Sunday, March 28, 2010

A-Z Munchin' Monday: JJJJJJ

This week we're covering foods that start with the letter J. If I were to cover a food that I have come to enjoy in recent years, I would probably home in on Jambalaya. Good stuff when done right, and I have especially enjoyed it at a restaurant in downtown Cleveland called Fat Fish Blue. More than once I have enjoyed a big hot bowl of this ragin' Cajun collection of tasty stuff.
But my emphasis has been on foods that bring back the nostalgia for days long gone by, and so for my J food I select: JELLO MOLDS. Not just Jello, mind you, but those rings of jello-ey goodness with other stuff embedded in them, often served in lieu of a salad, frequently garnished with some lettuce or other such rabbit food underneath.
Is it just me, or were Jello molds all the rage back in the 60's or so? It seems to my now-not-so-reliable memory that, back then, Mom would trot out a Jello mold on a pretty routine basis. Sometimes it would be green (lime?) Jello with mandarin oranges embedded in it. Or maybe orange Jello with carrot strips and raisins. or some sort of thing with cream cheese on the top. And then what, exactly, is aspic? Seems like aspic played a role back in the day, but I cannot put my finger on that.

It's been a long time since I've seen a Jello mold served up. What's happened to this American icon of eatin'?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A-Z Munchin' Monday - I


Well, I thought long and hard about singing the praises of ice cream, which has played a large role in my life (and my waist measurement, I suspect). But I thought I'd travel the liquid refreshment path and discuss iced tea.

There are differing schools of thought about iced tea. Some (including my family while I was growing up) feel that iced tea is not something to be sweetened with sugar or other sickening substances. Their tea tastes like - well, like tea. Like leaves that are ground up and suspended in water. And perhaps a touch of mint. This beverage is passable as a quencher of thirst, and not bad at all when it's sunny and ninety degrees.

Then there's the "sweet tea" school. This would include our neighbor and my buddy Tom's mom, who hailed from North Carolina, which was obvious as soon as she spoke. It is probably a rule for southerners to empty a five pound sack of sugar into every pitcher of tea they make. It's a wonder the liquid absorbs all that sugar.

Anyhow, then, Tom's mom would toss in some fruit particles (like hunks of lemon or other citrus fruit). of course, being a kid at the time, I loved this version of iced tea and wondered why it was not the universal iced tea offered everywhere, including at home. The I'd consume five glasses and proceed to bounce off the walls for a couple hours.

Later in life, when we were off on our three-week National Lampoon Station Wagon Tour of the West in 1998, I became addicted to raspberry iced tea. In my simple way of accounting for my actions, I felt that this concoction had to be better for me, and more of a thirst quencher when out in, say, Canyonlands in the desert of southern Utah, than a Diet Coke or the like, which is full of sodium after all. I was no doubt fooling myself. Raspberry iced tea is probably no better, health-wise or quench-wise, than a Diet Coke in such a setting. But my appreciation of a raspberry iced tea has lasted to this day, and I seem to order one up pretty often when dining out. Good stuff.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Nature's Pattern Continues

It took a little searching, but we found them on a walk tonight - the turkey vultures have indeed returned to the 'hood. They have just chosen a stand of pines a couple blocks south of the past two years' venue. As we walked, they were flying in to roost, settling and re-settling in the pines, after a day of whatever vultures do - I picture them feasting on dead things. I guess it's a living.

This walk was the start of a mellow-ish weekend. Followed the walk up with a sit-down on the deck with the dog. This was a thing I would do with our previous animal - pass knowing glances as we surveyed the estate for signs of life and movement. This dog was not quite as content as his predecessor, issuing occasional little whines, but he eventually settled down and patiently stared out at the lawn.
- - - - -
Tomorrow will not be a fun day. Linda's itinerary includes two funerals; mine the latter one. The first is an acquaintance's mother whom we had never met. The second is a member of our church named Al, who was 84, served in the War, and had a career teaching and administering schools. We only knew the retired Al, but we saw him a lot around town, pedaling his bicycle, decked out in hunter's orange. On the Fourth we'd see him piloting his Model T in the parade. It was immaculate.

Most memorably, we were out at the reservoir one day when Al drove up in his pickup, dislodged a kayak, put it in at the boat launch, and paddled one lap around the perimeter of the reservoir. Pulled it back out, loaded it in , and drove off after exchanging some pleasantries.

I can't explain it, exactly, but I have deep admiration for people like Al who just seem to follow their own guidance system, even (especially!) at a ripe old age.

I'd like to think Al is biking around some gold-paved street right now. Probably doesn't need the hunter's orange.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

School Play

Just when the news is getting you down about the fate of our Nation and the state of its Youth, something like this comes along. The local high school put on their annual musical this past weekend, and we bought some tickets to check it out. Not too long ago, we had a dog in this fight; our son had a few memorable roles and bits in the annual shows as he made his way through high school; our daughter was in a play as well. Now it's down to sibs of our kids' friends, and a number of kids from church (including the male lead).

The thing is, these kids work like crazy (as do more than a few adults) to put on as professional a show as possible. What they pull off is remarkable. Of course, the cost is basically giving up all their free time for weeks and weeks to approach perfection. But it is worth it. As the male lead said afterwards, "Some schools have champion football or basketball teams. We have musicals!"

This year it was The Music Man, a good choice, with memorable tunes, and more than enough roles for kids of all ages, male and female, to get their chance to shine.

If you recall, the play starts out with a train scene that relies on the speedier, then slower, rhythm of the rails for the eight or so "salesmen" to deliver their lines, almost rap style. and these guys, dressed in their cheesy plaid salesman suits, pulled it off, tightly intertwining their lines and pulling off the footwork.

These kids were good - disbelief was suspended for a couple hours and I got caught up in the goings-on in River City. The tunes are still replaying in my head. And best of all, here was a wonderful example of a large number of teens (and a handful of younger 'uns to fill out the cast) giving up their time for a couple months to produce something excellent, even if it is fleeting (the set was no doubt being struck before we left that last performance); the ultimate in teamwork. These kids could teach a lot of adults about how working together can produce wondrous things. Bravo!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Munchin' Monday: A couple H's

It's time again for our A-Z review of the world of food, from anchovies to zucchini. This week is brought to you by the letter "H". And the whole deal is the brainchild of Jen over at Unglazed.
My lifetime food achievement award for "H" goes to the HAMBURGER. What is more American, more fast foody, and more just plain chopped bovine goodness that a 'burger? Back when i was a kid, and my sister will back me up on this, whenever we stopped in a restaurant, whether a McDonalds or a fancy tablecloth place, I'd order me up a hamburger, or in the more swank places, chopped sirloin. Burgers were simply a life-sustaining item for me.

The best burger I ever ate (that I can recall; perhaps my memory is embellishing this thing) was in a littel dive somewhere on a back road in Ocean City, Maryland. I was a high school kid at some off-season retreat, and not many places were open. But this burger and sandwich joint was, and man, was that thing juicy and tasty and loaded with the tomato and lettuce and ketchum and onion and who knows what else...

Of course, with age comes the wisdom (and cholestorol level) to teach one that moderation is a good thing. So now when I find myself in a restaurant, I do not immediately default to the chopped beef section of the menu. But every once in a while, oooh boy, it's great to sink one's teeth into the beefy goodness. And with grilling season around the corner....
On to H number two. A decade or more ago, I was on a business trip to Albuquerque, and my wife Linda came along. Every morning, I had breakfast with her before I had to go off to whatever it was that I had to do, in a little restaurant next to the hotel called Mama somebody's (I forget the details). Every morning, I ordered the Huevos Rancheros. For some reason, that combination of eggs on a tortilla, with beans, and some salsa (I was big on salsa verde, having never seen green salsa back East), really hit the spot with me.

Shortly after, we were visiting with a group of Linda's college friends who get together monthly or so, and one of the group, Chris, took it upon himself to bring the necessary ingredients and cook up some mighty fine Sunday Morning Huevos. This has become tradition for perhaps a decade or more now, and I look forward to those huevos to this day.

So them's my H's. You can view other people's choices by traveling over to the aforementioned Jen's blog.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Muncin' Mondays: some Groovy Grub

My odd walk down Munchable Memory Lane continues with a couple foods that begin with G. First up is the plain old graham cracker. Not too exciting for most people, admittedly. But when I was young I decided they made a great breakfast cereal. I would take, I think, three graham crackers (maybe four; I'm not sure). Break them along the factory-produced lines into four pieces per cracker. Distribute the pieces in a cereal bowl and add milk. Then eat the things as quickly as possible because, in about 45 seconds, they would be reduced to mush in the milk. And I liked them somewhat crisp.
I had a few friends over once to beta test this concoction. It may have gone well, but as I remember it, I stepped it up and offered the grahams drenched in grape juice. No takers. And, as I recall it, the milk-soaked ones were not too big a hit. Anyhow, someone else came up with other graham-based cereal products that earned them millions.
The other G-Food of my youth was a product that pretty much came and went: Great Shakes. A box full of these finny triangular shaped containers full of a powdery substance to which we added milk and shook vigorously in a specially provided container. There was a little jingle for the product that went something like "Anyone can have a soda fountain now with Great Shakes, new Great Shakes.." As I recall they were pretty good once the powder was shaken enough to dissolve. The result was pretty thick. I believe someone in the Great Shakes ad, with a ridiculous British Invasion Accent, proclaimed the product "so thick it stands up to a straw". Or am I dreaming this stuff? Anyone else remember this confection?

can spring be that far away?

Out with that stuff on the right; In with more of that thing on the left!

Took the dog out to the reservoir for a quick look around. The ice is receding (see header picture). Ollie had a good time walking around and checking things out. The snowmelt was splashing down the spillway. The birds were hanging out where the solid H2O met up with the liquid kind. And when we got back home, behold, a crocus or something was trying to tell us it's time to add a little color to the greyscales of winter.

Happy lookin' dog on the ride back home