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A Fork in the Road Cover Picmonkey

Edited by James Oseland


Lonely Planet Publications, 2013

ISBN: 978 1 74321 844 0

Paperback 334 pages $15.99


For those of us to enjoy collecting cookbooks, every recipe can mean a vicarious meal. If just reading about a dish is not as vivid as the actual preparation and consumption, it does save on calories and cost of ingredients. Though it contains no recipes, A Fork in the Road  can also provide such pleasures.

Editor James Oseland has assembled a collection of 34 essays on food. Or are they on travel? Really they are both. Some have been penned by people familiar as writers, such as Rita Mae Brown, Frances Mayes and Gael Greene. Other entries are made by those known for their prowess in the kitchen like celebrity chefs Curtis Stone and Martin Yan. All are very readable and some are examples of really excellent writing.

None of the tales was exactly like any of my own experiences with food away from home, but some reminded me of places I had been. David Kamp writes of the Maple Cottage in New Hampshire, a retreat where his family would spend a week or two every summer. Meals were prepared by the proprietor, Mr. Fletcher. Apparently it was as much boarding house as resort, but it was affordable and sounds like a wonderful escape from their urban existence. Beth Kracklauer's reminiscence, “The Importance of Chicken Livers,” brings the reader to Kentucky in a different time and place when The Doe Run Inn was a favorite family dining spot.

Some pieces triggered the urge to visit places I've never seen like Sri Lanka and Jakarta. Food is really such an integral part of travel. Gathering, preparing and consuming it reveal much about a culture different from one's own. A Fork in the Road  takes the reader in so many different directions. Perhaps not every one will satisfy the reader, but it's likely most of them will.

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

Thursday, 02 May 2013 07:46

Major League Baseball Ballpark Passport


MLB Passport Cover Picmonkey


Major League Baseball Ballpark Passport

by Tim Parks


Leather Cover

$58.95 (book), $8.95 (stamps)




If It's Tuesday, It Must be Fenway

The baseball roadtrip, where travelers try to visit any number of ballparks around the country has become a popular vacation theme for many baseball fans around the country. The popularity of these vacations has risen in direct proportion to the stadium-building binge over the past twenty years as the major leagues have exorcized themselves of the soulless, cookie-cutter, multi-purpose monstrosities that dominated the landscape in the 1960's and 1970's. The new ballparks are loaded with amenities and superlative architecture that give each stadium a uniqueness all its own and a reason for fans to visit. In fact, the three oldest stadiums remaining are Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium, all of which have an excuse to exist and two of them are among the most popular of destinations.

The popularity of the baseball roadtrip has increased to the point that travel tour companies offer travel packages of various duration and scope in the same fashion that tour companies have offered travel abroad for decades -- seven countries in six days, or something like that. Now on Tuesday, Belgium can be replaced by Fenway or Wrigley or Yankee Stadium.

All of which brings us to the new Major League Baseball Ballpark Passport. This nifty little item is the brain child of ardent baseball fan Timothy Parks and serves the purpose of giving the fan the opportunity to officially authenticate his or her trip to any of the major league ballparks. Leather-bound with the MLB logo embossed on the front lending the imprimatur of officialdom, it is a simple concept, really, essentially a book with all thirty major league ballparks, arranged in alphabetical order. For each ballpark there is a diagram of the stadium, a page with a short summary of the history of the stadium, a Gameday Facts page, for the fan to record salient details of the particular game attended and, finally, a page for general notes. The Passport comes equipped with "I sat here" stickers to place on the stadium diagram. Additionally, there are sections of the Passport (it doesn't seem accurate to call it a book) reserved for attendance at All-Star or World Series games as well as a section set aside for the Hall of Fame visit. To complete the Passport are instructions on how to keep score, a skill set probably already possessed by anybody who would have a Passport.

Whether or not, Mr. or Ms. Baseball Fan elects to join the organized tour or do it on their own, the Major League Passport segues nicely for the purposes of these hardy diamond-trotting tourists. Perhaps one day there will be a minor league version.

--reviewed by Michael Eady

Editor's note: The Passport can be purchased at many major league ballparks, but we suggest checking out the Passport website,, where you get more of the background of the Passport and purchase it directly. After receiving Michael Eady's review we contacted the author, Tim Parks, who said he agreed that a minor league version was a good idea. In fact, he's just completed one that is soon to be available at the same website.

Sunday, 16 December 2012 17:04

Ramble California

Ramble CaliforniaRambleCA  cover Picmonkey

by Eric Peterson


Speck Press, 2009

ISBN-13: 297-1-933108-20-9

Soft cover, 280-pages $19.


Subtitled “A Wanderer's Guide to the Offbeat, Overlooked, and Outrageous,” Eric Peterson's Ramble California includes enough sex, drugs, rock and roll and profanity to displease many. For those folks, there are plenty of traditional guidebooks.

Peterson offers a Read, Listen, Watch and To-Do Checklist sidebar to his opening coverage of the Los Angeles and Southern California scene. Among his suggestions are to read Red Wind by Raymond Chandler, listen to Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and watch the movie Chinatown. His To-Do list includes: “Impersonate the paparazzi, Puke at Disneyland, Party all night, Sleep all day” and “Surf in between.” Since it's been many years since the reviewer might have engaged in one—let alone all those behaviors—dismissing Ramble California out of hand was an option. That would have been unfortunate. Peterson is a good writer with a taste for the quirky. Where else might you find out about Lantrip's House of Ashtrays in Oroville (call after 11 am for an appointment to visit) or learn the address and phone number of Good Vibrations Vibrator Museum in San Francisco (1210 Valencia Street, 415 974-8980)?

Connoisseur of the bizarre that Eric Peterson might be, he shows straight-forward respect for early California naturalist John Muir in a later chapter, “The High Sierra and Vicinity.” And recollections of time spent with his father in southern California's deserts reveal more conventional aspects of his personality.

Ramble California isn't the essential book to carry with you on your trip to California. However, reading it ahead of time may help tilt your mood to the unconventional. Even if you don't get to California to see the National Yo Yo Museum in Chico or Reiff's Gas Station House in Woodland, it's fun to hear Peterson tell you about them.

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:58

Napa Valley: Land of Golden Vines

Napa Valley: Land of Golden Vinesby Kathleen & Gerald Hill

The Globe Pequot Press


306 pages; $15.95

 Napa Valley Land of golden Vines

Although "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" has some disquieting inconsistencies and inaccuracies, it’s probably the best and most comprehensive guide to the area.

Wineries are the main attraction, of course, and the book lists locations, phone numbers, varieties produced, open hours and all the other relevant details for most of those that are open to the public. Each winery also receives a couple of paragraphs of narrative to flesh out the basic details that otherwise are available in many free periodicals available to tourists.

Restaurants, lodging and points of interests are also covered as the authors take the reader on a trip up the Napa Valley. Beginning with the Carneros region and moving northward through the city of Napa, the communities of Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and then the towns of St. Helena and Calistoga at the valley’s northern end, the progression is logical and detailed.

However, "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" does contain a number of errors and ambiguities:

The authors tell us that Marilyn Monroe "used to visit the Calistoga baths when hubby Joe DiMaggio was off playing baseball . . . ". The Yankee Clipper retired after the 1951 season. He married Marilyn in 1954.

On page 87 Beaulieu Vineyards is said to be "the oldest continuously producing winery in the Napa Valley." On page 139 Beringer Vineyards is called "the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley."

The bistro Bouchon "was created by the Keller brothers of the French Laundry (Yountville) and Fleur de Lys (San Francisco)." Thomas Keller is the chef/owner of the French Laundry in Yountville. Hubert Keller is the chef/owner of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. They are not related. Certainly one would think such inaccuracies wouldn’t be found in a second edition.

Still, the amount of information in the book is substantial and many of the detailed topics are completely accurate and would likely be fascinating insight for most visitors. A 30-page history of the area is included, as are a smattering of vineyard and winery-supplied recipes. While I’m surprised at a number of inaccuracies, they don’t make the book less valuable as a tourist resource. Perhaps an analogy applies—that of a goalie who makes great saves all night, but leaves the fans remembering the few times a puck went past him. Authors Kathleen and Gerald Hill did have a pretty good game in goal and I would commend "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" to California wine country visitors.


--Reviewer Dan Clarke writes about wine and food. He doesn’t know much about ice hockey but likes his analogy, nonetheless.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:12

The Fire Never Dies

The Fire Never DiesOne Man's Raucous Romp Down the Road of Food, Passion and Adventure Richard Sterling

Travelers' TalesSan Francisco, 2001

ISBN 978-1885211705285 pages $14.95

The Fire Never Dies 

The Library of Congress summarizes this book as about anecdotes concerning food and travel. OK, but is it? The title teases us. What is that fire? Is it hungering for food? Or is it another primal need? The cover art shows an Asian woman dressed in a red dress that barely holds in her bosom sitting at a table with some plates of food. It is the sort of book cover (and book) that a junior high school boy would have had to sneak into his room to read. The book's cover still caused many people to question a bald guy in his fifties about the book.

Without telling the "best" parts, what is in the book? This book is a collection of essays about Richard Sterling's adventures from military service in Vietnam to a millennial new year's celebration in a remote village in Baja California and covers a lot of places and activities in between. There are mentions and short discussions of food and even some of cooking in the book, but that does not seem to be what the book is about in chief.

The author includes an essay about eating large insects in a restaurant in Cambodia where the only other diners or customers are a French couple. Sterling tells us about the preparation of the local specialty a large insect. However, this story, as it develops, seems not about the food so much as about the showdown between the author and the Frenchman. Will the effete Frenchman eat the insects since his wife apparently finds eating bugs disgusting?

Another story is about feeding rescued Vietnamese who fled their country in April 1975. The Vietnamese, although hungry, would not eat American beef stew provided by the crew of a U.S. Navy ship. Fortunately, someone decides that Vietnamese might prefer rice. At least in this story Sterling gives us some interesting thoughts about how familiar foods are important to our sense of self and home. They are all the more important in times of stress. Consider the reports of increased comfort foods consumption by Americans after the 9-11 slaughter.

But it appears to me that the real focus of the essays in this book is something else. One story is about the specialized male entertainment venues that existed around and near U.S. military installations in the Philippines. I missed the military and the Philippines. Sportsmen and servicemen I know who have been to the Philippines indicate that these entertainment places did exist. The reports by Sterling more than likely are accurate, given their consistency with other stories. But how is this about food or adventure? It seems pretty well known world you could encounter there. The armed services had films about that at least a generation before.

On a ship between Philippines and Vietnam the author has a strange encounter with the woman who is the barber on that ship. In still another essay some locals in Baja help the author and his friends when one of their four-wheel drive vehicles breaks down hundreds of miles from spare parts and mechanics. Sterling drinks beer with the natives in various mostly tropical locales.

Sterling's stories entertain some times, and at other times infuriate. Presumably for most of us, Sterling tells about places and activities that we will not experience. However, the focus of this publication is wine and food. All things considered, that does not appear to be the focus of this collection of essays.


--Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

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