Category Archives: Arts Travel & Culture Features

Sirk TV Travel Feature: Forward Thinking & Cultural Relevance – An Expanding Perception Of Niagara

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The influence of cultural relevance in an area is always reflected in its history, its food, its culture, its religion and its way of life. Niagara Falls USA, with its distinct border along the Canadian coast as well as sharing a land bridge, offers an interesting structure of Americana. From its stories of immigrants and workers including Italians, Poles and Armenians to its battlefront status in both the War Of 1812 and the American Revolution, the life of the city is quite interesting.

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Of course the initial imprint can always be The Falls but even its geographic perception was honed by the engineering generated in the amount of hydra-power it produces. Going even a little upriver to Three Sisters Island, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who also designed Central Park in Manhattan, you can see how the different arenas were molded.

 

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Moving backward to the perception of history, Old Fort Niagara, with its strategic point looking out onto Lake Ontario, has a paradoxical view in many ways. It can lead back to the Falls but from its vantage point you can also see Toronto across the way, 27 miles distant. This area around the fort was hard to land on so the British would have had to made their way ashore some ways up the coast and actually try to take the fort from land. One of the cooler stories of the fort was regards Betsy Doyle who, even though her husband was born in the States, was deemed a traitor and taken hostage. Even when he was sent back, his wife remained. Her claim to fame is that she was one of the few people who delivered hot shots (unstable cannonballs) up for firing in a raid. She died in poverty but her story earned her a New York Senate Woman Of Distinction mention.

 

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The influence of religion, specifically Catholicism, is also specifically strong in this area. At Our Lady Of Fatima Shrine, which was celebrating  their Festival of Lights upon the visit, the strong central core of belief that held the community together (especially among the Italian and Polish contingent) likely offered a sense of stability to the area. Now with more immigrants in flux in current day, the area takes on a distinct melting pot feeling (some say comparative to NYC).

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The food is reflective of this as well with some integrating in site specific ways. Fortuna’s is an Italian restaurant that has been around for generations. In speaking with one of the town’s historian the influence of old world customs still permeates present day, especially in elements of music and cooking. The ravioli, heightened with anise, reflects a very specific family recipe while the gnocchi are still hand rolled. Across town, at The Polish Nook, pierogies are made from a three generation old recipe from Kraków. In this way nostalgia and that sense of belonging can create a very specific and stable soul to a city.

 

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This is not to say the town isn’t growing up. From that point of view, two of its eateries show a flair for modern permutations in forward thinking. Carmelo’s in Lewiston has its farm to table essence down to perfection. It’s ogliette pasta optimizing local lamb sausage and goat cheese was simply ravenous while, in the central hub of Downtown Niagara Falls, Wine On Third offered a distinct cosmopolitan experience highlighted by loveliness of greens and flavors, savored in their Blueberry Arugula salad and their Blue Cheese Bruschetta slightly enticed with clover honey.

 

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It is this melding of the old and the new with stories lurking just below the surface that make Niagara Falls USA a city and area that encourages closer examination.

 

By Tim Wassberg

Sirk TV Travel Feature: Cultural Textures & Palette Enchantment – The Different Faces Of Waco, TX

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The texture of Waco, Texas integrates its laid back vibe while creating a culture that embraces its boundaries and shows its indomitable heritage.

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With Westfest in full swing in West, Texas embracing Czech culture and BSR Cable Park serving up summer water shenanigans, the life lived as well as the food eaten is the key to any entrant. But other lives swirl in consistent time.

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The Sorghum Festival out at Homestead Heritage is an interesting amalgamation of religious sect and old world values. The food and materials they make are interesting and well produced. The girls wear no make up and the fashions are shall we say plaid based. Everyone seems friendly. There is no judgement. The kids are home schooled and everyone learns a craft. Unlike the Amish who thwart technology, this group does not expel technology but does not fully embrace it either. Mostly the leaders use it for business purposes but the lack of smartphone attachments. An aquaponics bay interestingly enough uses fish water aerated to provide different bacteria for crops. The workers seem very versed in sciences for their particular specialty despite not being college educated.

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The other aspect at the Homestead is their food. They make their own cheeses including a tart horseradish pecan cheddar and an exceptionally tasty smoked Gouda. One of the great tastes was one of these cheese pizzas made in a wood burning oven. The Sorghum as a base is a derivative of the grain and they use it in all aspects of their cooking, especially in a delectable sorghum syrup ice cream with pecans.

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On the edge of the land, one of the members has set up shop as Red Wagon BBQ. Joe is a bit more outgoing perhaps than the others but he knows his product. That product is brisket. The key in integrating the tastes here is that it is all organic. You can see it as he points out the layers of the meat. He also has a Haymaker sandwich which blends a homemade cole slaw sans mayonnaise with the brisket with a taste just as succulent but without the by products.

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Food is the big equalizer but also libations and brews. Locally, Crickets Grill offers over 100 on tap and Dichotomy offers a different approach blending coffee and an artisan spirit house. But the city was based in the notion of Dr. Pepper and Doc Harrison’s drug store is the site of the Dr. Pepper Museum with the subsequently used bottling plant right next door. The Frosty Pepper [seen above] mixing vanilla ice cream with the local output is addicting but necessary in small doses.

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Watching old Dr. Pepper commercials in their upstairs theater, you recognize a sense of history. Baylor University, the large Baptist college, right next door did the archaeology work at the site when they uncovered a water well which had been covered up with concrete in the early 1900s. Farther outside of town in the late 1970s, there was also the discovery of a herd of Colombian Mammoths who supposedly perished in a flash flood. It was all female and youngsters since the male are ostracized except during mating. This established the Waco Mammoth National Monument. All this points to a very interesting balance. Despite the cowboy mentality more and more, Texas comes across as a matriarchal society with a very strong presence.

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Which brings us back to food. Across from the centerpiece Hilton attached to the Convention Center is the warehouse district which houses a different array of possibilities. Crickets, with its endless bar, also intrigues with its Kitchen Sink Burger [seen above] which is topped with fries, quest, red onions, pickles and mayo which begins the proceedings with gusto.

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Diamondback’s Texas Steakhouse offers a great array of steaks at a higher price point but, as this is Texas, the heartiness is key. Integrating the basics though, the creamy corn chowder is an immediate favorite while the pop overs (definitely different and inherently local than other breads) [seen above] filled with jack cheese and Rosemary dazzle.

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Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant also in the square was accommodating across the board especially with late night possibilities including a chicken soup [seen above] with hefty bites of chicken, slices of avocado and pico de gallo.

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Concluding the proceedings was a Waco staple in George’s Restaurant. The vibe is laid back like much in Waco with heartiness a factor less than concern for calories. But don’t come to Texas if you don’t plan to eat. On the recommendation of the cute female bartender, the crybaby burger goes to the contrary. Instead of pushing for the burn, it paradoxically moves for the sweet. The onion rings were a different matter with a heaviness of due course that made them filling to the max. The most addictive though was the crazy wings [seen above] which optimized bits of chicken, jack cheese and jalapeños, rolling them in bacon and frying them. Add a blue cheese sauce and you are done for the evening, save for a bite of broccoli salad which is inherently divine.

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Waco, Texas is cool and chill to the bone. It knows its heritage and embraces it but doesn’t encourage it upon you. The people are who they are but ready to talk and eager to engage. Add to that a growing Texas craft scene and food to satisfy every taste and the possibilities are welcoming all around.

Sirk TV Travel Feature: A Midnight Run To Doha: The Undeniable Efficiency Of A 36 Hour Qatar Journey

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Leaving on a jet plane upon a Midnight Run always makes for some interesting logistics. The reality is that the increasing routing that Qatar Airways is implementing to and from the U.S. makes it more and more tempting, both from a logical and enjoyable point of view. Instead of having to go through Europe to get to an African or Far East destination, the hub of undeniable poise is Doha just to the northwest of Abu Dhabi and just south of Bahrain on the Persian Gulf. The interesting thing is that you can leave most eastern U.S. ports that the airline services as well as others like Houston, get there around dinnertime in Doha and then leave on your next leg at 1am when the hub is bustling. Which brings us to the structure of this exercise. Qatar and back to the U.S. with an 8 hour layover of good food and relaxation in 36 hours. It sounds like a lot but it is also another adventure. And using business class you can enjoy it without every leaving the airport. First the highlights of structure…then the food.

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Once you land in Doha, there is the option of proceeding directly through security to the lounge with a punctual and attentive Qatar Airways concierge greets you at the plan. Everything is sleek and well oiled. An early (or late espresso) seals the progression before heading over to The Airport Hotel. Despite its basic name, the transient traveler hub is a place that let you get a room anywhere between 4 and 24 hours without leaving security. The rooms themselves are spacious and remind me of a roomier version of the L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills.

The Vitality Spa (at The Airport Hotel) offers a great diversity from actual massages to hydrotherapy to squash courts. As a guest of the hotel, you get access to these amenities. The massage requires additional but their experts understand the notion of being on a plane for 14 hours and how to venerate the muscles. There is even a Olympic Swimming Pool that literally hangs over the main thoroughfare within the hotel.

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The Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Premium Business Lounge with Hamad International Airport understands its patrons from multiple food elements to simple snacks to business acumen to essential luxury. Mostly virgin drinks are encouraged along with wine which perfectly suits the fare, especially those in A La Carte.

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The tangy Palak Paneer encompassing creamy spinach, Indian spices and cottage cheese with fragrant rice gives you a taste of the East that really can’t truly be replicated in the West. There is a certain texture that is elusive to us on the other side of the oceans. Another dish is a blend of Arabic Fusion called DaWood Basha mixing Lebanese meatballs with a vibrant tomato base and vermicelli rice. These are great tastes in a setting that keeps you relaxed while also getting your work done if so desired. The business center and loads of espresso, lattes and cappuccinos are close if possible as needed There are even meditation and prayer rooms, separate by sexes of course as is tradition in the region.

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Business class accomplishes this on board the aircraft. And, for long haul, it is always worth it as possible.

This brings us to the flights themselves. Each route has its own unique flavor which really tends to give its crew and texture personality.

The first 14 hour route was a direct from Miami that left at 8pm and arrived at 5:30pm the next day Qatar time, 8 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Like many journeys akin to this (which are not many), they usually start off with champagne; in this case, a Tattinger Rose which cleansed the palate and lead the way for further excursions.

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A wild mushroom soup initiated the proceedings with a creme fraiche that tantalized without overwhelming while the butternut squash salad was decidedly heavenly with toasted pine nuts, red onions, apple dressing and goat cheese curds. What is very clear compared to other long hauls is a very specific idea of freshness in the ingredients which is undeniable. They also compliment each other so you never feel overfilled.

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The main course on the inbound was grilled prawns over linguini in a creme and lemon sauce with Parmesan shavings. It listened to its texture just enough to lull one towards sleep while a lemon tart with the right amount of sugar and a cappuccino lined the night.

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The flat down beds of business class allow you to sleep in the way you want to feel whether you fall asleep watching TV or curl next to someone.  The windows are all closed so the notion of time seeps away. You can always request some late snack but the balance of the early evening gives way to some coffee or perhaps a cheese plate which gives the right balance.

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While breakfast is served, everything is available but there is something about smoked salmon with dill cream cheese and bagel nugget cubes. It is an unusual way to serve this breakfast staple but is utterly welcome and creative simply because it takes a new notion to a form while the turkey sausage and cheddar cheese omelet satisfied the structure of dependency in the best possible way.

Landing and returning to the former country with 7 hours allowed for a fluidity of motion but a different menu of note which definitely appealed to the foodie tendency in seeing how many perceptions could be interrelated while maintaining a sense of continuity.

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After a tease of Brut Champagne and a take off over the dark skies of Doha and heading over the desert, the Dream Royale gave a farewell as the after take off cocktail blending Martini Rosso with its torquet mixed with blackcurrant and Belvedere while not overwhelming in its sippy comtrails.

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The roasted bell pepper and tomato soup with a mint yogurt gave the right amount of pep while summer green vegetable and mozzarella salad again knew the balance without question; not overwhelming the palate but not depriving it either. It’s greenness completely envelops you.

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Dinner provided an interesting dichotomy with two roads tempted; one vegetarian…one protein with a distinct balance of taste highlighted by a good selection of wine whose obvious partners were clear. The first was a sesame seed and herb tikkis (think a rice blend) with tadka makhani (which has a slight curry tinge). Again an Indian/Far East Touch (though the business lounge in Doha found that perfect balance). Add a recommended side of Martin Pouret Saveur Bernaise at the suggestion of our attendant which significantly enhanced the meal as well. The inclusion of a white wine in the form of a 2013 Fritz Haag Riesling out of Germany was a welcome selection.

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ON the counter front a lamb loin with rosemary jus encrusted with the right amount of hospitality. GOing over was a Polish lady who both was extremely attentive but also wonderfully conversational never hesitating once when I stayed up late to edit because of the wonderful power inclusions on the plane. THe flight to PHill was similar with our possibly Lebanese attendant extremely courteous and extremely knowledgeable. tHe inclusion with the lamb of an AUstrailian Shiraz (Karangilla Road, 2012) gave it the right amount of bite.

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After dinner saw a plaisir sucre with its layered chocolaty fervor that was wonderful mingled with 1974 KOpke COhlieta POrt from the Doro VAlley in POrtugal. A simmering cappachino lit the night and the work continued with sleep sometime in the hours ahead.

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A mid voyage yearning after a bit of sleep jarred the memory somewhere over the NOrth Atlantic with a frsh texture of asparagus ravioli with a feta cheese briskness that gave way to a peaceful sleep as the tiniest bit of sun crept from the beneath the window.

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Within the final hours into Philadelphia, the breakfast structure interweighed with a tonal element befitting of the vibrant Gulf country of Qatar. THe traditional Arabaic breakfast offered a mix of fresh cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, feta cheese and za’atar with a mixture of Arabic breads and olives while a mushroom para that like a crepe filled with morels balanced with an auberginge gut eg with e right amount of spice and an eggs burning which mixed herbs in swirl of yolk and taste.

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All angles move together to make a cohesive voyage. All the elements working together we’re on display vectoring in a midnight run to DOha. the efficiency of the flight and connections, the relax and ease of the airport hotel, the diversity of the terminal, the unlimited amenities of the Express PRemium BUsiness LOunge and of course the excellent meal service and hospitality in Qatar Airways business class speak to taking a voyage but not letting ethe time rule you..instead treating the voyGe as an adventure and a relaxing journey all in itself.

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