Monday, July 28, 2008

LIFE ON MARS

Mars Postcard from 1976 (courtesy purvisbros.com)
There is probably no other man in American history who has given Martians their great claim to fame than Orson Wells. His old time radio drama, "The War of the Worlds" broadcast in 1938 (on Halloween night) created mass hysteria amongst radio listeners who were led to believe that America was actually being attacked by Martians. Mr. Wells was a master of producing the theater of the mind - a little slice of the past I've always found interesting.

This last week, I had a Martian encounter of another kind with Martians who actually live in in the rural-suburban town of Mars, Pennsylvania. It is a former railroad town located 20 miles north of Pittsburgh that is said to have been visited by UFO's in the early 1990's. Hence, the following Current Affair film clip from the 1990's.

While my visit didn't stir up mass hysteria, it was a lot of fun. The local paper was kind enough to report my arrival right between the articles entitled, "Cheap, yet good, wine" and "Coco-Cola Salad." You can't beat that for grass-roots Americana. In addition to attending ongoing business meetings, I was able to give a glimpse of White House dinners to audiences at the Treesdale Golf and Country Club.

If you are not able to travel to Mars, you can still receive mail from the Martians in Pennsylvania. Send your mailing address via email to mars@purvisbros.com and you will receive a free commemorative Rover envelope postmarked from Mars.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

DINKYTOWN, USA

Photograph by Jessica Wicks
Just north of the University of Minnesota lies a little neighborhood city called Dinkytown, USA. Possible sources of inspiration for the name "Dinkytown include the rail yard switch tenders and the local streetcars which were commonly referred to as "dinkys". Other theories include references to the smallness of the town itself and some of the venues within the town.

The neighborhood is now like a little industrialized city with low rise apartment buildings, shops, and restaurants that serve as a student refuge.

Photograph by P. Reignman


Cheap eats are easy to find in Dinkytown. The breakfast crowd starts early by standing in line at a matchbox size diner called Al's Breakfast. This 14 stool, counter-only diner is said to be the narrowest restaurant in the city of Minneapolis (keeping with the theme of "dinky"). A handful of other restaurants like Fowl Play, Dinkydale Deli, and Taste of New York all serve up reasonable sandwich fare, fries with skin on, or a Twin Cities favorite - tater tots.
Photograph by Dan Clements


Kaiser-Cartel Photograph by Alexa Jones at flickr.com
Karaoke singers, salsa dancers, and indie bands like We Are The Scientists, Coin Laundry Loser, People Under The Stairs and Kaiser-Cartel all rule the night in Dinkytown. It is a fun little place that served as a great distraction during a recent dinner talk event I did in the area.

Check out Dinkytown if you happen to be in Minneapolis. You can also visit the official Dinkytown website here.

Photograph by wilhelmina_wonka (Shannon) at flickr.com

Friday, July 11, 2008

SURF CITY USA

Photograph by russ454@ flickr.com


I was invited to do a dinner talk in Huntington Beach, California near the Pacific Coast Highway. Huntington Beach - a.k.a "Surf-City" - has come a long ways since the days that it earned the non-glam nickname of "Tin Can Beach." Back in the sixties, the city received so many complaints about cut feet from buried tin can lids that the government kicked in and cleaned up the beach. During that time, oil drilling and farming were the main industries of the day. Today the business climate is about as diverse as its character and beauty.

Photograph by Alexandria LaNier

Surf City USA has earned its trademark (granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) by promoting the California beach culture lifestyle to the rest of the world. It is a colorful town that speaks an outdoor language from sunrise to sunset. Besides the major surfing competitions, Huntington Beach is home to pro-kite fliers, lighted boat tours, bmx racing, volleyball, paintball, long-distance racing, bi-athalons, tri-athalons, equestrian events, and Dean of Jan and Dean ("Surf-City" song).


One of the most fascinating stories of Hunington Beach has to do with land that was given away in the 1960's. Remember when Encyclopedia companies stressed the importance of owning a whole set? Once upon a "buy", you could have also been the proud owner of a small piece of land to go with that set. Land was dirt cheap. The lucky owners of the encylopedia sets later found out that oil in "them-thar hills." I would venture to say that it was a better bargain than the lottery.


Friday, July 4, 2008

SMALL PLATES - BIG FLAVORS

The rising cost of food is so bad that, recently, America's wealthiest university, Harvard, was forced to take drastic cost-cutting measures within its food program. The budget trim, however, did not sit well with students. They insisted that their whole grains make a comeback on the campus menu. The student body cry was so loud that management finally gave in. Other universities less endowed than Harvard have sought out alternative ways to be creative with their menus. Sometimes, this means a compromise in healthy choices and the quality of food.

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, addressed this issue in the 14th Annual "Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference" for campus food services. "Small Plates, Big Flavors" was this year's conference theme; the message entails how campus food establishments can offer smaller portions with bolder flavors.

Executive Director Ken Toong organized the event to address the demands for healthy food options while considering elevated food costs. Ken spiced up the event by emphasizing regional and global cuisine. He also encouraged culinarians and chefs to keep abreast of current advancements in sustainable agriculture.

For my part in this event, I talked about using the small plate-big flavor concept while cooking state dinners at the White House. The audience was enthusiastic and made it fun to address this topic. It was also energizing to get acquainted with some of the other chef-presenters. Great topics like The Future of Our Oceans, The Healthy Mexican Kitchen, Thai Table - A Few Building Blocks and Aromas from Thai cuisine, Kitchen Chemistry: Evolution of the Gastronomy of Taste, and Chasing the Yum (N0, not Rachel Ray) were covered during this terrific conference.