Archive for the “Good Eats” Category

Best road food across America – steaks, burgers, salad bars, ice cream, biscuits and more.

Last week after wrapping up our annual Vickers Ranch workamping gig, we decided to play tourist and visit a part of rural Colorado that we’ve heard a lot about. Known as the North Fork Valley, this region is ground zero for Western Colorado’s small leftie contingent and a blossoming orchard and winery industry.

The main towns which comprise the North Fork Valley are Crawford, Hotchkiss and Paonia. We approached from the south along State Highway 92 (part of the West Elk Loop), a twisty and hairy adventure that meanders alongside the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a hole in the ground more stunning than the Grand Canyon.

Highway 92 is the best way to enter the Valley but have a barf bag ready; the drop-offs are breathtaking and with no guard rails and few pull-outs, we weren’t able to take any photos.

Highway92

For the first time in months, we had no plans or places to be and zero commitments whatsoever. It was heaven!

We arrived in the tiny cow town of Crawford to find that Verizon cell service is non-existent, which meant we couldn’t look up any places to stay. As I was just about to come unglued because my phone wasn’t working, I decided to have a face to face interaction with the owner of the general store to ask if she knew of any local RV parks.

Turns out, she told me more than my smart phone ever could. She sent us to a new RV park in Hotchkiss, “Farm and Ranch Camp.” Perfect, we thought!

It was rustic and right up our alley. The name was also entirely appropriate; with RV sites set within the actual ranch itself, we were in the middle of the irrigation action. See the water shooting out into left field behind our rig?

We spent the next two days soaking up the last blast of summer heat and playing tourist. First we toured Hotchkiss, which has a few wineries and lots of local produce, but it’s a little rough around the edges as we discovered in a local dive bar, Past-Times.

Paonia lived up to it’s reputation as a culinary destination and hippie haven. We hadn’t seen so many dreadlock-wearing, earthy types since we were in Northern California. It’s easy to see why they flock here. There’s a strong sense of connection to this lush farmland, a very supportive artist community and it’s a relatively cheap place to live if you’re just renting (land prices are another story).

After stopping at a few wineries, we savored a gourmet lunch with all local products in Paonia Town Park.

Even Wyatt got his share of locally-grown delicacies, when a local meat market gave us free elk bones!

Next, we stumbled onto Black Bridge Winery and Orchard Farms, a dog-friendly idyllic destination on the outskirts of town featuring a U-Pick orchard and gardens, tons of local gourmet products and the best wines in the region.

The finale of our visit happened at the end of our day in Paonia, when took the suggestion of a local and ate at the Flying Fork Cafe, which many folks say is the best eatery in the Valley.

We have to agree with the consensus; dining al fresco at this little Italian-style restaurant was comparable to the best big-city dining experiences we’ve had, but without the attitude or the price!

We had a blast and hope to be back someday. It’s been a long time since we did anything so relaxing and touristy. After working 60 hour weeks all summer, it was paradise when we finally got to reap the fruits of our labor!

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For the record, I still consider us full-time RVers, considering we only spent a couple months at Jerry’s Acres last year. It looks like we’ll only be here a few weeks this time, before we head to our favorite workamping job again back at the ranch. Barely enough time to reflect upon some of the most memorable highlights from the past 11 months on the road.

Live Work Dream RV Snowbird Travel Map 2012-2013

Click photos to view them larger, or check out our road trip galleries for more pictures. For details about all our stops this year, see our full-time RVing travel map.

A Couple New Favorite Sites

When we first left last May, we found free boondocking at Turquoise Lake near Leadville, CO. It was only free because the campground had not yet opened for the season, and there was still snow on the ground. But it was still fun roller blading at 10,000′ along the paved roads.

Turquoise Lake Leadville, CO Free RV Boondocking

Thousands of miles later, near the end of this year’s journey, we discovered a new all-time favorite place where we will definitely be heading again. Goosenecks State Park near Bluff, Utah is simply amazing – remote, quiet, dark at night, with absolutely nothing to do but get some work done or go for a run and soak in the magical beauty – just the way we like it!

Goosenecks Utah State Park Free RV Boondocking

We decided not to park to close to the edge since we could let Wyatt run wild here. Luckily we met a fellow traveler who encouraged to look a bit further down the road from the busy parking area where it seemed lots of RVers stopped for just one night. We spent a week and are already looking forward to staying much longer next time.

Goosenecks State Park Utah RV Boondocking on San Juan River

Attractions and Special Events

Speaking of dizzying drop-offs, a more recent highlight from the past year was our recent Jeeping adventure with Kev, the founder of Nü RVers.

Thelma and Louise Point Over Colorado River in Utah

After stopping at the famed location where Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff, we proceeded to climb the most harrowing trail up out of Canyonlands National Park. I’m just thankful I wasn’t driving!

The first attraction we went out of our way to see this year was about nine months earlier before we even left Colorado. The Sand Creek Masacre National Historic Site sits off highway 96 in Eastern Colorado.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

Other sacred sites where it felt like we were treading on hallowed ground were the Civil War battlefields in Virginia that we visited.

Spotsylvania Fredericksburg Civil War Battlefield Canon

Fredericksburg, Virgina was also memorable because that is where we gave our keynote talk at the Greyhounds Rock Take A Bite Out of Canine Cancer conference. It’s the whole reason we headed East this year, to share our story about Jerry and help attendees learn How To Be More Dog.

Burning Leaves at West Virgina RV ParkSpeaking of hallowed ground, another highlight was the spooky hay ride and haunted house at Stony Creek RV Resort in West Virgina. I’m not sure what was scarier though, the abandoned old house decked out for Halloween or the way the campground burned all the leaves in a pile that snaked through all the sites.

Another memorable event was meeting up with a couple of my sisters in Georgia. We don’t get to the East Coast often, so I was happy when one flew down from New York when we visited the other near Atlanta. No big sightseeing to report, it was great just to hang out and catch up with each other. Next stop: Luckenbach, Texas!

Doug Moreland Trio Live at Luckenbach Texas

A year on the road just wouldn’t be the same without our annual pilgrimage to the center of the universe in the Texas hill country. We didn’t get stuck in Luckenbach this time, but we did enjoy a couple nights of cold beer and good music by the Doug Moreland Trio and others while boondocking in the cold.

Weather Report from the Road

Speaking of cold. Another memorable night was the coldest night we ever spent roadside boondocking.

Free Boondocking Sierra Blanco Texas

From the ice on the road and the frost on our breath (inside the rig) the next morning, we realized why they named this tiny Texas town Sierra Blanco. As far as weather goes, I must mention Hurricane Sandy. Normally we high-tail it in the other direction when tornadoes or other major weather systems are in our path. But with our conference date in Virginia, we sat this one out about 100 miles south of where Sandy came ashore.

Anza Borrego Dust Storm from RV Window

And speaking of sandy, one more memorable weather event this year was the three-day sandstorm that drove us away from Borrego Springs, back to the Slabs earlier than we wanted. But enough about the weather, let’s talk about some food!

Best Food and Drink on the Road

Rene and I rarely go out. Whenever we do, we make it special, or for a special event. One memorable outing was to the dive bar in Festus, MO where we had to toast Spoonie, since that’s where he was from. But this place was a highlight only for it’s smoke and cheap, bad drinks. Kris would approve.

Oklahoma Joe's Best Kansas City Barbeque

One of the culinary highlights of the year was just a couple days prior at the renowned Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ in Kansas City. This place is a must visit for any meat lover. We lucked out and got there in between the lunch and dinner rushes. The line is usually out the door at this small gas station, and it was starting to form as we were finishing our meal.

Herby K's best Creole Food Shrieveport, LA

The most memorable meal of the year had to be at Herby K’s, in Shrieveport, LA. This 77 year old icon of cajun cooking was just what we were looking for as we approached the Louisiana border and realized we hadn’t yet had any creole food. Disregard any reviews you may read about this being in a “bad” part of town. While the neighborhood has clearly seen better times, long ago, the clientele that kept pouring in as we left were obviously well to-do and knew that the best food is often found in a discreet little hole in the wall.

The Year in Summary

For most of the past year, we seemed to be traveling on somebody else’s clock. Much of it was spent preparing for our first public speaking engagement, and then we had to deal with Wyatt and spent far too long at Rainbow’s End. After that we made a B-line for a belated holiday visit with la familia. Once back on the road again, we were on our own time. We’ve enjoyed the last month or so as we worked our way back to the mountains.

Crystal Lakes Moose Red Feather Lakes CO

We got back just in time to be greeted by a Moose and a major snow storm headed our way. But not until after the most harrowing drive ever, over Vail Pass, in the wet snow, after dark. Not fun, but better than the alternative of driving over the next morning with the risk of it being iced over, or closed.

Snowbirds Return to the Snow

It’s good to be “home” – wherever we park it.

What has been the highlight of your journey recently?

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Here at Vickers Ranch, carnivorism is a way of life and a vegan is as popular as a pork chop in a synagogue.

On Wednesday evenings, everyone gathers on Gold Hill, a breathtaking spot overlooking Lake San Cristobal and the San Juan Mountains.

Slabs of meat (mostly beef) are grilled to perfection on a cowboy-style, wood-flame grill and home-cooked potluck dishes grace the sidelines.

Since 90 percent of Lake City’s visitors consist of Texans and Oklahomans escaping the brutal summer heat, potluck dishes tend to be buttery, eggy, cheesy and fried. . . and usually damn good.

Just two days later, the Vickers family holds another weekly get-together at the Friday night burger feed. You’ll find me babysitting the lonely veggie burger on the grill. Beans with bacon, chips and a five foot table filled with tasty potluck deserts complete our Friday meals.

A vegan can’t fall farther from the wagon than when visiting a dude ranch. Last week, one couple invited us to their cabin for dinner. On the menu: freshly caught rainbow trout appetizers. The husband was so proud of his catch, and the dish really was pretty….how could I resist?

Eating any kind of beef, poultry or other living creature is off-limits for me, but I refuse to be the kind of VegaNazi who can’t be open-minded enough to let loose once and a while and eat vegetable dishes that have been co-mingled with animal products.

I tasted the best homegrown Texas black-eyed peas simmered in a bacon broth this week. Was I going to miss the opportunity to experience a local culinary treasure, home-grown and handmade by a guest? Nope, not me.

Call me a hypocrite, but I’m going out of my comfort zone and loving it. Will this make me a carnivore after 22 years of not eating meat? Never. Just open-minded enough to know a good thing when I see it.

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At the risk of offending anyone about what they drink, life is simply too short to drink cheap liquor.

Hendricks Gin and Tonic with Key LimeI’ve never liked gin. And tonic water is just nasty. But I discovered long ago that something magical happens when you mix the two and add just the right squeeze of lime.

At some point I learned that Beefeater and the like belong only in the well of a cozy dive bar.

Tanqueray became the gin of choice. Then Christopher turned me on to Bombay and I never looked back. Thanks to the liquor guy at Wilbur’s, Hendricks is now the top shelf gin of choice. And with its sturdy compact bottle, it travels well too!

Debating over the cost of Sapphire at Wilbur’s one day, a clerk noticed us spying the unique Hendricks bottle. He explained the new microdistillery craze and described how Hendricks is handcrafted in small batches, goes down smooth with much less botanical complexity and is great with key limes, or cucumber. How could we resist?

I gave the cucumber a try, but as refreshing as it was, I’ll have to pass. The key limes, however – with Hendricks and brand name tonic over ice – redefine freshness, and they take up less room too! Go ahead, call me a mixer snob too. But it’s true, generic tonic water simply does not do good gin justice.

“Small Batch” distillation typically yields 1,000 or fewer liters. Hendricks is distilled with two distinct spirits in 450 litre batches and infused with rose and cucumber.

What’s your favorite RVer cocktail? Republic Texas Tea perhaps? Or maybe a Nü Hawaiian? When we hit the road we usually limit the cabinet to one concoction at a time. This season, Hendricks should fit nicely under the couch. And it’s best we do not leave the tonic at home!

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Techie Friends at Chris Crawford MemorialWhen I last sat down to write what I thought would be one of those informative posts, we got the news about Chris. Nothing else seemed very important at the time. One thing my friend always exemplified for me was a sincere passion for life. Enjoy the things you love with those you care for and live it to the fullest.

Kudos to the Arkleys for putting out such an awesome spread at the memorial service. But as vegan-like we may try to be at home, I get passionate about a good steak once in a while. Some of the best I’ve ever had dining out have been at the AA Bar and Grill, and I didn’t get mine the last time we passed through Eureka

Surf and Turf at AA Bar and Grill Eureka CA

Considering we don’t know when we may make it back to the Lost Coast again, we headed to an old favorite for a couple gin and tonics. With a yearning for a good piece of char broiled meat, I quickly jumped at Rene’s suggestion we get something to eat. We settled for a surf and turf option with fried shrimp and “a bit of both” – onion rings and french fries.

AA Lounge Bar and Grill Eureka CAThe name alone first drew me to this dark friendly bar in the shadow of the Humboldt County jail. I just always liked the idea of getting drunk at a place called the AA.

Back in the day, it was within walking distance from home so that was a plus. But it was the steaks, service with a smile, and the fact that the AA has the only functioning shuffleboard table in town that kept me coming back.

Location and outward appearances alone may scare away some from even entering the Double A, as some prefer to call it. But where else can you get an excellent steak and a good stiff drink while enjoying a laugh with friendly locals?

Surf and Turf at AA Bar and Grill Eureka CA

I always wanted one of the AA t-shirts with a logo resembling that of Alcoholics Anonymous. Once again, however, I passed up the opportunity, unable to decide between that and their new shirt with the slogan Best Piece Of Meat in Humboldt County.

Legend has it that one could once get a free drink and half off your steak on the day they got out of jail at the Humboldt Hilton across the street. I for one don’t ever care to confirm that legend.

AA Bar and Grill Char Broiled Steaks Menu

While enjoying our meal, Rene observed an older couple having a great time. Determined to find out their secret to happiness, she joined them briefly to ask. Turns out they were Ambrosini cousins – a name that goes way back in Humboldt Heartland, kinda like the AA.

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