Sunday, May 16, 2010

Opinion - The Best Burger Joints in Placerville, CA

"When it comes to hamburgers, I have high standards. My father made some of the best burgers on the planet. I was challenged to find the top burger joints here in Placerville. Tell me if you agree with my choices..."

For people heading to Lake Tahoe from the west on US-50, Placerville, CA marks a convenient stopping point. If the stop includes a meal break, Placerville-or old Hangtown, as it was known in the early days-offers many choices for a meal. For hamburgers, let the time of day be your guide.

Old Town Grill (444 Main Street)
Long and narrow, the Old Town Grill features a rear dining room and a patio dining area. Place your order at the counter as you enter; then head for a table and wait for a treat. Daily specials fill a wipe-off board. 

The generous hamburger patty appeared to be hand-shaped. It arrived at the table on a toasted (but not burnt, thank you!) sesame seed bun, dressed with crisp leaf lettuce, a generous tomato slice and pickle chips. The Grill adds a special sauce to their burgers. I chose to skip the onions available. 

The large sandwich, cut in half for convenient handling, comes with tasty fries. Add the condiments available on the table and you are ready to dive in to the delicious American classic. 

Flannel-backed vinyl tablecloths cover the tables and sports memorabilia adorns the walls. The restroom is quaint but clean and well-stocked. The entire restaurant was immaculate, even though a constant stream of diners passed through. The waitress kept the tables clean and the beverages filled.
A varied menu, including soda fountain favorites, makes the Old Town Grill a great choice for a group. The only negative I found was the restaurants hours. They open at 11:00 a.m. and close at 3:00 p.m., so go for lunch, not dinner.

Mel’s Diner (232 Main Street)
Mel’s looks like something out of the 1950s, for good reason. The management makes a determined effort to reproduce the look and feel of those golden days. Expect a big serving of nostalgia with your meal, and a little bit of ego with many of the offerings carrying a name starting with Mel.

The burger arrives with lettuce and tomato on a grilled bun. Although it seems to be a machine-formed patty, the meat covers the bun. The taste is good, pretty much what you’d expect from a pre-formed burger. A generous serving of fries accompanies the burger.

Mel’s offers breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, opening at 6:00 a.m. daily and closing at 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, midnight on Friday and Saturday. With a beverage menu including shakes and malts, Mel’s works hard to recreate the era. Too bad the prices couldn’t stay in the past as well.

In-n-Out Burger (3055 Forni Road)
Retro reigns at In-n-Out Burger. The red and white tile with palm tree silhouettes shines in a squeaky clean establishment. Truly a “hamburger joint,” In-n-Out Burger offers limited choices: a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a “double-double” cheeseburger, French fries and beverages.

So what puts it on my list? What they do, they do extremely well. Super fresh meat on beautifully toasted buns, served with crisp lettuce and sliced tomato, and it tastes great. They offer onions on their burgers and will grill them for you, if you’d like. 

The staff gives polite and friendly service, and makes you feel as though it’s a privilege to serve you. No one behind the counter had hanging hair (a big pet peeve of mine). Everyone wore a hat and hair was covered.

With a choice of dine-in the dining room or on the patio, take out or drive-through, In-n-Out Burger gives you lots of ways to get their burgers. That’s good, because there is usually a line of cars at the drive-through and rows of people at the counter. The efficiency of the staff prevents any long waits, so don’t be put off by the line.

In-n-Out opens at 10:30 a.m. daily; closing is at 1:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

An Interview with Author Caroline Fyffe

Author Caroline Fyffe already excelled in the world of equine photography before she turned her hand to writing. How did she make the switch from taking photos to drawing scenes with words?

Fyffe loves reading, enjoying historical romance, religious books, women’s fiction, classics, fiction in general and most recently, Amish fiction. This love led naturally to writing as an adult. She describes the feeling as being “challenged to write a book, compelled to tell a story.” 

Although she didn’t begin writing as a youngster, she’s making up for lost time now. With her debut novel on shelves, the second one due out in July 2010 and a third ready for a publisher, she is poised to make a big mark on the publishing world.

Her work as a photographer provided plenty of time for working out plot details, as she waited for the appropriate photo opportunity at horse shows. In “Where the Wind Blows,” her first published work, she displays her deep understanding of horses and riders. The romance is set in the West, shortly after the Civil War. 

Another source of plotting time comes while she jogs. Her mind free to work on the story line, she finds “the greatest ideas” come to her on her three-mile jaunts. Often, a plot will nag at her until she gets it written. 

Fyffe relates that she hasn’t had to deal with dry spells of inspiration so much as she has had to overcome a lack of time. Careful scheduling of the milestones of writing a novel forms an essential tool in her writing arsenal and is critical to her productivity.

She has a method for dealing with problems in a scene: “If I get stuck in a scene, I try changing points of view to break the logjam.” By looking at the scene from a different perspective, she can gain fresh insights into the action and overcome the sticking point. She sometimes discovers that the character with the most at stake in a scene isn’t who she planned. The shift in POV gives her a chance to clarify the scene.

Fyffe credits her early involvement in writing groups with getting her started on the right path, teaching her many of the technical aspects of writing. She suggests that any aspiring writer should begin with a critique group that fits her personality. 

"Who you’re with makes a difference, because if your personalities don’t click, it won’t work well. We had rules, like critique with love. Without them, I wouldn’t have stuck it out. They gave me hints and information. If you’re going to be a writer, you need a group. For me it was a huge help"

She remains a member of several groups, some of which meet online. Through groups such as Romance Writers of America and Hearts through History, as well as local writing groups, writers can find encouragement and training opportunities, as well as another avenue for the new author-writing contests.

As a winner of the Golden Heart Award, Fyffe knows the value of writing competitions. She encourages new authors to enter competitions for the exposure and feedback. Her first Christian women’s fiction story placed second in the contest where she entered it. She is currently shopping that manuscript around to publishers, since her agent doesn’t work with that genre.

Her characters, while not based on any particular individual, are clearly formed in her mind before she writes them. Speaking of the lead characters in “Where the Wind Blows,” she says “I knew what I wanted of his [Chase Logan’s] character. With Jessie, she had no other way to be but strong.”

A main theme in “Where the Wind Blows” is orphans, and how they find a place in the world. Fyffe admits a deep fondness for “Jane Eyre type stories where they were on their own and having to supply what they needed themselves.” Her initial opening scene for the book took place in an orphanage, although later editing moved it toward the center of the story. It remains a powerful explanation of the heroine’s motivation.

Fyffe encourages new authors to “start off with the business end of things.”  Set up the business aspects first, so you can focus on the writing side without those distractions.

Other suggestions:
  • ·         Get a website up.
  • ·         Put together a list of email addresses for newsletters.
  • ·         Build your own public relations network, diligently building up your web presence.
  • ·         Be brave. Talk to agents and editors whenever you can and ask questions. Don’t think of them as unapproachable.
  • ·         Talk to local bookstores about carrying your book. Fyffe found a local newspaper wanted her books locally available before they would carry a story on the book, so she contacted the stores in the area about carrying it.
  • ·         Be disciplined when doing research on-line. Don’t get distracted by the volumes of information available and head in unproductive directions. And verify everything, since much of the information on the Web is not policed for accuracy.

Caroline Fyffe’s second book in the “Home in the Heartland” series is “Montana Dawn,” scheduled for release July 2010 through Dorchester Publishing.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Sworn to Protect" by DiAnn Mills

Warning: do not read DiAnn Mills’ newest release, “Sworn to Protect” unless you are willing to look at all sides of the issue of illegal immigration.

Border Patrol agent Danika Morales dedicates her life to protecting U.S. borders from illegal entry. For Morales, the job is more about stopping predators and drug dealers than individuals simply trying to better their lives, although she arrests those as well. When the job takes a decidedly personal turn, Morales must make hard choices about her perspective.

She lost her husband to an unsolved murder and must raise their daughter alone. Her job performance is under scrutiny with the revelation of an informant in the ranks. Now she’s discovered that she is someone’s target. Who is after her, and why?

The second book in Mills’ Call of Duty series, “Sworn to Protect” displays deep research. Mills rode with the line with Border Patrol agents, learning firsthand the magnitude and complexity of the issue. She has used that experience to weave a story of heartache, commitment and danger while showing the wide variety of forms illegal immigration can take.

Mills has put a human face on illegal immigration in “Sworn to Protect,” as she did with the tragic situation in the Sudan in “When the Lion Roars” and “When the Nile Runs Red.”  The characters are compelling as they try to balance the requirements of the law with compassion. Mills brings us into their hearts and minds, allowing the reader to experience the problem from each side of the conflict.

While “Sworn to Protect” is the successor to “Breach of Trust,” it is not a sequel. Readers will not suffer by reading them out of order. Both address the question of how a Christian might handle the demands of a secular job which seems at odds with faith. Mills tackles the question without relying on pat answers. 

“Sworn to Protect” combines the best aspects of thriller, romance and inspiration to offer an exciting and satisfying read. Join the adventure Mills promises in her slogan-read “Sworn to Protect.”

“Sworn to Protect” by DiAnn Mills
Published by Tyndale Fiction, 2010