Spam, Wonderful Spam!

SPAM (Honolulu, Hawaii and Austin, Texas)

SPAM, wonderful SPAM

SPAM, wonderful SPAM

What do you mean, “Ech”? I’m not sure where Spam gets its bad reputation; perhaps it’s because it comes in a can. Food snobs turn their nose up at it, likening it to the meat version of Cheez Whiz. Even the great food explorer Andrew Zimmern expresses his disdain for it. You know a food is feared when people prefer blowfish to it, but Spam also generates somewhat of a cult following. We’ll talk about where Spam gets elevated to cause célèbre status, but first let’s discuss its humble origin. Spam was originally made by Hormel Foods of Austin, Minnesota way back in 1937. Although alternating versions of the name attribute it to an alliteration of “Shoulder of Pork and hAM” or the simpler “SPiced HAM”, Hormel maintains that the name is an adjective, and insists that it is spelled with all upper-case letters. One of my personal favorite plays on the acronym is “Something Posing As Meat.” The ingredients state it is chopped pork shoulder with added ham meat. It gained a surge in popularity during World War II, especially in Hawaii where fresh meat was difficult to come by. American soldiers ate it with most of their meals, and it continues to be eaten by more Hawaiians that anywhere else on earth per capita. As I discovered on a trip to Austin, Minnesota (for non-Spam purposes), you can smell it throughout the town (those of you living near Heinz in Pittsburgh or General Foods in Woburn, Massachusetts know what I’m talking about).

SPAM sculpture at Spamarama in Austin TX

SPAM sculpture at Spamarama in Austin TX

Blogging about a canned food item found in grocery stores worldwide doesn’t seem particularly trippy, but here my friends is where we talk about Spam being the cause of celebration and the creative ways it is used. Let’s start with the yearly celebration that has taken place in Austin, Minnesota’s namesake city of Austin, Texas annually since 1976. Spamarama has been a no-holds barred festival of potted pork, incorporating games into the festivities. Regular events include a Spam tug-of-war (across a pit of Spam gelatin), a Spam-eating contest (not for the faint of heart), and my personal favorite, the Spam Toss. Picture the old fair staple of the egg toss; now substitute the egg with a can of Spam, freshly opened and still glistening with gelatin. One winner grabbed the pork projectile and clasped it safely against his chest like a football, essentially ruining his T-shirt. The Spam cook-off has produced items such as Spam brownies (I am not joking) and Spam ice cream; judges are required to sample all the items in the competition. In a nearby tent, the Spam sculpture contest is held with most looking like a bizarre autopsy. Sadly the economy has taken its toll on the festival – it was not held at all in 2008 and it looks like since corporate sponsorship from Hormel has been greatly reduced that 2009 saw no Spamarama either leaving its future in doubt.

SPAM saimin at Rutt's Hutt, Culver City CA

SPAM saimin at Rutt's Hutt, Culver City CA

Fret not if you are looking for the ultimate Spam party; you can still find it in the capital of Spam consumption – Honolulu, Hawaii. Since 2003, the free Spam Jam has been held on a closed-off section of Kalakaua Avenue just off Waikiki Beach. As opposed to Spamarama, Spam Jam is generally held at night with booths selling Spam merchandise and local restaurants who try their hand at creating interesting takes on the canned meat. Spamghetti and meatballs, Spam pizza, you name it, they’ve tried it. Rather than compete the foods in a contest, the concoctions are sold to the festival attendees. Several stages feature live music, while the center stage crowns a king and queen of the festival. One of the treats being sold is a Hawaiian favorite – Spam musubi. Think Spam on sushi rice with the obligatory seaweed wrap and topped with a teriyaki-like brown sauce. Odd as it sounds, it’s quite delicious. The Spam is cooked (sorry to disappoint the sashimi lovers) and the meat provides the flavor to the rice with just a little kick from the sauce. It’s larger than your typical sushi, so eating it can get messy, but it’s worth it. Stateside, you can find Spam musubi as a staple in most Hawaiian BBQ joints (such as L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, Ono Hawaiian BBQand even the Waikikie Hawaiian BBQin Atlanta), although there are few east of the Mississippi.

SPAM musubi at Rutt's Hutt, Culver City CA

SPAM musubi at Rutt's Hutt, Culver City CA

Long regarded as a prop for a Monty Python sketch or a word to strike fear in a young child’s heart at breakfast, Spam is an unreasonably feared and maligned food that deserves a try. I wouldn’t eat it every day like the G.I.s, but I’m still dying to try the Spam saimin. On the off chance that you don’t like it, don’t cause a fuss. I’ll have your Spam. I love it. I’m having Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, beaked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam, and Spam!

Spam Jam
2324 Kalakaua Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96815
GPS coordinates: 21°16’38.98″N 157°49’38.33″W

GALLERY: See more Spam-related images

Posted in Trippy Food (Tasty flora and fauna), Trippy Happenings (Events), USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Postcards From Hell

Hell, Michigan

Greetings from sunny Hell

Greetings from sunny Hell

What could give your bragging about having been to Hell and back more street cred than a trip to Hell, Michigan? Think about the joy of having a point of reference the next time someone says, “It’s hotter than Hell today”, or to truly know what a snowball’s chance there is. Don’t let the name fool you – although it would be fun to provide pictures of Death Valley or Kilauea and let you believe this is what Hell looks like, this couldn’t be farther from the truth; I would liken parts of nearby Detroit as more befitting the name of Hell. The tiny town is about 20 miles from Ann Arbor as the crow flies (you can substitute a raven if you’d like) and as is true of much of that region of the Midwest it is relatively flat. The drive takes you through picturesque green rolling pasture and farmland, and while the road to Hell is assumed to be paved with good intentions, I am sorry to report that it is smooth, well-kept asphalt – not even brimstone!

The road to Hell is paved with asphalt

The road to Hell is paved with asphalt

The origin of the name is up for debate – the general consensus is that original settler George Reeves was asked what the new town should be named and replied, “You can name it Hell for all I care” and so it has been since 1841. The town’s primary source of income appears to be tourism, aside from the small local farms. The town’s population had dwindled over the years down to a modest 50 people back in the 1990s, but its lure as a place to say you’ve been to has boosted the recent population to over 250. A single green “Hell” sign on the highway lets you know you’re headed straight to hell; it isn’t until you drive into what can roughly be called “downtown” that you know you’re there. There are three buildings of note, each next to each other. The first is a general store with a tiny post office in the back. You can buy souvenirs here, including T-shirts from the fictional Dam University (yes, they read “Dam U”) and postcards which can be conveniently sent from the general store post office with a Hell, Michigan postmark (although they are served by the post office in adjacent Pinckney).

The dam on Hell Creek

The dam on Hell Creek

Walking across the parking lot there is a tall post with signs showing the direction and distances of major world cities; at the end is the Screams Ice Cream parlor. The outside wall facing the parking lot is a favorite photo opportunity – since being converted from a liquor store they have changed the artwork to a more flame-oriented logo, still providing the perfect backdrop for those lovable family photos. Unfortunately in the renovation they also removed the freestanding “Welcome to Hell” sign that stood out front. Moving down the road is the Dam Site Inn, a small restaurant on the banks of Hell Creek with a view of the creek and it’s infamous dam. Suffice it to say the dam on Hell Creek is one of the town’s main attractions and the place to determine exactly when Hell freezes over.

The townsfolk are friendly and eager to serve (you, not Satan) and take a lighthearted approach to the town’s name and reputation, a veritable yearlong Halloween party. It isn’t the kind of place you’d want to stay for a few days (you would suffer boredom long before fear), but if you’re in the area it’s worth a visit. Take my friendly advice and when in the Ann Arbor area, go to Hell!

Hell, Michigan
Post Office / General Store
4025 Patterson Lake Road
Pinckney, MI 48169-8739
GPS Coordinates: 42°26’3.87″N 83°59’6.94″W

GALLERY: See images from Val’s visit to Hell, Michigan

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Right Is Right And Left Is Wrong

Pasadena, California
Fork in the Road

The fork in the road at the fork in the road

The fork in the road at the fork in the road

The road to life often forks, leaving you to wonder which path to take. At the intersections of Pasadena Avenue and St. John Avenue in Pasadena, California you can only go right, but you may want to linger for a bit to admire the fork itself. Local artist Ken Marshall erected an 18-foot tall steel-reinforced wooden fork at the intersection of the two streets as a prank for the birthday of The Ice House founder Bob Stane’s 75th birthday during Halloween in 2009. A permit is required when erecting public art in Pasadena, but men dressed as CalTrans workers erected the sculpture surreptitiously in the middle of the night. Pasadena’s mayor has expressed no desire to have it removed, noting that it brings people to the area and has a positive impact on the community, but the traffic island is under the jurisdiction of CalTrans and may eventually have to be removed. The fork is painted silver, but the fact that it is made of wood may make it temporary anyway.

You can eat a lot of meat with this fork

You can eat a lot of meat with this fork

The fork is not the first of its kind, nor is it the largest. In 2000, artist Stephen Schreiber created a 31-foot tall fork from steel and aluminum, also located at a fork in the road in Milan, New York. A giant steel fork in Springfield, Missouri stands outside an ad agency – it was originally in front of an Italian restaurant but purchased and moved when the restaurant went out of business. Although probably the largest fork in the world, it is disqualified here since it not only doesn’t stand at a fork in the road, but also is hidden behind the building. The Pasadena fork can safely be called the largest wooden fork in the world. Recently a food drive was successfully conducted at the site of the fork, and with all the positive publicity it will probably be around for awhile, or at least until they’re told to get the fork out of here.

Forks in the Road:
Intersection of Pasadena and St. John Avenues
Pasadena, CA 91105
GPS coordinates: 34°7’51.81″N 118°9’17.27″W

Intersection of New York 199 and New York 308
Milan, NY 12571
GPS coordinates: 41°58’13.52″N 73°49’15.23″W

Large fork:
2215 W Chesterfield Blvd.
Springfield, MO 65807
GPS coordinates: 37°8’43.49″N 93°19’23.81″W

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Camptown Racers Sing This Song

Pasadena, California
The Doo Dah Parade

Senor Groucho performs a public sax act behind a trike

Senor Groucho performs a public sax act behind a trike

What if you lived in Pasadena, California and woke one Sunday morning on New Year’s Day to take in the annual tradition of the Tournament of Roses Parade only to find out that it wasn’t being held? This isn’t unusual, since the parade is never held on Sunday when New Year’s Day falls there (it is held January 2nd). In 1978, that exact situation occurred, and several friends who were regulars at a now-defunct bar called Chromo’s took advantage of the situation to present what would amount to the anti-Rose Parade, the Doo Dah Parade. Although the Rose Parade is something everyone should do once in a lifetime (and probably only once), there’s only so much flowers, happiness and joy you can take while nursing a Gran Patrón Platinum hangover. Sometimes you just want Rickey Rat instead of Mickey Mouse, and when that happens, the Doo Dah Parade is your ticket to paradise. For the Doo Dah, there’s no need to do the overnight street camping required for a good free seat at the Rose Parade, but you also don’t need to worry about getting covered in eggs, tortillas, shaving cream and Silly String (if only I were making this up). Of course, this year it appears you need to be good at dodging tortillas and marshmallows. The worst that could happen is getting dragged into the action on the street or getting hit with a meat projectile (more on this later).

A new entry - Flying Baby Sky Jousting

A new entry - Flying Baby Sky Jousting

Before you plan your New Year’s Day festivities around the Doo Dah, understand this: it isn’t always held on New Year’s Day (unlike its similar cousin, Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade). In the past it has been held in November and late January; in 2010 it was held on May 1st. The parade used to start at Pasadena’s Memorial Park (on the corner of Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street), but like the date that it’s held on, the location also appears to be a moving target. Since the parade doesn’t appear to have the national appeal of its rose-colored sister, overnight camping is not required. Try to jockey a position near the start of the parade where you get the best chance of seeing the action before batteries wear out, flimsy costumes and floats self destruct and flame jugglers run out of fuel (which of course does not detract from the insanity).

Crazed robot Boo Boo Kitty

Crazed robot Boo Boo Kitty

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what differentiates the Doo Dah from the Rose Parade; to illustrate this, let’s talk about some of the regular participants. The Doo Dah has its share of individual entries: clowns, pirates, Abe Lincoln, male ballerinas in tutus, an adult male diaper-clad Cupid, Fester Adams (complete with bubble machine and mouth-illuminated light bulbs), etc. In past years, group participants included The Bastard Sons of Lee Marvin (complete with a wheeled coffin containing a cigar smoking “Lee Marvin” skeleton); the ever-popular annual favorite Men of Leisure Drill Team (who carry pillows and do formations ending with them dropping to the ground and napping); Ferret Freedom (featuring a rideable giant ferret float); and many more. Some have to be seen to be believed – The Claude Rains Memorial Invisible Man Marching Drill Team featured a clothed, bandaged Invisible Man carrying the center of a huge banner with the gloves of 20 “invisible” men carrying the ends. My favorite, formerly an annual parade staple was The Barbeque and Hibachi Marching Drill Team, a full-out assault on the senses. The procession is usually preceded by a piloted motorized hot dog, followed by backyard grill chefs wheeling grills down Raymond Avenue while they cook. The drill team itself follows – attire usually includes empty Kingsford charcoal bags worn as chef’s hats and colorful aprons. Smoking hibachi and Weber kettle grills hang from their neck like marching toms as they grill up hot dogs while doing parade formations. As soon as the dogs are done, they are handed to roving hot dog fusiliers who stuff them into bazooka-like devices and fire the foil-wrapped wieners into the crowd. I personally witnessed some of the hot dog cannons overshooting their targets and dropping their payload on awnings and low rooftops. If the crows and Pasadena parrots don’t get them, it makes for a fragrant few weeks. Sadly, the troop did not make a showing in the 2010 parade.

The popular motorized couch

The popular motorized couch

The parade is somewhat kid friendly, but there is a risqué air to it. If you sit close to the street, there is an excellent chance you will be accosted by some of the participants and possibly dragged out to the street to participate as well. I like to think of it as if the participants of the Rose Parade couldn’t make it so the committee went to South Congress Avenue in Austin, Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, L.A.’s Venice Beach and Greenwich Village in NYC to recruit fill-ins. Similar Doo Dah parades in Ocean City, New Jersey and Columbus, Ohio have been inspired by the Pasadena original, and also are held on different days, but share the joyful insanity. The bottom line is: you will be entertained. You may even walk away with your dignity intact. If you ask Clark Griswold (the original trippy tripper), he’ll tell you you’re “gonna have so much fun you’ll need plastic surgery to remove your smiles. You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’…” Actually, he’ll phrase it slightly different, but I’ll leave that for you to look up.

The Doo Dah Parade
Pasadena, California (check the website for location)

GALLERY: See images fromthe 2008 Pasadena, California Doo Dah Parade

GALLERY: See images from the 2010 Padadena, California Doo Dah Parade

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These Buffalo Don’t Have Wings

Jamestown, North Dakota
World’s Largest Buffalo, white buffalo (Frontier Village)

No need for a sign to see the giant buffalo

No need for a sign to see the giant buffalo

As you may have gathered from the article on Salem Sue (world’s largest Holstein cow), North Dakota truly is the land of the giants. This becomes apparent in Jamestown, North Dakota, a mere 90 miles west of Fargo (oh, jeez!) when you catch a glimpse of the world’s largest buffalo from Interstate 94. You could be content to pull off to the shoulder, exclaim, “That IS a big buffalo” and head back on your merry way to see the world’s largest sandhill crane, but why not stop and see what makes Frontier Village interesting? Fight the urge to turn around at the gates, even though it looks like you’re about to enter Walt Disney’s version of F Troop. Ignore the wind vane decorated to look like a Native American headdress and pull all the way down the road to the parking area. From the parking lot you will have no problem finding the world’s largest buffalo – nothing stands between you and the behemoth except a dirt path. Normally by this point in the article I would have been using the beast’s name (e.g., Betsey the lobster, Sandy the crane, Salem Sue the Holstein, etc.), but for some unknown reason he (yes, the buffalo is anatomically correct) doesn’t have one. For the sake of this article we’ll call him “Bill”. Continue reading

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