Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Roadboy Visits The Reagan Library and Museum

Spectacular Vista's and Air Force One

The National Archives, Office of Presidential Libraries, is charged with managing America's 13 current presidential libraries / museums. 

The creation of presidential libraries began in 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt donated land on his Hyde Park estate to house his presidential records. FDR believed that presidential records belonged to the nation, not each individual president. He felt that presidential records must be archived, preserved and made accessible to the public. 

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 made the process of presidential library building official, requiring they be built using private funds. The law decreed that upon completion the libraries would be federally maintained.

I've now visited the Eisenhower, Johnson, Lincoln, Bush (W) and Reagan libraries. All, except the Lincoln Library, are part of the National Archive's system.  

Clearly the location, character and size of each presidential library becomes the personal statement of its namesake. Some libraries are located in a president's ancestral hometown (Dwight D. Eisenhower's beloved Abilene Kansas for example). Other's are built in a place that comes to be associated with a specific president (President Clinton is clearly identified with Little Rock, Arkansas). President Reagan's library stands in California on top of a hill.

Much like a portrait captures only what an artist intends for the viewer to see, presidential libraries are not true museums, they are showcases where the carefully packaged legacy of a president is presented.

President Reagan

Ronald Reagan 
Ronald Reagan was larger than life; an iconic and charismatic leader whose legacy is equal parts actor, cowboy and president. He is also a man of many contradictions. 

He overcame humble beginnings with early achievements in sports and theater. A superb athlete, he worked summers in Illinois as a lifeguard and is credited with the rescue of over 70 distressed swimmers. He documenting each rescue by carving a notch in a nearby log.

Despite the depression, he was able to attend college. And, while admitting to only being an average student, he emerged a student leader. The first speech he is credited with was a loud protest of cuts in academic funding and increases in student fees. Ironically, after securing his own education, as governor and president he tirelessly slashed state and federal funding for education.

His love of school plays quickly allowed him to understand how best to exploit his looks and charm. Never lacking confidence, he left college for Hollywood securing dozens of movie roles.

After a couple of decades the number and quality of movie roles being offered to him declined to a point where he decided to embark on a new career in politics. 

Stubborn, yet never lacking in optimism, his innate charisma continued to serve him well. He knew what to say, how to say it, and perhaps most importantly, when to deliver his lines. The famous "Mr Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall!" was, in part, improvisation against the advice of his speech writers. 

He could flash a 30 megawatt smile and use his innate ability to read people to convey to them his sense of what was right. This allowed him to establish special, highly personal, and convincing relationships with the world's leaders of his day.

The courage and humor he displayed after the attempt on his life will stand for all time. 

On a personal note my father was always fond of Ronald Reagan. And, when the chance came to catch a glimpse of him, Dad took it. My mom said they arrived early and staked out a spot with a good view. And, when the president arrived he scanned the audience and, with deliberation, walked directly to my father. He stopped and shook dad's hand. He then turned, smiled, waved and left the room. 

It was like he came to see my dad, every bit as much as my dad came to see him.

Reagan's Oval Office is Accurately Reproduced 

The Reagan Library and Museum
The hilltop site of the Reagan library is blessed with sweeping views in every direction. Its architecture, however, is (at best) average. The building is '80's office park meets warehouse". It completely lacks the charisma and charm of its namesake. And, once inside the tour route is poorly oriented with no natural flow at all.

The library carries a steep (I think) $21 admission price. It is currently the most expensive of all presidential libraries.

I advise visitors to come with clear expectations. As with most presidential libraries / museums, the museum is just a big infomercial chronicling his triumphs: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, along with his success in nuclear arms reduction. He also takes credit for ending the Iran hostage siege and inflation.

Despite the clear impacts on his career and life, don't expect any mention of his first marriage, his parental shortcomings, his relentless efforts to bust trade unions, or the complete failure of "Trickle Down" economics.

His shameful complicity in Hollywood blacklisting is portrayed with a spin only a soviet propagandist could love. His legacy of explosive modern deficit spending to stimulate the economy (i.e. spending freely on defense, while cutting taxes and pushing debts to future generations), although emulated by most of the presidents that followed him, is ignored. And, if you seek understanding of Iran Contra, good luck. Only the most observant will find a small mention of it in the basement.

Much here becomes obvious only by omission. 

I encourage visitors entering the museum to carefully study the names of donors engraved at the entry. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"Luke 12:34 

Air Force One
The library / museum tour includes the huge new warehouse housing Air Force One - Tail 27000. 

This is the elegant 707 President Reagan used for most of his presidency. It is restored and freshly painted in the original Raymond Loewy livery commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy.

Tail 27000

Every Inch Gleams

The Loewy Livery

Tail 2700 served from 1973 until it was replaced by two new 747's in 1990. Despite the addition of the 747's, Tail 27000 continued to serve until 2001. This aircraft holds the distinction of flying more presidents, more miles, on more missions, than any aircraft in American history.

Its permanent home, elevated, and afforded a breathtaking (and seemingly endless) view of California's rolling hills, is appropriate and wonderful.

And its View

As an added bonus, while LA's Petersen Auto Museum is being rebuilt, the library is temporarily hosting some very cool cars.

There is a gift shop and cafe (serving decent burgers and sandwiches). 

Bring a camera and, If weather permits, (i.e. not too windy) spend some time exploring the grounds. President Reagan's grave is on the west side of the building.

Wear comfortable shoes since the (totally inadequate) parking lot is frequently full compelling visitors to park down a steep hill.  Flag down a shuttle if you need it!

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

Perfect Vanilla Cream Caramels

Creation of a Holiday Tradition

For me this story began at Jerry's corner market near High Street in Oakland California. Jerry's closed decades ago, but when I was a kid that is where my best friend Paul and I went to buy candy. We went there because they had shelves of penny candy in big jars. There were jars filled with rock candy, jolly ranchers and candy pills on white paper. 

On my trips there, after much careful deliberation, I'd usually wind up with a little white bag filled with wax bottles filled with colored liquid, something chocolate and (always) a sugar daddy, small box of milk duds or a slo-poke. 

On a trip to Canada in my teen years I found Mackintosh's Creamy Toffee bars. Those are the splendid hard toffee bars that without patience will quickly adhere to your teeth and deliver you directly to a dentist's chair.  

As an adult my next true caramel revelation was delivered in a cafe in Palo Alto. The dessert there was a poached pear drizzled with a light homemade caramel sauce. Along with Banana's Foster I realized it was simply the most wonderfully balanced dessert I'd ever eaten.

All of this led me to want to start making caramels myself. And, for the past seventeen years, my daughter and I have made caramels for the holidays. We present them to friends as expression of love. 

In the past few years Ms. M. has taken over the ritual and has experimented with new caramel recipes in a quest for perfection. Although we started with this basic vanilla cream caramel, she now makes caramel sauces, chocolate chip caramels, mocha caramels and cinnamon caramels.

Vanilla Cream Caramels

Every year our little bags of caramels get mailed to friends pretty much all over the world. And, every year we get asked for the recipe. Usually people that ask for it confess that making candy scares them a bit. 

It shouldn't       

Here is the basic recipe we have been adapting from one originally published in Food and Wine magazine back in 1997.

Since each batch takes about 35 minutes of constant stirring we typically double the recipe and make double batches.

Before you get started you will need:

• A heavy 3 quart sauce pan with tall sides
• A quality candy thermometer (we use a Taylor candy thermometer from Grandma)
• A pastry brush and bowl filled with water
• Aluminum foil
• Wax paper

The Tools

For a single batch (64 caramels):

• 1 tablespoon canola oil (or some other flavorless oil)
• 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
• 1 cup light corn syrup
• ¾ cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

The Ingredients

Step 1
Line an 8” square baking pan with foil extending the foil over the sides of the pan.  Then thoroughly coat the foil with the canola oil

Step 2
In the saucepan combine the cream, corn syrup and sugar.  

Stir continuously with a long handled wooden spoon over moderate heat for about 5 minutes (until sugar is dissolved). 

Using the pastry brush dipped in warm water, brush down the sides of the pan twice to prevent crystallization.
Step 3
Raise the temperature to Medium High and attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pan. 

Continue cooking the syrup, stirring constantly, until the temperature rises to 250°, about 30 minutes.

250° is “Hard Ball” and makes the classic hard glassy finished toffee type of caramel that 4 out of 5 dentists adore. 

We prefer softer, more elegant, caramels and stop at 243°.

Step 4
Add the vanilla and the butter stirring till the butter is all melted. 

Pour the caramel into the foil lined pans.  Let cool on rack for at least 2 hours.

Mocha and Cinnamon Caramels
Cooling Down

Step 5
Use the ends of the foil to lift the caramel from the pan. 

Coat the blade of a large chef knife with canola oil. 

Cut the caramel into 8 strips and cut each strip into 8 pieces. 

Wrap each in wax paper.

Wax Paper for Wrapping

Pick a pan with a heavy bottom and high sides. Although professional candy makers swear by stupendously expensive copper kettles, our Calphalon kettles work just fine,

Eliminate sugar crystals using the water and pastry brush.

Be patient and resist the temptation to raise the temp above medium high.  It takes longer, but delivers the best flavor and proper color.

Stir constantly with the wood spoon.

Remove from heat as soon as temp is reached (to stir in vanilla and butter) and pour it into the pan as quick as possible.  

Overstirring at the end makes the caramels grainy.

Make them on days with low humidity.  Perfect for Arizona!

Store in airtight containers at room temperature.

Put in Gift Bags Ready To Go!


I believe that any recipe that emphasizes sugar, heavy cream, vanilla and butter makes life better. These are, after all, the ingredients we reserve for holidays and special occasions. 

Roadboy's Travels  2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Roadboy's 2015

Winter In Paris

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to start thinking about 2015. 

I believe 2015 will be a transformative year in travel thanks in part to rapid changes in the airline and hotel industry. To this observer it feels like most of the major airlines and hotel chains are staying up late searching out devious new ways to assure that our loyalty goes unrewarded (i.e. inflating reward levels and adding lots of new little fees).

Maybe it is just that roadwarriors are set in our ways. But it is hard to shake the impression that we are getting less, less and less from our travel dollars. 

I see a collision ahead. 

Many of us in the business community are coming to realize that our more savvy clients are increasingly receptive to us joining them via online meetings in lieu of reimbursing us for costly and time consuming business travel.  Online web chats are certainly reducing the number of business trips I take each year.

Perhaps the decline in business travel, when coupled with the dramatic increasing income disparity in the US, will net a corresponding shift in middle class recreational travel toward road trips and less expensive travel. And I think that may eventually compel a correction in the travel industry. I mean, sure the 1% will still check into a Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton, but historically cost sensitive destinations (like Las Vegas and Atlantic City), along with modest hotels and mid-level cruise lines may find themselves competing over a shrinking customer base. 

As for me I am planning "50/50" travel in 2015. 

50% of my travel time will be exploring new destinations and 50% revisiting old favorites. 

I plan to begin with a mid-winter visit to Spain, France and England. This is the 50% revisiting old favorites part.

During a mid-winter trip to Paris a few years ago I realized how much I enjoyed the City of Lights under a light dust of snow. That magic powder scares off hordes of tourists. Yet this is when the fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens sparkles with a little ice and trees in the parks show off the precise box cuts they were given last fall. Of course, boulangeries still bake flaky croissants and restaurants are much happier to welcome visitors. The famous museums are all open and wonderfully uncrowded. And, Paris' famed department stores offer their biggest sales of the year. And, while I do not enjoy shopping much, I do find a perverted pleasure observing the world's richest (nouveau riche) and most entitled shoppers (quite literally) fighting over a few discounted Longchamp and Chanel handbags. And, while they "shop", thier army of limo drivers awaits at the curb with motors purring.  

As for me I prefer to see my Paris via a good pair of shoes, a set of "180's" ear muffs and a few layers of wool.

After Paris there will be a quick chunnel trip to enable a few days in London. And, since I love Spain's wonderful airports, the trip will begin in regal Madrid and end in lovely Barcelona (taking the edge off the cold at each end of the trip)!

As for the rest of the year? Well Roadboy is still contemplating a second trip for 2015. Costa Rica is high on my "To Do" list. But there are a dozen other destinations that beckon me as well.

Roadboy's Travels © 2014