Category Archives: Addiction

Three Years Goes By Fast…

About a month or so ago I was at a dinner at The Rieger, hosted by our CSA farmers.  Local, seasonal fare in familiar surroundings with great people.  When dessert was about to be served, they carted in a gigantic dish that must have held about 900 pounds of peach trifle and began putting it onto plates.  There was a lady sitting right next to me all night, and she was a huge foodie.  You knew she was a huge foodie with plenty of expendable income, because during her loud conversations throughout the meal she would not stop dropping the names of restaurants and their proximity to her McMansion in a Northland neighborhood. Oh, and she had her own catchphrase…..everything she enjoyed was “TO DIE FOR!”   Hey, I realize I’m just another fucking foodie, but I try to keep that shit a little closer to my chest when I’m shoulder to shoulder with strangers.  These alpha-foodies are everywhere, so you just kind of get used to the weird sense of entitlement they give off.  In a nutshell, they always want something just a little different than everyone else, and when they get it they chalk it up to their foodie credibility rather than recognize it as an example of great customer service.

So ANYWAY, dessert was being served.  I’m thankful to have a wife who is basically the canary in the mineshaft when it comes to food and drink that may or may not have booze in it.  More often than not, trifles contain some kind of straight/uncooked liquor, so as I had done five hundred times before I asked her to taste it when it came around so I’d know whether or not to eat any.  If I can’t eat something, either she can have it or someone around us can.  I’m not one of those PUSSIES who sits there factoring in the cost of the course they missed out on, especially when it’s a set menu.  It generally evens out, because for every bite of food I’ve missed due to my zero alcohol policy, I’ve gotten about twenty complimentary bites of food for just going with the flow.  For EXAMPLE, here is where the magic of The Rieger kicks in….right before dessert was being set in front of us, I got a heads up from one of our servers that “Howard has a different dessert for you”.  Different story for a different day, I’ll just say that my friends have my best interest in mind and for that I am deeply grateful. It turns out, 400 of the 900 pounds of trifle was pure bourbon.

But back to Mrs. To Die For…she was on about her third or fourth glass of wine she had to order special because whatever they continued pouring as part of the meal didn’t cut it for her.  Desserts came out…trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, GIANT GODDAMN PEACH AND ICE CREAM DESSERT IN A CRAZY POST-MODERNIST BOWL, trifle, trifle trifle……and that little gem did not fly under her radar.  She didn’t SAY anything, but I swear to God she’d stare at my dessert, then stare at me, then at her dessert….back to me, then my dessert….she really mixed it up there for a couple of minutes. And I won’t lie, that shit is PRICELESS to me.  You could just see the squirrels racing around that brain as she tried to piece together some possible explanation as to why she was not aware of a second dessert option.  I guess in Magnificent Ambersonville the proper etiquette would have been for me to answer her weird stares with some explanation, as my lower social status dictates.  I did not do that.  I wanted to though. Because when you get the chance to look an annoying person in the eyes and totally deadpan “I’m an alcoholic”, it is glorious.  I let the moment pass, but I wished she had said something.  I wished she said something because I wanted to get all serious and tell her, “You don’t want any part of this dessert.  I had to earn this dessert.  This dessert has a dark past that you do not want to hear about.  The price of this dessert is cheating death.  It is LITERALLY to die for.  How’s that trifle?  Tell me where you girls like to go all Carrie Bradshaw these days.” 

My 3rd sobriety birthday was actually July 12, so the lateness of this post is either a sign of progress because I’m busy with life, or I’m just lazy and unoriginal as shit.  And now that I’m writing so much food related content, my yearly retrospective will seem a little clunky.  These long rambles are one way for me to preserve some major moments, and in the off-chance someone in recovery gets a laugh or someone who needs to be in recovery relates to something, it’s really for them.

For the benefit of newer friends, or those who have never been bored enough to peruse the archives, my openness about stopping drinking doesn’t come from a place where I’m evangelizing, or wishing to god I could have a drink, or trying to get attention for learning the basic life skills the majority of mankind already possesses.  I just don’t ever want someone to feel weird about it, because I sure as hell don’t.  It’s kind of like discovering you have a severe peanut allergy…except instead of peanuts it’s bourbon….and instead of getting a shot to keep your throat from closing up, it’s several days of medical detox to make the hallucinations go away followed by a basic maintenance regimen.  I can’t express how grateful I am for all of the kindness and consideration I’ve received at god knows how many dinners, but I don’t want anyone to ever feel like my proximity to their drink or the abundance of wine and beer on the table has an inherent risk of me deciding to fly off the wagon.  If it made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be there.  It took me a while to get to that point, and I still don’t have a cavalier attitude about it…..there’s the old saying “hang around a barbershop long enough you’re going to get a haircut”.  That’s why you’ll see me at a million different “foodie” events, but I generally don’t meet up at the bar before or after.  I don’t do wine/beer/liquor sponsored or themed events, and even though I know Amigoni’s space is THE SHIT, I don’t have a valid reason to be there on a random Saturday. I’m just thankful to be where I’m at, so I stick with what makes me happy.

I know tons of people, like my wife, who can drink normally.  I know tons of people who can drink ABnormally and not let it derail their lives.  To all of them I say- fucking drink up!  It’s just something completely different for me, my mind doesn’t work in a way that allows for moderation.  It’s like iced tea…I love some tea. Depending on how thirsty I am, I can drink several glasses.  But when I’m done, I’m done. I don’t feel compelled to drain every glass and I don’t rationalize having ten more before running back to my stash at home.  To think that there are people who view liquor in that way is something I literally cannot wrap my mind around.  There are still people who look at it like dick measuring…..they sometimes will pose the question “Well, how much did you drink?”, like if I didn’t drink as much as them or someone they knew there’s no way I could really have a problem.  Whether it’s random folks or newbies down at the hall, my stock answer is always “I drank until it couldn’t make me sick anymore”.  And that’s a true statement.  I could drink enough to pass out or black out, but at some point I crossed that fucked up line where there’s no stopping because you’d get really, really sick.  That’s why I literally crack up when some random free drink from a well-meaning server or bartender will land in front of me, and someone I’m with is just shocked or appalled by it.  I’ve got about five places to buy booze two minutes from my house, so there’s no fucking way I’m going to be one of those preachy drunks and go “Pardon ME Arturo!  I cannot HAVE this free taste of your mother’s boozy egg nog recipe!”…..I’m just like “who wants to drink this?”  Unless every person is sitting at the table with two massive steins filled to the brim with a quality beverage that only comes from Kentucky in front of them…..I really don’t rattle. At the top of my gratitude list is the fact that I just honestly have no desire for a drink.

So long story short, life isn’t just about not drinking for me.  If you’ve been sober for three years and it’s still only about not drinking for you, then you’re just a dry drunk.  I don’t know how else to put it.  You either don’t have a program or the one you have isn’t working for you, and you need to fix that shit. Now, when I’m talking to new folks down at the hall or when I visit my alma mater to speak to the fresh crop of recruits, I will say “always keep your bottom close to you”.  I keep mine very close, but I don’t dwell on it.  It’s like muscle memory, lying in wait on the off-chance I get fidgety or my mind starts to wander into euphoric recall mode.  I guess it would work something like this…..if a shrink was showing me flashcards of various items to have me name them, it would be a lemon and I’d say “lemon”, it would be a castle and I’d say “castle”, the moon and I’d say “moon, a bottle of Knob Creek and I’d say “these spasms are ripping out my spine, and I can’t see whoever it is that won’t stop saying my name”.  Am I merely programmed?  Did I just use some Pavlovian conditioning or the Ludovico Treatment as a crutch?  Don’t know, don’t really care.  I just know that a little over three years ago I could not function without drinking, and now I have a great life with a wonderful family and all sorts of new friends I wouldn’t have if I didn’t get sober.  I go to meetings, have a sponsor, and I help other people who want to stop drinking.  My program takes work, it takes time, my sobriety has been hard fought and hard won, but fuck all of that….what a small price to pay for living the dream.

Now, I’m not saying I made it out unscathed.  It kind of fucked up music for me for god knows how long.  I still listen to the radio, have my favorite bands and whatnot, but I have what can only be described as serious PTSD symptoms if I hear specific songs or let myself get into a music-driven emotional state.  They’re really random, nothing anyone I know has probably ever owned or is ever played in public spaces, but it all stems from a pretty dark period when they held prominence.  And honestly, if you could figure one out and spring it on me, I’d be pretty impressed.  Visibly shaken, but impressed.  I think even my wife only knows one of them.  And I will take them to the grave unless my sponsor goes “You need to get that shit out….that crap does not make you unique or special. Get over yourself.”

In my rambling I probably make all of this sound like more than it really is.  But after you remove the booze and get used to living life, it’s really only about learning the things you should have learned in kindergarten.  Drugs and alcohol have a way of limiting your ability to recognize and deal with things like your fear, need for control, selfishness and ego.  So you yank booze away from a sociopathic egomaniac, you are still left with the sociopathic egomaniac. There is zero magic in the cessation of the substance. And learning to deal with people and life events fucking blows. I just always try to be learning something, and as I draw closer to a new sobriety birthday I start reflecting on what the year has taught me.  Biggest lesson this past year? It will blow your mind with its INTENSITY….it’s “count to ten”.  Think before you speak. Take some time before you react.  NOT reacting takes a hell of a lot of strength, but nearly 100% of the time you benefit from not having to clean up a huge mess.

I’ve got a long way to go. It’s an election year and I love to reel in some fish. Some big, fat, evangelical fish.  And that’s fun and everything, but it’s merely a symptom of a much larger issue.  When angered, threatened or disrespected, I always only knew the nuclear option.  I only wanted to break something in a way that could not be repaired, and I have several assorted years of my life that I’m not proud of and are generally only spoken of in detail in a one-on-one setting when some good can come from sharing.  I’ve never been to prison, never even been arrested, haven’t killed anyone, but I’m jaded in ways that sobriety has forced me to come to terms with.  You meet people with some genuinely fucked up history, in sobriety, and that history becomes their identity.  The problem is, it becomes a caricature because that’s as deep as they go.  And if that’s as deep as you go, you’re going to relapse.  Period.  Full stop.  Around the tables I have heard some of the most soul crushing stories you can possibly imagine, and I have heard them come from the mouths of people you would never expect to hear them from. People who would not let it define them, who took the promises offered by the program at face value and carved out a new life. So that’s part of what I learned. I want to be like THAT person…anyone can be the douche with the checkered past and street-cred chip on their shoulder…they can be entertaining but they lack depth and substance and have very little to teach others. 

Sometimes “count to ten” can take months.  And in my quest for that goal I was tested pretty well last year.  A major, prolonged situation involved family who embody everything about evangelical hypocrisy that I loathe….an arrogant sense of entitlement, poisonous self-righteousness, a way of cherry-picking the parts of the Bible that defend their predetermined answers, and a gift for showing one face to the people in church and an entirely different one to the family.  In short, the situation was…a gesture of kindness from family members morphed into drama where everyone being in the same room has to be pre-planned and micro-managed.  There is a twisted, faux-Christian sense of entitlement that tells the worst part of someone’s nature “Yes, you did irreparable damage to your family, you took advantage and held them hostage with your love, used your faith as a weapon to cast blame and hurt, but hey, you told God you were sorry, so if they can’t rise to your standards and get over it then it’s their problem to deal with.” No amends, no making things right, just rationalize screwing people over and use your exit strategy from one fake and eg0-based ministry to another as a sign that you’re doing what God intended. 

So that’s the short version.  I wrote about four thousand words JUST about that situation at one point, so please appreciate my mercy in scaling it down to a couple of sentences.  I mainly bring it up to emphasize what I’m trying to learn about life.  If it were three years ago, the story which I allude to would have had a very quick, extremely excessive and unprecedented conclusion with zero consideration for collateral damage.  But that’s the problem with the nuclear option…collateral damage.  The thought of having to ever apologize for something keeps me out of a lot of trouble.  So I let that one pass, and I protected myself by being bound to a promise to someone that I would not let anyone get hurt. But hey, it’s STILL ME….so during the months when I was talking myself down from the overly dramatic, I went with the gentler option of compiling a massive amount of extremely telling and highly un-Christian information unbeknownst to these idiots that, given the proper audience and delivery, would unburden them from having to worry about working in ministry ever again.  I’ve made huge impacts on very large, very popular and corrupt ministries just for fun, so…when I’m highly motivated?  “Hypothetically”…their words against them courtesy of plenty of vicious text and audio, as well as publically available information and data (possibly involving monetary troubles at one point from porn addiction), lists of hundreds of current and former acquaintances and dozens of churches with emails, websites, and social media all processed through approximately twenty hilariously customized domain names that mirror an awesome website for the entertainment of all of the interwebs. 

So basically, a “hypothetical” Doomsday Device.  And hopefully someday I’ll reach a stage of enlightenment that allows me to deconstruct it or at least change it to where it would take longer than ten minutes to disperse some shock and awe.  I just don’t trust stupid…some people get some distance between them and their mess and get cocky, or they get some weird self-righteous vision where they think you MIGHT be bluffing and want to challenge you or talk some shit as a way of communicating their toxic definition of love.  I just want to keep learning as I go and have my “don’t start no trouble, won’t be no trouble” policy as a cautionary statement.  Because honestly, as you talk yourself down from one ledge to another, the secondary option is really no less nuclear than the first.   Knee-capping someone is bad, but constructing and using an involved technological answer to the same problem is bad too…AND creepy.  The moral of the story is that time passed….I made it from one to ten. Progress, not perfection, was achieved.  Thanks in no small part to my aforementioned dedication to a program, as well as learning from other drunks with longer sobriety that animosity is just baggage, and the momentary relief you get from decimating someone is quickly replaced by even more baggage caused by the fallout.  Taking pride in being “the guy who can destroy but doesn’t” is the same cheesy copout as being the douche with the checkered past.  

All things….that could have been learned…..in kindergarten.  It can be tedious….has to be a little bit like relearning basic skills after coming out of a coma.  Acknowledging other people exist, being happy for others, always letting someone merge into traffic, learning that humility isn’t the same as humiliation, doing something for someone without a hidden agenda, and processing emotions without freaking out ain’t exactly rocket science, but the journey is dotted with confirmation that I’m on the right track.  I never have to wake up in a panic about what I may have said or done the night before.  I can recognize boredom as an opportunity just to enjoy a moment.  I am available for my family and my friends in a way I never was before.  A million things…the best of which is being on the brink of a completely new family reality and knowing that everything is going to work out just fine.  Of course it’s always just one day at a time, and the cost is factored into all of this with a mandatory regimen of going to meetings, keeping it simple, and working with others.  Early in my sobriety, three years sounded like an eternity.  Now I sit at three years plus some change and the benefits I can recognize from all of the work along the way is what will keep me moving through the next three.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Recovery

Best Food of 2011…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “My son is a homosexual and I love him…..I love my dead gay son!”

 Oh yeah, let’s open this with one of the classics.  It always struck me as strange when Patrick Labyorteaux stripped off his shirt how weirdly fat and muscular he looked at the same time. His core was like a chubby triangle. Great movie, Heathers.  And whenever I think of the most awesome, inspirational bites of food in my life, my mind immediately goes to that awkward funeral….and then to Brokeback Mountain….and then to some Lifetime PSA movie that doesn’t even exist.  This phenomenon is new to me as of this year, after a single bite of food that I will eventually get around to talking about.  But first I must elaborate upon a rating system that I touched on during my trip to DC…..

 2011 was a MONSTER food year, and my rating system is this- If I didn’t like it, unless it was REALLY horrible, you just don’t ever hear me talk about it. I’m not a food critic, I’m not going to bore you with all of the shit that is wrong with a place unless I get poisoned or physically threatened.  If I like it, but I’m not going to rush right back, you may or may not hear me mention it….The Farmhouse here in KC comes to mind as an example. Good food, I’d throw it out there as a recommendation, it’s worth a second and third try at some point, it’s just not going to break into our dinner rotation.  Then there are the restaurants and single dishes that I LOVE….and in the past year you’ve heard me talk about most of those.  I am always trying new places, but I’m a creature of habit.  If I truly love a place, it makes it into “the rotation”….no small feat. Then we go there all the time, and you get totally fucking sick of my Facebook updates from that point forward.

 But THERE IS a personal rating I possess that makes all of the Michelin stars in the world totally superfluous dogshit in comparison…..and THAT rating, which came to me straight from God in the middle of a single bite of food (which I WILL eventually get around to talking about) is….”Gay Jock Hate Crime of Love”.  Or as it will be referred to from this point forward, GJHCOL.  For the uninitiated I am going to break it down for you in a way that will unsettle you like a burp that smells so bad you think you may need to see a doctor.  With that said, I am obviously in no way advocating actual hate crimes if a bite of food sends you over the top.  My brain is just kind of fucked up, and this is how extreme sensory input and my grey matter have to talk to each other if they want to get my attention.

So anyway….in a vision it came to me…..  We are all familiar with those horrible zero budget Oxygen type movies that highlight something that was a relevant issue two years ago.  They always star Meredith Baxter Birney and some twenty five year old actor who is being passed off as the troubled teenage jock or the bulimic princess.  Well, in THIS movie it’s the jock, complete with his awesome letter jacket where he hides his secret smokes a la Greg Brady. But this jock has another, much bigger secret. FLASH FORWARD!  It’s the end of the football season, and the awkward semi-secret newly formed friendship he has developed with a yell leader (even though they’ve been neighbors forever…long story) transforms into an emotional bond that finally reaches its logical conclusion one night when they are in the gym putting some equipment back into the closet (the director had to throw some real softballs out there imagery-wise, Oxygen watchers are pretty goddamn stupid). Long story short, a “hey man…I never told you how much it meant to me when you…taught me how to read” confession turns into a long embrace, which turns into some very consensual kissing, shirts off, no Laboryteaux doughboys though, they are totally ripped, aaaannnnnd….love story turns to TRAGEDY!   With hot tears streaming and snot bubbles the size of grapefruits, the jock suddenly backs away as if struck by lightning.  He begins to emit an “Eeeee…eeeee…EEEEE” noise like that dude who was banging Forrest Gump’s mom, time stands still and the barometric pressure in the immediate vicinity changes so rapidly their ears begin to pop.  In a fit, he rains very vicious yet still ineffective blows down upon the object of his affection…the camera panning away as his conflicted, soul-cauterizing wails continue to boom throughout the halls. Then we fade in to Meredith Baxter Birney, quietly crying as she sits on his bed, wondering aloud what she could have done to help her son who now sits in the county jail….YEAH, maybe a little more understanding from YOUR sorry ass when you forced him to play football after finding him rifling through your makeup drawer and this would aalllll be different….not every child is as perfect as your precious Alex Keaton, whore.

Lots of restaurants, lots of food to cover, but that whole scenario is what flew through my brain after one bite of the following menu item.  “I HATE this thing….I LOVE this thing….I do NOT KNOW HOW TO FEEL SO I MUST DESTROY!  DESTROY!!! BUT OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO! Eeeee….eeeeee…EEEEEE!!!” 

Categories are out of order, photos are spotty at best, and not everything I talk about will be “gay jock hate crime of love” good….but this little fucker was:

Best Bite of the Year- the Foie Gras BLT at Eola, Wash. DC

The only bad thing about this dish is the photo.  Bacon cured foie gras with a tomato-madeira concoction inside of truffled brioche. As God is my witness, this is one of the richest, most delicious bites of food….ever.  I mean, it spawned “GJHCOL”, just out of the blue.  If you love offal, you will love Eola. So much good shit, go back and read my DC reviews.

Best “It’s a Classic For a Reason, Dumbass”- Citronelle, Wash. DC

I’m not including Citronelle because it’s insanely expensive and I got my ass royally kissed….this place gave me a double whammy of GJHCOL back to fucking back.  First was the Blanquette of Nantucket Bay Scallops..tons of butter and the most perfect little scallops I’ve ever eaten…slight caramelization on the tops, translucent in the center.  Then the death blow- Halibut with saffron lobster sauce….the sauce was the thing…beyond lobster stock, saffron and butter I do not know what all was in there, but it was probably the best sauce of any kind I have eaten in my life.

Best “Where In the FUUUUCCKK Did This Place Come from?”- The Corn Exchange, Rapid City, SD

 

The Corn Exchange was an absolute surprise shot between the eyes as far as food and service.  I’d read great reviews, and it was the only “fine dining” option within a few hundred miles of where we were staying in Deadwood that sounded worthwhile.  As with most of these “best of’s”, for more info consult the original write-ups, but I will say….the young people on staff had incredible training and if they so desire will be able to go on to work at ANY high-end establishment in any major U.S. city. Their enthusiasm for the restaurant was as enjoyable as the food. And the food…if you’re anywhere near the area, I give it my highest recommendation.  Above I’ve featured their corn pancake topped with smoked salmon just to give you something to look at.

Best “I Feel Bad for Having to Tell My Local Chefs About It”-  Crab Pasta at The Boiler Room, Omaha, Neb.

The handcut tajarin with peekytoe crab at The Boiler Room was the best pasta dish I’d eaten since I dined at Quince in San Francisco.  And I’m not throwing that reference out just to sound cool, if you know your shit you know that Quince is the real deal. There are a million little intangibles when it comes to toothy perfection in a pasta, and Chef Kulik just destroys it up in Omaha.  GJHCOL level deliciousness. I shit you not, if I saw it posted on their website menu in the afternoon for that night’s special and I had the time to make it up there, I’d seriously consider a spontaneous trip to Nebraska.  The Boiler Room is the real thing, eat there.

Best “Softshell Crab at The Rieger”- the Softshell Crab at The Rieger, Kansas City, Mo.

I know, this one was a surpise winner in this category.  Your asses all knew The Rieger was going to show up here….just a matter of when and what.  No secret that I now just refer to it as “headquarters”, and I do look forward to softshell season 2012.  I’ve eaten plenty of softshell crabs and THESE…they are special.  But there’s so much good shit at The Rieger I just kind of settled on this dish because our time with it shall always be fleeting.

Best “Recovering Alcoholics are People TOO”- soft drinks at The Rieger and Justus Drugstore, and the Van Verde at Bluestem

Now I know these things weren’t all formulated just for my sorry low-bottom ass, BUT I am forever thankful for delicious and thought provoking non-alcoholic options when I dine out.  The Rieger Kola, pictured above, is just King Motherfucker and that’s the way it is. Flavorwise, it is the killer.  I’ve been opting for the Green Tea Ginger soda more often recently, but I always go back to the Kola.  At Justus you simply choose between savory and sweet when ordering a mocktail, and I promise you whatever you receive will be as incredible as any of their alcoholic drinks….okay, obvious bullshit THERE, but hey, they are still awesome.  And honorable mention absolutely goes out to Van at Bluestem…the no-booze version of the Van Verde with all of its cucumber smoothness is the perfect beginning to a five course meal in the dining room.

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

Like The Rieger, here is another place that I’ve ranted and raved about since our first visit to El Comedor on the hottest day of the year….July First Friday.  It has been chronicled here at least twice, but has to be included in my personal best-of for this year.  It got its start early this year and since then has exploded in popularity with dynamite walk-up Mexican street food, and a private dining experience that blows the mercury straight out of any hipster-cache thermometer. Great food, awesome people, and one hell of a story.  With the passing of Starker’s chef and owner John McClure this fall, a huge gap was left in our food scene and the fate of Barrio, the taqueria set to open in Westport in 2012, was unknown.  With the type of loyalty and love that makes me proud to be a KC food nerd, the folks at Port Fonda and McClure’s business partner Dan Doty teamed up and that taqueria is still going to open in the Spring of 2012.  The Port Fonda storyline expands and the collaboration and respect that is shared amongst some of my personal favorite people in this town will continue to be legendary. 

Best “Comfort Food- Redefined”- Vietnam Cafe, Columbus Park

One of the major food groups my wife has been missing badly since she moved up here is Vietnamese.  I took her to one place in the River Market where I’ve eaten for years, and we tried a couple of places that were new to both of us.  After a couple of visits to each of the (unrelated) Vietnam Cafe’s we have in KC, the one in Columbus Park just sucked us in.  Pretty much every chef I know and every friend who loves food has raved about Vietnam Cafe, but I never want to jump on a bandwagon even if I trust your opinion.  The place delivers, and has leap-frogged over restaurants like The Corner when we’re seeking soul warming comfort food. The pho, the rice dishes, the crazy low prices, the insanely fast service and people watching….I NEVER eat quickly anymore but I always find myself hoovering in whatever they put in front of me.  We need zero reason to head over there, so if you have not been….go, dummy.

“Best Way to Guarantee You’ll Need Your Entrees To-Go”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s

This dish will go on every “best of” list I do for the rest of my life….totally non-traditional, insanely unhealthy and filling, and absolutely mandatory.  Fried pasta chips, ground Italian sausage, asiago cheese sauce, parmesan, pepperoncini’s, black olives, tomatoes…..the only way you’re going to touch your entree is if you’re eating with at least three other people.  Total stoner bliss, death row meal material, this is something that will remain legendary.

Best “Only Reason to Drink Coffee Other Than My Own”- the espresso at Grunauer

You know me, I roast my own coffee and have for at least a decade. I generally only use beans from Ethiopia or Yemen with the occasional use of Sumatran or Indian Monsooned if a good crop is available. I make my shit STRONG, my regular cup o’ joe will leave the flavor of most espressos in the dust.  But the Meinl espresso they make at Grunauer is probably the single best restaurant coffee I’ve ever had.  Usually if I can even detect coffee flavor when dining out I’ll say it’s “good”…so when I actually get flavor overload, then holy shit, I’ve stumbled upon the beverage version of GJHCOL.  More places like Justus and The Farmhouse are doing French Press these days, and there are many choices for locally roasted beans, but Grunauer’s espresso is far beyond anything else I’ve ordered in KC.

Best “Made Me Wish I Was a PMS’ing Teenage Girl So I Could Truly Appreciate It”- the Christopher Elbow/Port Fonda drinking chocolate collaboration

These crazy fuckers got together and took what is ALREADY a ridiculously rich and flavorful beverage (that you can’t call hot chocolate because it truly is “drinking chocolate”) and took it to the next level.  I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but God in heaven, the addition of what tasted like orange peel and spicy chiles made a believer out of me.  No need to go looking for it, it was a one-time thing as far as I know, and you know it was delicious if I’m not even mentioning the freshly fried churros they served with it.

Best “Yes I Am Aware It’s a Polarizing Place, But the Food is Phenomenal and  My Street Cred is Such that I Can EAT WHEREVER THE FUCK I WANT”- Justus Drugstore

The title of this award pretty much sums it up.  Do I know diners and restaurant professionals who do not like Jonathan Justus?  Oh yeah. Absolutely. But until I hear stories about him poisoning Tylenol bottles or happily serving Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, I will continue to be a fan. The man puts out some consistently thoughtful and well-executed food. It is rare for my wife and I to spend a thirty minute car ride combing over the finer points of the meal we just ate, and more often than not that’s what happens after our meal there. And the service….excellent.  If you know me, you know the only chef’s ring I’m going to kiss in this town is Howard Hanna’s, and that’s only because we have the same wedding band….I don’t fall for the fanboy bullshit.  If the food was not top notch I wouldn’t eat there just to remain in the KC dining elite, much less rave about it.  Anyone who doubts my ability to completely alienate and terrorize a REAL douche of a chef, feel free to consult the local archives. 

 

Best “Who Knew That Shit Went Together?” – the Sweetbreads and Scallops at The Rieger

That’s pretty much it. Who knew?  Two of my favorite foods on the same plate together, both executed individually and perfectly.  If I’m a dumbass for not knowing this is some legendary goddamn Escoffier classic, well then fuck ME…

“Best Reason to Own at Least One Chest Freezer”- Paradise Locker Meats

I’d say at this point about 85% of the meat we eat comes from Paradise Locker. We are lucky to be able to buy from a place that caters to many, many top tier dining establishments.  Smartest half hour drive ever.  They know their product, and it’s not like Lobel’s… you don’t have to have an upper-east side salary to afford to buy most of your meat there.  Now, it’s not as cheap as your factory farmed grocery store truckload sale selections…..but the trade-off is YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THAT IT’S MEAT!   We are happy to eat a slightly smaller quantity of a much higher quality product, and the selection is varied enough to make it a lot of fun.  It’s a whole circle of life thing…you support a locally owned operation that supports local farms…a meaty and delicious goddamn hippie dream.

Best “Better Late to the Party Than Never”- the radish pods from Crum’s Heirlooms

This was the year we joined our first CSA because it was the first year our favorite farmers (from whom we buy every week during the season ANYWAY) offered one. There were many, many items we loved and lusted over….kohlrabi comes to mind, mountains of kale, RADISHES, tomatoes….but the big one that stuck out due to its uniqueness (and newness to MY clueless ass) was definitely the humble radish pod.  Everthing that is good about a snap pea and spicy radish rolled into one little package.  Eaten alone, on salads….everything about them is good.  Our favorite thing is to mimic a Rieger dish and top a piece of grilled Farm to Market Bread with a salad that features the pods, radishes and greens, all topped with an over-easy egg.  Definitely loving the CSA way of life and the Crum’s are the best…..cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.

“Best Testaments to the Fact That My Kitchen Kung-Fu is Strong”- Macarons and Sous Vide cooking

I’ve featured both of these things on my blog, so I won’t spend a ton of time here.  Mainly just wanted to say that between learning how to successfully make macarons, and bringing sous vide into my regular cooking rotation, I feel like a pretty goddamn accomplished home chef.  Above you’ll see the assorted macaron colors and flavors that were part of my Christmas gift selection for  very lucky recipients this year, and below that is some Ad Hoc fried chicken that was brined and sous vide prior to frying.  Macarons are a bastard to make, sous vide is like falling off a log….and both result in impressive and delicious offerings.  Oh, most recently the 48 hour shortribs (Piedmontese from Paradise Locker, naturally) shot to the top of my best-ever special occasion recipes….or not so special occasion…whenever I have shortribs on hand counts as special.

Best “I Don’t Often Choose to Read, But When I Do It’s About Food…”- Lucky Peach

Yeah, I like reading some gratuitous Bourdain rambles and I worship David Chang as a fellow lover of finely crafted profanity.  And you KNOW YOU’RE COOL when you can drop little nuggets out of THIS publication. Seriously though, a great read, I’m just about done with Issue #2.  Awesome recipes, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I feel a kindred spirit when reading Lucky Peach, and it forces me to read….something I swore I would never do again after grad school.

Best “Poised for World Domination”- Colby and Megan Garrelts, Bluestem and Trezo Vino

And we will finish this hell-ride up by bringing it all back full circle….folks that took my expectations for fine dining in KC over the top.  Colby has made like forty trips out to NYC to be continually shot down by the James Beard dicks, and Megan has always been like “you all WILL believe that dessert is just as vital a part of your meal as a first course or main”.  Now I don’t know if any of THAT shit is the impetus behind the juggernaut, but they are vivisecting the local scene like a pageant mom with a grudge.  A second restaurant, a third on the way, any and all collateral damage to the flagship addressed with a vengeance, and the greatest thing of all for those of us who have been there since the doors opened….a cookbook (complete with signings and a media blitz that probably includes the outer banks of Siberia for all I know).   I don’t mean this to sound condescending AT ALL, but “watching Bluestem grow up” has been a total joy.  I eat a ton of different places, I always have some current obsession, but I always know that I can go back to Bluestem and get service and food that reminds me why I continually champion the KC food scene.  Well played, demons.

So wasn’t it great how I included the gay jock thing for no real reason and then only made gratuitous references to it throughout this whole mess in order for it not to be completely unnecessary?  Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a totally new yet still homoerotic vision that ventures into the land of the male g-spot….we can only hope and pray for that.

And that’s about all I’ve got….Santa was kind, we’re co-hosting a huge NYE party tomorrow night, and all is well.  Happy New Year, pricks.

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The Boiler Room: Omaha, Nebraska

There really isn’t any other way to say it than to just say it….I’ve always been a boob guy. As far back as I can possibly remember, that fact has been a driving force in my life when it comes to my fascination with and admiration for the opposite sex. In this I am not alone, but much of the time we keep it under wraps, limiting it to guy-talks, locker room chats, anonymous bulletin board postings, whatever. I’m just out there with it…Russ Meyer is GOD, Christina Hendricks is the prototype for a collection of perfect Stepford Wives, Victoria’s Secret models are built like ten year old boys……..I know what I like and with very few “which of these is not like the other?” ex-girlfriend exceptions to the rule, it has been a fucking lifelong THEME. A goddamn QUEST! How in the hell my ramblings about my chronic alcoholism have unashamedly and transparently become a running theme before I ever rounded the bend into big-tit country is a total mystery to me. For those of you who know me, this news is as big a revelation as the fact I wear too much Under Armour. I’m not one of those loonies who scour the freaks of science websites that display obvious quality of life issues, there IS such a thing as TOO big….but for me it’s case by fucking case. The algorithm is a work in progress.

And no story from my personal X-Files of cleavage lore would be complete without mentioning the city of OMAHA. For it was in OMAHA that I suffered a harsh life lesson after flying way too close to the sun. It was somewhere around 1994, I had spent most of the five prior years in a sheltered churchy-type social construct, and I was really green. Easy pickin’s for a savvy chick with very big issues and even bigger boobs. This was back when just having basic shit in common with a girl meant you were soulmates….”OH! You read RE/Search Magazine too? What song will we play during the first dance at our wedding??”. This girl, who will remain nameless, worked in a diner my friends and I frequented when I was in Bible College in Minneapolis, and sometime after I quit Bible College and went to the U of M she and I became buddies. What I didn’t realize was that even though we began dating and ultimately did start talking about marriage….I was still in the buddy role, but I was also a good provider for her when she needed a ride, money, place to sleep, shoulder to cry on, or whatever. A pretty girl with a huge rack and extreme body issues……looking back at the shit I put up with for minimal reciprocity is hilarious now. She was originally from Omaha, so we’d bounce back from there to Minneapolis to Kansas City back to Omaha…all dependent upon whatever drama she was suffering at that moment in time. It’s probably why I hate all of the Emo shit now….a bitter reminder of the hopeless pussy I once was. A trendy and fashion-forward lifestyle based on being a whiny doormat who won’t shut the fuck up about how much it impacts your tiny heart is just too much for me to think about. So long story short, THAT shit ended badly and I fled Minneapolis to Kansas City. I drank for a few days, and then I began my journey from my ministry license expiring to running the premiere porn store in all the land.

So OMAHA…I spent a lot of time there. A lot of time wandering around the Old Market back when deciding whether to spend what little cash I had on a Snapple or a pack of smokes counted as a financial dilemna. This is what any self respecting hipster from that era would call the POST-grunge days…..more than ten people outside of Seattle knew about Sub-Pop records, and seeing Urge Overkill live NOW meant you had to go to a larger venue than the neighborhood bar where you first saw them. With Kurt Cobain only having a couple of months to live, it would have been wise to talk to him longer when I met him at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS……Soundgarden SUCKED, Pearl Jam SUCKED DICK…..to us they ruined a scene we never would have known about had it not been for them “selling out”. Scoffing at the movie Singles when it came out, being the coolest guy in the room for having met G.G. Allin, road trips to Chicago to see The Jesus Lizard or Laughing Hyenas….the springtime of a boy’s life, ultimately ruined by a damning fascination with breasts. In Omaha we’d always spend a weird amount of time shopping at Drastic Plastic in the Old Market, and I’ll never forget the day I finally found my own copy of Bongwater’s “Double Bummer”. Interesting sidenote- the folks who ran Drastic Plastic (still run it for all I know) opened a sister store in Kansas City called Spiney Norman’s. The final location for THAT store was in the exact same place where one of my ultimate favorite restaurants, Bluestem, now resides. Life comes full fucking circle. And some shit don’t change…..still a boob guy, but much to the dismay of my wife and any woman who has known me for the past ten or twelve years….at some point I realized I had testicles.

So there we have it….a little too much memory lane preceding the actual reason for this post….but it’s Omaha-related. When we were there a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but remember the fun and the horrors of life back then. No money, no skills, no direction, no sense, no semblance of the white trash culinary discernment I possess now. I returned to Omaha a conqueror. A man who had gotten his shit together, to some degree, through the years. At the very least, I quit putting up with unnecessary shit…with extreme prejudice. AND I was sober, happily married, employed, and involved enough in the food community to get an immediate answer to the question….”Where should I have dinner in Omaha?”.

Short answer- The Boiler Room. There ARE other good places to eat, but all information pointed to The Boiler Room as THE place to begin. In short- solid, solid place for dinner. And not in that food-tourist kind of way…more in that “I’m a fat guy who knows good food so fucking trust me” kind of way. Oh, foodies of every stripe will love the place, but when I think of good food now it’s more along the lines of where a chef would tell another chef to eat. Beautiful space, but not pretentious. Knowledgeable, engaging and friendly service, but not all up your ass. Simple, homey, regional food themes, executed cleanly with great ingredients.  A proper application of heat…I realize that a fancy way of saying “cooking” would get me gang-banged if I were part of the infamous Bourdain/Dufresne/Chang conversation in Lucky Peach…but a “proper application of heat” is a big thing to me, so I can’t just say cooking.  Texture and temperature in harmony arriving to your table at the height of the marriage.  Yes “the food is still hot when it gets to your table”….I know, fuckers, I know. Big, big deal for me that goes beyond the most obvious. Most importantly- the sense of pride and ownership from the back to the front of the house that is 100% mandatory before I would ever say “go eat there, the place is solid”.

Go eat there, the place is solid. Oh, I’m not going to throw my favorite restaurants under the bus or anything, I’m just saying you’re going to have a great meal. Still a ways to go before something eclipses my scallop and sweetbread dish at The Rieger. Let’s not lose our minds here.

When you are trying a new restaurant, do what we do: over-order. Investigate that shit. If you have the right people in your ear telling you where to go you don’t have to be afraid of getting a tableful of shitty food.   We ended up getting three appetizers, two mains, and just one dessert and a capuccino…I didn’t get a photo of dessert, it was a delicious Early Grey Pots de Creme.  If you’re late to the party when it comes to reading my reviews….I error on the side of enjoying my food and my company when it comes to taking notes or pictures.  Oh, also be sure to mention if you’re coming in from out of town, or if you’ve heard great things about the place, etc. when booking your table….we didn’t get VIP’d or anything, but they did save us a fantastic table on the 2nd floor with the best possible view of the kitchen.  And what, besides bouncy boobies, is as fun to watch as a professional kitchen on a Saturday night?

Hand Cut Tajarin, sweet corn, peekeytoe crab, chives

With apologies to all of my local chefs who regularly serve me wonderful and compelling pasta dishes, this was the BEST fucking pasta I have had since my meal at Quince in San Francisco several years ago.  And ironically, I found out from our server that the dish was inspired BY Chef Kulik’s trip to Cotogna/Quince….in fact, if I remember correctly the trip actually inspired him to have a pasta dish on the menu every night.  This one is a winner, winner, winner….and was a last second throw-in as the third app when I couldn’t decide between it and the pork belly.  Perfectly done pasta, the best possible texture, rolled so thin, cut to a perfect and uniform width,  fresh flavors from what had to just be the milk from the corn, micron-thin bits of chive, and light chunks of crab.  Pretty much worth the 2 1/2 hour drive from KC just to have this. I’m not joking.  World class.

Braised T.D. Niche Pork Belly, cranberry beans, spinach cream, shaved black radish

As far as pork n’ beans go, this was a winner.  First of all, that “proper application of heat” got it to our table right when the fat was still melty but didn’t fall off your fork.  Really, really decadent.  And I like the way they present it….like a very thick bacon slice vs. the ubiquitous cube-o’-belly.  At home I’ve found this to be the best, and the easiest way to present it.  More surface area for that delicious crispy fatty exterior.  The texture of the beans, smooth earthy sweetness of the spinach cream and slightly hot bitter bite of the radish pulled it all together and kept it from being just another study in richness…which is not without its own merit.

Heirloom Squash Soup, bottarga, celery leaf, fingerling potato

Didn’t get a picture of this one, fuckers!  Great soup though, potatoes added some texture, as did the celery leaf along with some fresh bite. Very rich overall, cold weather stuff to be sure.  The addition of just a little bottarga on the top was pretty genius…it lent a certain amount of depth to the flavor with that little hit of ocean brine.  A condiment to be used very, very sparingly…perfect amount here.

California Escolar, potato gnocchi, beef marrow, oregon chantrelles, escargots

Pretty dreamy main course.  The fish had what one may refer to as the “proper application of heat”…flaky, moist, crisp and thin little crouton-like addition to one side.  The supporting cast really took this dish all over the place. First off, my server let me know that they were out of the escargots, but the chef would like to add his housemade sausage instead if that was okay.  Of course it was okay.  Awesome flavor and texture to the little slices of sausage….along with the little chantarelles, some broth and the rondelles of beef marrow, the dish was all over the place flavor-wise.  Very well composed, making an already great piece of fish far, far more interesting.

Braised Nebraska Piedmontese Shortrib, celeriac purée, nantes carrots, grilled eggplant, marrow crumbs

My wife ordered this dish, so since I was neck-deep in my escolar I didn’t try as much as I would have liked.  She loved the marrow crumbs….new to me too, tasted kind of like if God won the annual “Best Alternative to Panko” contest.  The shortribs themselves were very good…I mean, shortribs…one of the best cuts of beef, period.  I forget how much a good celeriac puree can add to a dish….a far better choice than the usual heap of mashed potatoes.  Recently my wife started using smashed white beans as a potato alternative….way more flavor and texture…this puree was a lot like that. I’d never sit down and eat a quart of it like I would potatoes, but the flavor is exactly what you want in a hearty, homey dish like this one.

Again, if you are in Omaha, this is where you want to have dinner.  I want to try Grey Plume and a couple of other places, but The Boiler Room will be mandatory dining when we visit.  

BONUS ROUND!

The “11worth” Cafe…..just had to throw this one in there.  I think my ex-girlfriend lasted about half a shift.  The place is a meatgrinder as far as service and table turning, an amazing military operation. And I’m sure that drunk rednecks and assorted rough trade aren’t as subtle when it comes to scoping boobs…so she bailed pretty fast.  Good, not fantastic, food. Awesome people watching, and you do get a ton of grub for your dollar.  Honestly one of the most impressive operations I’ve ever seen outside of monstrous Asian restaurants and dim sum parlors….the place just churns and fucking burns. Unreal.

 We got a breakfast burrito, and this huge plate of biscuits covered with manhole cover sized sausage patties and gravy that they call “The Robert E. Lee”.  My advice- get the small order. It is massive.

So anyway, in keeping with the food theme of late, here is another offering. And I made sure to keep enough time between posts to just be annoying.  Lots of good dinners and events coming up throughout the holidays for us.  We’re co-hosting a NYE party featuring some catered Port Fonda pork, and god knows what meals we’ll be enjoying at our regular haunts.

OH, I never end my food review posts with some annoying sign-off, but if I WERE going to do that now it would be something like….. When it comes to being seductive and satisfying, The Boiler Room in Omaha sure has one HELL of a rack!

See why I never do that shit?  It just ruins everything.

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Making Macarons Is A Lot Like Autoerotic Asphyxiation…

You either walk around for a few days hunched over with neck pain, belt burn around your throat and one of your eyes partially obscured by blood from burst vessels- all the while grinning in oxygen deprived euphoria….OR…..someone finds your shit-sodden corpse hanging from a beam and they may or may not have the decency or state of mind to zip you back up or hose any incriminating DNA off of the floor before the coroner’s office arrives and gets their biggest laugh of the week. A lot can go wrong. A lot. Can go wrong.  In some cases, there is no such thing as TOO MUCH preparation or forethought.  And there is no shame in assigning a spotter to help insure everything ends safely and with the most rewarding results.  Autoerotic asphyxiation, strangulated masturbation, whatever you want to call it….truly parallels the creation of French macarons in its potential for embarrassing, irrecoverable tragedy, as well as the siren song of exquisite perfection…that highly prized yet painfully shy golden ticket that awaits you at the end of painstaking planning, artistry, and a little luck.  You’re either some idiot who killed himself jacking off, or you manage to take an otherwise overdone and underappreciated process and wring it dry by taking it to its fullest logical capacity.  There is a sense of dread involved with both…dread that is overshadowed by the promise of glory.  There is fear, the need for practice, and a Zen-like focus on the smallest details.  Lots of research and hopefully the ability to know when it’s time to cut your losses, back off completely, regroup, and save that victory for another day.  Your mind has to be right, and your mind has to stay right. If your mind isn’t right you are in grave danger.  Because failure can cost you a lot. It can cost you your fucking LIFE!  Or it can cost you at least twenty dollars in ingredients and an hour’s worth of prep.  Which of those two endings is scarier?? We would have to bring Plato back from the dead to ponder an actual answer to THAT question, my friend.  But I don’t think even he would know….we’re getting into uncharted philosophical territory….so I will just go about the task of education rather than force you to ponder the unanswerable…..

I was taught to make macarons by a professional pastry chef, and I have been making them for quite a while know….just shy of three weeks.  So I’ve learned a thing or two.  Mostly…the thing is, there is not one single thing you can do on-the-fly with these little bastards.  Call it mise en place, getting your shit together, whatever you want….you had better have every single thing prepped and measured ahead of time.  And get used to using the metric system, with baking that’s just the way it goes. If you hear me saying it, it really is true. There are some specific points at which you can blow the entire batch, and it isn’t like you can make some adjustment to save it…it’s not steak soup. 

Here are the ingredients I use because they are what I used in class. I know there are about five hundred different recipes out there.  I have no clue about those. This is the only one I know. If you’re tempted to let me know a better way, don’t.  I don’t care. If you’re some purist who would be appalled that this recipe is somehow lacking or not authentic….there’s no way in hell you made it past the first paragraph because it sent you into flittering fits of aghastment, so I’m not too worried.  ON THE OTHER HAND, if you’ve got some great ideas for butter creams, curds, savory fillings, etc….THAT I’m interested in.  And don’t try sneaking in the information I’m not looking for when you share it.  

200g almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill….forced through a small mesh strainer w/a spoon to get rid of large chunks)

200g granulated sugar

200g powdered sugar

150g room temperature egg whites separated into 2- 75g portions

Pinch of salt- I just put that in the almond flour from the get-go

50ml water

Hardware- piping bag fitted with an 8mm tip, flat bottom sheet pans fitted with parchment paper (you HAVE to have parchment paper), and as far as all of the other shit…because I hope for your sake you’re not going to try and learn from ME on your maiden voyage or the hardest thing you’ve done are cupcakes…I’m going to leave it to you to figure out the rest; mixer, candy thermometer, good pan for cooking sugar, etc., etc…..

In case I didn’t mention this before- HAVE your SHIT ready to GO.  Everything pre-measured in its own little bowl, parchment cut, thermometer firmly attached to your pan which is already sitting on the stove, pastry bag fitted with a tip and sitting upended in a tall glass, mixer clean and ready, etc. If it can be done ahead of time, do it ahead of time. 

The first thing I do is just put one of the 75g batches of egg whites into the mixer and start the whisk on the lowest speed.  I also go and add the granulated sugar and water into my pan and leave the heat off.

Then, I go and whisk the powdered sugar thoroughly into the almond flour, to which I then add the other egg whites and mix until I’ve got a good, sticky dough.  This is one juncture where you could add food coloring (gel is preferred over liquid), but for the batch I’m featuring today I left coloring out completely due to a tragic attempt on Saturday that ended with the equivalent of the coroners taking Abu Ghraib-style photos next to my dead body.  The dough ended up being too runny…and it could have been ten different things that contributed to it, but you eliminate the most obvious one first…in this case, gel coloring due to the liquid it added into my macaronage.

This is where shit starts getting more touch and go…..basically, you want to get those egg whites in the mixer whipped to stiff peaks right at the same time your sugar mixture on the stove reaches softball stage.  I have not yet found the perfect timing to this, so I offer no finite advice on when to start what.  But this is the point where the belt starts to cut into your neck a little bit.  A spotter would not be the dumbest thing to have here.  You don’t want to overbeat the egg whites, and you need to have that sugar within a couple of degrees for this to go just right. BUT….long story short, when your egg whites are at a stiff peak, and the sugar is at soft-ball temperature, you take the hot sugar over to the mixture and slowly pour it down the side of the bowl into your whites…..and the mixer goes on high and stays on high.  Most of your weight is being supported by the belt right now, it is fully cinched and you’ve got a pretty long journey to joy and safety from here, so be mindful.

With the hot sugar introduced to the bowl, feel the bottom to see how hot it is. What you want to do is let it roll on high until it cools way down….8 or 10 minutes. At the end of that time you should have a pretty delicious looking Italian meringue.  It’s pretty strong stuff, so you don’t have to be a total pussy when folding it into the awaiting dough…to about 1/3 of it at a time and avoid getting any crystallized sugar in there from the sides of the mixer bowl. 

I think this whole process is best if it’s NOT done in a particularly warm kitchen….just thought I’d throw that in there.  So you mix your meringue into your dough until all streaks are gone, coloring is incorporated, etc…….now you’ve got “macaronage”. 

From here, it goes into the pastry bag and you want the tip to be flush with the parchment paper and pointed straight down…..do about a five-count’s worth of piping….a little bigger than a quarter.  This was my first experience with piping anything, so you’re kind of on your own here. Once you’ve got all of your dough piped onto all of your sheet pans, be sure to bang them on the counter to make sure the tops flatten some and any big air bubbles work their way out.  Do not be shy about how hard you pound them on the counter….if your dough was done correctly it’s pretty sturdy. 

CRITICAL JUNCTURE-  the coroner’s office is waiting in the wings for this very moment- you have to let your dough sit out for at least thirty minutes.  The tops have to dry out some and get a skin built up so that when they bake, the skin forms the top crust and raises up to let the macaron’s “feet” fully form.  If you try bypassing this step, just go ahead and throw the batch away.  If after thirty minutes there isn’t a firmer, barely tacky top on your cookies, or if the dough has deflated and oozed into imperfect oblong shapes…throw them all out.  Of course, you can still cook them, they’ll taste good, you just won’t have macarons.

As your cookie dough is drying, start your oven and this is another thing you’ll have to experiment with…..but 310F is a safe place to start, so get it preheated.

When putting your baking sheets into the oven, DO NOT OVERLOAD IT.  You want plenty of circulation for evenness of cooking… half of this “successful” batch I did was ruined due to my impatience when I put too much into the oven at once.  Keep an eye on them, they’ll go for around ten to twelve minutes…..but the thing of it is, you want to see feet. If you don’t end up seeing feet, you’ve accidentally killed yourself somewhere along the way.  Feel the tops to see if they’re done enough for you….it’s kind of like pushing on an eggshell- if you see feet and it feels like the top will crackle under the weight of your finger, you’re probably good to go.

Of course, let them rest until completely cool and then run the thinnest spatula you have underneath to loosen them from the parchment.  

I’m not going to explain any more from here.  If you can’t figure the shit out from here, you’re dumb. Make sandwich cookies….have fun with flavors.  I didn’t want to spend too much time on butter creams or homemade curds until I had my shit down pretty tight, so in order for my macarons to still sound LEGIT, I went and bought some authentic English (the fucking INVENTORS of strangulated beatin’ off) citrus curds with which to fill my cookies.  The sky is the limit though, go figure that shit out. 

Oh yeah, don’t use that fucking edible pearlescent powder like I did because you feel insecure about naked non-colored macarons.  That shit is a nightmare.  You can’t get it all washed off of your hands and you walk around looking like a team of drag queens have been playing hot potato with your face. 

But that’s about it….macarons are challenging, but are more than worth running the risk of an erotic and embarassing early death.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008

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Calvin Trillin’s Pretty Mouth…

Okey dokey, heavy food content this time around. A couple of weeks ago I completed an 8-day food blog over on eGullet…specific to my version of Kansas City dining.  I know I love to rain piss down upon the socially inept and mind numbingly self-aggrandizing aspects of the way the site is run, but to be completely honest there are some really cool people over there who are all about food….big time.  Tons of unpretentious folks who approach the subject like I do….in that all-or-nothing completely unhealthy, OCD kind of way.  Oh, and it was how I ended up meeting my wife. So it was kind of a blast putting my energy into sharing a week’s worth of meals in painful detail, complete with pictures and tons and tons of rambling.  For anyone interested in wading through it, here you go:  http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/139733-eg-foodblog-zeemanb-2011/ 

When I write, the only time I’m used to editing myself is in work related emails. Other than that, I just go with whatever entertains me at the time.  I do my best to write in my actual voice, not in some awkwardly concocted affectation. I knowingly break many rules of grammar because of how I want it to sound. And my voice can be pretty filthy. Some very bad things.  Writing at eGullet was kind of like pissing your pants slowly enough so as not to draw attention by making too big of a bloom in your trousers too quickly. You just kind of edge around a lot of shit, make sure not to cuss, it’s not torture or anything but there are times when you just want to cut the fuck loose and write for the smallest minority of people who would find it hilarious.  And I mentioned that fact once or twice…and that is the inspiration for this post.  The following paragraph is an actual excerpt from the eGullet blog. If you are mainly familiar with my writing here, you may notice some differences.  What follows that is a longer version of the same type of thing, but written for HERE.  Enjoy. 

EGULLET:

“Recommending restaurants to co-workers…it may have already been chronicled on this site, no idea, but for me it’s a sticky predicament. I don’t ever want to come off as snobbish, because I hate those people…they don’t really enjoy food, dining out is just another way they can feel the control they crave. BUT I also don’t want to screw over one of my favorite restaurants by sending over a doofus. OR, have them come back saying the food was a rip-off because it didn’t fill them up, or it sucked because they can’t believe three scallops cost them twenty bucks. I generally try to gauge who the person is foodwise, and at the very least point them to a place that is local and dependable. It’s usually not the place they heard me raving to a friend about, which can also raise questions or hurt feelings (because people treat work too much like life, and you are their spouse or sibling…another topic entirely). I’m just protective of the places I love…I want the people I send there to be the type of folks who like to build relationships with restaurants like I do, and when you work someplace where a “normal” lunch outing is gorging at the local Chinese Buffet or the 5.99 salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden, those people are rare. Again, to each his own, General Tso’s chicken is awesome, I love Red Lobster, but the bottom line is “value” is important to everyone but it also happens to have one of the most subjective definitions on earth. I “value” bringing my lunch to work 99% of the time and having one really nice weekend dinner at one of my favorite joints a couple of times per month, vs. an array of $5-$8 lunchtime chowfests that probably end up costing about as much as my one dinner. Anyway, just throwing all of that out there. Rambling to impress myself at how I’ve written this much without letting Profanity Jerry off the chain…”

HERE:

As far as my dining habits and knowledge go, I never want to come off like a dick. I hate dinner “collectors” who look at it all like a big spreadsheet or fucking baseball card collection.  You can’t just relax and talk about food around these people.  They’re prone to bouts of heavy breathing as they pump you for information about some dish you got to try before they did….like they’re forcing you to recover a lost molestation memory or something.  I was actually happy when I heard El Bulli was closing just because I knew how badly it would tweak the nipples right off of those boors.  They had the space on the wall next to the plaster cast of Thomas Keller’s schvantz saved for some token of their visit to Catalonia…a server’s pinky finger perhaps….and now it can’t happen….the irritation of never having the option to eat there is more than worth the knowledge of their pain.

Oh, and of course the control freaks who feel like it’s their job to teach the restaurant how to perfect the craft of making them the center of the goddamn universe.  THOSE people never shut up, and reading a food review from them is like reading a coroner’s report and it’s always prefaced with the artful cocksmanship of either dropping every restaurant name possible or recounting in detail their five thousand prior visits.  They want to establish the fact that they probably know more than you do.  These are the dicks you see walking to the kitchen on a slamming-busy Saturday night so that they can grace the chef with their presence; creating an awkwardness and traffic jam of which they remain totally oblivious.  And then they march back to their table and figure the price of the meal without tax and alcohol before tallying the tip.  The next day they wake up and chronicle the rise and fall over time of some specific dish they ate the night prior, they are way more about the stick than the carrot and assume their target is appreciative of that fact, and when they complete the review it totally slips their mind to title it “Someday My Kids Will Award Me a ‘World’s Worst Bastard’ Trophy Before Filing Me Away in a Home”.

Now, I don’t mind coming off like a dick to THOSE people.  Being viewed as a mouth-breathing, shit-flinging Philistine by them is probably a good thing.  But basically-  I love food, I dine out a lot, I research the living shit out of a town foodwise before I arrive, but the bottom line for me is not only the enjoyment of the food but the act of dining itself.  Spending time with people you love and admire, great food and deepening your relationship with your local food community. With various exceptions, it is for the most part a very protected event for me. That is where the weirdo control freak in ME comes out.  And I say all of THAT to say- it scares the shit out of me if I ever recommend one of my favorite restaurants to someone I’m not 100% sure about.  That is one major burden that comes with being “the food guy” to everyone you meet…especially at work. You don’t want to come off like one of the aforementioned total bastards, but more importantly…you don’t want to put the dick to your favorite restaurant by unleashing a slew of motards on them.  Yes, I was one of those motards once upon a time, and I am keenly aware of the new experiences needed to grow beyond that. That’s why I really do put thought into recommending good, local restaurants when anyone asks, based on what I think they’d like yet still pushes them out of their comfort zone a bit. What I’m talking about HERE is keeping my personal temples of gastronomy pretty close to my chest when in mixed company. 

The greatest truth is this- the co-workers who push you the hardest to hook them up with your favorite restaurant will always be the biggest dipshits about it.

First, I do realize that it took having my stomach stapled to keep from eating myself to death.  I GET IT. And the fact that I don’t, and can’t, eat nearly as much at one sitting as a hungry eight year old is not lost on me. But STILL, the most common worrisome thing I hear from a co-worker who asks me about a restaurant after hearing me talking to SOMEONE ELSE about it, is along the lines of “Now, am I still going to have to go and eat at McDonald’s afterwards to feel full?”.  Well, yes motherfucker, you ARE going to have to eat at McDonald’s!  I’m sorry that the seared diver scallop dish at Bluestem doesn’t have an all-you-can-eat option. I guess it should. I guess you should be able to stuff your gut wherever you go until you resemble a monster from Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”….eating and shitting, eating and shitting, eating and shitting, right there in your seat. For every goddamn bite you take, your body is forced to expel waste to make room.  Quality, flavor, atmosphere, fellowship…..all of THAT bullshit takes a backseat to making the whole world one big casino buffet. If it were my fucking BOSS asking me that question I’d still give them the address of an empty parking lot far, far away from any of the places I eat.  Eating to the point of almost puking for minimal cost is the gold standard of quality here in the Midwest.

The “greater the money greater the gorgefest” crowd aside, the ones who scare me the worst are the fucking cheapskates.  I’m not rich, I don’t pretend to be rich, but apparently some people hold a weird grudge against you for spending what they think is way too much money on dinner. They act like you are a mentally retarded socialite even though they make at least as much, if not more, than you.  So when they do you the great honor of harassing you for intel about your favorite place prior to going there and expecting to have their asses wiped all night long, I guess you’re supposed to feel lucky.  For those pricks, the food is NEVER, EVER going to be good enough to justify the price…so I am very specific with them- my wife and I usually spend between $100 and $130 including a generous tip when we go out for a “nice” dinner about once or twice per month. In the fine wine and dining world, that isn’t jack shit, but for that amount you can eat well almost anywhere in Kansas City if you’re not drinking wine or booze. About twice per year we’ll double that and go top-tier dining.  We make up for our spending by taking our lunch to work nearly 100% of the time and eating dinner at home at least 90% of the time.  Eat out less often so that when you do it can be spectacular…that’s how we do things.  And when we eat out, it tends to be a different experience than a lot of people will get…I don’t get fucking blowjobs and a key to the walk-in, but I’ll get some extra chat-time with the chef, or a comped dish, I always have a regular server who treats me great…and I can always count on a good table.  I’m not special, I’ve just invested time in building relationships with the places I love….and I’m super low-maintenance, pleasant, I don’t need a ton of shit on the menu explained to me, I don’t ask for substitutions, and I’m a good tipper (30% is the norm at my regular haunts, sometimes more, we enjoy spreading the love).  I’d never eat at a place where I’m treated like a king and everyone else is treated like low-lives, there are just benefits to being a serious regular…and the cheapskates can never understand that shit. Anything above Olive Garden money and the server had better be willing to act as a footrest.  

I really don’t know where the chip on the shoulder comes from, but I know that no matter how many times you explain it in detail for them and do everything but tell them “don’t go, you’re not going to like it”, they are still going to go and they are going to be an inconsolable dick the whole time. They are the aforementioned control freaks in training. When it comes time to pay the bill they’re going stand there all wide eyed and breathless and shit like Major Toht in the tavern scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  They’ll probably retrieve a coin purse to collect their exact change…and then pull out three fucking quarters, put them in the server’s open palm, take the time to shut their hand back over the quarters, pat their hand, smile at them and then creepily, Lost Arkily, whispers something like  “Yeesssss, for youuuuuuuuu..”.  Then they’ll saunter off with a little limp.  But they don’t even have a limp!  At least not when they came in! What in the FUCK? Just thinking of that shit and being involved in any way with dicking over a favorite restaurant just makes me want to end it all.  What a nightmare.

There are a ton of other possible scenarios, none of them good.  People who compare everything to their favorite chain…or the ones who will hang out for an extra hour at their table after dinner is over, whittling a big pile of oak shavings onto the floor on a packed Saturday night. Sure, I do know normal human beings who have been very happy with my recommendations in the past. I’ve just seen it go the OTHER way enough times to make me super protective of the places I love. If someone came back from a trip to Lidia’s bitching because the heritage breed rib chop didn’t hold a candle to Outback, I don’t think I could be held responsible for my actions. I know that taste is subjective, I just don’t want to be an enabler for these morons. 

So that’s it.  If you know me or have eaten a meal with me don’t go and get all self-conscious, you fucking egomaniac. This isn’t about you. It’s about the people we bitch about from work who we’d never friend on Facebook no matter how many times they send a request. I’m not good for a whole lot, but I’m a hell of a dining companion.  Go and read my eGullet blog, it’s got some good stuff despite the fact I was chained up pretty tight.

OH, some local chefs have put together some kind of invite-only after hours get together for this Monday morning- midnight to 3am.  I don’t know a whole lot about it, I’m interested to see what it’s all about….an eclectic group of people eating and chatting is what I know.  And boy am I cool. I made the cut. Maybe I’ll invite a bunch of these work pricks and try to fool everyone into believing I’m doing performance art.

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Two Years…No Big Whup…

So two years ago this Tuesday some nice people were monitoring my vitals and making sure I was past the stage where the death knell seizures could be an issue.  Anybody else here get to experience a good old fashioned detox?  Isn’t it awesome? When the body and mind completely detach themselves from your control and drag you through an emotional darkness and pain that, in hindsight…..is fucking HILARIOUS!

Seriously, we’ll be watching Celebrity Rehab, Intervention, something of that nature and once in a while I’ll just go “oh yeah, I remember that shit”.   If you’re going to make it through to the other side you’re going to earn your stripes in the process.  You have paid the admission fee in full once you get into some kind of program.  The glimpses of euphoria you experience as your dishrag of a body wrings itself clean are a trap.  They don’t last, so pay them no mind.  All of the things you learn in rehab are great, but nothing more than the equivalent of packing an overnight bag for a lifetime journey.

You can always tell when someone is either brand new or they just fail to grasp the big picture…too much focus on how much they drank, how much you drank, way too much euphoric recall, high minded philosophizing, reinvention of the wheel, nervousness and bravado…all of the short-term shit that means absolutely nothing.  When I’m joking around with people I already know I’ll get into some legendary drinkalogues, but when it comes to the alcoholic dick-measuring all I really have to say is “How much did I drink? I drank until it couldn’t make me sick anymore. The only time I would get sick is if I stopped”.   Brief, to the point, honest.  One of those things that makes non-alcoholics go “oh dear, how sad”, and makes the rest of us go “HA! Oh yeah, I remember that shit! CLASSIC!”. 

Last night I went back to my old finishing school to give the “how this thing works” speech to the outpatient group, and tonight is my celebration down at the hall.  Two entirely different things.  And I have a very long drive to and from work, so they’ve been on my mind quite a bit.

Last year I wrote this incredibly long post once I hit my first anniversary, and had similarly lengthy things to say to the aforementioned groups. All of that stuff is still very true, applicable, but another year has helped to make things…simpler.  I still rely upon the program, I will always rely upon the program, I go to meetings, work with my sponsor, work with my sponsee, it is fully and permanently integrated into my life….but LIFE is your focus as time goes on.  If I was still fidgety about having a drink after 2 years, or I was all pissed off about labeled an alcoholic…somebody put a bullet in the back of my head, or just give me a fucking drink because all I’m doing is spinning my wheels.  Now it’s all about getting to the root of “I was an asshole when I was drunk, I’m still an asshole sober, I guess I should address that”.   DO NOT MISINTERPRET- I stay the hell away from situations where it would become normal for me to be around booze regularly. Simply put- if it became normal to be around temptation all the time, eventually I’m getting the proverbial haircut. How do I know that? I’ve seen the shit happen about a thousand times. My family or friends having drinks at dinner, or people bringing beer to a bbq aren’t an issue….but they take that shit home with them and I don’t EVER have liquor in the house (cooking with wine…hell no), and I keep my bottom close enough to me to keep me from romancing the thought of a drink or some wine with my meals. I have my life to keep me occupied, so that kind of distraction is totally unnecessary.  It all sounds like overkill or micromanagement….if you haven’t been on the hell-ride.

That’s a big point I’ll drive home to the newly sober people.  I don’t want to be a hardass, but last night there were about twenty five in the outpatient group, so at MOST three of them will be sober a year from now.  The three that ARE sober have about a 90% chance of being in AA.  That’s just the way it works….the newly sober who debate it are the first ones to go off the wagon. The agnostics are being too stupid to even address. Always. No exceptions.  I was joking with my sponsor (he’s got 27 years) after a meeting one recent evening and said “Hey buddy, I’ve been around for TWO YEARS!  I’ve seen ‘em come and I’ve seen ‘em go!”.  He just stopped and said, “You know what? You HAVE!”.  And it is the truth. In this short amount of time I’ve seen countless people come in and go out, come in and go out, come in and go out…..I’ve seen people I’ve come to know and love go out and die….I know people with ten years sobriety who have gone back out drinking……this shit does not take a vacation.  SOOOOO…it’s funny to go back and listen to the newbie with forty five days talk about how cool it was to go out to the same old bar with their same old friends (who totally support their sobriety) and just have a Pepsi.  Fucking idiots. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day watching those scenarios go south…every…single….time. But it’s obviously not completely hopeless, because in the middle of watching the same shit go down time and time again, I’ve managed to compile two full years of sobriety. And some of my best friends are other folks in that “three people out of twenty five” category.

I’m not saying I know everything, and I am annoyingly aware of the AA-rebuttals…usually spouted by people who have no actual knowledge of the disease or can quote everything the internet has told them about why it’s NOT a disease.  Intellectual wannabes and angry dry drunks aside, all I know is I’ve been sober for two years, I don’t go around missing alcohol or wearing my sobriety on my sleeve, and my life is about as good as it was in those fleeting first sip of bourbon moments when there was peace and all was right with the world. Except now it’s a reality.  I told those people last night- two years from now, if you are alive and on this planet, you will look back at your time in treatment as the easiest you ever had it.  Period. No exceptions. Full stop. If you remain sober, it will be the easiest you ever had it because the process of learning to LIVE sober is a sonofabitch. The rewards far, far outweigh the heartache, but still- it’s actual for-real hard work that does not end. If you do NOT remain sober, you will look back on this trip through treatment as the easiest thing you ever did because when you relapse it is never, ever, EVER easier on you than the last time.  It only gets worse. You lose more of everything you CAN lose. That is how this beast works. And no, it’s not fair.  It’s not fair, but you’re not special. And the cherry on top of that shit sundae is…nobody owes you a goddamn thing. It’s the pride, the anger, the self loathing, the selfishness and the ego……all of those things left unchecked, with drugs or alcohol thrown into the mix, never go easier on you when you let them off the leash.  I’ve never seen sheer willpower work, I’ve never seen the hope and love from a supportive family work, never seen anger work, never seen smarts or money or staying busy….never seen ANY of that shit work for very long as far as staying sober. So yeah, as much as working an outpatient program annoys you, this is the easy part. Learning cursive and your times tables comes later.  So shut the fuck up about quantum mechanics and listen to the people who have been steadily grinding away at this for a very long time.

 After two years of steady grindin’, I’ve achieved a level of supreme knowledge and spirituality that assures me, “You are still a dumbass, and you have to admit you’re way better off than you deserve, so focus on the simplest shit possible and repeat it”.  And THAT is basically the message for this evening.  Oh, I’ll provide some giggles with some “what is was like” stories that I’d never even share on HERE, because I’m a high spirited joker and all that, but it all comes down to the profoundly deep simplicity of this thing of ours. Ah-HA moments. When I suddenly realized after hearing the fucking reading during EVERY SINGLE meeting that “How It Works” is actually….how it..works. And meeting makers? They make it.  It works if you work it, Keep It Simple Stupid, keep coming back….I’ve got many many dollars worth of education and life comes down to phrases like that. They are all bigger than me. Bigger than my mind. So instead of doing the usual thing where I’d try to disprove them or pick them apart, I try them, and if I stay sober and my life continues to improve, I keep repeating them.  There are the 12 steps, I work those things, I really do, but that’s all cursive and times tables and all that shit….they are how you continue to grow. As far as basic sobriety and keeping this train on the tracks- go to meetings, listen, share, help others, do what my sponsor says.  The kind of simple that just pisses you off. But….it works.

So that’s really about it. It’s hot as hell outside. I honestly do not want to get back out and go to get a coin tonight…but it’s great to get back out and go get a coin tonight.  And this train keeps moving. Gotta clean the kitchen tomorrow, folks coming over for fried chicken on Sunday….laundry.  Grass is getting too high, but fuck all that in this heat.  The Sous Vide Supreme is awesome. OH!  Dinner in El Comedor AGAIN tomorrow night!  And as a special bonus, we’ll be sharing the table with my favorite family of butcher from up in Trimble. So yeah I’ll take it. This life is okay.  It’ll do pig, it’ll do.

 

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An Anniversary, A Birthday, Some of the Meals…

Okay, this experimental post is what we’ll call “how much shit can I cover in one hour because I don’t want it hanging over my head all weekend, plus I just got a new Sous Vide Supreme so you know I’ll be wanting to write about THAT soon….”  Lots of photos….very shitty quality as is my custom.

Since we last spoke I’ve had lots of good meals, a wedding anniversary, a birthday, and next week is the big 2 year “other” birthday.  Busy summer so far…the markets are in full swing, my golf game continues to improve, and I’m in that “chill out on the eating so you don’t embarrass yourself when you go in for your yearly checkup” phase. Once some target-dining is done in a couple of weeks we’re going to try a lean meat and vegetable cleanse my wife read about somewhere.

Sooooo, where to begin…..I GUESS I should start with The Rancho Gordo Dinner at The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange a few weeks ago.  You know my dining is very Rieger-centric as of late, but I didn’t even know about this dinner until a friend called to tell me that a 12-top cancelled and they were needing diners. No brainer. I was in.

The dinner was to honor the products of Rancho Gordo….beans and various heirloom products out of California. Excellent food, incredibly nice people. 

Red wine braised octopus with Alubia Criollo, Bone Marrow Puree and Cucumber

Good stuff…the octopus was actually saran wrapped tightly and cooked, then sliced across in order to create short little bits and bites in the beautiful display you see here.

Scallops, Shrimp, Oysters,Canchas and Citrus

Ceviche dish with the equivalent of corn nuts…..totally excellent.

PORCHETTA!

That’s Howard Hanna holding the entire thing prior to slicing….it’s essentially a huge section of the pig going from the skin inward to the loin/tenderloin. It is wrapped around a paste of various herbs and spices and then roasted to perfection.  He’s been serving this since they opened late last year, only on Saturday nights, and I have to say this was the best version he’s done so far. 

Heirloom Bean Salad, Yellow Indian Woman Beans with Pecorino and Sage, Braised Tuscan Kale with Garbanzo Beans

I guess I didn’t remember to take a picture of this dish…..but it sure was good. So was the chickpea and kale dish I didn’t capture a photo of either.

Susan’s Meyer Lemon Chiboust,Piloncillo Cake and Canela Whipped Cream

 

I’m all about puddings, trifles and things of that nature. This was very tasty…and as anyone knows who has had the misfortune of dealing with piloncillo in your kitchen….someone was doing God’s work here. Great end to the meal.

AND ONWARD…….

We just celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary, and I think the tradition we’re going to try and keep is to take a roadtrip every year.  Last year we took the train to St. Louis, but THIS year was the real deal…..we decided months ago that Deadwood, South Dakota was the perfect destination.  Why?  Because the HBO series fucking ruled.  Sound logic.  Well, due to the huge flood of 2011, our route had to be modified, but we still managed to see some great touristy sites.  On the way up, we spent a night in Sioux Falls, where every single business doubles as a casino.  Our first vacation meal was at “Poppadox Pub”, because it was rumored that they had the best chislic in all the land.  What in the fuck is chislic, you may ask?  I hadn’t heard of it either, but it’s basically just deep fried chunks of sirloin, so how bad can that be?  The chislic was good, the wings were fantastic, and apparently Poppadox is an alcoholic’s paradise because they have drink specials like $9 pitchers of well drinks.

Poppadox, and….CHISLIC!

The Corn Palace!

A little farther down the road we stopped in Mitchell, SD to visit the Corn Palace. Actually, WAY cooler than we expected and everyone was incredibly friendly with the ironic exception of Cornelius….the Corn Palace’s mascot who shows up to mug for the camera twice per hour.

THE Wall Drug!

I don’t even know what to say about this place. It’s fucking crazier than any Travel Channel program can possibly describe. The number of people pouring into that place….and the sheer size……great homemade donuts, free ice water, I’m done talking about it.

DEADWOOD!

There are two things to do in Deadwood- drink and gamble.  So I guess not much has changed in the past hundred and fifty years.  Not as many whores as back in the days with Al Swearengen, but my guess is that is only because it wasn’t bike week.  We did see some of the roughest trade imaginable though…..woof.  We stayed in the ultra-luxurious Bullock Suite in the Bullock Hotel.  Great room, and we managed to find plenty to do during our stay without feeling rushed.  I played some golf, we went to Mt. Rushmore, visited Mt. Moriah Cemetery, toured a creepy mining museum, ate dinner in a train car…..but one of the most memorable things about the trip was our dinner at The Corn Exchange, about an hour away in Rapid City.

This place would be a rare find for most towns, and as far as I can tell this is about IT for the entire state of South Dakota when it comes to “real” dining with “real” service.  Great experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Young and enthusiastic waitstaff, an owner who isn’t shy about waiting tables on a Saturday night, and truly top notch food. A picture of Chez Panisse greets you at the front….rightfully so.

This course is a corn pancake topped with smoked salmon and a cucumber sauce. Dynamite dish, my wife has been craving it ever since.

Here are some perfectly cooked tiger shrimp in a lobster saffron sauce with fresh English peas….other stuff too…can’t recall. 

Homemade pheasant ravioli with more of those same tasty peas.  The filling for these was very well executed by someone who was well trained…close to a mousseline but with more texture, and you knew you weren’t just eating chicken.

This is my bone-in pork chop with an addictive tomato and pepper jam.  Maybe one of the best cooked pieces of pork I’ve ever eaten. 

Unfortunately, we did not capture a photo of the butterscotch pot de creme before devouring it.  Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about the Corn Exchange in the time I’m allowing myself. This is a must-visit if you are ever even close to the area.

“EL COMEDOR” in the Port Fonda Airstream!

The food truck craze has hit critical mass.  But that is all bullshit you can forget about.  The only place you need to put on your hipster to-do list is Port Fonda.  And if you’re like me, and have a knack for booking the most awesome seats on the planet, you and five of your friends can snag one of the four seatings they do each weekend inside the redesigned and well appointed Airstream trailer.

I like Chef Patrick Ryan.  He’s Bayless-trained, he cusses as much as I do, and has that same whore with a heart of gold persona that I attempt to exude.  He’s the shit. And he can cook.

Our four course dinner started off with us roasting at approximately 175 degrees….First Friday on the hottest day of the year thus far. That was quickly forgotten when the food started hitting the table. Oh, and Howard Hanna sent over a bottle of wine with his compliments because he also rules the fucking earth, and I love him enough not to bust his balls about the fact that I can’t drink.  Just great people…and we had a SUPER stellar group of diners to feed off of as we were feeding. 

First course was a roasted corn app with crema, shown above. Good start, a teaser.

Second course were the chilaquiles….hard to see in this photo but it’s kind of like if Jesus Christ turned the water into Frito pies at the marriage feast and then topped the fuckers with a perfectly done Campo Lindo egg and a tomatillo and pepper sauce.  Honestly, so far beyond the best version I’ve ever had it makes me sad for all the rest. And the bonus…it’s on the regular menu pretty often so you don’t have to get a seat inside to enjoy it.

The main course is basically one whole cured, roasted, and glazed pork butt that you tear apart like animals with tools and weapons, fighting for chunks of the brulee-candylike pig skin in order to create a perfect bite as shown above. All sorts of fixin’s and homemade tortillas come with this pork orgy.  Goddamn what a good meal. Made me sad I’ve only got about 1/6 of a stomach.

And after all that you don’t expect a “real” dessert, but Patrick is a trained pastry chef so the final mind-raping of the evening was his deep fried “tres leches/horchata” ricotta fritters with a tres leches sauce and chunks of local fresh peaches.  I’ve had a hundred versions of the ricotta fritter, and THESE sent all of THOSE to timeout. 

The best. Cool staff, some of my very best friends, and a total bargain…..$250 bucks for the table minus tip….I’ve spent more than that on one meal by myself in NYC or DC, and while the food was great it wasn’t even close to as much FUN. Sweating like animals, eating like pigs, joking around all night, going over to fuck with the staff at The Rieger (Port Fonda parks in their parking lot)…..man, this was the real deal.  I SHALL return….as soon as possible.

And that’s about it for me, pricks. My hour is up and I am OUT.  I MIGHT come edit later….or not!

48 Hour Shortribs in the Sous Vide Supreme AWAIT!  Golf is CANCELLED!

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