Monday, January 31, 2011

Native Americans...

The following four pictures are photos of pencil drawings of Native Americans. They were drawn by my brother, Robert (Bob) Thomson. In my opinion, this first drawing is the best of the grouping...climaxing years of Bob's efforts to enhance his drawing skills. They are amazingly detailed, almost like a photo, only softer...
I didn't know that this drawing existed until this past summer, when one of my cousins gave it to me during a visit to Michigan. I wish that I had one of the early drawings of twigs and leaves that Robert had drawn when he was about 9. Sadly, all we have are photos...

Bob's primary medium over the years was oil paint. Two of my previous postings featured some of his work. "Railroad Art" was posted on July 18, 2010 and it featured a large painting of Union Station in Kansas City. The same posting also featured a painting depicting a classic diesel 'stream liner' passenger train coming down the tracks. The first painting is in the private collection of a art & antique dealer in Kansas City but the whereabouts of the second painting is unknown.

My second posting of Bob's works was back on September 18, 2010. It was entitled "Ships From the Past" and it included a pencil drawing of the tugboat 'Goliath' as it guided a tramp steamer into port. That drawing is part of my collection of family artworks. Also posted on the same blog was an oil painting of the 'William S. Mitchell", a Corp of Engineers side-wheel paddle boat, also know as the death dredge. That painting is also part of the antique/art dealers collection in Kansas City.

As for these four drawings, the first and third are in my collection and my son has the second and fourth sketches in his collection.
As time goes on, I'll post more of Robert's art work. Unfortunately, most of Bob's works were sold or lost, many in a fire at his home a few years ago. In recent years, poor health has hampered his ability to draw and paint... Hopefully, he'll soon be able to once again pick up the pencil and the paintbrush, both for his personal satisfaction and ours...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gourmet Market...

On one of our trips in 2010 to visit our family in Northern Ohio, we stopped at the West Point Market in Akron. I'd stumbled across this store while just cruising the Internet.
West Point Market is a 25,000 sq. ft. gourmet food store that is celebrating it's 75th Anniversary!

In addition to the retail store, West Point Market also provides catering services and it operates a sizable mail order business. The market is at 1711 West Market Street in Akron Ohio. The website is: Phone: 330-864-2151.

There are several very upscale specialty departments within the market. The wine section is certainly one of the outstanding examples... There are over 3,500 different labels in this section of the store! Other departments not pictured in this Blog include high quality produce, a gift shop plus gift and floral baskets.

In one corner of the store, we found the 'Beside the Point Cafe'. We didn't eat there...too early in the day...but the cafe features made from scratch soup, salads and sandwiches. Everything is made using the quality products sold elsewhere in the store.

The West Point Market's website features the "What's-In-Store" Newsletter. This publication outlines what's going on in the store along with featured products. In January 2011, the big event was a 'Red Wine Tasting' that was held in the Cheese Shop.

Having lived in Chicago for so many years, we are devotees of great bread and other baked goods. That need was definitely fulfilled by the market's baked from scratch breads, muffins, scones and other sweets. Just the good smells were a treat! Speaking of sweets, the market also has a large chocolate shop...and lots of other candy too!

We were on our way back down to East Tennessee and we didn't have our cooler with us. Too bad, as the butcher shop featured terrific looking meat of all varieties and cuts. They only carry USDA True Prime and Upper Choice cuts. The store also has an extensive seafood counter. Nearby, there is a big deli section as well as a large selection of ready-to-cook entrees. One item available is 'Porketta', a seasoned skin-on pork belly, rolled and tied around a pork loin, and then roasted.

This was our favorite department! The Cheese Shop at the market features almost 400 cheeses and they encourage tasting. This shop also has sausages, salami, pates, mousse, truffles and foie gras. The biggest challenge for us was trying to decide what to buy that we could carry home! Actually, that was a problem throughout the store... The specialty foods alone include over 12,000 products and ingredients! This is a great stop for any road trip... The West Point Market isn't far off I-77 on the west side of Akron.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Indian Dining at Taj...

Friends and neighbors are often our source of new cullinary experiences in East Tennessee. We love to explore and we're always looking for leads. In this case, Joel and Holly, also new to the area, told us that they'd been delighted to find a restaurant serving quality Indian Cuisine.

So, when Laurie and I were out running errands the other day, we decided to drop in and have lunch at "Taj". It turned out to be a good decision...and as we entered the restaurant, we encountered the savory scent of Indian cuisine. We had a coupon from "Lifestyles" so we ordered from the menu. We did note that a nice looking buffet was available for a very reasonable $7.95 per person plus beverages. Maybe the next time...

We're not sure what to call this wafer thin bread that was served as soon as we ordered dinner. It's not like the nann, (Indian breads), that we've normally encountered. It's not mentioned on the menu so we'll just have to ask about it the next time. In any case, it came with 3 dipping or spreading sauces...all very good.

I ordered a Kingfisher Indian beer but when Laurie tried to order a Vodka & Tonic Tall with 2 Limes, it seemed that we'd encountered a bit of a language barrier. Instead, we learned that the bartender was off and the waiter/manager didn't know how to mix drinks... So she ordered a glass of Chardonnay instead.

For an appetizer, we ordered Paneer Pakora...described as homemade cheese patties dipped in chick pea flour and fried. While they were shapped more like cheese sticks than patties, they had a nice mild flavor and they weren't heavy like fried cheese is in most restaurants. It didn't come with any sauce for dipping...but we still had some of the 3 sauces that came with the 'cracker bread' so we were happy campers.

For her entree, Laurie ordered the Chicken Ragon Josh...(left of photo)...chunks of chicken cooked in a rich almond sauce with a blend of fragrant spices. It had a nice little spicy bite to it and Laurie really liked it.

I ordered the Lamb Vindaloo...(right of photo)...lamb cooked in highly spiced sauce, (I ordered it Hot), cooked with ginger, onions, tomatoes, lemon, chili and special herbs with potatoes. It was very good! We especially like the light and flavorful rice, (top of photo), that Taj serves with these dishes... It all worked very well together.

There is no doubt that we will return to Taj! It was a great change of pace and the food was very nice. Taj is located at 8520 Kingston Pike in Knoxville, TN. Their website is: (Note: The menu on the site is not current but it is representative of their offerings) Phone: 865-670-2878.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Railroad Depots - Photo Album

Here are a few more photos of railroad depots that we've taken on our road trips...

This is the Brodhead Wisconsin passenger depot. It was built in 1881 by for the Mineral Point Branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. (The Milwaukee Road) The depot now serves as a museum displaying historical railroad memorabilia as well as items portraying the history of Green County.

This depot is adjacent to an active rail line and it also is home to a vintage 1941 Milwaukee Road caboose as well as a 1950 Fairbanks-Morse H10-44 Locomotive that was built in Beloit Wisconsin.

This spectacular depot is just one of 3 depots that I know of in Springfield Illinois. This Romanesque beauty was built in 1897-1898 for use by several railroads. Dominated by the Illinois Central Railroad, other railroads using the depot included the Baltimore & Ohio as well as the Chicago, Peoria & St. Louis Railroad. Passenger service to this depot was discontinued in 1971. The building has been completely restored and it now serves as the Visitor Center for the Lincoln Presidential Library.

This is the former Grand Trunk Western Railroad passenger depot in Lapeer Michigan. It was built in 1906 and it's one of 21 active railroad depots in Michigan.

This is an active station with 2 Amtrak trains daily, one headed to Port Huron MI, (11:09 pm), and the other headed west to Chicago (6:45 am).

A portion of this nicely restored depot may also be rented for special events through the city of Lapeer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Richard Smith's Guitar & Dining Out...

When neighbors, Ed and Marion, mentioned an upcoming appearance by Richard Smith and his wife, Julie Adams, at a local Maryville TN theater, we decided that it would be something different to do and we'd never been to this theater together. It didn't hurt that Richard is a renown master guitar player! He's a former National Fingerstyle Champion, who at the age of 11, appeared with Chet Atkins on stage at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. Richard was born in England and initially learned to play from his father.

In 1999, Richard married Julie, a talented cellist. They've put a show together and they tour the country and beyond, playing their music and sharing a little repartee with the audience. It was especially nice to see them in a setting as intimate as the Palace Theatre...which seats roughly 200 patrons. Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed hold Richard and his talents in high esteem and, listening to Richard play 'the drums' on his guitar to a John Phillip Souza march or playing 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'Dixie' simultaneously, their admiration is easy to understand!

For more on Richard and Julie, check out their website at: You'll even be able to listen to some samples of his talent...

Prior to the show at the Palace, Laurie and I, along with Ed and Marion, stopped in for dinner at Sullivan's Downtown. The restaurant is conveniently located right next to the theatre.

The restaurant has a nice feeling to it...with a warm decor and lighting. Seating is comfortable and there is plenty of room between tables.

Laurie started out with the House Salad. It included fresh mixed greens topped with almonds, smoked bacon, wontons and red onion with ranch dressing on the side.

I can attest to the fact that it was a very tasty salad! It was way too big for Laurie to eat on her own so she shared it with me...nice start to the meal...

For her entree, Laurie had the Randazzo Pasta. This is homemade penne pasta alfredo served with lightly breaded chicken breasts topped with sun-dried tomato pesto as well as Parmesan and Romano cheeses.

This was a very nice dish! Laurie really liked it and I tasted it too...yummy!

Ed had the Grilled Beef Tenderloin Tips served over rice pilaf with a Marsala mushroom sauce and a side of steamed vegetables.

Unfortunately, Ed could only muster an 'OK' when rating his meal. It just wasn't as flavorful as he'd expected.

I ordered one of Sullivan's Blue Plates. This is the Pot Roast...described as a tender choice cut of sirloin, slow roasted and served with it's own natural brown gravy. Blue Plate entrees come with 2 sides and I chose the 'real mashed potatoes with pot roast gravy' and the fresh broccoli with carrots. The beef and potatoes with gravy were very nice but the vegetables lacked much flavor.

Marion ordered the North Atlantic Salmon with a side of the baked creamed spinach. She reported that the salmon was very nice as was her side dish. The only issue we all agreed on was that the dish could use a little more imagination when being plated for presentation... It was sort of 'lost' on the big plate.

We will go back to Sullivan's... The food was very nice overall, service was fine and the pricing was right. Blue Plate entrees start at $10.95 with the highest priced specialty entrees, 3 different steaks, coming in at $19.95 each. The menu is fairly extensive, to include a number of sandwiches, plus there is a variety of appetizers available.

Sullivan's has two locations... The Maryville Tennessee location is at 121 West Broadway. It's open for lunch and dinner. A full service bar is available. Phone number: 865-681-3334. For more information, check out the website at:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Breakfast on the Menu!

Our friend Larry is always posting his great looking breakfasts on his blog site. ( Well, following our trip to Ye Olde Steak House, Laurie and I found ourselves with a bit of leftover steak to work with...

I 'butterflied' my remaining piece of New York strip and pan fried it with a little Worcestershire Sauce, butter and onion powder. Add 3 fried eggs easy over and a couple of slices of toast using VG Bakery's English muffin bread and this was one very tasty breakfast!

Laurie heated her very tender and flavorful piece of rib eye in the microwave...she wanted to minimize the effect of cooking it further. Add her toast, 3 eggs easy over plus a glass of OJ for good measure...nice!

While we love a good breakfast, usually we take the easy way out...cereal, a smoothie, toast & jam...something simple. This was a nice change and since it's been hard to find a really good breakfast in East Tennessee, we deserved this treat!

We buy the English muffin bread, great for BLT's!), at VG's Bakery. VG's Bakery is located at 11552 Kingston Pike, in Farragut TN (in the strip mall with Kohl's) Phone: 865-671-8077. For a look at their bakery 'menu', check them out at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Family Photo!

When I saw this photo on our daughter-in-law's website, I just had to post it for all to see!

This is our "Ohio Family", Amy and David II, along with our grandsons, David III and Emmett Lee. David III had his 10th birthday in December and Emmett Lee had his 7th birthday in November.

Both of our grandsons, are of course, very handsome and very intelligent! David III's photo was on the cover of his school's promotional brochure and Emmett was featured on the cover of a Things Remembered catalog.

The only problem is that it's a long drive from East Tennessee to northern Ohio...especially in the winter! The good news is that Spring isn't too far away...!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Carnivores At Work!!

A few days ago, Laurie and I, with Larry ( and his wife, Beverly, decided to go out to dinner at Ye Olde Steak House on Chapman Highway in Knoxville. Larry & Bev hadn't been there in years and we had it on our list of restaurants for us to try. Ye Olde Steak House is family owned and has been in business since 1968.

This is definitely a place for carnivores! The menu includes a 20 oz. Porterhouse, a 20 oz. New York Strip, a 20 oz. slab of Prime Rib, an 8 oz. Filet and a 10 oz. Rib Eye.

This is Laurie's Rib Eye with a side of Woodshed Potatoes. The potatoes are described on the menu as "peppery skillet fried potato rounds with smothered onions". Laurie loved her medium rare steak as well as the potatoes! She described the steak as "excellent".

This is Larry's 20 oz. Porterhouse Steak, also with a side of the Woodshed Potatoes. Larry commented that the steak was "very good", but he thought that the potatoes lacked the flavor he'd expected.

The menu's other beef entrees also include Steak on a Skewer, a Ground Beef Tenderloin and a King Steak Burger. Sides include a house salad with a couple of homemade salad dressings, a baked potato or baked sweet potato, a broccoli casserole, French fries, hot buttered mushrooms, grilled onions, grilled onions with mushrooms and two steamed vegetable dishes.

The only person at our table that didn't need to be on a diet was Beverly...but she is following a rather strict regime in an effort to lose a few pounds. She ordered the Charcoaled Shrimp appetizer and the Steamed Vegetable Medley for her dinner. The good news is that she reported that the shrimp were very good!

Other appetizers on the menu include fried cheese sticks, fried mushrooms, fried "Colossal" onion rings, fried Jalapeno peppers and a shrimp cocktail.

Just to be 'different', I ordered the New York strip with a baked potato. The flavor of the steak was good and it was medium rare as ordered, but I thought that it was a little tough, even for a strip steak. The potato was average but they had some nice bacon pieces on the table that I used to 'dress it up'!

Other 'non-beef' items on the menu include a charcoal shrimp dinner, grilled swordfish, stuffed flounder and a charbroiled chicken breast. Any number of entree combinations are also available.

We'd definitely come back to Ye Olde Steak House. I would just order the Rib Eye the next time! The setting is rustic and the family actually 'works' the dining room. The restaurant has been voted the #1 Steakhouse in Knoxville for many, many years. Beer and mixers are available. There is a $2.00 per person set-up charge if you want to bring your own wine or liquor.

Ye Olde Steak House is located at 6838 Chapman Highway in Knoxville. The phone number is 865-577-9328. Their website may be found at:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Snow in East Tennessee...

When we woke up on Monday, 1/10/11, we were greeted by 6 to 7 inches of snow. Hey...we moved to East Tennessee from Chicago to get away from this stuff! Notice that there were no tire tracks in the snow on our street, and this photo was taken mid-morning.

We are on a through street with several homes in either direction but it was 2:10 PM before the first vehicle passed our house! The good news is that it was a snowplow... I decided that I would need to at least unclog the head of our driveway if we were going to be able to get one of our cars out in the next couple of days. Fortunately, we had decided to bring a snow shovel with us when we moved from the north land. Between Laurie and I, we cleared the driveway enough so errands could be taken care of...

Here's a photo of our mailbox after the storm. Even it looks cold! We're beginning to wonder about our luck with the weather. When we moved to East Tennessee in the summer of 2009, it turned out that it was the wettest summer on record for the area! That was followed by the 6th coldest winter in recorded history for the area.

(The only good news is that we only had about 4" of snow all winter!)

Then we followed up with a summer which proved to be the highest recorded average temperature...ever! Following that, this past December proved to be the coldest December in recent history. Now we'd love to have just average East Tennessee weather for the next couple of years!

This is our house the morning after the storm...a pretty photo but we wouldn't mind it if we never had the opportunity to take another snow photo! Snow is an interesting phenomenon in this area. Everything shuts down...schools, offices, banks, etc. Just the mention of possible snow triggers a mild panic. A 6" snow fall in Chicago wouldn't hardly warrant a mention unless it happened at rush hour!

This is a view of the lake and the mountains from our up-stairs window. Slate gray, but still a heck of a lot more attractive than Chicago in the winter!

Thanks to Laurie for these and almost all of my Blog photos. She adds a bit of quality to the site that I admit I seem unable to capture. Have a great day!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vietnamese Bistro!

Our search for quality ethnic restaurants in East Tennessee has again been rewarded! Although we've only been there once, on January 7th, Vietnamese Bistro is already in line to become one of our top 5 restaurants in East Tennessee.

The restaurant had only been open for two weeks at the time of our visit. We love Vietnamese cuisine, having experienced some great Vietnamese food while living in Chicago for many years.

We were on our way to have a burger for lunch in the Turkey Creek shopping area of Farragut Tennessee, when we came across Vietnamese Bistro. Laurie made a quick 'play call' and we took an fast u-turn!

We immediately liked the clean, contemporary lines and the furnishings of the restaurant. There is a subtle Asian influence in the design. We also noted that all of the waiters were dressed in white dress shirts and black slacks, giving the restaurant another touch of class.

We began our exploration of the luncheon menu by ordering one of Laurie's favorite appetizers, Vietnamese Summer Rolls or Goi Cuon. These appetizers are made with shrimp, pork loin, vegetables, fresh herbs and vermicelli noodles wrapped in thin rice paper with our choice of peanut or citrus sauce for dipping.

They were very good...gone in a couple of minutes!

Both the waiter and the co-owner recommended the Chicken Roti and this was Laurie's choice for her entree. The dish is made with seared lemon grass, marinated pieces of chicken breast, steamed vegetables and two kinds of rice.

Not only is this an attractive dish, it was also delicious! Laurie loved it and, after she let me have a couple of bites, I agreed...a great plate of food!

For my entree, I ordered the Nem Nuong Cha Gio - cured grilled pork and Vietnamese Spring Roll (Cha Gio), served with Jasmine rice, vegetables and Nuoc Cham (Dipping Sauce). As per a recommendation from the waiter, after eating the spring roll, I mixed the other ingredients up with the Nuoc Cham sauce. He was right on the money with his suggestion! He told us that he'd eaten this dish 5 days in a row... It was very tasty!

Vietnamese Bistro is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. There is a lunch menu and an expanded dinner menu. The dinner menu includes such French Bistro items as Steak Diane with haricot vert and wild mushrooms demi-glaze, Pan Roasted Rainbow Trout and Pan Roasted Double Quail. Beer is available.

We spoke with Jackie Pham, co-owner of the restaurant. She told us that they'd applied for a liquor license that would allow them to serve wine as well. For now, you can bring a bottle of wine with you. The restaurant will accommodate up to 130 diners.

Vietnamese Bistro is located at 11605 Parkside Drive in Farragut Tennessee. Phone: 865-675-1310.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Streetcars/Trolleys...Six To Go!

As anyone can tell who reads my blog, I'm very interested in rail travel, trains, depots, etc. So, over the years, we've photographed lots of trains and yes, trolleys!

This trolley was photographed in operation along the wharf area of Seattle Washington back in 1984. Trolley #512 was built by the Melbourne Shops in Australia between 1925 and 1930.

This PCC Streetcar operates on a 2 mile route along the Lake Michigan waterfront in Kenosha Wisconsin. PCC is an abbreviation for the design formulated by the Electric Railway President's Conference Committee back in the mid-1930's. 5,000 of these streetcars were built between 1936 and 1952. Kenosha bought 5 units from Toronto Canada in 2000. They are painted in the colors for Toronto, Johnston City PA, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cincinnati. This photo is from 2008.

This is single-ended cable car # 28, photographed back in 1983, on the Powell -Hyde Street route in San Francisco California. This cable car was built by Mahoney Brothers back in 1887. It has since been replaced with a new #28. The original cable car was retired in 2004. We rode this cable car and others...lots of fun!

Photographed in motion through our windshield back in 1994, this streetcar was rolling down the street in Memphis Tennessee. Streetcar # 187, a Brill designed unit, was built in Oporto, Portugal back in 1927.

Memphis also has 2 U.S. Brill designed units that were built in 1912, a total of 5 Oporto Portuguese 'Brill' streetcars, plus 7 antique streetcars from Australia and 5 replica units.

Streetcar #194 is also one of the Oporto Brill units. It was built in 1935. This photo was also taken in 1994. At peak hours, 11 streetcars are in operation in Memphis...covering 3 different routes. Stops are typically available every or every other block. The current fare is $.60 cents.

In 1908, there were 13 streetcar routes in Memphis and there were over 300 streetcars in operation. At the peak, a total of 236 streetcars passed through the intersection of Main & Madison between 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM... That's one almost every 15 seconds!!

Last but not least, this is a photo of streetcar # 11 as it rolled down a street in Christchurch, New Zealand back in 2000. I believe that this specific streetcar is an import from the U.S.A., although a local manufacturer also built units based on the Brill design. This streetcar was built by J. G. Brill in Philadelphia back in 1903.

In New Zealand, streetcars are called 'trams'. Tram service in Christchurch originally ceased operations back in 1954. Operations resumed in 1995 along a 2.5km route in the city center. The fare is $15.00NZ but the pass is good for 2-days and unlimited rides. Roughly 85% of all passengers are visitors to the city. We haven't seen it, but Christchurch also has a significant collection of restored streetcars and trolleys from around the world.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wok Star Revisited...

Laurie and I were out and about the other day and we had a craving for some asian cuisine. We knew that we enjoyed the food at Wok Star during previous visits and we were in the vicinity, so we stopped in for a late lunch.

Laurie ordered the Thai Coconut Curry. She ordered the chicken and it was tossed with onions, carrots and fresh green beans with Wok Star's special sauce. It was nice and spicy as advertised! Laurie gave it two thumbs up!

I chose Cherie's Spicy Chicken with brown rice. The chicken was stir-fried in General Tso's special sauce, with fresh green beans, carrots and broccoli. It was excellent. The only fault I could find was that the menu called for sugar snap peas and it came with green beans. It was fine with me but some diners might have complained... Better to let the customer know that the kitchen was out of sugar snap peas... In any case, I personally would order it again...just like it was!

A couple of other items of interest... Wok Star serves beer, and during the work week, they have a 'happy hour' during which beer is $1.00 less than usual and 4 of the appetizers can be purchased for $4.00 each. Of course, nothing is too pricy here. Entrees start at $7.95 and the most expensive item is $9.00!

Laurie and I continue to recommend Wok Star. The food is fresh and very flavorful. Wok Star is located at 149 Kelsey Lane, Suite 108 in Lenoir City Tennessee. Phone: 865-986-0996. Website: