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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BIZARRE FOODS: ANDREW ZIMMERN OFFERS A CRICKET TASTING

Third Age Traveler was contacted by Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. If you’re not familiar with the show, find some time to watch it. Bizarre Foods is fascinating. Zimmern travels the globe sampling the weirdest foods imaginable. It may look like offal to me, but it is the cuisine of other cultures, and the intrepid Zimmern is fair in his evaluations. The show opens a window through which most of us will never peek on our own, and it is one of our favorite shows on The Travel Channel.

After the initial contact, I received a very intriguing package in the mail with some very interesting contents: an autographed photo of Andrew Zimmern which I share with you (only heaven knows what he is ladling out for us to see), a DVD of Bizarre Foods episodes (which we will definitely enjoy), and TWO BOXES OF FLAVORED, EDIBLE CRICKETS! Salt & Vinegar and Bacon & Cheese Yummy!!!??????

Not to keep this delicacy to ourselves, I took them to our Thursday night spot, The Landmark Inn, and over drinks, I offered them to our friends. I had two takers for the crickets and a camera to catch their reactions. Neither Rob nor Beth blinked an eye as they popped crickets into their mouths. Mike and Mary demurred. I, after all, was the photographer chronicling this extraordinary event. ;-) ;-) ;-)

Unanimously Rob and Beth declared the crickets tasted a lot like peanuts. Beth used the adjective “rancid.”










video

I didn't offer samples to anyone else in the Landmark, but I intend to continue to make them available as long as they last. I'll bring you the results of this taste test. Meanwhile, give Andrew Zimmern a chance. Try it; you'll like it. BTW, if you're interested in participating in this taste test, I'd be happy to try to arrange a meeting.

CHICHEN ITZA--ONE OF THE SEVEN WONDERS

The lure is the sparkling white sand beaches that never get hot under my feet. The lure is the brilliant,
shimmering, green, warm welcoming Caribbean waters that soothe and refresh simultaneously. The lure is the patio where we sip cool drinks, kick back and watch provocative Isla Mujeras signaling us from the horizon while the waving green palm fronds cajole us to stay. The lure is looking to my left and watching the Marina’s beautiful boats coming and going. The lure is the rich Mexican culture steeped in fact and mystery.

I really love the beach, but there is just too much to see. First on our culture list is Chichen Itza dating from a pre-Mayan era and located three hours from Cancun. Visiting the ruins at Tulum several years ago, we were blown away, but Tulum pales compared to Chichen Itza’s magnitude.

At one time in the ancient world, “all roads led to Chichen Itza” through a road system cut through the dangerous jungles and paved with crushed white coral. The coral reflected the moonlight making night travel possible, thereby protecting travelers from the oppressive heat and some of the daylight dangers.

But forget history momentarily. Enjoy the Chichen Itza we see, voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Its centerpiece is the huge Kulkulkan Pyramid with 91 steps up and a platform at the top, the total number creating several types of calendars for the Mayan world.

Look at the size of the pyramid. It honors Kulkulkan, the snake/feather god who came once and promised to return. The snake head is at the base of the pyramid, and as your vision rises up the corner of the pyramid, you can see the snake’s body rising skyward. At the equinoxes, the shadows make the snake appear to undulate. Clap your hands in front of the pyramid, and the incredible acoustics make the sound of a bird flying away!
Snake & Feather
























BTW, the acoustics are such that Pavorotti gave a three hour concert here for several thousand people, the last hour without a microphone!

If this pyramid were all, that would be enough. But there’s so much more.

The game of this ancient world was El Gran Juego de Pelota played in a magnificent ball court, the ruler sitting in his “box” at one end of the 545 foot long court. He could speak and be heard the entire length of the court. If one claps hands, the echo is heard seven times. In 1931 the great Leopold Stokowski spent four days here to try to determine the secret of the acoustics so he could apply it to concert halls. The secret remains.

The game was played by two teams of seven. The players had to hit a rubber ball with their hips through a stone ring high above their heads. The prize—the captain of the winning team was beheaded by the losing captain. It was considered and honor and a ticket to heaven. Carvings on the ball court walls illustrate the rules as well as the “reward.”

The Warriors Temple is also a magnificent late-Mayan structure. It is presumed that sacrifices occurred here. One theory is that maidens were taken here several days prior to the sacrifice and were systematically drugged until they were incapable of understanding what was happening or of feeling the pain. Their bodies would be cut, hands would reach in to extract their still beating hearts, and the watching crowds would interpret this as divinely inspired ecstasy.













I am only highlighting some of the structures we examined. Take a tour here. You can take any of the tours from Cancun or from wherever you’re staying on the Yucatan Peninsula, or you can come to the site and hire a guide at the gate. While I like to prepare by reading beforehand, the guides bring this ancient place to life, and the result is stupendous and mind boggling. You leave with the questions that have haunted scholars through the ages about the mysterious disappearance of the Mayan civilization as well as of the knowledge that created this incredible and very scientific area. One theory can be found in the book Chariots of the Gods. Do do do do…. (That’s supposed to be the Twilight Zone theme)

Chichen Itza is so huge that we could not see it all in one visit, but we will be back in the area, and we’ll get to see the rest the next time.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

OUT STEALING HORSES--A NOVEL WORTH READING ANYTIME


I was looking for a novel by a Scandinavian author when Carol suggested this one. A lot of book clubs are doing Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, and while I don’t think it’s a “new classic” as it is being touted, it is a very, very good book, and I like it so much that I hope to lead a book discussion on it.

I’d call it a WWII book, but it is set after the war and deals with the before, during, and after years. The setting offers insight into war-related character alterations that may last a lifetime, but the novel is not maudlin. The plot develops practically and almost inevitably as characters interact in ways they might not without the wartime flashbacks. How we react in times of trial often reveals hidden strengths. But our reactions might also reveal weaknesses that are inconsequential when the world runs smoothly. In this novel, war is not the only extreme source of pressure, so the book grows beyond one point of conflict. These other unusual sources of pressure and tension also cause irreversible changes in relationships. Perhaps this element is the foundation for the universal quality and themes of Out Stealing Horses.

I’d call it a “right of passage” book, but the idea of getting past a seminal event does not mean one can always find a way through the world’s maze. When that event involves a loss with reasons one must accept on faith or on conjecture, becoming a mature individual may remain a lifelong struggle. You can run, but in Out Stealing Horses, you cannot hide.

Petterson’s use of the first person narrative is a great approach. It allows him to leave things unexplained since the narrator does not know all the answers. It allows the reader to see that is the way life works.

Here’s a boy whose father leaves him, and more than fifty years later, for reasons only vaguely suggested, he goes off to live in a remote village. There he accidentally re-connects with a man he had known fifty years before under very solemn circumstances. While they recognize one another, neither can ask the questions they’ve hidden inside. Yet, much is revealed in their silences.

I definitely call Out Stealing Horses intriguing, interesting, stunningly descriptive, and revealing. I enthusiastically recommend it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

LA LANTERNA - A TUSCANY DELIGHT

La Lanterna
29 West Ridgewood Ave.
Ridgewood, New Jersey 07450
201 444-5520

If you have to be on “the other side of the tracks,” the place to be is the charming town of Ridgewood, New Jersey. It's a place of upscale shops, coffee houses, ice cream parlors, and wonderful restaurants. It's a stop on the M TA—hence the tracks—but what one finds on West Ridgewood Ave. is quite wonderful. There you’ll find La Lanterna.

La Lanterna is a family run Italian restaurant five of us tried for the first time. It's BYOB, so we showed up with a bottle of white and two reds, and we left empty handed. We also left quite impressed with La Lanterna, its food, service, and ambiance. This is a restaurant you must try.

The restaurant's charming entrance offers outdoor seating in warmer weather, and inside there is the lively bustle of busy people. There are two seatings, and we arrived for the 8 o'clock second seating. There was a birthday party winding down at a nearby table—we arrived to the cake and “Happy Birthday”--so initially there was a lot of noise, but once that table cleared, it quieted down, and we were able to talk comfortably at our round (requested) corner table.

There were quite a few specials this night as we were told by Joann, who we later learned is also the owner and who didn't miss a beat as she tantalizingly recited the specials and their ingredients while still keeping a watchful eye on the dining room and the servers. She made choosing selections difficult because everything she described sounded wonderfully creative, and we had yet to see the full menu. The evening was beginning nicely.

Our wines were opened—red and white—and placed in holders, and a basket of fresh, lovely breads quickly appeared.

Our group could be a waiter's nightmare because several of us like the same dish, but rarely do we like it the same way. That's exactly what happened at La Lanterna. One special was a wonderfully sounding seafood extravaganza including mussels, shrimp, scallops, and clams served over a bed of angel hair pasta. The sauce could be fra diavolo—or not. Three of us ordered this: one without scallops, two fra diavolo, one extra mild, and one without shrimp. No questions when these entrées arrived. Our waiter was right on the money. Everyone raved about the dish. Not only did it satisfy the palate, but also it was attractively served. One could not ask for more. These specials were accompanied by a choice of house or Caesar salad.

Iris chose Chicken Cacciatore. The presentation was beautiful, and according to Iris, so was the taste. The big bowl was brimming with chunks of chicken, pieces of tomato, and vegetables. It was accompanied by a side of pasta, and she ordered a house salad. Iris called it the best she'd ever eaten.

I chose Chicken Francese, three lightly breaded chicken scallops so tender that I never touched my knife. The lemon, butter sauce was light and superb. A side of pasta accompanied it, and I added a Caesar salad.

Just coffee ended the meal. Not enough room to try the tempting desserts. Maybe next time because we surely will be back.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

NEW MARKET -- VIRGINIA


When you look out at the Virginia countryside and the amazingly gorgeous springtime in the Shenandoah Valley, it is so difficult to imagine the wasteland that existed here during the Civil War. Carol, Rob and I spent most of a day at the New Market Battlefield, a battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley on May 15, 1864. The site is maintained by Virginia Military Academy (VMI) for one very important reason: to fill the ranks for this battle, the South took the boys from VMI. Two hundred fifty seven boys marched from their VMI classrooms to join General John C. Breckinridge

While the original plan was to leave the boys--some as young as 15--as reserves, General Breckinridge felt forced to send them into battle. Six cadets perished that day, and four more died from their wounds. During the battle, the Confederates swept over the Federal position.

The museum--The Hall of Valor--is a fount of information attractively and interestingly presented. Entering the museum is quite moving. There is a beautiful stained glass window--more like a wall--somewhat abstract but also very factual. One section lists the names of the ten fallen cadets;

another section displays the Confederate flag; another the seal of Virginia. The display is very moving, and I watched people pause, move closer, and look at many of the individual sections. It is very quiet in the Hall of Valor.

Within the museum's building is an area highlighting the region’s Civil War heritage. Many artifacts are on display including maps, uniforms, clothing and photographs. The battle, the boys, and their "sneak visits" to relatives before they marched off to battle are presented dramatically and poignantly. After the war several of these cadets went on to become governors, congressmen, Medal of Honor winners, and leaders in many different fields. One, the first VMI Jewish cadet, held Thomas Jefferson's grandson in his arms and read to him from the New Testament as the boy died of his wounds. Moses Ezekiel went on to become an internationally renowned artist whose works are still displayed in Europe and the United States. Among his honors was a German knighthood. Looking at the men these boys became, one pauses and wonders about the ones who died in that battle.

Outside the museum building, we visited the Bushong farm. That day on the grounds of this prosperous farm founded prior to the Revolution, 1200 soldiers fought and died. Today's sunny day and greening fields give no inkling of the terror that must have knotted the guts of soldiers who saw long lines of men marching shoulder to shoulder suddenly appear at top of the rise of one of these rolling hills. As the battle raged around them, the Bushong family hid in the cellar, praying, I'm sure, that they would survive.

Every Civil War site is a reminder of the fact that war is hell. But a visit to New Market, a tribute to mere boys, is a moving and important experience.


Friday, April 24, 2009

JODI PICOULT'S PERFECT MATCH

Jodi Piccoult is a best-selling author. Some of her readers practically live for her next book and find them powerful, emotional, compelling novels dealing with some of life’s moral and ethical questions. My first exposure, Perfect Match, does deal with a compelling moral question and does include intense emotions. It offers the reader some time to examine her own views. But I did not become a Jodi Piccoult fan.

Why then include this review in Third Age Traveler? Perfect Match is a good travel book despite its hefty 350 pages. It’s an escape. It would do well on a beach, well in a plane, and if you travel by car, well as an audio-book because you really don’t have to concentrate. Sometimes a book like this is exactly right. Besides, she’s worth a try; hordes of readers keep her on the NYTimes best seller list.

The plot has great potential. A prosecuting attorney, who deals with child molestation cases and who understands the trauma to children who must relive their experiences in order to testify, finds her own son is a victim. Knowing full well the distinct possibility that his molester will not be punished despite further trauma inflicted by the court system on her five year old boy, she feels being a good mother means protecting him at all costs. That’s intriguing. What does “at all costs” mean?

Piccoult creates a series of characters and a series of twists that made me want to finish the book. But so much of the plot was too much over the top. I who believe firmly in “willing suspension of disbelief” was pushed beyond my capability. The characters had potential but were not developed enough for me to get involved with them. As I reader, I want to be involved with the characters. The main character, Nina Frost, did not work for me. Her symbolic name, for instance, is like a hammer beating me on the head. For a prosecutor, she seems woefully unable to look beyond the next step. Still, the premise is believable, and I did not abandon the book.

Piccoult is, at best, a mediocre writer. I did like the idea that she tried to tell her story from the viewpoints of different characters. That approach lets the reader get inside the characters’ heads, and when it works, it is good. I appreciated this technique when she gives the son’s take on what is going on around him. His violation involves the entire family and potentially can tear it apart. Piccoult is able to focus on the trauma, not only on the event but also on the way it impacts an individual, a family, and a legal system.

Perfect Match is too long. A good editing excising 100 pages would have helped. Still, with all my hesitation, I finished the novel. Obviously I am torn. I also find that I am thinking about some of the points she does expose. There are other writers of this genre I enjoy more, so don’t count me in as a Jodi Piccoult fan. I rather talk about some of these issues with friends over a series of ice cold martinis.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

LIMONCELLO--A TREAT IN GOSHEN



Limoncello at the Orange Inn
159-167 Main Street
Goshen, New York 10924
845 294-18880

The history of the Orange Inn, dating to 1790, immediately makes it intriguing. Washington was here as well as other Revolutionary War era people, and during the Civil War it was often used as a haven for escaped slaves. The Inn was re-opened by the Kapiti brothers in 2006 as Il Limoncello, and its reputation in this town of old and historic buildings has grown and spread to neighboring communities.

The buzz caused us to make reservations for Rob’s birthday, and it was a good choice. In warmer weather, we could have dined on the porch, but we sat in the main dining room, nicely appointed and rich in wood. There is a distinct Italian ambiance, and it makes for a very pleasant first impression. Although it was a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was full, and a bit loud. That speaks to its local reputation. Things quieted down as two large parties left, but noise would be a factor to consider in the future.

Service was excellent throughout our evening, and there was a feeling of well-dressed, trained, professional bustle. The wait staff moved as if choreographed. I like it on this special occasion.

Rob and I began with Escargot Bourguignon. This presentation was different and delicious, with a spicy, tomato based sauce that distanced the dish from other escargot presentations. I recommend trying this appetizer.

Our salads were a crisp, fresh mixture of greens. Nothing extraordinary, but very nice and satisfying.

For my entrée, I chose Chicken Limoncello, a parmesan battered sautéed with lemon butter and asparagus. It was served with lightly steamed fresh vegetables. I thought the lemon butter was too much butter and not enough lemon—a bit too thick and heavy. But the chicken was nice, not quite tender enough to forego a knife, but nicely seasoned and quite good. I’d have this dish again, but I would ask for a lighter sauce.

Rob chose Veal Fantasia which was sautéed with broccoli, peas, mushroom, sun dried and fresh tomatoes in a light pink wine sauce. It was also accompanied by the steamed vegetables, and he enjoyed his dinner immensely.

While we had neither steak nor chops, the menu claims that their meat comes “from the butcher block of Arthur Avenue in Little Italy.” I’m not sure what that means. What does impress is that all the pastas are made fresh on premises. I think that requires a return visit and sampling.

We are fans of northern Italian cooking, and Limoncello took good care of us. Goshen hosts some lovely restaurants, and Limoncello can count itself as one.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TRAVEL TIPS: GREAT GOLFER GIFT

For you traveling golfers out there, this is an IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT. Universal Club makes an Adjustable Club—that is a full set of irons in ONE CLUB. The head ratchets and locks in to give the loft you desire. It’s pretty incredible! It even adjusts to a putter! But (to sound like Billy May) there’s more. This remarkable club can be ordered with a regular shaft OR a “traveling” shaft that collapses to fit in your luggage!

Worried about not having a driver or a wood? Universal makes these with a collapsible shaft. You need to explore the site to look at the possibilities.

This is also a COMPANY we recommend because of the way they treat their customers. We ordered the Universal Club for Michael to take with him to Iraq. We made a mistake and did not order the travel (collapsible) shaft. Rob emailed the company. They took back the incorrect club, replaced it with the collapsible club BUT DID NOT CHARGE US THE DIFFERENCE IN PRICE. They also included a special head cover—one Michael mentioned when he told us he received the club (and we hadn’t told him the story yet). They give special attention to the military. I am including an excerpt from their email to us.

We are a small company and it is just a small way of us saying thank you to them. I hope that your son enjoys his club and if he has any questions he is more then welcome to call us toll free 1-866-740-5156 or email me direct walkersclub@earthlink.net. It was my pleasure to be able to help out in a small way. You must be very proud of your son. Please tell him Thank You from us here at Univiversal Golf Club.

I am adding a permanent link to the site on Third Age Traveler under “Sites You Don’t Want to Miss.” Look into this club!