Sunday, August 17, 2014

Light Sport Aviation -- Flying Over Lake Charles

As a journalist, I have the opportunity to do some pretty exciting things sometimes. Recently, as part of an interview for a story I’m writing on Light Sport Aviation, I got to fly in this little two-seater airplane for a bird’s eye view of Lake Charles. It’s a fascinating perspective!

As you can see, plane owner Larry Roach is a big LSU fan.

In a lightweight plane like this, take off takes about two seconds.

We flew over my neighborhood.

The 210 Bridge

L’Auburge Casino Resort getting ready for the Weezer concert, Party by the Pool.

Lake Charles and the I-10 Bridge

Downtown Lake Charles

The Capital One Building and the Civic Center

Sun shining over the 210 Bridge

Approaching the runway at the Lake Charles airport.

Mr. Roach loves talking to people about Light Sport Aviation. For more information, call him at the number below and check out this website.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Blue Bell Ice Cream -- Brenham, Texas

People in southwest Louisiana tend to have loyalties at the grocery store. They drink Coke (not Pepsi). Community Coffee, almost exclusively. And if it’s not Blue Bell Ice Cream, they’d often rather eat no ice cream at all.

So on our drive from Texas to bring Eric home last Friday, we made a detour through Brenham to tour the Blue Bell factory. Pretty exciting stuff!

One thing I was NOT prepared for was the crowds! My first clue was when we couldn’t park in the parking lot, but had to park a bit down the road in a high school stadium parking lot. When we entered the visitors center, we were greeted by this mob scene. Our tour guide later told us they get an average of 2,300 visitors on an average summer Friday.

After waiting in a long line to buy tickets, we had an hour to wait for our tour time. We went over to the ice cream parlor for our free sample . . .

. . . .and strolled the grounds and learned a bit about the factory’s history from the posters and displays in the visitors center. This is the original truck that delivered their ice cream.

Here are some interesting facts you may not know about Blue Bell Ice Cream:
  • The factory opened in 1907. They started out making butter. Four years later, they realized ice cream sold better and they’ve been making ice cream since then.
  • In 1930, they changed the name from Brenham Creamery to Blue Bell Creamery, to reflect the owner’s love of the beautiful wildflower that symbolizes northern Texas. It was also this year that they switched from delivering ice cream in a horse-drawn buggy to refrigerated trucks.
  • 70% of all Blue Bell Ice Cream is made in the Brenham factory. The remaining is made in two satellite factories; one in Oklahoma and one in Alabama.
  • One day of ice cream production requires the milk from 60,000 cows, all from local farms surrounding Brenham.
  • One production line (and there are several in the factory going at a time) fills 52 half gallons of ice cream a minute. They can fill 180 cones in a minute.
  • Naturally, as is the case with many factory tours, there was no photography allowed. They say it is to protect the privacy of their employees. The Brenham plant employs 900 people; there are 4,500 employees company-wide, including the two other factories and dozens of distribution centers. Lake Charles has a distribution center. No wonder, as much Blue Bell Ice Cream as we eat around here!
  • A hallmark of Blue Bell is the myriad of flavors. The factory produces around 60 different flavors in a year. Some flavors are seasonal. Some are regional. Others are “standard” year around flavors. Seventeen different flavors are made at the factory a day. They create 5-6 new flavors a year. If a new flavor sells well, it becomes a standard. Otherwise, they nix it. My personal favorite flavor is Rocky Mountain Road (it’s better than regular rocky road). I also love Red Velvet Cake.
  • Most stores have approximately 25 flavors on display at a given time. For the best selection, go to HEB, their “signature store.”


Speaking of new flavors, while on the tour, our guide pointed out that they were currently producing a new flavor. She wasn’t permitted to divulge the name. But we could see through the glass a key ingredient. When we guessed at the new flavor, she didn’t deny it. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it comes in a turquoise container, it makes its grocery store freezer shelf debut on August 28th, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome!

For more information, check out their website here.

What's your favorite flavor of Blue Bell Ice Cream? Or, if you don't have access to Blue Bell, what is your favorite brand and flavor of ice cream?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The New Place in Town -- Pint House Pizzeria

I enjoy trying out new restaurants in town. The latest in Lake Charles is the Pint House Pizzeria on Broad St.

This piece of real estate has been occupied by several establishments in the seven years I've been here. They never last too long. The Happy Hippy was a pizza joint. Then Dharma. Not sure what that was like -- it was so short lived, I didn't make it there before it closed. But the Pint House got off to a good start, in my opinion, simply by very tastefully renovating the space. It looks great! The exposed brick and freshly painted tin ceiling give the place a historic feel. The red walls are warm and inviting.

In the back, they offer a dozen or so tempting gelatos, made on the premises. More on that below.

They specialize in gourmet pizzas in either 12 or 18 inches. Fourteen varieties are offered on the menu, but you can special order a creation of your own. Unique toppings include duck, beef filet, blueberries, pulled pork, clams, scallops, shrimp and salmon.

Because Andrew doesn't eat much meat, we ordered the Herbi, a vegetarian pizza with red sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, sundried tomatoes, onion, garlic, bell pepper, and artichoke hearts. It was very good!

This is Andrew impatiently waiting while Mom says, "Wait, we have to take a picture first!" *click*


And of course, dessert. I had an awesome chocolate cherry gelato. The boys ordered tiramisu and another coffee flavor. They also offer specialty sodas, shakes, and malts.

When a restaurant first opens, often there can be a learning curve regarding staff. I had heard they had a few service issues initially. But it seems they now have the kinks worked out. I highly recommend the Pint House. They do not have a website, but you can find them on Facebook.

Have you tried any new interesting restaurants lately?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Louisiana Spirits, Home of Bayou Rum, Lacassine, Louisiana

I don't know why, but sometimes there are things that I really want to do, but it takes me way too long to get around to doing them. One example is the relatively new rum distillery down the road (I-10) from Lake Charles. Louisiana Spirits opened around a year ago. Touring the facility has been on my list since then. Bob and I finally made the trip (about 20 minutes) yesterday.

Here's the billboard from I-10.

Rum is made from sugarcane. Sugarcane is one of Louisiana's primary crops. Surprisingly, Louisiana
Spirits is the only rum distillery in the state. They call their product "America's Rum" because they only use ingredients made in the U.S. Most of the ingredients are locally grown and produced. They use unrefined granulated cane sugar and molasses from the Louisiana sugar mill, Patout and Sons, founded in 1829, making it the oldest family-owned sugar refinery in the United States.

The distillery offers tours, where you can learn all about the history of rum making in Louisiana (It started with the Jesuits in the 1700s) and the modern day process and methods of the present facility. They don't allow photo taking on the tour, but we could take pictures through the glass.

I learned things like rum is required to be at least 80 proof. And their production line can fill 22 bottles in a minute.

They do allow photo-taking in the gift shop. Prior to this week, Louisiana Spirits sold only two varieties of rum -- Silver (plain) and Spiced. Their brand new product is a Satsuma rum. It won't be available in stores until August 1, but we brought a bottle home with us. Wow, is it yummy! It is 60 proof, which makes it technically a liqueur. For my non-Louisiana readers, a satsuma is similar to a mandarin orange and is native to the state.

They have a 4th rum in the works -- it's an aged rum. It ages in oak bourbon barrels from Kentucky for one year. So it won't be ready until December.

Naturally, at the end of the tour, there is tasting. Bob and I love the Spiced Rum.

One of the highlights of our tour was meeting Oscar, a one-month old raccoon who was rescued by the gentleman in the photo, Randy Harrah. Randy works at the distillery and calls himself the chief executive janitor. Oscar is as tame as a baby cat or dog. For now, anyway.

If you haven't yet been to Louisiana Spirits, it's worth the trip. Learn more on their website here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Quaker Steak and Lube in Sulphur, La.

The first Quaker Steak and Lube in Louisiana recently opened. A couple months ago, I’d written a cover story about the new restaurant for the local magazine Jambalaya News (You can read that story here on page 32). That piqued my curiosity. Plus, there was a tad of Yankee nostalgia involved. Pennsylvania is “the Quaker State.” And Quaker Steak and Lube originated in Pa. I’d been wanting to try this new place in town (actually in Sulphur) since the grand opening, but was waiting for the hubbub to die down. Two things on my list of things I don’t like. Crowds. And waiting in line to eat. So last week, we went to Quaker Steak on a Tuesday evening around 7:00, thinking that might be a good time to go. Uh uh. The wait was around an hour. We didn't stay.

But I was still curious. The greeter said if we don’t want to wait, the best time to go there is between 2-4 p.m. So yesterday, Andrew and I (Bob was at work) went to Quaker Steak around 2:30 for a late lunch/early dinner. The place was packed! We were told it would be around a 20 minute wait. Heck, we had nothing else to do. But after maybe five minutes, we were told they had two seats at the bar. Fine.

Part of the fun at Quaker Steak is its unique theme. It’s all about cars and motorcycles, which hang from the ceiling in every room. License plates and other vehicle paraphernalia adorn the walls. The menu is fun to read, especially for car enthusiasts. The place is quirky and I like that.

Andrew and I both ordered “unleaded” lemonade and perused the menu.

We couldn't resist this mega-appetizer with onion rings, soft pretzels (skewered on a car antenna), fried pickle spears, and cheese sticks. Surely it’s designed to feed four or more. And indeed, we brought at least a third of it home for Bob.

Sitting at the bar, I couldn’t help but notice these Lube Tubes. They hold 100 ounces of beer and have a tap near the bottom. Uh, I don’t think so.

Since Quaker Steak is known for wings, we opted for that obvious choice. But the choice isn’t that easy. They have 26 different wing sauces to choose from. I ordered a "sprintster," which is a six-pack of wings in an egg carton. I couldn't choose just one sauce, so I ordered half Parmesan Pepper and half Chipotle BBQ. Andrew ordered boneless wings with Golden Garlic sauce. They were good. But messy.

Warmed “wing wags” for desaucification to the rescue! Please and thank you!

Readers, have you been to Quaker Steak and Lube, either here in Sulphur, in Pennsylvania, or in any state? What was your experience?

Baton Rouge, I think you're next.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making a Move

I’ve taken a bit of a blogging hiatus, maybe you’ve noticed. But I do have an excuse. I normally report on my travels and adventures, but the truth is, I haven’t gone anywhere recently! Instead, I’ve been MOVING. Yes, we finally sold our home in Moss Bluff and moved into the home in Lake Charles that we bought 6 MONTHS AGO!

So we’ve been unpacking boxes and trying to find places for clothes, furniture, dishes, you name it. It’s been a challenge, moving from 2300 or so square feet of home to 1700ish square feet. Where do we put everything! But we knew this going in. Downsizing. That's the whole point. How much space does a couple, with an occasional son or two visiting, need? In preparation for the move, we’d been purging closets and cupboards for months. Apparently, it wasn’t enough. So I continue to practice the 3 Gs -- Goodwill, garage sale, garbage.

It’s a good feeling, really, eliminating everything that we don’t really need, want, or use. We just don’t need that much STUFF! De-cluttering makes life simpler, easier, less stressful.

The last time we moved was seven years ago – from Pittsburgh to Moss Bluff. Odd that I can’t really recall how long it took for us to get comfortable in the new place; how long till the boxes were cleared from rooms and each nick nack had a home. We had boxes in our attic that had never been unpacked, and now they are sitting in our garage. No way are they going up into this attic! If we haven’t used something in the past seven years, we probably never will.

For now, I’m a bit preoccupied with picture placements, towel bar installations, kitchen and master bath remodeling, and finding Bob’s missing fingernail kit. But I hope to be back on the road exploring again soon.

When was the last time you moved and how long did it take you to settle in and get comfortable?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Greater Good on a Goat Farm

Near Meridian, Texas, on the eastern fringe of the Lone Star State’s hill country, lies a quiet peaceful ranch populated by Matt and Miriam Wallace and their college-age son and daughter, Matt’s parents, Steve the farmhand, random revolving-door visitors, several cats, a couple dogs, two horses, and a large herd of Boer goats. The farm has been in Matt’s family since the early 1800s.

One would never guess from its unassuming outward appearance, but Valley View Farm is headquarters for Greater Good Global Support Services, G3S2 for short. This non-profit organization serves those who serve. They provide help to those who help others – a mission to those on a mission. They are self-professed problem solvers. G3S2 provides resources in the areas of technology, legal and financial issues, health and medical concerns, communication and logistics, global situational awareness, and risk management. A lost passport in a foreign country. A safe haven for persecuted minorities in a warzone. A need for a very large-sized nursing bra. No problem is too great or too small for G3S2 to tackle. Sometimes the answer is that there is no answer, but that knowledge is invaluable to the person asking. To learn more about G3S2, check out their website here.

Also nearby lies a sleepy hamlet called Cranfills Gap. We ate dinner there at this charming down-to earth biker bar. It’s the closest restaurant.

Our son Eric will spend his summer as an intern for G3S2. His goal is to help the organization update or revamp their extensive computer system, answer the phones, and help out in any way he can. In his down time, I hope he gets outside, enjoys and relaxes in this pristine setting, deep in the heart of Texas.

This 1947 Ford pick-up truck still runs.