Archive for the ‘Cooking and Culinary Arts’ Category

TAKE US OUT TO THE BALLGAME—BEAUTIFUL PLAY IN THE CALIFORNIA LEAGUE

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

Our national pastime can be enjoyed in an unforgettable afternoon and evening by attending a California League game, at one of eight minor league stadiums, such as the wonderful venue in the little town of Lake Elsinore, in Riverside county—halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

 

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STORM STADIUM, LAKE ELSINORE, CALIFORNIA

There, on the late afternoon of July 2, 2016, the home club, Lake Elsinore STORM, hosted the Lancaster JETHAWKS, for a delightful and exciting game. The Storm won, 3-1, but for a charmed spectator the outcome was less important than the fun of watching major league prospects show their stuff. For example, a right-handed pitcher, Enyel De Los Santo, seen below, may someday soon join the San Diego Padres, as the Storm is one of the Padre minor league affiliates (farm team).

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On this marvelous afternoon The Lancaster JETHAWKS, a Houston Astros minor league club, appropriately named also for its location in the California Antelope Valley, a region long associated with the aerospace industry, was the visiting ball team. Lancaster is about an hour north of Los Angeles.

For a fan who has had the privilege of seeing baseball in many major league parks around the nation and in Canada, this afternoon was as good as most of those experiences. Just to watch batting practice, followed by immaculate grounds keeping work to get the field in perfect playing shape was a treat. As the fans easily strolled into the stadium (with brief stops for what appeared to be serious security checks) the tarpaulins were removed to unveil a mix of perfectly manicured green turf, with brown base paths and a carefully measured pitcher’s mound.

Precisely at 6:05 pm the home plate umpire called, “Play Ball.” (There are two umpires running California League games, compared with four in the majors.) Soon the score was 3 to 1, on an early homerun by the Storm’s Fernando Perez, the designated hitter.

(In the lower minor leagues each team has a “designated hitter, “ a practice first employed in the American League of Major League baseball, giving the pitchers a chance to concentrate on that skill without having to worry about batting.)

As the game progressed—and the fans were clearly patronizing the concession stands for dinner or snacks—the Storm’s efficient media relations specialist, Tyler Zickel, also took to the field between innings to honor local kids and other dignitaries for civic activities. (This also provided a good chance for some fans to ignore the field and get food!)

Lake Elsinore itself, in a beautiful valley setting amid California hills and mountains, was named for a spectacular body of water quite visible from the stadium.   Now somewhat diminished by the terrible California drought, the lake is still a brilliant and lovely natural wonder. Team management schedules almost all games for very late afternoon when the heat of central and southern California has subsided.

If a spectator came to Lake Elsinore early enough to get a look around there were numerous fast food joints, but also three fine restaurants lined up to serve a more discerning taste—a Persian restaurant, next to a really good Mexican place, which was next door to an Italian restaurant with a welcoming and serious menu. For three diners at the Mexican eatery, the total tab came to under $30 for a full and memorable meal. This seemed typical of Lake Elsinore prices.

A nearby Spa advertised serious massage treatment, probably not up to the highest standards of LA or San Diego, but a tired driver could get relief there, before the game. Of course it would be difficult to be too worn out from driving since the time to get to Storm stadium from nearby big cities was a mere hour-and-a-half. Much less driving time would be required if a fan was coming from close in cities in Riverside County or Orange County, both important population centers in California.

The true designation of Riverside and adjoining counties is California’s “Inland Empire,” perhaps a bit of overstatement but one could get the royal treatment at Lake Elsinore just by purchasing a moderately priced ticket and going out to the ballgame!

OCTOBER IN THE HILL COUNTRY AND GULF COAST OF TEXAS

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

 One of the best times of the year to visit the Central Texas Hill Country and Houston/Galveston is in the cooling down period of late October.  Then the broiling sun has begun to recede, Austin is at its wonderfully weird self and the Gulf Coast refinery pollution (sights and smells of people making money) gives way some to a cultural and historic legacy of great interest.

STATE CAPITAL

Austin is without doubt the intellectual heart of Texas and houses its political center ring as well.  A visitor to the sometime circus atmosphere of the state capital might be privileged enough to have old friends who are leading lights in journalism, environmental studies and public affairs media.  This would allow for a day of coffees, lunch and dinners amounting to refresher courses in the affairs of the state and region.  The old friends might courteously start out with, “Who’s going to win the game this weekend?” (referring, of course, to the Texas Longhorns football game) but these serious Texans, well- educated, thoughtful citizens of the nation quickly move to conversation of great merit, ideas for the mind and soul.  One feels at home in Austin.

Now quite a cosmopolitan city Austin is uplifted by the great University of Texas with its world class research and teaching faculty.  On the University campus one may spend profitable time at the Blanton Museum of Art and gain access to a vast enterprise headlined by the dubious biblical quotation engraved on the Main Building, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  It was from atop this building’s 26-story tower of book stacks that a psychopath, a former Eagle Scout who had made straight A’s, fired his rifle in 1966 down on the campus killing 26 and wounding  more.   Game winning Saturday nights, and other special occasions, are more than enough cause for the Tower to turn orange!

UT Tower in orange

HOUSTON AND GULF COAST

By a short flight, or just a few hours drive across Texas down to sea level, the traveler suddenly arrives at America’s energy capital, one of the most dynamic business regions of the globe, America’s energy capital.    Much of this financial action is enabled by the amazing Houston Ship Channel a 50-mile water route out of Houston to the world, via Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico.  In the old days Galveston was an alternative port of entry for immigrants when New York’s Ellis Island overflowed.  Today it is still much a very charming place with lovely old houses and a raffish beach culture—though the constant threat of hurricanes lurks.  The Gulf breezes are splendid and seem perfect in October especially high on patios of the luxurious condos enjoyed by the wealthy from Houston which less than an hour down by freeway.

Between Houston and Galveston a visitor can make a side trip to the moon via the Johnson Space Center put there by President Lyndon Johnson to direct the Apollo Manned Space Program.Johnson Space Center, home of Apollo Mission Control

GPN-2000-001141[2] Mission Control Center can be toured.   Here, seen in 1969, there was jubilation at winning the space race over the Soviets, as mission control engineers celebrated American’s landing.

The astronauts, including the first lunar visitor, Neil Armstrong, shown here on the moon, trained at Houston. GPN-2000-001209[1]

Earlier President Johnson and rocket engineering chief, Werner von Braun, visited with astronauts.  Von Braun, though a former Nazi missile designer, seen below at left, was not nearly as controversial as Johnson, who was best known for his prosecution of the American war in Vietnam War as well as many domestic initiatives.GPN-2000-001337[1]

With time and generations comes some giving back.  Houston was a new town first started in 1834 by shrewd land developers from New York.  They invaded what was the Mexican territory of Texas, bringing along hundreds of colonists, and slaves, in their settlement efforts.  Then came war with Mexico, Texas Independence, Statehood, slavery, cotton, the civil war and suddenly modernity.

This began with the digging of the Ship Channel, finished in 1911, and before one could blink an eye the entire stretch of waterway was overflowing with oil and chemical refineries for the whole long trench.  One of the abutting towns, Pasadena, became known as “Stinkadena,” but Houston grew up also in a tradition of cultural boosting.  There was the great Hobby family, who gave a Governor or two to the State and much in the way of gardens and showhouses and pride.  And with the oil companies came top law firms and all this sired leaders of the nation including two recent presidents of the United States.  One philanthropist endowed Rice Institute which, with its changed name to “university” provided Houston what it really needed:  Without a great university there can be no great city.  Everyone had jobs and many began to accumulate fortunes.  Now the place has gobs of museums, parks, ball teams (the Astrodome, in the early ‘60s was the world’s first stadium with a dome permitting air conditioning) theaters, a great Grand Opera—just name it and Houston built it.

Unusual in the world is the Rothko Chapel dedicated to spiritual values, human rights and cultural relativism.  As an air-conditioned shield against the blazing Texas sun the walls of its octagonal inner chamber are formed by the works of the late, cerebral American artist Mark Rothko.

5_rothko_int2Rothko’s 14 nearly all black paintings, create an unforgettable sanctuary for self-examination and the on-going search for world harmony.     Inside the chapel one can find relief from some of Houston’s hot, gritty culture.  Open to believers of all faiths, and to non-believers, this space provides year-around relief from Houston’s gritty culture and less than hospital weather.  The world’s pain can find soothing here.

The outside public plaza is dominated by Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk” statue.1_rothko_chapel_ext1

Once upon a time one had to travel all the way to New Orleans to enjoy a good meal, to get beyond fried chicken and steak.  Now Houston is a culinary capital with more spectacular food than one can stop to enumerate. 

In October this otherwise climatological hothouse of the universe can be a weather delight and a wonderful place to visit.

–Posted by Barry Jagoda, October 22, 2010

BIG GREEN EGG NESTING IN LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

Monday, May 24th, 2010

     As readers of this column know we focus on high quality travel and leisure, mostly involving venues and events at a distance.  But there is no place like home if you are able to surround yourself with such wonderful appliances as the Big Green Egg smoker and grill.  For a few weeks in May we have been enjoying the classy cooking machine now proudly set-up on our patio overlooking the Pacific in La Jolla, California.  What a joy!   

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       The Egg is based on ancient ceramic cooking traditions that originated in China and Japan.  But the American version, engineered and produced in Tucker, Georgia, is truly a modern product of design created to manage almost any kind of cooking with precision temperatures and saturation heat that manages to keep food delicious without drying out or burning.  In fact the company, not surprisingly, calls their product the “world’s best smoker and grill.”  In our fairly wide experience with barbeque equipment we must concur.   The Egg comes in at least five different sizes.  We found the Large size  (shown in these photos) good for family use and for a good bit of entertaining.   Cooking for a huge crowd can be best accomplished using the Extra Large Egg!

  BGE_lg9539      We found the Egg easy to light and quick to reach cooking temperatures, with dampers for zeroing in on the desired temperatures for steaks, fish, chicken, ribs and burgers.  The food cooks rapidly with great flavor while maintaining its moisture and taste.  Chicken thighs for example never have tasted so good other than when grilled on the Big Green Egg.  As a bonus some of the leftovers also had a very tasty quality when removed from the refrigeration the next day and reheated.

 

Assembly of the Egg itself is pretty simple although the optional “nest,” a carrier on wheels, does present a bit of a challenge to the wrench and screwdriver novice.  A Big Green Egg user will immediately realize that the company has created many accessories including such cookware add-ons as a vertical rack for whole chickens and turkeys, flat ceramic plateware for pizza and baking and various grill extenders for a variety of uses.

       All of the abig green egg openccessories, and plenty of good advice, can be obtained through the nearly universal Big Egg dealer network, comprised of 1,950 stores in the United States and nearly 500 international dealers.  Specific store locations, and much more interesting and useful information, may be obtained on the Internet at www.biggreenegg.com