Tuesday, December 21, 2010
This year we at least decided to cut back on the excess nonsense. Primarily Christmas at the homestead means a full house-plus of dogs . Some people don’t want to share the holiday with their dog, traveling or some other excuse, so they board them with us. We don’t mind really, it’s our business. If I recall correctly we will have about six thousand extra dogs over Christmas weekend. Okay, maybe not that many, but be it six or six-thousand it means constant work, dawn till dusk.
This Christmas since it’s just the three of us adults, we decided to not overspend, not over think, and just get one gift for the household, then little stuff, stocking fodder for each other. I was able to comply with only two hours total of shopping, barely leaving Walmart. We didn’t even put up the normal tree. We did get out the foot-tall ceramic tree that we plug little red plastic bulbs into. It takes about two minutes to erect, another five to plug in the bulbs, voila, done. And of course my 73 nutcrackers have been standing up on the hutch since Thanksgiving. There are three stockings on the mantel, stuffed probably with candy, chapstick, ink pens, pocket puzzles and the like, mostly stuff that can be found at a checkout line. It’s all the fun of unwrapping gifts without the expense and dismal sense of failure you get from mis-guessing the other person’s wishes.
Then there’s the birthdays, mine on the 21st, Adam’s on the 22nd.
All I ever really want for my birthday is a decent meal. This caused enough problems. Angel would simply not allow the place I actually wanted to go, Burger King. After a week or two of “I’ll think on it” the time had come to actually make a decision, I opted for shrimp and a baked potato, at home. This describes perhaps, one of my favorite dining experiences, ever. Adam wants pizza, so on his night we’ll do that. He will be getting gifts, he spent much of the year out of work so we got him a thing or two. I offered to replace the speakers in his car, but with his work/school schedule being almost the exact opposite as mine, I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
On Christmas day Angel and maybe Adam will head down to Springfield to celebrate with her family, leaving me to tend to the six thousand dogs, and everything else. No time for a traditional meal, we’ve decided to repeat last year’s tradition and pick up a couple of family buckets at KFC. Enough to cover several ad hoc meals. Mmmm, KFC.
Needless to say with all the dogs starting to come and go, and with our relentless work/shopping schedules, we did not exactly eat out this past weekend.
Saturday morning I was up early (around 8:00) Angel had already been up with the dogs for an hour. I had things to do so I showered and dressed immediately. First things first, I poured more antifreeze into the mighty Alero, it’s the only way to make that stupid red light on the dashboard go out. I asked Angel if she wanted some breakfast since I felt like a good cup of coffee and such things are just not available from the swill pot Angel brews up at home. She said sure, as long as it had meat in it. I suggested Hardees since I knew they made decent coffee. She replied that yes, that would be fine, and that she wanted a breakfast burrito. I’d never heard of such a silly thing but acceded. It only took a few minutes to get there, sure enough that pesky little light stayed off, and I knew what I wanted.
#3 Combo medium-ized, with coffee for me, a breakfast burrito and tots for Angel. Total cost five dollars and change. A #3 is an egg/cheese/sausage biscuit with tots. I like tots. I like tots a lot. I took it all home and while still warm we had breakfast together. By together I mean there were no walls between us and we ate at the same time. I was at the dining room table, my faced buried in a book (‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’, the second in the ‘Millennium’ series by the late Stieg Larsson ). Angel sat in the living room watching Sponge-Bob on TV, and balancing her netbook in her lap. It was downright romantic, we hardly ever get to eat together at home.
She had a class scheduled for 10:00, I had things to do, haircut and shopping, which is twice the amount of things I am usually comfortable doing in one day. The haircut fell through, the clip joint had a full house and anticipated a thirty minute wait. That blew the deal for me so I went shopping. I picked up my usual HBA’s (Health and Beauty Aids, in our house we buy our own so as not to rile up the other with faulty choices, flawed substitutions, or bad assumptions.) and a few stocking stuffers.
After about an hour I returned home, class was out but Angel had left to show a couple of dogs at PetSmart. These two female dogs had been with us for a week or two, a small mini-pinscher 'Star' (I call her Peggy, Angel doesn’t) and ‘Sunshine’ a brown, medium sized and overweight boxer or ridgeback mix we also refer to as ‘Fat Deedee’ since she has the same color and facial features as our Deedee, but about fifteen extra pounds.
While at the store I’d also strategically picked up some sugar, oatmeal, butter and cocoa powder. I had never made no-bake cookies before but I was determined. It took less time than I’d thought and there was plenty. They cooled while I checked email and Facebook.
I goofed around long enough to cycle the dogs, something that has to be done every couple of hours, then I took a nap. Naps are required activities on the weekend, it’s not debatable. By the time I got up Angel was home, and we were hungry. I looked in the refrigerator and found exactly one half package of lunch meat and some leftover chili. I made Angel a ham, egg and cheese sandwich, I had the chili. I offered Angel another cookie, it was obvious she’d had a few already, she growled at me. She accuses me of trying to make her fat. I just like making her things she likes and wants but refuses to make for herself. She’s perfectly welcome to NOT eat any.
I still needed a haircut. Angel gets to nap on Sundays, I tended the dogs for an hour or so, made some mashed potato waffles* (yes it can be done!) and headed out. I also needed to finish shopping. The Great-Clips in Festus was not too crowded, a ten minute wait at best, so I was in and out pretty quickly, especially since the lady that cut my hair was not overly-meticulous or detail oriented. She asked me how I wanted it cut, I replied my usual “Just start trimming and only stop when I’m pretty.” This has backfired on me on more than one occasion. Like this time. She didn’t recognize my natural beauty as quickly as others have. It’s not too bad, but it certainly accentuates the cowlick more than anything else. But that’s okay, I’m a middle aged man with a full, thick head of hair. . . things could be much worse.
I had to drive to Fenton after Festus, no small jog. I was after a specific gift and knew only one place to get it. In the meantime I stopped in Target and found a couple of books. I needed to gift myself to appease the in-laws. I picked up the third in the Larsson series ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest’ as well as Steve Martin’s new novel ‘An Object of Beauty: A Novel’. Both hardback, I actually paid full price, something I rarely do. Merry Christmas.
I made it home in time to find Angel out with the dogs, our plans to take the boy out for a late lunch somewhere (a place that would have been critiqued here) were dashed by the now-taggered doggy-pickup schedule that Angel had to stick around for. She did offer to go get something to eat since there was even less lunchmeat and no chili left.
We couldn’t decide on what or where so Angel just chose Hardees. I declared that I wanted one of those burgers with the bacon and sourdough bread, Adam wanted a chicken sandwich. She was gone for only about twenty minutes.Angel just got some sort of Chicken Club, because she lacks imagination.
1/3 pound Frisco Thickburger, Fries, (home made) Ice tea.
The Frisco is probably my favorite fast-food burger anywhere. The meat is good, char-broiled, with Swiss cheese and bacon on sourdough bread. The fries are merely so-so, but the burger was delightful.
We ate together, by that I once again mean at the same time without walls between us, my face was buried in my book, Angel with her Sponge-Bob and Netbook, Adam in the recliner with his laptop.
It’s not unusual for the three of us to be together watching TV with all of our laptops opened up. We can actually talk with each other through Facebook’s chat feature that way. It’s important for families to dine together, spend time together and chat. Technology just makes it much easier for us devout introverts. I didn’t have my computer on so I don’t know if there were any actual conversations taking place, the book was getting really good.
I finished quickly, started my laundry (we each do our own, yet another tip from a happily married man) walked a couple of dogs, watched a few minutes of TV, Facebook, Email, then went down for a nap. I only really need one nap per weekend, but I must get that one, so the second one goes into the bank in case the subsequent weekend doesn’t allow for one. I’m currently ahead by about three years.
I got up and was not especially hungry, so normal dinner time came and went. About 7:00 though Angel made herself a sandwich so I figured I must be hungry too, just not for much. So I made my special soup.
Sautee to desired level of doneness 1 chopped slice of onion. Pour in tomato soup, ½ can of water, ¼ can of milk. Simmer until patience wears thin, serve.
That and a handful of chips and I was good to go. Then we each had a cookie or two.
None of this was typical or atypical, really, just a busy weekend at home, doing normal stuff, whiling away yet another weekend. Did I mention it was also normally grocery day? The hectic dog schedule prevented us from re-stocking the fridge, so we were really just utilizing the dregs that were left over from the last trip. Hardees happens to be the closest chain to our house, so it is convenient and fast. It doesn’t hurt that they make their sandwiches pretty darn tasty.
Tuesday will be shrimp, Wednesday pizza, then on Friday we pick up the Holiday feast, buckets of KFC with all the trimmings. Christmas day afternoon and most of the day afterward I will be by myself, with six thousand dogs, a boatload of chicken and a few good books. Not exactly traditional Christmas card stuff, but I will indeed be filled with the warmth of a loving, if not highly communicative family, a cozy home filled with happy, furry critters, some good food, and enough pleasant memories to keep me quite content.
Happy Holidays to all!
My personal gift to you, my fans:
Mashed potato waffles:
Mashed potatoes 2 cups or so.
Shredded Cheese, whatever your cholesterol level can take.
2 TB chopped/diced onions
¼ cup (approximate) crushed crumbs, Corn flakes or Ritz-type crackers.
2 eggs, separate the shells from the insides, discard the shells.
1 tsp Baking powder
Warm up the waffle iron, set it to ‘Dark’.
If you have leftover mashed potatoes, fine, if not, make some with flakes, the smallest listed serving size. While the water boils and the butter melts, sauté some chopped onion, a couple of tablespoons is all you really need.
Once the potatoes have set up add in a handful or twelve of the shredded cheese, the onions, and mix it all about. Toss in the crumbs, add the eggs and the baking powder, stir till smooth. The glop should be batter-like but not too wet. Let set for a couple of minutes. (Add more crumbs or milk to correct the texture.)
Toss the batter onto the waffle iron and step away. These will take some time due to the high moisture content, your patience will be rewarded.
No need for syrup, that stuff is just nasty, but if you must, at least try a bite or two without. The taste is better than mother’s milk… not that I remember or would know.. I just mean they taste great all by themselves.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
6110 S Lindbergh Blvd, St Louis
Golden Corral originated in the early 1970’s by a couple of guys that gave up trying to buy into other franchise restaurants. They started in North Carolina and expanded, slowly at first, to a couple hundred in the first few years. They then added nearly two hundred more by buying up the suffering 'Sirloin Stockade' chain in the early 80’s. There are now nearly five hundred Golden Corrals, spread across forty states.
In the late 80’s through early 90’s when the U.S. bought into the myth that red meat was a bad thing, the business suffered and GC added salad bars. That way people could pretend they were going there to eat healthy. Most of the original salad bar items are still there, since to date, no one has ever actually served themselves a salad at a Golden Corral. (un-researched assumption). There are unconfirmed rumors that the salad bar produce is not even real, but is instead Disney-like animatronics, merely projected images of actual produce.
On Lindbergh, east/south of Highway 21 (Tesson Ferry). It was quite a chore to get there. We went on Sunday evening, Adam’s work scheduled allowed for an evening meal, finally. It had snowed a couple of inches overnight, I had spent most of the day shoveling off our 400 foot paved, curved and uphill driveway. Klondike road had been cleared though so we assumed other roads had been as well.
The wind was kicking up, the temperature was dropping, it was around fourteen degrees when we left the house, the wind gusts were topping twenty mph. At that temperature even a slight breeze can become a deadly weapon.
Angel had doubted my driveway clearing as it appeared to have just turned the driveway into an Olympics-sanctioned luge track. The snow was cleared, but the underlying thin slush coat had turned into a hardened, shiny and slick, refreeze.
We climbed into Angel’s Trailblazer, (which I had cleared and warmed up earlier because I’m a great husband) she twisted the knob to 4WD and we made it up and out without a slip. (I was more worried about the return trip, downhill)
The rest of the roads were not in as good of shape as Klondike. In fact they got worse the closer we got to the city. It appeared that in order to save precious highway dollars some of the crews were waiting for the snow to completely stop falling before seriously attacking the roads in their care. There was refreeze and slush patches in most of the inner lanes, and quite often on the primary lane. Passing was infrequent and a bit scary. We never exceeded fifty mph. Inside the first suburb the roads had been barely treated at all. The run on Lindbergh was like a scene from upstate New York, snow-covered, drifting, thick, gusting white-outs. Angel likened it mockingly as ‘Ice Road Trucker’* stuff. (She drives on these excursions since I’ve totaled more vehicles (one) than she has.)
The trip should normally take about thirty five minutes, on this trip it took closer to an hour.
The place was surprisingly, nearly packed. The parking lot was almost full and the tables we could see from the outside appeared to be as well.
We walked in, stepped into a short line, grabbed a tray and shouted out our drink order, tea, tea and Pepsi. They served the drinks in plastic tumblers and we slid up to the cash register and paid up the fixed price. We were told we could sit anywhere we wanted, there wasn’t a lot of choice as all the tables within arm’s reach of the serving lines were all taken.
We set our tray down on a table in the back forty and headed for the lines.
It’s a buffet. And a pretty good one at that.
GC made its name by offering fresh meat, steaks, etc. rather than the frozen/shipped steaks in other steakhouse buffet chains. On this night they were cooking fine steaks to order as well as fresh ham and brisket. I put on my buffet hat, which is not a hat, but really only a way of thinking, and grabbed a small plate and loaded it up with about a tablespoon full of a dozen or so choice items. No, I didn’t stop at the salad bar, the staff was busy, clearing the cobwebs off of it.
There was a section for foreign food, Chinese and Mexican mostly. I grabbed up some ‘Brandy Chicken, a couple of shrimp, and some pepper steak. At the meat island I skipped the chicken and dipped up some pot roast. I added white beans, macaroni and meat loaf, then found ‘fish and chips’ and grabbed a couple of nuggets. At the bakery section there were about a dozen possibilities. I grabbed a fat, flaky looking biscuit as well as a condiment packet containing about a quart of margarine. There was also another type of shrimp, pretty much just breaded and fried. A couple of those and round one was ready to eat.
I was first back at the table, Adam showed up with a roll the size of a bowling ball as well as some of the brisket. He really liked the glaze. Angel had some fried chicken as well as potatoes, some of the fish, and some veggies. My biscuit was a huge disappointment. Though it looked fresh and flaky, it was actually as hard as a rock. I tried cutting it open with my steak-like knife, it merely shattered, even adding some margarine didn’t soften it up. I sat it aside on a napkin of shame.
Everything else was quite good indeed. Unlike at Ryan’s where it was hit or miss, the food here, entrees as well as sides were well prepared and quite tasty.
Round two, I decided on more of the same, with a couple of differences. I passed up on the granite biscuits and chose one a cheesy biscuit instead, much better. I skipped over the Chinese and got more pot roast, meatloaf, white beans, fish and added a small dollop of mashed potatoes with brown gravy.
Angel opted for a steak and a small baked potato, then polluted her plate with cauliflower and boiled cabbage. She had apparently forgotten that the great depression was over and we don’t have to eat that disgusting stuff anymore. She did let me try her steak, it was very, very good. Ryan’s offered nothing near this quality.
Adam’s second round included ham, which looked kind of dry, but he insisted it was not.
Dessert was only an option for Angel and I, Adam skipped it since he’s dating. ( I assume that’s the reason) Angel sampled the chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cake and some peach cobbler, I had a small slice of apple pie and some banana pudding, with sprinkles. By sprinkles I mean candy corn. Angel finds this completely disgusting, which I admit is the real reason I add candy corn to banana pudding.
The service was not much to speak of. Our server only came around for drink refills once, plate-clearing was satisfactory but not complete. The food, except for those biscuits was all very good. Much higher quality than at Ryan’s.
The place was quite messy though. The well-worn floor was littered with discarded food items, fries, beans, etc. This I attributed to one enormous fault of the eatery; they allow children.
I don’t mind the teenagers so much, they’re pouty and sulky and arrogant, but not very loud. It’s the smaller ones, the sticky, screaming, crying, food-tossing tykes that really get my goat. And of course when the tykes scream, everything stops and mommy has to make a massive fuss about it. Geez lady, the kids SAW the desserts, they SAW the ice cream machine, but you think they’re going to settle for chicken nuggets, fries and beans? HAH! They can SEE what they want and they KNOW you’re going to let them have it, so why not just eliminate the noise and the mess and let them have their ice cream cone! You want them to eat nutritious food? Then don’t give them such obvious options! Feed them at home!
The price was reasonable, forty two dollars and change, not bad at all considering we could pick and choose between scores of items, and have as much of each as we wanted.
*'Ice Road Truckers' (IRT) is a series on one of those Discovery/Learning channels. It’s about truckers, mostly fat and out of shape, driving truckloads of oil drilling supplies across the frozen tundra and even the frozen lakes and sea in the really, really far north areas of Alaska and Canada. They drive hundreds of miles in desolate wasteland, often alone and often with poor visibility. There is no place on the entire road that is not either made of ice or snow covered. The roads are not so much constructed as they are carved out of the ice and snow by sadists. They go over impossible mountains and are too narrow and poorly marked. For all this effort and terror, the hapless drivers make less money per year than I do.THAT kids, is why you should stay in school!
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
343 North Creek Drive
The local paper arrived on Thursday, I was browsing through it and came across an article about this place. It just opened in November, replacing a Pizza joint that I never visited.
On a hill above Walmart, near Ryan’s and in a shopping center next door to the ATT store. Not very large, its maximum occupancy was posted as 65. Clean, neat, painted in muted shades of red and olive green. The floor was large, dark ceramic tiles, the tables and other furnishings black and wood-trim. The art on the walls was all about New Orleans. Along one wall were taller bistro tables, and the large bar was lined with bistro chairs. On the bar was a large potted bromeliad (a thick tropical flowering plant, related to the pineapple). There were several French/Spanish style clocks and a few other items lying around to evoke the style of the French Quarter. The ceiling fans were on, which Angel didn’t care for since the air outside was about twenty degrees and the breeze inside just prolonged the chill.
The music was eclectic, not booming or fast paced, but consistently too loud. Bar-loud. The only song I recognized was a ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” I think it was the original Israel Kamakawiwo`ole* version, but it could have been a really good cover.
The wait staff seemed entirely female, the hostess/bartender, mostly female. We were seated immediately by our waitress, whom Adam insisted looked like the actress Kirstin Dunst. I agreed that she did, though I’ll admit that I had to look it up after I got home. He was right, there was a resemblance, the smile especially.
Above the bar was a chalkboard, artfully listing specialty wines and drinks. I cringed, I nearly panicked.
I have survived several Hurricanes in New Orleans, though I only barely survived them.
I’m not talking about the hurricane that George W. Bush used to wipe out New Orleans in 2005 (just kidding). I’m talking about the hurricanes that originated there back in the 1940’s and can still be found in frightening abundance. These things are the cause of more sorrow, domestic destruction and moral and financial ruin than could possibly be wreaked by mere high winds and flooding.
The Hurricane is a drink, very sweet, very fruity, usually very large, and polluted with bad alcohol. It was invented as a way to get rid of a stockpile of lousy, cheap rum that was plentiful in post-prohibition New Orleans. The fruit punch had to be very, very sweet to mask the taste of the rum, and they did it well, lime juice, star fruit, whatever sickeningly sweet juice could be found.
Hurricanes are so sweet that there is no sense that there is any alcohol at all. A small, middle aged, out-of-towner can actually drink two or three of these things before he realizes that the devil has yanked out his entire soul by the tender parts.
Hurricanes were invented at Pat O’Briens in the Crescent City, this was the very establishment where I was first corrupted by the drink. I’m not the biggest drinker in nearly any room and never have been. I didn’t even casually drink much at all until my first marriage fell apart. The first few weeks of that breakup were painful, frightening, and unfortunately mentored by a so-called friend that was a true believer in the alchemistic, medicinal properties of mixed drinks. My first swirling, spinning, churning night with three-too-many rum drinks ended up with me waking up in the floor of my bathroom, pressing my swollen brain into the cool tiles, an acrid, vile taste in my mouth and the stench of rum-fueled upchuck still in the air. I didn’t drink much at all after that long, terrible dark month.
I occasionally, and only occasionally, would have some beer, but not even to the level of modest regularity.
In 1992 I discovered Chardonnay while on a business trip to New York City. I was at a loss as to what to order on IBM’s generous tab in the fancy French restaurant so I just ordered what the lady next to me did. I remain in that camp still. A glass or so of a fine boxed chardonnay late in the evening and my life-long struggle with insomnia remains a thing of the distant past.
Since then I occasionally have had one too many, but to that level, the violent spinning, gag-inducing level, not. Hurricanes are delicious, they are tempting, they are deadly, they should be avoided altogether except in the case of horrific natural disaster.
The menus were simple printed sheets of green paper. The offerings were limited but not severely. This was lunch (once again due to work schedules) and our needs were not great. I hadn’t read the entire newspaper article to find out what all they offered, all I really needed to see was “Po’ Boy.” So I already knew what I was going to order. I ordered the catfish, Angel the shrimp, and Adam the grilled chicken. All came with fries. Our drinks were delivered in real glasses, tea, tea and coke. (unremarkable)
A po’ boy is a sandwich, usually seafood, served on toasted French bread. Shredded lettuce, tomato slices, and some form of appropriate mayo are traditional. Taytro’s boasted a ‘citrus chipotle mayo’ which I was a little afraid of. Chipotle is a pepper that, like an attractive woman, is tempting, but also potentially dangerous. It can be overdone, very, very easily.
The wait for the food was a little longer than expected, exacerbated by the arctic gust coming from the ceiling fan. In the meantime we asked for and were given a dinner menu to look over, It was on orange paper and covered both sides. It had additional entrees, steak, etc.
Both menus listed Gumbo and Jambalaya, but none of us had the nerve or desire to try them. I’ve had those dishes before, in New Orleans, and had to pick at them. I’m not a fan of some of the traditional ingredients like okra, andouille and snotfish (clams/oysters) so I was unable to appreciate the dish fully and properly. I didn’t just want to pick at something this lunch, I was hungry, I wanted a po’ boy.
The meals arrived finally and we wasted no time. The fries were medium thick, and cooked perfectly, the sandwiches were half-baguettes, about six or seven inches long. The bread was crunchy on the outside, soft inside. The catfish, shrimp and chicken portions were very generous. Adam showed off a cross-section of his chicken, nearly an inch thick. The catfish, breaded and fried, was perfect, tender, moist, flaky. Angel had some lightly-breaded shrimp in every bite, to the last. Along with the sandwich and fries was a delightful dill pickle spear. The mayo at first added a smoky taste with only a hint of heat. Near the end of the sandwiches though, the additive properties of the capsaicin was more noticeable. At no point was it the main event however and though it was pronounced in the last few bites, its lasting effects were rather short lived. This was chipotle properly, perfectly managed. Enough heat to start a thin sweat, but not near enough to send you retching.
Adam finished his first, a testament to his liking it. Angel was very pleased, stating repeatedly that there was never a bite that did not include at least one whole shrimp.
As we finished, Kirstin Dunst returned with a small plate containing three complimentary pralines. Adam asked what they were, Angel immediately answered, loudly enough to be heard by all the other people in the joint: “Well your father won’t eat them because they contain nuts, but they’re like pecan pie candy.” He ate one, her another. The third, mine, was left on the plate. I don’t like nuts as an ingredient, everybody knows this. The meal was late enough, and substantial enough that we cancelled plans (as if there ever were any) to make anything for dinner later. I simply settled for a small bowl of cream of tomato/ onion soup** and a grilled cheese sandwich.
The service was friendly and very attentive, the price, thirty dollars and change, was very reasonable. The food was simply wonderful. We are already looking forward to going back for dinner sometime, to sample some of the expanded offerings. We highly recommend it and extend kudos and applause to the proprietors. Quality New Orleans styled food in a convenient location, at a very reasonable price. Very high marks for originality and quality!
* Israel Kamakawiwo`ole: A very large, native-Hawaiian guy, he died in 1997 at the age of 38, supposedly of complications from morbid obesity (at one time topping the scales at 760 lbs.). He was considered by people whose job it is to consider such things as the Bob Marley of Hawaii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
** Cream of tomato/onion soup : Chop and sweat or sauté in a teaspoon of olive oil, some onion, a small amount, maybe ¼ cup or less. Let them just soften or caramelize, your choice. Open a can of tomato soup and pour over the top of the onions. Fill the empty can halfway with milk and half the remaining space with water. Stir and heat until piping hot. Mmmm.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Over the River, etc. :
On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I got my butt out of bed around seven-thirty. I walked a dog, packed an overnight bag, guzzled down some orange/grapefruit juice and a sausage biscuit and hit the road. It takes four hours and a few minutes to get to my parent’s house in Cerulean KY. With the drizzle it was probably going to take longer. I stopped at the Circle-K to fill up the tank, grab some dark roast coffee and put a little air in the left front tire. By eight-thirty I was on the interstate, heading south. Two hours on I-55, then a half hour on I57/Highway 60 east and over the tall skinny bridges crossing the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. From there a 2-lane curvy half hour up 60 to Paducah, then to I-24. Less than an hour later off on the highway 139 exit, then to 276/128 through Wallonia, to Highway 124 and a couple of miles into Cerulean. All was drizzly but speedy on I-55 till I hit Cape Girardeau, Mo. There the gods let loose with an unseasonal but intense thunderstorm. I lost about twenty minutes slowing down to thirty MPH and dodging lightening and fools trying to outrun it. As I hit the flats near the river the wind was intense shoving the mighty Alero all over the wet road. By the time I reached I-57, the rain had all but stopped and things picked back up. The rest of the drive was dreary but otherwise uneventful. I made it to Cerulean about twelve-forty-five.
My dear, sweet, elderly sister was there, her husband Jack was puny and did not make it. My younger brother Jeff and his adorable and powerful wife Dina were there, Jeff was putting the finishing touches on the grand meal. He’d cooked everything from scratch. My saintly and elderly parents were in high spirits, teasing and prodding Jeff unmercifully. I said my hello’s, hugged my parents, then stood in the kitchen and called the cat in a slow, loud baritone. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty!” This shocked the entire family since we all knew the long-suffering cat had died a month or so before (see blog entry). The shock wore off as they all remembered what an insensitive ass I can be and that such rude and cruel things like this were simply par for the course. It took Jeff about a half-hour to finish everything; the rolls took longer than they should have. They of course were made from scratch as well. Nothing fancy, turkey, rolls, dressing, mashed potatoes, corn (locally grown) and gravy. We filled our plates buffet-style and sat at somewhat-appointed places at the big table in the back room. The turkey was exceptional, moist and smoky, the rolls were perfect, the potatoes pleasantly buttery and lumpy. The dressing was the talk of the table. It was smooth and savory, Jeff had made the bread and cornbread from scratch days before, and had spiced it all perfectly. Jeff can cook, loves to cook, and is proud to show off his skills. My folks are teetotalers, always have been, but dad can make a bowl of punch that will make your ears buzz. I make a version as well, more on that later. Jeff had also made dessert, from scratch. A coconut cream cake and a pumpkin pie. Since I don’t care for either I skipped those and opted for seconds on the turkey. The meal was scarfed down, Dina left for work. Kathy eyed the sky and became concerned about the weather. She had good reason, the storm I had hit in Cape G had followed me east and according to the folks’ weather alert radio was about to cross the county. She decided to wait it out rather than attempt the hour-long drive to her humble, elderly home in Murray. Jeff split up the leftovers, not leaving much, and skedaddled. Even though he lives only a block away in Cerulean, I knew he was gone for the day. He spends a lot of time helping out the folks and did not need to stay long when there was a perfectly nap waiting for him across the street. The main force of the storm passed to the north which seemed to concern my dad, who kept insisting that Kathy lived to the north, which of course, she does not. But once dad gets something into his head that makes those around him chuckle, regardless of how wrong it is, it sticks for at least the entire day. This qualifies as and defines the core of his sense of humor. By three, Kathy was gone and the house was empty except for my parents and myself. The day was turning into a dreary, drippy and rapidly cooling November day. Perfect for sitting around and reminiscing about things I don’t recall ever happening and about people I’m pretty sure I’d never actually met, which was okay since dad seldom remembered their names correctly anyhow. We talked a bit about my older brother, Steve, and how he spends every thanksgiving with his lovely wife Donna in their condo in Destin, Florida. Earlier as part of the blessing Kathy, Jeff and I had mumbled that we hoped the coming storm would turn into a blizzard in the Florida panhandle, just this once. Dad and I settled in to a marathon of early 60’s westerns, his daily dose of TV drama. He said he follows “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “Cheyenne” and “Gunsmoke” like they were a woman’s soap operas.(his words ladies, not mine) He likes them especially since there’s no swearing or actual blood when bullets hit, and the good guys only ever get rapidly healing flesh wounds anyhow. Later I joined mom in the other room for her Wheel of Fortune fix. She’s pretty good at it but admits, like me, that it would be completely different in front of the TV cameras rather than just sitting on a cozy couch. They insisted I was still hungry around six or seven, I hadn’t overdone it at the big meal, so I went in search of leftovers. I couldn’t find any, Mom said that Jeff took everything since they already had plenty of food in the house. Which they did, if by that you understand that my folks are pretty simple eaters and that a pound of fresh, thick-sliced bologna is ‘plenty of food’. To be fair the local store, which is only open when the owner feels like opening it, has the best bologna on the planet. This isn’t pre-packaged lard-laden animal ugly–bits, this is hand sliced, fresh, lard-laden animal ugly-bits. It really is that much better. A little Miracle Whip, two slices of white bread, and a couple of dill pickle slices, and you have an excellent thanksgiving post-meal snack. We finished off the evening lazily, watching TV and occasionally drifting into small conversations. “Do you know how to skip stones across a pond?” My mom asked at one point after a commercial that had shown a kid doing that very thing., I assured her, like a proud son, that yes indeed I did, and not only that, I had actually passed the skill down to some of my own children. Friday morning I woke up before seven, they were already up and about. There was a dusting of snow, about a half inch on the ground. The sky was clearing though and the sun came out for the first time in a few days. Mom whipped up some breakfast, a pretty good one. A can of biscuits, a sliced banana, mashed-potato pancakes, and fried bologna. It’s actually a LOT better than it probably sounds. We sat and talked for a bit, I had fixed mom’s Facebook account so she busied herself replying to the dozen or so backed-up messages. Dad caught me up on all his recent medical experiences, and there were many. At about nine I gathered my stuff and bid farewell. Hugs were exchanged, promises to return soon were made, and I drove into the morning brightness and cold air back the way I came, stopping only once to fuel up.
Angel and Adam had stayed at home, Adam’s new job in retail demanded his presence, Angel was boarding five dogs. We often have to split our family visits because of these things. Our boarders this time included Niebuhr, a timid, small brown mutt and frequent guest., Gus, a new client and a very friendly and active Great Dane. Then there were the three brothers, Otis the curly haired and constantly curious labradoodle (Lab/Poodle), Chachi, an energetic cattle dog, and Mr. Foo, a chunky, attitude-filled, self-absorbed Pug. They had all graduated Angel’s puppy course during the summer. The owner had decided his family was ready for dogs, they decided on the kinds they wanted and came up with these three, in some cases driving a few hundred miles to pick up one of them. They’re immensely fun to watch, three totally different dog types, all unaware of that fact. They are simply close-knit brothers that don’t look much alike. During breaks in the doggy-action on Thursday, Angel cooked a twenty two pound turkey, made the traditional stuffing and pre-prepared a few other favorites. We as a family would not be having our big sit-down meal until Saturday lunchtime due to my absence and Adam’s work schedule. She deliberately made a lot of everything so we could graze on leftovers for a week or more. She started dining on pre-leftovers on Thursday, and I did the same once I got home on Friday. This worked out exceptionally well, the Saturday feast was not at all diminished by the fact that we’d been already been eating turkey sandwiches for a couple of days beforehand. Saturday morning Angel tended to the livestock, the yard and pens were muddy, and some of the dogs were super-absorbent. I offered to finish up the final touches for the big meal. I boiled about two pounds of peeled and chopped potatoes, opened four cans of Green Giant brand ‘Niblets’ corn (we only splurge on name brand veggies on very special occasions), set the oven to medium to reheat some of the stuffing and turkey. The dinner rolls fell right out of the bag and onto the pizza pan, the last thing to be prepared. I finished off the mashed potatoes with a quarter pound of butter, a pinch of salt and beat in the milk until they were creamy and light, the way Adam prefers them. I cranked up the oven to 400, and let the meat/stuffing sizzle, popped in the dinner rolls and watched them carefully as Angel boiled some dumpling-noodle chunks in broth (blech), reheated her asparagus casserole (yuck) and made some giblet gravy. Once the rolls were done we announced and Adam came out of his room, still in his fashionable pajamas. I had made a supply run earlier and made the punch.
There’s a story behind this concoction, I’ll get to that later. ½ Gallon pineapple juice 2 liter bottle of Diet Sprite Grape Juice (for depth) Grapefruit Juice Lemon Juice (for tartness) Orange Juice (somewhere in between) 2 packets of Strawberry Kool-Aid (because I can’t find strawberry juice) 1 lime, sliced. (or whatever citrus you have on hand, this is mainly for looks) Start by pouring almost all of the pop and pineapple juice into your punch bowl. This sets the sweet standard. Add some grape juice and orange juice, a cup or so, the Kool-Aid, then taste. It’ll be very sweet. Start adding the tarts, grapefruit and lemon juice, stir, taste. At the point where your cheeks buckle inward and your ears start buzzing back off and pour the rest of the pop and pineapple juice in. The stuff should be deep lavender in color and sweet, but with a definite tart kick to the face. Throw in a tray of ice cubes and the lime slices, let simmer for the entire day as you frequently, addictively, dip into it. My dad started making this with some minor variations a few decades ago. He was diagnosed with controlled-by-diet diabetes very early on, he could have no sugar. This punch recipe reflects that fact and makes it child-friendly and guilt-free. There is no processed sugar, whatsoever. It’s all fruit juices with a little diet pop to add a slight fizz. A few glasses worth will make any sores in your mouth light up, and the healthy-stuff kick will actually give you a buzz. I hear from very reliable sources that sinners enjoy adding a small amount of vodka, for medicinal purposes. This punch, by itself, will clear your complexion and make your nap-dreams very vivid.
The Big Meal:
With everything complete we served ourselves buffet style, then we did something we only occasionally do, we sat at the dining room table together and treated it like a family meal, like those you sometimes see on TV. We actually chatted some. Angel complained that the rolls weren’t done, I took exception. She added that her mom always burned the bottoms, and I hadn’t. I promised to try harder next time. The stuffing was made with large, dried chunks of a baguette, an entire bottle of sage and a few other spices along with turkey broth and a few bird-chunks, and cooked until almost dry. I actually prefer this more traditional stuffing over Jeff’s but only because my taste buds are not very sophisticated. Jeff’s was very good, almost as good as Stove-Top brand stuffing. The Turkey was already carved up, I chose chunks of both dark and white, I prefer dark. The gravy was smooth, yet chunky, the corn, to which I had added a half-stick of butter, was sweet and firm. The mashed potatoes were creamy and worked well as glue to hold together the corn and other small chunks of food. I held off stuffing myself completely, because Angel had pleased me greatly by pre-baking some name-brand pies. Apple for me, pumpkin for them. Pre-baking is essential as I like my pie cold, refrigerator cold, no ice cream. I cannot recommend having punch with the pie, you can actually overdose on vitamins. Cleanup was a cinch since most of the stuff was pre-made. The refrigerator was stuffed with leftovers of everything. There would be no prepared or planned meals for the next several days.
Angel likes turkey cooked into her scrambled eggs, I like to glaze turkey with onions in barbecue sauce. I also made up a batch of turkey-fried rice, as well as some of my own turkey, stuffing, corn and mashed potato pancakes:
Sautee some onions while mixing together some stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn. Chop up and add some turkey, a handful of shredded cheese, and one or two eggs until batter-like. Throw in the onions and then add some crushed Corn Flakes or Ritz Crackers as a binder. Fry pancake-sized portions, flattened, in a skillet in a small amount of oil until browned on both sides. Goes well with punch and a side of Beanie Weenies.
This stuff will help you find a soul-mate, assuming that you’d consider someone like me a potential soul-mate.
All in all, a wonderful, calm, and low-drama Holiday. Awesome family and food and plenty of time to enjoy them.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Adam’s choice, lunchtime Saturday. He had class in the morning then work a little later, so we met him in between. As before the place smelled delightful, meat smokers were un-polluting the city air. The lousy, cheap outdoor speakers were blasting country music, which would normally drive me away immediately, but Angel and Adam had their hearts set, so I sucked it up like a proper family man and just silently cursed to myself.
As we approached the door, the very moment I was in direct line with the awful racket-maker, an obnoxious hook-line in the song etched itself into my brain and would not go away. The words were burnt into my frontal lobe as if scorched in with a fat soldering iron from a 60’s era wood burning set.
“Like a tumbleweed in a tilt-a-whirl”*
I kid you not.
I didn’t catch any of the rest of the words, so I wasn’t quite sure what the other half of the analogy was, I was too busy trying to scrape the awful noise out of my head. But it stayed. The so-called song was still playing as we were shown to our booth.
We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke.
The problem I had with this lyric was that while I certainly appreciate a good, well constructed and image-producing analogy, I just could not figure out how ‘like a tumbleweed in a tilt-a-whirl’ was a definitive analog of anything other than an actual tumbleweed in a tilt-a-whirl.
I knew immediately that a tilt-a-whirl was a carnival ride, though I was having trouble remembering specifically which ride it was, probably not the teacups or the spinning, bouncing horses. I confess to not being a carnival aficionado, so the analogy kind of broke down right from the start.
An analogy should, by definition clarify something in a timely manner. For example:
“When my sister yells at me it sounds like a cat in a garbage disposal.”
You don’t know my sister but the picture I’ve painted using this simple analogy gives you an accurate, universally understood indication of what she really sounds like.
“I was sweating like a greased kumquat on Arbor day.” This one does you no real good. It makes you think too hard. “I think I know what a kumquat is, maybe. I don’t know how much liquid one excretes when greased, and I can’t really remember when Arbor Day is, or what impact that would have on the amount of moisture excreted by the vegetable, or is it a fruit?”
It’s catchy, colloquial and cute, but it doesn’t really add any usable information to the conversation. Analogies need to be based on certain commonality. The listener needs to know/understand/recognize the things that you are describing.
I saw a tumbleweed once, in person. I was living in Texas at the time and sure enough, just like on “Gunsmoke”,** there went a tumbleweed rolling down the hot, dusty path toward the corral (parking lot). It was a scrawny thing, smaller, sparser than those on TV.
As it turns out tumbleweed is not native to the U.S. It, like macaroni, fireworks, lead-based toys and poison baby formula are originally from Asia, having spread to the U.S. in shipments of agricultural seeds from Asian countries, probably the communist ones. Tumbling tumbleweeds have been disappearing in the arid southwest, their function having been replaced by the more durable and ubiquitous, plastic shopping bag.***
A tumbleweed weighs about as much as helium, and therefore just goes wherever the winds blow it. I can’t for the life of me imagine how it would behave in a twisting, torquing carnival ride. So there, Mr. Twangy Country Music man, your stupid analogy is a dismal failure!
Just another reason country music should be completely eliminated from society.
I’ve described it before, friendly, black tee-shirted staff, ample room for booths and tables, a little barn-sh looking with large tin wash basins as lampshades and iron pipes and fittings to hold the necessary paper towel roll. One napkin is never enough here.
The one downside is the music. I suppose it’s okay if you like twangy intellectually-insulting, three-note, two-beat music, but those of us with superior tastes find it unpleasantly distracting, like a wasp in a urinal. (See what a GOOD colloquial analogy can do?)
I knew what I was going to order before we even got there. Pulled pork sandwich and fries; I added a side of baked beans. Angel went for a lunch special, a quarter of a chicken with green beans and potato salad. Adam once again ordered the spicy ‘Wet Bandana’ sandwich (chicken + turkey) and fries on the side.
None of this was new, we’ve been to Bandana’s before, a few times, and have found nothing disappointing. The meat is always awesome, they have a wide variety of sauces, and the sides like the beans and the potato salad are made in-house and are all church-picnic awesome.
The meals were served in baskets lined with country-looking paper, my sandwich and fries in one basket, a small bowl of beans in another, yeah, they served me beans, in a bowl, in a basket.
Since Angel had a plate rather than a sandwich, she got two slabs of Texas Toast, the best Texas Toast in the region. Adam and I stared her down and made guttural growling noises like pit bulls in front of a raw steak. In fear for her own life and limbs she tore one of the slabs in two and tossed them cautiously at us. Smart move.
I poured about a cup of the Chicago style sauce on my sandwich, I like it the best since it tastes just like Chicago. The pork was chunky, a little on the dry side as smoked meat is prone to be, so generous portions of sauce were called for. This did not diminish the experience at all. We all ate fast and well. Adam started to succumb to the spiciness after a while, he boxed up the last quarter of his sandwich. My plate (basket) was empty and Angel had reduced her slab of chicken to bare bone and gristle. We refused dessert, for reasons that escape me now. Oh yeah, we were full.
There was never a doubt that this would be an awesome lunch. We’ve never been disappointed at Bandana’s. They do meat just right and don’t cut corners with the sides. The meal came in at just over thirty two dollars, just a little higher than a fast-food place, but the difference in atmosphere (except for the hideous music) and food quality was more than worth it. The wait staff was attentive and friendly, even the manager came out and greeted us, asking if he could bring us anything else. I thought for a moment about answering “Why yes, good sir, we’d like a pony!” But in the end I spared the poor man a savage slash from my rapier wit.
* “Heart Over Head, Over Heels” by Clay Walker. For those of you that just HAVE to know. Listen at your own peril, you’ve been warned.
** Gunsmoke: This is a deliberate shout-out to my good friend Dave M. in Maryland. He’s never lived west of the Blue Ridge Mountains as far as I recall and can be a little east-coast/tidewater snobbish. He writes occasionally to shamelessly mock the fine town of ‘Festus’ equating it to the lovable but quaintly illiterate character (played by the late Ken Curtis) by that name in the old TV series. That character is, I think, how Dave imagines all of us out here to be.
*** Tumbleweed/shopping bag: I made this up.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
This is a follow-up. We first visited Munzert’s back in September shortly after it opened. At the time we found the service rather loose and shoddy, but expected as much on the second or third night of being open. This trip was deliberate and fine-tuned to seek out and voice the improvements, or lack thereof.
Located at the junction of Highway B and Highway 21, just a few minutes from our humble abode. The inside was still dark, the color scheme was black/rust and the lights were very dim. To the left was the bar and tables designated as the smoking area, to the right the tables and booths that, despite being called non-smoking, smelled otherwise. There was no wall or industrial air purifier to stop the stale stench from the left from intruding on the right.
We were early, about five P.M., and there were no other non-smoking diners. A few uninteresting people hung around the bar. The hostess showed us to a booth, I didn’t mind, and seated us telling us that wait-help would be on its way shortly. She no more than said that when a tall, young gentleman was at the table. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke.
The music in the background was once again pleasant. Big band hits covered by contemporary artists. The main wall was decorated with large black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood and a WWII sailor dipping and kissing a young lady In Times Square, you know the one.
The table setting was still elegant, White linen cloth, Black, stylishly folded linen napkins, a small candle in a frosted votive holder. Once again, this seemed a little uptown for the small (1600 residents) village of Hillsboro*, a town whose largest chain department store is the Dollar General, and has not had a hotel since the 1930’s.
The tea, though served in nice, heavy stemmed glasses, was cloudy and bland.
We perused the minimalist menu, though I’d pretty much decided ahead of time. I had steak last time, I wanted to try the burgers.
I ordered the Munzert Burger with a side of German Fries.
Angel asked for the New York Strip, baked potato and a salad. Adam struggled and opted for the Chicken Piccata with mashed potatoes and a salad. Both chose French dressing.
The ‘Munzert Burger’ was defined as a fine grade of steak, ground, grilled and doused with ‘Munzert Sauce’ on a bun, with a choice of cheese, I naturally asked for Cheddar.
Piccata indicates thin, flattened (hammered) meat topped with a sauce of wine/lemon, butter and spices, most often parsley.
I did not order a salad so I got to watch as Angel and Adam ate theirs. I stole a crouton and enjoyed the lightly toasted bread cube with a hint of some pretty nice French dressing. Adam plucked the onions out of his and laid them out on his mother’s plate. I stole one of those as well.
Adam’s Coke was refilled, they chowed down, and I waited patiently. No water or bread was offered. Just as Adam and Angel were finishing up, the meals arrived. Adam’s chicken was buried under a thin, opaque sauce, the potatoes served in a separate bowl. Angel’s steak still sizzled. My burger smelled like fresh grilled steak. The German fries looked appealing. I’d taken a chance on the fries, but the only other option was steak fries, which I occasionally order, but don’t care for as much as other styles. The waiter had described the German version as sliced, spiced fried potatoes on a bed of fried onions. That was good enough for me. They steamed at the side of the plate, the round slices about a quarter inch thick, the onions had fried to a point of nearly being caramelized. My first bite was satisfying. I cut the burger in two, I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish it. It was served simply, just the burger, the cheese and the bun. If there was any Munzert sauce on it, it was invisible. The thick, hand-flattened patty was still pink in the middle, which was perfectly fine by me. No lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, mustard or ketchup was even offered. I did take some of the German onions and stick them inside the bun. The subsequent fries seemed a bit greasy as though the cooking oil temperature might have been a skosh under 350 degrees.
Adam picked at his chicken, scooting the sauce away. He wrinkled his nose at it. His mother tested the sauce and declared that indeed, it was too lemony. He picked at one of the fillets for a while but was obviously not enjoying it. His mashed potatoes were just as disappointing, they were ‘dirty’, peels and all had been mashed, and even the weak brown gravy did not impress or console him. I offered him a half-burger, he declined.
Angel was doing just fine, between burps, grunts and gnashing of flesh she declared: “They do know how to make a steak”
Then the babies showed up. We’d had the place pretty much to ourselves till about halfway through. A family, mom, dad and somewhere between two and seven toddlers popped in and were seated about two tables behind us. The kids were unrelenting screamers. Random, unannounced, unprovoked raspy siren-like squeals chiseled away at the darker places of my soul every few minutes. The parents did not take them outside, shush them or offer them up to passing gypsies as a decent parent would have done. My mood grew darker and darker as the evening progressed. Why a family would want to take a squirming herd of slimy, noisy, uncouth toddlers to a fancy, uptown steakhouse is beyond me. That’s what we have McDonalds for, and also part of the reason you’ll never find me at a McDonalds.
Angel finished most of her steak, I finished off one and a half, half-burgers, Adam’s meal was pretty much as it had started. Our drinks were refreshed once near the end of the meal. The waiter stopped by a couple of times to check on us.
We came to judge the service, but were not properly able to do so. We were the only customers for most of the time we were there, so had they been able to screw that up it would have been an epic abomination. The service we got was in fact efficient, polite, professional and without noticeable error. Had it been crowded we might have been able to better judge.
Adam’s meal was not a problem of the restaurant as much as the outcome of a meal that wasn’t prepared to his tastes. He ordered mashed potatoes without knowing (the menu was not very descriptive of any item) that they would be dirty, and the sauce on the chicken was just not to his liking. My burger was fine, the minimalist wording on the menu was dead on, meat + bun + cheese, not a morsel of conventional toppings or condiments. The cheese was cheddary and plentiful, the meat itself flavorful, like a well-grilled steak.
The entire meal came in at forty six dollars and change before the tip, expensive for Hillsboro, on par with most of the big-name franchises.
Between the franchises and Munzert’s, except for location, I’d say the trophy goes reluctantly toward the chains. Those places often have too many things on the menu, Munzert’s, not enough. I don’t recall a single vegetable being offered aside from the salad. The heavy odor of stale cigarettes knocked the ambiance score down considerably. I suppose I’ve just gotten accustomed to those places that reside in smoking-ban towns.
All in all I’d say it was ‘pretty good’. They can do a steak.
Hillsboro is notable for pretty much only one thing. It was designed to be the county seat and nothing else. In 1839 the county elders decided they needed a more centralized seat, as all the other towns were huddled along the far edges of the county on the Mississippi and Meramec rivers. So they found a plot of land on a hill above a creek in the middle of the county and declared it to be the designated seat. They wanted to name the town Monticello, after all this was Jefferson County, but some other little pissant crossroad had already filed for that name, so they settled for the English translation of 'Monticello', which is 'Hill-town', 'Hill-ville', or the more regal sounding, Hillsboro. Courthouses and other related buildings and supporting shops followed shortly, soon followed by the historically obligatory courthouse fires. The population has never grown much, the town was and still is almost devoid of industry other than light retail and legal/bail bond/title offices. It's kind of interesting that this dumpy, unattractive and virtually unheard-of, little one-horse town of less than two thousand people is the county seat for the fifth most populous county in Missouri. JeffCo is home to nearly a quarter of a million fine, upstanding folks.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Sure, we’d been there before, but we decided to go and have something different. Usually I get a steak, and they make a pretty good one, but on this day I simply wasn’t in the mood.
First, we were going on Sunday rather than our usual Saturday, Adam’s new job required him to work on our normal night. On Sunday morning I woke up, Angel was already out with the dogs, as usual. I knew she wouldn’t be up for long. I’d been up most of the night myself tending to some work systems to protect them from the switch back from Daylight Savings Time. I was groggy and sluggish but still managed to trek to the Circle K convenience store to get a cup of dark roast coffee. I just can’t seem to get a good cup at home, our water just doesn’t allow for it.
So I sipped my coffee, watched CBS Sunday Morning and wolfed down a microwaved sausage biscuit. Angel took advantage of my being up and headed in for a nap. This is typical of our Sundays, her napping and me babysitting our dogs as they snooze in the warm sunny spots by the sliding door. Bailey, the grand matron of the pack, patrolled the back yard warding off squirrels, motorcycles and some unseen things.
At one point her resonant baritone bark seemed more focused, more determined, I slipped out the door to the deck to see if she’d spotted a deer, rhinoceros, or wandering vagrant. I couldn’t see what had her attention, and she broke off the alert after a few moments and continued her patrol.
The morning was warming up, the fallen leaves rustled in the slight breeze. I was just standing there enjoying the moment, thinking about how long it would be before it would be too cold to just stand out there without a jacket. Into my field of vision came a small bee. It was staggering in flight, showing poor control. It was late in the year for bees to be just flitting about, no pollen bearing plants anywhere around. Just as my mind comprehended that this was a small bee, and how it was odd to see one this late, it clumsily dived and landed directly on my face, just below my left eye. In less time than it took for me to think “Hey, there’s a bee on my face!” The critter buried it’s stinger into my fleshy upper cheek. I believe I yelped since I am prone to do such things. I pulled it away and slammed it into the ground where it disappeared into the leaves and grass, dying a slow agonizing death if there is in fact any cosmic justice in the universe. My face burned fiercely. I was suddenly fully awake.
I powered up my laptop to find out what to do, whether or not to wash/ice/medicate it. I couldn’t recall being allergic to bee stings, but then again allergies sometimes do not start until later in life. I already felt some swelling and I thought I could feel the burning poison seeping deeper and deeper.
I found a site that had pretty specific instructions, so I washed the stung area and applied an ice pack. Actually it was a bag of frozen lima beans. I kept an eye on it and for the next hour it did not seem to be getting much worse, though it had swelled and reddened and had freezer-burned into it the logo from the lima bean bag. The web site mentioned that Benadryl was recommended to stop the swelling. I knew Angel had some but I decided to wait for her to wake up before bothering with it. I also recalled that Benadryl makes her woozy. This I feared greatly. She has a much higher tolerance for over-the-counter drugs than I do. I get dizzy form M&M’s and the stronger stuff, like Ibuprofen and antihistamines, are darned near narcotic to my sensitive yet handsome system. But I had no choice, Dr. Internet said I needed to take some Benadryl.
So the rest of the day, I froze my face with lima beans, suffered the drowsiness and general mental degradation of Benadryl/lack of sleep from the night before, and checked my otherwise beautiful face in the mirror every hour or so.
By the time we were ready to go out, I wasn’t as hungry as I usually am. I was in fact a bit queasy, bitter, and melancholy.
THAT’s why I didn’t want steak. Steak is best when you are feeling good, on top of the world.
Just down from Lowes (which sits on top of a family cemetery, but that’s another story) Ruby Tuesday’s is one of our former regular places. It’s a stand-alone and fancies itself a sports bar, though there were not many sports persons there on this day.
We were immediately seated by one of the six young ladies, all clad in black, that were hovering at the door. We were shown to a table, a hybrid, with a booth seat on one side and chairs on the other, this pleased us all. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke. And our waiter introduced himself in a lilting manner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
We scanned the menus, I was looking for not-steak. There was plenty to choose from and in quick order I decided. Adam didn’t take long either. Angel struggled enough to send the lilting waiter away for a few more minutes. She finally surrendered to her reluctant choice.
We ordered and were brought a small plate of garlic cheese biscuits, a new item on their menu. Overhead at the bar a sports competition was underway on the ceiling mounted television set. A helmeted team of large men in green jerseys were standing around pulling on various body parts as some referees conferred on a matter of obvious universal importance in the middle of the field. Yikes, what a tedious enterprise. All the other times I looked up at it, there were only commercials for beer and large pickup trucks.
I ordered the crabcake dinner, with a baked potato and grilled green beans. Angel asked for the barbecue ribs, baked potato and broccoli (yuk). Adam the Smokehouse burger, sans tomato and onion rings, with a side of fries. We all ordered the salad bar, because RT’s has the best salad bar in the county.
We piled our salads high with four types of greens, five different shredded cheeses, onions, peppers, cucmbers, mushrooms, slaw, apple salad, grapes, bacon, bologna, carrots, tomatoes, and our choices from nine different dressings (of which I drizzle on three, Thousand Island, Bleu Cheese and a vinaigrette.) Adam and Angel LOVE the dark, thick croutons, I don’t. Everything about the salad bar and the individual salads was excellent, fresh and plentiful. Except for the slaw which was very, very bland. We asked for another round of those cheesy biscuits, this could have been the meal in itself, highly recommended!
This was not as easy a choice as it might appear. I was biased. I KNEW the crabcake was not going to be as good as I hoped, it never, ever is. I’ve had the best crabcake in the world. Nothing else has ever been remotely as good. There are those that might disagree with me on this, I do recognize that people have opinions that do not square with mine, I do not for the life of me understand why, and I certainly do not respect it, but I do recognize that such a confounding state exists.
The Captain’s Table, Solomons, Maryland.
It’s a small, old, slightly warped and weather worn restaurant on the shore where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay. It’s behind the Day’s Inn, where I spent a couple of months back in 2001 after getting a job with the Navy at the nearby base. Too pricey for casual meals, it was a great place that Angel and I enjoyed on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and ‘a desperate craving for cream of crab soup’ during the five years we spent in Maryland.
If it weren’t a thousand miles away from my current residence I’d go there as often as fiscally possible. The crabcakes are perfect, the soup, simply to die for. I don’t even know what else they serve.
Enough about that though, back to reality, present time.
The Food: (cntd.)
We were served, the plates sizzled and the waiter warned us about the hotness of the plates. My crabcake was burger-sized, grilled to a lovely brown. The beans were almost charred and glistened in their coating of oil. The potato was substantial, and topped with butter, real butter and sour cream. There was a dipping sauce for the crabcake, which I tasted and scooted away. Too spicy, I like the subtlety of crabcakes, I don’t want or need to hot-wing them up.
I prepped the potato, which basically means I shredded it, peel and all, to make sure none of the dairy toppings went to waste. I tasted the beans, tender, grilled, very good. The first bite of crabcake was satisfying, not really bad at all. There was definitely crab in it, real crab, not that ‘Krab’ you see in grocery stores in the Midwest, the stuff with the curious orange striping.
Not too much breading, this is where many places absolutely blow it. Crab has a sweet, delicate taste and can be smothered by too much breading or mayonnaise, though it sings beautifully when the proportions are correct.
The next few bites were okay as well. About halfway through though I became bored and frustrated with it. I dared not speak what was on my mind. I offered Angel a bite, then another. She didn’t sense it. I couldn’t say it, but there it was. I was actually preferring the potato over the crabcake, a sin in anyone’s Bible. I’m sorry, the crabcake was too salty. There I’ve said it. The potato, even with all that butter and sour cream was not salty, the beans were not salty, it was the crabcake. I’d swear an oath to it, but I’m not supposed to declare anything too salty. I will say it wasn’t WAAAY too salty, just too salty for my delicate taste buds. It wasn’t awful, just not up to my already lowered expectations.
Angel let me try a chunk of her ribs, which she tossed at me from the end of her fork. I’m not a good judge of ribs, I find them all too greasy. But she was going crazy over them so I told her it was quite good. It’s not beneath me to lie to her (or anyone else) to keep the peace. Adam didn’t finish his burger, but not because it wasn’t good. He’d worked the night before so his sleep/eating schedule was off, and his salad had been enormous. We boxed it up and took it home.
All in all a very good experience, even with my issues with the crabcake. I did finish it. The combination of an exceptional salad bar, those wonderful biscuits and overall high quality more than made up for a single petty weakness.
The tab came in under fifty six dollars before tip, not cheap, but the food was mostly top-drawer. The price is typical of this caliber of chain restaurants, so comparatively not bad at all. We will go back, and of all the chains around this is my personal favorite. Maybe not crabcakes again, but they’ve got plenty of other stuff to choose from.