The Hungover Gourmet


PART ONE...In which our intrepid travelers oversleep, liquor up for free, and embrace the true beauty of freedom without suffering the embarrassment of cavity searches.

Day One/Saturday, September 21...

200 miles after departure and we've reached our first night's destination – Evangola State Park in Irving, NY. Our grand plans for rising at the crack of dawn and hitting the open road hit a slight snag. In other words, Friday night at Max's Allegheny Tavern and far too many Dutch Darks. To top things off, our otherwise peaceful slumber was interrupted by a 5 am phone call.

How do you react when your mother calls at an ungodly hour to find out the license number and color of the van you've rented? Do you scream at her like she's nuts, or do you suggest that she stop watching 'Unsolved Mysteries'? I simply let her know that we hadn't actually picked the van up yet – most normal people are asleep at this hour – and promise that I'll call later. Yes, I may be 30, but I'm still her "baby," and she can't stand the idea of me "roughing it." I hate to dash the mental image of me catching trout with my bare hands, so I fail to mention the provisions we've packed for our camping outing... a cooler stocked to the gills with beverage and food. Cd player. Propane stove. Corkscrew for wine. The list goes on...

We finally pick up the ACTION VAN (a cool blue number, not one with "Miley Truck Rental" slapped on the side... don't wanna look like a church group!), and quickly tape our good-luck Scooby-Doo to the dashboard. He's our equivalent of a St. Christopher medal.

While on Route 279 North I realize I'm the proud renter of a cruise-control vehicle! This is excellent! Up to 65...down to 55...back up to 65, all with the flick of a switch. It's like the "Van of the Damned." Kak is praying silently that this fascination will soon wear off.

This first day has been set up to hit a bunch of wineries on our way to Evangola, stocking up for the week. We like our wine almost as much as we like our beer, but since there are no breweries along the way... Our first stop is Penn Shore Winery, which is pretty low-rent. Kak has already toured the SoCal estate wineries, so this is small change. I, on the other hand, am a novice and don't want to look like a wine schnoid. I spend most of the tasting time swishing the rosy liquid in my little glass and sniffing. It's painfully obvious to all that I've acquired my "wine tasting" skills from movies and tv.

The wine is nothing to write home about, but it is pretty cheap. We grab three bottles (spice and some Cabernet) and head down the road a couple miles to Mazza, a far nicer winery where we tour the facilities with an annoying brood of "wineheads" from upstate NY. Ugh. The tour guide is living the life I envision for myself a few years from now. A mid-life career changer, he's training to be a chef and working at Mazza during a semester course in wine making. Cool.

At the wine-tasting bar, another couple is basically getting a cheap drunk by going down the list and tasting everything that's available. How tacky...I simply ask for the most expensive red on the list, and we end up grabbing two bottles (one of which we'll crack for tonight's dinner of beans and franks).

We cruise into NY state on Route 5, a rolling, calm countryside that's home to hundreds of "grape fields" as Kak calls them. You might know them better as vineyards. In Dunkirk we pass Don's Motel whose big selling point is "In-Room Phones"! No tv, free HBO, mirrored ceilings or pink champale on ice for Don. No sir -- I picture those giant rotary phones straight out of a 40s noir know, big enough to kill your spouse or beat an attacker!

Sunset approaches as we pull into Evangola State Park, which translates into a closed office and no $5/bundle firewood to be found. We stake our site at Lucky #13 and decide to explore the surroundings through the giant hole cut in the "safety fence." There's a freakish monolith (perfect for a PLANET OF THE APES-esque pose..."You blew it up...damn you! Damn you all to hell!"), a lovely rendering of the old Mt. Dew logo on a stone wall, and "lots of other crazy crap." Fishermen are pulling in their final catches of the day, and the sun setting over the bluff and behind Lake Erie is pretty breathtaking. It'll be quite a spot for morning coffee.

The park itself is nice, not at all what I pictured. Then again, I'm far from an authority since this is my first camping trip outside my parent's back yard. Kak is the seasoned camper of the pair, having done that whole Girl Scouts thing when she was a kid. I showed little, or no, interest in group activities like Cub or Boy Scouts, so my folks never pressed the issue. I got to sleep out in the backyard in a musty canvas tent once, but I don't think running into the house to potty and grab some more cocoa qualifies as "camping" me a purist.

Wandering around the park there appear to be lots of unhappy families silently sitting around blazing fires while their rvs soak up energy from the generator. Looks like it was a l-o-o-n-g ride with Joey and Sis.

We settle in to make dinner and (luckily) there's a giant pile of cut wood and sticks a stone's throw from #13. I build a lame fire which Kak quickly turns into a raging inferno. It's dinner time.

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