Land of Lincoln grows green
The view through the branches of a walnut tree this week shows an Illinois farm north of Lebanon. The lush, green crops in the foreground are soybeans. The thin strip of yellowish color on the land's horizon, to the left of the farm buildings, reflects the golden tassels atop the many stalks in a cornfield. So far, so good this year for the farmers in southwestern Illinois.
Enjoy the anytime meal
Many things go well on Belgian waffles, including cherries and blueberries.
I do not waffle on one important issue: I firmly believe that waffles are so delicious that I can eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
My favorites are Belgian waffles, and I just made it easier to enjoy them any time I desire to do so. I bought a Belgian-waffle maker last week.
I have enjoyed Belgian waffles each day for the past five days. I'm sure I'll soon tire of eating them every day, but I'm not rushing it. Holy blueberry syrup, I tell you, I'm lovin' these Belgian waffles.
I've been a waffle fan in general for a long time. When I was a youngster, my mother occasionally fed us waffles for Sunday evening dinner. We called it Sunday night breakfast. It was special, and I loved it. Heck, how could I not love Mom's wonderful waffles, plus luscious strips of bacon, all drizzled with Log Cabin maple syrup and washed down with cold milk?
Today, I think my mother's waffle maker is inside a box in her garage. Mom's 96 and living at an assisted-care facility, and Anne and I are living in her house for now, because we wanted someone from the immediate family to be nearby. Anyway, Mom's waffle iron is somewhere out in the garage, while our waffle iron is in our home back in California. So, recently, I decided I had gone without waffles long enough. When I saw a Hamilton Beach Belgian-waffle maker on sale last week at the base exchange, I made the command decision: Let there be waffles. I jumped on it.
My next stop after the exchange was the base commissary, where I picked up a box of Hungry Jack complete Belgian-waffle mix. Just add water, it said on the front of the box, a little to the left of a picture of a thick Belgian waffle with powdered sugar and strawberries on top. Oh, mama! I jumped on it.
You food snobs can put your little noses back in place right now. I know what you're thinking: Hungry Jack? A mix from a box? Just add water?
Well, bless my butter, it yields some right-good waffles. I cleaned and prepped our new waffle iron, and while the iron was preheating, I mixed together some of the mix with some water, and in five minutes, the kitchen smelled like a Belgian waffle café. And in another five minutes, I was chowing down on Belgian waffles topped with maple syrup and fresh blueberries. Delicious! I realize, of course, that just about everything that's edible tastes pretty delicious to me, but these waffles were genuinely scrumptious to my combat-trained taste buds. They are scrumptious, I should say. As I noted before, I've eaten them each day for the past five days.
I shall miss contributing to the profit margins of the Kellogg Co. The food maker's Eggo waffles – they command 70 percent of the frozen-waffle market, by the way – were a pretty yummy substitute for the past couple of years, especially when smothered with fresh blueberries and Smucker's sugar-free blueberry syrup.
However, I think it is important to have real waffles in one's life. And I'm not alone in thinking that. Just ask Amy Poehler's character Leslie Knope from the television show "Parks and Recreation." Remarked the insightful Ms. Knope: "We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter, work is third."
Alright, OK, she did not specify real waffles, but you get my point. Waffles are vital to a quality life. I've already pointed out that they're delicious and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But they also can be eaten as a hand-held treat or as a quick meal on the go if you eliminate the fruit and that sticky syrup and any other toppings. You do not have to eliminate all fruit. You can take a banana with you, holding the banana in one hand and the waffle-to-go in the other. Now we're talking about convenience, balanced goodness and nutritional mobility. Or sort of something like that.
Speaking of other toppings, waffles can taste scrumptious with the addition of a dollop of whipped cream or a mound of whipped cream or a spoonful of fruit yogurt or a glob of chocolate mousse. Or how about some crispy fried chicken and maple syrup on your waffles? Heck, yeah!
If you're in Los Angeles, stop and try it at one of the famous Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, founded in 1975 by Harlem native Herb Hudson. Based in Long Beach, Roscoe's has six locations in the greater LA area, with a new one set to open in Anaheim. I love waffles, and I love fried chicken. The two together make for a blissful marriage made in waffle wonderland. Don't tell my doctor; just pass me the chicken and waffles, and I'll take some of that Roscoe's mac and cheese, also!
The 1930's Harlem concept of chicken and waffles has been brought to Atlanta, too, compliments of soulful songstress Gladys Knight and her son, Shanga Hankerson. Then there's Chicago's in Chicago, also known as Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles, with locations in Chicago, Oak Park and Evanston. With the popularity of chicken and waffles, you might find such a place wherever you live. Check it out, chicken-waffle lovers.
Back to Belgian waffles, served more traditional ways, get yourself a waffle iron and some Belgian waffle mix and get to wafflin'. Got your mom's recipe? Throw it together and create your own waffles from scratch. (Stand by my dear wheatless and gluten-free friends; I'm creating a new and improved wheatless Belgian-waffle recipe for you.)
There you go. Grub out and carry on the waffle tradition, which began in the 13th century. Belgian waffles, however, did not arrive until a little before World War II, when a couple from Belgium's capital city of Brussels added some yeast to the ages-old waffle recipe. Viola! Belgian waffles were born, although they did not become the popular eats they are today, until creator Maurice Vermersch and his missus introduced them to the world at Expo 58 in Brussels and later at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.
Wait. I almost forgot. I should plug the Belgian Waffle Works in our California hometown of Lake Arrowhead. It's been serving up all kinds of Belgian waffles for more than 30 years. You'll find it lakeside in Lake Arrowhead Village, where you can get your grub on inside, or you can chow down out on the terrace and watch the boats and ducks while you eat your waffles. Check them out online at www.belgianwaffle.com
Bon appetit, wafflers.
Fields are alive on the prairie
Brand new grain augers appear as if they are standing guard over a nearby cornfield just south of Scott Air Force Base, Ill., a few days ago. Grain augers are the farm implements that shoot grain into storage bins, grain wagons and trucks, and these are for sale by a farm equipment dealership located at the east end of this cornfield. This year's crop of corn in southwestern Illinois is standing tall and lush thanks to sufficient rain, sunshine and moderate temperatures – no drought and broiling heat so far in the summer of 2014.
Moon over Saigon revisited
Today is the 45th anniversary of the first landing upon the surface of the Earth's moon. What follows is the column that I blogged on the anniversary last year. The landing is such a remarkable part of history and such a memorable time for me that I decided the 45th is a good time for a rerun.
America's deputy ambassador to South Vietnam popped into my room and asked me if I wanted to watch the television coverage of the moon landing.
He was talking about the first moon landing, the "giant leap for mankind" moon landing.
The historic event took place at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Sunday, July 20, 1969. It was 3:17 p.m. on clocks in the St. Louis area, where my family and friends back home would have been watching it. That would make it already 3:17 a.m., July 21, Saigon time, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the Earth's moon.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador Samuel Berger had not stopped by my room at Marine House No. 1, which was the name for one of two dorm-type barracks for the embassy Marines in Saigon. He was standing in the Marine security guard room – or office, you could say – on the second floor of the ambassador's home in a residential neighborhood in Saigon's 3rd Precinct.
"You want to watch the moon landing, Cpl. Griggs?" he asked. Maybe that's not exactly how he put it. It was a long time ago, and my brain's memory compartment is a little cluttered.
"Yes, sir!" I answered. I'm pretty sure I said at least that much.
Speaking of memory, I've often heard people ask others if they remember where they were when Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. I, of course, recall my night watching the historic milestone alongside Ambassador Berger, but I now realize that we probably weren't watching it live, with the 600 million viewers around the world who did.
American Forces Radio and Television Service in Vietnam, better known as American Forces Vietnam Network or AFVN, aired it delayed rather than live. It was recorded in the Philippines and flown by jet aircraft to Saigon and played the day after the actual event.
The ambassador's television was located in an upstairs room next to the Marine guard room, at the top of the big staircase in the French colonial-style home. That's how I remember the house, but I've already told you about my dubious memory recall. Still, I think that's pretty accurate.
As the Marine on post that night at the Berger residence, I was supposed to be the ambassador's body guard, not his special guest for a TV screening of lunar history being made. However, I figured, how better to be able to protect the ambassador than to be sitting just several feet away, with my Smith and Wesson .38-caliber pistol and my fully automatic M16 rifle?
South Vietnamese soldiers and police guarded the exterior of the residence, as usual, and I was at the ready on the inside, as always. And there I was, sitting in the same room with the second most powerful American diplomat in Vietnam, ready to watch coverage of space-exploration history. It was all a bit surreal.
The most incredible part was witnessing those first steps on the surface of the moon. It was so astounding, practically beyond belief. How could it be? But it was. I was mesmerized. Viet Cong terrorists could have lurched into the room, and I would have blasted them to obliteration, not just to protect the ambassador but because they would have interrupted the greatest show on and beyond Earth.
That's pretty much how they billed the first moon landing – the greatest show ever. A fifth of the people on Earth watched it live. I was in awe watching the recorded images the next day. Remarkable.
Almost everyone on Earth today probably knows the famous words voiced by Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." I always think about how more politically correct it could have been if Armstrong had said "humankind" instead of "mankind." But the accomplishment was so monumental and phenomenal that I guess even the equal-rights folks didn't mind.
Perhaps the best observation about Armstrong's famous statement came from Sir Edmund Hillary, a great adventurer in his own right. Remarked Sir Edmund: "Better if he had said something natural like, "Jesus, here we are.'"
Aldrin joined Armstrong on the moon's surface, where they spent 21 hours before reboarding the lunar module Eagle with 46 pounds of moon rocks. They blasted off and returned to the command module Columbia, which had been orbiting the moon, piloted by Michael Collins. It was all such stuff of science fiction before 1969, and it still seemed so in a way, because it was so unbelievable. Again, remarkable.
The awe and inspiration stuck around for awhile, but things soon got back to normal in Saigon. Two months after the moon landing – almost to the day – Viet Cong terrorists bombed a Vietnamese government vehicle on Nguyen Thong Street, just a block from the Berger residence. About 25 minutes later, in the same neighborhood, insurgents blew up a U.S. Navy truck right outside a Navy building.
By then, I had been promoted to sergeant and assigned to the Saigon Marines' radio network, to work as a communicator in the embassy with three other sergeants. I'd no longer get to stand post at the Berger residence, but I liked my new job.
I did, however, get to stand post again, when I volunteered for extra duty as a Marine security guard for a few days at the Abraham Lincoln Library in Saigon. Remember those 46 pounds of lunar rocks the astronauts collected? Some of them were brought to Saigon to be displayed briefly at the library. Guard moon rocks? You didn't have to ask me twice. I was on board. Rocks from the moon! Once again, remarkable.
Rendezvous reunites gyrenes
My good friend Roger Speakman, who served with me in the Vietnam War, takes in the view from the back of his boat, The Reel Speakeasy, this past Sunday on Lake Michigan, as we headed out to fishin' waters. Roger's son Jordon was piloting the craft, while Roger's other two sons, Jason and Justin, were preparing the fishing tackle we would use to troll for trout and salmon. Roger and I served together in Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division. Also aboard the boat Sunday were Doc Pearston, who also served in Charlie Company; Butch Wineland, who fought in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne in some of the same areas we patrolled; and Roger's grandsons, Matthew and Johnny. Of course, the guy with 20 years in the Corps and deployments on four U.S. Navy ships, got a little seasick on the choppy lake. However, I did not puke; but I did reel in a nice king salmon. Mike Ward, who served with us in Charlie Company in Vietnam, joined us later that day for a great three-day recon rendezvous.
Turn on and tune in
The recent death of Casey Kasem, at age 82, marked the passing of one of the most memorable influences in the history of radio, and the news of Casey's departure got me thinking back to the radio programs of my life.
I can remember tuning in to radio as a toddler, and I've never tuned out.
My earliest recollection of listening to the radio includes my two brothers, who allowed me to sit with them in their bedroom and listen to "The Lone Ranger." I was captivated as Brace Beemer's voice resonated through the speaker of my brothers' blue, plastic, General Electric radio. Beemer, and John Todd as Tonto, took us along on their heroic adventures in the days of old in the Old West. I loved it. I was surrounded by my big brothers, the Lone Ranger, Tonto and those exciting tales.
In my next distinct memory of radio-listening pleasure, I'm stretched out on the back seat of my father's Buick. Dad was driving, and Mom was tuning in the radio, as we were returning home to Lebanon, Ill., from a Sunday visit with friends a few hours north of us. Suddenly the sweet sounds of the Everly Brothers drifted out from the car's radio speakers. I lay on that back seat, looking out the back window at the bright stars up in the night sky and listening to the melodious voices of Don and Phil Everly.
Dad's old Buick had a pretty good radio, but his next new car was the coolest – a 1955 Chevrolet. It was a beautiful maroon in color, and fortunately, it too had a fine radio.
A few years later, my brothers – they were eight years older than I – left home to go to college, so lucky me inherited their GE radio. I proudly placed it on my nightstand next to my bed, where it was my electric link to St. Louis Cardinal baseball. The classic voices of Harry Carey, Jack Buck and Joe Garagiola emanated from that blue box, broadcasting the baseball excitement of my beloved Redbirds. Who would want to watch a game on television, when one could tune in to KMOX radio and listen to the Cardinal broadcasters describe all the action, drama and Cardinal glory?
Before I knew it, I was a teenager, and I was tuning in to local radio stations to hear jazz, R&B soul, and good ol' rock 'n' roll. Most kids my age then in the St. Louis area preferred KXOK and its playlist of top-40 pop and rock hits. We would listen to the disc-jockey chatter of the likes of Shad O'Shea, Ray Otis and Johnny Rabbitt, who in reality was Don Pietromonaco, and we would dig the sounds of The Sixties.
It was the time of the Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Temptations, Four Tops, The Animals, Dave Clark Five, Smokey Robinson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis and so many more. The KXOK boys might play some songs way more than you'd like to hear them, yet some records you couldn't get enough of – like "House of the Rising Sun" or "Satisfaction" or "My Girl."
The hits just kept on rollin' after I joined the Marine Corps in 1967 and journeyed to South Vietnam. The war there took a lot of our time – wars tend to do that, pestering you with those pesky life-and-death situations and all – but during the times we could stand down and take breaks, the radio DJs on the American Forces Vietnam Network brought us the latest hits and, of course, plenty of public service announcements about such important matters as keeping our M16 rifles clean, taking our weekly malaria pills, and making sure we did not pick up any diseases from any of the lovelies (bar girls) we might meet in some of the cultural spots (bars) in Saigon, Da Nang or Nha Trang.
It was several years later, after my tours of duty in Vietnam, after I landed in Camp Lejeune, N.C., when I discovered the sound and sounds of Casey Kasem. I looked forward to Saturdays and the sound of Casey's voice and the sounds of the hits of the 1970s. Casey played us the top 40 records, interspersed with interesting trivia and topical news, on his weekly show "American Top 40." His golden voice and smooth presentation made his weekly Top 40 countdown a must-listen transmission. Miss you, Casey.
If anyone can come close to the talent of Casey Kasem, it could be radio personality Rick Dees, host of the internationally syndicated "Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Countdown."
I first listened to Dees when the Marine Corps sent me to Los Angeles for three years in the mid-80s. I tuned in to his show on KISS-FM every morning, as I made my way from San Pedro on the Los Angeles Harbor, up the 110 Harbor Freeway, to the 405 Freeway, for the sluggish drive up to the Federal Building in West LA, adjacent Westwood. A cup of coffee, along with Dees' humor and antics and the hits of the 1980s, woke me up. I was then alert and ready for a gorgeous day in LA, representing the United States Marine Corps. I knew it was going to be a good day, because I was still in the Corps, Dees had me in a good mood, and the day was sure to be gorgeous since Rick told us it was going to be 85 dees-grees and sunny that day. Of course, it's sunny and 85 almost every day in Southern California.
These days, I'm listening to St. Louis radio again, mostly 101.1 ESPN St. Louis sports talk radio. I can get all the good scoop each day on my Cardinals and Rams, plus the Blues and Bilikens, from folks like D'Marco Farr and Chris Duncan. Farr, Randy Karraker and Brad Thompson host the afternoon program "The Fast Lane" that includes my favorite sports-radio segments: "The Four O'clock Fight" and "I'm Just Sayin'." It's all great broadcasting and fun listening.
If you get tired of sports, or just don't care for sports, St. Louis – like most any city in America – has many formats from which to choose. I check in often to St. Louis jazz broadcasts and classic rock and today's R&B and most often to Fresh 102.5 KEZK-FM. I hope you listen often to the radio broadcasts where you are. If not, you're missing out!
I shall now tune y'all out. I have to tune in to 101.1 on the FM dial. Can we still say "on the FM dial" and "on the AM dial" in 2014? I guess we can. Anyway, it's almost time for "The Turn" with Chris Duncan and Anthony Stalter, from noon to 2 p.m.
T.E. Griggs is a writer, editor and photographer and a retired U.S. Marine.