Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Our little monsters will be arriving later today. They will celebrate Thanksgiving earlier today with the son-in-law's family, and we'll have our Thanksgiving tomorrow. It has been a tradition in our family for a number of years now to smoke a turkey. I put the bird on the night before we eat and let it smoke slowly all night. I have to get up periodically throughout the night and add fuel to the fire, but it usually is worth the effort. Our turkeys usually are very moist with that good smoke flavor.

Inside, Donna concentrates on the other dishes. I've encouraged her to downsize the number of dishes she makes, but I don't think she can. We usually have all the standard dishes: dressing, yams, cranberries (both from the can and made fresh), and other fare. In addition, she always makes a broccoli casserole she and our daughter enjoy, and she makes a cream cheese and corn casserole I really like. She also makes a great lime jello salad with cherries, pecans, and other goodies. And to top things off, there are always at least 2 pies: pumpkin for her and chess for daughter and me.

So, it's time to find the stretch pants and settle in for a challenge. Best of all is all the leftovers we eat for the next few days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

We recently ventured out into the cold to watch Interstellar, a science-fiction movie starring Matthew McConoughey and Anne Hathaway. I'm not a big fan of science fiction. As children, my brother preferred science fiction while I tended to lean towards westerns. But in college I had a roommate who watched the original Star Trek series, and I did come to enjoy the ideas expressed in the show.

So Donna dragged me down to see Interstellar. To be honest, I really don't know if I enjoyed the movie or not. I do know I had a great deal of trouble keeping up with the story line and all the ideas of worm holes and gravitational relativity and such. I just don't have an aptitude for science, and I struggled with it in both high school and college. But if you like action, you'll and special effects, you'll probably enjoy this movie.

The premise of the movie is that planet Earth is simply wearing out and is no longer able to sustain its population. Cooper (McConoughey), a former a NASA test pilot, and his daughter Murphy are directed by "supernatural" forces to a secret NASA installation where they meet professor Bran (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Hathaway). The NASA team is planning a mission through a worm hole in an attempt to locate a planet where humanity can continue its existence. Previous teams have already gone out, but none have returned. Leaving his family behind on Earth, Cooper, Amelia, and 2 other team members embark on their journey.

If you've seen the trailers for the movie, then the above summary should not be knew to you. But once through the worm hole, the movie takes on a new life. If you've seen the trailers, for example, you know the movie stars McConoughey, Hathaway, and Caine. But the trailers don't show the pivotal role that Matt Damon plays, a role unlike any he normally plays. Nor do the trailers show Casey Affleck's role in the movie or Ellen Burstyn's role.

There are some interesting ideas and theories in the movie, but they are too complex for me. The movie is long, by the way, almost 3 hours, so be prepared for a long sit. If you are a science fiction fan, you'll probably enjoy the movie. I'm sure the guys from The Big Bang Theory would love sitting around exploring all the concepts used in the movie.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Good Eats: Taste of the Himalayas Indian Cuisine

San Angelo is branching out its culinary arms and embracing new cuisines, it seems. There are a couple of little "hole in the wall" cafes serving some exotic food, and a new Vietnamese restaurant is scheduled to open in about two months or so.

One of the newest restaurants in town is Taste of the Himalayas, which serves up some tasty north Indian cuisine. Admittedly, I was at first a little put off with this place because they kept delaying the opening. They finally did open while we were gone on our recent Nevada trip. When we returned and found them open, we couldn't wait to make our first visit.

The food is good. In fact, we've been twice now, sampling the goods on their noon buffet both times.

The noon buffet offers a generous spread, including favorites of ours such as chicken curry, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala, chicken korma, and tandoori chicken. Naan and papadums are also avaiable, as are numerous fresh fruits and tasty deserts. The rice pudding has varied on the two trips we made; the first time, it was very tasty, with cardamom flavoring evident, while the second time it was a bit soupy with no such strong cardamom flavor. Likewise, the first time I sampled the peach custard, it was smoother and had a truer peach flavor than the second time, when it was thinner and had a sharper, tangier peach taste.

The food is good, as is the service. The restaurant occupies the same space as a former Italian restaurant where we loved eating about 20 years ago. We were saddened when we learned that restaurant had closed prior to our return to Angelo. But we are delighted with the new occupant, though.

On our first visit, there were few diners, and many were obviously trying Indian food for the first time in their lives. In fact, many of them seemed a bit reluctant. On this visit, though, everyone seemed more comfortable and they were really digging in. It looks like the restaurant is developing a loyal following, especially from many of the folks stationed at Goodfellow AFB.

Ah, Angelo just got a little better.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Review: The Judge

Donna and I have watched a couple of movies lately. The first one we watched was The Judge, starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr.

The plot itself is a bit complex. It basically focuses on the character development of Hank Palmer (Downey), a highly successful -- and arguably unethical -- defense attorney in Chicago. He is in the midst of a troubled marriage, probably heading for divorce. The crux of the movie begins when he returns to his home in Indiana to attend his mother's funeral. Obviously, he and his father (Judge Joseph Palmer, played by Duvall) do not see eye to eye. The movie could end there, with Hank returning to Chicago following the funeral, except that in a rather bizarre twist, his father is involved in a hit-and-run incident. Hank stays on to defend his father and, in doing so, must confront his relationship with the elder Palmer. The final courtroom scene is the pivotal point of the movie, and it is rather unique.

Both Downey and Duvall bring their characters to life. I'm a big Robert Duvall fan, and can remember watching his brief appearance years ago as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. Over the years, I've followed his career, and have especially enjoyed him in Tender Mercies, Joe Kidd, Open Range, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Secondhand Lions. His portrayal of Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove is probably my personal favorite.

In addition to watching the characters portrayed by Downey and Duvall spar with each other throughout the movie, I also was touched by those moments when Hank Palmer (Downey) became the caregiver to his father. I saw a little of the relationship I had with my own dad in his final year of life.

I think about this movie a great deal. I think about the need for some people to put their past behind them and to move along and away. But we should never entirely shut the door to our past. After all, we never can be entirely sure why people are motivated to do the things they do until the truth finally emerges. Sometimes we need to stop running and try returning home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nevad Trip, 2014: Where We Ate

We enjoyed some good food on our Nevada trip. I'll give a very brief accounting of some of them.

I was delighted with the breakfast spreads at the hotels where we stayed coming from and going to Nevada (Comfort Inn in Farmington, NM, and Holiday Inn in Alamogordo, NM). Both were generous with their items, which included biscuits, scrambled eggs, waffles, sausage, and other items.

We ate at our first Del Taco in Mesquite, and I liked it. This California-based fast food restaurant has a good menu. We both had their reasonably-priced fire roasted veggie Fresca bowl, and I enjoyed the flavors.

We only ate 1 buffet this time. Normally, I don't enjoy buffets as they are overpriced for what we eat and the food is generally poorly prepared. That proved to be true this time. We had a comped buffet at Sam's Town, and it was a disappointment for the most part, though Donna did seem to enjoy her prime rib. Nothing I had was good. I also find that buffets are simply an excuse to overeat, so I avoid them most of the time.

The fajita dinners we had at Willie and Jose's at Sam's Town were quite good, as were the burgers at TGIF at the same casino. We always make it a point to eat the fajitas at Willie and Jose's. We find the meat to be good quality, though the dishes do lack in fajita flavoring as far as I am concerned.

I had some very tasty tacos at Daniel's on the River at the Regency Casino in Laughlin. Tuesday is taco day there, so it is a chance to try various tacos at a reasonable price. I especially enjoyed the shrimp taco I had. Donna had a good Reuben sandwich.

We also had a good meal at the Outback in the Aquarius. We were able to use our points for that meal, so that made it even better.We each had one of their special lunch combos. Donna had a salad and tortilla soup while I had a Caesar salad and chicken quesadillas.

Most of our other meals in the casinos were at the delis, where we always enjoy deli food such as chile dogs, nachos, and shrimp cocktails. I always enjoy a deli meal at the snack bar in Sam's Town next to the sports book. We enjoy watching the goings on in the sports book while we eat. Sometimes we eat at the deli in the bowling alley. That way, we can watch the bowlers in action. While some of the bowlers are obviously beginners, you do find some very good bowlers at times.

As long as we've been going to Laughlin, we had yet to eat at the In-N-Out on Casino Drive, but we were determined to try it this trip. We loved it, so much so that we ate there twice. It will be a regular stop for us. There is so much I like about this place. First, the food is presented neatly. The burgers are made to order, and they are carefully built. You don't get three 3 dill pickle slices piled on top of one another like you do at some fast food places, for example (Sonic comes to mind); they are spread out. The burgers are also neatly wrapped. Second, the buns are freshly baked, using old-fashioned slow rising sponge dough. Third, I love the grilled onions on the burgers. And finally, the service is outstanding. We were greeted nicely both times we went and our orders were carefully taken. The young folks working there were extremely polite and neat in appearance. While there, we watched as they constantly cleaned tables, swept the floor, and kept the counter clean. And on top of it all, the prices are very reasonable. I'm ready to go back.

At Alamogorodo, I decided I wanted some Mexican food. I knew I should have waited until I got back home, but I really wanted some chips and salsa. We went to a local restaurant called Margo's. A lot of people like the New Mexican red chile sauce, but I've never cared for it. It tastes bitter to me, but that is a personal thing. But every restaurant in the state seems to slather that stuff on everything they prepare, and I just don't care for it. So, I thought I'd try the chile rellenos. After all, New Mexico grows the best chiles around. But, they came slathered with that red sauce, and that kind of ruined things for me. The rellenos themselves were rather tasty -- I just didn't need the sauce. But, when in Rome . . . .

So, we had a good variety of food, from full-serve restaurants to fast food places, and for the most part we enjoyed what we had. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On the road: Alamogordo, NM, to San Angelo, TX

Friday, October 17, 2014

Today is the last day of our trip. We rose early, had a good breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express in  Alamogordo where we were staying, and hit the road.

There are more direct ways to get from Alamogordo to San Angelo than the route we selected, but we were scouting around for a good way to pull a trailer, a route with good overnight stops.

Alamogordo, NM, to San Angelo, TX. 421 miles via Roswell, NM
We headed north for about 10 or so miles along US 54/70 to Tularosa, a quaint little village of cottonwoods and adobe architecture. US 70 then veers east, and we followed it into the Sacremento Mountains onto the Mescalero Reservation. This was a beautiful stretch of highway, all 4-lane. It wound up into the cool, pine covered mountains before arriving in the resort town of Ruidoso. This area is home to at least two of the southern most ski resorts in the country: Ski Apache and Ski Cloudcroft. As we passed through, I couldn't help thinking that it wouldn't be long before these mountains would be covered in snow.

At Ruidoso, we picked up the Rio Ruidoso, and the highway followed it down the valley as we were now descending. Little farms dotted the valley along the river. In the old days, such farms provided hay and produce much needed in this area by the army located at nearby Fort Stanton as well as by other citizens.

As we headed east, the mountains became hills and the hills eventually smoothed off, and we found ourselves once again on the level plains, returning to Roswell, where we had been almost 2 weeks before. We quickly passed through Roswell, continuing east. At the rest area about 20 miles east of town, we stopped for a break and to switch drivers, then hit the road again.

We began calling our daughter, making plans to meet her and the boys for a mid-afternoon lunch (for us) when we passed through Big Spring. It was about 2:15 or so when we pulled into our meeting place. Courtney came along soon after with two of her little monsters in tow, Camden and Jensen. The oldest monster, Xander, was in school terrorizing his teachers, so we missed him. But we had a nice visit with his siblings and mother.

Courtney soon had to leave to pick up Xander from school, so we said our goodbyes and Donna and I hit the road for the final 80 miles.

We had a good trip, but we were, of course, glad to get him.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On the Road: Laughlin, NV, to Alamogorgo, NM

Thursday, October 16, 2014

We checked out of the Aquarius early this morning and began the long journey home. Keeping with our plan of seeing new country, we intended to cover new territory in eastern Arizona. But first we had to get through Phoenix, that sprawling monster.

Our route today is 664 long miles.
The first part of the trip took us to Kingman, Arizona, where we always connect with I-40. We stopped there for coffee and breakfast. We jumped back on the interstate as the sun was beginning to rise in the east. We soon left Kingman behind and found our exit about 20 miles east of town. We began our long journey by retracing the route we took the first time we drove to Laughlin: US 93 southeast towards Phoenix.

I was delighted by the highway for the most part. Most of it is now 4-lane. Stretches are still under construction being converted to 4-lane, but the vast majority of the drive is good. Near Wickenburg, we finally trickled down to 2 lanes. From Kingman to Phoenix, there are only 2 towns, Wikieup and Wickenburg. The highway between these two towns is known as the Joshua Forest Scenic Road for good reason. There are also good stands of saguaro cactus along stretches of the roadway, and some impressive mountain and desert expanses. It's an interesting, though long, drive. Of the two towns, Wickenburg has the most amenities for travelers.

Saguaros cover a slope between Wikieup and Wickenburg

Closer view of several saguaros
This is a beautiful example of a saguaro
Just south of Wickenburg, we turned east on Highway 74 to cut over and hit I-17 on the north side of Phoenix. Prior to today, I was not aware of anything of note on this road, but we were surprised to discover Lake Pleasant on the north side of the highway. The lake is good size and contains Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Always on the lookout for places to stay should we get another RV, I made a mental note of this place with plans to research it upon returning home.

We picked up I-17 and turned south to head into Phoenix. By taking this route, I was hoping to miss some of the large city, but I guess I didn't. Just inside the city limits, we hit 101, the loop around Phoenix, and headed east for what seemed like hours and hours of fairly heavy urban traffic. We finally came to US 60, known locally as the Superstition Freeway, and headed east. At the outskirts of town, we stopped for gas and a break, and switched drivers.

This next section was the new part of the trip for us. We dipped through a southern part of the Tonto National Forest, then came to the little town of Superior, where things got a bit more interesting. I was not aware of the section of the highway from Superior to Globe, but it is indeed quite scenic. It's pretty mountainous terrain with some tricky highway sections, including a small pass through a tunnel. But it's a scenic drive, and I'm glad we took it. It's not a route I would want to pull a trailer through, though.

US 60 just east of Superior, where the road is just getting interesting. Note the bridge in center-left of picture.

Tunnel through a hillside not far beyond the bridge in the picture above. If you look carefully, you'll see numerous saguaros on the slope above the tunnel.
The highway weaves through the mountains.
I'm glad Donna was driving so I could enjoy all this scenery and snap a few pictures.
Approaching the small community of Miami, Arizona. I included this picture because it is typical of the scenery throughout the southwest. There seem to always be expanses such as this. Notice not only the mountain in the direct center of the picture, but also those dim outlines behind them.
One thing I learned about Arizona towns this trip is that they often come in groups. We were expecting to pass through Globe, but instead we passed through first Miami, then Claypool, and then Globe. The towns run together, giving the impression of one continuous town, and it causes for slow travel. Globe is an interesting town and would probably reward the traveler who stopped to visit its museum and other points of interest. But we had a lot of miles to cover, so we continued on.

At Globe, we picked up US 70, an old friend of ours. I was teaching in Olton a lifetime ago when our daughter Courtney was born to us. Olton is on US 70 in the lower Texas Panhandle. We would stay on this old friend for the rest of today and much of tomorrow.

We entered the San Carlos Reservation. If you enjoy the history of the American Southwest, then this is a familiar name and recalls some very famous Apaches of the past, such as Eskiminzin, Victorio, and Geronimo.

After leaving the reservation, we passed through another of those Arizona town groups: Pima, Thatcher,  Safford, and Solomon. It was in this area, I believe, where I was surprised to see a great deal of farming, including cotton. The highway basically follows the Gila River through this area, so perhaps the area is irrigated from this water source.

After leaving this group of towns, we set our sites on Lordsburg, New Mexico. Whenever I hear the name of this town, I think of the 1939 movie Stagecoach, which was John Wayne's breakout role. In the movie, which ironically was shot farther north in Monument Valley, the passengers on a stage are headed from Tonto, AZ, (a fictitious town?) to Lordsburg, NM. The movie began the long collaboration between Wayne and director John Ford.

But back to our journey. We crossed the state line into New Mexico, and soon arrived in Lordsburg where we took a break at the local McDonald's. Our plans had originally called to stop in Deming for the day, about 60 miles farther east. But I was afraid that would leave us another really long day tomorrow, so we journeyed on with plans to make it to Alamogordo. Along the interstate, we made good time.

But then we exited in Las Cruces. I should have taken the interstate around town, even though it added several miles. There was a great deal of construction in town, and it was all poorly planned and managed, and we got held up in traffic for a while. The side of Las Cruces we saw was not at all attractive, either. Of course, it was near the end of the day, so we were essentially there at rush hour, and people were indeed rushing to get home. We finally made it to US 70 east of I-25, heading towards the Organ Mountains. This is another place rich in history. So much to see and do and so little time to do it.

Highway 70 works its way up to and through San Augustin Pass, and the views are impressive in almost all directions. To the east is the White Sands Missile Range. It dominates the land for the final leg of our trip today.

We descended from the pass and the 4 lane highway slowly straightened out, and we made good time as the sun set lower and lower behind the mountains now behind us. As we neared Alamogordo, the White Sands National Monument appeared on our left. They were locking the gate as we passed, so we'll have to wait until another day to visit.

Somewhere around here, all east-bound traffic was routed through a border patrol inspection area. They looked Donna over carefully. Her beady eyes and swarthy appearance aroused their suspicions, but in the end I think they were overwhelmed by their fear of her and they let us pass through. We found our way to the Holiday Inn, secured a room, then had a late meal before getting a good night's rest.