Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas in the Capitol: A Floating Dinner in Sacramento


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) We must like this hotel, we've stayed here repeatedly over the last decade and a half. At first, it was called the Hallmark Suites. Great free breakfast bar, cocktail lounge, and pool area. Nice two room suites.



It became the Sierra Suites after that then changed into a Hyatt House. All still the same but looking a little worn at our last stay a couple of years ago. Soon after we checked out, it closed down and underwent a year-plus renovations and reopened a few months ago as a Doubletree Suites.


Watch the Video!

Nice location across the street from the Sunrise light rail station, giving you easy access to downtown Sacramento to the west and the even nicer Old Town Folsom to the east.



This time, I was offered a two story loft unit with two bathrooms, mobility access, and two bedrooms each with a king size bed, for the same price as the two room suite we had before.

Well, I can't pass an offer like that up...



After checkin, we take our delicious Doubletree cookies with us to our room in the next building. 



The room is indeed spectacular. A large living room with a sink, fridge, coffee maker, and microwave welcome us as we enter (I could picture the sink area being a kitchen before the renovation. Comfortable sofa, deskchair, and large tv dominate the rest of this room.

Beyond that is the downstairs bedroom with it's king-sized bed and bathroom. Funny thing about this accessible bathroom...it is very large but has a tub without a shower on a hose and...no...the management has no bathchair they can put in there. There's a grab bar next to the toilet and a roll-under sink and no door.  I mean none...no sliding door, no curtain, nothing.

(Management offered to move us to a smaller room which would mean Tim would have to move to the sofabed instead of having that large king to himself)

Upstairs is another bedroom with another king bed for Letty and I. Another bathroom up here is smaller and more spartan but...get this...it has a walk-in shower! Swap the tub downstairs with this one and the room would be close to perfect, except for that missing door downstairs.

We do travel with a spare shower chair on road trips for just such an occasion but the room is just too darn nice and big to move to a smaller version. We'll see about some other arrangement for compensation later.

I go to a nearby Wendy's and we feast on Christmas Eve around our hotel room table on some hot 'n juicy burgers while watching old movies on TV. It's a very comfortable, cozy, and low-key evening.

In the morning, we head to the lobby for a light breakfast. In it's previous lives, the hotel had a great, free breakfast bar. The buffet and omelet station are still here but for a price now. A "Continental" buffet is $12.95 and the full buffet is $16.95. A bit much since we basically just want some bagels and fruit.

It's very slow on Christmas morning. The hotel is mostly empty and nobody is eating. The counter guy makes us a deal...pay for a continental buffet, which he'll knock 10% off of because it's Christmas...and we can all share it.

That'll do (pro tip: don't be afraid to negotiate a better deal when you've got the upper hand).



We rest up and clean up (Letty and I have excruciating back pain today we think that was brought on by the uncomfortable couch in the Marriott we stayed at on the way up here) before loading up and heading to Old Sacramento along the riverfront in downtown.



On arrival, we have about a half hour to kill before our reserved time, so we head over to Candy Heaven, a large candy shop known for their generous free sample policy. Sample we do - we even sampled the chocolate covered crickets - and buy some candy for later.



It's time to eat so we head over to the Delta King, an historic paddle wheeled river boat permanently docked here. We're shown to a nice table and settle in to eat.



This is becoming a tradition for us to come up here and have Christmas dinner on the boat. It's the only time each year the restaurant here serve their turkey dinner.



It's among the best turkey dinners I've ever tasted with a perfectly roasted and juicy bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. It's delicious and filling (that's why we went light on breakfast).



While the entire menu is available, I come strictly for the turkey dinner. Letty and Tim will digress to other menu items such as cioppino, pasta, or even fish 'n chips.



Tummies sated and spirits high, we head back to the hotel to enjoy the rest of the holiday together.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 27, 2020

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The Gibson



The Gibson is basically the same thing as a martini. The one big difference is that instead of an olive in the glass, you use a cocktail onion...which is a pearl onion that has been packed in brine.



Watch the Video!


INGREDIENTS: (two drinks)


2 oz. gin (or vodka)
1 oz. dry vermouth
4 cocktail onions


Put two cocktail onions on a toothpick. Place each toothpick in a cocktail glass. Put the liquid ingredients into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake and strain into the glasses


Cheers!


110 Calories per drink.


-Darryl

Friday, December 25, 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

PLACES THAT DON'T SUCK: The Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, Tennessee


NOTE: This is one of our occasional, VERY occasional posts on places that are huge tourist draws but manage not to suck at the same time.

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) It's synonymous with Country music. If there wasn't already a Country Music Hall of Fame, being a member here would count just as much. Everybody in the music business strives to play on this stage.


Now, the Grand Ole Opry show is enough of a draw but what makes it special is the winter version when it returns to its roots in downtown Nashville as opposed to the modern auditorium that's attached to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to the east, over the Cumberland River.


In the cold months, the Opry returns to its original home...the Ryman Auditorium, just a block north of Broadway in downtown Nashville.

The Ryman has its roots as a church so it's not a stretch to see why this is called the "mother church of Country Music."  These are hallowed halls for many.


While there are standalone concerts at the Ryman throughout the year, it's the Opry that made it famous. The Opry is what people want to come to see.

The Opry is not the building, the Opry is a radio show put on before a live audience. It's old and has been on the air in pretty much the same format for over 90 years. That is the longest running radio show in the United States.

People come to be enterained by a half-dozen or so entertainers...some well known, others just starting to make their mark in the business. Entertainers come here because it is the most important stage they can play.


That formula right there...people thrilled for the chance to be here to see the show and entertainers who consider playing here the highest honor they can aspire to...is the main reason this place doesn't suck.

The pricing is moderate, the staff wonderfully friendly, as are your seatmates on the pews that make up the seating area for this place.  The show is very entertaining and you'll wonder where the time went when you're done.


Wheelchair accessible seating is available at all levels and price points. Management also enforces that those seats only go to those who need it so someone won't sucker you out of those front row, prime spots.

Most people would say this is the biggest must-see attraction in Nashville. Most people are right. There is nothing bigger or better on the Nashville scene to brag about when you get back to your friends back home.

For more things to do in Nashville, the Groupon folks would like you to check out this link.

Darryl
Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Cool Nights Call for a Hearty Hunter's Stew


It can still get a little chilly at night here in Northern California. A hearty stew is just the thing to take the chill off. This is even appropriate for a big entrée, we had it for Thanksgiving instead of the traditional turkey.


This recipe uses a cast iron Dutch oven inside of a conventional oven. It takes several hours to finish but most of that time, it's "set and forget." Just a little bit of preparation at the beginning and two stirrings during cook time.

For a different take, I use ground elk which is leaner and more iron rich than beef, along with some ground chuck. Other game meats like venison or bison can also be used.


INGREDIENTS  
1 lb. - ground elk
1 lb. - ground beef chuck
1 large onion
5 med. carrots
6 med. yellow potatoes
10 oz. - frozen peas
2 cubes beef boullion
2-28 oz. cans - whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup - sherry
1 tablepoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon - thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup - cornstarch
2 tablespoons - olive oil



My wife and son don't like chunks of onion so, instead of dicing, I put the onion in the blender on a medium speed with 2 tablespoons of water for 5 seconds (you can dice if you like). Then, it's peel the carrots and slice into quarter inch chunks.



I quarter the potatoes and set aside in a bowl with the carrots.


Preheat the oven to 285 degrees. Brown the meat in a little olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, on medium high on the stove top in the Dutch oven.


Layer the ingredients, in the order listed starting with the meat.
Cover and put in oven for 2 hours. At that time, remove cover and stir. Cover it back up and cook another two hours. Stir again and cover. Cook one more hour and serve.


Darryl Musick

Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 21, 2020

Tennessee Touring: The Hall of Fame and Studio B


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) Winding down our adventure in Music City and the home of the Delta Blues, we're left with one must-see from Tim's list, the Country Music Hall of Fame.

We could have also spent the evening out at the Loveless Cafe barn to see the Music City Roots TV show but, at this point, we'd seen eleven acts in different concerts and clubs along the way plus had a CD shoved into our hands as we walked Nashville's streets by a unknown artist trying to get known (turned out to be a compilations of Christmas songs and the singer sounded like an animated chipmunk).

It's Letty's turn to have a bad day with whatever virus we picked up in Tupelo. She bravely soldiers on but you can tell she's not feeling the love today.


Thirty degrees with a snowy rain is not particularly inviting either but at least there is reasonably priced indoor parking half a block from the Hall.

It's warm inside and the Hall has an instutitional smell (like a library or school) that is not sitting well with my sick wife. We get our tickets, enhanced with a tour of RCA's historic Studio B, and head on in.

Another audio tour, another hour or so of helping Tim punch the right numbers to match whatever display he's sitting in front of


It's interesting to a point...you get to see Nudie's sewing machine, Elvis's "solid gold" Cadillac, Webb Pierce's silver dollar and gun car (Buck Owen's had a duplicate of this car, now hanging over the bar at the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield), many musical instruments, outfits, and gold records.


My favorite exhibit, though I do not think it's permanent, was the Bakersfield Sound exhibition. Probably because I'm biased towards that city but it weaves a great history of the two men who dominated it...Merle Haggard and Owens...and the intricate, weirdly intersecting family histories they had together.

Other less familiar names like Homer Joy along with notables such as Dwight Yoakam are also put into the context they have with that California oil city.


We check out all the plaques in the actual Hall...a big rotunda at the end of the tour...then head back into the lobby to wait for the bus to take us to Studio B.

A ten minute ride (yes, the buses are wheelchair accessible) and we're at the back door of the famous studio. While it's mostly retired today (Studio A next door is it's current replacement), some artists still like to make special arrangements to use it, such as Marty Stuart on his Ghost Train album.

Elvis recorded over 200 of his songs here, more than any other studio.


The tour starts off in a small lobby and it's significance is explained to us as well as a listing of some of the top artists who have recorded there.  At the end, we are ushered into the studio itself as we hear some more tales...


The lights are different colors so that they could be used to set the mood; Elvis liked to record at three in the morning; the room is perfectly acoustical, there is no echo at all, a special reverb box had to be built into the wall to accomodate those who wanted it.

We're allowed to sit at Elvis' piano...but not play it...and then we're off.



Nice addition to the Elvis Trail but still not as awesome as Sun Studio was back in Memphis.

The bus driver tying Tim down in the bus tells me an elderly gentleman who has just parked nearby is Harrold Bradley. 


Harrold and his brother, Owen, opened up Nashville's first recording studio in 1954, starting the industry that Nashville now thrives on.

My wife wonders what the driver told me, so I tell her. Soon the word spreads to the tour guide who announces it to the bus. A couple of women sitting in front of us excitedly chirp up "finally, we saw someone famous here!"

After hanging with Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Ranger Doug and meeting Leon Rhodes, Anita Stapleton and seeing all the stars at the Opry, I'm thinking "if that's the only famous person you've seen on your trip, you ain't been trying hard enough..."


Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Cocktail Hour - Scarlet O'Hara


Here's a new one for us, a southern classic.


Watch the Video!


Ingredients:

1 oz. whiskey
1 oz. Grand Marnier
juice of one small lime
top off with cranberry cocktail

Mix all ingredients into a highball glass filled with ice.

Cheers!

Darryl

Friday, December 18, 2020

Tennessee Touring: Nashville - The One With The Music...


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) The day trip to Franklin for brunch was just what I needed to fight the blues of the first day in Nashville.  Our theme for this trip is music, so now we'll jump in with both feet.

It's 7:00pm and we're at a non-descript office park south of downtown. Looking for a place to park, we see a guy in an empty lot waving frantically at us to park.


Watch the Video!



"You going to the Jumpers' show?"

"Yep."

"That'll be five dollars, park right over there.  Y'all have a good time, OK?"

Mightly friendly but what comes next is a bit disturbing. Another guy working the lot pulls up and doesn't shut his door quick enough for the first guy's liking. Pretty soon, guy number one is yelling at guy number two. Then both are yelling, then guy one tells guy two he's fired, then pushing and shoving, then a truce is reached and I guess guy number two is still working.

"Sorry about that, he's just a bad apple.  Y'all enjoy the show," guy number one tells us.

Okay, then.

At the other end of the building is 3rd and Lindsley, a small nightclub that you blink and miss.  We're here to see the Time Jumpers, a band made of of some of Nashville's biggest names that like to get together each Monday night here, play music together, drink beer, and just have a good time.

If' you're there, you get to hang with them and have a good time, too.

It's low-key and casual. We're treated to the sight of Vince Gill...a Country Music Hall of Famer and multi-Grammy winner...on stage setting up his own gear. No roadies tonight.



Singer of Riders in the Sky, Ranger Doug Green steps by our table and has a little chat. He poses for the picture above and tells us Dawn Sears...wife of the band's leader, Kenny Sears and one of the best female vocalists anywhere...will not be there tonight because she is starting round two of her chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer.

It's a shame it's happening to such a great singer. (Note - sadly, Dawn lost her battle to cancer in 2014 - Ed)

I get a CD for Letty so she can get to work getting signatures. Tim and I had met Billy Thomas, Vince Gill's regular drummer, before. He didn't remember me but it came in handy to get him to start the signature fest.




Letty went to work for the rest of the band, me filling in when I could get one easy, and got Sears, Vince Gill, Andy Reese, and Paul Franklin...one of the best steel guitar players around.

It's truly an all-start cast and when the swinging starts at 9:00, the place gets rockin'.



Kenny Sears, the leader and head fiddle player, is celebrating a birthday tonight as is Gill's wife, Amy Grant. A cake is cut for Kenny and Amy takes to the stage to belt out a song before giving way to Gill's daughter Jennifer, who also has a great set of those Gill pipes.

At the end of the show, a few band members scoot out the back very quickly but the remainder settle in at the bar. Ranger Doug had sung "Put Another Candle on Your Birthday Cake" for Kenny and Amy, which was Sheriff John's song when I was a kid.

I went up to him at the bar and thanked him for singing that as it reminded me of those childhood memories. He told me he grew up in Costa Mesa, then sang another Sheriff John song for me at the bar.  



It's another day in downtown Nashville in the morning as we battle the bitter cold (34 and dropping) at Broadway Brewhouse. Just a place we wandered past, really, but it turned out they make a very good gumbo.

The hot stew, warm dining room, and cool beer seemed to be just what we needed.



After, we head up the street to the Ryman Auditorium for a tour.  The Ryman is the historic home of the Grand Ole Opry, our country's longest running radio show.



Although they moved the Opry to a new theater east of town, most people really consider this its proper home. The folks who run it must have taken it a bit to heart. Now, the show moves back to the old and renovated Ryman each fall and winter.



Inside, we see a short video, see some exhibits of costumes and musical instruments, take a souvenir photo, and see the snow starting to fall outside.



Tim is not doing well in the cold. He has a thick jacket, gloves, and a hat but only a thin pair of pants as the bottom layer. Back to the hotel to warm up and, while he's doing  that, I run over to a nearby sporting goods store to get him some long Johns, which help out quite a bit.



Now, it's back to the Ryman for the show. Tonight, we're attending the Grand Ole Opry with seats in the third row.  It's one of three wheelchair spots on the bottom. There are a few more up in the balcony.



The show is great with eight acts doing three numbers each. John Conlee, Katie Armiger, Sundy Best, Riders in the Sky (there's Ranger Doug again!), Chris Janson, Bill Anderson, Marshall Chapman, and...the evening's headliner...Craig Morgan, who is celebrating five years as a member of the Opry tonight.

Great show! First timers Sundy Best, a duo from Kentucky, brought the house down with their music earning them a standing ovation on their first try.



In the morning, a forty minute drive takes us to the far, western side of the city and the Loveless Cafe. 

Famous for their biscuits, everybody tells you that you cannot leave Nashville without trying it. Yes you can, actually.  



The Loveless is really good, is home to another classic Nashville music show ("Music City Roots", taped each Wednesday night in the barn out back), and has great service.

Food is good but not so good as to overcome the forty minute drive each way and the two hour wait once we got there.



If you can get in quick before all the tour buses hit, maybe it might be ok.

Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved