Sunday, September 28, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #178 "The Great White Way," Times Square, New York City, New York, December 2002

I haven't made it to Times Square to experience a New Year's Eve celebration, yet. And, while it is on my "Life List" of things I'd like to experience once before I leave this life, it is not one of the higher priorities. Time is, of course, growing shorter and there are a lot less New Year's Eves in my future than those that have already passed.

Most people in the U.S. have, since it was first televised, watched the crystal ball drop on top of the New York Times Building, to the right in the photo, ushering in the New Year. Despite the fact that I grew up and lived within about 10 or 12 miles from the spot in this photo, I was never any closer than the millions of others watching the event on TV.

Of course, this is part of the theater district of mid-town Manhattan. You often hear of this stretch of Broadway called "The Great White Way" so nicknamed because of "The Lights of Broadway." This is an iconic scene, unique to New York City. It is as identifiable as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (both of which are technically part of New Jersey) and the George Washington and Brooklyn Bridges.

And, for me, a trip to New York City would be incomplete without spending time in Times Square and a wonderful ride from Battery Park to Staten Island and back again, one of my personal favorite things to do when I'm in New York City. I've done it many times and was often a fun part of an evening with a date when I was in college.

This photo was taken in December of 2002, about 15 months after the horrendous event we now refer to as 9-11. So, I was close to New Year's Eve, but not close enough. I was in New York City (although we were actually staying in New Jersey) with a group of friends for a theater weekend. If I remember correctly, we were snowed into our hotel in New Jersey the next day where we made the most of it. I believe we went back into the City on Sunday before heading to Virginia, whence we had traveled.   

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Photos-of-the-Week #177 - Martie's Hot Dog Stand, Keyser, West Virginia, September 2014

Here are some more photos from my Great Hotdog Caper. You already know that one of the Top 10 hotdog places in the U.S., as ranked by Public Television, is Rutt's Hut in my hometown of Clifton, New Jersey.

Well, here is another hometown place. It's Martie's Hot Dog Stand in Keyser, West Virginia. Keyser is my eastern base camp and I've passed Martie's many times as I've driven down the once thriving, now decrepit Main Street of Keyser. Like so many places in Americana, time and the economy have passed Keyser by.

I don't know how long Martie's has been in existence or at this location, but it is pretty much literally a "hole in the wall." Not unlike many old downtown areas in small, especially, rural areas, Main Street was at one time the "happening place" in this small town of just over 5,000 population. Not so in 2014.

Obviously, Martie's occupies a small, very old storefront that once was a framing gallery with one or more apartments over it. 
There are numerous vacant stores all around Martie's and those that are occupied probably haven't seen a serious renovation in decades. West Virginia, being one of the states often identified with Appalachia is in the now, almost non-existent coal mining and agricultural part of the country. A downsized, old paper mill is probably the only remaining industry in this area.

So, how about the hotdogs? Here are two of a variety of combinations you can order at Martie's. The hotdog on the right is Martie's version of a New York Kraut Dog. Not bad! The hotdog was good, the bun was fresh. The toppings included brown mustard, diced onions and a very healthy serving of sauerkraut. It appears they must heat the sauerkraut up on the grill, which is not to my particular liking. I prefer it as I get it in the New York area, fresh, out of the barrel. But, I'm not making any bones, it was good and I ate it all.

The hotdog on the left is what Martie's has dubbed their West Virginia Dog. I believe there was some mustard under there and probably some diced onions, but there was a huge amount of coleslaw topped with nice hot hotdog chili - no beans. It looks sloppy and it is. Even my big mouth wasn't big enough to get a bite of the entire thing at one shot. But, the combination was delicious. I had never thought of combining coleslaw and chili before, but it works - at least for me.

I can't say I rank Martie's in the Top 10, but certainly for a hometown hotdog, I'd go there again and I'm sure they must have a large enough group of regulars to keep the place alive and kicking. Of course, as you may have noted on their sign, they serve breakfast, lunch and beer, they are an outlet for the West Virginia Lottery and one can play Keno there, which seems to be very popular in the Keyser area.

Oh yeah, and they are friendly, accommodating and it's an interesting place to just sit and eavesdrop. When I was there around mid-afternoon on a weekday, I was the only hotdog customer at that time. But, there were several others enjoying a cold brewski and having a very heated conversation about a local political issue. A woman who walked in for some reason and appeared to be employed by the local government was the focal point (or maybe target) of the discussion. It was fun listening and I even got to participate a bit.

The general ambiance at Martie's is somewhere between early diner and a dive, but the conversation brought the place to life. Altogether a fun, enjoyable experience and the dogs were good, too.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #176 Chequaga Falls, Montour Fall, New York, July 2014

Here is, yet, another natural discovery I made. No, I don't mean I actually found something that no one else had discovered before. In fact the beautiful display of nature is actually in the middle of a residential neighborhood in the little town (population around 1,800) of Montour Falls, New York. There is, apparently, no Montour Falls, just Chequaga Falls (also misspelled Shequaga).

So, while I spent two years living in upstate New York and had been back through various parts of upstate New York on several occasions over the years, this little town and this picturesque park with the falls were a new discovery for me.

I would never have come upon this sight had I not traveled down to the southern tip of Seneca Lake, one of the New York Finger Lakes, for my first visit to the village of Watkins Glen and an opportunity to see the Watkins Glen International racetrack, home of a major annual Grand Prix auto race that began in 1948. I'll have photos of those for another time.

After leaving the Watkins Glen area on my way over to Ithaca, New York, the home of Ithaca College and Cornell University, my route brought me through this tiny town with this beautiful sight. I had to stop and spend some time here. So, I drove down the street, turned around and parked My McVansion in front of a home that had this view from their front window. Not bad, eh?

I have no idea how the people of this small town make a living. It's another of those beautiful little "in the middle of nowhere" places that has existed under a couple other names over a few hundred years before becoming Montour Falls. It was originally the site of an American Indian village that, sadly, from the little I could learn was destroyed and resettled by Europeans.

I'm often saddened by the greed and cruelty of some of our "immigrant" ancestors who came to the New World and took what wasn't theirs. But, that's a topic for another time. I'm just glad that the beauty of Chequaga Falls remains for anyone traveling through this region to experience.    

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #175 - Contrast in Americana - The Old And The New, North East, Pennsylvania, July 2014

This is why I drive the Blue Highways of the U.S. I was born 14 days before President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, so I've lived through all or some part of the administrations of 13 presidents of the U.S. A lot has changed. I often say that I feel I grew up during a much kinder and gentler time. However, I'm not sure there has ever really been a kinder and gentler time in the history of the human species. So, let me just say that as I travel the country (and there is a lot of country to travel), I look for the vestiges of a time when I felt more comfortable.

This photo op jumped out at me as I was crossing from northwestern New York State into northwestern Pennsylvania on a recent trek. North East is actually the name of the township in northwestern Pennsylvania. Is that clear? Maybe as clear as mud, huh?

The contrast was so stark as I passed this sight that I turned around and went back to capture this photo. There stood an old Dairy Queen soft-serve ice cream stand back to back with a modern Circle K convenience store. Dairy Queen was founded in 1940 in Illinois and Circle K was founded in Texas in 1951. The contrast is pretty significant between these two establishments dating back 74 years (DQ) and 63 years (Circle K).

This particular Dairy Queen probably dates back to sometime in the mid 1950's. I certainly haven't seen one like this in a very long time. Over the years the Dairy Queen franchise has expanded and the buildings have changed their look and increased in size.  The building in this photo brings back fond memories and I'm glad I can still find places like this on my travels. We had one in my hometown of Clifton, New Jersey that started out looking like this one, but eventually morphed into a very different place over the next ten years or so.

According to a little research I did, there are still a number of these older Dairy Queens in operation around parts of the U.S. and I actually saw two more during this trek - but the contrast between these two buildings is what really caught my eye. The first and original Dairy Queen is now a city landmark in Joliet, Illinois. The Dairy Queen company is now owned by Warren Buffett and his Berkshire-Hathaway Corporation.

I also passed a couple older Arby restaurants on the trek and I'm hoping to find other vestiges of the Americana of my earlier days - and maybe even my parents' days. Memory Lane is on the Blue Highways not on the Interstates.   

Monday, September 1, 2014

Breakfast Fit For A King - King Of The Mountain, That Is

A short while back I received an email invitation from fellow Vandweller, Dave Campbell. Dave is based in Virginia, a little bit south of Washington, DC. Dan is not retired or a full-time vandweller, but he's looking forward to a time in the foreseeable future when he'll be in a position to make the change from his current full-time employed lifestyle to one where he has more control over his life.

As I said, Dave emailed me an invitation to join him at the ten acres of lush forested, mountain top land for a get together and first time meeting. The ten acres are Dan's answer to leaving the congestion, complication and maddening crowds of the U.S. Capital and the region surrounding it. My first and continuing impression is that he made an excellent investment, first for his own mental health because this place is very therapeutic and second, it's a place he could consider moving to when he's completed his professional career with the madness that is Washington, DC.

Dave had invited a couple other people to join us, but for whatever reasons, they were unable to be there. And due to some extenuating circumstances on my account, while I would have loved staying in that bucolic setting for several days over the Labor Day holiday weekend, I also had to leave, though I did have the intention of returning about two days later. Unfortunately, the weather got a little sketchy and Dave decided to head back to his base camp earlier than planned.

But, while there were some annoying bugs, easily handled with a little DEET, it was about as peaceful, quiet and relaxing a setting as I can recall being in since I spent a few days at Tumbling Creek Campground in Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee with one Cuzzin Dick earlier this year. A few "good ole boys" who lived on the mountain stopped by and we had a pleasant time conversing with them about things those city folks don't have a clue about. If you're getting the impression that this was a positive experience, then I've made my point.

Eating Well, Outdoor, Camping Style

Before I headed up there, Dave told me he was bring all the food we'd need because we were going to do some experimenting. That sounded both intriguing and exciting because I figured I'd enjoy some good food and learn some tips and ideas about preparing simple, tasty meals on the road.

When I arrived, Dave helped me maneuver My McVansion into a decent parked position. After we enjoyed some pleasantries and wet our whistles with pleasant libations, Dave suggested we prepare dinner. And, at this point enters a new name, that of one Dan Cordray. Dan and Dave have met up in person. I have yet to enjoy that pleasure, but Dan and I communicate about various things travel and vandwelling. Dan hails from Florida, but currently resides somewhere in Kentucky. I'm hoping to meet up with him later this fall when I head through that part of the country.

"Chef Dan" the on the road cookin' man, showed Dave some interesting tricks when they met up and Dave was going to do his own versions of some of Dan's recipes. So, for dinner we had Sloppy Joe Roll-ups. These were simple to make. First, take some Sloppy Joe meat, either home made or from a can of already made Sloppy Joe meat. Dave chose the latter. Scoop it in the center of a 12" flour tortilla (for those more health conscious, you can use whole wheat tortillas). Lay some cheese on top of the meat. Real cheese tastes best. At this point one can add extras like diced onions, green peppers, tomatoes, etc. and it can be spiced up a bit with your favorite seasonings or hot sauce. We kept our simple and applied a bit of hot sauce after the fact.

Once you have it loaded the way you'd like it, flip one side of the tortilla over all the tasty inner filling, fold in both ends and finish rolling the tortilla until is looks like a traditional Mexican burrito. At this point comes the "cooking" stage. Dan typically, from what Dave explained, wrapped the Sloppy Joe Roll-up in heavy duty, aluminum foil and then placed then right in an open fire. I definitely like that idea. I've done my own share of experimenting and cooking in aluminum foil packets. I recently downloaded an entire cookbook about aluminum foil packet cooking while camping. So, I'm into this.

But, Dave showed me a new trick. He had his two burner, propane camp stove on the table and a medium sized frying pan. Don't jump to conclusions. We didn't fry the roll-ups. We BAKED them. Once they were made and the frying pan was heated up we place the two roll-ups side by side, covered the pan with a tightly fitting cover and heated up the pan on the stove. The we turned the stove burner off and just let the roll-ups back inside the heated frying pan. After a little while passed, Dave flipped them over, put the cover back on, turned on the heat again, heated the pan and turned it off and let them bake some more. I believe we flipped them once more before taking them out.

WOW! There were toasted golden brown. You could hear the fixin's bubbling inside the slightly toasted tortilla shell. And now, the moment of truth was upon us. It was time to try these beautiful Sloppy Joe delicacies. OMG! This was a meal to sit and savor. It was simple to prepare. It took very little time to make up the roll-ups and bake them. I'd say it was about 20 minutes from getting the fixin's out on the table until removing them from the frying pan "oven."

Honestly, one Sloppy Joe Roll-up each was enough to fill each of us. But, they were so good, and so as not to leave any Sloppy Joe meat to store or throw away, we each had a second. Dave proclaimed that we had created our own "Hot Pockets." We also ascertained that if one chose to, the actual roll-ups could be prepared at base camp and brought to the campsite location ready to bake. It might have saved a little time and a little trash, but it was fun doing the prep work on the spot and clean up time was negligible.

I have only one regret. Darn, I forgot to pull out the camera to show you this delightful meal.

Round #2 Breakfast

Oh yes! This time I didn't forget to get the camera out. Dave was going to repeat his performance from the evening before. Once again, inspired by our friend, Dan Cordray, he got those tortillas out again. This time we were going to make Breakfast Roll-ups. The plan was to use previously hard-boiled eggs, bacon and some ham and cheese to top it off. I had a fresh jar of medium salsa with me, so we could make them a bit more Mexican style if we chose to.

Unfortunately, Dave realized that he forgot the hard-boiled eggs. However, he did have a pouch of Harvest House freeze dried scrambled eggs. Harvest House is an offshoot of an Oregon company that has been supplying freeze dried foods to the U.S. military Special Forces since the Vietnam War. They replaced to old C and K rations. The scrambled eggs were easy to prepare. Simply pour some boiling water into the opened pouch, stir or shake the contents to mix with the water, then let them reconstitute and heat up for about six or eight minutes.

While the eggs were getting ready, we started to prepare the tortillas, So, this time I'm going to do the entire prep, baking and show the finished product in photos.
Step 1. Prepare the Harvest House freeze dried scrambled eggs. The eggs are actually warming up and reconstituting in the pouch in this photo Additionally, you see the real cheese in the zip lock bag and a can of Hormel smoked ham. We later realized we could have done without the smoked ham since the scrambled eggs already had ham with them along with green and red peppers.  
Step 2. Dave is opening the pre-cooked bacon, the other element of this delicacy.

Step 3. Load up the 12" flour tortilla. Here Dave has two slices of bacon and is adding some smoked ham to the mix.
Step 4. Dave has added some of the now warmed and reconstituted scrambled eggs. While these freeze dried eggs may not exactly resemble the fresh scrambled eggs you make in your frying pan, they actually taste very good and the added ham and peppers add to the mix. If one wanted to, diced onions, green peppers, other kinds of peppers, black olives, chili's, spinach, diced tomatoes or other veggies could be added to the mix.

Step 5. Top off the eggs with some real cheddar cheese and it's ready to roll-up to bake. 

Step 6. Here's our "oven" where our two Breakfast Roll-ups or, call them Breakfast Burritos, if you prefer, are baking ever so nicely. It's wise to flip them a couple times during the process. Turn the heat on until you can feel that the cover is hot, then turn the heat off and let them bake. Flip them and repeat the heating process.

Step 7. Remove the cover and reveal to nicely baked and gently browned Breakfast Roll-ups. They are of a flaky crispiness. They don't fall apart. The liquids inside (that you can hear bubbling when you take them out of the pan) do not leak out. The pan is clean. But, these babies are HOT, so handle with care.

Step 8. is optional, but if you're like me, I like to spice some of my foods up. So, here I've covered my Breakfast Roll-up with a medium salsa. Once again, the consistency of the Roll-up does not get soggy from the salsa and while I had a knife and fork at the ready, I didn't need them. I simply picked it up and ate it.

Step 9. This is the most important step of all - EAT the Breakfast Roll-up. Yum! As you can see the cheese melted nicely, blending with the ham, eggs and bacon. A little hot sauce goes with the meal, as well, for those who like that extra zip in their breakfast. This is it, Breakfast Fit for the King of the Mountain.

Life on the road can be better than good, it can be great. 

There you have it. Frankly, I'm going to prepare some of these kinds of meals when I'm at one of my base camps. Living a simple, minimalism, nomadic, living free, lifestyle doesn't mean that one gives up the finer things of life, like delicious and varied meals of the kinds of foods we thoroughly enjoy.

My thanks to Dave Campbell for the invitation, pleasant company, beautiful setting, outdoor cooking lessons and delicious meals. I also tip "The Hat" to our friend, Dan Cordray, (who also has "The Hat") for his inspiration and introducing Dave to these ideas. Compliments to the "Chefs."