Memphis in May

May 16th, 2010

How does this sound for a weekend, fly down to Tennessee for Memphis in May, the Olympics of barbeque?  A weekend spent walking up and down the mighty Mississippi, binging on the best pulled pork and ribs, swigging cheap beer. 

Or so I thought.  As soon as we got to the festival, I noticed something was missing:  food.  I could smell pig, but I couldn’t spot any.  There were rows and rows of booths set up, each one cooking up something good.  Some were quite elaborate (like this throwback to M*A*S*H*).  They all had signs that read “Private Party” or “Invited Guests Only”.  it was like everyone in Memphis decided to throw a backyard  BBQ right next to each other, and not mingle at all.

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It took at least half an hour and a trip to the information booth (good ole Southern hospitality) before I could locate any food at all.  We could either get 5 (diminutive) samples of competition pulled pork for $4 or grab some funnel cake and a corn dog from a stand.  On our second day at the festival we finally spotted a tent that we liked.  A guy was standing at the front miming eating a sandwich and asking “Manjia?”  They had buckets of pork shoulder, baked beans with burnt ends, and bbq sauce and were sharing.  As they explained it to us, each team is scored by three judges and each judge gets their very own shoulder.  Since the judge only eats a little of the food, they had all this extra food and just gave it away.  Since they had food, they figured they should have drink too, so they had two taps, and coolers of “Hurricanes” and “Ice Picks”.  This was the self proclaimed “Hospitality Tent”. 

While wandering around Memphis we bumped into several other people that had come to the competition with the same expectations we had and were disappointed.  If you didn’t know any one then there wasn’t much of anything to do.  If you really like pork puns or you are already in Memphis, then head to the festival.  Otherwise grab a rack of ribs from Outback Steakhouse and save yourself the frustration.

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Happy Cooking

November 8th, 2009

Friday was a great day.  I got to meet one of my heroes, Jacques Pepin.  He was doing a demonstration/book signing at Stew Leonard’s in Connecticut.  As luck would have it, my work has an office there, so I was able to work from Norwalk for the day and get to the event with no problem. 

Once there I dutifully bought a copy of More Fast Food My WayThe were also selling The Apprentice:  My Life in the Kitchen, but I already had a copy.  During the event he prepared some of the “Minute Recipes” from the book:  Cheese Balls with Pignoli Nuts, Radish Toasts, Cured Salmon Morsels, and Butter Bean Canapes (which I got to try).  Pepin would make the base of each appetizer and plate one or two talking about variations that could be made.  When he moved on the next dish his assistant (Chef George) would plate the rest which would then be handed out to crowd. 

One thing that I noticed during the event was that he never stopped eating.  He’d taste a little of this, a little of that.  The man really enjoyed his food.  While making the radish toasts he sampled some of the butter and had to remark that it was very good butter.  He was so taken by it that he asked his assistant if they still had the wrapper for it so he’d know what it was.  George chuckled when he handed Pepin the box of Land o’ Lakes. 

At the end there was a question and answer period where a 13 year old asked him how to toss the contents of a skillet properly.  After a bit of an explanation Pepin summarized it by stating that you really just have to have “the courage of your convictions and just go for it.” 

At the end I got my books signed and got to have my picture taken with the man.

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Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Fluff

October 21st, 2009

In case you were wondering, yes.  Fluff can go bad.  But even when it does, it still tastes so good.

After a spring and summer of not having any hot chocolate, I just went to make my first pack of Swiss Miss for the year.  The jar of Fluff that I keep in my desk was was expired, but only by about a month.  I figured nothing could go wrong and continued anyway.  The delicious mallow creme was dried out and hard in the container.  After some scooping with a knife, I was able to get some into my chocolate beverage.  I had hoped that the heat would melt the mallow a bit, but to no avail. 

I’ll just have to  buy another jar for the rest of the season.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

The Return of a Hero

September 30th, 2009

We put our ailing Magic Bullet to the test today.  Would it survive after yesterday’s smoking incident?  I am here to tell you unequivocally yes.  The Bullet is a hero in every sense of the word.  It has struck back against adversity and provided us with yet more smooth goodness. 

We went easy on it at first, but soon realized not to patronize the Bullet.  Magic Bullet, I applaud you.

Author: Josh Categories: Story, Uncategorized Tags: ,

The Death of a Hero?

September 29th, 2009

It has been a dark day for my 4pm ritual of making smoothies.  Running on low supplies because my office fridge had undergone a sneak inspection, we managed to make a few smoothies.  During the fifth smoothie the bullet went berserk, whirring at a higher pitch than ever before releasing the magic smoke

Luckily, two of the floor’s voluntary fire wardens were present at the time, making sure that we all survived the ordeal, physically if not emotionally.  One of them called out asking if there was a fire extinguisher available.  Interestingly enough, it was about 3 feet from her at the time.  I’m glad we have these people watching my back.

Now the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the Bullet will perform tomorrow at 4, or if we will have to shoot it like the trusty steed it has been. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

Live to Die

September 29th, 2009

Wednesday the 20th was another bright and sunny day in Paris.  Our host had taken the day off and would be joining us in our touristy exploits.  Originally she wanted to spend the time looking for a new apartment (her lease was coming up soon), but she had unexpectedly gotten that taken care of already.  So what should we do with the gorgeous weather?  Float down the river?  Meander about another museum?  Get lost in a maze like section of town?  Nah.  Let’s venture deep underneath the city and wander about some of the 186 miles of the Catacombs.

During the late 18th century all of the cemeteries in Paris were condemned.  The current inhabitants were al moved to the depleted quarries under the city.  Any new guests are redirected to the surrounding suburbs.  People line up to be allowed down for a walk of the 2 miles that are open to the public (for a small fee).  Only 200 people are allowed in at any given time, so the line gets rather long.  During the hour and a half while waiting for our turn we went through several baguettes and croissants from the nearby bakeries. 

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Once down the stairs, the path to the bones was as pleasant and inviting as any dimly-lit narrow stone passage could be.  Which was to say before I saw a single bone, I was already put into a Halloween kinda mood.  When we finally came across the bones we were shocked by several things.  They were densely stacked about 4 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide with skulls artfully positioned.  I couldn’t even begin to guess how many people were represented by each section.  And the tunnels just kept going.  We were allowed to walk through a little over a mile of the ossuary.  Throughout the entire length of that, the walls were just crammed with bones.  And that was barely half of a percent of the entire place.  Some of the literature stated that the catacombs holds remains of about six million people.  An exact figure is not known. 

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After all of that death we decided to have a quick lunch and head over somewhere a bit less spooky.  So we went to Père Lachaise.  Among others, this great cemetery houses the remains of Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison.  We spent about 4 hours wandering around the cemetery with our $5 map (currency converted for simplicity – I can’t find the Euro button on my keyboard).  A few things of interest to note:  Morrison’s grave is discreet, but fenced off and has its own armed guard.  Wilde’s grave is smothered in lipstick stained kisses and no one really knows why.  At least I don’t.  That crazy gal over at Polish Outlander spent a similar day in the cemetery.  You may find her insights insightful.  I know I did.

After a day of death and more death, the three of us were famished so we head back to Chez Gladines for the second time.  We really liked the food here.  This time around The Girl got the duck confit and loved it.  I decided to be a bit more bold and went with Escargot Cassolet Basque as an appetizer and an order of Andouillette poelee for my meal.  The escargot was served in a creamy tomato soup that was absolutely delicious.  I just kept dunking my bread in there. 

And then there was the andouillette.  The waiter described this item as “a sausage, but with the guts.”  This item would definately allow me to cross eating offal of of my French to do list, and it sounded pretty good.  I was excited.  It was the type of excited that wanes with each bite.  My first bite was good, while my second reminded me vaguely of pig intestine.  By the time I was halfway, I knew I was done.  As with most things of this variety, it was both the taste and the texture.  Whenever I cut into the sausage the guts would fall out.  They were not ground up like a traditional sausage, rather they were just crammed in there.  It reminded me of the classic peanut brittle/snake practical joke.  When I woke up the next morning, I could swear I could still taste intestine.

Happy birthday to me!

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

Renovation Update

September 28th, 2009

The past few weeks have been productive.  We gutted the kitchen completely and have begun to put things back together.  The electrical and plumbing have both been redone and the walls are being put back up.  Pretty soon the room will have walls, a ceiling, and a floor.  With any luck at all we’ll be done around two weeks from now.  I know I’m really looking forward to cooking something good.  The Girl has already requested duck confit for my first meal.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

Demolition Man

September 18th, 2009

Saturday was a busy day.  My landlords had decided that they wanted to renovate my kitchen.  They had also decided that I should help.  This makes a lot of sense.  My landlords are my in-laws.  So after a week of boxing up all of the plates and glasses, Saturday was slotted for day one of demolition.  For a point of reference, here are some picture taken Saturday morning.

Sink Wall  Counter Wall

 

The first order of business was my oven.  As some of you may remember, it had developed a bit of an odor during a failed encounter with milk.  It was being replaced.  Canned.  Fired.  Tossed aside.  We dumped it on the curb in the hopes that someone else would deal with it for us.  The fridge and the sink also got the unceremonious heave-ho. 

By the time we got around to removing the cabinets we noticed that oven was gone.  Some lucky looter had just snagged themselves a fully functioning oven.  They are in for quite the smell when they hook it up.  A little while later the sink was gone.  This makes sense.  It was a big hunk of metal and could easily be sold off as scrap for a couple of bucks.  The fridge, on the other hand, spent a long cold night on the street, unloved and unwanted.  But don’t worry too much about it.  He was taken away first thing in the morning.

The only thing that we would keep was the washing machine.  The cabinets, and the counter top were not thrown away.  They will live out their lives somewhere other than my kitchen. 

To celebrate our victory over inanimate objects, my father-in-law and I were provided with gifts of tribute from the lady-folk featuring a six pack of ice-cold Sam Adam’s Octoberfest and a delicious chicken dinner.  After that we went to bed exhausted.

Sunday proved to be more challenging.  After a trip to Home Depot to pick up some materials – plywood, sheetrock, and the like – we stared tearing the tiles off of the wall.  Armed with a chisel and  a hammer we went to it.  In software development there is something known as the 90/10 Law.  It states that 90% of the work takes 10% of the time.  The other 10% of work takes the remaining 90% of the time.  We found that this held true for the demolition as well.  Our first tasks was to remove the tiles from behind the sink area.  Most of it came right off, but there was a relatively small section that would not let go.  We had to get a smaller chisel and chip it off inch by inch.  In the pictures below, the section of bare cement is where the tiles were.

Once the walls were done we were able to pull out the ceiling.  Once that was gone we were able to clean out the space, shower, eat a quick bite, and hit the hay.  It was a productive but tiring weekend.

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Author: Josh Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Anyone for a pint?

September 16th, 2009

What do you do after a long day at the museum?  My first impulse was to go to dinner.  The Girl and I walked to a nearby brasserie we had heard was pretty good.  A hand written sign explained that they were temporarily closed but would open again in about an hour.  With an hour to kill in Paris we did the only logical thing and went in search of a cafe.

The Girl was in need of some good old fashioned sugar and caffeine and ordered a $6 coke.  I wanted something new and tried to order a 1664, a popular beer brewed in France.  The waitress took one look at me and said no.  Evidently I would enjoy a Grimbergen more.  Since I was the dumb tourist and she was the local, I took her word and happily drank the beer.  It was yeasty and good.  As I recall, it tasted like a darker Blue Moon.  A Midnight-Blue Moon, if you will.  Later in the week I was able to successfully order the 1664.  It tasted like a watered down Bud-Light.  The waitress was right. 

After the pint – or half liter, they have the metric system over there – we made our way back to the brasserie.  This time we had a little more success, but just a little.  We made it into the dining room before being told that there was something unexpectedly wrong and that they would not be open that evening.  But in French.  I replied by asking for a table for two politely smiling and holding up two fingers to demonstrate.  After a quick back and forth I began  to realize that I was probably not going to be eating there that night.

We continued down the street  to our second choice, an upscale looking bistro.  Upon entering I felt under-dressed in my T-shirt and jeans.  Regardless, we were politely received and asked if we were reservations.  Not having any, I was worried that we wouldn’t be seated.  Then I noticed that there was only one other party in the dining room and realized that it probably wouldn’t be an issue.  Throughout the evening there were only a total of 3 parties at any one time. 

Whenever The Girl orders food she politely inquires, “Can I have…” Each time I picture the waiter saying no, so I was shocked when he actually did this time.  It turns out that they were out of the mushrooms required for that app.  She settled for a plate of sautéed chanterelles which were a special to start and mushroom risotto for her entree.  I went with a half-dozen order of escargot and a sirloin pepper steak. 

The chanterelles were good, but it was just too much mushroom.  My guess is that the chef really needed to get some old mushrooms out of his kitchen.  I think the dish would have worked much better as a side.  The mushroom risotto was good, but after the mushroom overload in the app it was a bi much.

Served in their own shell and not a ceramic prosthetic, the escargot were drowning in butter, garlic, and parsley.  I had some trouble with with the escargot tongs at first.  The shell kept slipping out whenever I tried picking them up.  At one point i had spilled so much of the butter that I was worried the shell would shoot out and hit The Girl in the face.  She suggested I admit defeat and just use my fingers.  If they weren’t so darn hot, I may have considered it.  When I managed to actually get one in my mouth it was delicious, buttery and tender, not rubbery at all.  Once I got the hang of it, I was able to finish my plate without incident. 

This will sound silly, but I was surprised just how peppery the pepper sauce on my steak was.  The sirloin was cooked just right and was very satisfying after the long day.  The side of fries were crispy and accompanied it well.

Overall, Le Grand Colbert was enjoyable.  The wait staff was friendly and attentive, the food well prepared.  This was an evening of being happy with the second choice.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , , ,

Day 5: Lunch with the Cardinal (Wednesday the 19th of August)

September 16th, 2009

On Wednesday we got up bright and early and got to the Louvre right when it opened.  Being the ever-prepared tourist that we were, we had bought tickets the day before, allowing us to skip the lengthy line forming at the pymidal entrance.  Once in, we made good use of our head start by racing to the museum’s most famous tenant, Mona Lisa.  We got our view of Leonardo’s lady and avoided the Italian wing for the rest of the day.

Overall we really enjoyed the museum, seeing gall sorts of interesting paintings.  We even spotted some good food related ones.  Although I don’t really understand what type of hunt results in rabbit, fowl, and a cooked lobster.Nice Hunt

We had lunch at the museum restaurant the Richelieu Cafe.  Richelieu was a cardinal of France who gained some fame in Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.  The food here was good, but nothing particularly special.  Pretty much what you’d expect for museum cafe.  The best part was definitely the court yard from the terrace and the fact that it was a palace.  This was the first meal I ever ate in an actual palace, but it is not the last for this trip.  As for food, we went the traditional route with The Girl getting quiche Lorraine and a croque-monsieur for me and a piece of cheesecake to split for desert. 

A croque-monsieur is a popular sandwich in France.  It is a ham sandwich with béchamel sauce.  Gruyere cheese is then sprinkled on top before being put in the broiler.  The name literally translates to “”Mister Undertaker".  Several versions exist, including the croque-madame which is topped with a fried egg.  Evidently the egg looks like a lady’s hat. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: ,