Arts, Entertainment, Living

Cruising Steinbeck's 'Mother Road'

Sunday, 14 November 2010 12:53 PM Written by

EIGHTY FOUR, PA.  -- My house

Today in the Post-Gazette is my travel article about my adventure on a stretch of Historic Route 66 in the Mojave Desert when I bumped into a busload of French pilgrims who'd come to worship American culture at the Bagdad Cafe.DSC_0530

In 1987 the cafe and the old motel next to it were used as the location for an independent German/American  movie, "Bagdad Cafe," which has become a cult classic in Western Europe, especially France. Here's the trailer.

179667-1Until two Sundays ago I had never seen the movie or even heard of it. That's particularly embarrassing for me, since I was working for the entertainment section of the L.A. Times when it came out.

Courtesy of Netflix, I saw the movie the other night. It's not a typical Hollywood movie; it's strange and slow at times, but it's also funny and sweet. It's not likely you'll like it. But it's easy to see why it is so beloved by those nutty Europeans who come to the cafe by the thousands each year.

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A few blues memories from Chicago

Sunday, 14 November 2010 12:00 AM Written by


Melvia "Chick" Rogers (Jim White photo)

Thanks to Bluzer and his comment on Jimmy Johnson the other day, I looked up my posts on the Chicago Blues Festival, where I saw Johnson -- and lots of other great musicians. Of course, I had seen Johnson years ago when Mancini's in McKees Rocks was bringing all kinds of Chicago bluesmen to to town.

I enjoyed reading BlueNotes' Chicago coverage again (can't seem to get enough of him!), but I especially enjoyed revisiting the photos I had taken. I thought I had bult a photo gallery from that festival, but it seems to have disappeared when the blogs moved to a new server earlier this year.

So I've stuck one of my favorite closeups from that year at the top of the page, and adding some links to the coverage for anyone who'd like to take a look. (Bluzer, there's another Little Willie Littlefield pic in there, too.)

--  The King returns to Chicago

-- More blues from Chicago

-- Chicago blues fest brings out hidden talent

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Travels With Steigy

Saturday, 13 November 2010 10:11 AM Written by

EIGHTY FOUR, PA. -- My house

As I chased John Steinbeck's ghost around the USA from Sept. 23 to Nov. 7, I have also written seven travel stories for the Sunday Post-Gazette. In case you missed them and want to read some more-reasoned accounts of my drive-by journalism, here are the links:



VAN BUREN, Maine --

A pier next to a yacht in Long Island.

A lonely riverbank in rural Vermont.

A blinding Walmart parking lot in Bangor.

A dark gravel road by the foggy Bay of Fundy.

I don't care how rotten the economy is. No sane adult planning a fall vacation wants to sleep where I've slept during the past 10 days, or drive around the New England countryside as fast as I have.

New England:


New England, like the rest of the known universe, appears empty, old and pretty awesome.

After racking up 2,300 miles chasing John Steinbeck's ghost from the shores of Connecticut to the very tiptop of Maine to the Lake Champlain Islands of Vermont, that's the gist of my scouting report.

Wisconsin :

 BARABOO, Wis. --

I don't know what John Steinbeck saw in the Wisconsin Dells that was so "enchanting," but I sure didn't see it.

I drove the same route last weekend that he did on his "Travels With Charley" trip in 1960. Steinbeck and poodle Charley went north on U.S. 12 from Chicago past Madison, past this impressive little tourist town and past the strip of garish motels, amusement parks and waterparks that are said to have inspired Chicago mobster Bugsy Siegel to steal the idea for his plans for Las Vegas.



 "I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love."

-- John Steinbeck, "Travels With Charley"


John Steinbeck fell hard for Montana. Who doesn't?

But the great author's love affair with the Treasure State was really more like a two-night stand.



 LANGLOIS, Ore. --

Scotty Mathess of Denver was seeing the spectacular Pacific Coast the hard, slow way -- on two wheels.

For the past month he's been riding his bicycle from Seattle toward San Francisco on U.S. Highway 101.

That stretch of highway, which John Steinbeck took on his "Travels With Charley" trip in 1960, and I took 10 days ago, could be the most spectacular 1,000-mile drive in the USA.


The Monterey Peninsula:


Elevation 3,169. Population 10.

The best way to see all of Monterey Peninsula -- aka Steinbeck Country -- is from the rocky top of spectacular Fremont Peak.

Like all of California, the area Steinbeck made world famous with "The Grapes of Wrath," "Cannery Row" and "East of Eden" has been unfairly blessed by Mother Nature…


Route 66:

NEWBERRY SPRINGS, Calif., Old Route 66 --

A lot of the country's most famous U.S. highway has been replaced, paved over or bypassed, but you can still get your kicks on Route 66.

You can drive on stretches of old Route 66 in the Mojave Desert for half an hour at 70 mph and not encounter another car.

You can inspect the crumbling ruins of motels and gas stations that were killed decades ago when Interstate 40 made Route 66 obsolete.

You can take a dark exit off I-40 in empty Yavapai County, Ariz., and sleep on the berm of a part of Historic Route 66.

And, if you're as lucky as I was two Sundays ago when I did all of the above, you also can meet a busload of French tourists who've come to the desert to worship American culture.

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'Charley' & the Critics

Friday, 12 November 2010 10:33 PM Written by

EIGHTY FOUR, PA. -- My house

In "Travels With Charley" John Steinbeck says his trip ended on US 11 in Abingdon, Va., as he and Charley pushed hard for home in early December, 1960.

But his trip -- and his ambitious mission to reacquaint himself with America and its people at the grass roots and rediscover the soul of the country he loved -- was over long before then and he knew it.

Steinbeck realized he had failed to uncover any great truths about the country or its people and said so in "Charley." But it didn’t matter to the reading public what he found or didn’t find on his trip. He was Steinbeck, the great and popular American writer. Whatever he published, readers bought.  89d8225b9da03a217ed6e010.L._AA300__copy_copy_copy_copy_copy

With few notes from his trip to work from, Steinbeck began writing “Charley” in February of 1961 during a vacation in Barbados, then put it off until May. After much struggling, he completed it around the first of September, 1961, nearly a year after he left on his trip.

“Travels With Charley in Search of America” was published by Viking Press in July of 1962 and it sold fast and furiously from the start – 250,000 copies.

Before coming out as a book it was serialized in abridged form in three parts by Holiday magazine, where it bore the title Seinbeck originally gave it, "In Quest of America." Later it was a Book of the Month Club selection. Today it's the best-selling book at the National Steinbeck Center's book store.

The original Viking Press hardback edition of “Travels With Charley” was only 246 pages and Charley, who stole the show from his master and saved the book from being a disaster, is mentioned on almost half of them. Steinbeck's wife Elaine, who spent at least 45 days with him on his 11-week trip, is not mentioned once.

Steinbeck was never liked by the East Coast literary Establishment, which alone is a good reason to like him.

The big critics disliked Steinbeck for snobbish intellectual reasons -- he  was from out West. He had a sense of humor. He was too popular, too sentimental, too accessible and insufficiently political (i.e., he didn't keep writing "The Grapes of Wrath" over and over).

Nevertheless, the reviews for "Charley" ran the gamut from favorable to ecstatic. The New York Times, Newsweek and the Atlantic loved it.

The Times’ reviewer lost his grip, effusing that it was “a pure delight, a pungent potpourri of places and people interspersed with bittersweet essays on everything from the emotional difficulties of growing old to the reasons why giant Sequoias arouse such awe.”

Newsweek called it “affecting and highly entertaining.” The Atlantic’s August issue wrote that it was a book “to be read slowly for its savor, and one which, like Thoreau, will be quoted and measured by our own experience.”  

The Boston Herald enthused that “Charley” was one of the "the best books John Steinbeck has ever written. Perceptive, revealing, and completely delightful." The San Francisco Examiner deemed it "profound, sympathetic, often angry . . . an honest and moving book by one of our great writers."

Time magazine, which never forgave Steinbeck for “The Grapes of Wrath's” attacks on capitalism, was almost alone in trashing what would be Steinbeck's last major book. henry-fonda-in-the-grapes-of-wrath_copy

It ridiculed “Charley” in a brief review on Aug. 10, 1962.  Calling it “One of the dullest travelogues ever to acquire the respectability of a hard cover,” it said ultimately Steinbeck’s attempt at reacquainting himself with America “reveals nothing more remarkable than a sure gift for the obvious observation."

After Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, Time magazine piled on with a nasty Nov. 2, 1962, article that further dissed the author and his entire body of work.

Time sniped that the decision of the Nobel judges “was also reportedly influenced by Steinbeck's latest, bestselling ‘Travels with Charley,’ which manages to recapture the banality, mawkish sentiment and pseudo philosophy that have marked Steinbeck at his worst.”

Steinbeck was extremely sensitive to reviews, even favorable ones. But he got the last laugh on Time, all the way to the bank.

For more than a year Time's editors and Steinbeck-hating owner Henry Luce had to watch “Charley” mock them from their own top-10 nonfiction best-sellers list.

“Charley,” which was also on the New York Times best-sellers list for 57 weeks, has never fallen from the culture’s consciousness.

In 1968, shortly before Steinbeck died,  it was turned into a horrible and hokey hour-long “documentary” for NBC that used actors to play people Steinbeck said he met on his trip. Its producers paid $1,000 to rent a poodle to stand in for dead Charley.

The book “Travels With Charley” gave Charles Kuralt his idea for his famed “On the Road” segments for “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.” In the 1990s Kevin Costner had an option on “Charley” with plans to shoot an eight-part miniseries. Fortunately, it was never made.

“Travels With Charley” is everything the critics said and more. Timeless in many ways, dated in others, it's obviously padded and silly in spots -- and a lot of it is just plain made up. Despite its shortcomings, "Charley" flashes with Steinbeck's great writing, humor and semi-cranky personality. travels_cove_copy_copy

Big-time critics like Peter Lisca ripped “Charley” for representing "all the baggage of the third-rate journalist who sees only the stereotype and the cliché." 

But Steinbeck’s drive-by accounting of 1960 America was never meant to be serious journalism or deep social commentary -- and it wasn’t. He considered "Charley" the account of one man’s unique, subjective and unrepeatable trip -- and it was.

PS: My trip with John Steinbeck is over -- the driving part, anyway. To see how and why I ended up spending 43 days of my life retracing Steinbeck's 1960 route around the USA, or to start at the beginning of this blog, go here, to the beginning.


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Weekly Menu for the Week of Nov. 15

Friday, 12 November 2010 10:02 PM Written by

Welcome to my weekly menu!!!bag-groceries-food

Between the grocery ads and the coupons you can tell what time of year it is. I can't believe that in 2 short weeks we will be celebrating Thanksgiving! Time is flying by! Needless to say if you are one of the lucky ones that will be entertaining this year, take advantage of the amazing specials going on right now on the items you will need to put together that fabulous meal. Be sure you double check all of the coupons coming home because you can really save BIG! Don't forget that most grocers will double your coupons up to $.50.

This week the big special is a 10 lb. bag of baking potatoes for $1.99 at Giant Eagle! We are going to whip up a Baked Potato Soup and use the leftover skins for Friday night. You should have enough potatoes leftover from the week to mash up for turkey day! Another Super Saver meal this week is the Penne with Vodka Sauce. Barilla Pasta is on special for $1.25 per box and the Market District sauce is $2.50 per jar. Whip up a nice Caesar salad and you can serve your family a meal that is under $10!!! In case you aren't the jar-type, I did include a recipe for Vodka Sauce. I hope you enjoy the savings and the recipes!

If you would like to receive an email notification when the menu has been published please follow the link below and sign-up!

You can also follow the menu on Facebook and Twitter!!! Go to Kristen Kill Reisinger's Menus That Save on Facebook and click like!!! You will receive updates and pics throughout the week. Also follow the menu on Twitter - @menusthatsave.

ALWAYS check your coupons!!! Not only the ones we receive in our newspapers and mid-week mailers but also online! Check out

Follow the plan so you can save time, money, and a few calories! Remember – cooking our own food is healthier than ordering in and eating out any day!!! Your family, wallet and waistline will thank you!

I hope you all enjoy your week, the recipes and the savings!


Penne with Vodka Sauce
Caesar Salad

Penne with Vodka Sauce

As you know, most of my recipes are homemade and I try not to use too many processed ingredients. I have included a recipe for Vodka Sauce below but personally, I really enjoy GE's Market District Vodka Sauce – yes in the jar! It is fantastic!!! Oh yeah – and is on special this week!!

But – if you prefer homemade and have the time, here is a recipe that gets rave reviews. It has been adapted from Rachel Ray's "You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Sauce."

1 T. of olive oil
1 T. of butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup of vodka
1 cup of chicken broth
1 (32 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 box of penne
½ cup of cream
Fresh basil
Parmesan Cheese

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add Vodka to the pan and reduce by half – this should take about 2-3 minutes. Add chicken broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to the directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare your bread and salad.

Stir the cream into the sauce and return it to just bubbling. Once the sauce begins to bubble remove from the heat. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce and fresh chopped basil. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

*** Serving Suggestion *** Top each serving with prosciutto cut into thin strips. Although this is an expensive deli meat, the flavor paired with the Vodka Sauce is outstanding!!!

Caesar Salad Dressing (adapted from the Food Network)

4 t. of Dijon Mustard
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 t. of anchovy paste (optional)
2 t. of Worcestershire sauce
Couple dashes of hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 2 lemons
1 T. of red wine vinegar
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup of water

1/3 cup of parmesan cheese
Romaine lettuce chopped

In a blender or food processor, combine all of the ingredients except the oil and water. Puree until smooth. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow stream and then blend in the water. The dressing will keep for one week, covered and chilled.

Toss chopped romaine lettuce, croutons and parmesan cheese with the dressing.


Grilled Salmon with a Mustard-Molasses Glaze
Wild rice
Sautéed Spinach

Grilled Salmon with a Mustard-Molasses Glaze (adapted from Southern Living)

½ cup of coarse-grain mustard
1/3 cup of molasses
¼ cup of red-wine vinegar
6 (4-5 oz.) salmon fillets
Salt and pepper

Whisk the first three ingredients together. Sprinkle the fillets with salt and pepper. Brush the fillets with half of the mustard mixture.

Grill fillets for 4-5 minutes per side or place under the broiler for about the same time until the fish begins to flake. Remove from the grill or broiler and baste with remaining glaze.

***leftover/lunch idea*** Throw the leftover salmon on top of field greens drizzled with vinaigrette and serve sliced pears on the side.

Sautéed Spinach

1-2 bags of fresh spinach (amount depends on how many Popeyes you have in your house)
1-2 T. of olive oil
1-2 t. of minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil and garlic in a large skillet. Add the spinach and sauté until it has wilted. Season with salt and pepper.


Baked Potato Soup

Baked Potato Soup – this is a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs-kinda-soup

8-10 large baking potatoes
2/3 cup of butter
2/3 cup all purpose flour
7 cups of milk
4 green onions, sliced
1 pkg. of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 ¼ cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 (8 oz.) container of sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Bake potatoes at 400˚ for 1 hour. When cool, slice in half and scoop out the middle - leave enough potato on the skin (think restaurant potato skins) and reserve the skins for future use – Friday Night. Mash the potato scooped from the skin to desired consistency. I like it a little lumpy, which gives a nice texture to the soup.

Melt butter in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over low heat. Add flour and whisk constantly for one minute until smooth. Gradually, add milk and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until mixture has thickened and is bubbly.

Stir in mashed, lumpy potatoes and green onions and bring to a boil. Be careful not to scorch!!! Once soup has been brought to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add bacon, cheese and sour cream. Site until cheese melts. Serve immediately.


Chicken with Broccoli Stir Fry
Steamed rice – white or brown

Chicken with Broccoli Stir Fry

2 T. of Canola Oil, divided
4 cups of fresh broccoli florets
1 t. of fresh ginger
2 t. of water
1 lb. of boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into strips
¼ t. of crushed red pepper – more if you like it HOT
½ cup of chicken broth
2 T. of rice wine vinegar
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. hoisin sauce
2 t. minced garlic
1 t. of cornstarch

Heat 1 T. of oil in a large skillet or Wok over medium-high heat. Add broccoli and ginger to pan and sauté for about one minute. Add the water, cover and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove broccoli from the pan and keep warm.

Heat remaining 1 T. of oil in the pan. Add the chicken and crushed red pepper. Cook until the chicken is lightly browned, stirring often.

Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining ingredients and add to the pan, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Return the broccoli to the pan and toss so that everything is evenly coated.


Chili and Skins


2 lbs. of ground beef – I use 1 lb. of ground beef and 1 lb. of cubed steak
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 T. chili powder
5 (14 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes
1 jar of Picante sauce (I use Pace Medium Picante)
1 can of black beans – drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the beef and onion in a large stock-pot or Dutch oven. Drain off the fat and add the chili powder. Once the beef is seasoned with the chili powder add the tomatoes and Picante sauce. Bring to a boil. Add the black beans and let simmer for at least 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and additional chili powder if you would like.

***Crock-pot method*** Brown all of the beef, drain the fat, and season with the chili powder. Add to the crock-pot and add the remaining ingredients. Cook on low all day or High for about 4 hours.

Potato skins

Reserved potato skins from soup
Melted butter or Spray oil
Cheddar cheese
Toppings: bacon, sour cream, green onions, etc.

Take your potato skins and place them on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with melted butter or spray with oil. Place in a 450˚ oven and bake until crisp. Remove skins and add cheddar cheese and place under the broiler until cheese has melted. Add your toppings – fun for the kids to make their own!

And now for the shopping list. As always, double check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see if you already have any of the items listed below. This will reduce your spending and create less waste! And NEVER shop without a plan!


2 shallots – vodka sauce
Basil – vodka sauce
2 lemons
Romaine lettuce – GE special BOGO bagged salad
Spinach – GE special BOGO
Salad – GE special BOGO
Baked potatoes – GE special 10 lb bag for $1.99
Green onions
Medium onion

Parmesan cheese

Olive oil
Dijon Mustard
Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce
Red wine vinegar
Coarse-grain mustard
Canola oil
Red pepper flakes
Chili powder

Canned Goods/Ethnic Foods/Dry Goods
Market District Vodka Sauce – GE special
Penne – GE special on Barilla Pasta
Chicken broth – need 1 ½ cups if doing vodka sauce and stir-fry – GE special 20 for $10
32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes – vodka sauce
Anchovy paste – optional
Wild rice
White or brown rice
Rice Wine vinegar
Soy sauce
Hoisin sauce
5 (14 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes – chili style if you can find them
Jar of Picante Sauce – we like Pace
Black beans

Seafood/Meat Case/Butcher
6 salmon fillets – GE special
Bacon – 1 lb. for soup and extra for skins – GE special
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts – 1 lb.
2 lbs. of beef – ground beef or combo of ground beef and cubed steak – GE special on ground chuck

Frozen Foods

Butter – GE special on Land O Lakes
Heavy cream – vodka sauce
Milk - need 7 cups
Cheddar cheese – GE special on Sargento
8 oz. sour cream – extra for skins – GE special on Daisy


Vodka – if making homemade Vodka sauce

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TV Q&A: 'Sherlock,' 'The Talk' and an old WPXI promo

Friday, 12 November 2010 12:00 AM Written by

TV Q&A with Rob Owen
Submit questions for a future column.
This week's TV Q&A (after the "Read more" jump below) responds to questions about “Sherlock,” “The Talk” and an old WPXI promo. As always, thanks for reading, and keep the questions coming.
-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV writer

Read more after the jump. ...

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Pardon that smell

Friday, 12 November 2010 12:00 AM Written by
Reader Question:

I'm a wise shopper and I like to mix vintage and new trends at wonderful prices. My problem is that a lot of times the clothes found at thrift or consignment shops have a distinct smell that will not go away, even with washing or cleaning. I've tried odor sprays, but those haven't worked. Have you come across some form of detergent or cleaning agent that will help get rid of the smell?

My Answer:

Thank you for your question! I am not a vintage clothing expert, so I had to ask a couple of my fashionable friends.

Nicole Couch, the owner of the local online vintage clothing site Crazy Hot Clothes, recommends using "Grandma's Secret Wrinkle Remover Pump Spray" that can be found at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Susan Gregg Koger, Chief Creative Officer at ModCloth, says that easiest "trick" she has found is to spray the garment with Febreze (or something similar) and then hang it in a small enclosed space with an air purifier for a few days. Also she says if the garment is washable, try adding a cup or two of distilled white vinegar to the hot water. Susan always recommends hand washing your vintage pieces if the garments are washable.

I'm sure there are other options out there, so readers, I'm opening up this question to you. Have you tried any products that help remove that vintage "smell?"

Please keep your fashion questions coming! Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to have your question answered in Clutch.

Have a great weekend everyone, and be sure to check back on Monday for another Clutch post!

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New from Delmark - Studebaker John on Maxwell Street

Friday, 12 November 2010 12:00 AM Written by

51H6wQcdqwL._SL500_AA300_I love Delmark Records -- the little Chicago jazz and blues label that for years has specialized in real-deal music, some of which has never made it out of Chic. They've just sent me two new releases, both from underrated and in one case, almost unheard of, blues talent. We'll do one today and one on Monday. (Sort of like "more at 11)

This CD is by the oft-unappreciated Studebaker John, the fine slide blues and blues-rock slide guitarist and harp player. He's also a sharp songwriter and excellent song stylist. He's usually found with his band, the Hawks, but on this CD, he returns to Chicago to revisit his Maxwell Street roots as Studebaker John's Maxwell Street Kings, with a nifty throwback album called "That's the Way You Do."

John (Grimaldi) has put together an album of 15 original songs, all so well crafted in a pure, throbbing blues sound that could've easily been recorded decades ago. All this is done with just John and a pair of Chicago vets -- drummer Steve Cushing and guitarist Rick Kreher. Here's a clip of  "If You Would Love Me" -

The songs and the production are marked by a rawness of spirit and sound that do more than re-create a mood, they recapture the essence of blues gone by. John is a tough player -- harp and guitar -- and his vocals here seem filtered through a dusty old blues lens that can't hide their quiet intensity. This is a classic little gem of an album that pulls you back into the primeval smoke of Chicago blues. Inhale deeply.

Here's a video of Studebaker John that doesn't really do justice to the flavor of this new CD:

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