No Knots-Sense: The Pressel Has Arrived

I’m asked to review a lot of different products,: wine, whiskey, water, food, hotels, books. Typically I’m skeptical about the claims of a new product as there can commonly be weird and outlandish claims. So when Pressels contacted me I said yes. And a Pressel is?  A baked, flattened (pressed) pretzel, which actually looks more like a mini bagel rather than the traditional knotted pretzel.

Now the caveat is that I adore salty crunchy snacks. But not all of them. Many are too salty, or too processed. Pretzels have never been on my “I Love” list. Sure, a pretzel one in a while, preferably one filled with peanut butter and we’re good.

So when the samples arrived and the package says 35% less sodium, they actually mean it. And that’s why I like these. You get that crunchy snack-ability but without heavy salt. They hit all the right buttons, too: non GMO, no artificial flavors, no chemical preservatives.

Four flavors are available; Sea Salt, Sesame, Everything and Siracha.
The Sesame has seeds on it and yes, there is the subtle flavor of sesame. The siracha is similarly subtle, but not overtly hot.
The Everything is a little less successful, being a bit more undefined. There is that hint of an everything bagel with garlic and onion being the more dominant flavor but it’s less present here. And the Sea Salt are basic, what you’d expect.
So in the end, Pressels are snacks for people like me who like something crunchy, lightly salted and different.


Java Dogs: Drink, Donate, Repeat

“I love coffee, I love tea, I love the java jive and it loves me,” so goes the opening lyrics to the song Java Jive, written in 1940 and made well-known by The Manhattan Transfer.

Now me, I too love coffee, preferably one espresso in the a.m. But I also love the slow brew of a traditional coffee maker and that leisurely, almost reverential experience of sitting with a cup of Joe and enjoying the moment. But those moments can be enjoyed even more thoroughly with coffee from Grounds & Hounds. This is USDA certified organic, free trade certified and they donate 20% percent of proceeds from each bag sold to dog charities helping out - oh I don’t know – a French Poodle with your French Roast. The company uses the zip code of your purchase and donates to the charity partner closest to the point of purchase so that you can see impact within your own community. Grounds & Hounds offers a variety of blends as well as gift sets.  All the coffees are certified organic and their mission statement reads in part that they are, “committed to using the sale of our artesian roasted organic coffees to support the no-kill rescue organizations providing safe-havens for pups in between homes.” I recently tried their coffees and made my tasting notes below. So try it out and help a hound, please a pooch and you'll feel dog-gone good!

Morning Walk is their “breakfast blend,” a medium acidity blend. There are light aromas of hickory, pipe tobacco, muted citrus and cherry.
Upon brewing there’s a lovely dried cherry note with a hint of sweet tobacco.

Papers & Slippers is a medium roast blend of both light and dark roasts with notes of mild hickory, dried nuts, pipe tobacco, fine Cuban cigar, a hint of blackberry. Brewed, this is delightfully calm, not bitter or harsh but mellow and easy.

Alpha Blend is their dark roast and offers a more aged wood note, dried apricot, slight camp-fire smoke, much smoother on the palate and less bitter.

The Single Origin Mexican Chiapas is a smooth harmonious blend of Hickory and hazelnut, sweet cherry, vanilla, roasted chestnuts.


Side Trip Travel--Arizona & New Mexico: Roadtrip America’s Latest

Rick Quinn's book will amaze you
As a travel writer with five travel books (the humorous Santa Barbara Know It All is my latest) and contributor to Forbes Travel Guides, I completely understand the difficulties of writing a comprehensive travel book, which gives the reader practical information in an entertaining setting. As was said of Mark Twain, and is true of the best travel writing, you have to be a “noticer.”

The level of detail and research of Rick Quinn’s RoadTrip America: Arizona and New Mexico – 25 ScenicSide Trips is indeed impressive. What I often appreciate is the under-the-radar things, which this book is full of, from the gravesite of the real Smoky the Bear to the specificity of certain cactus. Sure there are the standard things you would might want to see, the Grand Canyon, Indian cliffs dwellings, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. But the beauty of the book is that it's filled with drives that are out-of-the-way and not on the normal freeway thoroughfare. And frankly, such is the point of traveling is to find the obscure, the oddball, the curious things not on the normal paths. Then of course there is the stunning natural beauty of the New Mexico and Arizona landscapes. And just the photographs alone are enticing enough to make you want to go.
Some of the scenic beauty I photographed in New Mexico

What I love is the amount of photos, all color, that are loaded in this book. Having traveled New Mexico and written about it quite a bit I know that Rick captures the state very well. I have to assume also this is the case for Arizona, a state I’m not familiar with. So if a love of side trips appeals to you, Quinn has mapped out a number of them for you. It’s therefore easy to find a path to explore.
This artwork from the New Mexico Art Museum reminds us all to take to the open road.

RoadTrip America: Arizona and New Mexico – 25 Scenic Side Trips
By Rick Quinn
383 pages, $24.95


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


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.


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.


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.
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.