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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What You Don't Know About Idaho

After spending two months in Idaho this year, I have unearthed many interesting facts about a state best known for its potatoes. To wit...

Despite its beauty, Idaho is the only state that has not staked claim to the Miss America title.

Sun Valley is considered the first winter destination resort in the United States. It was built in the 1930s by railroad magnate W. Averill Harriman.

Sun Valley was the home of the world's first chairlifts. The lifts were installed on Dollar and Proctor Mountains in 1936.

The Hokey Pokey was invented in Sun Valley during the 1940s.

Elsewhere in Idaho...

Idaho is the only state with two time zones divided north and south. The state divides between Mountain and Pacific Time just north of Riggins.

Television was invented in Rigby, Idaho in the 1920s by local science prodigy and farm boy Philo Farnsworth.

Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to North America's tallest sand dune, at 470 feet.

Calling All Spuds...

Potatoes are not the top agricultural product in Idaho. Milk is.

Potatoes are the #1 crop, but are third in the agricultural product list after dairy and cattle.

And while we are on the topic, Idaho is the country’s #1 potato producer, serving up 29% of the U.S. total.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Batter Up!

This article appears in the current issue of Hotel F & B Magazine, a publication for which I serve as breakfast editor.

In keeping up with and getting ahead of the competition, hotel brands simply can’t waffle. That’s why Holiday Inn Express is mixing a compact automatic pancake-making machine into its breakfast bar.“We did follow-up research that said guests wanted something more than scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast,” says Sue Morgan, former VP of franchise F&B, InterContinental Hotels Group. “Our average stay is about 2.2 days, so guests would probably experience two different occasions to eat breakfast with us. They were very clear in what they wanted, and we needed to be just as clear in delivering for them.”During the past three years, the mid-priced, limited-service Holiday Inn Express brand has undergone an extensive re-launch, adding hallmarks such as new signage and contemporary artwork. But the change that seems to provide the biggest bang for the buck is the Popcake™ machine, which can produce several flapjacks every minute.The machine, which has been exclusive in North America to Holiday Inn Express until this fall, has been in use in various hotels in the Asia-Pacific region for the past several years. The technology crossed the ocean last year, with Holiday Inn Express testing the machine at 60 properties. It was rolled out at all 1,800 North American hotels during the first quarter of 2011.Al Reingold, director of brand management for the Holiday Inn family of brands, explains, “We are always looking for innovative ways to enhance our offerings and increase the value proposition to franchisees and our guests. The pancake machine was a timely addition to our breakfast bar, which had remained fairly consistent since the introduction of hot items five years ago. After the testing, we found it to be operationally sound. Plus, the cost structure was in line with the franchisee bottom line.”Properties don’t pay for the machine, which is on loan. Instead, they buy batter from a corporate-approved vendor. It comes in bags of pre-made mix, which, with added water, can make 35 pancakes per bag. Dollops of batter drop onto a Teflon-coated cooking belt, producing one pancake every 18 seconds. After 60 bags (enough for 2,100 pancakes) have been emptied, it’s time to change the cooking belt. Hotels receive a new easy-to-install belt free with every 60 bags of batter ordered.“Our guests love it, especially the kids. The aroma of fresh pancakes is stunning, and it’s easy to execute—similar to a tortilla machine,” says Morgan.The pancake maker allows guests to control the quantity, size, and degree of “doneness” or browning, and is in line with the overall Holiday Inn Express brand image, says Paul Snyder, VP of operations for parent company InterContinental Hotels Group, the Americas. “It is a great fit for our guest and the perfect choice for a ‘griddle’ entry versus the ubiquitous and messy waffle machine.”Kathy Tabora, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express Albany Western Avenue University in Albany, New York, is a fan and says guests have raved about the device. “It is very efficient, easy to use, and not messy,” she says. “It’s small, self-contained, and doesn’t require more staffing.”Reingold says the pancake machine has created only one hitch for Holiday Inn Express. “Lines have been the only problem with the machine, and we figure that’s a good problem to have.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Farewell to Yarns: A Sheep's Tale in the Land of Hemingway

Ever since I caught wind of its existence, I have been fixated on attending The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which takes place in Hailey and Ketchum, Idaho every October. Perhaps it was the sheep poetry sessions that roped me in....after all, who could resist a sheep bleating Keats.

At any rate, as my obsession grew, I knit together a fantasy about becoming Queen of the Sheep. My dream was to show off my good breeding by donning a tiara and walking amongst my little lambs as we strode in unison down the streets of Ketchum. In order to blend in (somewhat) with the flock, I would enrobe myself in a virgin wool fleece frock.

And so, in order to get out of a rut and make my dream come true, I booked a trip to the Sun Valley area for the autumn of 2011. Hailing from Washington, DC, I decided the best way to win the title was to start lobbying Hailey town elders and the festival organizers. But as I grazed the landscape, I realized there might be a few hitches in my plan. First, I discovered that "The Trailing of the Sheep" took place during Yom Kippur weekend. Now, if this festival were to be renamed "Jews and Ewes" or "Hey, Ewe Jew", I would be a lock for the title. But alas, it was not, and I started to fear that the parade would be taking place on the Holy Day itself. Even though I planned to maintain my fast, I wondered if it would be kosher in God's eyes to be parading amongst sheep while atoning. On one hand, Moses was a shepherd. Still, he led his most important flock around Passover and not the High Holidays.

As I ruminated over this ruminant dilemma, I discovered that the parade was delayed until the day after Yom Kippur. Thus, I was back on the non-fast track to becoming sheep royalty. But soon enough, I was brought to the realization that my lovely dream could become a wolf in sheep's clothing. While having a moveable feast at the home of the lovely owners of a Ketchum art gallery, the husband started raining a bit on my parade. (Said husband, parenthetically, hence the parentheses, resembled a hip version of Mr. Keaton, the dad on "Family Ties"). Mr. Bleatin' advised me that, at times, the parading sheep have been known to run amok. One sheep wanders off in a different direction and the entire flock ends up pulling a big ewe-turn. Or, Mr. Baa Humbug noted, as the hills at the end of the parade route come into sight, the sheep sometimes start stampeding to quicken the journey to their winter digs.

At any rate, instead of ending the parade in a path of glory, I suddenly envisioned myself in my own private Pamplona, overtaken by a mad mob of sheep goring me with their puffballs of wool and leaving me with tiara askew and my garb transformed into the world's largest livery of lint.

Of course, the citizens of Ketchum might not take kindly to this intruder amongst their ranks, no matter how stunning said intruder was. In fact, the stunt might even get their collective goat. Therefore, after rising up, dusting myself off, and repositioning my tiara, I realized I might have to go on the lamb (sic) or risk being pelted. However, I knew it was likely that I would be quickly found, as after the sheep were long gone, I would be the only one in the valley for whom the smell lolled.

Thank ewe very much.

For more on the event, go to www.trailingofthesheep.org. There is still time to make your travel plans. It takes place October 7-9.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Can CCCP Russia From My Backyard

I recently noted a short thread on one Adam Junkroski's (a friend and former babysitting client) Facebook page, trading obvious puns about all things Soviet. As a punmeister, I couldn't resist the temptation to Russian. Below, Laura and Adam's no-so-Cold War of Puns (which lasted 45 minutes versus 45 years). It's oblast. By the way, if some of these references are too obscure, you'll be vlad to know you kazan surf around Siberia-space to chechen on things.

LP: I give you high Marx for the Russia thread. You didn't even Boris me to tears.
AJ: What can I say? We covered all the Engels.
LP: I'm tsarry, but you certainly didn't cast a wide nyet for that one.
AJ: Yuri just jealous.
AJ: But I suppose I could curl up Andropov the face of the planet.
LP: Damn, yuri good, comrade (oops, just saw you already used that). I was trying to figure out something Andropov and you beat me to the pun-ch. I'm such an Idiot (get it?) Ivan to win this game, but clearly, you are a steppe up, no Bolshevik.
AJ: I'll ruble the day I tangled with you yet.
LP: I'm stoli-ing (and stalin)for time.
AJ: Be-cossack I'm so clever?
LP: We need to take this show to the Borscht Belt.
AJ: Anyone reading this would probably rather we take it to Siberia. : )
LP: Speaking of ex-Soviet regions, as they say in Georgia (well, the U.S. one), Y'altap the list.
AJ: You just proved your Proletariat status with that one.

LP: (after a brief pause in the back-and-forth)
Had to Trotsky to write a new blog post.
AJ: I wondered why you went Romanov on us.
LP: Soyuz say. You probably thought I was mir-ly procrastinating.
AJ: Clearly you think I Kerensky.
LP: I have to gulag Kerensky...don't know who he is.
LP: Or gogol.
AJ: LOL! He preceded Lenin.
LP: Surely, you wikipedia'ed that, my little pierogi.
LP: Now, I don't mean to be volga, and I don't want to hammer this in, but I think we are both sickles.
AJ: Yes, we have a mig problem.
LP: Like Michelle Bachmann, I'm getting a mig-raine. And like her doppelganger, Sarah Palin, I can see Russia from my backyard.

Now that you have red your way through, a few other notes before closing.
First, I'm a slav to fashion. So-vi-et.
Any other puns you want to Chekhov or Markov the list? Do feel free to commune with us or matryoshka-late in our puniversity. We are happy to grad your entries.
Tatar, everyone.

Photo Credit: Matt Banks

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Endless Summer

According to the calendar, summer lasts through September 23rd. If you choose to wait until after Labor Day to experience a summer vacation, you're in luck. In general, September travel means lower rates, smaller crowds, and, if you are beach-bound, less traffic on the way.

For those who watched my segment on NewsChannel 8's Let's Talk Live...and even for those who didn't...here are a few more details for Washingtonians looking for the perfect late summer regional getaway.

Let’s start in Ocean City, Maryland. While the water and temperatures are still lovely after Labor Day, hotel prices tend to go down about 20 percent. September is prime golfing season there (with 15 courses in the area), so greens fees don‘t necessarily drop. But if you package golf with an overnight stay, you might be able to tee up a deal. Without traffic, it only takes about three hours to get to Ocean City.

While people often go to the beaches of eastern Maryland, they seldom head west. But Maryland’s western panhandle, located in the Alleghenies and just two-and-a-half hours from DC, is a feast for outdoor adventurers. Stay at the reasonably-priced Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort, located in Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland. Go golfing on the resort’s Jack Nicklaus signature course or take a bike ride along the C & O Canal or the Great Allegheny Passage. You can also wander across the Pennsylvania border to Ohiopyle State Park, where you can go whitewater rafting into October.

Meanwhile, near the southern end of the Allegheny Range is The Homestead. September is a fine time to visit one of the country’s grande dame resorts, which is a five-hour drive from DC. Rates drop about 15 percent from the summer months, and cooler temperatures make for more comfortable hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, or golfing. If that’s not enough activity for you, you can fly-fish (endorsed by Orvis), hitch a horse, play paintball, or attempt archery.

If you want something a bit closer to home, how about taking your Romeo on a trip to Casanova? Casanova, Virginia, that is, home of Poplar Springs Inn & Spa. Less than a hour from Washington, the small inn offers rustic charm, gourmet food (served up by noted chef Howard Foer), and a topnotch spa offering soothing treatments and ointments for all of your ailments. Nearby, there are places to ride horses, stomp on wine grapes, or hit the greens.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jordan Sparks

Want to hear about Petra, Lawrence of Arabia, and eco-tourism in Jordan? Then listen to my segment on Around the World Radio, which aired August 18th. The report, complete with pictures, is 36 minutes into the program. If you prefer to listen to the dulcet tones of my voice without distraction, the segment sans images can be heard by clicking here. Look for Track 4 from the August 18th show. If you are intrigued by the report, even more information is available at http://www.visitjordan.com/.

2012 will be a particularly interesting year to visit, as it marks the 200th anniversary of the "rediscovery" of Petra by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.It's also the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia, which was filmed in Wadi Rum. Special events marking the anniversaries are in the planning stages.

But there's more, including the Dead Sea and its spas; eco-tourism opportunities in the Dana Reserve; and biblical sites like the Jordan River and Mount Nebo, where Moses first saw The Holy Land. By the way, the site, located in a Muslim country and devoted to a commanding Jewish prophet, is now owned by Italian Franciscan monks. But don't worry--it's not a tourist trap. The ascetics maintain this aesthetic for-prophet place as a non-prophet (sic).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Laura of Arabia: Part I

Out of the blue, a call from Amman. "Laura," the call said, "Could you come to Jordan to speak at a USAID conference on tourism development next week?" Weary from the heat wave that was swamping Washington, DC, I decided a trip to the desert was just what I needed to cool off.

In a series of upcoming posts, I will share my adventures, my discoveries, and insights garnered from my first trip to the Middle East. However, in this post, I will discuss my panic as I perused my summer wardrobe and perceived that everything I owned was either too short, too tight or too sleeveless for an Islamic country. Did I have any garb to wear? Would I be kicked out of the country for dressing inappropriately? It was a clothing cliffhanger.

Now, I am not a slut, mind you, nor do I play one on TV (as you can see from previous blog posts). But all my hemlines seemed unseamly, and my business dresses, thanks to Spanx, were quite form-fitting. And, just like Right Said Fred, with low-cut collars and keyholes, I was too sexy for my shirts. And so, with only three days to go before the trip (and with a 30-minute presentation to write about tourism development in a country I knew nothing about), I had to squeeze in a manic shopping spree.

I had been through this exercise before, prior to a trip to Morocco in 2001. And just like a decade before, I found shopping an exercise in frustration. You see, I am a Size 2. Not a lot of people in Washington are Size 2. So, choices were going to be limited.

I was simply petra-fied of finding nothing apropo for Jordan. And as I zipped from store to store, my fears were being confirmed. Lord & Taylor--oh God, nothing. T.J. Maxx--initially, it seemed promising. But a suitcase and a Calvin Klein knee-length (but sleeveless) frock were all-ah got. My patience was hanging by a thread until Filene's Basement, which became my own private Mecca. It yielded two Marc Jacobs cotton shrugs, perfect for covering the shoulders. I also found two pairs of knee-length shorts, an oversized pair of khakis, and a past-the-knee-length cotton khaki dress with short sleeves. It was fugly, but it was perfect for my needs and with it, I felt my Islamic ensembles were buttoned down.

But as I was packing my new suitcase the night before the journey, I discovered that the fugly khaki kimono still had its security tag attached. Ever wonder what happens when you try to pry off a security tag by hand? I'll tell you. You get green ink all over your hands and your new fugly dress.

Well, long story short, when I got to Jordan, I found that my clothing concerns were overwrought, though not for naught. While dress there is certainly more conservative than in the U.S. of A., Western women can get away with showing a bit of skin. Sleeveless was fine at night and outside the city (except in mosques and churches). Knee exposure was fine, even during the day. The piggy toe cleavage revealed by my slingbacks was kosher; all other cleavage was left to the imagination. Though my ink blot of a dress was left home, I still passed the wardrobe Rorschach test.

The moral of this yarn is that you can never judge a cover by the book. Even though most tomes said cover up, the reality of Jordan was a mythbuster. And, as I was soon to discover, there were plenty of other myths and misconceptions about the country also waiting to be uncovered.

Stay tuned for Part II of Laura of Arabia.