We order the cheese fritters at Amerigo, and they bring out five. This is us after eating five fritters.

We order deviled eggs at Bricktop’s, and they bring out five. For those who are not familiar with deviled eggs, they cuts eggs in half and take out the yolk. They then mix the yolk up with other great stuff and put that mixture back in the egg white. When I see five deviled eggs, I see two and a half eggs and wonder what happened to the other half. Why not bring out six?

The odd number of appetizers bothers me because they cannot be divided evenly among the diners. Just take the five fritters. If there are two dinners, which is often the case, then there may be a fight over the fifth one. That may definitely happen because the fritters are awesome.

Think about what happens if there are three diners. For example, there could be parents with a child. Then, you have one each and two left over. How do you divide that?

A lot of times, couples dine out together. Do you divide the fifth fritter into quarters?

The only way this works is if five people are dining, and I am certain that does not happen very often.

In my opinion, restaurants should tackle this issue because it is definitely a misstep within the industry that leaves diners in a quandary. Luckily for them, I have a few suggestions.

First, count the number of diners at the table and serve that many portions of the appetizer.

Two people equal two portions. This would also prevent them from stuffing themselves before the main course.

Three people equal three portions.

You get the point.

If it is a large table, then we understand that restaurants cannot financially do this. Those people can order more than one appetizer.

Second, serve an amount of portions that is easily divided amongst everyone. I have thought about this a lot and determined that six is the best number.

Two people get three portions each. They may not be hungry when the main course arrives, but the fritters or deviled eggs were definitely divisible.

Three people get two portions each. See, you have taken care of two amounts of diners that are probably common.

Four people gets trickier, but it is not insurmountable. Each person gets one, and the other two are split between each couple.

Five diners make six portions impossible to deal with. My suggestion is to leave the fifth wheel at home.

I have been thinking about this problem for a while, but I finally decided to write about it after dinner on Friday night. We went to the Yellow Porch and ordered appetizers. They were awesome, and, lo and behold, they were served in an even number. It was not the optimum six, but it was an easily handled four.

Finally, a restaurant is close to figuring out the oddity of appetizers.

There Are Two Americas

15 Jan

There are two Americas.

I am not talking about Democrat and Republican. I am not talking about conservative and liberal. I am not even talking about anti-Trump and pro-Trump.

I am talking about Waffle House American and IHOP America.

There is an IHOP a few exits down the interstate with decent pancakes, but we live in the middle of Waffle House America. Those of you who live in IHOP America are missing out in the wonders of a 24 hour breakfast extravaganza.

The wonders of Waffle House are many, but it starts with the hash browns. You can get them scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced and any combination therein. Personally, I like them simply covered. Although, I have gotten them covered and chunked.

In my mind, the ham and cheese omelette is the best accompaniment with the hash browns. The eggs are fluffy, and the cheese is cheesy. What is better than an omelette with cheese along with hash browns covered with cheese?

This morning, we ate at Waffle House in Georgia, the headquarters of Waffle House and the center of the Waffle House world. The restaurant, as always, was filled with a variety of people. In fact, I have always considered Waffle House to be a microcosm of Waffle House America. At any time, you can run into all kinds of people.

Today, we sat next to a young couple who could have been described as Yuppie if being a Yuppie was still a thing. Behind them sat a couple of Muslim women with their kids sitting in the next booth. An elderly man sat alone at the counter next to a man and his young son. An Alabama fan sat on the other side of them. You can always find an Alabama fan in Waffle House.

Here is the thing. There was none of that stereotypical southerners hate everyone nonsense. People of different religions and races were eating a meal in a small restaurant. Perhaps waffles are our great unifier. Everyone loves waffles. If they do not love waffles, then they have to love hash browns covered.

Waffle House is an amazing place, but the system is the most amazing part of it. The wait staff takes orders and, like all good table waiters, write down the order. Then, they stand in a certain spot and yell the order to the cooks. The cooks never see a written order. They remember it all in some kind of Waffle House code. Many times, I have sat in Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning and wondered about their ability to remember everything.

Did I mention wee hours? Waffle House has always been the place for late night revelers who need to soak up the night’s libations with greasy food. It has been the restaurant of choice after many concerts and nights on the town.

There are great stories about nighttime Waffle House visits, but my favorite involves an inebriated friend who wanted a Waffle House shirt. He spent the entire time trying to buy the shirt off the manager’s back. Before we left, he had purchased it for $500. It was ridiculous. The manager just went to his car and put on another one.

In Waffle House America, the yellow sign is a beacon for weary travelers.

It is a warm place in the middle of a cold winter night. It is one last stop who need a hangover cure before the hangover hits. It is a family diner for families headed to church. It is a place for those who have a hankering for breakfast food at dinner time. It is a place where you always recognize the people even if you do not know who they are.

There are two Americas – Waffle House America and IHOP America. Now, someone please tell me about the wonders of that other place.

From Huntingdon to Huntington

17 Jul

Last week, we made a short trip Pennsylvania. My wife has family in Huntingdon, a small town in the central part of the state, and they invited us to stay at their home for a few days. We used that time to explore and a great tour of a small college. Here are the highlights.

On the first day, we drove through five states – Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It was a long drive through Appalachia, but we saw some beautiful landscapes. When we left the interstate around Altoona, we did not realize that we would not be on the interstate for a few more days. Instead, we would be taking back roads through farmland.

On the second day, we passed through some of that farmland on the way to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hersheypark was our destination. The girls rode a ton of rides while my wife and I rode a few. I must be getting old because the monorail was my favorite because it took us by part of the old Hershey factory.

One of these days, I am going to get back there and check out the history of chocolate.

Oh yeah, we had a slight surprise when we got back to Huntingdon. We went to a local restaurant for dinner, and my wife order a salad with grilled chicken. She received a salad topped with grilled chicken and french fries. She was, in a word, appalled. We later learned that french fries on salad is a central Pennsylvania thing. I guess it is like grits is a southern thing. Although, I can handle french fries on a salad better than I can handle grits.

On the third day, we got educational. Huntingdon is home to Juniata College, and the family we were visiting used to be the president and first lady of the liberal arts institution.

It is a beautiful campus with a great quad for student to gather. I think my stepdaughter liked it until she saw the dorm room. We had to explain that what she saw is pretty typical for dorm rooms.

After that, we drove a short distance to State College to the campus of Penn State. This was not an official visit. I simply wanted to see the football stadium. Of course, I had to wear the colors of my team behind enemy lines.

I was also told to go to the Creamery. It was a great suggestion. The ice cream was awesome.

On the fourth day, we headed west to two sites that my wife and I really wanted to visit. This was a day to show my stepdaughter and her friend something about our past. After a bit of a drive through the countryside, we arrived at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

On September 11, 2001, the flight was hijacked, and the passengers learned of the other hijackings through calls to their loved ones. At some point, the passengers decided to attack the terrorists. As they struggled, the plane crashed into a field.

It is a sobering place to visit. For those of us who remember, it brings back memories of that terrible day. For those of us who do not remember, it brings questions of what happened. For all of us, it provides a true example of heroism.

As I walked through the museum and over the grounds, I kept wondering what the passengers were thinking. Did they know they were going to crash somewhere and wanted to make sure it was not another building? Did they think they could take over and have a chance at landing the plane? All we know is that they prevented the plane from hitting something in Washington, D.C., which was only 20 minutes away. Investigators think the plane was heading for Capitol Hill.

After visiting the memorial, we drove through more countryside. This time we really hit some back roads and passed farm after farm. Finally, we made it to Fallingwater, the home famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. My wife and I visited another of his designs earlier in the year, but this is the iconic one that I have always wanted to see.

He designed the home for the Kaufmann family, who wanted a view of the waterfall on their land. Instead, Wright built it on the waterfall.

Amazingly, the house was built during the midst of the Great Depression.

When we left Fallingwater, we headed toward home but could not make it all the way. We stopped in Huntington, West Virginia for the night. The girls stayed at the hotel and watched Netflix while we went to dinner. We found a great place near downtown called Savannah’s and took a table on their patio. Our waitress was a local student who was majoring in History and Anthropology. Now, she has the right idea.