Thursday, July 21, 2011

#42. Kiss James Dean's Tombstone

Yep, you read that title correctly. For this post, I had to kiss a granite slab marking the eternal resting place of James Dean, the smoldering heartthrob from Fairmount, IN. Did I feel creepy? Absolutely. Was it fun? In the sense of "Oh my God I cannot believe I am doing this", yes. Yes it was.

Before I describe the gravestone smooch, I will give a bit of background on Dean. He was a famous actor who is best known for his angsty role in "Rebel Without a Cause." His other big films include "East of Eden" and "Giant." Before he went to Hollywood, he was raised on a Fairmount farm by his aunt and uncle. At 24, he was famously killed in a car accident. His good looks, strong but short lived career, and untimely death created his posthumous cult following.

Rebel Without a Cause
Best lines: "You can't be idealistic all your life, son"
Dean: "Except to yourself."
After having ice cream at Ivanhoe's, my mom, brother, and I drove 15 minutes to Park Cemetery, where Dean is buried. From there, I followed the steps outlined in the Indianapolis Monthly article.

Step 1. Choose a lipstick shade.

This was way too easy. I only own one tube of lipstick, so I went with my Red Rouge lipstick from Mary Kay.

Step 2. Locate the grave site in Farmount's Park Cemetery just north of town.

This was a lot more difficult than it sounds. Considering how small the town of Fairmount is, I assumed that locating the grave site would be a no brainer. At the very least, I expected a sign pointing out James Dean's tombstone. No such luck. The cemetery sprawls and thousands of markers sprinkled the grounds.

Not the best representation, but the Cemetery is surprisingly big.
Once we realized the scope of our challenge, the hunt began. Our car crawled through the grounds as all three of us scrutinized the headstones. I had looked at a picture a few days before leaving, so I had a rough idea of what Dean's tombstone looked like. I spotted one that matched my hazy memory, only to be let down.

I am sure that Carolyn J. McGrew was a wonderful woman, but she was not James Dean. So the search continued.

My mom spotted a minivan a few yards away and thought that they might be visiting the Dean grave site. We creepily followed the van and lo and behold, it was stopped in front of the tombstone! Just as we arrived, the van drove off (coincidence? doubtful), ending the 15+ minute search in solitude.

Okay, so this doesn't look anything like Ms. McGrew's headstone
Oh well it was worth a laugh

With an exultant shout, we hopped out of the car and took turns tinting our pouts. I even forced my brother to do it. It was possibly the highlight of the trip.

Step 3. Pucker up.

With the lipstick taken care of, I did the illogical and kissed the tombstone.

Proof for all of the Doubting Thomases
Step 4. Feel minimal guilt. You're not really causing any damage.

Maybe I am lacking a fit conscience, but guilt never even crossed my mind.

I am still a bit confused as to why this made the list. I understand that James Dean is an iconic Hoosier and there is something unexpected and therefore comical about kissing a gravestone, but I found it to be an odd way to pay respects. To each his own I suppose. And it will definitely make for an unusual anecdote in the future.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

#4. Ice Cream at Ivanhoe's

Few things in life are as enjoyable as ice cream on a hot summer day. The sweet, creamy coolness is the perfect antidote to blazing summer rays. Of all the ice cream purveyors in Indiana, few can top Ivanhoe's, a drive-in located in the tiny town of Upland, IN. 

My family discovered Ivanhoe's two summers ago when dropping off my younger brother for basketball camp at the nearby Taylor University. We were hungry and it was the closest restaurant nearby. From the street, it is an unassuming place that an outsider would only frequent in times of desperate hunger or in an attempt to soak up the local culture that travelers so greatly desire. Luckily, we fell into the former category and since then a visit to Ivanhoe's has become an annual tradition.  

When we first pulled in to Ivanhoe's two summers ago, we thought that we had found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but we soon realized that it was quite the opposite. Every time that I have visited, the place has been packed. Although the food is good, the real draw is the ice cream menu. Ivanhoe's has 100 sundaes and 100 shakes. Nearly any imaginable combination is on the list. The fun of visiting the restaurant is the selection; I usually follow the nutritionist's nightmare mantra: more is better. 

Ivanhoe's was bustling even at the off hour of 4 p.m.

When picking my brother up from Taylor this year, my mom and I decided to make it a full meal since we had yet to eat that day. We split the Big Bird, a grilled chicken sandwich topped with pepperjack cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon, and ranch. I usually try to eat pretty healthily, but all nutritious thoughts flee my mind upon entering Ivanhoe's. 

The Big Bird

After the sandwich came the best part: ice cream. I ordered the mini Trojan Two sundae--cookie dough ice cream topped with hot fudge, peanut butter, and chocolate covered graham crackers. It was really rich and altogether sublime. 

The Trojan 2
My mom ordered a peanut butter and chocolate fudge sundae, while my brother ordered the blueberry cheese shake. Although my sundae was phenomenal, I preferred my brother's shake, which he generously allowed me to sample. My sundae was too heavy for me, and I preferred the lighter blueberry taste of the shake. The combination of cream cheese, ice cream, and blueberries sounds weird but it was really good, comparable to blueberry cheesecake. 

Blueberry Cheese Shake
This was my brother's last year for the Taylor camp, so I do not know when I will next visit Ivanhoe's. Whether in the next year or decade, I am sure that I will return. The drive to Upland is picturesquely rural and the expansive menu would surely impress any fellow road trippers. 


If you have yet to visit Ivanhoe's, do it! You will not regret it in the least. 

#14. Stay the Night at West Baden/French Lick

Located in the rolling hills of southern Indiana are the French Lick and West Baden hotels/casinos. Just a few minutes away from each other, these hotels are remnants of a by-gone era, examples of the baroque and borderline gaudy luxury that the rich of yore once experienced. Established in 1845 and 1902, respectively, French Lick and West Baden were once popular getaways for the wealthy. They were drawn by the medicinal mineral water, gambling, and, during the Prohibition, illicit booze. Because of this, it is no surprise that gangsters such as Al Capone were frequent guests.

This pair of photos, located outside of the French Lick Casino, captures the old time glamour of the hotel

Today, the clientele is changed; the majority of guests are either families on one-two night getaways or middle aged men on golf and/or business trips. Despite this, the hotels have managed to maintain their air of cool extravagance. A queue of porters stands at the ready to assist newly arrived guests, and the impressive lobby is dripping with gold, jewel tones, and chandeliers.

French Lick Hotel lobby
After the initial elation wore off, I checked into the room with my grandparents and cousin. We wandered around the hotel and grounds until dinnertime. Outside, the heat and humidity were overwhelming; the heat index was 116. This inferno, mixed with the boiled egg sulfurous scent emanating from the hot springs, was hardly pleasant. This was when I learned the unfortunate lesson of the trip: never visit French Lick on one of the hottest days of the year, especially if that day happens to be a Monday.

Slogans located in the Pluto Springs gazebo behind the French Lick Hotel
Because we were visiting on a Monday, few activities were available. Live bands and afternoon tea were only available on the weekends. A dive-in movie (a.k.a. movie shown while you hang out in the pool) was cancelled because a private party had booked the pool. I decided against horseback riding the next day because of the heat. I refused to pay $40 to drip sweat onto the miserable horse beneath me.

Even without comfortable weather and a full activity schedule, we still managed to enjoy our stay at French Lick. We shopped on Main Street, played in the pool, danced to '70s music outside of the casino, and even found the home of Larry Bird's mother. Although the trip wasn't as awesome as I expected it to be, spending time with my grandparents and cousin made it worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

#5. Persimmon Pudding (Recipes included)

I am something of an amateur foodie. It all started with a strange Food Network-obsessed stage I went through in the eighth grade. Before that time, I was content with frozen meals and thought of Taco Bell as exotic cuisine. When I discovered the possibility of food, it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. Beyond the incredible variety of flavors, I enjoy "traveling" through food and believe that one can learn much about a region through its dishes and food culture.

Corny I know, but I couldn't resist. This alternately makes me incredibly amazed and burst into laughter.

Why am I confiding this? Because it explains why I was so excited for the Taste section of the Indianapolis Monthly article. Eight of the 50 items are food, and persimmon pudding was my first selection. If I do say so myself, it was a good choice.

The article suggested trying the dish at the Spring Mill Inn in Mitchell. The Inn's website revealed that the Inn was located with the Spring Mill State Park. The Park had a variety of attractions, including cave boat tours and a Pioneer Village. I always enjoy the hilarity/education combo to be found at kitschy historical re-creation sites, so I easily justified the long drive. I also found that it was conveniently on the way to the French Lick Hotel (#14), so I combined the two for an enjoyable mini trip with my grandparents and cousin.

Spring Mill Inn
The lunch at the Spring Mill Inn was pretty underwhelming (i.e. lunch buffet filled with unhealthy, greasy comfort food) but the dessert made it worthwhile. Cornmeal pie and persimmon pudding are the specialities of the Inn, and rightfully so. The cornmeal gave the pie an unusual but nice texture and wasn't overbearingly sweet. My cousin was surprised that the persimmon pudding was nothing like the Jello pudding to which she was accustomed. Rather, its presentation was more along the lines of sticky toffee pudding and bread pudding.

Cornmeal pie
It is difficult to describe persimmon pudding if one is unfamiliar with the taste of persimmon, but I can best describe it as bread pudding meets spice cake. It came served with a generous helping of whipped cream, which added an extra boost of sugar to the otherwise sweet/tart flavor. I quickly devoured my serving. My grandmother, who was raised in rural southern Indiana, was well acquainted with persimmon pudding. Persimmon trees grow wild in the area and her uncle even had a few in his backyard. After seeing my affinity for it, she bought a tub of persimmon pulp and has promised to make it for the next family event. I can't wait!

Persimmon pudding
After the sugar rush subsided, we toured the Pioneer Village. It was really quaint, with a babbling stream and authentic 1800s buildings. The buildings had been well restored and were filled with informative representations of life during the pioneer era. Despite this, all I could think was "Thank God that I did not live during this time!!" Seriously, it looked miserable. Uncomfortable beds, stuffy clothing, practical isolation, and a never ending stream of chores made me appreciate modern conveniences so much. This was compounded by the July in Indiana heat/humidity double punch. The temperature was 96 degrees, but the heat index was a miserable 116. The Pioneer Village provided little shade and obviously no air conditioning, a deadly combination for my grandparents. Because of this, our visit to the Pioneer Village did not last long.

Grist mill at Pioneer Village
In search of a cooler area, we headed to the Twin Caves cave boat tour. For $3/person, the tour is a steal. It was my first tour of the kind, so I really enjoyed it. The cave is a cool 54 degrees year round, a welcome reprieve from the stifling summer heat.

Our tour boat: probably the reason for the $3 price
I saw a bat, blind cave fish, crawdads, stalactites, and forming flow rock. At one point, the guide turned the boat's headlights and her flashlight off, allowing us to experience the true darkness of the cave. Never before have I been in a place where the difference between open and closed eyes is non-existent. The cave was peaceful and I can now say that I have visited the Twilight Zone (a particular section of the cave).

Exiting the Twilight Zone
For those interested in making cornmeal pie and/or persimmon pudding at home, the Spring Mill State Park published the recipes in their quarter annual publication. Enjoy!

Persimmon Pudding
  • 2 cups persimmon pulp
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 stick butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan and put 1/2 stick of butter into the pan. melt the butter in the oven. Mix all dry ingredients together. In a large mixing bowl add persimmon pulp, eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well. Alternate milk and dry ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Pour over top of melted butter and bake approximately 35 to 40 minutes until done. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.

Corn Meal Pie
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon corn meal
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • sliced almonds
  • shredded coconut
  • unbaked pie shell

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

#34. The Point at Hanover College

Four of the 50 items listed in the Indianapolis Monthly article are lookout points. From these locations, one can view the supposedly greatest vistas to be found in Indiana. After the wonderful experience I had at the Crown Hill Cemetery, I was hopeful that the rest of the panoramas would be just as, if not more, beautiful. With these high expectations, I set out for Hanover College and its wide views of the Ohio River.

After a two hour drive from Indianapolis, I entered the ridiculously curvy and somewhat frightening driveway to the campus.  After exiting the treacherous road, however, I found Hanover to be charming. The small campus was pretty much dead due to summer break, but even with the lack of students it still seemed like the classic American college. Founded in 1827, Hanover is filled with Georgian architecture and picture perfect landscaping. Considering the postcard-worthy campus, I expected stunning views of the Ohio River.

But once I came upon the first lookout point, I was disappointed. It was a muggy July day and haze filled the air. The river appeared brown and muddy and a trailer park on the riverbanks took away from the beauty. My friend and I burst into laughter at the thought of driving 100 miles for such an anticlimactic view.

Noteworthy view?
Nevertheless, we were determined to make the most of the trip and continued to wander around Hanover. We stumbled upon a nature path and decided to explore. The short walk turned into a seemingly endless hike. Although we entered the trail in fresh and energetic spirits, we emerged sweaty and exhausted. We spotted a tour group of prospective students taking pictures at another lookout point and decided to check out the view.

This scene was much improved, and I assume this is the lookout point  the article described. A broad view of the river was set at a more asthetically pleasing angle; the water looked normal, the air was clearer, and the sun glimmered on the river.

Much better
Once we took in the attractive landscape, we decided to join the tour group. Everyone was confused at our mid-tour addition, but no one questioned us. We had the tour guide take our picture (with a stranger's camera), made conversation with group members, and discussed the merits of made up sororities, fraternities, and dorm halls. This ended our trip to Hanover College on a memorable note and made me (mostly) forget about the miserable hike and the unsatisfactory initial view.

It was still relatively early in the afternoon when we left Hanover, so I drove into Madison, the neighboring town. We stopped to eat at the Red Pepper Cafe, a former mechanic shop turned restaurant/catering business. I lunched on fabulous sun dried tomato cavatappi pasta salad while reading a few embarrassing celebrity tabloids.

Nicholas Cage's son Weston
One of many wonderful tabloid discoveries
Fortified by lunch, my friend and I walked down Main Street into the town's Historic District. I fell in love. Every house was stately and well kept. The impressive Lanier Mansion epitomized Madison's grand historical appeal and boasted beautifully manicured gardens. Cute shops and friendly townspeople added to the appeal. The town square had a fountain and benches perfect for reading and people watching. Luck was on our side as our visit coincided with the Regatta, Madison's most anticipated event of the year.
One of the numerous historical Madison homes
Arguably the coolest backyard ever
Back of the Lanier Mansion
Broadway Fountain in downtown Madison
My prior exposure to regattas was limited to those of the crew variety, but I soon learned that regattas encompass many types of boat races. Madison's regatta is a hydroplane boat race, and the entire July 4th weekend is centered around it. The Regatta celebration was just beginning when I arrived and a parade was held that evening to celebrate. The seemingly endless Main Street was lined with lawn chairs and people. The picturesque Main Street and American flags made me feel like I had stumbled into a photograph summarizing the apple pie spirit of the good ol' U.S. of A. 

The small town charm continued even as we were leaving Madison. Although I did not ask for assistance, a man helped me back out of a parking lot and gave me directions to the highway. He wished us a safe drive home and a happy Fourth of July. It's nice to know that even in such a gritty world there are still kind people and idyllic small towns to be found. Indiana, you are starting to grow on me.

Hanging Rock, just outside of Madison on Highway 7