Friday, March 30, 2012

WHY DO YOU BLOG?

The following is meant to make you think about why you blog. It is also written to make you look inside yourself and question if you're being as passionate, as bold, and unique as you can be. Thank you Adam Kuban (@akuban) and Adam Roberts (@amateurgourmet) for making me ask myself the same...and because this post weighs as much as a case of Scotch...never let it be said my readers don't get their money's worth!


Ok, so I know what you’re gonna think. “WOW, Pav isn’t afraid to piss on anybody’s Cornflakes!” Settle down people, it’s not what you think.  Today I’m going to be talking about food blogs. Did you catch that…I said BLOGS. I’m not talking about bloggers per se because this is not a personal attack on anybody, but rather a challenge to them.  That being said I’m sure more than a few people will be hacked off and take this as a personal affront to them. To those people I say, “Settle down, it’s not personal…it’s an observation.” Or several…

I was quietly minding my own damned business and writing about the finer points of how I loathe cupcakes when I got a tweet from Adam Kuban. I’m not one who looks at everything that is tweeted my way but as Adam has never steered me wrong, I checked it out. It was a link to the blog http://www.amateurgourmet.com by Adam Roberts. He wrote a post called “Are Food Blogs Over?”

My knee jerk reaction was “holy shnikes I hope the hell not!” After all, I just started blogging in December of last year…barely! I still have so much to talk about! I was compelled to leave a comment but on my way down to the bottom I read some really thought provoking comments. Being so inspired I could hardly wait to leave my two cents worth and get back here so I could put down my contempt for cupcake piece, and get out my soap box to talk about blogs.

It was mid-December and I was bored, and bummed by the fact that my favorite blog linecook415 hadn’t posted in months. I was looking for someone in the entire food loving world that had something different to say, something I hadn’t seen before…by anyone. I don’t mind the odd look at the pretty pictures of what was cooked and here is how I did it kind of blog for a little inspiration but let’s face it…these things are everywhere…just in various shades of gray. Then you have the food blogs that take recipes from books and the people show you and tell you in great detail, something I could have figured out had I bought the damned cook book they got it out of! That's when I decided to start writing my own blog...for better or worse.

I’m not saying this is wrong, or this is bad….but what ever happened to being different? I suppose you could make the argument that you’re doing it to soothe your soul. You could be like “Hey Pav, suck it buddy….I’m doing this because I like it and it allows friends and family to see what I’m doing!” To those folks I say fair enough, I’m sorry and good luck to you with your future endeavors. But there are plenty of folks out there and I’ll include myself in the mix, that are doing it for other reasons.

I know what your argument is going to be and before you say it allow me to head you off at the pass…Do what you love, and if you can make money doing it…then great! I for one love what I do. I also love how whiteout smells… where was I going with that? Oh, I love what I do…I love to write about food.

Am I any good at it? Probably not, but a few of my close lunatic friends and some family members seem to like it and I get to talk to other people I would have never met otherwise. So I’m gonna keep on blogging until my laptop runs out of pixels. That being said, you’d be stupid to do this if you didn’t love it. You have to love blogging first and foremost or you’ll never be a success at it…if, that is your intention. (That’s what you were going to say wasn’t it?!)

 So you’re doing it for love of food….great, let me ask you a question… If you're getting paid for Blogging are you still as passionate about it...are you still being as bold or cutting edge as you were before you started getting paid? I’d monetize mine but it hardly seems like a good idea to subject five family members and a few friends to twenty different ads every time I post.
Besides that, I know most of my friends are penny pinching bastards that wouldn’t click on an ad if it paid them in sausage and beer…..come to think of it! It’s fine you’ve monetized your site and I’m probably a bit jealous that it makes sense for you, except that’s not why I’m doing this. So let’s talk a bit about me and see why I do this…

I myself am a self-admitted attention whore, and feel like I have something different to say about food. Also, since I was a little kid I always liked to make people laugh.  Through humor and food I get that attention without having to eat fire or jump over a burning pit of oil…although I understand fire can be very tasty. At the same time I hope my readers get something out of what I talk about if nothing more than a chuckle. I’m sure that some of you crave the attention but probably aren’t prepared to say it. Here's why I can...

I am opinionated and verbose because I was quiet and got talked over a lot when I was young. I was also the chubby little kid who rather than get picked on, came up with a self deprecating sense of humor as a defense mechanism. I put up with this until I got sick of it and one day I just started talking back over the top of the people who were talking over me. I wasn't the soft spoken person I had been and having grown six inches the previous summer, I wasn't the chubby kid either.
 “So that’s what’s wrong with Pav?!” Well, that’s the day Pavlov was born, but we’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say I’m a Leo and I like to try and be the life of the party, even if the party only consists of me…I’m good with that.
So that’s why I do what I do. Although I’m not against taking a check from William Sonoma provided they didn’t see my piece on “Bill Fresno” or hell, even if they did! It would be better than hitting The Cat up for a personal loan every other day and pulling apart the couch for spare change.

The following is a reply to a comment on the post I read, from a blogger named Rona. Rona believed what the blog world needed was more spit and polish…I humbly disagree. Rona has a fine blog, but I think she’s missing the boat on why food blogs are so flat, boring and flooding the internet with mediocre.
I’ve touched it up a bit as my fingers were moving faster than my brain and I said a picture is worth a thousand pictures (DUH!) and have since put more thought into it…but this is the general idea .

Rona, I'm pretty sure what the food blogging world needs is a little less polish, a little less B.S.,  and a little more raw. My blog has very few pictures because as far as I'm concerned people take the thousand words that picture is supposed to be worth and flush them down the toilet. People get into the habit of scanning down the pretty pictures... see the money shot then skip right on out thinking they got the idea of the post.  I mean really, what is the point in that?!

The last thing I want to hear from a blogger is B.S. infinitely descriptive crap about how a sous vide egg atop a frisee salad on top of poached salmon is worthy of "War and Peace." It's an egg, on top of frisee, with celeriac dressing, on top of salmon....that's too many words already!

If you're a good writer, and people follow you and trust you... it almost never has anything to do with the four hundred word description of an egg on salmon review. It has to do with the fact they like you, or your content and style of writing…or one would hope. Is my style of blogging better than yours? Probably not, but the one thing it does have going for it…is that it’s different.
I keep it personal, and I keep it simple when I talk about a particular dish or review. (By bringing out what it evokes in me) I personally believe there are too many restaurant and menu reviews, especially in this age of Urbanspoon, Trip Advisor, Yelp, etc…But that’s another story.

That all being said it's a great big freakin world, with lots to eat and talk about with regards to food.... there is more than enough room for everybody to blog and be heard... (Well almost everybody… I mean someone has to cook) especially the amateurs.
Amateur from the Latin root “amator” which means “lover”. Who wouldn’t want an inexperienced lover? Ok bad example…but someone wearing their feelings about food on their napkin, seeing through their eyes a fresh new perspective on something that you may find old and you’re jaded by.  

Is the fall of Rome descending on the food blogging world? Not a chance in hell, and on top of that… not even close. But it could use a kick in the pants…Let’s start doing more guest posts, let’s get out of our comfort zone and say something thought provoking, let’s all go streaking through the quad!
Dare to be different people...Stop being one dimensional. Step out of that warm comfy box and run towards the light…unless of course you’re living in a subway tunnel. Good luck fellow bloggers. Now where was I…oh yeah…those dastardly cupcakes…

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WINTER...WAIT! (WEIGHT)



I don’t know what it is about eating healthier, but for some people it seems to come easier than for others. I see you, size zero lady happily munching on a bowl of greens n things with what amounts to a teaspoon of dressing. With a sated look on your face you replace the cover on a half-eaten salad and I think to myself…What planet are you from!? I on the other hand would finish the salad and continue on with my meal of fish tacos with a side of cilantro lime rice convincing myself I had done the right and healthy thing by eating a salad first. My pants on the other hand tell me otherwise.

So every year about this time I make a concerted effort to do the right thing and start to do battle with the pot au feu, lobster mac n cheese and freezer full of Ben and Jerry’s I ate the previous 6 months give or take 2 months… ok ok give 2 months. I dread those first few days when you know damned well a sweatshirt is not only inappropriate, but it just makes you look downright insane. Sixty degrees is alright, seventy is meh, but at eighty degrees the whole “I lived in Alabama for 11 years so I’m just not used to the cold” alibi doesn’t hold much water.

I start with the concept that if I switch it up and make different salads, vegetable oriented sides instead of buttery mashed potato with cream, cracked black pepper, chives and a nice bit of salt… and maybe some lardon of bacon or shredded gruyere…wait…what was I talking about?! Oh, right…so lighter sides with smaller meat portions and skipping dessert should have me ship shape in no time…and by “no time” I mean August.

I suppose if I went to the gym more often instead of hitting the “stair master” (this is what I lovingly call the three steps leading into the liquor store) I could probably cut that time by a third. I suppose I could also purchase that Bugatti Veyron and live in Malibu if I just made forty million a year, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t gonna happen either. It’s not for the lack of trying mind you…I do have a gym membership and I do go, but people of my genetic composition are not predisposed to being rail thin.

I am blessed with low cholesterol and triglycerides plus a strong ticker but a number approaching my score for an average round of golf for a body mass index, can’t be healthy. I can’t do any finger pointing at my ancestry as they did the best they could living in regions of the world where fist fighting Neanderthals or turning into human popsicles was fairly common. Heck, by the time you hit thirty you were positively considered geriatric!

Working grill or sauté station in a professional kitchen was great for keeping the weight off. When the insta read thermometer hits 120F (49C) on a nightly basis it is good for making a body sweat a little. It is also good training if you plan on running a jackhammer in hell for all eternity or opening a blanket in Al’Aziziyah, Libya.

The weight loss benefits of working the line are offset by the color your skin takes on by never being in direct sunlight. You end up looking like an extra for “Walking Dead” but with less color. While your exposed skin is bathed in artificial light, your unexposed sweaty skin is rubbed lovingly hour after hour by your chef’s coat and check pants. These have all the comfort of thirty grit sandpaper but without the absorbency. So you look like a poster of what one might see going to the dermatologist’s office, or a who’s who of dermatological anomalies.

Sitting in front of a keyboard is the antithesis of working the line but instead of bitching about the heat, I find myself bitching about having to get up to grab the snack I made. I forgot to get it when I went to check on the laundry that has been sitting in the washer for two days, instead of the dryer which is where I thought it was. I must have seen a pretty color or a bird flying by, or “The Cat” was practicing some kind of card trick. So this type of “exercise” does me no good in helping achieve my goal of looking like a sexier version of Brad Pitt.

So I start out strong doing different salads, grilled vegetables, nice piece of fish with exotic salsa’s or chicken and various spices to add flavor and punch to what can become a fairly boring meal. I do well through the spring months with this regimen and get half way through the summer before the locomotive starts to run low on coal. The problem I have is not being able to eat when it gets hot outside. Lunch becomes tedious and the thought of having to eat makes me more irritable than the members of Metallica being forced to sit through a Michael Bolton concert.

So in the evening when I get into my nicely air conditioned (translation: 59 degrees because the thermostat doesn’t go down to 58 degrees) home, I could eat the ass out of a dead skunk! Portion size is definitely the problem and I have to tell myself that four chicken breasts are not a normal portion size…even though my brain always comes back with…”But it’s chicken!”

“But Pav, you should eat five or six mini meals a day…this will kick your metabolism into high gear!” Let me tell you poor, innocent, well-meaning people something about my metabolism. When I was in the eighth grade I weighed 196 pounds just before my first weightlifting tournament… that was the last time I weighed less than two hundred pounds. At that time I was hiking, running, playing football, hockey, baseball and in the summer… riding my bike to the lake every day to swim. I’m pretty sure my metabolism got up in the middle of the night when I was four, stole the money I was supposed to get from the tooth fairy and ran off to join the circus!

Besides this metabolism thingy I don’t have, the other thing I don’t have is time…the time to eat five or six mini meals a day much less the time to prepare them. If I were to eat five or six times a day I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t find it any more satisfying than wanting a few large Jameson and Gingers, only to have someone give me shots of Jameson five or six times…Ok maybe we’re on to something here, with the Jameson that is.

So by the time we get to the end of summer beginning of fall I am finally hitting my stride from a weight standpoint and even feeling good about myself to the point I’ll go out in the daytime. But by this time I’m just eating the same salad every couple of days and dry chicken and green beans the other days because…well because screw them that’s why. Misery loves company and if I’m gonna be miserable so is my food.

*I think this is due to the puritanical streak that runs through most New Englanders as they start off fresh with hope during Red Sox spring training, only to be crushed after the all-star break. Even being 20 games out of first place the end of September they will still watch the games as if the pain only makes them stronger. When in fact, it just makes them hurt more, but I guess we like it that way.

*(I precluded myself from the previous Red Sox analogy as I am a self-confessed Yankee fan, and for that I make no apologies. I saw way too many of the aforementioned seasons when I was a kid to ever be a fan of that Boston team but for my father’s sake and in his memory, I’ll never hate them. But I can say, if you’re watching Dad…you may want to round JC and the boys up and send them to Boston this year…it looks like they’re gonna need it! )  

So I’ll start my dietary journey with renewed hope and blind faith that this year will be different. This year I’m going to always be eating healthy, and the variety will be mind blowing. I’ll be sure to hit every farmers market to get the finest, freshest produce and eat the leanest meats I can get my hands on. In the meantime I’ll be rocking the shorts and t-shirts. If this cooler weather we’ve had for the past few days continues I’ll throw on a hoodie…but its definitely gonna get taken off, come July….ish.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SWEAT PANTS OR SALAD?

Well the fact that it is now 84 degrees and only the 22nd of March can only mean one thing…I can’t keep wearing a jacket to hide my winter weight anymore without risking dehydration, being misidentified as Unabomber part deux or pulled into the back room of every store I go to and frisked for stolen merchandise. Yes dammit it’s that time of year again…it’s time to drop a couple pounds.

Normally this diet would start the end of April or the beginning of May here in New Hampshire…but with an unusually mild winter this year Mother Nature has seen fit to drag my ass out of hibernation mode and into that awful place called reality. This is a place I have always been comfortable in, if not happy with. I have always been what southerners like to call a “Biggin” (e.g…”he’s a Biggin!”) size.
So I have known diets to be part of my eating regimen all my life…or at least whenever I knew I had a date coming up. Thanks in part to genetics (and a steady diet of whatever the hell I want to eat) I’m of Acadian French, Scottish, English and Irish descent or what people around here lovingly call...a swamp Yankee.

To be kind I have descended from a hearty stock of people who were not known for their mad basketball or 100 meter freestyle swimming skills…but rather their ability to survive in cold mountainous terrain with little but a sheep’s stomach filled with bits of this and that while simultaneously being able to take more pain, and inflict more punishment on people trying to steal their parcel of rocky untillable land.
To these people having un unnecessarily long or lanky body meant there were more places you had to protect from a sharp instrument of death or at the very least bodily harm. To say I’m stocky might be an overstatement…Ok I’m basically built like a brick standing on end. So a few extra pounds added to my rather rectangular frame in the summer are not flattering but rather… fattering.

Anyway, this is the time of year I will put down the pot au feu and pick up salads and sandwiches, light on meat, heavy on the vegetables. And since I wrote my cynical piece on locavores I have taken a step back and decided that if it is at all possible to eat locally sourced produce I would. I can be a smart ass all I want, but the fact that I could eat something of better quality, and support my local economy seems like a win win to me.

So yesterday I decided I would try my new way of thinking about food with a nice sandwich. I had eaten at this particular restaurant several times before but was always disappointed. Armed with my new food ethos, I just knew my fortunes here were about to change. “Yup?” This was the fabulous greeting I received, and already I was excited. With this kind of enthusiasm, how could I possibly get a bad sandwich?!
Besides that I was ordering a vegetarian sandwich which means that their awful meat’s services (Which could aptly be described as approaching that of pressed gerbil or smoked guinea pig meat, but of lower quality so as to be fair to the noble hardworking gerbil and guinea pig) would not be required.

Yeah, I’m gonna have a wheat grinder roll with just vegetables. (“grinder” to recap… is what Subs, Heroes and Hoagies are called here in hee haw hell) “What size do you want?” What sizes do you have? With all the strength, energy and pizazz he could muster, and with what looked like an homage to those models on “The Price is Right”.
You know these bubble heads, they put on a fake captain's hat with the low cut, tight fitting barely covering their Nah Nah nautical outfit and stand on the sailboat you could win doing the ahoy matey look to each other, and then slowly wave their hand over the poop deck with their palm facing out…as if you would have no idea what it is a boat does, or even is. (Truth is, I'd buy one of these boat contraptions if it came fully equipped with a pair of these...but I digress) Anyway, he slowly did the wave towards the two sizes of rolls they offered. I told him I would like the big one.

Taking the roll and cutting it with laser like precision and in less than five minutes, he passed the now gaping roll onto the next person whom I can only assume was a serious craftsperson or even an artist…and his canvas, was a butterflied wheat roll. This mighty man of sandwich toppings would have his work cut out for him today however, as I was going local…and I was sticking to my guns. “Whatta you want on it?” This was the first volley, fired at me with pinpoint accuracy. With equally deadly precision and no hesitation I shot right back at him…Hmmmmmm.

I said the lettuce looks great, to this he picked some up and added it to the sandwich…I said, is it local? “Huh?” I could tell this was a question of serious weight for the young lad and he carefully weighed his responses…”Whatta ya mean?” I said, is it from a farm near here? “Uh, no?” This guy was sharp and on his toes…I could see he had a keen intellect and enjoyed the mental sparring that was taking place. I said well, no then… I don’t want it. To this he proceeded to dump the lettuce back into the lettuce insert from atop the lettuce laden roll.

The tomatoes you have look decent. “Do you want tomatoes?” Are they local? “I don’t think so.” Then no. How about the black olives, are they local? “I don’t think so, they’re from a can.” I said, well I don’t recall seeing a canning plant or olive trees on the way here so you’re probably right. The onions… are they local? “No, I’m pretty sure they aren’t.” Well what kind are they? “I think the white kind.” I see…the always yummy white kind…well what do you have that’s local for produce? “What’s produce?!” Produce is the stuff you’re putting on the sandwiches minus the meats, cheese and dressings. “Oh..uh…nothing?” Well tell me this…is any of it organic? “Uh…” You know what, never mind.

“Do you want cheese on it?” I said sure, is that Swiss made locally? “Uh, I think it’s from Canada.” Well, who would know Swiss cheese better than Canadians right…hahaha. “Whatta ya mean?” Oh boy…you know what, the Cheddar… is it Vermont cheddar? “I’m not sure, do you want me to call somebody and ask?” I said no, that’s fine I’d hate to put you out just for me… the customer. “Ok, good” was his response… I was really starting to like this kid, or feel sorry for him not sure which.

“Do you want any mayo, mustard, oil or salt and pepper?” Wow, he was really going for this so I obliged him and said well as I’m trying to drop a few pounds, I think I’ll skip the condiments and just a little salt and pepper please. He shook it on the naked roll and asked if there would be anything else. “I can toast it if you like?’ I thought this might enhance the tastiness, but at the risk of drying out what had in my previous experiences been an already too dry roll I declined his offer. I ordered a diet soda and watched him wrap my sandwich which I took immediately to the table and unwrapped so it would be at its peak of freshness.

I got my soda and asked for an additional napkin as I assumed this would be messy. (It turned out not to be) The roll was nicely seasoned but a lot on the dry side. I can only assume the little moistness it did have was from the lettuce that was accidentally laid on it. The filling to bread ratio was a bit lopsided tipping in the roll’s favor. But all in all it was borderline amazing compared to every other sandwich I had ever had at this restaurant. In my humble opinion this particular sandwich should be their marquee sandwich. No messy melty cheese, no hamster meat and no pre sliced produce with artificial colors or flavors (yeah I just said that…look it up) from every far flung corner of the planet to mask what is undoubtedly their best sandwich…all this goodness for only five dollars plus the cost of a drink, I feel like I’m robbing the place!

I would pay double for this sandwich just for the ease of eating it. I mean really, from a meat standpoint it’s on par with the amount you would actually get in any of their other meat centric sandwiches. This sandwich is better however as it has the ancillary benefit of the consumer not actually having to remove the meat by hand due to its “suck factor”. (And by suck factor I mean…how badly it actually sucks) Slimy tomatoes and cucumbers never have to be removed, and the flavorless sliced black olives never have to be flown in from…well wherever flavorless black olives grow.

Near as I can tell the only thing this “Pavwich” would slow down is the production speed…well what with the give and take of banter between the customer and the “Artist.” It would make for a more personally rewarding experience on a human level, but there are some patrons who may not enjoy this same symbiotic relationship I am fulfilled by. Let’s just call that one a wash.

Price point like I said was a great value although I think seven dollars might be fairer just for the entertainment value added to “the experience.” Come to think of it, maybe they could take a page out of “Dick’s Last Resort Bar in Boston” and as soon as you walk through the door have one or more staff members tell you to go F#@k yourself… maybe cut off an article of your clothing for good measure…they could then charge more for nearly everything.

All in all I was floored by how good everything was, and the smell of cleaning fluid sprayed on the table next to me while I ate, only seemed to enhance the flavor. I was only able to eat half of my sandwich, but you can bet I’ll be taking the rest home. I’ll finish it while writing my review of this restaurant that apparently has turned things around to the point I feel I can give a stunning recommendation to you good, kind and fair people.
Fear not my friends for you don’t have to travel to New Hampshire for this amazing “Pavwich”. (I think I’ll write them and see if we can’t get this sandwich named after me so until then let’s just say this is copyrighted) I have personally seen these located in other states but had no idea how good they could be until now.

Get off your butt and run, don’t walk to the nearest Subway restaurant. Hell you can even drive to some and get gas along with a carton of Marlboro’s and a pound of beef jerky at the same time! Ask for the Pavwich (give that a week or two) and then drop me a line. I’ll go ahead and give you a great big YOU ARE WELCOME… right here and now. Oh, and when you are at the counter at your local Go-Go Mart/Subway retailer, go ahead and get us a lotto ticket…If we win, I promise I’ll give you your dollar…If we don’t win…I’ll get you The Cat’s cell number…but be careful as he’s been to Dick’s Last Resort Bar lots of times…He’s picked up a few things in the potty mouth department!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SUSHI BLUES

Sushi, if it is of the highest quality and fresh it should be amazing, a treat for the eyes and mouth, delicious, colorful, it offers a great variety of fish so it’s versatile and yet…I just don’t get it. I agreed to go with my friend for sushi and she swears I should like it based on the fact that it’s relatively healthy, fresh, delicious and besides that, I never go out for sushi with her or our mutual friends. Rather than eat sushi I prefer to stay home and rearange my pesky sock drawer. I only agreed to go for sushi with her because I had tricked her into liking both duck and lamb which are two of my favorites, while she insisted she hated both. I did it on the premise that if it was of good quality and prepared well she should or would like them both. Let me explain, so you can see how I eneded up on a perfectly good Sunday afternoon...eating sushi.
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Without her knowing, I devised a devious plan to show her how good lamb and duck could be. I invited her to a good restaurant I knew, and convinced her I should order for both of us… The waiter arrived, and pointing to the menu ordered an appetizer and the mains. I told her that I had ordered her venison (which she likes but what I actually ordered her was lamb). I would be having beef, (really duck) which I ordered medium rare. I had only planned to trick her into eating one of the two meats, and had ordered the duck because I like it, and felt that if she didn't like the lamb maybe I could goad her into eating some duck. She was away when the meals arrived and I saw this as an opportunity... this gave me time to devour the crispy and oh so delicious skin from the duck then topped it with some of the wine reduction I had ordered on the side.

She returned and began happily eating her food oblivious to the fact that it was actually lamb. I cut a piece from my duck and offered it to her and she ate that with a smile and an “mmmmm….so tender"...AH HA! After dinner and with a smile on my face I filled her in on my deceitful behavior. She was floored at first with disbelief, and with a smack on the arm and a grimace quickly fading to a smile said, “payback is a bitch!” In my new found stupidity I made the comment “I told you if it was good quality and prepared well, you’d like it!” I continued my celebratory drink with a side of smug until a devilish smile came across her face…using the same logic I had used she said, "so if you had really good quality sushi prepared well you should like it too!" Dammit! Live by the sword….

The fact is I’ve never disliked sushi. I’m even quite positive I’ve had good sushi, which is to say fresh and doesn’t smell like a chum bucket, or a bag of ass.  Let me take you back to the ancient times of Pav, say…when I was five or sixish.  “If you want to, you can put cocktail sauce on it…most kids don’t care for these without sauce.” Those were the words of a family friend who had just come from the Seabrook, NH where you could dig for clams on the sandy Atlantic coast. (This was back before the nuclear plant and three legged, one eyed, 5 pound and glowing cherrystone clams were the norm…I’m kidding, they’re not really 5 pounds now) They had big coolers filled with cherrystone clams, mahogany clams, steamers and oysters. He held one out, a freshly shucked cherrystone clam only smelling clean and slightly of the sea…I saw all the other kids eating theirs with cocktail sauce… I took this as sort of a dare.

Whenever someone has said such things to me as “well, you’ll need a lot of sugar in that espresso if you’ve never had it before.” Or “Mako shark?! You’ve never had Mako shark…I can’t believe you’re gonna like it.” I would be quite the contrarian in these situations and would rather eat a turd sandwich and smile, than give someone the satisfaction of taking their advice on how to eat anything.  I guess deep down I’ve always been a nonconformist of sorts, so when presented thusly with a challenge… I’d rather go my own way and buck the trend.


I’ve done this with Moxie (which I enjoy the taste of to this day) and I’ve done this with a 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix and my friend John thought he’d be funny telling me In a sarcastic manner “I’ll bet you can’t go faster around this corner”…I proved him wrong at the expense of about 20 small saplings and a totaled 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix. I’d do that again just for the price of seeing the look on his face.  Luckily, nobody was the worse for wear and there are plenty of trees growing where the saplings once stood, so relax arborday.org.

So turning back to the family friend holding out the cherry stone, I smiled and without a nod towards the “sauce” slurped it back… I don’t know what I was expecting, but the taste was chewy, slightly salty, fresh and pleasant although it translated a bit towards slimy but not enough to trip the gag reflex. I think the slight tilt towards slimy must have showed on my face and he chuckled a bit followed by “It’s the number one most slimy thing, but only the second best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth son…” What the heck was he talking about… regardless, from that moment I was on my way to raw seafood Nirvana. I had dozens of cherry stone clams and freshly shucked oysters still wet with ocean water from that morning…I tried “the sauce” but preferred them au natural.

As I said before, I never had ethnic food until I was in my late teens…and where I am from the only people I knew silly enough to eat raw fish were the crazy Finnish people I grew up with. They were always bringing raw or pickled fish to school in glass jars as snacks and eaten with pickled onion or on crackers. The thought of actually going to a restaurant for such food would surely be foolhardy. So I’d have to say the first time I ever had sushi I was at a training seminar I had gone to for work in Houston, Texas where the evening meal was preceded by sushi appetizers. They explained we would have Nigiri, Gunkan, Norimaki and Temaki styles of sushi…not sure what all these “styles” of sushi were, but I’d seen people on TV eat it so it must not be lethal…and therefore…edible!

Everyone was excited about sushi except for the five foot four inch Texan I called Donnie “Brasco” whom I was sitting next to…”We have this over in Galveston where I’m from…we call it bait!”I didn't share in his discontent as I was truly excited. I was now 27 had never had sushi, and the food had been excellent all week so I was expecting this would be no different… I couldn’t wait. I had heard so much about the wonders of sushi, and suddenly there it was. Sushi chefs cranking the rolls out as fast as their hands could work. I went up with a friend who was a sushi eater from way back and deemed this to be some of the best he ever had.

I sat down and looked at the few pieces I had gotten…Toro, Snapper, Octopus, salmon with some kind of green thing wrapped around it, a little green cup thingy filled with some yellowish pink stuff and one filled with something resembling little pearls more orange in color…”You may want to try putting some soy sauce in this bowl for dipping…and the green stuff is wasabi, you can put that on the different sushi as well…” Ah, a dare! True to form I tried several pieces of sushi without any of the suggested additives to judge for myself what was good… to my surprise, it was all good….really good in fact, but it seemed to be missing something.

 Not familiar with the “green stuff” I took a healthy dollop and added it and stuffed it in my face not knowing it was strong like freshly made horseradish…This was an immediate flashback to when I was a kid as my grandfather used to make his own horseradish, and loved when us grandkids would take a whiff.  After doing so our eyes would water, our faces would purse up, and gramp would chuckle…I suppose in the same way parents get a chuckle giving their children pickles or lemon for the first time.
Either way, I still enjoy horseradish to this day…but not in the amount I had put on my sushi. My eyes watered and I could feel the vapors escaping my nose with a sting. This was not the flavor I was looking for…at least not that much. I tried dipping in the soy and it was fine…. But just tasted like soy and masked the mild fish. Anyway, I got done playing with and eating the sushi for now as it was nearly time for the “real” meal. Well right after we get our pictures taken atop a very pissy looking Longhorn Steer…this should be interesting.

I have had sushi many times since both as an appetizer, and as an entire meal. I have never had “bad” sushi, as eating raw fish is something I take pretty seriously. Well seriously enough that bargain sushi has always seemed a bit dubious to me. I’d rather spend a few bucks extra for a place with a good reputation for sushi instead of a few dozen hours sweating, delirious and in a conundrum as to which end of my body I should be pointing at a toilet.  I have always known that really good, really fresh fish was to have a very mild flavor with almost zero smell. To me this translates to a somewhat flavorless sushi unless you are getting a stronger flavored fish like bluefish or mackerel. Dipping in soy to me results in soy flavored rice, and adding wasabi or pickled ginger only adds their flavors to something that is somewhat devoid of flavor to begin with.

At the suggested sushi place at the appointed time (High noon) I began ordering a variety of sushi I’m sure would encompass a wide variety of flavors and textures. The plates came loaded with sushi and I filled the obligatory bowl with soy sauce and waited…my friend sat happy as a pig in…well whatever it is pigs are happy in…I know this pig (me) would be happy in a Bugatti Veyron…but that’s a horse of another color. I ate a piece or two of everything…every style, every variety, every dipping, no dipping, dunking and topping variation I could come up with but there was only one thing that came to my mind the whole time I ate…

I finished my sushi extravaganza and put down my chopsticks…I could see my friend was anxious for the verdict. “Well…” she asked?  It was fine I replied… “Just fine” She responded!? It was good, fine, nice, excellent, super, yummo... it’s just that…I dunno…I can't believe I'm gonna say this...palate fatigue. To that I got the eye rolling and a wrinkled nose…”is this one of those made up culinary terms?!” I said no, well yes…I mean… it actually exists but I never really felt it myself until now. The sushi tastes really good… but as an entire meal it just tastes of the same texture and roughly the same flavors bite after bite after bite. “So does this mean you won't go for sushi anymore?” Of course I will I assured her…You can come too, but I’ll be the one eating miso soup, yakitori and gyoza…and maybe a piece or two of octopus Nigiri…

So like I said it’s not that I don’t like sushi, I just don’t know sushi. No, I didn’t have California rolls, and no I didn’t have anything with cream cheese in it for all you naysayers out there. (Although I have before at one of “the best” sushi restaurants in Knoxville, TN…a proverbial hotbed of great sushi restaurants) This was legitimate sushi from a legitimate sushi place where the guy preparing it wasn’t named Kip or Ned. I can eat it fine, and it tastes fine… I just don’t want it for an entire meal. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t know all there is to know about sushi, and would be open to going for sushi with my Asian friends given the opportunity…as long as they’re open to me being an idiot, who is out of his depth with regards to Asian cuisine...and aren't afraid to pass the sake!

どうもありがとうございました

私の猫は私の背後にある

OCTOPUS WAS MY FAVORITE

ONE OF TWO DIFFERENT PLATES OF SUSHI WE ORDERED

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

PAPA JOE'S NOT SO HUMBLE BURGERS

Humble Burger

Papa Joe's


Cardiac Burger

Finishing up my road trip from Tennessee to New Hampshire last Thursday I’d pretty much had it with road food which is to say, two grinders, twelve hot dogs, four burgers, an evening of fine dining at Cracker Barrel in east jockstrap Virginia, enough Maalox to float an aircraft carrier and a partridge in a pear tree. So when my buddy John suggested we go to a “great” burger joint in a town just before getting to the finish line of this three day driving and eating marathon, I was weary but obliged. After all, I had dragged him through more dives and jerkwater towns than a buddy has a right to, and he came through with flying colors.

Just pulling into the parking area of this place made me smile as it consisted of about eight or so spaces. Then there was the name, Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen… humble indeed as it was a small place with a very mom and pop quality to it that continued on into the limited country feeling dining area. The dining area consisted of exactly two tables (one covered in homemade pies and pastries) and perhaps six stools at a lunch counter, and another table outside on the porch that ran the width of the quaint building. There were four people inside and already it had a somewhat cozy feeling to it.

John and I stood in front of the ordering area and looked up at the menu board… POUTINE!? Damn you Chef Joe, why must you tempt me! I was thinking burger as John told me this is what they were good at so I went fairly simple and ordered the Humble Ken Burger. The “Humble Ken” is a six ounce burger that is scooped and smashed on the grill, seasoned, then served with lettuce, tomato, and pickles… I then added a slice of white American cheese. John ordered a “Skip’s Cardiac” burger (disliked the name as it smacked of Cardiac Grill, but a small point) a two scoop (two patties) burger (Cajun and Buffalo) with genoa salami, pepper jack cheese, onion rings, cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapenos, lettuce and creole mayo… he also got a side of fries.

We found a place at the counter and hunkered down to some conversation. I asked John how long this place had been here and when he told me two years you could have knocked me over with a feather. Two years I asked? “Yeah, two years or so…why?” I was thinking to myself, if I hadn’t heard of the place in two years how good could it be? I’m not saying New Hampshire is small, but if my mom were cooking lasagna on the other side of the state, I’d probably smell it. Restaurants getting good press or word of mouth are something you hear about immediately, especially in the cibo circles I tend to run in. But apparently a local television show “Chronicle” had done a segment on them and from all accounts it was quite flattering.

The food arrived and I cut my burger open to reveal a nice pink center. The burger had nice char to it and excellent seasoning…come to think of it… what is that great seasoning? Seasoning in a spray bottle, I’m digging it and thinking of doing something similar with the spray bottle I use to keep the cat from climbing my stereo speakers, just as soon as I get the barbed wire and electric fence in place. The brioche style buns were nicely toasted although somewhat small but this made for the perfect bun to burger ratio, and was just hardy enough to hold everything together. The vegetables were fresh, and properly portioned with tasty sliced pickles on top which set the tone of any burger for me.

John likes his burgers cooked to medium which is typically a challenge for most places but not for Chef Joe, the burgers were cooked to medium but remained juicy. This is however where the bun showed it’s weakness, it held together fine for one patty but didn’t do so well with two and fell apart quicker than the Red Sox after the all-star break. All the ingredients worked very well together in a symphony that even Mozart couldn’t have improved upon. Nicely crunchy onion rings, the bite of jalapeno, a bit of salami twang, smoky bacon and crisp lettuce played off each other well. As far as the bun is concerned I am a person who doesn’t mind a sloppy burger, especially one with so many ingredients involved, but I know this is an issue for others.

Do you want fries with that? Well sadly, not if you happen to have an aversion to frozen French fries. How can they offer poutine and not have hand cut fries? I don’t happen to mind frozen fries if they are the correct size as these were, but I would think they’d want to guild the lily a bit. No matter, as the onion rings are delicious, hand cut and coated for a nice flavor and crunch, plus they’re the correct size instead of going for the jumbo ring so many places are so wrong headedly aiming for. The price also stuck out as reasonable with regular fries at $1.75, onion rings for $2.99, my Humble burger being $4.50 and John’s top of the line Cardiac burger going for $6.99, everything else was priced in between giving you a good value.

Overall, Papa Joe’s is a great place to get a burger or two and some onion rings. On a nice day there are plenty of tables next to the restaurant to enjoy your meal. For me, even in the dead of winter I’d be willing to dive into the rugby scrum worth of people that ended up there to get my hands on another burger. I hadn’t heard of Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen before now, but it seems as though a lot of other people have. I’m just hoping the rest of New England doesn’t hear about it or Joe will have to build a new industrial sized restaurant and put it out on I-93 next to the industrial sized liquor store to give easy access for the H2 loads of flatlanders looking for both cheap liquor and great burgers…on second thought, I wonder if he’d be open to franchising.

Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen
237 South Street
Milford, NH 03055

603-672-9130www.papajoeshumblekitchen.com


Sunday, March 18, 2012

BUENOS DÍAS Y FELICES FIESTAS! (good morning and happy holidays)

My friend Madelyn Rodriguez (She’s a vegetarian... see I really do have vegetarian friends!) wrote this nice piece about Puerto Rican traditional holiday dishes for Serious Eats as part of a series they were doing called culinary ambassadors. Well for one reason or another it didn’t get used, but I have every intention of not letting this good traditional Puerto Rican food go to waste. It was written for Christmas time, but I’m always good to go for some Arroz con Gandules! So get ready to get your Latin on (Put away the toga, not that kind of Latin!), download some Taíno to your IPod, put on some sun screen and imagine the smells coming from the kitchen that’s cooking these dishes (or you could get off your butts and try making some of these dishes yourselves)…cause it’s fixing to get hot in here! When you get done reading go ahead over to her blog and enjoy yourselves, because the dishes all look so good…now if only they had some meat in them…

volumen de la música y la danza! ¡Feliz Navidad!
(Turn up the music and dance! Merry Christmas!)*
*at least this is what it says according to google translate. Talking to my friend Hanneke from the Netherlands, Google is not very good...apparently after sending a translated message about The Cat in Dutch...Henneke wondered what my fascination with "watching kittens having sex" was all about....well at least it got the cat part right...Oy vey! 

Puerto Rico celebrates the best holidays in the world… and the longest ones too.  Our Holiday season start right after Thanksgiving and they last until the middle of January with the Fiestas de San Sebastián.  Locally, we call them Navidades and to me, it’s the best time of the year to visit Puerto Rico.

The typical Navidades menu consists of: 

Pernil/Lechón Asao – this is typically a whole pig roasted on a pit or for smaller gatherings just the rear leg of the pork.  It’s seasoned heavily with lots of adobo, garlic and oregano and the most prized part is the crispy skin or “chicharrón” o “cuerito”.

Rice with Pigeon Peas (Arroz con Gandules) – this is a yellow rice cooked together with pigeon peas seasoned with sazón, achiote and sofrito.

Pasteles – This is a patty made with ground green banana and yautía filled with a stew (usually with pieces of pork) and wrapped in banana leaves.  They’re boiled for about 1 hour before serving.  These can certainly be made vegetarian substituting the pork filling with a vegetarian stew made of chickpeas, lentils, mixed vegetables or textured soy protein.

Morcillas – these blood sausages made from pig’s intestines filled with rice and pig’s blood.  They’re fried and served cut into pieces to eat like an appetizer.  I’ve NEVER in my life had one, because not even when I ate meat I never liked morcillas.

Guineítos en Escabeche – these are boiled green bananas lightly pickled with vinegar, olive oil, salt, peppercorns and bay leaves.  They’re also served as appetizers at holiday parties.

Tembleque – this is a coconut milk custard served especially during Xmas time.

Arroz con Dulce – this is the Puerto Rican version of rice pudding.  It’s made with coconut milk, condensed milk and cinnamon.

Potato Salad – I was once told that Potato Salad is a Summer Salad, therefore not suitable for Thanksgiving or Xmas Dinner.  Well, Puerto Rico has a Summer-like climate year round and no holiday menu is ever complete without a serving of a mayo-based potato salad.  You’ll see it on Easter, on Thanksgiving and certainly all throughout Navidades.

Coquito – This is Puerto Rico’s version of eggnog.  Coquito is typically made with a mixture of coconut, evaporated and condensed milks and light rum.  If eggs are added we call it “ponche”.  I like to make it now with Coco Lopez, what we use to make pinas coladas…  I find it gives it a more rich coconut taste.



Here is the second article from Madelyn. It is commenting on the typical breakfast in Puerto Rico and looks very similar in size to a French Breakfast…. Man would I be starving by lunch time! Enjoy the Pictures!

Typical Breakfast –



In Puerto Rico, the breakfast staple is “café con leche” or coffee with milk.  On the side they would have either a piece of toasted bread, like “criollo bread” with butter or export soda crackers, like saltines but without the salt.  People like to dunk the bread or crackers in their coffee…

Also typical are “cremas” – like oatmeal, cream of wheat, cream of corn, cornstarch (maicena) all made with milk and sweetened with sugar.  If people are in the mood for something heavier they’d choose eggs usually fried or scrambled or made into a sandwich inside “criollo bread” with cheese and ham.  OJ is optional…

I am definitely not the typical Puerto Rican – I like to eat cold cereal and fruit smoothies in the morning… and usually with a few slices of cheese on the side – cheddar, muenster, even manchego or gruyere…

Crema Oatmeal

soda crackers


Pan de Agua

Panecillos de Agua

Panecillos Sobao

Tostadas Criollas

Friday, March 16, 2012

WARM WEATHER, COLD CEREAL

Yes kids, spring is in the air. When I was a kid this could only mean one thing, the end of the dreaded hot cereal season. Although hot cereal season wasn’t as bad as I made it seem. It started out fine and I was able to enjoy it for a while… a warm bowl of this or that. By the end however, I was praying for those mornings when it was no longer necessary for my mother to warm up her car. Unfortunately, in Northern New England not having to warm up your car often means June.

Bring on the Cap’n Crunch, Fruit Loops, Super Sugar Crisp, Frosted Mini Wheats, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Apple Jacks, Honeycomb, Trix, Lucky Charms, Frankenberry, Count Chocula, Booberry, Fruity Pebbles, Frosted Flakes they’re all Grrrrrrrrrreat…uh, not so fast. At least not in my house as these cereals were seen as something sent directly from the nether regions hand delivered by Lucifer himself (sorry ladies…or herself)…or so said my childhood dentist. My mom apparently concurred as she only bought “healthy” cereals. The honor roll of cereals included… Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts, Total, puffed wheat, puffed rice, Corn Chex, Rice Chex, Life, Cheerios, Wheaties, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat and the always exciting Kix! *cricket’s chirping* Yeah, that’s what I thought too…

Let’s take a moment to highlight a few of these gems shall we?! And don’t get me wrong people I loved cold cereals, I loved them mostly I think because they were not hot cereals. Rice Krispies… let me get this straight, they’re supposed to be what, puffed rice? How about we call them what they are, puffed air with a toasted shell of nothingness and that’s how you feel when you’ve eaten a bowl of them…nothing. Not full, not empty, not anything…hell after two bowls you wouldn’t have the faintest scent of Rice Krispieness on your breath!

 I once sat down on a Saturday morning with a full slate of cartoon watching planned, (This for all you young people, was when you only had three or four channels and two of them would play cartoons from about 7am to about 11am and only on Saturday morning…the other channels had candlepin bowling or news) going to the cupboard only to find a full box of Rice Krispies left. I had two serving bowls full then when my mom got up to make the real breakfast… I had that too! The following Monday morning was a bit of a surprise for her when she reached for what had been a full box of Rice Krispies only to find a handful left… the next surprise was on me as I was offered oatmeal that morning.

I think it’s safe to say puffed rice and puffed wheat also fit into the, “what the hell did I just eat” category, but as my father liked them both it was a staple in the cereal rotation. I’m not sure where why or how Kix got into the cupboard as I never remember seeing it advertised until I was out of school. Maybe it was one of those parent conversations I wasn’t privy to like one mother talking to mine and saying something like, “hey you know what I’m feeding my precious little angel and he’s not gagging or throwing up…Kix!” “I also noticed he’s got strong teeth, bones and a shiny coat!” Or, something like that, anyway Kix was there.

Raisin Bran was a favorite of mine, I guess because it had raisins in it which I love. I love it to this day, or so I thought. I was over my mom's house one day last year and decided I’d have a great big bowl…I guess aside from raisins the other thing Raisin Bran has in it… is bran. This might have been fine for my constitution when I was a kid but today as an adult bran is just another word for “don’t plan on doing anything for the rest of the day!” It must have ten times more fiber than coconut husks, only slightly more coarse and was nearly as flavorful. Note to self, no more Raisin Bran!

I guess my mom got the idea that these were all healthy cereals from the fact that the amount of sugar in them was less than in the nationally advertised “Fun” cereals, but must have forgotten that as she was setting the sugar bowl down on the table for my brother and I to coat our cereal liberally with. Once in a while the sugar ran out before mom would have a chance to go shopping. I never minded this as being New Englanders meant knowing at least fifteen different people whom all made their own maple syrup, so lack of sweeteners was never a problem...whereas lack of milk sometimes was. I was a “take a peek down the hall see if one of my parents were coming then quickly drink out of the milk carton” kind of kid…Ok let’s call it what it was, I was a milkoholic.

I Couldn’t get enough milk and it was a favorite drink of mine right up there with Kool Aid (no not the kind with sugar already added, these were the little packets of whatever dye/flavoring where you added a cup of sugar to cold water and stirred until your arms went numb and the sugar still hadn’t dissolved and besides sugar was cheap and so were packs of kool aid so why should I pay for them to combine them when I have two able bodied sons…kind)  This milk addiction made for a few challenging breakfasts. Mom would judge how much or how little milk was left in the carton and make a decision…to add water, or evaporated milk and water or haul out the box of milk powder.

The only milk we ever had in the house was whole milk and at the time was just called “milk” and skim milk was something only that weird lady, on that weird exercise program, in the weird unitard, doing weird exercises while sitting in a chair would drink…or so I imagined. Watering down the milk wasn’t bad and I had always hoped that would be the outcome. Once in a while however…we got the watered down evaporated milk which tasted of sadness… or god forbid powdered milk. I’m not sure what is in powdered milk except maybe milk solids and what can aptly be described as…yak vomit perhaps? But powdered was never a viable route to take in my mind and would often just add some water and eat the cereal animal style like a duck on a June bug…so back to the cereal.

I never minded Wheaties or Total as they were both very substantial cereals that would carry me through until it was time for lunch. Probably my favorite of the healthy cereals was Shredded Wheat. This is the one that came three biscuits to a pack and you had to crush them up then add your milk and sugar. Whether you ate it right then and there or waited an hour, it always had the consistency of first cut hay. It brought to mind visions of cows chewing their cud. Often times my brother and I would stare at each other and moo, then laugh while trying not to blow shredded wheat out through our noses. My mother once tried adding Shredded Wheat to the winter cereal rotation as she saw a commercial where they added hot water to it, but this happily never caught on. I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, but I’d like for a hand written apology and for whomever, to subsequently be kicked in the hindquarters several times.

The person who thought hot water added to cereal also brought the idea to the good folks who make Grape Nuts and I actually applaud the thinking there as only time and hot water are sufficient in breaking down this gravel of a cereal. I like the flavor of Grape Nuts just fine, but if you have something planned for the rest of your day don’t go pouring more than a half a cup as you’re going to be chewing for a while. I don’t want to brag, but because of eating Grape Nuts when I was younger, I can now chew through a one inch steel cable. I applaud you fine makers of Grape Nuts, for you truly know mastication is not a dirty word.

Cheerios were a nice toasty cereal and I enjoy them even now with no adverse side effects. This cereal did bring out the OCD in me however, as in every time I get down to the bottom of the bowl where you just have them floating around in groups. When those groups fail to fill the spoon entirely I only eat them in even numbers because everyone knows if you don’t eat them this way the sun will burn out. I’m not sure where I got this habit from as it doesn’t mix well with my A.D.D. but what can I say…what can I say…what was I talking about?

Oh, so the “good” cereals are something I always adored yet somehow never really missed. Whenever I’d go over to my Cousin Wayne’s house his mom must have actually loved him, because they had Cap’n Crunch in their house. Man I loved that cereal, but what I could do without was having the roof of my mouth shredded by this stuff. You’d think after all the grape nuts I ate would have toughened my mouth up some aside from just my jaw muscles, but the telltale shards of skin told me otherwise.

There was an upside to eating healthy cereals however and that was when it came time for summer camp. Every year my brother and I would go to scout camp for a week or two and every morning when we weren’t off doing wilderness survival and feeding the mosquitoes or some such… there was breakfast. My Grape Nuts training had paid off, as there was always a big assed bowl of granola that would be on the table that nobody else would touch except me. Yup, unlimited and the only qualification you needed was to have a taste for bland cereal. The other time it was handy and garnered me extra sleep, was on camp-outs when we would buy the little variety packs of cereal. They had four or five fun cereals and three or four not so fun ones. Everybody would be up at the crack of dawn racing to get the “good” cereal and I could roll out of bed at the leisurely crack of nine or ten and get all the “bad” cereal to my heart’s content.

I know there are kids out there who still want cereals for the little game or toy inside and I suppose for a time when I was real young I was right there with them. Then after several years of not getting the toys I guess I stopped caring as they never seemed all that fantastic to begin with, plus the odds of them lasting past breakfast were pretty slim.

I don’t really buy or eat cold cereal anymore as its mostly empty calories and not very good for you besides that. I go down the cereal aisle now and wonder who in the hell is buying Smorz cereal or Honey Smacks. You really think that is honey in there?! Either way, when I do buy cereal these days, I usually treat myself to some shredded wheat or (looking around…) frosted mini wheat’s. I know they aren’t good for me and I know they have a goodly amount of sugar in them, but then again so did the Cheerios we would pour a dozen spoons of sugar on.

So with the birds chirping and warmer days on the horizon, I can’t help but think of those first spring days of my youth. The days when a light jacket would suffice, and the rock hard ground started to give a little. Mom would start talking to the squirrels while looking out the kitchen window and imagining what they must be thinking. My brother and I were done with the winter chore of carrying in cord wood to feed the always hungry wood stove. No more did I have to be wrapped in a snowsuit or a twenty foot scarf…at least not until the leaves were gone from the trees in late fall and then would come that familiar smell…OH GOD NO….OATMEAL AGAIN?!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

RED HOT DOG HIGHWAY

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting on that early spring day, but I can tell you that waiting with all that anticipation was electric. I could see what was happening right there in front of me and yet it all still seemed to be a mystery. Finally it was my turn, I was going to see for the first time what the buzz was about, and not second hand from the others, but for myself… how was I ever going to be the same after this. It started out fine, I remembered thinking I might even enjoy this, then after about ten feet...I fell ass over tea kettle when the pony stopped unexpectedly dipping his head to the ground. I wound up flat on my back looking up at the curious pony who was slobbering on my forehead, while I lied breathless in a steaming pile of pony turds. I was about 6 or so and to this day, I don’t see ponies or horses the same way as other people do…this is now how I feel about the red dog highway in southwest Virginia.

I’m not sure what I was thinking but I lined up four hot dog joints to eat at on my drive from Tennessee to New Hampshire. Most sane people would pick out places that were evenly spaced along the drive that would take roughly fifteen hours. I guess that would be great if the Red Dog Highway ran the seven hundred or so miles, but it only runs roughly one hundred and twenty-ish. So in about three hours’ time I’d be taking down twelve hot dogs from the four different restaurants. I guess this says something about either my grit, determintation, or maybe it just says...man that Pav just doesn't seem like a very bright fella! 

This might have been easy when I was in my late teens and personally downed nine twelve ounce portions of prime rib when a local restaurant had an all you can eat prime rib promotion and yes I ate a salad, rolls and a baked potato and yes, nine was all they would let me eat before kindly asking me to leave. In all fairness I had brought several friends with equally large appetites. Nowadays if I had to eat one twelve ounce portion with the roll, salad and a baked potato I would be in "nap on the couch" mode in under five minutes. This hot dog pilgrimage wasn’t about quantity as much as it was about the quality of each hot dog, how they differed and more importantly…tasted.

The truth is, starting with The Corner Dog in Bristol and ending at Dude’s Drive-In in Christiansburg I didn’t find anything that was earth shattering or in my mind different. Let me tell you about my hot dog eating past to give you a frame of reference. I grew up eating natural casing hot dogs until I was in my late twenties throughout New England, mostly in the form of Essems, Sconland’s, (now both owned by Kayem and IMHO aren’t what they once were) Jordan's red dogs and Grote and Weigel. In those instances it was all about the hot dog itself and the flavor of said dog.

I ate a good deal of these from the one and only "Hot Dog Man" in Keene, NH. I'm not sure what, or even if, he had a real name, but that's what everybody called him so that's who he was. My dad was always a sucker for a good hot dog and by extension so was I. Dad would stop once in a while when I was with him and he'd get three dogs...two for him and one for me. I'd finish mine and watch him eat his second like the most pathetic dog at a kitchen table. I remembered the hot dog man steamed his dogs in beer and only served a few different toppings so as not to distract from the dog. There was ketchup, mustard, celery salt, sauerkraut and I believe cheese sauce served seperate or imitation bacon bits that you had to shake on yourself, as the last two toppings were too much of a sacrilege for the hot dog man to do himself.  
Then I lived in Houston, TX for roughly three years and in Birmingham, AL for eleven years where it was nearly impossible to find any natural casing hot dogs, or hot dogs of any variety that tasted decent. It was a virtual and literal hot dog hell for me with national brand crap dominating the meat case. You know the ones, the kind that kids would like to beeeeeeeee...really, kids want to be tasteless and rude? Ok, bad example... 

The other ones were never served in my "ball park", and if they would have been, they'd be hauled into the bathroom and slammed into the side of an ice filled pee trough. Actually I believe it is a skinless dog served in Fenway Pahk, but they're filled with magic and pixie dust so that's different...and if you're lucky enough to sit atop the green monster (Left field wall for those of you whom have never heard of Red Sox baseball or I dunno... the earth being round) you can get a monster dog which is the size and shape of a nuclear submarine for which there probably isn't a casing big enough for anyways.

Many folks in Birmingham told me, if you want a really good hot dog, we have the best right downtown at either Gus’ or Pete’s and right away everybody had a favorite. Anybody who has been to or lived in Alabama will concur; that there is no “middle” ground on anything… you are either Auburn or Alabama…Yankee or Southerner… and the same held true for hot dogs. Lucky for me I was a damned Yankee so no good sense would be afforded me anyways…so I tried both. After going to Gus’ I thought Pete’s would win hands down because the hot dog I had there wasn’t very good. Then after going to Pete’s I was convinced I would never go back to either as they were equally mediocre in my mixed up Yankee opinion.

I tried the knockoffs around town in the form of Gus’s and Sneaky Pete’s, and on the outskirts of town there are other hot dog joints all of which in my estimation, couldn’t hold a candle to what I grew up eating. It wasn’t that they were horrible, I guess at the time I just didn’t appreciate them for what they were…a regional style of hot dog. They both had the same type of hot dog, the same type of “sauce” and the same scope of ingredients which is to say…many. The only two forms of regional hot dogs I came to appreciate in the southeast were the scrambled dog (all the toppings you’d find in the southeast but the dog cut up and served mashed together, no roll but instead served with oyster crackers or saltines), and the slaw dog (just as it sounds, pretty much creamy slaw and hot dog on a roll). I appreciated them for what they were but never lost my taste for natural casing hot dogs.

So what do I have to say after three hours, four hot dog joints and twelve hot dogs? They were…tasty… in the same way I find Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies tasty. Is there a better oatmeal cream pie made in America? Yes, of course there are, just as there are better hot dogs and maybe that’s beside the point. They all had something that to me resembled Cincinnati styled chili, finely chopped onion, some kind of familiar nacho cheese sauce, creamy slaw, and tiny little red hot dogs buried under it all, and all of those were buried in quaint little towns that you couldn’t help but love served in the most humble of ways by really sweet people. So for what they were, they were tasty. Would I pick one over the other? Only from a standpoint of proximity, as in how close am I to each, and how hungry am I.

I don’t know how Hawk Krall managed to make distinctions between each of them as they pretty much all tasted the same to me and to my friend as well, but I guess that's what makes Hawk an idiot savant of sorts for the hot dog eating world. Trying to pick one out of the four seemed an exercise in futility and a fool’s errand on my part. The winner had nothing to do with the taste, although the dogs there were as tasty as any of the four. Skeeter’s had charm in spades, and the two little ladies serving them were precious as diamonds. The place just felt like an institution, and I mean that in a good way as opposed to a shirt factory with sleeves so long they make you want to hug yourself with quilted walls to matchsort of way.

If you’re ever down in the southeastern U.S. and you are looking for a tasty snack or meal with a cute town and the chance to see something pretty cool, swing on into Skeeter’s and check them out. There you can get your hot dog (I’d recommend four, as eating one will probably only make you mad you didn't order at least three) served on fancy linen wear (a plain white napkin) and get an iced cold Dr. Pepper with it while you take in the super cool ambiance of downtown Wytheville, VA. It’ll give you time to relax and enjoy little town America, while eating a southeastern classic…after that, you can go back out on I-81 and practice your truck dodging and road rage skills.



P.S.~ My favorite ways to eat a hot dog (I have two)...take a good natural casing hot dog, grill it until slightly charred, put it in a steamed non New England styled bun (as I only use those for Lobster rolls) and top with a tablespoon of Sambal Oelek. The other way is same as before but add Aunt Dodie's cole slaw just a little (simple creamy slaw with cabbage and carrot) and one slice of thick cut apple or cherrywood smoked bacon...You are welcome......  So now that you've heard the best way to have a hot dog...what is your favorite?