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Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Cocktail Hour: Beale Street Pub Crawl

It's time The World on Wheels hit the bluesiest street on earth, Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

Three blocks of wall-to-wall bars and nightclubs with only the occasional souvenir store to break it up.

Watch the Video!

On this crawl, we hit three of them, starting with the Beale Street Taproom. Upon entering, it becomes immediately obvious that smoking is still allowed in Tennessee bars. As we're just in the beginning stages of a cold, the smoky air grabs at our throats and makes breathing a bit labored.

The taproom boasts 60 taps on the wall and we take advantage of them to try a Schafly Kolsch. Schafly is a St. Louis brewery working in the shadow of the giant Anheiser Busch there.  They are making some inroads, though, as the owner told me in an e-mail that they're available on tap in Busch Stadium there.

It tastes like a good light beer but is still better than the King of Beers that in competes against.

The Beale Street Taproom is also remembered as the place that Letty started her love affair with Fireball Whiskey, a Canadian cinnamon flavored version.

Next was Alfred's on Beale where a nice, rock due serenaded us as we tried the Ghost River Ale, which turned out to have a bit of a sour taste that Letty really liked.  We also tried the Yazoo Dos Beeros which had a hint of sweetness. Yes, that's right, sweet 'n sour at Alfreds.

Yuengling is also on tap all over Memphis so we tried America's oldest beer here too. Pretty good.

Last was Rum Boogie where Darren Jay and the Delta Souls pumped out some great blues while we tried Sam Adams...a decent lager we've had many times before...and Batch 19, a pre-prohibition style lager made by Coors that is actually pretty darn decent, better than the Sam Adams that we're drinking against it.

Watch the video for the complete story and come along to one of the most musical places you'll ever see.



Friday, January 29, 2016

Tennessee Touring: Dining and Drinking in Memphis

Now that we're properly settled in to our comfy room at the Springhill Suites in downtown Memphis, it's time to do a little exploring.

Tonight, we're catching the old, wheelchair accessible trolley from the front of our hotel and heading to Beale Street.

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Actually, we could have walked. It's only six blocks but being after dark in a strange city, it seemed prudent to take transportation instead.

Beale Street is justifiably world famous for all the bars and nightclubs lining a three-block stretch in downtown.  Live music is the norm here and each club has speakers out front so you can hear what the band sounds like before you go in. It's like auditioning each club before you commit.

First, we need to eat. Tim had heard about Dyer's and stipulated we must eat at least one meal there.

Dyer's is your basic diner. Although they sell balogna sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, and more, it's the burgers that are their claim to fame.

Actually, strike's their grease that is their claim to fame.

Open 101 years at the time of this visit in 2013, they have never thrown away the grease and continue to use it each day. At the end of the evening, the grease is filtered, put in a metal can, and locked in a safe. The next day, it is taken out, put in a large frying pan, and put to use frying the different meats here.

The burgers are deep fried in that grease.  Yes, its sounds gross and is not the healthiest thing you can put in your body but this will be a once-in-a-lifetime event for us.  

The patties are small so Tim and I double up and get double cheeseburgers. I opt for some deep-fried onions on mine also.

They are very juicy or greasy, depending on your view, but they are also very delicious.  We have some fries on the side, which are not cooked in the old grease, and they were just mediocre.

Two doors down is Alfred's on Beale where we drink a few brews and listen to some great, classic rock and roll from a duo that is part of a larger group, Freeworld.  I throw some requests and tips their way which they handle with great musical aplomb.

Between sets, one of the musicians...his name is Andy...comes over and sits at our table. We talk Memphis and Los Angeles music with him for the entire break before he goes up for the next set.

Leaving Alfred's and Freeworld, we cross the corner and end up at Rum Boogie, which has hosted the likes of Billy Joel, AC/DC, Kenny Loggins, Marty Stuart, and many more. Tonight, it's Darren Jay and the Delta Souls pumping out some great blues while we sip some more of Beale's finest.

As we watch til the end of the set, it's a great night of greasy burgers, rock 'n roll, and some great Delta blues.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 25, 2016

On the Elvis Trail: A Day Trip to Tupelo

It’s an easy, almost 4 hour flight on Southwest nonstop from LAX to Nashville. Baggage is waiting at the carousel and we actually got the minivan we reserved from Dollar Rent a Car. Tim says it’s one of the easiest travel days we’ve ever had.

He’s right.

It’s a pleasant, 3 hour or so drive from there to Memphis, the first leg of this trip. Downtown is easy to find, as is our hotel…the Springhill Suites…located in the heart of this city.

By the time we unpack, it’s a bit late for dinner as a Justin Timberlake concert has overwhelmed most of the restaurants in the area. We get some serviceable food at the snack bar of the Courtyard hotel next door.
Watch the Video!

In the morning, it’s time for our first adventure. Among other things we want to accomplish during this trip, we want to take the Elvis Trail. Into the van and 100 miles later, we’re in the very pretty town of Tupelo, Mississippi.

First things first…we want to eat.

In downtown, we smell some good smoke and spy a handicapped parking spot in front of an open restaurant.

This building used to be Kermit’s Bakery and in its day, the Presley family would buy birthday cakes here for their not-yet-famous son. Today, it’s Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen.

We grab a table in the middle of the room and the cook comes over to tell us about his braised pork, persimmon burrito and explains that everything they serve comes from local farmers.

Looking at the menu, nothing inspires us as much as the special, so we order two burritos to split between the three of us.

It is very good, with the sweetness of the persimmon setting off the smoky flavor of the pork just so. The owner chats with us, asking us where we’re from. We see the bottles of Sriracha on the shelf and tell him that we live about a mile from that factory.

(Come along on our tour of the Sriracha factory here)

This leads to a chat about the factory’s recent problems with local residents complaining about the smell. Others in the restaurant come up and introduce themselves and start talking. Pretty soon, we’ve met just about everybody in the place.

Tupelo is a very friendly town.

Asked why we’re there, we tell them about the Elvis Trail theme. We’re told to check out the adjacent hardware store, where Gladys Presley bought her son his first guitar, and the Lyric theater around the corner where he played his first show.

Visiting the hardware store and taking a little tour around downtown gets us ready for our next stop, Elvis’ birthplace located in a park on the other side of town.

The chapel, visitor’s center, a church, and a large visitor’s center surround the tiny little house…maybe 500 square feet…that launched Elvis into our world.

We visit the trail markers…Elvis is on both the Country and Blues trails…and even see the outhouse where the future king had his throne.

It’s a neat stop to see where this history took place but I’ll also remember the friendly locals and good food in the pretty town of Elvis’ birth. We’ll also remember the cold that one of those locals passed onto us that would haunt us for the rest of this trip.

Our day trip to Tupelo over, we head back to Memphis to see what we can find there.

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick

All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 24, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: My Golden Valentine

St. Valentine's Day is coming soon. We don't do much about it here at the Musick compound because 6 days later is our day for love, our wedding anniversary.  I do like romance but like to celebrate it every day, not just occasionally.

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Still, that gives me some inspiration for a new cocktail.  I call it My Golden Valentine because of the dark rum and amaretto that gives it a golden hue before shaking.

Here's the recipe:

INGREDIENTS (two drinks):
2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. amaretto
1/2 oz. lime juice
splash of bitters
splash of grenadine
3 oz. cranberry cocktail

Put all ingredients into a shaker 1/3 full of ice, shake and strain over ice into highball or pint glasses.



Wednesday, January 13, 2016

From the Desert to the Sea to All of Southern California: Winter Sports in the L.A. Area

It's been said of the Los Angeles area that you can go surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. It is very possible to do but, unless you're a very hard core surfer with an excellent wet suit, the winter water in our ocean will chill you to the bone.

But, if you were really adventurous, absolutely.  It wouldn't be a stretch to surf Huntington or Newport and zip up to our local mountains for a few hours on the snow.

Especially this winter when the long promised El Niño has arrived and is dumping record amounts of snow in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountain ranges.

I'll let someone else tell you about the joys of winter surfing on our local beaches but I do have quite a bit of experience in our local mountains...but fair warning: I haven't skied here for several years.

At one point, I can remember 15 separate ski areas in our area. Now, due to mergers and closures, we're down to 6.  Here are my thoughts on the areas I've skied over the years.

Big Bear Lake - The eastern most portion of our local mountains contains our biggest areas, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, which are now owned by Mammoth Mountain (the giant ski area up north). 

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
Bear Mountain (formerly Goldmine and formerly Moonridge before that) is my favorite of the two...longer trails, more vertical drop, higher summits, and better snow. But Snow Summit bought them out a few years ago and the area kind of turned into a step sister to it's new owner, which got most of the money and upgrades over the years.  Still, a great mountain for our area and one of the oldest and more established adaptive ski programs in the west.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia kallahar under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Snow Summit is a smaller, more cozy place to ski.  Not as challening as Bear Mountain and tends to draw most of the crowds.  It's plusses are that it has complete coverage for snowmaking and you can also do some night skiing here.

Rebel Ridge is a defunct ski area that had some really nice, challenging terrain at bargain prices but that is all just history now. You can now go tubing and sledding there and it's called Big Bear Snow Play.

There was also another, small challenging hill there called Snow Forest.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia me under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
Running Springs - Lake Arrowhead is a big, beautiful and private lake up in the San Bernardino Mountains...a little closer to civilization than Big Bear (about a half hour closer)...and creator of their own ski area, too.  It's changed owners a few times over the years but Snow Valley remains a key player in the Southern California ski scene in nearby Running Springs.  

It's a huge area (by local standardss) serviced by an equally impressive array of lifts with a very large snow making operation. Night skiing is also available here, giving Inland Empire students a place to come up and burn off some of those calories after school at reduced rates.  While the bottom is mostly bunny hill, there is plenty of terrain up above for those of higher skills.

Green Valley Ski Area is another defunct ski hill in the area that couldn't keep up, especially after its facilities burned down in a fire.

Wrightwood - Formerly home to three separate areas that merged into one. Holiday Hill and Ski Sunrise (formerly Table Mountain) became part of the umbrella of the Mountain High (formerly Blue Ridge) Ski Area. It's biggest plus is that there is no windy, mountain driving required to get there and is the easiest resort to drive to from the cities down below.

In my opinion, Holiday Hill (now Mountain High East) is the best of the bunch here but is now mostly used as an overflow hill for the main Mountain High area (called Mountain High West).  It has nice, long trails. Some are very challenging, such as the two very steep faces you see from the parking lot. An intermediate trail winds down from the east side in the trees and beginners catch the lift back down at the top of those steep runs.

Mountain High West holds a lot of memories for me too, as it was the closest night skiing venue to my college and found me coming up a lot for some midweek, after dark thrills.  One time, finding it closed when we arrived, my friend Donnie and me hiked up to the top with our equipment just to get a ride in and not have a wasted trip.

The former Ski Sunrise is mostly used as a snow play area now.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Eric T. Gunther under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Mt. Baldy - For most people in the eastern part of the L.A. Basin, this is the closest ski area to get to, although the last couple of miles are probably the hairiest bit of driving you can find to get to any of our local slopes.

Technically, it's our biggest ski area but in reality, only the upper portion is dependable for skiing. The lift out of the parking lot takes you up to the base lodge and the run underneath is extremely steep and usually doesn't have enough snow to ski on even if you're expert enough to handle it. 

About half of the slopes on top face south so the snow readily turns to slush in the sun and sometimes melts completely. It doesn't have the financial resources of the bigger areas to the east so it aways seems to be hanging by a thread.  It does attract a good, local crowd, though, and is a great place to ski with fresh snow.

It does not offer any accessiblity at all for wheelchair users.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Eekster under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
Angeles Crest Highway - Talk about hanging on by a thread. Mt. Waterman didn't open at all for 7 years and is still waiting to open this year, although their website says they'll be opening in a few days as of this writing.  Mt. Waterman...and it's long gone sister area, Kratka Ridge...are the closest areas to central L.A., the Westside, and the Valley, sitting just above La Cañada on Angeles Crest Highway between Mt. Wilson and Wrightwood.

They also have a problem that no other local area has, a complete lack of snowmaking capability. In a warm climate, prone to drought, it's not a good recipe for financial success to rely on natural snow only.

From the bottom, at it's tiny parking lot (really just a wide spot on the road), all you see are the steepest runs you can imagine ending abruptly at the pavement with nary any slow down area at all. The easier slopes are up at the top prompting most people here to take the chair back down.

I've only skied at Kratka Ridge which was a fabulous place to ski when there was good snow and run by some of the friendliest folks you'll find. The owner once saved my butt when my motorcycle broke down nearby, offering me cocoa and a seat by the fireplace until I could be rescued, so I do have a bit of a soft spot for this defunct area.

The Mt. Waterman side of things could sure use some good breaks during this El Niño year to get back on track financially, it will be interesting to see if they can hang on.

Nearby, Buckhorn Ski Club operates their own little rope-tow serviced hill and lodge. It's a private ski club but you can get a 'tryout' on their hill for only $10. I've never tried this place so have nothing to report on it.

So, active ski areas are
Big Bear Mountain Resorts (Snow Summit and Bear Mountain)
Snow Valley
Mountain High (Mountain High, Mountain High East, and Mountain High North)
Mt. Baldy
Mt. Waterman
Buckhorn Ski Club

Defunct areas are
Rebel Ridge
Green Valley
Krakta Ridge

Snow Forest

There you have it, the Alpine skiing options for those of you who want to get a little time on the slopes in while you're here in sunny, Southern California.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

LAKE TAHOE - Skiing Memories

Kirkwood Ski Area
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Roman Fuchs under CC-BY-SA license

Lake Tahoe is a very special place for me. It was my annual Spring Break destination for a week of skiing and...uh...other activities while in my younger days.

Lots of memories from those days...winning over $400 on roulette starting with a dollar and treating my friends to a midnite Billy Preston concert at Harrah's with the money; nearly skiing off a cliff while following someone we thought knew what they were doing (he did go off, we didn't...luckily it was deep powder at the bottom); being there the year over 240" of snow fell in just a few days setting off a deadly avalanche at Alpine Meadows; and sitting in a hot tub when it was five below.

Now that El Niño has arrived, the snow around the lake is better than it's been in years. Tahoe is home to over a dozen ski areas.  Here are my favorites:

1. Kirkwood - about 25 miles southwest of Tahoe.  Simply the best place I've ever skiied.  Very challenging with some remote open bowls and skinny chutes.  Worth the effort to get to.  Limited adaptive skiing available (mostly for blind skiers).

2. Alpine Meadows - Large, open bowls.  Great crowd, little attitude.  Skiing available late into the season...I've skiied here in June.  Full adaptive ski program.

3. Mt. Rose/Slide Mountain - Scary steep slope with unbelievable views of Reno on the Slide Mountain side of things.

4. Sierra-at-Tahoe - Known as Sierra Ski Ranch in my Spring Break days.  Mellow, fun place.  Not too challenging, but this is where we almost went off the cliff during a run through the trees.

5. Heavenly Valley - Massive.  Expensive.  And a bit overrated.  I do like the extremely long runs and being able to start in one state and end in another.

6. Squaw Valley - Eh, I didn't really have too much fun here.  Much better at any of the resorts above.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Belgian Sour Ale Taste Off

To me, Belgium is the beer capitol of the world.  In this small country, over 250 breweries make the best beer on earth.  Today, we’re tasting a tiny sliver of that tradition with our Belgian sour ale taste off.

Belgium is divided into two linguistic regions, Wallonia and Flanders.  French is spoken in Wallonia and Flemish (similar to German) is spoken in the northern region.  This area along the Dutch border is where the sour ales generally hail from.

Watch the Video!

Sour ale is a beer that, just like the name says, tastes sour.   Sometimes it’s just a hint of sourness and other times you’ll think you’re swilling vinegar.  It’s definitely an acquired taste for most people.  It’s a taste I’m trying to acquire…sour beer is pretty difficult for me to get a handle on.  My wife, on the other hand, loves sour ales and it’s her favorite beer type.  Unfortunately for her, most beer drinkers in our area aren’t big fans of the stuff so it’s pretty hard to find.

We’re lucky that we have a few pubs nearby that serve a selection of Belgian beers.  One, Lucky Baldwin’s, has a Belgian Beer Festival each year and this is where my wife found out she liked the sours.

Today, we’re tasting two ales. Monk’s Café is a Flemish sour ale.  Brewed just south of the Dutch border, it’s made especially for Monk’s Café, a Belgian restaurant in Philadelphia.  It come out a dark, copper color with a nice, 1 inch head. The sour taste is not overwhelming and is not sweet like some of the Flemish ales you find available around here, like the krieks you get at Trader Joe’s.

The second ale is Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flanders red ale.  This one is a little sourer but still drinkable to me.  It’s just slightly redder than Monk’s.  It’s brewed farther south, about 50 miles south of Brugges.

At BevMo, the Monk’s Café sour ale is about $3.50 a bottle and Duchesse de Bourgogne is $5.49.