Sunday, February 28, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Trader Joe's Ale Taste Off

Each year, Trader Joe's comes out with specialty ales for the holidays. This year, they've released a Belgian style blonde (brewed by Unibroue in Canada) called Audaciter.

Watch the Video!

In recent years, it's been a brown abbey style ale, a vintage ale, meant to be aged a year before drinking.

Tim and I have put ourselves out in the patio with a bottle of last year's vintage ale along with the Audaciter to put 'em up against each other.

He's pronounced the vintage ale the best while I think they're about even, although the Audaciter would be better for a hot summer day and the brown ale better for a cold day.

Be sure to check out the video, above, for the entire tasting session and all our notes.



Friday, February 26, 2021

Can You Go Home Again? A Trip Back to Southern California

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first and also note that this trip took place about 8 months before lockdown hit. Most places here are still open but in outdoor or takeout mode only right now- Ed)  We're firmly Northern Californians now, but we still have family back in L.A. that we need to visit periodically. Mother's Day is one of those occasions so we've planned four nights back in our old neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley to visit with family, take our moms out to lunch, and try to have a little time to have fun ourselves.

Los Angeles traffic is way more dense and hectic than the rural traffic that we've become accustomed to but it's not as bad as it can get when we arrive. I'm more unsettled by the amount of stop lights along the way than how many cars are on the road.

We arrive at our hotel, the Embassy Suites in Arcadia. I'd booked a room with a roll-in shower...a necessity with Tim having a knee injury...and they gave us a room with a tub on the fourth floor. A talk with the front desk got us moved to a room with a roll in shower just a few steps from Registration, right on the lobby, and next to an exit door to the parking lot.

The layout of the room was OK...a king size bed in a separate bedroom, a queen size sofabed in the living room, and the accessible bathroom with roll-in shower separating the two

What was not OK was the location...constant and unending guest noise from the atrium lobby right outside our window and the slamming of that door to the parking lot whenever anyone used it which was approximately once per minute at all hours of the day.

Rather frazzled from no sleep the night before, I went to the front desk to complain about the room and why wheelchair rooms were always the worst ones in the hotel in general. It didn't get me any traction except apologies and "we have no more roll-in shower rooms available."

Back in the room, I started to call other hotels in the area when the manager called on the room phone. My wife answered and said "he's on the phone with another hotel, I'll have him call you right back."

I went to the desk to see what they wanted and, lo and behold, another roll-in room became available up on the second floor. We moved that afternoon. It was a marginally better room but still too noisy for what is the city's most expensive hotel. I'll just leave it there so this story doesn't become all about our crappy hotel room.

We took our moms out to a wonderful lunch at the historic Derby restaurant, right next door to the hotel. Later, we met our friend Scott over a couple of beers at the Mt. Lowe Brewery, just a block from the hotel. The next day, we had a family get-together at Letty's mom's house.

On the last day, we took that for ourselves. The Arcadia station of the Gold Line light railway is two blocks from our hotel. Tim loves the Gold Line and didn't want to leave L.A. without taking a ride.

From Arcadia, we rode all the way to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. We wandered around Olvera Street for a little bit before walking over to Chinatown.

We let Tim pick the lunch spot and he picked Philippe's on Alameda, between Chinatown and the old post office, Terminal Annex.

Not much changes in this 111 year old restaurant and that includes the delicious French dip sandwiches (they invented them here) accompanied by cheesecake and banana cream pie for dessert.

After lunch, it's back on the train to the more walkable confines of Pasadena.

Here, we find happy hour in full swing at the Blind Donkey bar on Union Street. Some beer and whiskey cheap happy hour prices...wet our whistle.

Just a few blocks away, the AMGEN Tour of California bike race has just come to a conclusion at the Rose Bowl. Soon, a group of black-Spandex clad men walk in and the bar erupts into applause.

Team Data Dimension...the South African team...has come in to celebrate the end of the race, give speeches, and drink themselves silly.

We join the party for a little bit before heading back to our hotel.

It's been fun but the lousy hotel room, traffic, and just knuckleheads in general weigh down on us and, with great delight, we head back home to our little town in the hills in Northern California.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Flora and Fauna of Borrego Springs

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  Still haven't seen the namesake animal of the area, the Borrego (big horn sheep), but we did see plenty of great flowers and birds during our recent trip to Anza-Borrego State Park.

We couldn't fit everything in our trip reports but we wanted to revisit some of the great floral and avian life that we found there.

Starting with those purple flowers at the top of the post.

Prickly pear cactus not only have spectacular flower but the fruit is delicious, too.

The ocotillo cactus has bright orange flowers.

This wren was tending to it's family in a nest perched in a palo verde tree outside of our hotel room.

Quail were pretty easy to find on our afternoon walk.

The cholla cactus has some spiffy neon green flowers.

Migratory ducks spend time here, also.

They're not weeds here, desert dandelions sprinkle the sands...

...and fields of desert sunflowers also carpet the valley's floor.

Finally, not really a desert wildflower, but it was daffodil season up in nearby Julian.  Here's a show in the town's community center.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Additional photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2015 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 22, 2021

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 2

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  Morning in Borrego Springs finds us on a modest shopping excursion. While Letty browses the Frugal Coyote thrift shop, Tim and I wander around a small strip mall where we end up in the town's ice cream parlor and candy store.

A couple of cinnamon rolls to go, we wander over to the liquor store to grab a six-pack and some snacks for later tonight in the hotel.

Watch the Video!

At the end of the town's modest downtown is Christmas Circle. Basically a large roundabout with the town's main park in the middle. 

Off to the side, the local Kiwanis Club is having a flea market.  While Letty sees if she can find any bargains, I wander off to a large, blooming, palo verde tree nearby.

It's buzzy. That's because there are hundreds of bees tending to the thousands of flowers. I stick a video camera in to get a close up (see the video for more) then we hit the road.

While we were shopping, we stopped at the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor's Center and gift shop at the local mall where the friendly staffer showed us where to go where the most flowers were blooming today.

A few miles out of town, we find the desert sands carpeted with desert sunflowers (that's what the lady called them).

A little closer to the mountains we find this cacti blooming with bright purple flowers...

...these with neon green flowers...

...and ocotillos with their bright orange flowers.

Another big attraction in Borrego Springs is finding sculptures out in the middle of the desert.  Artist Ricardo Breceda got together with one of the area's big landowners, Dennis Avery, and make iron sculpture just waiting out in the desert for the explorer to find.

Dozens of Breceda's statues are sprinkled over miles of desert landscape and are a blast to go out and find.  (maps are available in the gift shop and most hotels)

We find a few new ones that weren't here on our last visit, including this padre and his dog.

The morning finds us driving 30 miles up into the mountains to visit Julian, an old gold mining town more famous today for it's apple orchards and pie.

We have a breakfast of soup, quiche, and pie before exploring the town and shopping.

After walking to the cemetery and finding the old jail, we call it a day and pile into the van for the long drive home.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Cocktail Hour - Daiquiri

Hemingway's favorite drink.  

Watch the Video!

Originated in Cuba and named after Playa Daiquiri near Santiago.  Although popularized by the El Foridita Bar in Havana, it was invented at Venus Bar in Santiago by Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer.  Supposedly, the bar ran out of gin but had a lot of rums, limes, and sugar...three things that are in abundance in Cuba.

Besides Hemingway, the drink became popular during World War II as rum was one of the few commodities that was not rationed.  This week, we present it in it's historical incarnation.  It's not blended, flavored in any extra way, and served just as Ernie would have had it.

In the video, we cheated just a little by using coconut infused rum for extra flavor and putting the finished product in an old fashioned glass on the rocks.  The coconut rum was used because I'd tried the recipe before and never got it right...I was intimidated.  The glass was because Tim can't use a cocktail glass.

Be assured, however, that after filming we did try the original recipe with cocktail glasses and it came out fantastic. That recipe is the one on this page.  Turns out the key is to not be shy with the lime juice.  Enjoy!

DAIQUIRI (two drinks)
3 ounces white rum
2 ounces simple syrup
3 key limes

Fill a cocktail shaker half full with crushed ice.  Cut the limes in half.  Squeeze the juice of all the limes into the shaker.  Put the rum and simple syrup in the shaker.  Cover and shake.  Strain into two cocktail glasses.

-Darryl and Tim
Daiquiri photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Aaron Gustafon under CC-BY-SA license

Friday, February 19, 2021

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 1

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  It may be located between some of the most populated areas in the United States but the roads to get into it are so tough that this remains an oasis of old, undeveloped Southern California. Being that a great majority of it is also a protected state park might have something to do with that.

It's been six years but we're returning to Borrego Springs, the little village located in the heart of Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California.

Watch the Video!

From our area, there's no easy way to get here. It's either going through the backroads of San Diego County or going through Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and then a very poorly maintained road for the last 25 miles, which is the way we came in.

Once in, however, you take a step back fifty years to a California desert resort the way is used to be. A sleepy little downtown, yet even the most modest motel has a sparkling pool. Eccentric characters that gather at the town's lone watering hole each night. Spectacular golf courses, tennis courts, quirky art, and some beautiful and very unspoiled desert.

As always in Borrego Springs, our lodgings are the Borrego Springs Resort, about a mile south of the town's traffic circle (traffic signals are outlawed here...mayors must take an oath of office that includes never bringing one of those devices into the town).

It's a large, two-room suite with a patio looking west toward the large mountains separating the desert from the Indian lands dotting eastern San Diego County with their casinos and missions.

After the long and a bit grueling drive, we're just in relaxing mode for today. A Mercedes Benz owner's group is here having a meeting and rally. We admire the Mercs but are more impressed by the old Packards that are in with the group.

We head over to the bar at Arches, the resort's restaurant, to have a couple of drinks before heading out to take a walk through the golf course.

While here, we get a glimpse of what lies ahead for us this weekend...migratory birds relaxing on the greens while the car owners golf through the course in one big group of about twenty golfers. Cacti blooming in spectacular purples, oranges, and pinks.

Back in town, we head to Carlee's, the dive bar that serves the tastiest food around, to have a bite to eat and to chat with the evening's entertainment. The singer shows Tim the difference between a 12 string and a 6 string guitar.  Later, while leaving, we get an impromtu performance of 'Ring of Fire' in the parking lot while they take a smoke break.

We head back to the room where my wife and I star gaze from the patio while Tim relaxes with ESPN on the couch.

Tonight, it's rest. Tomorrow, we head out to the desert to explore.

We'll continue with you then.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

DINNER: Ispanakli Patates Casserole

Ispanakli Patates is Turkish and it basically translates to spinach potato. Recently in Berlin, we were treated to the most fantastic food in the Turkish neighborhood where we were staying. The Turks are one of the biggest non-German ethnic groups in the city, over 300,000 live there.

Our favorite restaurant...though, it's hard to pick one out of all the good restaurants Cafe Neffes.  I had this wonderful spinach and potato casserole there one night and vowed to try to make it for myself when we returned.

A couple of weeks later, after browsing dozens of Turkish recipe websites, I've came up with my own variation.


1 cup cooked spinach (1 cup after cooking)
1 cup Greek or Mediterranean yogurt
2 oz. feta cheese crumbles
1 small pasilla chile, chopped

2 large tomatoes or 4 medium tomatoes, diced
1 cube chicken bouillon
3 Mexican green onions or 1 medium white onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
dash of nutmeg
1/2 pound golden fingerling potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 link soujuk sausage, thinly sliced (easiest to do when frozen)
2 eggs

In a pot of boiling water, boil the potatoes for 30 minutes over medium heat.

If your  spinach isn't already cooked, put a tablespoon of olive oil in a 12" pan. When hot, fill as completely as you can with spinach and cover. It should render down to about a cup of cooked spinach in around 5 minutes. When cool enough, chop it up.

In a medium sauce pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and cook...stirring...until translucent. About 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and pasilla chiles. Add the chicken bouillon. Add the garlic, oregano, marjoram, and nutmeg. 

Stir in and bring to a boil. Add spinach and stir in. Turn the heat to medium and boil for 5 minutes then turn heat off.

When the potatoes are done boiling, strain and set aside.

Coat a casserole dish (about 3 quarts) with another tablespoon of olive oil. Put a layer of the tomato/spinach sauce on the bottom in a fine layer. Put some sausage over that and sprinkle with feta cheese. Spread a layer of yogurt over that. Ladle some potatoes over that.

Repeat this layering until you run out of sauce.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, put two raw whole eggs on top, put back in over for 10 minutes to cook eggs. 

Let cool for 10 minutes after that before serving.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 15, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP - Maui 1995

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) Note - This is now the oldest  trip on the site, dating back to 1995. Remember that when dealing with prices and such.  I have no updated information at this time.

Our son, Tim, had always wanted to see Hawaii. This year he got his wish as we found a good deal for a week's stay in Maui. For $569 we got a week's stay at an oceanfront room in Kahana, a rental car, and airfare on ATA. This was all booked through Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays.

The flight over was fine. Nothing special but nothing really bad about it either. The only complaints is that it is on a very crowded L-1011 and ATA's idea of what a bulkhead seat is is very different from mine. On the plus side, the flight over was direct to Maui, without having to stop in Honolulu, and the flight attendants were courteous.

On arrival in Maui I headed over to pick up our rental car at Alamo. The line was about 15 people long when I got there and grew quite a bit after me. 30 minutes later, I picked up my wife and son from the terminal.

Our hotel room was in Kahana on the other side of the island past Lahaina and Kaanapaali. It is listed as a condo, but that would be too generous of a description. Basically, our room at the Kahana Sands was just that...a room with a king size bed, a murphy bed, and a tiny kitchenette crammed into the corner.

The room was a bit of a disappointment. It was kind of dingy with cigarette burns in the drapes. The building itself has very limited access for chairs. 2 parking spots, a ramp, and an elevator (with one step to negotiate). The room itself had no special accomodations. On the plus side it was on the beach but overall, we were disappointed that a company as well known as Pleasant Hawaiian would book such a dingy place in its packages...even if it was very low priced.

Being optimistic, we try to spend as little time as we can in the room...we are in Hawaii afterall...and get out to do things. Nearby is a dive shop, Snorkel Bob's I believe...that rented snorkeling equipment. The equipment was top notch, the price a bargain, and they throw in a map of local dive spots.

I had been to Maui when I was a teenager and remembered a superb dive spot near the Bhuddist temple on the outskirts of Lahaina. When I asked at the dive shop about this spot, they said it had been ruined by pollution. But more on this later...

Saddened, we went to the nearest spot on the map, Kapalua Bay. The last time I'd been here, Kapalua Bay was out in the boonies. Only a small wooden church marked the spot. I remembered a supremely delightful day spent bodysurfing here as a teen.

Now the entire area is a plush resort with many condos and a championship golf course winding around. The small wooden church is still here, but the rest of the area is completely unrecognizable to me. Coming from Los Angeles, I know how this can happen.

There is a very small dirt parking lot where the public slobs like us can park...public access is still guaranteed to the beach if grudgingly...and we luck out with a spot before it's full. Negotiating the wheelchair from here down to the beach is very tricky and just barely doable. We finally make it to Kapalua's crescent shaped stretch of sand.

Tim and Darryl Snorkeling

Tim and I don our masks and fins and head out into the water. It is pretty. There are loads of fish and we see a basketball-sized octopus having lunch on some small, unfortunate fish. I think maybe time is blurring it, but the beautiful as it is...isn't quite as clear as it was years ago.

Still, we have fun and continue this pattern all week as we head up and down the coast to the dive spots highlighted on our map.

Mid-week, we take in a luau at the Royal Lahaina resort in Kaanapaali. This was a lot of fun. Although I suppose it was not as "authentic" as the luau advertised in Lahaina, it was still a blast. Not cheap (nothing here is, see Random Notes below for more), the price still included dinner and unlimited drinks...always a plus on vacation! Since we went on a Wednesday, Tim got in for free.

The food was good, the drinks cool and refreshing...and when the bartender saw me drop a dollar bill in his tip jar, he made sure I didn't go back to my table before fortifying our drinks heavily with extra rum.

Tim and the Luau Crew

The show was amazing with all the different kinds of Polynesian dances (the Tongan fire dance is pretty spectacular) and the audience participation was very inclusive including wheelchairs (see picture, there's a ramp at stage left). This was probably the best night time fun we had here.

Dining here can be problamatic. It's not that there aren't any good restaurants...there are plenty...but that they're all so expensive, even the bad ones, and without knowing where to go you can blow a lot of money on a bad experience easily.

Cooking in is also not a pleasant option. Groceries here are ungodly expensive.

We did find some places that we can pass on to you.

Our top pick for good food and value is BJ's (now called Lahaina Pizza Company - Ed) on Front Street in Lahaina. Good food, coupled with great live music and reasonable prices. The catch? It's upstairs with no elevator. A couple of beefy looking Hawaiian waiters are more that happy to get anybody upstairs though.

Kimo's is also good and last but not least, check out Lahaina Coolers for a very different menu at somewhat decent prices..

We found Cheeseburger in Paradise way overpriced and overrated.

We took the drive to Hana...wasn't quite as fun as we thought it would be...and took in an Omnimax movie in Lahaina that could have also been better.

Our last day on the island, we decide to take a submersible tour. After 45 minutes of breathtaking underwater scenery, our ship stops and everyone is invited up on deck to jump in for some snorkeling. 

The snorkeling is beautiful, in fact the best on the trip. Just as good as that day many moons ago when my dad took us off of the WWII wharf next to the Bhuddist temple that the dive shop said was now gone due to pollution.

And why shouldn't it be beautiful? When we get on up on deck from the underwater area, we see where we are...just off of that WWII wharf next to the Bhuddist temple that we had dived on that day long ago...

Copyright 1995 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 14, 2021

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.

Watch the Video!

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.



Friday, February 12, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP - Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado 1997

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  This trip from 1997 was Letty and Tim's first trip to the state...way over at the other end near the Four Corners.  Enjoy...

After driving across a third of the country, I was worried we'd be shut out at our destination. As much as we celebrate the ADA, the fact remains that a majority of our natural resources are still inaccessible. This happened to us at the Grand Canyon (great views from the rim is about it) and what was now worrying me as we approached Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest corner of Colorado.

Mesa Verde is home to many dwellings of the mysterious and ancient Anasazi people. For a brief time in their history, the Anasazi moved into spectacular multi-storied houses perched in cliff side niches. These remnants of an ancient and pre-European America are what draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park each year.

As it turns out, we needn't have worried, many of the best sites in Mesa Verde are available to people in chairs..with the one big exception to this being the most popular site in the park, the Cliff Palace and Balcony House cliff dwelling, which requires scaling a cliff-top ladder.
The accessible visitor center and gift shop is 15 miles past the entrance gate (this is the second visitor center, Far View Visitor center being the first). From here, an access trail leads to the magnificent Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling. The trail into the lush canyon is mostly flat and smooth. There are a few drops on the side of it that will make your heart beat a little faster but are easily avoided. You will definitely have an adventure here in a chair.

When at the dwelling itself, you are allowed to explore quite a lot of it with little being out of bounds. We could explore in our chair as well an anybody around us with the one exception of the sweat lodge pit where the only access is a ladder.

This was all very fun and interesting for us and our 9 year old son, but what really stopped us in our tracks was the conversation we had with the ranger on the site. I asked him why the natives are not here anymore when we were surrounded by native American country.

"They still come here. They still feel this is theirs." Then he told us many of the ancient community members are buried in the adjacent rubbish mound. Come here at night, he said, and we'd likely see the ghosts that roam these ruins. That brought it home to us. Here is not an abandoned ancient ruin. Here is a place where people still come and visit their long lost relatives to feel an attachment and ownership. Suddenly I had a slight feeling of trespassing.

(As an aside, the surrounding areas still in Indian Reservations hold many more such cliff dwellings. Trips can be arranged with some local tribes although most are inaccessible to wheelers.)

Our base camp for this trip for this trip was the wonderful A Bed and Breakfast on Maple Street (800-665-3906) in nearby Cortez. Though not up to all ADA standards, it does have access to one room downstairs with a big, adjacent bathroom. It also has easy access to the common living room and dining room where you feast on a hearty home-cooked country breakfast. It also has a spa to soak your tired muscles after a day in Mesa Verde.

Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick