Monthly Archives: September 2009

Food: Calabash Seafood

Dockside, my favorite Calabash restaurant. Uploaded to Flickr by b alasdair2.

Dockside, my favorite Calabash restaurant. Uploaded to Flickr by b alasdair2.

First, a little history for those unfamiliar with today’s topic. There’s a little town in North Carolina, barely above the South Carolina border, called Calabash. Fishing boats bring their daily catch to the docks, and over the years a number of restaurants cropped up to prepare it. Lightly breaded, and fried. With hushpuppies. Mmmm, history.

This town of 957 people has at least a dozen seafood restaurants, not to mention pizza joints, sports bars, and pancake houses. Most of the restaurants are filled by visitors to nearby Myrtle Beach, and you can see a steady stream of cars heading up the highway each evening, past the strip malls, the ice cream shops, and the miniature golf courses.

Lightly breaded and fried, that's Calabash seafood. Uploaded by roadfood.com.

Lightly breaded and fried, that's Calabash seafood. Uploaded by roadfood.com.

Which Calabash restaurant offers the best food is a contentious discussion. Some folks prefer Ella’s, one of the oldest of the Calabash establishments. Some rave about the smallish Seafood Hut. My choice, which I have to admit is mostly a family tradition, is Dockside which, as its name reveals, is the closest to the docks. Doesn’t mean it has any fresher shrimp than anyone else, but I will state unequivocally that it has the finest hushpuppies.

Calabash seafood isn’t just about one town, though. It’s on menus throughout the Carolinas. There is, however, a distinct difference between the freshness of the food in Calabash and in some of the “Calabash-style” mega-buffets in Myrtle Beach. Go there if you like choice, but don’t deceive yourself into thinking you’re having genuine Calabash seafood. For that, you’ll need to make the drive about 20 miles to the north.

TV Show: ESPN

Lee Corso, wrong again. Uploaded by espn-by-blogcdn.com (photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images).

Lee Corso, wrong again. Uploaded by espn-by-blogcdn.com (photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images).

Sure, ESPN has gotten a little too big for its broadcasting britches. Yes, it takes itself a tad too seriously. And certainly, it threatens to become part of the story instead of simply covering the story. Even so, where would the serious sports fan be without it?

da da da, da da da. Uploaded to Flickr by tavarua.

da da da, da da da. Uploaded to Flickr by tavarua.

It’s hard to remember what sports on TV was like before the Worldwide Leader first sent out its signal in 1979. There were game highlights on local channels, but there was nothing to compare with SportsCenter. There were Saturday college football games on one network, but now they’re on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN360 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from noon till the wee hours. Just one example of the way the network has impacted the sports scene.

Early on, ESPN had no professional contracts, and very few collegiate ones. So it was a steady diet of Australian Rules Football, ping pong, and Davis Cup Tennis. Then came major college basketball and football. The league finally achieved the pinnacle when it got a piece of the lucrative NFL contract in 1987.

Just as a reminder, here are some of the reasons why ESPN is the serious network for the serious sports fan: Jay Bilas, John Clayton, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Peter Gammons, Ron Jaworski, Mel Kiper, Jr., Joe Morgan, Chris Mortensen, Bill Raftery, Chris Berman, Chris Fowler, Bob Ley, Kenny Mayne, Tony Kornheiser, Mike Tirico, and Scott Van Pelt. Oh…and Erin Andrews.

And I can’t forget the wonderful Charlie Steiner. Here are a few of his fabulous on-camera crack-ups:

Americana: Corvette

The ultimate midlife crisis machine. Uploaded by gminsidenews.com.

The ultimate midlife crisis machine. Uploaded by gminsidenews.com.

Back in 1953, about half of all vehicles sold in America were made by General Motors. GM had just about everything for the American driver – except a sports car. Designer Harley Earl fixed that. Using mostly parts from Chevy sedans, he created a concept car for the 1953 New York Auto Show.

What he created was like nothing people had ever seen before: The Corvette.

As great as the early Corvette was, it took the introduction of the Thunderbird by Ford to make GM serious about keeping a sports car in its lineup. The car got more power, more marketing support, and more attention. In 1963, the Sting Ray design was introduced. And Corvette became a Great American Thing.

Uploaded by collectordreamer.com.

Uploaded by collectordreamer.com.

The automotive world has honored Corvette on many occasions. It’s been Motor Trend’s Car of the Year twice. It’s been on Car and Driver’s 10 Best List fifteen times. And a Corvette has been the pace car at the Indy 500 ten times. And here’s the kind of in-depth trivia you expect from this blog – 1985 was the last year a CB radio was offered as an option on the Corvette. Can you imagine buying a Corvette, but demanding that it have a CB radio?

Film: The Sound of Music

I want to visit Austria and stand in this very field. Uploaded by 1.bp.blogspot.com (Gannett News Service/Fox Video).

I want to visit Austria and stand in this very field. Uploaded by 1.bp.blogspot.com (Gannett News Service/Fox Video).

There aren’t many good musicals made anymore, probably because they don’t typically involve explosions, aliens, or extensive computer graphics that appeal to males under 25. But there was a time, not that long ago, when musicals were among the best movies made. Singin’ in the Rain. Oliver. And one of the best of all time, The Sound of Music.

Based on the stage musical by Rogers and Hammerstein (Great American Things No. 92) The Sound of Music tells the story of Austria’s von Trapp family as they broke in a new governess (Julie Andrews) and reclaimed a brokenhearted father (Christopher Plummer). It’s filled with wonderful songs – “Climb Every Mountain,” “Do Re Mi,” “Edelweiss,” “My Favorite Things,” and of course, “The Sound of Music.”

"Do we have to sing Do-Re-Mi again?" Uploaded by theage.com.au. One bit of trivia I find interesting is that “Edelweiss” is not the traditional song of the Austrian homeland as portrayed in the movie. In fact, it was written by Oscar Hammerstein and was entirely unknown in Austria before the movie. The country has embraced it wholeheartedly now, as you might imagine.

Other casting facts: Although Mary Martin originated the role on Broadway (that’s some resume, along with South Pacific and Peter Pan), Audrey Hepburn was the first actress considered for the role of Maria… Sean Connery and Richard Burton were considered for the role of Captain von Trapp… Actors who auditioned for one of the child roles include Richard Dreyfuss, Kurt Russell, Patty Duke, and most of the Osmond family.

Adjusted for inflation, The Sound of Music is the third-highest-grossing film of all time, behind Gone with the Wind and Star Wars. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture. In 2007, The American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies ranked it number 40 all time, and gave it the number four spot on its 100 Musicals list.

Singer: James Taylor

He'll always be Sweet Baby James. Photo uploaded by unctv.org.

He'll always be Sweet Baby James. Photo uploaded by unctv.org.

I’m not sure James Taylor would approve of this description, but the word that comes to mind when I think about him is “mellow.” Even when his music rocks a bit, it’s a mellow rock. And when he’s reminiscing about his life, he’s in full mettle mellow.

He knew, and everyone who heard him agreed, that he had a unique musical talent. In fact, he was the first non-British act ever signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records. But it took him a number of years to find the right combination of producer and material, and for the public to be ready to appreciate him. That all came together in 1970 when his album Sweet Baby James was released.

I bet he doesn't even remember having this much hair. Uploaded to Flickr by looing for a cause.

I bet he doesn't even remember having this much hair. Uploaded to Flickr by looing for a cause.

The song that took off, and took James with it, was “Fire and Rain.” It featured his mellow vocals (yeah, I said it again) and distinctive guitar style interpreting some very poignant lyrics. The song and the album both made it to number three on the Billboard charts.

As I mention some of James’s great songs, see if you don’t start humming them in your mind. “You’ve Got a Friend”… “Carolina in My Mind”… “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”… “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”… “Shower the People”… “Handy Man”… “Up on the Roof.”

As for honors, he’s won five Grammys, and is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And he’s ranked number 84 in Rolling Stone’s list of “The Immortals: 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

Travel: Myrtle Beach

It's called the Grand Strand, and you can see why. Uploaded by threebestbeaches.com.

It's called the Grand Strand, and you can see why. Uploaded by threebestbeaches.com.

In my unfinished novel, I describe Myrtle Beach as “the painted harlequin of the Southeast coast.” I like that. That’s how it feels to me.

Some beaches you go to for the unspoiled scenery. Ocracoke, for example. Some you go to for the “scene.” Like South Beach in Miami. You go to Myrtle Beach for the “stuff.” Adults tend to prefer the quieter beaches, the places where the world seems far away. But kids want things to do, and boy oh boy, does Myrtle Beach have that.

Golf, golf, and more golf at Myrtle Beach. Uploaded by worldgolf.com.

Golf, golf, and more golf at Myrtle Beach. Uploaded by worldgolf.com.

Dads can get away to one of the 16,822 golf courses in the area (I estimated, might be a tad high). Moms and daughters can go to the outlet malls. There’s a beach store on every corner. Maybe there’s another place in the world with more miniature golf courses per capita, but you’d have to prove it to me. Did I forget anything?

Oh, yeah – the beach. It’s broad, and well kept, and looks beautiful from the twelfth floor of your condominium. At least it does from ours. Myrtle Beach/North Myrtle Beach (they know the difference, you won’t) is a condo/hotel place. Not many beach homes to rent. Not at prices Joe Sixpack can afford, at least.

One thing Myrtle Beach has going for it, even if all the aforementioned “stuff” isn’t your thing, and that’s restaurants. Not fine dining palaces serving remoulade of this and confit of that. But lots of family-friendly and budget-safe choices that are quite good. Particularly if you like lightly breaded seafood, called “Calabash” style down there. But then, that’s another post.

For powdery white sand and that unbelievably aqua water, go to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos or St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Great American Things No. 31). But for a family beach with lots to do, you have a harlequin waiting for you in South Carolina.

Food: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Don't they just look delicious? Uploaded to Flickr by fritish.

Don't they just look delicious? Uploaded to Flickr by fritish.

Ruth Wakefield holds a very important place in my life, and I didn’t even know her name until today. But I knew that someone invented chocolate chip cookies at the Toll House Inn near Whitman, Massachusetts. Now I know it was Ruth. Or “Aunt Ruth” as I call her now.

It’s a pretty cool story. Aunt Ruth baked special cookies for her guests at the inn, using baker’s chocolate. One day, she found herself without her regular chocolate, and all she had on hand were some semisweet chocolate bars left by a fellow named Andrew Nestle. The name might ring a bell. Anyway, she expected the chocolate to melt into the cookies, but found to her surprise that they softened, but didn’t spread. Her guests loved them and she made more and more.

Cookies and milk. Oh, baby. Uploaded to Flickr by soundless space.

Cookies and milk. Oh, baby. Uploaded to Flickr by soundless space.

The Nestle company made a pretty smart trade at this point – they’d put the original Toll House cookie recipe on their packages, and give Aunt Ruth a lifetime supply of their chocolate. In return, every human being with taste buds would want chocolate chip cookies, and Nestle would earn more money than they know what to do with.

These days, of course, there are all kinds of chocolate chip cookies. There are lots of recipes for homemade types, there are those you can cut and bake, and of course there are packaged cookies like Chips Ahoy and Famous Amos. Some people like them chewy; I prefer crunchy unless they’re fresh out of the oven. There are lots of delicious cookies; we’ve already seen one on this list (No. 44: Oreo) and we’ll probably see more. They’re just…so…good.

Sports: College Football

Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech eludes Georgia Tech defenders. Uploaded by i.cdn.turner.com

Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech eludes Georgia Tech defenders. Uploaded by i.cdn.turner.com

Football has clearly become America’s favorite sport. The only question is which do you prefer, the NFL or the college game?

For me, college football rules. Oh, I love pro football, too. But here’s why the colleges do it better. 1. Rivalries. There are a few pro rivalries, but almost every college has that one opponent that they just can’t stand – and a win in that game makes the season. 2. Marching bands. 3. The cheerleaders are good looking girls, not out-of-work pole dancers. 4. Bowl games. 5. The entire season is a playoff, every regular season game matters.

Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow of Florida. Uploaded by 1800-sports.com.

Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow of Florida. Uploaded by 1800-sports.com.

Oh, and there’s more. 6. The weekly polls that make everyone crazy. 7. The ESPN hype machine. 8. The Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the Red River Rivalry, The Backyard Brawl, and the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. 9. And every team has at least a few actual “student athletes” on the team. Well, except in the SEC.

10. Notre Dame’s “Victory March.” 11. Michigan’s “The Victors.” 12. Georgia Tech’s “Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech.” 13. Navy’s “Anchor’s Away.” 14. “On, Wisconsin.” 15. And, of course, the granddaddy of them all, “Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi.”

(By the way. Brazil, Britain, Italy – you play soccer. That manly sport where you hold your hands over the jewels in a penalty kick. Try that in REAL football, and you’d be laughed out of the stadium. And we don’t think deadly riots are much fun, either.)

Today’s video: The most amazing play in college football history, on my birthday in 1982, the California Bears defeated the Stanford Marching Band on the last play of the game.

Americana: Craftsman Tools

Beat up? Nah. Just broken in good. Uploaded by accesstotools.com.

Beat up? Nah. Just broken in good. Uploaded by accesstotools.com.

Name all the things you can think of that come with a lifetime warranty. I’m sure there must be some, but only one comes instantly to mind: Craftsman hand tools.

Uploaded to Flickr by tanminivan.

Uploaded to Flickr by tanminivan.

Sears introduced the Craftsman line in 1927. Any covered tool (and there are a few that aren’t) can be returned to the retail store for repair or replacement. This is the warranty: “If any Craftsman guaranteed forever hand tool fails to provide complete satisfaction, return it for free repair or replacement.” Obviously, this statement was developed before lawyers got involved.

Sears sells a broad line – several lines, actually – under the Craftsman name. Hand tools, power tools, lawn and garden products, tool and garage storage, and shop equipment all bear the 82-year-old brand name.

This is one area in which Sears has always excelled. What evidence supports such a claim? Well, the readers of Popular Mechanics chose Craftsman as their favorite hand tools in their Readers Choice Awards. That’s a quite demanding group. And Harris Interactive surveys found that Craftsman was the most trusted brand among men (2002) and was America’s most trusted brand (2007).

Kid Stuff: Sesame Street

Some of the familiar Sesame Street gang. Uploaded by myfreewallpapers.net.

Some of the familiar Sesame Street gang. Uploaded by myfreewallpapers.net.

Educational! Enlightening! Entertaining! Today’s Great American Things post is brought to you by the letter E.

You probably didn’t know that Sesame Street has won more Emmy Awards than any other series in the history of television (118). It’s been on the air since November, 1969, has been shown in more than 120 countries, and is the most-watched children’s program in the world.

You can’t think of Sesame Street without thinking of the Muppets, created, of course, by the late Jim Henson. What would the show have been without them? Without Bert and Ernie (who the show’s creators swear weren’t named after the characters in It’s a Wonderful Life)… Oscar the Grouch… Elmo… Big Bird (8′ 2″ tall)… Snuffleupagus (size 65 GGG shoes)… and The Count (born Oct. 9, 1,830,653 B.C.).

Big Bird, uploaded to Flickr by LR PTY.

Big Bird, uploaded to Flickr by LR PTY.

Obviously, the producers don’t have any problems with capitalizing on the popularity of their show. Licensing has taken Sesame Street into movies, books, and games. Toys (Tickle Me Elmo was an all-time smash). Live performances (48 million people have seen productions of Sesame Street Live). Even a Sesame Place theme park in Pennsylvania.

People who watched that original season of the show now have grandkids who love Elmo and Big Bird just as much as they did. And the show doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Maybe this generation’s grandkids will be watching Sesame Street in 2050. Don’t bet against it.

Just a couple of days ago, the Daytime Emmy show paid tribute to Sesame Street, and it’s sooo nostalgic. Take a look: