7.21.2018

Schriner’s Fine Sausages - A Cut Above


I have the particular recollection of walking into Schriner’s Fine Sausages in Glendale, California as a young boy and a silver haired woman with a German accent standing behind an impressive display case of meats and cheeses would come around to me, handing me a slice of bologna wrapped in white paper. Every time I went with my mom to Schriner’s this happened and this is exactly why I accompanied her on Saturday morning shopping trips. Free meat.

The grey-haired woman was Maria Schriner, originally from Stuttgart, Germany. She married Walter Schriner and, while living in New York, they started making sausages. “Walter was from New York, though he pretended he was from Germany,” Walter’s grandson and current owner of Schriner’s, Wally Schriner, tells me when I visit my childhood haunt on a warm April day. Walter and Maria came out from the East Coast in 1952 and originally settled at 4th and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Why then did they move to what was then a desolate area in the northern reaches of Glendale? “Probably cheap property,” Wally surmises. That, and there was a small German-American community already established here. The reasons may be irrelevant. What’s important are the sausages: bratwurst, frankfurters, Polish, bangers, Italian, Swedish potato, breakfast sausages, among a slew of other types of meats stuffed into a casing. “Maria and Walter were totally hands on,” Wally says. “Sausage making is in our blood.”

Wally has been at the helm of Schriner’s for 38 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Six days a week he arrives at the store at 4 a.m. He’s not one to be the “face” of Schriner’s so he’s almost always in the back office, running a small meat empire. “I always told my own kids love what you do,” and he seems to really believe that. In 2018 Schriner’s is nearly identical to what it was when I was eighteen. “We make over 150 different products; our niche is that it is all made here,” Wally says. “If I was to bring in something else, like Boar’s Head, which you can get at Costco, then it wouldn't work. These are our meats. I adhere to the same recipes and way of sausage making that my grandparents started.” And for multi generational customers like myself, that is the reason we’ll drive out of our way to come to Schriner’s. “The key is consistency; we're not trying to cheapen the product,” he adds. And though the products like their beef jerky taste exactly as they have for decades, change is nonetheless the other nit-picky constant in Wally’s life, and Schriner’s finds it must compete with new ideas, a new customer base and new attitudes towards meat. “I need to keep changing - we can't just be a German deli anymore, so I look for new varieties of fresh meats.” That includes their chorizo sausage and carne asada for example, stealing ideas from shows on The Food Network, and employing social media. Bacon wrapped meatloaf is not as German as leberkäse, but Wally strikes a balance for some of today’s ‘no red meat’ leaning customers. “Yeah, we offer nitrate-free meats, chicken sausages like lemon-cilantro, even some gluten free items, so you can still come here if you’re on a diet,” he says. Diet or no diet Schriner’s makes between 6,000-10,000 pounds of sausages each and every week. Their large walk-in stainless steel smoker would make any home cook jealous. Their Black Forest Ham is another classic, but you’ll also find rib eye, steaks and various cuts of meat, German mustards, sauerkraut, German beers and wines, and classic European potato dishes like rösti and spätzle. They have expanded under Wally’s leadership to provide wholesale products and catering, not to mention sausages for the local Oktoberfest. Schriner’s employs 16 people, the majority of whom have been with Wally for over 20 years, one over 30 years. Originally the store was just the current deli portion with one room in the back to make sausages. Little by little Maria and Walter were able to purchase adjoining stores and expand capacity, now at 6,200 square feet, something Wally believes they had envisioned decades ago - a sort of familial succession, a guarantee for the next generation.

Today Schriner’s uses the bread from the bakery next door for their in-house deli where you can get fresh made sandwiches to eat there. A dozen tables inside allow you to lounge, but many people take the sandwiches to-go. I ask Wally if he is surprised the business is still active? “Kind of,” he admits to me. “It’s kind of crazy. There must be something here. Quality and consistency, that’s what I’ve kept.” And in keeping the traditions of the past, like other small businesses in the Arroyo, the present and future is sometimes tenuous. “It’s a challenge each and every day to run a small business,” he acknowledges. Increasing costs are the most obvious issue but as Wally says, “it’s hard for me to pass that on to my customers. I try and keep my price point in line and with everything made here, it lowers my costs.” He surmises that within a five-mile radius of the store only 20% of people know of Schriner’s. “There are people still out there to grab.” There are new people for whom Schriner’s, like me, will become an institution. As Wally and I end our talk I suggest I’d like to photograph him in the deli. No. He will have none of that. He leads me on a tour of the property, but says I can photograph everyone else. “The people up front and in the back – they are the players, they are what make this business what it is today - they are Schriner’s. I just have the name.” But it is that very name that is still a draw, even after 60 years.

3417 Ocean View Blvd.
Glendale, CA





4.19.2018

Belgium Pop Up: Waffle Me This


So, waffle or pancake? My wife goes for pancakes, but I prefer - always have - the crispness, the texture, the structure of a waffle. Sure my mom made them from scratch when I was a boy, pancakes too, but whereas waffles hold syrup in their little cubes, it slides off the pancake. So there’s that.
So when Birch BendersToaster Waffles came along I had to try them. In Belgium typically a waffle is a hand food, a street food, not really a breakfast item. Vendors were all around the streets when I visited Belgium a few years back, and so were the chocolate shops, but that’s another matter. Here in the U.S. with the arrival of the Belgian waffle only in 1962, breakfast was poised to be the resting place for the waffle. Birch Benders makes four iterations of a waffle, all available here in America and they retail for $3.99 a box. Why they work is that they mimic the classic waffles in Belgium, being crisp on the exterior and soft on the inside. One of the nice things is that these waffles do not become saturated with syrup, as many do. I like this. Of course not everyone uses syrup, some use powdered sugar, jam, even just butter and eaten that way, which I did try and found the waffles to be an enjoyable snack, just like I was back in Belgium.

The Hometown (190 calories/two) toast up crispy outside and light on the inside. The Hometown has an essence of sweetness to it and is rather mild in terms of flavor.
The Buttermilk (180 calories/two) while certainly not potent buttermilk flavors, it nonetheless offers a slight sweetness, tempered by the wheat.
The Protein (180 calories/two) holds a huge 11 grams of protein per two waffles though they don’t hold a heavy feeling.
The Paleo is nothing to fear. Tasted straight there without any topping is a light but noticeable what seems like wheat and nut flavors, but they’re not made with either. Made with cassava (a root vegetable), tiger nut (actually not a nut at all, they are tubers) and coconut they are surprisingly flavorful.

9.18.2017

Lack of Communication: A Travel Writer’s Frustration With United Airlines.


So, I'm a travel writer.  I've written for Forbes Travel guides, I’m the author of five travel books (Moon, Reedy Press), and was one of the travel writers for the Santa Barbara News Press. The point is that I travel frequently - domestically and internationally - so I understand delays, occasional lost luggage, mechanical and computer malfunctions, and other odd delays like the time an airline literally forgot to put gas in the plane. And as a travel writer, I’m also a writer, so I understand deadlines, specificity, communication, and details.

I’m flying out of San Francisco to go home in April, 2017. On the way to the airport I get a text that my flight on United Airlines is delayed. What began to unravel at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) with United was nothing less than mystifying, and it’s all about communication, or rather United’s lack of it.


Once at my gate began a series of gate changes and delays. But it wasn’t just my flight. It was 70% of all United’s flights that Sunday. You can see in the photo I took of the monitor the most egregious was the 4-hour delay for the poor folks trying to get to Salt Lake City - and 10 of the 14 flights shown in the photo were delayed. The gate agents were unhelpful in supplying information for people in the United Terminal. As is my usual custom, I turned to Twitter expressing frustration specifically that my wife was leaving town the day after I was to get back from San Francisco and I was bummed to now have less time with her.

Replying to @michaelcervin
We certainly do not mean to keep you waiting. We completely understand how frustrating delays are.
7:32 PM - 30 Apr 2017

Oh, thank you, United. Glad you “understand.” But as is my nature, I’m curious as to why so many flights were delayed and why we were not notified earlier. I find out that SFO was repaving their landing strips. Huh. I guess that needs to be done, never thought about it before. So I contacted SFO inquiring about when all this planning to shut down various landing strips began. A very nice man named Doug Yakel, Public Information Officer, Marketing & Communications at SFO, wrote me back.
“Runway 28L. We have been meeting with our airlines since summer 2016 to discuss the project and make a collaborative decision on when to conduct the closure. The consensus from the team was that the weekend was the preferred time, as many airlines have reduced flight schedules on Saturdays and Sunday mornings. On our end, we’ve used press releases, the dedicated page on our website, and social media to get the word out.”

So…summer 2016, it’s now April, 2017. Not to mention my flight was Sunday night. Disconnect. United had lots of time to communicate with their passengers given they knew when the delays were coming. Did they tell anyone? No. Had I been aware, and certainly everyone else who was delayed, we could have adjusted our schedules so as to not waste time at SFO. But United didn’t care about communicating with their consumers.


(As a side note I tried getting on another United flight to home but Mr. Arrogant Gate Agent would not allow me to move to a different plane, even though there were seats – no, he wanted to charge me a $75 “change fee,” this in spite of the fact that I didn’t cause the delay, seats were available and United clearly was not focused on helping their passengers get to their destinations!)

To be fair, United’s website did offer this disclaimer, buried deep where few would find it:  San Francisco runway construction: Customers traveling through San Francisco International (SFO) may experience flight delays and gate changes through the summer due to runway construction work. We encourage you to check your flight status and gate number for any changes, and allow extra time for any flight connections. For more information, please visit FlySFO.”

But do you look for hidden info on an airline website? Probably not, yet they clearly could have forwarded that information based on ticket purchases and flight times. But no. United felt it was not an important issue to effectively communicate on. And this is where United fails. Sure, other airlines fail too, but United has had a crappy year, as Forbes recently reported:  Who wasn’t perplexed by the long list of recent PR debacles committed by United Airlines? First there was the strange situation of barring two girls wearing leggings, next the forcible removal of a paying passenger, then like a sequel to the movie “Snakes on a Plane,” except this time (in real life) a man was stung by a scorpion while in-flight, next an unhappy Easter surprise when a healthy prize-winning bunny died upon landing, and to top it off – a real emergency when an engine blew out mid-flight. What a string of PR nightmares!

Sure, people will still fly United because it’s cheaper, but that strategy will only work for so long before the public turns against United in tangible ways. Bottom line, United Airlines? You. Need. To. Communicate. Better. Starting now.



6.19.2017

Images of UKRAINE


I visited Ukraine in May of 2017, mainly to visit vodka and brandy producers for several global wines and spirits magazines. However, like anywhere I travel, I get a chance to explore, mainly with my camera. So here are images of Ukraine, covering an amazing diversity of an amazingly diverse country.
 FIRST STOP: ODESSA
Ukrainian money is pretty cool and colorful, and it's rather inexpensive to visit. The exchange rate for the US dollar is about 26 to 1. What does that mean? I had a Heineken for 75 cents. Full dinners about $15.
  

There are churches and chapels everywhere. I popped inside this one to get a feel for it, while the carnival happened across the street. Click this link for a 20 second video from inside! https://www.facebook.com/michael.cervin.1/videos/1418833068177610/
 The M1 Club Hotel located on the Black Sea. Good place to stay.





3.04.2017

Tidal Bores, Trains & Tatamagouche: Navigating Nova Scotia


These boats will soon be buoyed by the Bay of Fundy
NovaScotia is linked inexorably to the sea and water defines this easternmost province of Canada. Located east of Maine, Halifax is the capital and is easily accessed by major airlines and the whole of the province is a great vacation idea as they have come into their own with a thriving culinary scene, wineries, micro-breweries, an impressive arts community, and a strong fishing heritage. Halifax is also the resting place for 150 souls who perished on the Titanic, buried in three cemeteries near the city center, including J.F.P. Clarke, the bass player from Titanic’s band.

Water, Water Everywhere
The Bay of Fundy is the most dominate water force that bears down upon Nova Scotia, one inch at a time. It is here where the world’s highest tides have been recorded and where they create a natural daily phenomenon. Given the Bay of Fundy’s location, the gravitational pull of the moon, and the natural order of things, this area claims incoming and outgoing tides of over 25 feet each and every day – boats rest on land inly to be fill fully afloat when the water rises. Visible stretches of ground are covered with water even as you watch water levels rise before your eyes, and birds cling to exposed rocks only to be forced alight in minutes. 

Nowhere is this better expressed than at the Tidal Bore Rafting Park along the Shubenacadie River, a two-hour drive from Halifax. At first it seems like a feeble marketing claim, “tidal bore rafting,” and frankly how much fun can it be since you’re not really rafting at all? An inflatable Zodiac with a 60 horsepower engine takes you up river. Well, ‘river’ in this case also appears misleading, as what you see on the Shubenacadie is shallow and muddy. Yes, the geology is beautiful and you can clearly see high water marks along the shore, but it seems impossible the water can reach that high. There are bald eagles all along the river, 75 to 100 of them and though you won’t see that many, you will easily spot at least three or four. At one point our guide jumps into the river to demonstrate that the water is only waist high, and on one occasion the motor got stuck with mud, it’s that shallow. You’ll be taken into a massive mud flat and will get out of the boat still unsure of what the fuss is all about. Then, in the distance, you see a small wave coming towards you, a mild little thing, which seems to pack all the power of a ripple in your bathtub. It’s generated as the tides rise into the Bay of Fundy and work their way up river. The call to get back in the boats means the water is fast approaching and as it gets closer you can see it more clearly, though it’s still unimpressive. But within 10 minutes the mud flat is engulfed in water and the rush of the incoming tide gains strength and power. It is the collision of the river running out to sea and the seawater running up river, which becomes a stunning experience. 
The singular force of these two bodies of water forced through the narrow canyon slamming into each other creates waves of eight, ten feet, and even higher. We grab on to the side ropes on the Zodiac as instructed and plunge head first into the “washing machine,” a spot of consistent waves that crash upon us, one after the other, sheets of muddy water pummeling us mercilessly. We grab a breath in between sheets of water cascading down, get tossed about but manage to hold our own. As we finish, drenched and pitiful-looking as a bathed cat, we look down at the Zodiac which is filled with water and in that brief moment, we wonder: where’s the boat, are we going to sink? The motor kicks on and the force hoists the front of the Zodiac out of the water and the excess water drains out the back. We sigh, then turn around and head purposefully into another series of waves that push, force and smack us around, and we laugh and joke and realize this is hard core fun. This is not for the timid: you will be soaked from head to foot with ochre-colored water and it will stain your clothes, you’ll probably be sore the next day, but you will have had a totally unique experience.

At the Train Station Inn, north of the Shubenacadie, whimsical meets clever at Tatamagouche. The inn began in an old brick railroad station from 1887 and it’s still intact with a few rooms upstairs as well as a gift shop and breakfast area, all peppered with train memorabilia. But the quaint brick building soon became the lesser sibling when James LaFresne assembled 7 cabooses, all sitting on their rails and retrofitted them into accommodations. The rooms have TVs, coffee makers, a fridge and bathrooms and they are fun, and if the rails are a source of inspiration, or if the romance of a bygone era is appealing, or you simply want to spend the night in something completely different, then you’ll be ideally situated to visit here You can dine in a 1928 dining car, sleep in a box car, and wake up like a well nourished vagabond.

12.15.2016

5 Sure-Fire Tips To Help You Travel Like An Idiot


Want to travel but hate the inconvenience of dealing with other countries, their customs and language, their people and their stupid laws? This easy-to-use guide will insure you can be left alone while you travel the world exactly as you see fit.

I would never have discovered this wine!
TIP #1—Always eat and drink things you’re 100% familiar with. New foods, weird-o spices, unpronounceable ingredients? Nah, that’s a waste! Only order foods you’ve had a 1,000 times before so there’s no chance of accidentally trying anything new.
OR – When I was staying at Fairmont Montreux Palace in Switzerland I was having dinner and ordered the local duck, which came with local veggies and had a glass of wine from La Cote, a wine region near Geneva. The guy next to me, clearly an American, ordered a chicken Caesar Salad and a Heineken. Seriously, why would you prefer the mediocre to the regional food/wine/beer/coffee, etc. of the very place you’re visiting? It doesn’t mean you’ll always like it, but your palate needs new experiences too.







At the Great Wall: nǐ hǎo.
TIP #2—Never learn to greet anyone in his or her own language. Learn a few words in the country you’re visiting? Way too hard. Speak exclusively your language. That way you always understand, at least, yourself.
OR – Learn a basic greeting and how to say thank you. It opens doors, shows respect for other people and makes you cool. When I was walking the Great Wall in China I routinely said hello to people in Chinese – very simple – but very effective and if nothing else, people smiled at me and greeted me back, making my experience all the more rich.






Out of the way Moai
TIP #3—Only stick with the obvious tourist attractions. Getting off the beaten path is no doubt the surest way to get beaten up, right? Side trips are for sissies – stay with the crowds.
OR-While on Easter Island I certainly visited the main moai attractions, but I also had rented a car and seen nearly all the moai on the island because I sought them out, including several that were rarely visited, including this one near a small harbor, far from the center of town. Listed on the map? Nope.






The serene beauty of morning at Vina Vik

TIP #4—Immerse yourself in your iPhone, ear buds and laptop. There’s no need to ever look up from a travel app or unplug from your virtual world because you might miss something, right?
OR—Lose the electronics in favor of authentic experiences. On a visit to Vina Vik, a very cool boutique winery/hotel two hours south of Santiago Chile, I took a morning hike over trails on its 11,000 acres. As this pix suggests, I would not have been so captivated by the morning sun penetrating the fog if I was listening to music. Instead I heard the birds, saw the sunrise and watched the distant snow capped Andes open up before me.

Austria's pristine beauty
TIP #5 – Treat public places, parks and wildlife refuge areas like it’s your very own back yard - a place to dump everything you don’t want.
OR – Cultivate a respect for the natural world since that’s probably why you’re visiting a city or country in the first place. When I was in Austria, it was clear the people there have a profound respect for their natural surroundings, taking great pain to keep it clean. Since we humans are at the top of the food chain, it is our responsibility and obligation to treat the other animals on this planet with respect, including the natural world around us. The more you see yourself as a part of the world rather than the focus of it, your life will be much better, and so everyone else’s.




11.14.2016

Solage Resort - Wine, Water and Wappos


Hot springs, Wappo Indians, Spanish Missionaries, wine – it’s all part of Calistoga’s history. Located in the upper end of the Napa Valley the town has long been a resort destination and Solage Resort is nearly synonymous with Calistoga.

 

The first health resort opened in 1862 and today there are more than a dozen, of which Solage is one of the premier resorts. Before Solage became Solage, it was 22 acres of horse pasture -inauspicious beginnings at best, but the current appeal of Solage is its proximity to charming Calistoga and the surrounding leafy green vineyards. Solage has also won a bunch of travel awards not to mention their excellent restaurant, Solbar, a seven-time Michelin Star-rated restaurant.

Solage has the feel of an organically grown resort. Rooms are set up as adjoining cottages surrounding an open green space, and each room has its own patio and rock wall shower, local coffee in your room was roasted down the street. Each room also offers bicycles for your own use like the 6-minute pedal into Calistoga, or just cruising along the Silverado Trail past historic vineyards. Solage also offers daily complementary classes from Pilates to meditation, spinning, and yoga, and a host of other wellness and fitness classes for a fee. There are two bocce ball courts, and two outdoor swimming pools - both heated to 98° - along with a decked out fitness room.

Me, Mudsliding
But folks come for the spa. Given this is Calistoga, known for their geo-thermal waters (and the smaller, much less well-known Old Faithful geyser) Solage has capitalized on water; heck, even the Wappos had typically one or two sweat lodges in each village around the Napa Valley to take advantage of the local waters. The Solage Spa takes full advantage of this in offering a variety of treatments of which the Mudslide is the most well known. I’m not a spa kind of guy – I get antsy with things - like this but the Mudslide was a very cool experience. There are single and double rooms available so you can do treatments solo or as a couple. The Mudslide is a detox treatment beginning with a mix of volcanic ash and South American mud, mixed specifically for you depending which of the four essential oils you want added to your mud. Those include the Stress Relief with lavender, tangerine, bergamot and geranium; the Revitalizer with spearmint, honey, sandalwood and lime; the Mood Enhancer with orange, mimosa, rose to the Muscle Soother with birch, eucalyptus, rosemary and ginger. 
Once the mix is made you are lead to a room to self-apply the mud and let the detox begin its work. This is a 20-minute process and after the mud is slathered on you it's time to relax in the 104-degree warmth. Then you shower it off and head next to the mineral soak - 10 minutes sitting inside a tub filled with geothermal water from the on-site well to rehydrate you as the mud mix dries out your skin. After that it’s the power nap, about 20 minutes, wrapped in a comforter in a zero gravity chair. But this not just any recliner. Music is piped in through noise canceling headphones (yes, put them on) but is also fed through the chair itself so that you can feel the vibrations of the music resonating through the chair. If you fall asleep you wake up feeling great. If you merely relax the vibrations of the music and the chair is a very cool sensory experience. 
Sound appealing? As a non-spa guy, yes. Yes it is.
Ballooning over Calistoga!
Solage was designed to be the truest expression of a health resort, devoid of artificial experiences. You don't have to be healthy and fit to stay here, - hell, I’m not - and it's not all Lulu Lemon, Birkenstocks and Namaste greetings. It is a modern wellness retreat patterned after its European counterparts (my article on an Austria wellness resort is HERE) and succeeds in offering a counterpoint to a stressful world.

Nearby Visits:
Bennett Lane Winery for killer Cabernet Sauvignon
Cliff Lede Winery for wine and art
Calistoga Balloon for amber-hued sunrise flights over the Valley
Sam’s Social Club for a jumping, hip food spot.
Fresh pressed Cabernet at Bennett Lane Winery