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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 21, 2016

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.

Evolution Fresh, River Cruise Views

People who stop in at Starbucks are probably familiar with water-bottle-sized Evolution cold-pressed juices. But since, as a non-coffee drinker who doesn't even like the smell of the stuff, I don't visit Starbucks, unless I'm meeting somebody for a conversation in Los Angeles.

For me, therefore, my first exposure to Evolution Fresh juices came at Earth Fare on Battleground Avenue, where, right beside the Noble tangerine juice that I buy regularly, I saw a bottle of Evolution Fresh Cold Pressed Orange Juice.

"Cold pressed" is a term regularly employed in the olive oil trade, as part of a claim that the oil was not extracted through heavy industrial processes. I had never realized that when it came to orange juice, the term might still have meaning.

I know that when a restaurant uses a juicer that reams the juice out of the skin too deeply, a lot of bitter rind gets into the juice, making it taste wretched. To my relief, Green Valley Grill has stopped doing that, so their fresh-squeezed orange juice is once again reliably delicious.

But what would "cold pressed" mean? Well, one thing it meant was that Evolution juices are apparently not homogenized -- both the orange juice and the apple juice had separated completely. But separation is neither a good nor a bad thing.

I first tasted peanut butter as a twenty-year-old in Brazil, where all the peanut butter separated and had to be stirred up before it could be spread on bread. Cottage cheese often separates, so you have to stir dry curds into the yellowy whey. They both taste just fine after a little work, and the separation reminds you, "This is the real thing, it hasn't been processed into complete obedience."

"Cold pressed" might refer to the fact that they don't pasteurize their juices -- though they achieve the same effect by putting them under such enormous pressure that it kills any microbes living in the juice.

I brought both the orange and apple juices home and put them in our colder-than-usual fridge. A few hours later, I took out the Evolution Fresh Cold Pressed Orange Juice, poured myself a glass, and ...

Best commercial orange juice ever.

It truly did taste fresh-squeezed. It kept tasting that way right to the end of the bottle, and ditto with the next jar I bought. Compulsively drinkable juice.

I wish I could say the same for the apple juice. I'm not much of an apple juice drinker, except that there was one apple juice we had in Tokyo that would make a true believer of me ... if we could get it in the United States.

So it was up to my wife to decide if the Evolution Cold Pressed Apple Juice was as good as their orange juice.

Not. It's grainy in your mouth. Not a pleasant texture. And the flavor is only OK.

When you go to the Evolution Fresh website (www.evolutionfresh.com) all they talk about are the individual-sized juices, which I did not see at Earth Fare. They have the drinks you'd expect them to have, in order to compete with Naked and Odwalla.

Maybe their Green Grove or Green Devotion or Organic Ruby Roots juices are brilliant. I will never know, because there are some colors that should not come into my mouth as a chilled drink. (Or a room-temperature drink. Don't bother quibbling, my mind is made up.)

I might try the pineapple coconut water, and I'll be looking for the Evolution Fresh Tangerine. But Smooth Greens and Kale? I'm sixty-five years old. If I don't want to drink it, I don't have to drink it.

According to their store locator, Evolution Fresh juices are available in Greensboro at Target, Harris Teeter, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Deep Roots Market, and Earth Fare.

Since I believe in rewarding the outlet that first brought me a new product that I value, I'll keep buying mine at Earth Fare.


Now that public television stations and programs are allowed to have high-class advertisements, at the beginning of every Masterpiece Theater and Masterpiece Mystery Theater, they've lately been running a commercial for Viking River Cruises.

Since rivers were the great highways of ancient and medieval Europe, they are dotted with castles, port cities, picturesque villages, and lots of trees.

Viking River Cruises are advertised with aerial shots of the gorgeous scenery and architecture. But that is exactly the view that you will never see from the surface of the river. You don't get grand vistas from the water's surface, because wherever water is boatable, it's at the lowest point in the landscape.

I'm reminded of my first visit to Greensboro in February 1983. Because the leaves were off the trees, I could see the city from I-40. But my guide warned me: In summer, with leaves on the trees, the city would be invisible.

Think of driving along I-40 or, worse yet, I-95, surrounded by walls of trees on both sides, and few towns because it's a freeway.

Now, when I first moved east from the desert states of Utah, Arizona, California, and eastern Washington where I had grown up, trees were all beautiful because, for me, they were a sign of life that had been missing from my upbringing, and most humans have a tree hunger, a need for living shade.

After a while, though, I realized that the constant trees cut off any views or vistas there might be. Is there scenery along North Carolina freeways?

No. Not unless you're in the mountains and you pull onto a turnout and contemplate a Grant Wood vista of rolling hills called "mountains."

I've spent hundreds of hours of my life crossing deserts by car, usually as a passenger. I've driven east-west across Nevada, north-south through Arizona and Utah, the long way across Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas.

Montana. Wyoming. The Texas Panhandle.

Hour after hour you drive. The air is bone dry, so you can see forever. Off in the distance, mountains. Close at hand, one kind of bleakness or another. Sagebrush. Tumbleweeds. Scruffy grass. Cactus forests.

The scenery never changes. The distant mountain never grows closer, while the scenery to either side changes so little that your mind goes numb. Then, suddenly, the distant mountain looms and now, after two hours of racing toward it, you're finally there. You cross over the shoulder of the mountain, and on the other side you find: another nondescript mountain in the distance, across an infinite desert exactly like the one you just crossed.

Driving on forest-walled freeways is worse, because there's less to look at. There are no distant objects that never seem to grow closer. The monotony of green trees soon because just as bad as the monotony of red sand or sagebrush or wheat fields. It never changes.

Now, don't misunderstand. As a desert boy, I think of the tree-filled East of our country as "the land that God finished creating." I love it here, and when I visit Utah, Arizona, California, or Nevada, it takes about an hour for me to become so tree-hungry I want to cry.

But back in Greensboro with the trees in full leaf, I get sky-hungry. Where are the magnificent stacks of clouds and sunbursts all along the horizon that are so common in California and Arizona and Utah?

I still prefer US 29 for trips to DC; if I never ride on I-95 to and through Richmond again, I'll be happy. Because US 29 takes me through horse country, with places where trees make way for pastureland, and there are frequent beautiful views. Including views of the sky.

So when I imagine a river cruise, I have to figure that most of the way, the Danube and the Rhine are much like driving on I-95 or I-40 -- mostly trees on both sides. Nothing like the stunning vistas in the aerial shots used for the commercials.

But maybe not. The great rivers were the highways, not the freeways of olden days. If your town could front on the water, it would, and there were no distancing effects like freeway interchanges. It was all local traffic. Pastureland would sometimes run right to the water. There would be more variety of scenery than driving along an American freeway.

But grand vistas? Only if you get off the boat and somehow climb to a high vantage point. Most of the time you'd have to trust your memory of the commercials to know what gorgeous scenery you were being floated through.

It still sounds fun to me. Except the part about being trapped on a boat with strangers. I would never have survived the Mayflower voyage -- if I hadn't jumped overboard, somebody would have pushed me long before we got there.

Look, Europe is gorgeous, and the rivers are at the heart of much of the gorgeousness. The Loire Valley has many great estates with landscaping down to the riverbank; the Danube and Rhine have so much history they probably have to scrape memories off the hulls of the boats like barnacles.

But using aerial shots to promote a river cruise definitely needs some truth-in-advertising scrutiny, in my opinion.


There's an ice cream place right on Center Street in Provo, Utah, called "Roll with It," and my wife, after hearing my youngest and me talk about the place, is eager to try it when she and I go to Provo for our daughter's college graduation this week.

The concept is Thailand-style ice cream rolls. Apparently, street vendors in Thailand push carts that keep round pizza-pan-sized "burners" at very low temperatures. Way sub-freezing.

They pour flavored custard onto the "griddle" and then scrape it as it freezes, rather like scraping the sides and bottom of a pan in which you're scrambling eggs. Like scrambled eggs, the custard comes away in thin sheets, which automatically form rolls and tubes.

These are gently set into cups, and the results are a very good frozen custard. Because you watched it getting frozen, you know it's freshly made; it wasn't sitting in a big tub in a freezer for months or years. It takes a little longer to make than simply scooping ice cream out of a tub -- but no longer than, say, Cold Stone.

It shares its space with Good Thyme Eatery, which is a new spin on cafeteria-style dining; for a fixed price, you can choose your protein, one hot side, and three cold sides. It's way too much for one person to eat, but that also means that if you don't care for one of the sides after all, you won't starve.

That section of Center Street in Provo now looks like a downtown that has decided to stay alive. Provo went for decades, allowing developers to destroy what was once a beautiful pioneer-era city, so that almost nothing is left.

But it's still a college town, and that huge university population (35,000) means that there's room for quirky shops, unusual restaurant and dessertery concepts, and anything that encourages people to walk around and look in shop windows.

You know, a downtown.

They're even putting in apartment buildings, so there are actual residents to frequent these shops. When I lived in Provo as a student, I rarely had a reason to wander around downtown because the downtown in those days was in the process of dying. A few shops and galleries tried to stem the tide, but with the city government doing nothing to forestall the destruction, they were doomed.

Greensboro, too, has suffered from decades of a love-hate relationship between downtown and the city government. As in most places, it takes a long, long time for the "experts" to catch up with their own field and realize that it's possible for government rules to promote downtown life. By the time a government finds this out, downtowns are often too wrecked to recover. But, like Provo, Greensboro still has a decent chance to make a go of downtown life.

Having rents low enough for risky, off-beat restaurant experiments is a vital part of downtown revival. Keeping every scrap of street frontage devoted to small shops and establishments is another.


My family -- including a granddaughter old enough to be a connoisseuse of such things -- recently visited Gigi's Cupcakes at 1310 Westover Terrace.

This strip of eateries and other shops has had its ups and downs -- we first came to know it when the best French Restaurant ever in Greensboro, Le Rendezvous, was located there -- but apparently we're on a serious upswing right now.

I know, the "cupcake thing" is over in New York and Los Angeles. But I'm fine with that, because most of those trendy cupcakes were inedible. I don't mean the quality was bad, I mean you literally could not get your mouth around them in order to take a bite without getting frosting and/or crumbs all over your face, including on your glasses and up your nose.

Well, let me tell you about Gigi's. Among their selection, they have small cupcakes. That's right. Little cupcakes that a fastidious adult can eat without needing someone to hose you down.

Not only that, they do not skimp on quality. The icing, while thicker than I usually prefer, is made with topnotch ingredients so it really is worth eating.

You can order online at gigiscupcakesusa.com/location/greensboro-north-carolina-nc/ , choosing your cupcakes and arranging your time and day of pickup. But if you're not buying for a whole office or party or church group or whatever, and you just want dessert, you can simply drop by unannounced.

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