Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Fast Food

I've always enjoyed fast food. The convenience, the general flavor, the company while eating have always been things I enjoyed. Whenever I go to one of my hometowns, my old friends and I usually meet at Hardee's or Arby's to enjoy good conversation and a burger the size of my head.

I have been reading a few books that have been relatively eye opening. After several attempts to get through it, I finally finished Ishmael, a story about a conversation between a gorilla and a man looking for a teacher. They discuss our culture is not one that is compatible with the rest of the world, which includes how overpopulation and using the world like we own it is destructive. It's slightly more hopeful than I am making it seem, but it is a book I think everyone should read. The second book I recently finished is Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. You guessed it: it's about a lot of questionable things the fast food industry has done to potato farmers, cattle ranchers, and chicken farmers, not to mention health concerns and equally questionable business ethics.

Because of my reading and some self inspection, I have decided to go mostly vegetarian, especially when dealing with fast food restaurants. I have discovered this is easier than I thought, but it made me much more picky on where I'm willing to eat. I found out today that the Veggie Delight sub from Subway is quite delicious. The flavor combination of all the vegetables makes a tasty and enjoyable sandwich, which makes me reconsider my quest for the world's greatest sandwich. At first, I started my sandwiches with salami or turkey (or both), but now I'm atwitter which excitement.

Occasionally, I will post about my struggle or triumphs regarding my anti-fast food diet.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Tailgating

There's not many places where you will find so many strangers acting like family, or such massive groups of people cheering for the same cause, or so many good spirits than before a sports event in Wisconsin.

There's also not a lot of places where tailgating has become just as much of a pastime as baseball itself.

Yet every early April, thousands of die-hard, somewhat inebriated fans come to Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI, to cheer for their home team and make the parking lot seem like the worlds largest outdoor kitchen. The techniques may be centuries old, but what is cooked up in this blacktop desert of a ballpark takes imagination and determination to create.

Walking through the chilly asphalt diner, I expected the usual tailgating delights: hot dogs, brats, and burgers. When I strolled by a grill heating up a pot of oil, I did a double take. The potentially explosive combination harbored rolled up treats, bubbling away in the boiling liquid. In the middle of a land ruled by Johnsonville's, I stumbled upon egg rolls. The cook beckoned me to try one.

Taking a bite, the crunchy, outer coating fell away like flaky wrapping paper, revealing tendrils of clear rice noodles and many chunks of cooked pork. Biting through the noodles felt like chewing on squid tentacles, attempting to retreat deeper into the fried treat. With a satisfying tug, the first half of the egg roll was being savored. It was all very Zen.

Waving a thanks, I head out looking for more things strange and delicious.

Such friendliness was found throughout the parking lot, being offered food and beer at almost every one of my stops. Even if it was a hot stew or cold brew, my numb fingers warmed slightly simply out of the kindness I received.

Unfortunately, the same kindness I got from the egg roll man did not pass to the man that was grilling lobster. Such a feast has not graced my dinner table, but here, in an asphalt eatery, people still dine like royalty. A mound of tenderloin, two platters of crustaceans, shrimp and pineapple skewers, and chips with guacamole covered a brown card table.

“They will be grilled to perfection,” the cook said confidently, “after we are done appetizing.” No brats or burgers were going to pass through the kings' lips. No hot dogs will tarnish his table. All he needed was a crown, and I would have bowed as I left his makeshift grand hall.

In the crowded mess of people, relaxation was not on many peoples' priority list, but one surprisingly mellow fellow making a meager T-bone for himself and his buddy made me want to pull up an arm chair, sit with a warm cup of coffee, and talk by a camp fire. Most tailgaters were loud, drunk, and full of energy, this slight man calmly put onions on the grill, next to a pot of baked beans and a sauté pan full of mushrooms.

Stirring the mushrooms delicately, he told me, “It's just me and Dave today.” He spoke slowly and quietly.

Barely audible over the group of overzealous women, he continued to discuss his tailgating habits, and it seemed the noise or company didn't bother him at all. All that mattered was the good food that his wide, flat grill was heating up and the company of his friend. Though certainly not the life of the party, the man, clad in a think, camouflaged coat, was a nice retreat from his high energy surroundings. He could have been sitting in his backyard, relaxing on a warm, supper evening.

A beautifully weaved hunk of meat was being attended to by a few manly men, wearing camouflaged coats and hats, sunglasses, and full, think beards. The meat was clearly a product of a Tyrannosaur and Martha Stewart. Bacon made an intricate pattern over what I could only guess was more meat. The grizzly man explained the inner workings of this marvel of manliness.

“You put a weave of bacon down, then put Italian sausage over it, then cover it with another weave of bacon, wrap it all up, and smoke it for about five hours” he said proudly. It was the pinnacle of carnivorous creations. If you survived the three heart attacks the epic dish would give you, you get bragging rights for life. When I thought it wouldn't get any better, another manly man covered the beastly sausage with Swiss cheese. My heart skipped a beat. Out of pleasure or disgust, I care not.

At this point, nothing should have surprised me. I had seen it all; mountains of meat, lobster, egg rolls, fish fries. And yet, a group was stirring a five gallon pot full of fish, shrimp, potatoes, and seasoning.

“It's a good, old fashioned fish boil,” the man stirring grinned. Shrimp was ready to be grilled and a lone Italian sausage was bubbling away in a thick tomato sauce next to a small pot of melted butter. Even amongst the celebration of a new baseball season, refrained from grilling brats, burgers, steak, or any other form of red meat, and instead chose to dine as an act of piety, as opening day for the Brewers fell on Good Friday.

While others chose to eat fish and other seafood with their steaks or ribs, only this group chose to act so exclusively. After chewing a tender piece of haddock, I could see why: there was no reason for any other food when the rich, buttery stew was both filling and warm, which was perfect on such an unforgiving wind and unreliable sunshine. Religious occasion or not, a fish boil is something to consider when creating a parking lot menu.
The parking lot was full by 11:45 a.m. The game started a little after 3, and countless ticket holders were turned away at the gate. One tailgater said he had been coming to the parking lot for six years, but never entered the park on opening day. Even after the first inning, tailgaters were still grilling strong, listening to their team on the radio while enjoying company and food. For some people, grilling and good times outweighed getting into the game to see the first pitch, or even get into the ballpark.

And throughout the whole day, a sense of camaraderie brought everyone together, even if you didn't know the name of the person you were sharing some beer and brats with. If it was ketchup, burgers, or ales, a fellow fan would gladly share. Unless, of course, you are a Cubs fan.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

On Hotdishes

When I was a kid, I grew up in a small town in the smack dab center of Wisconsin. We went to a little church downtown called St. Marks, where I pretty much had a massive family watching more grow up, helping me along the way. When I was eleven, my mom decided she wanted to persue a career in the priesthood. Being an Episcopalian, that was ok, so you can go ahead and untie your panties. My mom is a woman priest. Priest. Not priestess (they only appear in Warcraft), mothers (a title that some choose to take, but not my mom), or sister (they are nuns). Now that that is clarified, we can move on. In short, after fifth grade, we packed up everything and left, hardly ever to return. I only went to St. Mark's about four times between the ages of eleven and forteen, for a funeral, a wedding, a special opening the new addition of the church, and for my mom's ordination.

I had not been there since mom's ordination, until this morning. Walking in was like walking into a room full of people that you recognize, but don't know if you remember them. There were neighbors, classmates, old Sunday school teachers, retired priests, including the three that baptised me, gave me my first communion, and will eventually preside over my wedding (not for a while). After the service, which, I'm not ashamed, left a tear in my eye, everyone filled the small fellowship hall for lunch.

And everyone knew my name, which is the thing that stresses me out the most. Fortunately for me, we do what Episcolpalians do best, which is socialize over food. The new priest at the church told us a joke:

A first grade teacher told her students, "Tomorrow, bring something that shows your faith for show and tell."
The next day, a little boy walks up to the front of the class and says, "I brought a rosery because I'm Roman Catholic."
A little girl walks up and says, "I brought the Star of David because I am Jewish."
More and more kids go up like that, and finally, the last boy in the class walks up to the front.
"I'm Episcopalian," he said, "and I brought a hotdish."

We don't often raise our hands in praise like those TimeLife praise commercials. No, we are a more reserved breed than that. We can hardly pray without writing it down first. No, how we come close as a community is through a slowbaked dish full of cheese, ham, onion, and potatoes (or a variety of things, mostly including cheese, ham, onion, and potatoes). However, Episcopalians are apparently not good at portions, as four hotdishes were supposed to feed over ninty, and Jesus did not show up to divide the fish and bread for us.

Luckily, it didn't really matter, as we still caught up, and I became "Monster No. 2" again, or get grappled into a bear hug from people I haven't seen in almost a decade, or remembering the whole church and everybody in it seemed much, much bigger all those years ago.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

About Home Cooked Meals

There are different kinds of full. There's the full that you get from eating a lot of frozen pizza. There's also the full that you get from Taco Bell. But there's a more satisfying feelings of satiety of three weeks of before mentioned meals before a multiple dish meal that was made with love but people that haven't seen you in a long time.

I had to go home for a dentists appointment, and decided to come a night early to enjoy some time with my parents and a little bit more time to sleep the next morning. About a week before arriving, my mom and I emailed back and forth to find out what I was in the mood for, either homemade or going out. I replied, "Something homemade and delicious."

I get home to a large piece of round getting stuffed with mushroom and onion, asparagus being cut, a salad being tossed, and great smelling peach and apple crisp with craisins getting ready to be put in the oven. Needless to say, I need to come home more often. Second off, I need to cook more at home. I wish I had more money, but that is another subject.

There's something special about being home and your parents learned how to cook much better since high school. It's been almost three hours since two servings of everything and I'm just getting hungry again now! That's huge!

It makes me consider what I want in my life. A bigger kitchen, more dishes, and time to cook. My biggest flaw is getting too hungry to have the patience to cook. My next kitchen will have many happy memories of friends and family catching up and filling, memorable meals.

Monday, March 9, 2009

About Beef Jerky

I love getting beef jerky at gas stations. Teamed with a massive soda, I could drive hundreds of miles munching away at this dried meat, sipping Cherry Coke, and listening to some good tunes as the world blurs by. Oklahoma doesn't seem so devastatingly boring when you have a pack of Jack Links. Something about dried meat intrigues me. Perhaps I hardly got it as a kid, and now it's a novelty. Or perhaps the love and patience it takes to take slabs of raw meat, soak it in barbeque sauce for hours, then dry it for even longer. I prefer to think the latter.

One of my best friends and his wife recently made beef jerky. It was one of the best things I have tasted in a long while, and soon enough, five people demolished a bag of ten hours of patience. I would have felt bad if it wasn't for the delicacy that passed by my lips. A few nights ago, the same couple made even more jerky, this time wisely requesting a charge for enjoying the snack. The smell filled the entire apartment complex and everybody suspected something great coming from their residence. I bit into a piece. It wasn't forced, it wasn't micromanaged. It took all day, but the end product hardly has words to describe it.

Making beef jerky is how I see starting and maintaining a relationship. It should be easy, give it some time, and don't try and force it. Good things happen in time, and soon, everyone can sense it happening. Starting a relationship needs a good marinade, time to soak, and a long bath in the jerky maker. My biggest problem is what I do after the jerky is done. My first instinct is to devour the jerky with gusto. However, like enjoying jerky and a relationship, one must use the same patience as during the creation.

Taking your time while eating beef jerky makes the experience so much better. Nibble a little bit off, chew it slowly, and let the flavors fill your mouth. Take your time, and don't force it. If you do, as I often do, it will be over before you are ready to let go and it only ends in lonely tears and a bag that smells delectable.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

About Food

I love food. I love how a dish can be passed down generation to generation and one bite can represent hundreds of years of experience. I love the flavor of food, either good or bad. Good food can rescue a bad situation or define a good one, during a funeral or a first date. I love the preparation of food. You get to know people by the way they cook. A friend of mine throws ingredients together to see what happens, while I have to look at the recipe several times per step to make sure I'm doing it right.

I also know how to make things better (I'm not arrogant, I'm right), which prevents my girlfriend from cooking for me. Although I don't mind cooking most of the time, the few times she did cook ended up ended with a vow of never cooking again. Fortunately, she breaks that vow occasionally to make delicious snacks like French toast (I have learned to bite my tongue when I observe any... inadequacies). Don't get me wrong, I make culinary mistakes as well, and I enjoy compliments, but I'll be the first to tell you what went wrong and what I should do next time (more garlic!).

Some goals of mine include becoming a culinary journalist of some sort, being able to cook my family meals more often than not, and find the worlds greatest sandwich to bless our little planet. A big passion of mine is eating what tastes good. Food is my mistress, a forbidden love that has outlasted relationships, leases, and expiration dates.

Because of my love, I will tell of my culinary experiences from my perspective. Unfortunately, on a college salary, fine dining doesn't occur often. Even if I could afford it, there aren't many dine dining experiences I can partake in here in Central Wisconsin.

So join me, if you will, on my tale of romance between a skinny white boy and whatever delicious thing comes his way.