Category Archives: Fine Dining

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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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, autoerotic asphyxiation, baking, Bariatric Surgery, cookies, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, French Pastry, General Thoughts, Health, Healthy Eating, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, macarons, pastry, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

Being A Good Customer…

This week one of my favorite restaurants (“El Comedor”) that I’ve mentioned at least twice in my blog got an across-the-board four star review in the Kansas City Star ( http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/14/3140292/review-uniquely-superb-port-fondas.html ). Well deserved….it’s the right combination of everything that is good about food and fun about eating, and I could ramble about Port Fonda, Patrick, Max and Katy all day long…but it’s just a jumping off point for what’s really on my mind. I have helpful knowledge to share today, goddammit.

I’ve eaten in El Comedor more than once and looking forward to going again… I’m insanely happy about it and proud to be a part of  the communal love shared by a great group of KC chefs, BUT there is a pretty long progression and a distinct learning curve when it comes to that sort of situation being a normal part of your life…especially considering the fact that I’m not in the service industry, I’m not an entertainer, journalist, hipster, millionaire or anything of the sort. I’m just a dude who loves going out to eat. To be honest, there are some intangibles here that I cannot help anybody replicate…I’m pretty good at mixing with just about anyone, I have a wicked sense of humor, and for God knows what reason I’ve always just kind of drawn people in (the freak magnet part of that is a big downside). I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in my day, so I’m at ease in damn near any social environment. Worst case scenario, I was a pentecostal minister turned porno dealer prior to my very vanilla IT career, so I can be a good little dancing monkey and provide endless stories from back in the day. And that’s not even counting the drinking adventures….hoo boy.

When I was talking to a food critic outside the trailer a couple of weeks ago, they jokingly asked me who I had to pay off to keep scoring the hands-down hardest to get table in the city….probably one of the toughest in the country at this point. My inferiority complex tells me that the chef is just having mercy on the poor retarded kid, and while that may be true enough it isn’t anything I’m going to advertise, so I just said….”I think being a nice person who is obviously there for the food and fellowship goes a long way”. The whole hipster/coolest kid on the block angle doesn’t mean shit to me….the restaurants that are still on my bucket list are far, far outnumbered by the great places I’ve already visited. And nothing makes me want to vomit more than a restaurant being “THE scene”. If Patrick was just some dude doing this same type of thing in a trailer in his mom’s driveway, if the food was still that good and I could bring my friends along, I’d fucking eat there any time. I don’t give a FUCK about the velvet rope aspect. YES it is FUNNY to know how many completely clueless people who haven’t done their homework email him thinking that the type of annoying persistence that gets them some comped spinach queso dip at Chi Chi’s is going to get them a Comedor booking. BUT I would rather light a candle than curse people’s darkness, so today what I have for you is at least a brief beginning to what I think of as “being a good customer”. If you’re an idiot who already thinks what I mean by being a good customer is bending over for a crazed egomaniacal autocrat of a chef so that I can be one of the “cool kids”, you’re in luck….my dick needs sucked. So get to it, and then go enjoy some fucking slop at the goddamn Ted’s Montana Grill you love so much because they let you be the customer who is always right.

#1- YOUR PRIORITIES HAVE TO ALREADY BE A LITTLE FUCKED UP-

It’s all about what you value….the value of me and my wife’s cars combined is probably around three or four thousand dollars. I know people who go out and spend forty grand on a new Lexus and then piss and moan about spending ten dollars on a lunch, because spending that much money on food is just STUPID. If you’re just a casual diner who doesn’t branch out much and chain restaurants are your thing because they are consistent and familiar, you’ll get some decent food and maybe awesome service from time to time, but the world of serious dining is probably not for you. And that’s cool man, everyone has their thing they love….cars, guns, scrapbooking, stamp collecting, Chiefs season tickets…whatever. Dining for me is an obsession and something I truly love and enjoy…I love a million things about it, and I have put in the time and work required that allows me to blend into that community and make great friends who feel the same way about it. The food is just one aspect of the big dance.

#2- COMMON COURTESY, how in the FUCK don’t people realize that?-

I’m a fun guy, I’m engaging. I bring a lot to the table. Most of all, I’m a nice guy. If you’re nice to me, I’m in your corner and I’m a handy sumbitch to have in your corner. Simple things, man…if you’re going to need to split checks, mention that shit right at the beginning…no fucking suprises at the end of the meal where everyone tries to figure out who is supposed to pay for what appetizer. Be clear at the onset. OR, shit like- if you drink at the bar before you are seated, tab out before you go to your table, don’t have that shit transferred to your dinner bill. Pay your bartender, tip your bartender. Really basic shit….some substitutions are fine, leave off the cheese, dressing on the side, etc. etc., but there are people who try to completely rebuild the menu on a slamming Saturday night…want Caesar dressing specially made WITHOUT anchovies, crazy stuff….horrible human beings. Nightmares of the planet who pretend to have some weird allergy just to get their way. Make reservations if the place takes them…don’t go walking in on a Saturday night and be shocked that your ass is waiting two hours for a table IN the men’s room (and then when you ARE seated, act like a total pissed off asshole expecting them to blow you for your trouble the whole time because you’re too stupid to take the time to book ahead).

This could go on forever……..too many examples, but here is the big one-

TIP! And I begin this under the assumption that anyone reading it already knows shit like you tip on the original amount if you’re using a Groupon, coupon, gift certificate, whatever. If you don’t know THAT shit, then go start hoarding cats and get to know the state worker who will be managing you. If I am a “regular” somewhere, it is a place where I tip at least 30%…it’s also a place where I have a regular server, but even if that person isn’t working that night, then whomever takes their place still gets 30%. And to be clear, for any piece of SHIT reading this who doesn’t count tax, alcohol, etc. when calculating the tip….you tip off of the highest number, dumbass. Tax, wine, what the fuck ever…it counts, it ALL COUNTS! If you have some egocentric retard logic that says otherwise, you seriously deserve to have someone fuck up your face….restaurants for you are just places for you to compensate for your lack of power and control in your real life, so stay the fuck at Ruth Chris or McCormick and Schmick and all of those bullshit chains where they are happy to treat assholes like royalty. Seriously, you can know all you want about a chef and be a kiss ass and all that, but it’s your front of the house people who make shit happen…the amount of free food, great tables and VIP treatment I get is pretty cool….and you know how that happens? I’m a nice guy….low maintenance, genuinely invested in the experience, and I take care of my people. Common fucking courtesy. Politeness. If I have an early Saturday night reservation I don’t linger over coffee…I give the valuable real estate back so someone else can sit down and buy food. Simple respect….things often forgotten these days.

#3- LEAVE THE CHEF THE FUCK ALONE-

Okay, you’re impressive. You know the guy who just got the big review and you are also showing off your “faincy” new dress on a hopping Saturday night….so that trip across the dining room and straight back to the kitchen would probably be greatly appreciated by him, right? No. It’s not right. It’s wrong. It is so wrong. It’s Saturday, there are people at work who are making the place worthy of that review you just read…don’t go messing up the flow with a goddamn panty raid on the kitchen. As they have time, chefs make the rounds….they know that PR is part of their job, and all of my bitchiness aside, they probably really do like you and appreciate the fact you want to talk to them. Most chefs are very, very cool that way. But the time they have available forces them to be strategic with their table visits….chances are good that on a Saturday night they’re going to have to schmooze with a less-savvy/big money group or perhaps other industry folks who are visiting from another city when in fact they would much rather be chilling with you or another cool regular. That’s how it goes, don’t take it personally, and don’t be a whiny suckup. Have some self respect for Christ’s sake.

#4- KNOW FOOD-

Understanding different methods, ingredients, seasonality and things of that nature really make you a valuable customer….especially if your server is bombarded with people who need every fucking ingredient and word explained to them. Enthusiastic, collaborative discussion about food is therapeutic…you bond with people over that shit. It sets you apart from the weekend warriors because you know food well enough to be there for THAT. Overly simple, but this is really at the heart of it all. It’s exciting. It’s why we love food.

#5- ORDER RIGHT, DUMBASS!-

I swear to God, nothing pisses me off more than when someone I know FINALLY visits a restaurant I love that they’ve asked me a million questions about, and then acts like they are doing ME a favor….only to come back with THIS bullshit:

“So, we finally visited whatever-the-fuck-restaurant!”

“Yeah, how was it?”

“Well…it was okay, we didn’t really see what all of the fuss was about.”

“Seriously? What did you guys order?”

“We both got the house salad and shared one of the appetizers.”

Aaannnnd SCENE! I shit you not, people are that stupid. First of all, wasting real estate on a Saturday night like that is enough to knock them in the head. Secondly, BOTH of you ordering the safest, plainest possible thing and THEN only venturing in far enough to SHARE one damn APPETIZER….is more than likely, and I am no psychic, but it’s more than likely not going to be the greatest sampling you need to get an accurate accounting of the flavors offered. And of course, then I’m the idiot who actually goes there all the time as they go around the office with their emperor has no clothes bullshit directed at me.

Order right. Trust your server. Check out the specials. If the chef is pumped about a specific dish or ingredient…chances are it’s not going to suck. Don’t all order the same thing. Don’t look for a great burger at a Vietnamese joint. Don’t use goddamn Texas Roadhouse as your measuring stick. Be realistic. Oh, and these are not poor people I’m talking about, I’d never ding someone for not being able to afford the full smorgasbord, I’m not an asshole….these are professional people with enough money to order an actual meal…and they are stupid. Don’t be like them. Don’t be stupid.

#6- THINK LOCAL, LIKE THE FUCKING HIPPIES-

This whole dining thing is part of a much, much larger picture….get to know that picture. Buy as much local product as fiscally possible, get to know your farmers and your suppliers, get into the seasonal nature of cooking and GRAVITATE TOWARDS the types of restaurants and chefs who operate in that manner. It’s really simple, but it’s a vital link to that community….I personally know the farmers who provide much of the produce we eat in our home, and they also supply the restaurants where I eat…I literally shared one great meal with my butchers and one with my farmers in El Comedor…both times eating food THEY personally provided TO the chef. The goddamn circle of life and all that….get to know people, you’ll get to know the people that THEY know, and at some point you’ll be where I’m at….never having to worry about whether or not my meal will be good because it’s either a place I already love OR it is a place personally recommended to me by those people whom I already know and trust. Top tier five star dining, hole in the wall Mexican with fucking crime scene tape on the floor, and everything in between…all awesome.

Granted, money and calorie-wise the majority of your meals are going to have to be eaten at home…and here is the bonus- sourcing great products and learning tips, recipes and various recommendations from suppliers and chefs improves your home cooking exponentially. Being a good home cook makes me a better diner and vice versa…it becomes much easier to identify truly great food when I can connect with a dish because it’s something I want to try and replicate OR it is something so far beyond me I could never pull it off.

#7- SOME SIMPLE SHIT TO LOOK FOR-

It is only possible to visit so many restaurants per month, and it is important to continue to take recommendations and keep trying new places in addition to your favorites.  We have what we refer to as “the circuit”…it’s a group of Saturday night date night level restaurants that include places like Lidia’s, Justus Drugstore, Bluestem, The Rieger and obviously Port Fonda/El Comedor.   We’ve got a ton of other places for all sorts of ethnic, casual and greasy spoon meals, but the aforementioned places are some of our tried and true places where we’re pretty serious regulars when we want a “nice” dinner.

Long story short, what gets my regular business besides creative, delicious and spot-on cooking is a very basic thing….a shared sense of pride and ownership.  When the chef is all about their town, farmers, producers, etc., and the staff is all about their chef and genuinely love the food and want YOU to have a great time and love it like they do…THAT is the magic. That’s the dance, and it is what makes me excited to be there and to keep coming back.  I know that only makes sense to a handful of people, as evidenced by the “wham bam thank you maam” types of chain-loving folks I encounter. 

#8-SPREAD THE WORD-

I’ll be honest, I’m not some fucking patron saint of service industry good will and cheer.  There are some very grand, touchy feely moments and the highest hopes for your favorite chefs and all that, but there are also moments when it’s good to be king.  When you’re entertaining relatives from out of town and you’re showing off your favorite restaurant to them on a slamming Saturday night, and your server happily approaches your premium perch to inform you that the chef knew you were coming in so he held back the last two orders of softshell crab they’d probably have available for the season, and you get to sit there munching away while the table of moneyed yuppies next to you watches and collectively shit themselves because the dish wasn’t available to THEM….there is no price you can put on that.  Or another good one….getting a peak at a cool ass cookbook that won’t be available to the general public for a couple of months.  I share a lot of love and respect with many local restaurateurs, but when it comes down to brass tacks….they are there to make a goddamn living. Nobody wants to be a starving artist here, kids. If I like a place and I like you, I want you to love the same place and go there often.  BUT I’m also pretty cool about not using a restaurant as a dumping ground for every scenester or stingy, hard to please asshole that I know.  I’m pretty much a total dick about whom I will or will not spend time with; I just don’t like wasting time with dipshits. And I’m assuming the same can be said for any cherished server who would give me the stinkeye for blindsiding them with a douche.  You spread the word…word of mouth is how I do business in 99% of my various transactions…I want my money to stay local and I want to build relationships. RELATIONSHIPS….are key here.

In summation…I’m in kind of a weird place because I do not have a venue other than this blog to ramble about all of this shit….and that is honestly not my goal.  I’m a huge egomaniac, so I believe my writing is better than a lot of the popular bloggers and critics. And if people want to read my stuff, great, but I’m not going to shorten it, learn proper grammar or clean anything up just to be featured in some fucking rag.  And I’m not a food critic, that is a very important distinction for me….I do find restaurants I’m not crazy about, but unless someone is just a total FUCKER I’m not going to take the piss out of a place; I just don’t write about it and I don’t go back.  Between Yelp and the various food boards across the internet, one important thing gets lost…you can be real damn brave behind a keyboard and lose sight of the simple fact that you could unnecessarily and unwittingly fuck with someone’s livelihood.  I only know of one….okay two….chefs who would go out of their way to give you the finger if you said their food sucked.  One is just a goddamn savant and I will forgive it, and the other is locked away in the bowels of some hotel kitchen where he can’t do too much harm. The vast, vast, vast majority truly and from their heart want you to enjoy your meal and they appreciate your business.  If you don’t like something they want to make it right, and before you take to the internet to light them up I think you should give them a chance to make it right, or at least let THEM know about your issue before you start your march to the sea.  You’ll never meet someone more meticulous and self-conscious than a great chef.  And when you find that special blend of alchemy that is evidenced from the front to the back of the house, it deserves to be loved and respected, and it damn sure deserves to be shared.

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Filed under Bariatric Surgery, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, culture, eGullet, El Comedor, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Home Cooking, Howard Hanna, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Kansas City Star, Patrick Ryan, Port Fonda, Recovery, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange, weight loss surgery

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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100th Post! The Greatest Meal of My Life…

100th Post!  What took so damn long?  Oh boy!  I eat the fancy food!  I eat the fancies!  And the pretties! The pretties and the fancies!

To the most logical extreme within the boundaries of my level of supreme over-spending on dining, I’ve eaten some pretty good stuff. It’s much easier to justify that incarnation of a crippling addiction…it’s socially acceptable, delicious, and fun to talk about.  I forget how far from normal I am sometimes with the OCD sourcing, dining, planning and cooking. But the freakishness makes me the go-to guy for people who need a recommendation.  Either I can point you to “the very best of whatever”, or I have resources that can handle whatever I can’t answer. “Your death row meal”….”best bite you’ve ever eaten”….and a thousand other topics that have sparked Penthouse letter level discussions of meals gone by. A topic about restaurant health violations on another blog had me going back and rattling my memory for horror stories, and it made me think of the best meal I’ve ever had. It was not the pretties.  The fancies….about as far from the fancies as a mule pissing on a flat rock and having it splash way down into your shoelaces.  However, what was arguably the best meal I’ve ever eaten in my life was in the spring of 1990, while sitting in a gutter in Tepec, Mexico. I was 20.

This was back during when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do in ministry, and I spent a year in The Masters Commission program in Phoenix, Arizona.  Basically, it’s a ministry school of sorts where the church gets free unlimited labor for a year, and you get to send a TON of timber up to your mansion in heaven.  That was the year my brother died, and upon returning to Phoenix after his funeral and the holidays I was a bit out of sorts.  Filtering the grieving process through God’s will and all of that…an existential crisis that had to be wedged into the confines of black and white redneck theology.  But FANCY redneck theology…this was a superchurch that predated superchurches…Phoenix First Assembly…and I was one of the lucky few chosen for The Masters Commission/We’re Better Than The Mormons program.  If Jesus had a Seal Team 6, we were it.  So anyway, no less than a million stories THERE, but back to Tepec…

A bunch of people in the program got peeled off to go on a missions trip to El Salvador for a couple of months. I was kind of “in jail” because of my attitude and inability to let the Holy Spirit rush me through my grief, so I didn’t get chosen for that.  Two guys were picked to drive a 1973 school bus all the way from Phoenix to San Salvador, as a gift for the children’s missionary who ran the ministry that was hosting the group. Obviously, I wasn’t chosen for that task either. BUT there was no task that was crazier, more dangerous or just “out there” in general…so I had to go for the glory and street-cred and get in on some of that.  I called up Lloyd, our leader, and asked if I could not only go on the missions trip, but also be on the bus….I felt “led” to ask him, and I thought it was something that could give me a much needed boost.  No idea what my real motivation was at the time…glory and popularity chasing mixed with a bit of a deathwish…but long story short, he agreed to it, in part, because “even though you’re not old enough for us to insure as a driver on the bus, you will be good at keeping the other two from killing each other”.

Mark was a great mechanic and Andy knew Spanish.  They could both drive a bus. And someone really may have died if it was just the two of them. As it was, Mark and I had a very serious discussion about whether or not we could muster enough Spanish to get through the borders of Guatemala and El Salvador without Andy. Andy was a total douche who often put us in unnecessary danger, and as we drank two highly-forbidden bottles of Corona we weighed our options and by the slightest, tiniest margin decided NOT to leave him on the side of the road in southernmost Mexico.  Our leader’s instincts were correct…even though I did not drive the bus one foot during the 2000+ mile, eight day trip, my contributions were vital. Nobody died. And that was mostly luck. It wasn’t a big deal playing referee with those two or anything, there are just five million different ways to get killed on a trip like that and we bumped up against twelve thousand of them.  

At this point anyone who knows me has stopped reading because they have suffered through twenty years of the same El Salvador stories and are horrified that I have found a new audience.  I don’t think I’ve abused this particular story that badly, because it’s not as fun to tell as the ones where things were exploding…this was at a time when fierce fighting between govt troops and rebels was just winding down.  But it was like Monte Carlo compared to that goddamn bus.  The way it worked was this: Since you only have a few hundred miles of actual highway as you head down the Pacific coast of Mexico, it takes way, way, way longer to get anywhere.  Especially when you are driving a twenty year old school bus that has been freshly painted bright white with neon red lettering down the sides spelling out a poorly translated slogan “Because The Children Need Jesus”, that happens to be loaded down with a ton of puppets, toys, canned goods, and a bunch of other crap that gets rifled through five times each day by federal troops searching for drugs. A translator with the most broken sense of comedic timing and the assumption that all Mexicans have the same sense of humor tends to lose you some time as well. We’d have to drive from sun up to sun down, between twelve and sixteen hours per day and it still took us about eight days to get to our destination.  At night we’d stop at whatever town was closest, and normally two of us would get a cheap (even by Mexican standards) hotel room and the third guy would sleep on the bus to keep an eye on it. A lot of well meaning, well travelled, upper middle class liberal white people would lead you to believe that there aren’t any dangerous places in the world because bad things can happen anywhere…and it’s inherently bad and downright rude to put labels on anyone or anything.  Well, take it from me when I tell you that if you’re travelling through the entirety of rural western Mexico, when it gets dark you want to be in a well populated area for the night.  Time never moves slower than when your Jesus-beacon bus is broken down between two towns with thirty miles of jungle road separating them, and it is long past dark. It is a worst case scenario that we tried our best to avoid, and is what landed us in Tepec.

We skipped solid food for at least a couple of days based solely on the conditions of the Pemex gas station bathrooms. That, plus the fact that once you get into the more tropical parts of Mexico there aren’t many great places to pull off to the side of the road and walk into the jungle for a dump. The terrain is unpredictable and there is stuff alive out there. And as I mentioned before, towns can be very far apart and twenty miles can turn in to five hours.  The oppressive heat also makes it easier to stick to fluids.  While I never really regretted volunteering for the adventure, it was one of those things you knew would look a hell of a lot better in hindsight.  If I remember correctly, the day leading up to our stop in Tepec was extraordinarily brutal.  The high elevation scenery was not unlike Tony’s arrival in Colombia in the movie Scarface. Very scenic, green, misty, other-worldly. And you’d catch glimpses of that in between shit like staring wide-eyed every time you rounded a bend in the road to see whether or not your lane had been washed down the mountainside. Or the ubiquitous cow in the middle of the fucking road.  Or learning the unwritten Mexican law of the mountain road “if I rear end you and you can still drive your vehicle, I don’t have to stop”.  It was just a bad day, but they were all pretty much like that. And I think our plan was to try and make it to whatever town was past Tepec, and even though we arrived there right as it got dark we probably would have kept going.  But that fucking place just swallowed us up.

Most nights, one of us would be stuck sleeping on the bus. Which was total shit, because the “children who need Jesus” would stop by in droves to see what was up, and those little fuckers are mean…terrorizing you for not throwing open the doors and giving them toys at 3am, beating on the doors, throwing stuff at the windows…and you know as soon as you flip out on one of them you’ll have a whole Mexican village drawing and quartering you.  On a couple of occasions, all three of us were stuck on the bus all night. After trying to navigate through a maze of freakishly narrow streets to either find a hotel or the way out of town, Tepec was just such an occasion. That town sucked. And either we kept circling in the worst neighborhood, or the whole city is just cursed. If you’re one of those annoying people who get all offended and assume any negative comment about another country is spoken by an “ugly American”, go fuck yourself. The ‘hood is the ‘hood, in any language, and I’m quite familiar with the fine line between the types of areas where white people venture in order to get some level of liberal-guilt street cred, and the types of areas where you just do not belong. This particular area was just south of somewhere we did not belong, so we found a parking lot and planned to hole up there until morning.  The rest of Tepec might have gold-paved streets for all I know. We just happened to stumble upon the area where the workers who pave those streets go raping.

I don’t remember what we’d talk about on those nights when we’d all have to sleep on the bus.  Once we were just so wiped I don’t think we said anything at all…until about 3am when a soldier came beating on the door and we realized we’d pulled over to sleep at the entrance of a huge military base. We were pretty big on re-capping anything insane that stuck out in particular from that day. And we talked about food quite a bit. Overall, we were in pretty good spirits…this was all for God and we were looking forward to meeting up with our friends who had already flown into El Salvador.  You’d chit chat until you were ready to pass out though, because there’s no good way to sleep on a school bus. The floor is too filthy and there is zero air movement. The seats are too narrow and short to get a good position.  In the end, the best you can hope for is putting boxes or something in the aisle between the two seats to give your legs someplace to rest. But still, lying across the seats means those little bastard kids can crawl up to the windows and almost be in your face. And it was usually very hot.  Hot enough for me to get over any fear of going shirtless in front of others when it was time to get to sleep.

I wish I could remember the logic we used to get off of the bus in the middle of this neighborhood in the middle of the night in order to go and break a solid-food fast with something that was sure to have us soiling ourselves for days to come.  I think there was some talk of just two of us going, one to still watch the bus and be ready to come pick us up if something started happening…or power in numbers if three of us went.  Whether we all went or not is hard to remember, and what we’d find once we got there was a total pig in a poke. What I do recall is lying there generally pissed off, bored, and a little scared when the smell of cooking meat made its way across the parking lot. Grill smoke is a universal language, and we were starving.  The little cart/stand was about half a block from where we sat, and by this time in the evening it’s not like it was being overrun with people…which made it a little scarier actually. Some elaborate trap to lure us gringos out into the open with the promise of grilled meats.  In reality, we were about fifteen hundred miles away from anyone who cared being able to hear us scream, so if we were dead men we were already dead, so may as well have some food.

The little food stands are just everywhere in Mexican towns.  Tepec was the point at which we went from avoiding them altogether to the OTHER extreme…we started eating anything and everything we could find.  We avoided the bags of juice drinks kids sold because of the water, but other than that we ate a ton of stuff that would be Travel Channel-worthy.  In the ‘hood in Tepec, it was your typical little family food stand where they were selling some and feeding the family at the same time.  If I were the culinary genius back then that I am today I’m sure I’d have some involved descriptions of the food and condiments. Surprisingly, instead of tacos, tamales and things of that nature, we arrived to find…hot dogs and hamburgers.  Well, by Tepec standards perhaps.  The relatively identifiable shapes of the meats and buns were the only things giving them away. The hamburgers were slider-sized and overcooked, with a tiny bun and way too much of a mayo/crema/onion/pepper mixture on top.  The hot dogs were really different….think of a freakishly fat leg stuffed into some kind of spandex, with random slits in the fabric where the fat presses out…and instead of tied/twisted off ends to close the hot dog the casing is just open with some meat coming out.  All I can remember is some kind of green hot sauce with those.

Now, I’m not going to pretend I have some Mexican hot dog poetry planned here…there isn’t some crescendo that surpasses all of the words I’ve dedicated to temples of gastronomy in New York and San Francisco.  I was a twenty year old kid with several days worth of filth on him, hungry and dehydrated, sitting on a curb in Mexico with his feet planted in a nasty gutter, eating deliciously charred mystery meats like his life depended on it.  It’s funny what you can be thankful for when you’re at a place way on down the road you never expected to see, and you find something familiar and comforting in the scariest of surroundings.  We ate with a speed and volume that amused anyone who happened to stop by for a meal, and we downed God knows how many sodas.  Without question, the best meal of my life thus far. It was a turning point that happened in the midst of a much larger turning point that I can look back at now in the comfort of the past twenty years and know in my heart there isn’t a hell of a lot in life as nice as finding something good to eat instead of worrying about whether or not you are approaching the twilight of your existence.

 

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Tasty Enough To Satisfy the Pickiest Human Centipede…

Switching things up for a little while…it’s not like it will have a huge impact one way or the other since I only get a couple hundred unique hits in a week’s time with periodic big spikes of traffic depending on what I’ve posted…

Anyway, I was talking with my wife the other day about how we have become pretty involved in the food community here in Kansas City…we have a favorite farmer who provides much of our weekly produce, at this point I’m pretty well known at my butcher shop, we know and love a lot of the local chefs, have our “go-to servers” as well as our “backup servers in case the go-to isn’t there” at our favorite restaurants, and pretty much 100% of our dining is at locally owned establishments…from the taquerias in downtown KCK to our favorite “faincy date night” locations across the metro. The majority of our meals are cooked at home, and my wife manages to do most of that. I can cook, but I’m a fraud to some extent…I would rather eat soup straight out of the can than think about daily cooking. She’s the executive chef at our house. I’m just the guest chef who pops in from time to time. My cooking has to involve the crazy OCD which has been chronicled on this blog many times. I’m a diva like that, cooking for the power and glory…but man, my kung-fu is strong as hell. If I can source the ingredients and have the proper equipment, I can cook damn near anything.

 So if I’m going to keep blogging with any regularity it can go one of three ways…I can pop in from time to time with the religious or political stuff and rant away (which is not without its own merit), ramble incessantly about my love of golf and guarantee nobody ever reads my stuff again, OR I can just write about the thing that prompted my gastric bypass: FOOD. Right now is a great time for that, the farmer’s markets are starting to percolate and my wife and I are eating way differently due to our weekly CSA. Food makes me happy (though I’m about 15 pounds up from my lowest weight…another topic for another time), I’m good at cooking it, I can talk about it all day, and Kansas City has some AMAZING culinary talent. Honestly, we could provide a food tour of this town that goes from the gutter to the inner sanctum of the Great Oz himself. And we host some fucking top notch get-togethers at our house on our newly refinished deck. Our tomato plants are getting big, the herbs are pouring out of their pots, I just bought 55 pounds of Piedmontese brisket (points-only because burnt ends are all that counts beefwise in BBQ), I’m coming up on 2 years of sobriety, we’re eating a fancy taco dinner in an airstream trailer on July 1st, I’ll be doing a week long KC-centric food blog on eGullet this summer…so much going on I am passionate about that is also positive.

Oh, now please allow me to say…I’ll always have my edge. I’ll always include enough profane imagery to weed out the frail little pussies, and I reserve the right to drop everything and steamroll over another lying hyper-charismatic moneychanger like Bill Johnson. I try not to expend too much energy when it comes to the grievously offensive examples of “those called by God to ministry by default because they have no other viable options”. Being a man of God first requires you to be a man; responsible, accountable, hard-working, honest and trustworthy. The ability to use your marketing skills and charisma to sell fake miracles and build a church doesn’t cut it. Neither does creating your own poverty and hardships through your lack of the most basic work ethic, initiative, self esteem, and responsibility to you and your family, and then counting all of the adversity as part of your testimony and dedication…ministry being the logical conclusion after a series of really bad decisions. Fortunately, the former are usually exposed and the latter are a dime a dozen who burn out and go away when confronted with ACTUAL work. All of the ranting and pontificating I’ve done based on a lifetime of witnessing the phenomenon over and over again boils down to that…and there isn’t a hell of a lot there within my control. All I can do is sit back and hammer the shit out of them once in a while. BUT way more of my time is spent on happier thoughts and pastimes than this crap….so I guess something as mundane as more food-related content may have its place. And this is just experimental to see how I like it….

Our food and cooking dynamic at home is pretty simple for the most part- my wife cooks most of the nightly meals and we focus on pretty simple, healthy-ish food.  We really don’t eat out much during the week unless there is some kind of event, and very, very rarely get any kind of drive-thru food.  Sonic happy hour drinks and a sandwich once in a blue moon, Taco Bell about two or three times per year…but mostly we eat at home and do try to use as much local, seasonal produce and meats as possible.  Factor in the desire for weight loss, and you get the idea…if it were not for my wife I’d literally eat the most basic, boring protein-based meals you could imagine. I’d eat the same thing night after night until I literally could not take it anymore and then move on to something else. If you go back into my blog right after I had surgery I did this with things like cheeses and canned meats. Fortunately we have a good thing going, she’ll do the daily lunches and dinners and then we’ll figure the weekend out ahead of time.  Friday night we’ll generally stay at home with some carryout Italian or Mediterranean….but with all the good stuff from the market lately we have been mixing that up a bit as well.

Just a few random shots of our home-based cooking….first up a pizza my wife made with some fresh morels I had just sauteed.  This thing was awesome….best $25 homemade pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Just got these things last week from Crum’s Heirlooms…they are radish pods. All the things we love about fresh snap peas and the earthy burn of radishes all rolled into one miraculous little package. They are, in a word, fucking amazing.

Here are some burnt ends I made with an Akaushi (Kobe) brisket for a big fancy BBQ we hosted a couple of weekends ago to celebrate the new deck. Great menu…in addition to the burnt ends we had pulled pork, spicy smoked Asian wings, cornbread with fresh corn kernels, bacon and homemade maple butter…a sriracha mayo potato salad, candied jalapeno cole slaw…homemade Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream with Ginger-Cinnamon Cookies…I’m probably forgetting something…

 

Now DINING OUT is where things get interesting.  We’ll generally do a “date night” level meal about twice per month, which consists of places like Lidia’s, Café des Amis, Justus Drugstore, Bluestem and the darling of the moment…The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange. We try to keep those types of dinners down to once a month, but you know how that shit goes. Other dining options are almost all ethnic…taquerias like Bonito Michoacan, Café Cedar, Vietnam Café, Cupini’s, Swagat. And of course there’s good old fat and grease at temples such as Frontier Steakhouse and an occasional trip to The Corner Café.  We’re all over the board with our dining, way, way too many places and too much stuff to include here but my plan will be to chronicle all of that much better in the months to come. No chain dining except for maybe a yearly trip to Red Lobster, which I demand because I’m straight up ghetto gangsta. Seriously. I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I’ve got way more than my share of the ‘hood in me. And from time to time, the ‘hood in me demands an Admiral’s Feast. Or a gizzard/liver full combo with extra G-Sauce from Go Chicken Go…with either some Fanta Strawberry pop or a red cream soda.  But ANYWAY, you’re liable to get sick of hearing about The Rieger pretty quickly, we just love it so.

This is the softshell crab sandwich I had last month for lunch at The Rieger….sadly, the season is over as of this writing but I will say that Howard Hannah could compete with anyone when it comes to his softshells.

And here is one of the best salads ever made. Again, from The Rieger, but this was part of a dinner we had when my sister in law was in town. I’m horribly inconsistent with my picture taking and the picture quality, but other than the softshell main courses this salad was the rockstar of the evening.  Fresh greens from Crum’s along with their radish and aforementioned radish pods, topped with some grilled grainy bread and a sunny side up duck egg.  We recreated this pretty well at home last weekend…and will do so again this weekend if we can still get some radish pods.

 

And if you desire more information about The Rieger, you can always peek into the gateway of their love at-  www.theriegerkc.com

Our quaint local market where I go ever single Saturday morning during the season is- www.parkvillefarmersmarket.com

Here is where I buy my MEAT!  – www.paradisemeats.com

Anyway, more when I’ve got something worth sharing, we’ll see how this particular direction turns out….

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