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Archive for April, 2010

Some people get all high horsey about healthy eating and good nutrition and all those things I care about but don’t treat as a religion.

Me, I got no high horse. I eat my broccoli, mostly because I have to. I eat lima beans. I actually like those. But I also eat Costco gourmet chocolate chunk cookies. On rare occasions, nothing but KFC will do. And at the airport, I sustain myself with both trail mix (health food) and Starburst.

And I happen to know that other people are also susceptible to foods they shouldn’t love, but do. So today’s three-fer is about foods we eat on the road that are so bad, but so good.

Joining us is Fort Worth-based food critic, cookbook author, and travel writer June Naylor. June not only shares her food passion through her writing (and her writing can make a gal mighty hungry), she and a partner also run Texas Toast Tours, culinary tours of our home state—a state, I might add, that specializes in wonderful, terrible food. Chicken fried steak. I rest my case.

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Vegetarians, avert your eyes. Everyone else, wipe that drool from your chin. Mueller's isn't just good. It's legendary. Photo by June Naylor.

Even after a long day of fat-packed Central Texas barbecue touring, I managed to make room in my gut for one more stop.

My 4 p.m. arrival at Louie Mueller Barbecue, the vaunted meat palace in the burg of Taylor, found the crowds gone. I had the legendary joint nearly to myself, the better for focusing on my piece of butcher paper laden with handmade jalapeno sausage and tender pork ribs, smoked over post oak and crusty at the edges.

A refreshing breeze swept through the screened-in porch as I sipped a pint jar of Shiner Bock and chatted with Wayne Mueller, Louie’s grandson, about the joys of eating barbecue. Every Saturday afternoon should taste this good.–-June


Boiled peanuts aren’t bad for you. It’s a quantity thing here. I, quite simply, cannot stop with just a handful. I

Jenna ate this man's boiled peanuts. She doesn't know what the woman on the gurney consumed. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

eat and eat and eat until my mouth is so dried out from salt that I start speaking funny. Though I once paired them with port–surprisingly delicious–I prefer a calorific icy cold Coke with my peanuts. And I’ll buy them from just about anyone anywhere. Really, I’ve eaten boiled peanuts out of pots that looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in…generations. Those always taste best. It’s like a hot dog from an NYC street vendor–the dirtier the hands, the better the hot dog. (I know: gross.)–Jenna


I'm sure if I eat enough McGriddles I'll eventually look just like this.

Jenna and June are foodies whereas I’m one of those food-is-fuel people. So it figures that even my bad-food indulgence is going to be badder (and not in a good way) than theirs.

Ladies and gentlemen: The McGriddle.

I know, I know. McDonald’s is the evil empire and it nearly killed Morgan Spurlock. But sad I am those times I start a road trip too late in the morning to kick it off with bacon, egg, and cheese between two pancake-like disks. Maybe it sounds terrible, and I’m not among those who, under normal circumstances, allows my pancake syrup to touch anything else on my breakfast plate. But for some reason the McGriddle makes it all work.

I’m so ashamed.—Sophia

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It’s late. The Yankees game is on in the other room. It’s fitting cause baseball night games are on my brain. I wanted them to be on my eyes (but didn’t really feel like watching on TV). April 28, 2010 is the 80th anniversary of organized baseball’s first night game.

Back in 1910 during a Western Association game, the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Chiefs whomped the Independence (Kansas) Producers 13 to 3–while playing in Independence. (The major leagues didn’t get in on the night fun until 1935. Slackers.) I hope the Producers who are still around–and somebody fire up the birthday candles if they are!–remember the game more for its first status than for that score. That’s some kind of painful. Here, some night baseball photos I gathered up from Flickr.

"Taken at the first night baseball game in 10 years for the Huntington PAL baseball program." Photo by J Ryan Wall via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

"Boston Red Sox vs Oakland A's, May 1, 2007." Photo by einafour via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

OK, some people drink a lot of beer at night games. Photo courtesy of allygirl20 via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

But, some nights, there are fireworks. Fireworks make everything better. Photo courtesy of nsaplayer via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

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How can you not find peace and insight in a setting like this? Photo by Sophia Dembling.

Saturday is World Labyrinth Day which is convenient because I was planning to tell you about this labyrinth anyway, and now I have a “news hook” to validate my existence.

I’m in love with the labyrinth on the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. I walked it twice during my recent two-day visit and still think about it. I even videotaped part of one go around, hoping that I might be able to recapture the magic back at my desk, but of course I can’t.

The labyrinth faces red cliffs and is surrounded by desert trees, flowers, and shrubs that give off a sort of toasty fragrance. I walked the labyrinth at a leisurely pace, listening to the plants rustling and rattling in the breeze, to my own breath, to the gravel crunch…crunch…crunching underfoot. I looked at faraway rocks, then nearby flowers, then within, at my own slowing, gentling thoughts. After I finished walking, I’d sit on a bench alongside the labyrinth, sketching the scenery, enjoying the afterglow.

Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted for the last half of her life on the Ghost Ranch, which was a dude ranch when she first visited. She later bought a house and little chunk of the ranch for herself. (Her house and property are owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and nobody gets to see it except maybe Charlize Theron on a photo shoot for Vogue.) The rest of the Ghost Ranch’s 21,000 acres is owned by the Presbyterian Church. The facilities are, essentially, a church camp, with all that implies. Shared bathrooms (some rooms have private baths). Plaid polyester bedspreads. Cafeteria meals in a dining hall. (Good rib-sticking food.) The Ghost Ranch also has a schedule of weeklong workshops on matters spiritual and artistic, and it’s in transition right now, trying to entice tourists while maintaining its blend of spirituality, nature, and art. (The church doesn’t use it much anymore.)

The ranch has lots of great hiking, and a couple of museums and a really nice little library. The museums and trails are open and free for day trippers, or you can stay a night or two. (Or more.) Just goofing off here is a brain adjustment. The red rock spectacle and other-worldy air make it the kind of place that forces you to breathe more slowly and feel more deeply. And maybe walk around and around, crunch…crunch…crunch.

I wish I were on that labyrinth right now.

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The unimaginable has happened. You’re on a really long road trip and the radio/MP3 player/whatever jams. You can’t turn it off. You can’t make it skip to the next song or back to the last. But, by some miracle, it got stuck on one of the only songs you could listen to on repeat for miles and miles and miles to come. Name that song. Here, our picks for the jam tune.

This week’s guest is my pal Jeff Middleton, a member of your new favorite country rock band, The Dirt Drifters. (And, no, I’m not just saying that cause Jeff’s my friend–the band is damned good.) They’re currently recording their debut album for Warner Bros. When they’re not in the studio, The Dirt Drifters tour the U.S. (and sleep in Wal-Mart parking lots) in a shiny new RV–see the first photo below for the why of that. Follow their on-the-road adventures on the Twitter. Oh, buy one of their t-shirts now. I’m sure they’ll cost a helluva lot more once the boys are playing big stadium shows. (Knock wood and all.)

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He was born to run but, clearly, his glory days were behind him. R.I.P. Randy Taylor (the Dirt Drifters' first RV).

I am in a touring band so I take a road trip almost every weekend. Being from Jersey, Springsteen is the only choice for a one song-repeat nightmare. So….

Born to Run? The obvious choice. An admirable one. Not mine.

Thunder Road? Points for length and “casing the promised land.” Hard to say no.

Badlands? Raucous and rowdy passes the miles and time. Oh, so close.

My road trip song? No Surrender. Busting out of class, getting away from those fools, chasing dreams, DOUBLE sing along–both whoas AND lay lays–c’mon, please!

Lower your window. Crank your radio. Raise your fist. No retreat baby.–Jeff

"...when I walk along some railroad tracks and find/that you’re moving on the backroads by the rivers of my memory/and for hours you're just gentle on my mind." Photo by Sophia Dembling

Glen Campbell’s version of John Hartford’s  Gentle on My Mind. No contest. I love everything about it. I love the rolling guitar riff that sounds like wheels spinning on a highway or railroad track. I love the idea of a memory soothing a restless mind. I love the imagery (“…through cupped hands round the tin can…” and “..moving on the backroads by the rivers of my memory…”) I wouldn’t mind being that easygoing presence in the back of someone’s mind, but I’d rather be the one playing and singing the song by a campfire. That’s my alter-ego. (The bad-girl version: Dwight Yoakam’s I’ll Be Gone.)

(Coincidentally, yesterday was Glen Campbell’s 74th birthday. Born in Delight, Arkansas, population 311. I find that…delightful.)–Sophia

Found it on Flickr. Just really liked it. Courtesy of SliceofNYC via a Creative Commons license.

I like the way so many jazz standards can, when necessary, serve as background music but, when you need them, when you want to sing or move to something or focus on anything but the thoughts that keep spinning through, they’re right there for you. So, Billie Holiday’s version of Stars Fell on Alabama. Her voice anchors me, makes me feel like things are possible. Though, yeah, she makes me real sad, too. Of course, I’m imagining that this road trip is during the late summer, that I’m driving through heat and the smell of honeysuckle and dusk is on the way and I’m just going to drive straight through the night.–Jenna

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I can't wait to get on the road again. Photo by Sophia Dembling

OK, you’ve rocked (etc.) with Jenna’s road trip mix, now it’s time to sing along with mine.

When I hit the highway for a road trip, I start on a Texas highway—big, bold, bright, and straight-on for miles. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about country music. (Mostly, anyway.) And since I have a weakness for cheesy ‘70s country, I’m kicking things off with Smokey and the Bandit. Heehee.

From there, all hopped up coffee and the promise of adventure, I’m all about funtime singalong. Later I’ll get soothing or pensive or complicated or angry (for city driving), but now I want to bop in my seat with a big, goofy, road-trip grin and sing off key. That’s what this playlist about. Nothing serious here.

And to wrap up this list, we settle into a cruise-control groove with Edgar Winter’s White Trash. Because, yes, I’m that old. Saw them live.

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When your view looks something like this, let the music play. (If you blow the photo up, please excuse the schmutz on the windshield.) Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

It’s a tic of the modern-day writing life: if you write a blog, you get, say, a drop obsessive about checking your web stats. Part of the joy of that task is finding out what web searches brought new readers to your site. Turns out a whole lot of people like to search for road trip playlists. The lists Sophia and I posted long long ago still pull in the eyeballs. (Yes, that makes us feel good.)

We figured it was time to give the old (but, still, new car smell fresh) lists some company. Sophia suggested building lists that celebrate those first out-on-the-open-highway miles of a road trip. I thought she’d hit on a lovely idea.

So, here it is, my hit-the-highway road trip playlist. Some of you are gonna scoff cause, at first look, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to flow. How in the hell can you start with Alice Cooper and end with Judy Garland? Settle down. Pretend you’re in a car and you’re in an anything goes kind of mood. Take a listen. Then you’ll wanna kiss me. Hell, even if you still feel feh on my picks, I’m ok with that. I’ll even make it easy for you to find another list to love: click here for Sophia’s picks.

(This whole playlist thing is a lot of fun so we’re planning to add more in the future. Want to suggest a themed playlist? Drop me a note. Just make sure it’s got something to do with travel and with these here 50 states we like to discuss.)

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A good road trip is as much about the stopping as the going and we all have our must-stops—for some people it’s diners, for some it’s a glorious view, for some it’s a state-line-sign photo op. And that’s the topic of today’s Three-fer.

Joining us is an underground hero and a Dallas celebrity, Bucks Burnett—record dealer; former editor of the Mr. Ed Fan Club newsletter; one-time manager of the late Tiny Tim. (My family owned God Bless Tiny Tim back in the day, and we listened to it. I can still sing some of the songs.)

You might have read about Bucks in this article in the Wall Street Journal; he wants to open a museum of eight track tapes because, as he says in the article, “There are only two choices. A world with an eight-track museum and a world without an eight-track museum. I choose with.” I was at the opening of the three-day show the WSJ wrote about here and it was, indeed packed with everyone in town who appreciates irony, kitsch, and Bucks.

If you happen be in Dallas, say hey to Bucks at his record store inside the very excellent thrift shop Dolly Python.

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Junk store gold: The pink "Houses of the Holy" eight track, now with Jimmy Page autograph. Beautiful.

Nothing makes me stop quicker than a really junky looking junk store. Preferably a decaying shack with a poorly made sign. I mainly like to buy eight-track tapes and old photos of people I don’t know. Almost 20 years ago, I was going insane looking for a pink cartridge version of Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy. Before eBay, you could only find eight tracks at garage sales, thrift stores, etc. One day in Arkansas, middle of nowhere, crummy little house…I did a U-turn, with that eight track in my head. The owner, an 80-year-old black farmer, handed me a box of about ten eight tracks, and there it was, the pink Zep, for $1. I later got it signed by Jimmy Page. Dreams really can come true.–Bucks

Jenna would never think to abandon a cup of coffee like this. It's just cruel. Photo by srslyguys via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

An empty cup holder is a sad cup holder. A cup holder that’s got my ninth cup of coffee of the road trip day in its grips is a very happy cup holder. And that makes me a happy Jenna. From truck stops that serve up coffee that just barely deserves to be called coffee to tiny roadside espresso stands that turn out lattes with elegant designs in the foam, I’ve rarely passed a coffee-serving joint that I didn’t, at least, consider pulling into. Though, yes, I’m clearly a caffeine addict, the best part of my coffee stops are the brief chats I have with–and the info I collect from–the clerk or barista of the moment.–Jenna

Of course I had to brake for this. Who wouldn't? Photo by Sophia Dembling.

I brake for oddball museums (the Texas Prison Museum, the Toy & Action Figure Museum) but even so, it’s rare to luck into something like Jim’s Metal Art Museum,  in itty-bitty Gage, Oklahoma. Now, I sometimes have trouble stopping once I get going, but fortunately, I had Bird Chick in my passenger seat when we passed this amazing wheelasaurus. We both slammed our foot on our brakes (mine worked better than hers) and I couldn’t not pull over. Behind this guy, a big yard was crammed with folk art sculptures (and a lot of junk), though sadly, it was fenced off and locked up. Still we pressed our faces to the fence and marveled. We love you, Jim.–Sophia

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