Slowly boiled cod and dried seaweed, lightly smoked langoustine salad, apple, salsify, pickled onion.

2014’s ‘A Taste of Iceland’ at Dahlia Lounge in Seattle

Presented by Iceland Naturally, a Taste of Iceland returned to Seattle in 2014 for its seventh annual year. The event brought a wide range of food, music, literature and art events. Most events were scheduled between Oct. 9 and Oct. 12. A full description of the 2014 program can be found here.

The highlight for many, including myself, is the special Icelandic set course menu that is prepared each year. Dahlia Lounge, the famous Tom Douglas restaurant, served as host in 2014. Chef Viktor Örn Andrésson, head chef at the Blue Lagoon’s LAVA Restaurant, created the menu in collaboration with Dahlia Lounge’s Chef Brock Johnson. Andrésson was named Nordic Chef of the Year 2014 and Icelandic Chef of the Year in 2013, among his many other awards.

Icelandic cuisine, it should come as no surprise, is often dominated by fish and shellfish from the North Atlantic Ocean, and this menu was no different. Lamb is also a common entrée in Iceland. In Iceland you could potentially see more exotic fare on the menu, such as minke whale, puffin and horse, all of which are either outright illegal in the United States or would not be feasible due to cultural taboos and/or availability. That being said, many of the more exotic foods consumed in Iceland, such as hákarl (fermented shark), are not eaten by many Icelanders at all, or only during special holidays.

The menu for Taste of Iceland was delightful, as to be expected, provided you enjoy eating seafood. Each year I am amazed at the carefully crafted menu and the detail that goes into its preparation. The stand-alone meal was $75, with an optional beverage pairing an additional $25. I ordered the whole menu, including beverage pairing. I could try to describe each item, but I’m no food critic and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Below then, is the full menu with some brief comments and photos.


Pickled herring and birch smoked salmon.

Pickled herring and birch smoked salmon.

Fried scallop, arctic char, shrimp cocktail

Fried scallop and Icelandic barley, torched Icelandic Arctic char, Icelandic shrimp cocktail.

The appetizer plate was actually one of the highlights for me. The barley served with the fried scallop made for a great flavor combination. And the torched Icelandic Arctic char was delicious. The appetizers were served with ice cold Brennivin, an Icelandic spirit made from potato mash flavored with caraway seeds, cumin, angelica and other spices.


Slowly boiled cod and dried seaweed, lightly smoked langoustine salad, apple, salsify, pickled onion.

Slowly boiled cod and dried seaweed “söl”, lightly smoked langoustine salad, apple, salsify, pickled onion.

My main comment here is that the cod is actually slow boiled, a common Nordic preparation. In Norwegian, which is closely related to Icelandic, the translation for “boil” is actually “koke”, which I think is often translated as “cooked” although it has a different meaning in English.

Langoustines are related to lobster but they closely resemble a large prawn. It’s not something you would normally see in the United States; they are native to the North Atlantic and are popular especially in the Mediterranean. I’ve never had a course paired with a cider before and it was really refreshing, a great pairing. Dragon’s Head Cider is a local cider maker based in Vashon Island, Washington. Their Manchurian Cider is made from a blend of apples, but it retains the unique characteristics of the Manchurian Crabapple.


Grilled rack of lamb and slowly cooked lamb shoulder, sunchokes, basil, mushrooms and medeira sauce.

Grilled rack of lamb and slowly cooked lamb shoulder, sunchokes, basil, mushrooms and Medeira sauce.

The lamb was very good, but it tasted different to me in some ways. Perhaps a bit more on the gamey side, or perhaps cooked longer. Perhaps this is just what natural meat tastes like when it’s not pumped full of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. The Icelandic sheep is a different breed, however, so that could account for some flavor differences. Also, differences in the sheep’s diet could be a factor. Another great dish, excellently paired with an Icelandic stout from Borg Brugghús.


Skyr is another yet another food unique to Iceland. Skyr has been made for thousands of years by taking skim milk and then introducing live active cultures. The whey is then strained out, producing in the end a thick a creamy, concentrated yogurt. Some compare it to Greek yogurt but not as sweet and a bit thicker. For an interesting comparison of different types of yogurt, see the following article.

Out of all the courses, I found this one to be the least successful. The dessert was still fantastic, but I felt there were too many flavors competing with each other. I’ve had skyr in Iceland and it’s always been a very plain preparation, usually with fruit such as blueberries or strawberries. I think skyr goes very well with fruit in general, but I felt that the added flavors of chocolate and marzipan made the dish a bit overwhelming in the end.

Finally, two Reyka Vodka specialty cocktails were created for the event by Dahlia Lounge Mixologist Amber Gephart. I did not order the cocktails, since I had already partaken in the pairings. Others at my table ordered the cocktails, though, and they were excellent and highly unique.

The Reyka Martini ($11) was made of Reyka Vodka, dry vermouth, a rinse of brenivin and a large ice with a pickled smelt head frozen inside. Yes, this cocktail had a fish head frozen in a piece of ice! For an idea of what this looked like, see the following pic, taken from Heed the Hedonist‘s blog post about the event..

The Lingonberry Flip ($12) was made of Reyka Vodka, lingonberry jam, orange and cardamom bitters and egg white.

Louis Armstrong statue at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

Louis Armstrong – New Orleans Airport

In August of 2001 the New Orleans International Airport was re-named to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY). The Louis Armstrong Airport does a fine job of promoting local culture and food, with a variety of restaurants, bars and gift shops. Bear in mind that Louis Armstrong Airport is relatively small when compared to other U.S. international airports. For example, only 9.2 million passengers traveled through Louis Armstrong (MSY) in 2013, compared to 66.7 million through Los Angeles (LAX).

Yet it’s the Louis Armstrong statue that’s probably the best indicator that you have arrived in one of the most unique cultural destinations in the United States. The above statue is located in Concourse C (where most domestic flights arrive), near the Customer Relations desk. The statue was designed and erected by Blaine Kern’s Mardis Gras World, a local New Orleans company that has become world-famous for its float designs, sculptures, theme park props and more.

Some other fun facts about the Airport:

  • The IATA code MSY derives from the Airport’s original name of Moisant Field/Moisant International. The MSY designator actually stands for Moisant Stock Yards, named after American aviator John Bevins Moisant. Prior to becoming an air field the land was used as a cattle stock yard.
  • John Bevins Moisant, whose name is largely forgotten today, was a daring aviator whose achievements rivaled that of the Wright Brothers. Moisant had many aviation firsts, but among his most notable achievements was the construction of an all-metal aircraft (it crashed) and the first passenger flight across the English Channel. Moisant died in a plane crash in 1910 at the site of Moisant Stock Yards. For further reading about Moisant, see articles here and here.
  • Louis Armstrong Airport hands out free beads to travelers every Friday between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m for a program entitled ‘Throw me something, Fridays’. The Airport estimates it hands out between 250 and 300 pounds of beads on a typical (non-Mardis Gras) Friday. In case you’re wondering about the environmental impact of this program, the beads are recycled and come cleaned and bundled by a local charitable organization.

About Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, often referred by the nickname “Satchmo”, remains a musical legend in New Orleans and Louisiana, and he is often considered to be one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. In addition to being a brilliant trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong is remembered for his distinctive voice, his skilled scat singing and for introducing the concept of soloing to jazz music. He is also remembered as being one of the first “cross over” musicians, in that his music transcended race and social status.

Armstrong left New Orleans in 1922 only to return in 1931 and in 1949. Armstrong’s return to New Orleans in 1949 was criticized by some as he was invited to play ‘King Zulu’ for the Zulu krewe (Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club). The Zulu costumes worn by the krewe are often seen as derogatory by outsiders, but the krewe has traditionally worn black face to make light of racial stereotypes.

In truth, once Armstrong left New Orleans he never looked back. The city’s embracement of Jim Crow laws alienated many African-American musicians who would otherwise have called the city home. Many musical legends fled the city for greater opportunity in cities such as Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. Armstrong made a name for himself first in Chicago and New York City, then later in Europe and Los Angeles, before settling down permanently in the Queens borough of New York City. Armstrong died July 6, 1971 in New York City  from a heart attack. He was one month shy of his 70th birthday.

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Café Du Monde awning

Café Du Monde – chicory coffee and beignets in New Orleans

No visit to New Orleans is complete without a visit to the original Café Du Monde, operating in the French Market at 800 Decatur Street continuously since 1862. Popular with visitors and locals alike, the location is open 24 hours a day, year-round, with the exception of Christmas and “on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans.”

Café Du Monde’s menu is simple and to the point. The drink of choice here is chicory coffee, served au lait style (half steamed milk) or black. The Café also has iced and frozen coffee options to beat the heat, menu items added in 1998, along with soft drinks. Decaffeinated coffee is also available, made using a natural Ethyl Acetate process.

Café Du Monde sign2.

Café Du Monde sign from seating area.

Outdoor tables at Café Du Monde

Outdoor tables at Café Du Monde.

What makes New Orleans coffee unique is the blend of coffee and chicory. Chicory refers to the root of a blue-flowered perennial plant. Chicory is a great source of vitamins and minerals and has been used historically to treat digestive and liver problems, among many other conditions. The French began adding chicory to their coffee in the first half of the 19th century, partially due its robust flavor but also as a cost-saving measure.

By cutting coffee with chicory it was possible to lower costs while still keeping a strong, bold flavor. New Orleans, due to its French heritage, adopted the practice as well when faced with Union blockades during the Civil War. Today, New Orleans is essentially the only part of the United States that still keeps chicory coffee as part of its culture, and a visit to Café Du Monde helps keep that tradition alive.

The only food item available at Café Du Monde is hot fried beignets, essentially a French-origin (by way of Acadia) donut without a hole and covered in powdered sugar. Beignets can often have a fruit filling, or in the case of savory beignets – cheese, meat, seafood or potatoes. New Orleans beignets are simply square pieces of fried dough covered with powdered sugar, typically served 3 to an order.

Beignet order at Café Du Monde

Beignet order at Café Du Monde.

Apart from coffee beverages, soft drinks and beignets, the only other items on the menu at Café Du Monde are cold milk (white or chocolate), fresh squeezed orange juice, hot chocolate and bottled water. All orders are cash only. An ATM machine is conveniently located across the street if you don’t have cash. Also, it’s possible to order items “to go” at a separate on-site stand.

Café Du Monde simple menu, on the table's napkin holder.

Café Du Monde simple menu, on the table’s napkin holder.

The Café is bustling year-round, but service is mostly quick and to the point. Things go a little more slowly in New Orleans in general, so don’t expect Starbucks-like efficiency. Café Du Monde is not a fine dining experience, but really just a form of good, fast food that dates back over 150 years. It’s a historic menu and experience that remains virtually unchanged today. Tip: For family and friends, consider purchasing canned coffee or beignet mix directly from your server. Gift baskets are available, which include coffee, beignet mix and a mug. Ordering from your server is easiest and most convenient and may save you time waiting in line later.

Café Du Monde sustained only minor damage in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina, but they decided to shutter their doors for nearly 2 months and used the down time to refurbish their eating areas and kitchens. Beginning in 1985, Café Du Monde began opening other coffee stand locations in the metropolitan New Orleans area, and today there are 8 in total. There are also 2 separate gift store locations, located nearby at Grandad’s General Store and Uncle Wilbur’s Emporium, convenient if you are looking to pick up packaged coffee or gifts and you are not getting a table at the Café.

If you are not able to visit New Orleans in person, visit the official Café Du Monde website and purchase your gifts from there. Canned coffee, beignet mix, gift baskets, mugs and clothing items are all available for purchase. The prices are very reasonable, but the shipping charges (based on weight) may start to add up. If you are a coffee lover, there are even coffee club options available, allowing you to purchase large quantities in bulk, with shipping included. Be sure to also follow Café Du Monde on their official Facebook profile.

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Sub Pop Airport Store entrance

New Sub Pop Airport Store open for business

In an unlikely development, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is now home to a Sub Pop Records “brick and mortar” retail store. The location opened on May 1 and can be found within Concourse C, past the security checks, which means you won’t be able to see the store in person unless you are arriving or departing from Seattle on a flight. The spacious location sells compact discs, a hefty selection of vinyl, music-related books, Sub Pop-branded shirts and bags, stickers and postcards. You may preview music at a listening station, and the store also has a variety of high-end headphones and earbuds for sale.

In addition to music, there is also an emphasis on items catering to the average traveler, who may or may not have an interest in Sub Pop and its history as an important grunge/indie label. As detailed in a Stereogum article, the store sells, for example, Sub Pop-branded neck pillows, flasks, canvas luggage, whole bean coffee (roasted by Lighthouse Coffee in Fremont) and Theo Chocolate. Sub Pop has long had an interest in marketing itself apart from music, and rightly so. Nothing says Seattle more than a Sub Pop t-shirt or bag, and the name/brand itself has a “cool” factor that goes well beyond the actual music released by the label.

Wall of vinyl at Sub Pop Airport Store

Wall of vinyl at Sub Pop Airport Store.

Shirts and merchandise at the Sub Pop Airport Store

Shirts and merchandise at the Sub Pop Airport Store.

If it seems strange that a new Sub Pop store is opening, at an international airport no less, it’s because it is strange. A blog posting from Nordstrom gives a more complete history of Sub Pop’s retail stores. The original Sub Pop Mega Mart was located downtown on 2nd Avenue in the Belltown neighborhood, next door to the Moore Hotel. That location closed down in the year 2000, at which point the store moved to a presumably smaller location in Pike Place Market. It’s unclear when exactly that location closed (perhaps the mid-2000’s?). Then, in July of 2013 a pop-up store opened in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, intended only to operate before and during Sub Pop’s 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee on July 13 of that year.

In other words, Seattle hasn’t had a proper “brick and mortar” Sub Pop store for at least 5 years, and probably more like 10 years. Record stores in general have been closing with regularity for the last 10 years, although there has been some renewed interest in the vinyl format, due in part to the yearly Record Store Day releases and events. No matter how you slice it, it’s a huge risk opening a new record store in 2014, and we’ll see if this experiment is successful.

Bestsellers at the Sub Pop Airport Store

Bestsellers at the Sub Pop Airport Store.

The airport location has an initial 18-month lease and needs to abide by standard airport store rules dictating they stay open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. Do people want to buy records at 6:00 am? With the increasing popularity of digital music, will record stores go away completely in the coming years? That’s one of many challenges that the new location may have to contend with. The store’s long-term survival seems far from guaranteed.

Yet on a recent flight from Sea-Tac, sales seemed to be brisk. I ended up buying two postcards, a refrigerator magnet and The Vaselines’ Enter The Vaselines 2-cd collection. If you want to see the store succeed, if you are a music lover, if you are someone who cares about unique and local culture, be sure to check out the Sub Pop Airport Store on your next flight to or from Seattle. Every sale counts. If this store succeeds, it could be one small step in ensuring the survival of retail record stores for years to come.

On a final note, here are five classic CD grunge releases available for purchase at the store. If you know someone at all interested in grunge music, any of the following would make a great gift.

  1. Nirvana – Bleach 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (2009). By far the most famous Sub Pop release, the release that introduced Nirvana to the world. Re-mastered by original producer Jack Endino, with a bonus live concert from the same era.
  2. Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp (2013). Compilation of two EP’s covering the early years of Soundgarden. Re-mastered by original producer Jack Endino, with the inclusion of the Sub Pop 200 compilation track “Sub Pop Rock City”.
  3. Green River – Dry As A Bone/Rehab Doll (1990). Compilation featuring the EP Dry As A Bone and the full-length release Rehab Doll. Green River can be considered the first “superstar” grunge band, although they are now largely forgotten. Featuring members of what would later become Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, this deserves to be in any grunge fan’s collection.
  4. Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff Deluxe Edition (2008). The noisy, garage side to grunge, Mudhoney was initially THE band to watch in Seattle, only to be overshadowed by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. This must-have collection is re-mastered and features two live shows as a bonus.
  5. Various Artists – Sub Pop 200 (1995). This compilation, originally released in 1988, features a who’s who of grunge notables, along with lesser known bands. Features early songs from Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Tad, Green River and Screaming Trees.

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Erik Tomren with Alaskan Husky puppy

Jeff King’s Husky Homestead in Denali

One of the most popular activities in Denali National Park is a visit to Husky Homestead, the kennel and headquarters of Jeff King, a 4-year Iditarod champion recognized as the “Winningest Musher in the World”. The Iditarod is an annual sled dog race that takes place in early March. Over the course of 9 to 15 days (or longer) mushers travel from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska with a team of 16 dogs. On even-numbered years (such as 2014) the race follows a northern route, which amounts to 1,112 miles in total.

The 2-1/2 hour Husky Homestead Tour departs 3 times daily during the summer months, picking up at Denali area hotels between mile 229 and 239 of the Parks Highway. After a short transfer, you are met at the Husky Homestead grounds by kennel staff bearing gifts of yelping, squirming puppies. You are welcome to take your own photos and videos of the puppies. Or you may also pose for a staff photographer to take your photo, with the option to purchase later (no commitment necessary).

Visitor to Husky Homestead cradling a puppy

Visitor to Husky Homestead cradling a puppy

You have 10 minutes with the puppies before being ushered into an outdoor area with bleachers for the next part of the presentation. Jackets and blankets are provided to any guests who may need them. Kennel staff members explain that your time with the puppies is actually very helpful in socializing them toward any future contact with humans. For any puppies selected for mushing, it’s imperative that they can interact with any human from any walk of life. Every person has a different smell, age and mannerism. Successful mushing dogs will be able to interact with anyone they may encounter.

Next you are given an overview of the training regimen the puppies go through and how they are selected to go further in the world of competitive mushing. Not all dogs are suited for Iditarod competition. Some may excel in other types of racing and could be sold to other breeders. Other dogs may, for a number of reasons, be more suited to be a family pet. Part of responsible breeding and racing is finding a good home for each dog, one where they will be loved and appreciated.

Husky Homestead Tours utilizes Alaskan huskies for breeding and racing, the most common breed for Iditarod racing. The first surprise to many visitors is that the dogs are not the pure-bred, fluffy, attractive breeds so often portrayed in the media – breeds like the Siberian Husky, Samoyed or Alaskan Malamute. Alaskan huskies are in fact mongrels, bred specifically for sled dog performance attributes.

Alaskan husky dogs at Husky Homestead

Alaskan husky dogs at Husky Homestead

Alaskan Husky lineage could consist of any of the following breeds: Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Pointer, Saluki, Greyhound and even part wolf, although wolf lineage is not encouraged since that often makes them more difficult to control. The dogs, in other words, all look completely different from each other and they are not necessarily attractive. These dogs were bred for toughness and endurance, not to win dog shows.

You learn much more at this time of the presentation, and it’s a lot to try to absorb. During the off season the dogs’ diet consists of 1,500 calories a day. During the winter months the daily allowance jumps up to 4,000 calories a day. You also learn about how the dogs’ unique fur helps protect them against the elements. You learn about how the dogs are named, a process that is necessarily complicated due to the number of dogs involved. For example, one dog is named “Kroner” after the Norwegian currency. Kroner is part of the “International Currency” litter.

Jeff King selects from among the dogs to do a short practice run, having them haul him around the property on an ATV. The dogs howl and beg to be picked for the short run, removing any doubt that these dogs love what they do. On this day, Jeff continued his talk while cradling one of the dogs in his lap like a baby and rubbing its tummy. It’s clear that the dogs are not just a career choice for him, but rather he loves each and every one of them as a member of his extended family. We then get a demonstration of one of the dogs training by running round and round in an oversized exercise wheel.

Jeff King with Alaskan husky puppy at Husky Homestead

Jeff King with Alaskan husky puppy at Husky Homestead

The presentation then moves into a large adjacent building for the remainder of the tour. Within the building, you find a bench seat on a set of bleachers. Jeff then continues his talk, this time getting much more into the nuts and bolts of competitive dog mushing. Jeff King’s talk is highly scripted, and he has it down pat. First, Jeff gives information about his background, including how he got involved with dogs and what made him move to Alaska. The rest of his talk revolves mostly around his racing experiences, training regimen and care for the dogs. A main takeaway point is that the dogs are the athletes and that his role is that of a caregiver there to make sure the dogs’ physical and emotional needs are met.

If you have seen the excellent Husky Homestead Tours promotional video on Vimeo, then parts of this presentation will seem familiar. If you haven’t seen the video yet, please take a couple minutes to watch the video below. You won’t be disappointed.

Dog mushing is mentally challenging for the mushers, like a game of chess, but it is not especially physically demanding. There are no distinctions in the Iditarod between men and women mushers, and there is no senior division. Col. Norman D. Vaughan completed 6 Iditarod races, the last in 1990 at the age of 84. Dog mushing is truly a sport that anyone who is reasonably fit can participate in, provided they have the will and desire.

Jeff gets into some very specific information during his talk, some of which it can be difficult to fully process. I found it interesting to hear about the day-to-day gruel of what an Iditarod race is like. The dogs are actually very well protected by a strict set of rules in place. During the race, Jeff’s team runs for 6 hours on, then 6 hours off. During the 6 hours of “down-time”, while the dogs are resting, Jeff cooks food for himself and his team, massages the dogs and stretches their muscles, and inspects the dogs’ feet and cares for any injuries.

When all is said and done, Jeff himself will typically only sleep for 2 of the 6 hours, meaning 4 hours of sleep every 24 hours, if he’s lucky. When he does sleep, it’s outside in the frigid cold, since it would take too much time to go indoors and remove all his clothing and then have to put it all on again. Jeff has a Homestead employee demonstrate the clothing that dog mushers use during a race. Suffice to say, the clothing that professional dog mushers is well beyond what you may find in a typical outdoors store.

Typical clothing used during an Iditarod race

Typical clothing used during an Iditarod race

Warmth and comfort are key in order to sustain the rigors of the Iditarod race, and tough guy posturing has no place in an event where it’s a struggle simply to finish. The Iditarod rewards those who come prepared, who take care of themselves and their dogs, and who take the extreme weather conditions very seriously. Mushers must be prepared to face whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause a wind chill as low as -100° F (-73° C).

Jeff talks about what attributes he looks for in each of his dogs and how he selects them for positions on his team. One interesting tidbit is that he does not allow female dogs to race on his team due to an incident some years ago when a female dog went into heat in the middle of a race. This understandably led to major problems for the team and he needed to send the dog home and continue without her. After giving his talk, Jeff then answers questions from the audience, which can cover everything from how he cooks to how he relieves himself during a race.

Afterward, you have approximately 10 to 15 minutes to peruse the gift shop, where one of the most popular purchases is Jeff King’s dog mushing memoir, Cold Hands, Warm Heart: Alaskan Adventures of an Iditarod Champion. Other popular souvenirs include stuffed animals, postcards and calendars. Of, if you prefer, purchase the photograph of you holding a puppy from earlier in the tour. Make your purchase decisions quickly, though, as there’s only a limited amount of time to shop. Afterward, you are transferred back to your hotel, left with a life-long memory and at least a basic understanding of the sport of dog mushing.

After reading this far, you may be wondering how Jeff King’s team fared in the 2014 Iditarod. Jeff’s team had been at or near the front of the competition for much of the race, only to be side-lined by Mother Nature in the final 80 miles. His harrowing experience was covered by the Alaska Dispatch. In the article, you can read about how relentless coastal winds forced his team to stop and hunker down in the bitter cold. Realizing they could not wait out the storm without freezing, Jeff abandoned his team to walk three miles to the next checkpoint of Safety. Thankfully, he was picked up along the way and was then able to safely retrieve his animals.

Erik Tomren in front of Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain.

Arctic Circle Air Adventure with Northern Alaska Tour Co.

In late August of 2013 I had the unique experience of crossing the Arctic Circle on Northern Alaska Tour Company’s Arctic Circle Air Adventure. The centerpiece of the trip is the roughly 1- hour each-way small plane flight between Fairbanks and Coldfoot. Once up north, you are picked up in a van for a tour of the wilderness community of Wiseman. Then, learn about the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and stop at Coldfoot Camp, before returning home on a small plane.

My flight was on a Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain plane, built in 1976 to hold a maximum of 8 passengers. When I signed up for the Arctic Circle Air Adventure, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never been on a small plane flight before, and I was a little nervous. I look forward to sharing my adventure with you, but first a little context.


All tours requiring flights depart from 3820 University Avenue, the small plane area of Fairbanks International Airport. Upon arrival, I was greeted and given a run-down of the tour and given the opportunity to ask any questions. My carry-on bag was also weighed at this time. I did not realize at the time, but since my bag was around 15 pounds (a heavy laptop) I was actually above the allotted carry-on allowance of 5 to 10 pounds. However, the extra weight was not an issue. If the weight is a problem, you would simply be asked to leave your bag in Fairbanks.

Also, at this time you may purchase a box lunch, to be delivered upon arrival in Coldfoot. I purchased the box lunch option, since I had already had a long day of travel and didn’t want to wait until after midnight to eat. The box lunch was $12 and included a homemade sandwich with choice of meat and toppings, packaged chocolate chip cookie and pretzels, orange and choice of soda.

Erik Tomren inside Piper Navajo Chieftain plane.

Erik Tomren inside Piper Navajo Chieftain plane.

Away We Go

Then, we walked outside together to meet our pilot and board the plane. Once everyone was seated the plane was ready to take off. We were given standard safety instructions, such as emergency exit information. The pilot taxied his plane along the runway until it was his turn to take off. On this type of trip headsets are an absolute must. They serve to drown out the considerable noise of the plane, but also allow the pilot to communicate to the passengers via his own mic’d up set. Before taking off the pilot ensured that he had our headsets on and that they were in working order.

Take-off went smoothly, although it’s an odd sensation to be so close to the ground in such a small plane. As we left Fairbanks any trace of civilization quickly began to disappear. We passed a mining pit, then some small rivers and lakes. The pilot pointed out landmarks and local history along the way, reading from a script in the cockpit. Much of it I quickly forgot, instead focusing on the beauty outside. The weather shifted dramatically along the way, with the blue sky broken up by cloud cover. This led to very dramatic contrasting scenery, with part of the view picture perfect, the other obscured with the threat of rain and darkness.

Lakes and waterways after leaving Fairbanks

Lakes and waterways after leaving Fairbanks.

Crossing the Arctic Circle

As we ventured north toward the Arctic Circle the weather began to get considerably rougher, the plane being rocked by strong winds and rain. The pilot prepared us to look at the plane’s GPS navigational aid for when we actually crossed, at latitude 66° 33′ 44″ N, since crossing the Arctic Circle is a highlight of the trip. The plane was shaking violently by this time, so in the end it was a fool’s errand trying to actually snap the photo or get video, but we all tried. Around this time, the plane had a major dip and there was a moment of panic, but the plane quickly stabilized.

North of the Arctic Circle we saw more and more of the rich color palette the Brooks Range is known for, with yellow, brown, orange, red, purple and green landscapes intermingling below. Pictures don’t do this kind of natural beauty justice; it’s almost too much to fully take in. As we neared our final destination of Coldfoot, we were able to clearly see the Trans-Alaska Pipeline stretching as far as the eye can see.

The many colors of Brooks Range.

The many colors of Brooks Range.

Brooks Range from a small plane flight

Brooks Range from a small plane flight.

The Village of Wiseman

On arrival in Coldfoot, the plane was met by a local driver who continued the tour. When the driver asked the pilot how the plane trip went, the pilot replied that it was “a little rough.” It was just a quick momentary exchange, but it made me think about how dangerous it must be for pilots who navigate Alaska year-round. After introducing himself and loading us into a van, the driver provided us with our box lunches that we had ordered back in Fairbanks.

We drove approximately 20 minutes (roughly 13 miles) to the village of Wiseman for the next part of our adventure. Wiseman had a total of 14 residents in the 2010 census. Local Jack Reakoff gives an informative overview of the village and explains his mixed subsistence lifestyle. In addition to giving tours, he hunts, fishes, traps, gardens and gathers fruits.

During the winter months, Wiseman is a popular tour destination for people wishing to view the aurora borealis. As a hobby, Jack enjoys taking pictures of the aurora borealis, which he shares free of charge with tour guests who bring cameras that will not take photos in low light. He also frequently shares the photos on his Facebook profile.

Jack Reakoff in Wiseman, Alaska.

Jack Reakoff in Wiseman, Alaska.

Jack gives most of his tour from the comfort of a log cabin converted into a small museum. Jack is a virtual encyclopedia when it comes to local history and Alaska Native culture. The museum features a number of hooves and skulls from animals that he hunted, including moose, caribou and grizzly bear. There are also historical pictures of the village and its residents, including photos of Alaska Natives who formerly lived in the village before largely relocating to the Anaktuvuk Pass area.

Jack gives a personal history of why and how he came to live in Wiseman and just how difficult it is to survive there. While it’s clear that tourism is an important part of his lifestyle, he is equally dependent on traditional subsistence mainstays such as hunting and fishing. He said, for example, that he picked 200 pounds of berries during the year and he showed us his vegetable garden.

Jack went on to describe his use of solar panels for electricity, along with a generator used sparingly during the winter months. Mail only comes once a week to Wiseman, delivered of course by small plane to Coldfoot. Jack even described how his wife has seasonal affective disorder (SAD) due to the lack of light and warmth during the winter months. He helps her with her condition with high doses of vitamin D and the use of ultraviolet lamps and bulbs.

Wiseman, Alaska, 63 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Wiseman, Alaska, 63 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

“Downtown” Coldfoot & the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

After saying farewell to Jack Reakoff and the village of Wiseman, the tour continues on to “downtown” Coldfoot. The entirety of Coldfoot is a gas station that also serves as a restaurant, bar, gift shop and general store. There is also Coldfoot Camp, also known as Slate Creek Inn, which offers converted prefab housing originally used by pipeline workers in the 1970’s. We had just a few minutes in the general store, enough time to pick up some souvenirs or snacks and time to use the restroom.

The quaint restaurant, known as Coldfoot Camp Trucker’s Café, features an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet consisting of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, chipotle lime chicken, fried okra, sweet peas and baked beans. One table in the general store area had a sign indicating that certain seating is only for long-haul truckers, a reminder that in addition to hosting cruise guests and viewers of the aurora borealis, the grounds are an important year-round resource for truckers and a number of other workers that find themselves battling the frigid cold in this part of the Far North. The area has seen even more of a tourism boon due to the Dalton Highway being featured on seasons 3 and 4 of the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers.

After visiting downtown Coldfoot the van tour finished with a short stop at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline itself. The Pipeline, built between 1974 and 1977, consists of 800 miles of 48-inch diameter pipe, through which 16 billion barrels of oil had traveled through as of 2010. The system is one of the world’s largest and is considered an engineering marvel, especially taking into account that its construction was complicated by having to deal with permafrost, bitter cold and isolated terrain. Our van stopped directly next to the Pipeline to stop for pictures, and we were all able to reach out and touch the Pipeline and pose for pictures.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline in Coldfoot, Alaska.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline in Coldfoot, Alaska.

Erik Tomren in front of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Erik Tomren in front of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Return Flight to Fairbanks

We then returned back to the Coldfoot Airport for the flight back to Fairbanks. The flight home was relaxing after a long day of excitement. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and listened to additional commentary from our pilot. By this time, he had already pointed out most of what could be seen and it would be dark shortly. The pilot gave us his own personal insight of living and working in Alaska, which was interesting to hear. He had been a commercial airline pilot for Hawaiian Airlines for his entire working career and had then moved to Alaska in his retirement. It was interesting to hear him talk about how different it was living in Alaska and how he had to adapt to a new lifestyle. The below YouTube video features footage of the entire flight portion of the trip – from takeoff, to crossing the Arctic Circle, to landing in Coldfoot and then the return trip home.

On arrival in Fairbanks, we each received our official Arctic Circle Adventure Certificate to remember the trip. A driver for Northern Alaska Tour Company then returned me to my hotel.

I highly recommend the Arctic Circle Air Adventure for anyone wishing to get more out of their Alaska vacation. Flightseeing is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can be frightening, but the payoff is fantastic and it gives an entirely different perspective. The experience is truly beyond words, but hopefully some of my pictures and videos will give you a better idea of how special this trip truly is. Visiting Wiseman and the cabin of Jack Reakoff was also a highlight for me. I also found myself fascinated by the unique history of Coldfoot and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Background and How To Book

Northern Alaska Tour Company, based in Fairbanks, was founded in 1986 and offers a variety of trips to Alaska’s Arctic. Most of their offerings involve small plane flights, but a couple tours are available that use only vans/motor coaches.

The sign-up process is relatively simple. To get signed up, simply call for tour dates and availability, then provide full names and weights for all passengers, in addition to address, phone number and email contact info. Weights are needed to help balance the plane’s load, a crucial step for small plane flights. If the plane is not correctly balanced, the safety of the pilot and all passengers could be compromised. Other tours require other information, such as birth dates or driver’s license or passport number.

At the time of booking, 50% of the total tour amount is due as a deposit. The remaining balance is due 30 days prior to the trip. The Arctic Circle Adventure is fully refundable up until 6:00 pm 2 days prior to the tour. Most other tours are refundable up until 6:00 pm 2 days prior, or 6:00 pm 7 days prior.

John Ritter in 'Earthquake Do's and Don'ts'

John Ritter’s Lost Earthquake Safety Film

If you’re between the ages of 30 and 45 and grew up in California, you probably have a vague recollection of watching an earthquake safety film in school starring the late John Ritter. In my elementary school years in Long Beach I can fondly remember being led to the auditorium to watch the film on the school’s projector screen. Other times, we watched the film in our classroom.

The film, entitled Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, was released by LSB Productions and is approximately 11 minutes long. IMDB lists it as “Title No. 6009”, but it’s not clear what that refers to. There doesn’t seem to be any other information available on the Internet, even its year of production, except that YouTube user rustyrelic has posted the film in three parts. John Ritter does look very young in the footage, and by 1975 he was having more regular television work, so it’s most likely the film was created sometime between 1968 and 1974, when John was still struggling to make a name for himself as an actor.

The footage posted to YouTube is very poor quality, even worse than I remember it being growing up. It’s not difficult to understand why. The 8mm film reels at school each time had to be loaded into the projector, either by a teacher or a custodian. There were often technical difficulties trying to get it to play. I’m sure these film reels were not stored properly. The quality of the film has probably degraded each and every year since the film started being shown. I don’t know the source of the YouTube videos, but it’s a good guess that the footage comes from an old school reel. Despite the poor quality, the film still makes me chuckle.

In the first YouTube clip (4:02) there is an earthquake and John does everything wrong. He runs around in the middle of the quake and gets pummeled by debris, he cuts his foot open and he tries to drink from the bathroom sink, only to find black sludge coming out of the faucet. And just when John has gotten his apartment cleaned up, an aftershock strikes and knocks down a shelf of books. Fatefully, one of the books is called Safety In An Earthquake and presumably John will learn how to better handle the quake for next time.

In the second YouTube clip (1:48) John learns specifically how to handle earthquake safety. John flips through his newly discovered book and learns “What…to…do…when…the…next…Quake…hits”, whether “if at school”, “if near open land”, “if out driving”, “if on the street”, “if at the office” or “if at home”.

In the final YouTube clip (4:52) John experiences another earthquake, except this time he knows exactly what to do. He calmly crouches into a protective position during the quake when around him shelves and lamps are falling down and his grill outside has overturned, causing a small fire. After the quake subsides John puts on his boots (to protect his feet), then calmly walks outside to extinguish the fire with a handy fire extinguisher mounted on his wall. He then goes outside to shut off the gas to his apartment.

John accidentally cuts his hand on a piece of broken glass, then reaches for a first aid kit. This time he smartly uses the toilet reservoir to get clean water to wash out his wound.  After cleaning up some around his apartment he finds a battery-powered radio in order to listen for emergency information. In a bizarre twist, the film ends with John going outside and then caught between two cars in a head-on collision. He has a funny look on his face, but if the collision were real I imagine both of his legs would be broken.

John Ritter 's expression after being crushed between 2 cars.

John Ritter ‘s expression after being crushed between 2 cars.









Looking back, it can be difficult to see why John Ritter’s earthquake film made such an impression on those who saw it growing up. Part of the reason was that we all found it be hysterically funny. Instead of watching humorless science videos in our classroom, we got to take a field trip to the auditorium to watch John hurting himself by doing stupid things. It’s the same reason why The Three Stooges and Home Alone are still funny to this day. High on sugary juice boxes, surrounded by other screaming kids, this film was about as funny as you could get back in elementary school. Also, the film had a rockin’ soundtrack courtesy of Charles Albertine, a well-known composter of the space age pop era.

For me personally, I also loved watching John on Three’s Company re-runs on TV. The show, which ended in 1984, was finished by the time I started school, but it was shown in re-runs at least twice a day on afternoon television. We didn’t have cable TV growing up, so I grew up on a steady diet of re-runs: Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, The Andy Griffith Show and many others. I thought of John Ritter as a celebrity of sorts, so it was exciting to see him in a school film. My parents also enjoyed watching him on TV, so when I came home from school telling them about John Ritter’s earthquake safety tips it was fun for my parents as well.

The other side to this is that earthquakes are a very real threat to Californians. Growing up, I remember feeling an earthquake about once every 4 months, although they occur every day. Most earthquakes were somewhat minor (at least in our location), but one was large enough that it literally knocked me to the ground as I was walking to school. Showing a short fun film to kids once or twice a year is an easy way to help explain what earthquakes are and how to respond to them safely. One tip that has stuck with me throughout all these years is that in an emergency you can use water from the toilet reservoir.

What’s interesting to me is that at this point probably hundreds of thousands of kids have grown up watching Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, yet apart from 3 grainy YouTube clips there still doesn’t seem to be much information about it. Is this film still being shown in schools? If it’s still being shown, has it been converted to video or DVD? What year was the film made, who exactly made it, who paid for it, and how did it end up being shown in classrooms across California?

Maybe someone reading this will have some more information, but if nothing else I hope you found this article to be an informative look into John Ritter’s “lost” earthquake safety film. John Ritter sadly died on Sept. 11, 2003 during surgery to repair an aortic dissection, just 6 days prior to his 55th birthday. His legacy lives on, nonetheless, due to his timeless acting on Three’s Company and his many films. For many Californians, we remember him also for his earthquake safety video.

Additional Info

In case anyone would like to try to search out more information about Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts, here are some additional details. The credits taken from YouTube may not be 100% accurate; they are very difficult to read.

  • Production Company: LSB Productions (Source: IMDB)
  • Title Info: ‘Title No. 6009’ (Source: IMDB)
  • Music By: Charles Albertine (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Cinematographer: William Crain (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Lighting: Robert Kringer (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Script Assistant: Boris Herman (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Special Effects: Didley Williams (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)
  • Narrator: Henry [Unreadable] (Source: credits on first YouTube clip)

Also, the credits on the first YouTube clip list the title as ‘Earthquake Don’ts and Do’s’, which would make logical sense as the film starts with John’s character doing everything wrong. Perhaps the film’s title was changed in post-production, but they never bothered to fix the title within the film itself. Given this discrepancy, I suppose it may be possible that information may also be found under the alternate (original) title.

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Exterior of Subway at Denali National Park

Welcome to Denali, home of the $9 Subway footlong

It’s no secret that food is expensive in Alaska, but it can be difficult to come up with a price point that everyone can relate to.  Can we all agree that a $30 pizza is expensive? Perhaps, but some pizzas are definitely worth $30, while others are not. On a recent trip to Alaska on a Holland America Line Land+Sea Journey I looked for evidence of Alaska’s steep prices. To be sure, everything is expensive in Alaska, especially food, but it wasn’t until I reached Denali National Park that I found an example that sums up what people should expect when visiting. In Denali, Subway’s $5 footlong sandwich is priced at a staggering $9.

Subway is famous for the branding of its $5 footlong. The campaign originated in 2008 with a franchise owner in Miami who began to offer the special on weekends as a way to boost sales. The promotion was so effective that it spread quickly to other parts of Florida and then nationally. The promotion was successful for a number of reasons, including its use of round price points, its catchy jingle and, perhaps most importantly, that it coincided with what is sometimes referred to as the Great Recession.

Of course, the $5 footlong won’t last forever, and there already strong indications that Subway aims to either raise the price point to $6, offer the program on a seasonal basis or discontinue it entirely. Nonetheless, in September of 2013 there is no doubt that the going price for a footlong sub at Subway was either $5 or $6, consistently throughout the United States. If you follow this one example, you can surmise that your food in Alaska will probably cost you at least 50% more than at home. This reality is tempered just slightly when you take into account that Alaska does not have a sales tax.

Price is all relative, though, and some Americans may not see much difference at all when visiting Alaska. If you come from New York City or San Francisco you may not bat an eye at the price tag. If you are from Kentucky, you could have a major case of sticker shock. The best you can do is plan accordingly, and remember, this is your vacation! Don’t let a few dollars here and there ruin your experience. With a little extra planning, that $9 footlong won’t be such a shock. However, it goes without saying. when in Alaska you should skip Subway and go for fresh salmon and halibut instead.

$9 footlongs. All day, every day.

$9 footlongs. All day, every day.

Subway sandwich menu, Denali, Alaska

Subway sandwich menu, Denali, Alaska

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Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57

2013 – A Writer’s Year in Review

After reading a blog posting from Tom Ipri, I decided to look back at my accomplishments this year as a writer. By looking back, I hope to identify areas that need improvement, find areas that were successful and that should be explored further and come up with a blueprint for what I hope to achieve in 2014.

At the beginning of the year I was somewhat in autopilot mode writing columns for I write about travel, horror films and heavy metal, with travel being my signature topic. It was difficult to devote time to writing, especially since since part of the year I was preparing to move and needed time to pack up and organize. Other times I was just occupied with work and other concerns. The expectation when writing for is that you produce at least one article a month between all of your titles, which is by no means a difficult task yet I was still unable to achieve.

Throughout the year I have been producing articles closer to once every two months, at times nearing the cutoff point where I would no longer be able to write for the site. And for a so-called “travel writer” I had been writing mostly about horror movies. Some of my articles this year I am happy with, but some of them were written just to avoid losing my titles. It just seemed like every time I wanted to write something I was just too tired or unfocused to actually finish.

Not surprising I have made almost nothing this year from, as I believe their algorithms reward more regular writers. Also, I did not make a huge effort in promoting my writing, since a lot of it I was only somewhat happy with.

Around my birthday in August I decided it was time for a change. I created my writing blog and have been writing regularly ever since. It’s been a lot of work setting up the website, and it’s still far from done, but the new site lets me publish the type of content I want in the format I want. Thankfully, a good friend of mine helped me with the initial setup of the site, as the technical details were a little daunting to me.

Although the site itself is created through WordPress, I have paid hosting through GoDaddy. This means that I am able to monetize the site through programs such as Amazon Associates, Google AdSense and other paid advertisements. If I’m going to put in the work to create unique content, then there should be at least the prospect of making some money along the way, even if the money just covers hosting costs.

Once I got the new site up and running I was able to diversity the content fairly quickly, including a number of local travel articles, several grunge rock pieces, a gothic country review, several photo-oriented posts and a guest blog by my brother. I am slowly increasing my readership by sharing articles on social media sites such as Facebook, StumbleUpon and Pinterest. Additionally, I created a separate Facebook fan page for and I have 55 “likes” in just a couple weeks.

I have been following the site’s progress through Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. Below is a screenshot of my Google web traffic in the U.S. from August up until today. Any area in blue has at least 1 reader, with darker shades of blue indicating higher readership. There are still a few states left for me to reach, in the Deep South, the Midwest, and parts of the Northeast. I’m not sure how much can be concluded from this pattern, since my content so far is heavily slanted towards the Pacific Northwest, but it is an interesting pattern.

Internationally, I have managed to find readers in most of Europe and parts of Asia. I do not yet have any readers in China, the Middle Eastern countries, most of Africa and a good part of South America.

Traffic for the new site has been light, with a few peaks along the way. One positive is that even on light traffic days the number of visitors to the site has been growing over time. Now a light traffic day could be around 10 visitors, with heavy traffic days approaching 100 visitors. Traffic is coming heavily from social media shares, but search engine visibility seems to be improving. I have been having much more luck with StumbleUpon shares. StumbleUpon does seem to reward hosted websites more than content sites such as, Yahoo! Contributor Network and others.

Between continuing work on my website and maintaining (and improving) my long-term relationship with I am optimistic for 2014. Expect a new post shortly indicating more in detail of what I hope for in 2014.

In the meantime, here is a full listing of all of my articles produced in 2013.

A Final Note: If this post seems negative toward, it is not meant to be. I have been with since July of 2011 and I have every intention of continuing to write for them. My time with has helped me develop the necessary skills and techniques necessary for web writing, everything from developing my writing style, to learning about social media, to sizing photos for publication, to embedding YouTube videos, and more. I’ve also made a couple hundred dollars writing for them. In short, without writing for I would never have had the skills, motivation, confidence or interest in taking on the enormous project of creating a new website. If you are interested in web writing in general, but don’t know where to start, I highly recommend writing for If you’d like to try writing for them, please use the following referral link.

(Featured photo is the Seattle Great Wheel, located at Pier 57 in downtown Seattle)

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Mangria label

REVIEW: Adam Carolla’s Red and White Mangria

By Guest Writer Mike Tomren.

As a fan of Adam Carolla’s podcast, I first became aware of Mangria before he marketed it and sold in in stores. He explains the origin on the back label of the bottle: Wine, vodka, orange juice.

The description does not inspire confidence. All the same, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Sangria can be a nice party punch, and I wanted to know if this was a worthy drink. Mangria isn’t sold at any of my local stores, but I finally got my hands on it thanks to the website. Depending on your state, it can be shipped directly as well.

As a wine fan, I was pretty skeptical of Mangria. If you haven’t yet picked up on it, this is a sort of a pre-mixed Sangria that is quite high in alcohol. The Original Orange Cocktail is 20.9% alcohol and the follow-up White Peach & Pear is just behind at 19%. On paper, these wines look like a Night Train Express to Wild Irish Rose. Bum wines for rich people. I bought each bottle at $20 a piece at a liquor store in Hermosa Beach.

Original Orange Cocktail

The bottled version of Mangria is made with red wine from Napa, grape-based hard alcohol (like a grappa) and orange juice. I was a bit surprised how good it tastes. The important thing to keep in mind is that this is intended as a starter wine, not a desert wine. Like sangria, this is a great drink to sip on while the food is cooking and one is mingling in a party. If you don’t have the time to make your own home-made sangria, this is a compelling substitute. My only worry is that the high alcohol content will probably sneak up on certain people. It does go down smooth. Perhaps too smooth. Best not to fill up on this too early in the evening.

White Peach & Pear

On Mr. Carolla’s podcast, he touts this as the feminine equivalent to his red wine version of sangria. To my taste, it is far more fruity (peach/apricot/apple) and suffers a worse aftertaste than I would like. It seems more like a highly alcoholic Pinot Grigio than a sangria. Still, for those with a sweet tooth, it may hit the spot.
Keep in mind that both of these drinks are meant to be consumed on ice. They are meant to be a refreshing starter to the evening. Obviously, “Mangria” is also a potential conversation starter as well, so bottoms up!

Signature Orange Mangria and Mangria White Peach Pear

Original Orange Cocktail and White Peach & Pear

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