Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Many Happy Returns

It has been a long trip, about 7 weeks in all, with highlights all along the way.  Here they are in no particular order:

Apple Turnover -- Texas Bakery, Galveston, Texas

Some days you really feel the need for something sweet early in the day.  The day we left Galveston was one such.  On the road our routine was to stop at a McDonald's drive thru for coffee, as it is always good and hot, but that day our sweet teeth were jangling.

Luckily we found the Texas Bakery on the main street out of Galveston called the Broadway.  The pastry was crisp and perfect whilst the filling unusually was not the gut wrenching sweetness that is often the case but actually tasted of apples.

Just perfect.

Chinese Hot Pot -- Uncle Dick's house, San Francisco, California

The final meal of our stay in SF was another home cooked meal, in fact it was a self-cooked meal, that included large numbers of extended family members called 'Da Binh Lo'.  This is a phonetic rendition on how it sounds to my non-Chinese ears.

Take a bubbling pot of broth, we had chicken and vegetable.  We also had 3 different pots, one just for the children.  Prepare endless thin cuts of meat, veggies, sea food of all sorts and leave on the side.  Connie did this and it took ages I imagine.

Seat everyone down in a mass and let them fondue style dip the meat, sea food, veggies, etc into the bubbling broth until cooked and then consume.  Dipping in sauce of varied types is optional.

As a family style event, this is about as good as it gets.  Because the ingredients are slight, it takes ages both to cook and to eat a sizeable amount so it really is difficult to eat too much.

But it is a fun way to get together with family.

Perry's Steakhouse, Austin, Texas

Possibly the best steak I have ever eaten or maybe just because it was a fantastic evening that was totally unplanned.

Viv and I had been to the Food & Wine Fair and were strolling around the downtown area fairly aimlessly until we saw a couple of young guys who were valet parking cars.  This usually means a restaurant so we paid attention and read the sign: Perry's Steakhouse.  In our experience steakhouses usually make good martini's which was just what we fancied at that moment so we went indoors and sat at the bar.

Very good the martini's were too.

Somewhere along the way at the Fair I'd picked up several beer glasses I had vague notions of bringing home and as we finished our first drink the barman asked if he could wash them for us.

How nice of him.  We had to have another drink!

When we ultimately reached a table to eat, we found an enormous, packed and elegant restaurant with yet another really pleasant and attentive waiter -- this has been widespread actually.

And the Porterhouse steak we shared… fabulous.

Wild Flowers -- Texas

The time of year was perfect for Texas wild flowers.  Springtime with plenty of sunshine.  They were everywhere.  Particularly at the side of the freeways we drove along.

The Dallas/Houston stretch was best as the grass in which the flowers were growing -- particularly the Blue Bonnets -- was so low.  By the following week, the grass had grown a bit more and concealed the flowers a bit more.

Just beautiful.

Redwoods -- Howland Hill Road, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Crescent City, California

The redwoods everywhere were fabulous but this 10 mile drive through a first growth redwood forest along unpaved roads was the best.

Huge redwoods all along the road with walking trails spiralling out in all directions.

Breath taking.

Stockyards -- Fort Worth, Texas

Who doesn't like cowboys?  It was the stuff we were brought up on after all.  The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Matt Dillon, Maverick … you name them.  Just brilliant.  And the Stockyards at Fort Worth tries to recreate it all.

The Stockyards Hotel was just about perfect too right down to the holes in the bedroom shutters I imagined were bullet holes from a shoot out.

The one thing I couldn't find was swinging doors in a saloon.  These days they are all air conditioned!  Aaagh.

Silvercar -- San Francisco and Dallas, Texas

I've droned on about how good this car rental experience was so won't carry on beyond repeating their own PR mantra -- "Finally a car rental company that doesn't suck".

It helps of course that everything is simple; the pick up, drop off and the car itself -- a fully loaded Audi A4.

I happen to like Audi A4's too so this is just about perfect for me!

Napa Valley -- Napa, California

We'd planned this ahead of time and rented a big car/wagon to take Viv and I along with Alex, Ali, Cat and Anna -- all our own family in fact.

The weather on the first day wasn't great but that didn't stop us having a terrific time.  Things cleared up the next day for our wine tasting series.  We had a lot of really nice wines too.

All in all just lovely.

Public Transport -- Miami, Florida

The day we caught the bus that first time in Miami to the tennis tournament on Key Biscayne set the standard for the trip as a whole and encouraged us to use public transport as and where we could.

It worked very well indeed.

"Houston, we have a problem" -- NASA Museum, Houston, Texas

Just brilliant.  All of it.  I pushed every button I could and imagined the launch of endless rockets to the Moon.

I was a teenager all over again!

Porterhouse Steak and Wine -- Deerfield Winery, Sonoma, California

We were staying at the Deerfield Winery as guests of our Bermuda friend John and had planned a wine tasting with our hosts, Robert and PJ, the managers and wine maker extraordinaire.  Unexpectedly we found a kitchen in the cottage we were in so bought in some local grass fed steak (we chose a huge Porterhouse) for dinner after that wine tasting.

We found an entire family already tasting wine with PJ so had to race to catch up (we didn't really have to) and by the time Robert arrived we were at the end of the tasting, the family had gone and PJ had opened yet another bottle.  This had gone after a while so Robert opened another …

The steak was fantastic too!

Espresso -- One Log House, Route 1, Northern California

Probably the best coffee of the entire trip was on Route 1 in northern California next to a tacky tourist attraction.

So good that I had to have another.

Honourable Mentions

Luckenbach, Texas

Barton Springs, Austin, Texas

Standard Pour Bar, Dallas, Texas

The first soda pop?

The other side of Waco, Texas but equally a part of history is Dr. Pepper.  Why?  Well, a gentleman by the name of Dr. Alderton moved from the east to Waco in 1884 to take up the role of pharmacist at a drug store owned by a Mr. Morrison in the centre of town.  Part, actually a lot, of his role was to create elixirs and other potions from a variety of ingredients to cure his customers' ailments.  But part too was to create nice tasting drinks or potions (again) that were drawn from a combination of things and when combined with recently discovered carbonated water became THE big new thing.  Hence the need for alchemists and pharmacists who knew how to create interesting blends.

Dr. Alderton

Carbonated drinks (or sodas) were first discovered in the 1870's when carbon dioxide (CO2) was first identified as a unique gas which was able to be separated and used on its own for specific purposes, one being man made carbonated drinks.  Fizzy prosecco dates from this time as opposed to champagne which occurs naturally and has been around for ages.

In those days plain water was full of deadly bacteria so was undrinkable unboiled.  Part of the soda water process was to first boil the water and then stuff it full of CO2 -- hence 'Good for Life'.  This is also why beer of all sorts -- including root beer and other non-alcoholic versions -- were created.  Part of the process includes boiling up the mash and that kills any bacteria.

The early soda bottles were ones of a kind with specialist stoppers, some being marbles others with hinged stoppers rather like Grolsch today so that when the bottle was opened, it opened with a loud 'pop' -- hence 'soda pop'.

Dr. Alderton went through dozens of different interations until one day in 1885 (a year ahead of Coca Cola) he used 23 different ingredients in a certain way and certain quantity which proved really popular.  Originally called 'The Waco' this in a couple of years' time would become the original 'Dr. Pepper'.

The original soda fountain -- soda water was originally called 'Crazy Water'

In a couple of years other local drug stores were inundated with requests for a 'Waco' to the point where they asked Mr. Morrison for syrup they could then use.  This was the start of resale.

Originally marketed as 'Good for Life', the brand was rolling.

Dr. Alderton soon left to become a renowned research scientist for a major pharma so Morrison had to hire a new chemist.  The man he hired, Dr Latimer, remixed the syrup as by then they were bottling the stuff for resale and needed the finished product to be better preserved in that format.

Turn of the 20th century bottling plant

The business took off when Morrison and Latimer created a bottling company in 1888.  Latimer had invented a ginger ale that initially was even more popular than Dr. Pepper -- at one point it was the official ginger ale of the US armed forces -- but in time it was Dr. Pepper that lasted.

Fast forward until the end of WWII and Dr. Pepper is still a regional drink but the then CEO changed PR focus to young people figuring get them young and they'll be customers for ever.  It worked and the company became national and went public.  Following acquisition by Cadbury Schweppes, it became global.

The new CEO started at the very bottom and worked his way up.  He's shown here as the best Dr. Pepper salesman
The CEO also started a new business advisory service whereby he would bring in other entrepreneurs in start ups to teach them the way through what sounded like sensible and fairly low key business counseling.

Adam Smith gets everywhere!

After a few more iterations of mergers, de-mergers, P/E buyout followed by another IPO, DrPepper (no space or full stop after the Dr any more) owns Snapple, Seven Up, Canada Dry and a host of other brands and is listed under DRS.

The Museum
But the museum is owned and run by DrP fanatics, not the company, and is a lot of fun.  Loads of old adverts, films and stuff.  Great old delivery trucks and early cool boxes too.

The cafe is traditional too -- for a float add vanilla ice cream, Dr. Pepper syrup then soda water.  First a big glob of soda water then a series of directed smaller jets of soda water to mix up the syrup.

Boy, is it sweet!  We only had a small one but when we were in Alaska in 2006, Alex and Ali would have big jugs of root beer floats for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  How could they do that?

Tremendous even though I actually don't like the stuff.  But I really do like to see how a global brand started up and became one though!  This was terrific.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rolling, rolling, rolling…

This is a somewhat belated post as in reprising the blogs of the last month, I see I missed a big one.  Namely that of our sojourn in the Stockyards of Fort Worth.


This was an excuse pure and simple to act out our cowboy fantasies as I'd found a cowboy hotel right in the complex and right opposite a place where we ate lunch and whose speciality was 'Calf Fries'.  Those of you who think that may be a veal chop or something like that, think again.  They are the unmentionable dangly bits of the bull deep fried!  Apparently this is a delicacy of the first order, however as it happened to be the day after our tequila evening, it was not even up for consideration.

Calf Fries do not mix with Tequila!

The Stockyards are a throwback to the 1870's and an important consolidation point for the cattle drives being on the Chisholm Trail that lead up from the south and continued up north to the rail crossroad town of Kansas City.  It was also the place where local ranchers from Texas itself brought their cattle to add to the drive which on average amounted to 2,500 or so head of cattle (slipping back into the vernacular again!).  At its peak before the railways came to Dallas in the late 1870's, some drives grew to 10,000 cattle, an enormous number when you consider that the average cattle drive used less than 20 people -- cowboys, support staff like cook, wranglers to look after the horses, etc.  This meant that the cowboys themselves had to be very, very good with horse, lassoo and controlling the longhorn which is a monstrous sized ornery critter.

The venue for all cowboy shows
Cattle drive through the streets

We went to an afternoon wild west show that included horse riding, shooting and lassoo demonstrations all of which the cowboys of today handled very adeptly (to my untrained eye anyway). I still cannot imagine how only 15 of them handled 2,500 ornery longhorns some of which weighed in excess of 1,000 lbs.

Amazingly there was an office suite in the midst of the yards themselves comprising regular offices as well as a museum and live auction which was ongoing when we visited.  Odd to think that a law or accounting firm would choose that location for an office but they did.

Nice museum too with an impressive array of cowboy pictures assembled in a sort of gallery of fame.


Later on was the rodeo itself.  Apparently the Fort Worth stockyard is the only place that has weekly rodeos nationwide.  Other places host them on occasion.  The format apparently is the same: bull riding (men only), individual lassooing and hog-tying of the smaller calves (men and women), speed riding (women only), team lassooing of a grown up steer (mixed but usually men), and finally bull riding again.  In between there were events for children from the audience: the older 8-12 year olds having to manhandle a calf whilst the even younger ones worked with a sheep!

Great fun throughout but on this day, bull won.  No rider stayed on for more than about 3 seconds compared to the target time of 8 seconds so the prize money and points were earned by nobody.  Not surprising really as the bulls are huge and very, very angry by the time they get into the ring with that whipper snapper on his back.  It often took ages to get the bull out of the ring as he appeared keen on goring something or someone right now, don't care who or what and raced around the rink in a threatening manner with people jumping out of the way to left and right.

Final thing on the agenda was Billy Bob's Honky Tonk right next door, a 6,000 person hall where BarBQ and country music ruled.  We watched a cajun sounding band there but missed out on the line dancing.

One thing that baffled me and I never managed to get it right is when and how to wear the cowboy hat. Women can wear their boots and/or hat seemingly at any time with any costume.  Guys on the other hand have strict rules of engagement.  No shorts at any time… unless you're an Australian apparently.  Jeans and shirt of some sort are the safest bets.

The right time to wear your cowboy hat
I wore mine at Billy Bob's and found out that I was in the minority of about 6 people who wore hats to the dance.  Loads of women wore hats and boots so Viv committed no fashion faux pas.

No fashion faux pas in sight

Action packed day made even better by the sight of a hen party with everyone wearing pink tu-tu's. Wondrous.