Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Famous Cookies and Candies

There is perhaps not one home in America that has not at one time had Tollhouse cookies or M&M candies in the cupboard for a snack or treat. These products came from entrepreneurial people who saw the need for a different kind of treat, but one came from a culinary mistake.

Take for example the Tollhouse cookie. In 1933, Ruth Graves Wakefield, who owned an inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, decided to make a different version of her butter cookies for her residents by adding some chopped chocolate. She believed the chocolate pieces would melt during cooking but unfortunately, the chocolate stayed intact. Not wanting to waste the batch of cookies, she served them to her patrons who were delighted with this new version to the old recipe. Whitman was pleased that by accident she had discovered a new type of cookie to add to her repertoire. Being a good business woman, Whitman knew a name was needed for her new creation, and she decided on Tollhouse Cookies since her inn was originally located on the tollgate road to Boston. In 1939, the Nestle Company packaged the chocolate chips and introduced them to consumers.

The candy famously represented by the slogan “The candy that melts in your mouth, not in your hand” was developed in 1941, and was sold mostly to the armed forces during WWII. The concept for this candy originated (although it cannot be confirmed) by Mr. Forrest E. Mars who said he saw soldiers during the Spanish Civil War eating a kind of chocolate capsule or tablet that had been encased in a sugary substance.

Once back home, Mars went to work in his kitchen and soon invented the recipe we know today as M&M plain chocolate candies. The candy was originally targeted towards military personnel overseas because it did not melt regardless of high temperature environments, and therefore made a convenient snack for soldiers. By the late 1940s, the packaging changed and so did the recipients. The original container had been a colorful tube, but now changed to a brown pouch, much as we see it today. The product was offered to the general public who were delighted with the crunchy candy. The initials M&M stand for Forrest Mars and Bruce E. Murrie who helped develop the delicious treat.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Siena and the Palio Horse Race

By coincidence, we found ourselves in Siena, Italy on the very day of the Palio race, an annual horse riding event in the Piazza del Campo. At first, we wondered what on earth was happening as one group of people appeared to challenge another with loud music and boisterous behavior. They each held a colorful flag from their particular district draped over their shoulders as they cheered and jeered other groups. There is obviously stiff competition as the 17 districts in and around Siena compete in this bareback horse race.

The buzz and excitement grew as large trucks appeared dropping their loads of sand that would become the track around the Piazza. Then the horses arrived, beautiful creatures groomed and ready for action. Each district is represented by a horse and jockey wearing the colors of their particular area as they careen around the Piazza at breakneck speeds, and one wonders how the riders avoid serious injury. However, everyone present, from the spectators to the riders, appear to enjoy the fun and healthy competition.

This perhaps is a little different from centuries past as depicted in a painting by G. Zocchi (1710-1767). The Piazza looks much the same as residents hang from their balconies as they watch the riders speed past. The riders wear the distinctive colors of their district and elaborate plumed hats. Zocchi has captured the whole event as the riders use their whips not only on their horses’ flanks, but also on their opponents as they complete the circuit. Some riders have fallen while others hang on precariously and look about to fall. Numerous dogs follow the horses, and some men appear to be fighting in the arena. The whole scene is so very different from Siena and the Palio Horse Race of today.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tokyo Gardens and Subway

The old ways balance beautifully with the new in Tokyo. The peace and quiet of this garden is in direct contrast to the busy streets, skyscrapers and underground railway of this wonderful city. Taking courage in both hands, I decided to use the subway to explore Tokyo. Foolishly, I thought the destinations would in English (albeit small print) under the Japanese symbols, but they were not. Just as I decided to abandon my trip, I noticed a group of young girls making their way towards the ticket machines and asked if they could help me. They were more than helpful and seemed to enjoy practicing their schoolgirl English on this inexperienced traveler. Before long, I had my ticket in hand and followed the masses towards the trains.

The subways are clean and fellow travelers are courteous and polite. Etched in the footway leading towards the trains are red footprints. On the left side, the footprints were in green leading in the opposite direction towards the exit. I noticed that travellers did not overtake each other in their haste to get to the trains, but simply walked in an orderly fashion – I’ve never seen such control! In the London, Paris and New York undergrounds, it’s every man for himself as each person jockey’s for position and a seat. I thoroughly enjoyed my day out in Tokyo and highly recommend the subway to other travellers who want to explore the city at their leisure.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hiking the Colorado 14'ers

My dad and I got up early, a long day filled with excitement ahead of us. Having to wake up at 5 in the morning surprisingly didn’t hamper our spirits one bit, and we quickly got our stuff together to head out. After filling up the camelbacks and getting all of our gear in the car, we set off. The only stop would be to grab some Starbucks on the way to our destination. I felt anxious and nervous at the same time. I was ready to get up there and hike, but at the same time I am afraid of heights, so I was nervous as to what I should expect on the trail. After an hour and a half on the highway and some four-wheeling, we finally made it to the trailhead to find a grand view in front of us.

This was only the beginning of a beautiful day. As we continued up the trail Grays and Torreys weren’t revealing themselves to us easily, it would take a hike to do that!

And as we climbed we couldn’t help but take a look back down into Stevens Gulch. The view ahead was what really got me going though. I had never really seen these mountains up close; only ever in pictures. But what I saw in front of me gave me a daunting view of the route ahead.

It wouldn’t be all that long before could finally look down on all that we had come through - I must say that the view down into Stevens Gulch only got better and better as we continued to climb.

Near 12,600 feet we looked up the trail to see a guy yelling his head off. We could see him standing on top of a rock tower on one of the switchbacks farther up the trail. It wasn’t until we got up to that switchback that we realized what he had been doing. The tower he’d been standing on drops several hundred if not a thousand feet down from that edge! We couldn’t believe what we’d seen, but we pressed onward, the summit now within our reach. When we were nearly at the top, we became enveloped in the clouds that were overhead. Luckily for us they weren’t storm clouds, or I think we would’ve turned back!

We reached the summit at 10:30 AM, having set out from the trailhead at 7:30 AM. As you can see we were completely covered by clouds! After a break at the summit we began our hike over to Torreys. This meant we would have to descend onto the saddle connecting both peaks and work our way up to Torreys. The first time I was afraid was coming off the summit because we were close to a steep edge and the trail was narrow. We almost didn’t go for it, but we hadn’t already come this far to back out now! Once we made it onto the saddle we got a good look at the steep route up to Torreys’ summit.

It is much steeper than it looks, and a lot of it is on the edge, so we were both uncomfortable. The trail to the top is all class 2 hiking, but it is steep and some of the rock was loose, so it was slow going to the summit. After another hour of hiking, we finally hit the summit and got a brief glimpse of the view from the peak.

It wasn’t long until we started getting hit with rain, so we signed the summit registry and booked it down to the saddle. Two and a half hours later we finally made it back to the car exhausted and ready for a sandwich. But the trip was worth it, and I now have 2 more summits done, adding to my first summit of Mount Bierstadt.
Submitted by Ian Wallace

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

King John's Hunting Lodge

The medieval house commonly known as “King John’s Hunting Lodge” sits on the corner of the High Street and The Square in Axbridge, Somerset, England. Other than in name, there is no connection to King John since it was built fully 300 years after his death. The building dates to approximately 1500 and looks as though it should be protected by a stout wall instead of sitting precariously on a relatively busy thoroughfare. On the corner of the building, located on the first storey, is an effigy of a king’s head, complete with crown. The effigy dates to the 16th or 17th century, and was thought to have been used as a sign for an inn or tavern before it was placed on the lodge building.

The elevation and layout of the King John’s Hunting Lodge looks remarkably like the guild halls of the 14th and 15th centuries in medieval England. The guilds sprang up to promote camaraderie in a particular group of people such as stonemasons, carpenters and silversmiths. They also trained young men in a particular craft who had to attain a certain level of achievement before being admitted to the guild. Guild members sold their wares on the ground level, had workshops on the first level and sleeping accommodation on the second storey, all of which is similar to the Thaxted Guild Hall in Essex. (See Extraordinary Places…Close to London, page 72).

King John’s Hunting Lodge is now owned by the National Trust and is an excellent museum to visit. The museum is closed from October to March each year. Contact museum staff for more details at: 01934 732012. There are some great pubs and dining facilities nearby for lunch or dinner.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lace Making in Burano, Italy

It is a craft that is said to have decorated the robes of Pharaohs, the ancient Greeks and the Romans who edged their togas with lace made of gold thread. Later the kings and queens of Europe wore exquisite, delicately crafted collars and cuffs of lace as they sat for their portraits. How many visitors to the Louvre or the Royal Academy of Arts have stood before a painting by one of the Masters and not marveled at his skill in capturing the intricate lace designs at the subject’s throat or wrist?

The art of lace making is alive and well in Burano, Italy. Mature women (and some young ladies) still practice this delicate and complex work. They sit outside their homes (making good use of the sunlight), demonstrating their techniques with their magnificent work displayed for sale.

In 1651, Jacob Van Eyck described the art of lace making…

"Of many Arts, one surpasses all. For the maiden seated at her work flashes the smooth balls and thousand threads into the circle... and from this, her amusement, makes as much profit as a man earns by the sweat of his brow, and no maiden ever complains, at even, of the length of the day. The issue is a fine web, which feeds the pride of the whole globe; which surrounds with its fine border cloaks and tuckers, and shows grandly round the throats and hands of Kings."