Posts tagged ‘cooking’

Happy Thinksgiving

24 November, 2011 | | 3 Comments

Thinksgiving.  That’s not a typo.  OK, it was a typo, but on reflection I left it there – because I decided that the things I’m thankful for require thought.

I’m thankful for people who can see past the end of their scripture.  Be it a Bible, Koran, Talmud, or the CyberTaoTeChing, I’m thankful for people who can read them for the good these books can do, for the joy and the peace they can bring, without building walls in their minds.  These books are filled with slogans, in many forms, and a good slogan can stop thought for 50 years.  I’m thankful for people who can think their way past them.

I’m thankful for family, those by blood and those by bonds of friendship.  Family is what we say it is, the tribal ties that we forge or we inherit by accident of birth with those around us.  I am lucky to have mine, and happy to be cooking for many of them today.

I’m thankful for my luck to have been born in an interesting time of change and of plenty, in this Western World.  These are not good days for all, but they are still good days for us – and likely for all who can read these words today – and I am thankful.

I am thankful for the Reigning Queen of Pink, for a thousand reasons, not least of which is that she loads the toothpaste on my toothbrush, and SOBUMD’s, every night.  No one asked her to, she just decided a few months ago that she could, and so she does.  Damned handy kid sometimes.  I stumble upstairs in the dark after reading into the night, and it’s there.  Thanks for that.  I am thankful for the Human Tape Recorder’s willingness and increasing ability to be my sous chef; she can make eggs, cookies, and brownies on her own, on request.   I am thankful for Number One Son, who teaches me a little every day about how people can be different and still be the same. 

I am thankful for readers, meaning people who read books, and Readers, meaning all of you lovely people who read me.  Your adolation is like crack to me, you know that. 

And last I am thankful for SOBUMD, who makes it all possible. 

Happy Thinksgiving to you all!  What are you thinkful for this year?

Lost River Weekend

26 October, 2011 | | No Comment

So once again there we were, staring down the barrel of the weekend with no ammunition and insufficient beer.  This past weekend started, as they all do, on the Friday beforehand, when at nearly 1pm I got a text from SOBUMD requesting that I leave the office early and pick up the kids from school.  Since this is a highly unusual request, and since the words “yes dear” have saved my marriage more than once, I of course complied.  It turns out that she’d been to a local Trader Joe’s to pick up ingredients for the evening’s meal, and they had more than the usual display of cinnamon-scented everything – not just as you walk in, but throughout several aisles and at each register. 

Since SOBUMD is highly allergic to cinnamon, this lead to her fighting her way home in a headachy blur and slamming several Benadryl, which is not conducive to holding one’s head upright without a drool-cloth, much less driving.  I retrieved said lunatic children and proceeded to make dinner with our friends Sara and Toby, who arrived full of good spirit and left full of good spirit and also fish.  Wonderful evenings are wonderful, and getting to show off my badass cooking skills to an interested 11-yr old Toby was a treat. 

The next morning dawned with the promise of the girls going to a birthday party for a 5-yr-old and then the Human Tape Recorder having 2 friends over for fun, dinner, and a sleepover.  Number One Son and I looked at each other, counted the number of girls in the house, gave a nod, and packed our overnight bags – by which I meant a change of clothes, and he meant his iPod. 

We lit out for the House in the Woods, up in West Virginia.  I have to tell you, driving the Blackfish up the hills and curvy, winding, newly-paved roads, with the windows down, on beautiful fall day, with Katy Perry telling me that I’m her missing puzzle piece – well, I think I understand why some people ride motorcycles.  I was very well behaved.  I mostly almost kept it under 70 going around the turns. 

Once we arrived and unpacked, we worked the fields for a while, evicting the black walnuts like tenants from a – OK, that wasn’t really going to be all that funny anyway.  We removed them from the path of the mower, since they otherwise sound like golf balls going through a shredder when the Very Clever Grandpa mows.  I mentioned that the riding mower is about the only way to open the damn things anyway; he mentioned that he didn’t want to open them in the first place; I mentioned that they were yummy and bitter and yummy; he mentioned that shut up and toss ’em in the creek.  I tossed ’em in the creek. 

Following the successful castration of the lawn, we enjoyed a celebratory cold beverage and did inside things for a while.  Once complete, we retired to a new venue for dinner in the neighborhood, by which I mean “places you can get to within 45 minutes in a fast car.”  Needless to say, we took the Blackfish and got to the Lost River Brewing Company in 44 minutes. 

Lost River Brewing Company – not to be confused with the already-famous Lost River Grill – is not yet allowed to brew their own beer.  If the food is any indication, this is a crime.  The Very Clever Grandfather and I both had steak with fries, very nice if slightly past medium rare; Number One Son declared his cheesepuck the equal of the Lost River Grill version; and the Cesar salad was interesting – standard fare until they dropped two anchovies right on top.  The jaw-dropper, though, was the plate of fried calamari.  Remember, this is Wardensville, West By God Virginia.  To say that “calamari ain’t local here” would be to risk understatement in the way “that’s a really big hole you got there” describes the Grand Canyon.  My expectations were not, shall we say, high. 

And they were blown away.  The calamari were as good as any I’ve had at McCormick and Shmicks and better than I’ve had at Legal Seafood.  Someone in the back of the Lost River Brewing Company is paying attention, and in a good way.  I hope they get their brewing license soon!

The kitchen staff may be paying attention, but the front office makes me wonder a bit.  Our waitress, dusky-eyed with a squint and a smile, was wearing a black tee-shirt with the words “Take Me Home.”  The rest of the wait-staff were also wearing black shirts with other lines from “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” – I can only assume that our friendly server drew the short straw that night.  Why would you do that to a cute young lady?  West Virginia gets a lot of miles out of that song, but still – you know she has to get heckled pretty badly with “Take Me Home” across her chest. 

Although, we had to remind her which wine was the red and which was the white (Cabernet is one of the easier ones to remember), and she slipped on the beer order as well – maybe she’s just very friendly and not too quick?  She was very nice.  But we didn’t take her home.

The next day we did come home, down country roads, at speeds that would be considered unsafe if not attempted by professional drivers on a closed course.  Since we’d spent the morning splitting logs that would not have otherwise split themselves, I found driving to be a fine course of therapy for sore muscles, and applied it vigorously.  The Very Clever Grandparents joined us for another excellent dinner, and the Lost Weekend was found to have been Almost Heaven.

A Brief Weekend Recap While the Cleaning Crew Vacuums My Office

3 October, 2011 | | 5 Comments

Since  I can’t get anything done for a while anyway, it’s a good time to update you on the events of the weekend.  Not that they were overly exciting, but still, they happened, and as we know my devotion to absolute veracity and disclosure is notorious.  Besides, I really need to post more, since this is now an award-winning blog.  My unending thanks for this honor go to Diane Henders, whose devotion to veracity is nearly as notorious as my own.  Plus she’s cool.  I know I’m failing to follow the rules set forth in the nomination, but I may get to them in another post.  Right now, we have a weekend to recap, and the vacuuming professionals are halfway done.

Pop Tarts

Pop Tarts Made While Listening to a Pop Tart

Saturday the Reigning Queen of Pink helped me to make Pop Tarts.  Since the rolling of dough and the spreading of fillings requires some modicum of inspiration, we listened to Katy Perry – nothing like Katy Perry for making Pop Tarts.  We also made cookies and crepes, since she’d requested the latter the night before (and rules by divine right), and who doesn’t like some cookies?

The best line I heard on Saturday was “Hey, wake up, September ended!”   I’d’ve posted it myself if I’d thought of it.  The next best line of the weekend was from Number One Son, who said “Daddy, I saw a fox on the deck this morning.”  Chances are, he saw a fox on the deck that morning.  We do have them in the neighborhood, and he described it well enough.  Wish he’d gotten a picture of that – he said it was standing on the rail of the deck, which must have been a sight. 

The main plan for the weekend, barring foxes, was recovering the dining room chairs, which is a good time, and getting the new clock up on the wall in the bathroom.  So you can imagine my surprise when, Saturday morning (after coffee and pop tarts), SOBUMD told me that our bedroom’s Feng Shui was all wrong, and I needed to move all the bookcases and shelves, remove and reinstall the light, and move the bed.  Well, you can just imagine what I said to that!

If you imagined the words “Yes, dear,” you may now award yourself 5 Internet Points and a cookie.  It actually takes longer to describe the work than it did to accomplish, but I’m still getting used to waking up on the other side of the room.  It’s like a room in my house has been rearranged… 

Having moved the bedroom, I promptly enlisted serious help in recovering the chairs, since the first thing required was to remove all the legs – which are bolted on.  Once again, the RQoP stepped up to the challenge, sitting down with an upside-down chair and my ratchet set.  By the time I had finished my beer, she was done – it’s good to be the king.  From that point, there was nothing left to do but pull the old fabric off one of them, use it as a template for the new fabric, and start cutting.  Bending over the table with the shears for that long (there are five chairs) gave me a new regard for handling textiles – now I know why Nike and Gap pay those overseas factory workers so much money! 

I only finished one chair, but it looked so good that another beer was called for.  What with one thing and another, the weekend moved on to Mark Twain and what he would have thought of Dr. Who.  I suspect he would have liked the show.  In fact, I’m a little surprised the Dr. hasn’t shown up in Hannibal, MO, yet, come to think of it. 

Biker Bear

Does This Looks Like Pedo Bear to You?

But the weekend ended, as all weekends must, and Monday dawned early enough to bake the rest of the cookies to have with our coffee and pop tarts. 

As the Squirrel Nut Zippers drove me to work this morning, I saw a guy with a Teddy Bear helmet ride by on a motorcycle – cute little floppy ears standing up in the wind.  Nothing like a Monday morning to make you say, “Huh?”

Without further ado, happy October to one and all!  Oh, hey, the vacuuming is done!

The Once and Future Huntsville

23 September, 2011 | | 4 Comments

So there I was in Huntsville Alabama again. 

I know that’s not really fair, since I didn’t write up my last trip to Huntsville.  Think of it as having been a scouting expedition.  For what, you ask?  Why, pig, of course!

So here I am, doing what I always do in Huntsville, which is finding new and wonderful places to eat pulled pig.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have to go to meetings and stuff too, but I really just come here to eat.   Last time I was here, I was introduced to Dreamland Barbeque.  It wasn’t just good – it’s the second best pulled pork I’ve ever had in my life, and the place where I had the best pig (in Florida, of all places) isn’t there anymore.   Dreamland was good enough that I bought the tee-shirt. 

I’m going to pause in my narrative before we get to the food, though, to say a few words about Huntsville.  In Huntsville, I found people not only polite – please, thank you, and they tend not to interrupt you, nor one another – but also proud. 

Saturn V Rocket

Saturn V Rocket Standing Tall

The town was called Rocket City USA back in its heyday, and the people here remember that.  They helped put man on the moon, testing the Apollo systems and building the Saturn series of rockets – driving down the highway from the airport, this goes from noticeable to inescapable when you pass a Saturn V rocket standing sentinel by the road.  It’s an enormous monument to the engineering history of a world, a nation, and this town in particular.  Reflected in the people I met was an underlying sense that they’d been part of something greater than themselves once, and they’d like to do it again – with a quiet reserved understanding that lightning does not tend to hit in the same place twice.  Not that nothing’s happening there now, but you have the sense that it’s a town standing capable and ready, hoping to be called back into action if the US ever gets its space program back in high gear. 

They also tend to be more liberal in outlook than I confess I expected; I find the drive-through condom store to be a case in point.  I nearly drove through myself, just to check the going rate, but SOBUMD and I have been married so long that I can’t remember which elbow the condom goes on.  Besides, I was saving my money for pig. 

I wore that Dreamland tee-shirt while flying back to Huntsville this time, and I had no fewer than eight people comment on it – and the Hat, of course, but for a change the Hat took second billing.  Many told me that I needed to go to the original Dreamland, which is in Tuscaloosa.  That being a bit of a hike from Huntsville, the other place I was told to try – by several folks – was Big Bob Gibson’s, across the water in Decatur, Alabama. 

Sunday night, however, was Wintzell’s Oyster House, which was recommended by dint of it being walking distance from my hotel, plus the front desk gave me a coupon.  I dined under the watchful eye and tender care of the delightful and helpful Becca, who told me that despite being an Oyster joint, they had a fantastic Ribeye.  Since I can get a fantastic Ribeye lotsa places, up to and including my house, I stuck with the seafood – fried alligator, fried whitefish, fried crab claws, fried hushpuppies, fried shrimp, fried crab, and oh yeah, oysters.  Fried.  The beer was very good, a local IPA, and the seafood gumbo (which was not, in fact, fried) was one of the best I’ve ever had.  Also in the category of ‘best I’ve ever had’ were the green beans – you simply cannot get green beans cooked like that in the Northern climate, probably because we lack the bacon of our convictions.

Becca also told me that I had to go to Thomas Pit if I wanted really good pig – and when was the last time your check from your waitress included directions to another restaurant?  She used to live behind Thomas Pit and grew up with the smell.  I made a note of it, thanked her, and made my slow way to my hotel, 60 feet away.  By the time I got back to the room, I was pretty fried myself.   

Bathroom Attendant at Greenbrier Restaurant

Bathroom Attendant at Greenbrier Restaurant

On Monday for lunch, on the advice of Good Jim Coleman, I found – in the fullness of time, after driving right past it twice – the Old Greenbrier Restaurant, which boasts a bathroom attendant, great sweet potatoes, and wi-fi.  There’s a big sign as you walk in:  “Try our Sweet Potaters and Wi-Fi!”  It does sound like a hell of a combo meal, but as we know, I came for the pig.  The nice young lady who waved me in set a large basket of fried hushpuppies on the table by way of saying hello; this could have been a meal by itself, and I mean for a family of four.  Their pulled pig plate – and I will have you know that I ordered a “small” – came out with a baked sweet potato the size of my fist (I never did get around to trying the wi-fi), a side of passable cole slaw, and nearly a pound of pig.  They have their own vinegar-based hot sauce; the good news was that it was delightful.  The less good news is that the pig needed it – the flavor was excellent and well smoked, but it was dry enough that the sauce was a blessing.  I have to guess that the pig is probably less dry on a Saturday night. 

Mom's Place

Mom's Place

Leaving Greenbrier I realized that there are, in fact, quite a lot of choices in dining out here – I drove past Mom’s Place, which (unlike in the DC area) doesn’t stand for anything, except insomuch as I’m sure Mom’s stands for a decent lunch and won’t stand for anything less.  If there had been less than a pound of pig on my recent plate, I might have stopped out of curiosity.

Dreamland, Sitting At the Rail of Goodness

Dreamland, Sitting At the Rail of Goodness

Monday’s dinner and Tuesday’s lunch were both at Dreamland, and yes, it’s that good.   We sat in front of the rail – that would be the rail that separates the diners from the fire over which your dinner is cooking, or had been cooking for the previous 8 or 12 hours.   We got to watch one of the pit men throwing hickory logs the size of my leg on the fire.  This is living! 

Tuesday dinner was Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur.  It turns out they don’t focus on ambiance, atmosphere, anything but pig. It was good pig, with sauce that went from good to great to fantastic with the white, bbq, and vinegar sauce, in that order.  The ribs were falling of the bone and completely off the hook – they win for ribs, hands down. 


At Dreamland, the motto is “Ain’t Nothin’ Like ‘Em Nowhere” – and they mean it.  They have decor, including a road sign hung in the men’s room stating “No Dumping Allowed.”   The Greenbrier restaurant seems to have a motto on the order of “we’re as surprised as you are” – which makes some sense, considering the signs in the place have signs on them, most mentioning that these were the original signs put up when the place opened in 1952.  Plus, you know, they have a bathroom attendant. 

Big Bob Gibson’s might have a motto.  If so, I suspect that it says “Big Bob Gibson’s wins BBQ awards.”  The closest thing to a cute sign in the men’s room was a pamphlet on the urinal stating that I was special to someone, and urging me to consider letting Christ in to my heart.  Since my heart was not what I was holding at the time, I left the pamphlet there. 

They have no beer, no pictures, and no TV – not that that last one is a loss, but it did confirm that going elsewhere for dinner and Monday Night Football for the boss the night before had been a really good idea.  I finally put my somewhat greasy, sticky finger on what was lacking:  They had no sense of humor.  There was no banter, there were no smiles.  It could have been a soul food joint, but it lacked soul.  The food really is that good, but you have to be able to smile.  I won’t be back. 

Since there was no laughter, on the way back we made our own, starting with what I’m reliably told is an old and famous furniture store, regrettably named Badcock.  You have to assume that’s a family name – what exactly do you name your sons there?  “Really”?  “Gotta”?   This lasted until we passed “Cumming’s Aeronauticals,” whereupon the remainder of the ride devolved into riffs concerning marriage between these two noble houses – “Mrs. Sawyer Badcock-Cumming, from Afar, AL” being the culmination of about 12 minutes and 8 miles worth of effort. 

There being only one way to clear away the gutter of our minds at this point, we stepped into the bar at the hotel to quench our prodigious thirsts and listen to bad Karaoke being sung badly by people who might once have known better, but for whom, by now, all hope had fled, taking with it their dignity, honor, and sense of pitch.  Since I walked in with none of those things to start with, I was glad to leave before finding Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night on the list.  SOBUMD, when hearing of this, remarked that “at least it would have been short.”  When asked to clarify, she confessed she meant my career, had I sung that – or anything else – for my boss and co-workers.   Ah, fame is such a fleeting, fickle bitch…

Wednesday meetings were early and reasonably quick, and I decided to venture out before finding the airport.  Having no particular destination, and being on my own recognizance, I started out toward the historic part of downtown Huntsville.  I’d been driving all of 8 minutes when a white utility van with some kind of company logo passed me on my right.  I stayed behind him for a few minutes before my brain kicked in and read the name, which was “Smokey’s B-B-Q” over a pair of crossed burning logs.  “Call us for catering!”  Mind you, this was just after noon local time.

Like my close personal friend Dirk Gently, I do not always arrive at my originally intended destination, but I find I usually end up where I need to be.   “Self,” said I, “Follow that van!”  I decided he was probably driving back from dropping off someone’s yummy porcine lunch, and even if he was on the way to drop said lunch off, he had to drive back sometime – and besides, he had Alabama plates.  It couldn’t be that far, right?

It wasn’t that far, but he stopped in front of a Restaurant Supply Store.  When he got out, I explained that I was an itinerant migratory lifeform with a tropism for pulled pork, and he gave me a brochure and apologized for not having any with him so he could give me a sample.  He also gave me directions, and I was right – Smokey’s is local, for reasonable definitions of local.  The directions sounded somewhat familiar, and in a moment got to the words, “You’ll see Thomas Pit on the left, and we’re about three blocks past that.”

Clearly, this was a sign, further oracular intervention from the Road Gods – two people in the food business mentioning Thomas Pit.  The quest was on!  I drove, first, to Smokey’s – as on any quest, certain rules and niceties must be followed, conventions adhered to, if one is to win though to one’s prize. 

Smokey's Takes Umbridge at Being Called Hapless

Smokey's Takes Umbridge at Being Called Hapless

Smokey’s is a walk-up/drive though in Madison, and a copy of the Decatur Daily newspaper was on the wall, highlighted.  Evidently someone there ran a somewhat inadvisable story about how the good, upstanding, and humorless people of Decatur were clearly beloved in heaven since they got to eat at the award-winning Big Bob Gibson’s, while the “hapless people of Madison have to settle for something called Smokey’s.”  That’s a direct quote.  The note included the paper’s phone number for the editorial desk (888-353-4612, if you’re so inclined) and exhorted Smokey’s eaters to give the Decatur Daily a piece of their mind, if not a piece of their pig.   I got the smallest plate of pig I could, and tried it both with and without the sauces – note that the Smokey’s motto is “The Difference is the Sauce!”  The pig was good, with pink smoke lines, nice flavor and texture, on solid par with Big Bob’s and comparing well with Dreamland (although not quite that good) and the hotter of the sauces was the better.  Better hapless than humorless, Decatur.  I thanked them and rolled down the road a short pace to the aforementioned Thomas Pit.

Becca was right. With sauce or without, Thomas Pit has the best pulled pork I’ve ever had. They’ve been doing this since 1932; I guess they’ve got good at it. The place is small and decked out with Western and Texas theme decor, also from 1932 by the looks of it.  I think.  I couldn’t look away from my plate for long – someone might steal my pig!  They have a vinegar hot sauce that is perfectly adequate and wholly unneeded.  This pig needs no adornment.  It’s melt-in-your-mouth pulled pig.  It’s a hot pile of pig that melts in your mouth after exploding with flavor all over your tongue like a razorback hog bursting from a pen toward a feed trough.  Wow.  I have a new number one – that place in Florida, just over the bridge from Amelia Island, isn’t there anymore anyway, and it was only almost this good.  They must have some kind of rub on that pig.

Wow. Thank you Becca!  Thank you dude from Smokey’s!  Thank you to the Road Gods, and to foodies everywhere!

Thomas Pit's Smokehouse

Thomas Pit's Smokehouse

As I drove away around the back, I saw the smoke house and snapped this picture, which does not do justice to the smoke or the smell – you can’t see it very well, but the chimney has flames shooting from it; smoke was seeping out everywhere.  As I watched in rapturous awe, an old pit man stepped out of the door to wipe his brow.  He was sweating like a – he was sweating a LOT.  He looked old enough to be Thomas – there are natural properties of pulled pig and smoke that will preserve a man from 1932 until today – but I suppose probably wasn’t.  I gave him the thumbs up and the shouted superlatives of my assessment and he grinned to the extent he could and said, just like in the movies, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear!” 

I will, Mr. Thomas.  I will. 


Two Scoops of Knickers in a Twist, with Nuts!

21 September, 2011 | | 1 Comment

It’s been a while since I’ve commented directly on the headlines, but some things need sayin’, if you know what I’m sayin’ – and I think you do. 

SNL’s “Schweddy Balls” skit is one of the most low-brow, sophomoric, silly bits of comedy the show ever produced, and as such rightly earned its place in history as one of the funniest 5 minutes of television ever recorded.  (“Oh, I just can’t wait to get my mouth around one of your Schweddy Balls!”)  That Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream would want to leverage that fame to sell their product is understandable; that SNL would want to take money from Ben and Jerry’s, even more so.

That a hodgepodge of humorless harridans would jump up and form MASBIC – Mother’s Against Schweddy Ball Ice Cream – is lovely.  The far right wingnuts now jumping to protect little Johnny from finding out that he not only has a pair, but that his daddy did, too – regardless of whether or not Daddy has any now, after having been married to Mommy for a while – well, all I can say is “Ginger, get the popcorn” because this should be fun to watch.

It’s not like America hasn’t been waiting to get its mouth on some Schweddy Balls for a while now.  (“If you order from Season’s Eatings now, you can still send out a special Schweddy Ball Sack in time.”)  Also, one of the funniest interviews I’ve ever seen was with Molly Shannon, who commented that for the first time since she’d been on the show, she finally had her parents in the audience that night – and they did 5 minutes of ball jokes.  There’s a “Hi Dad,” for you. 

Ben and Jerry’s is, I’m sure, lapping up this controversy – nothing sells like news, and nothing makes news like setting some big Schweddy balls on the table after dinner.  Gosh, I can’t wait to get my mouth around some Schweddy Balls myself!

So come on, folks – Ben and Jerry’s might need our help coming up with some more names.  Carmel Sutra didn’t get boycotted by the MASBIC folks, presumably because the joke went over their heads – I wouldn’t expect someone who gets all worked up over a few glistening, oily, Schweddy Balls to have heard of the Kama Sutra.  And you know, Hubby’s Chubby – no double scoop of entendre there! 

How about Tiger’s Wood – half vanilla, half chocolate, with long hard crunchy sticks of chocolate cookie and swirls of, well, yeah, don’t go there.  Or The Appalachian Trail – with Brazil nuts! 

And if you like chocolate, you’ll love Two Girls One Cone!