Category Archives: Eats

Beth Goodrich’s Pumpking Fudge Recipe

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Noted Conway author and chef Beth “Beets” Goodrich finally agreed to share her secret pumpkin fudge recipe after two decades of silence. It’s true in the 90s that she may have inadvertently poisoned a few people. We all need a chance to learn from our mistakes, though. Other than a slight twitch when she’s talking, you might not know how hard she worked to get past her initial failings as a cook. Six boys survived her cooking so it is presumably safe to say she’s ironed out the kinks and emergency room visits.

While we all know Beth through her writing, I’d like to take a moment and explain that her nickname “Beets” arose from the insistence of her well-meaning friends and family that beets taste anything like other than a mouthful of dirt. She can quote numerous scientific studies that prove that beets taste like a mound of desiccated spiders that’s been mixed with Appalachian dirt and powdered. Much like really large white guys were often called “Tiny,” so too did Beth get crowned as “Beets.”

Pumpkin fudge is a ‘real’ thing, even though it may at first seem to one small part of a complex and elaborate prank, one devised by San Francisco hipsters. You’ve probably heard it mentioned in whispers at a church social or in the open cafeteria lines of your state penitentiary. Most fans of pumpkin fudge tend to be easily excited and often have concealed carry permits. If you’re one of the few people who don’t like pumpkin fudge, refrain from mentioning it out loud unless you are in a Siberian cave that’s been sealed close by a nuclear explosion.

While observing college boys using pumpkins as catapult fodder, she realized that pumpkins were not only for insanely dry pumpkin bread that no one really likes or for jack o’ lanterns on Halloween.

After 37 failed tries and one oven that had to be discarded (not to mention burned hair), Beth arrived at her final recipe.

Most of the ingredients are what most of us refer to as “old folks” ingredients such as evaporated milk, corn syrup, and marshmallow creme.

While I hate to be helpful in food posts, I’d like to explain to you what the differences are between evaporated and condensed milk. Both are made from milk with 60% of the water removed. Evaporated milk, however, is not sweetened, unlike its condensed milk counterpart. You’d be surprised how many cooks can’t explain that difference to you.

You should always keep a can of each in your larder. (I’ll explain what in tarnation a ‘larder’ is later after you’ve been put in a coma by reading about cooking.) You never know when a posse of old-timers might come to your house. In such a scenario, you’re going to need some condensed or evaporated milk.

Again, though I loathe being helpful, it is surprising that people don’t know you can add condensed milk to as much water and use it like regular milk in recipes. This can be helpful if you live somewhere without electricity or an icebox. If you hear banjos on most afternoons, you definitely need some condensed milk in your pantry, larder, or cellar. Due to the size of evaporated milk cans, they can also be used as hand grenades in a close fight.

For Beth’s recipe, you’ll need a candy thermometer. I’ll tell you where to stick it later. Beth recommends the combination food thermometer/protractor, in case complex calculations arise. Paradoxically, her Panasonic oven only indicates Celsius, which resulted in some strange issues with her in-laws helping her cook. If you don’t own a candy thermometer, you’re with 65% of the country.

(Related note: biscuits will cook in 2 minutes if you accidentally set the oven to 375 Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. If you don’t catch the error in 15 minutes, your local firefighters will drop by your house unexpectedly to remind you.)

Without boring you with the details of the recipe, I can tell you that even if you don’t like pumpkin, you’ll probably like pumpkin fudge. As in the case with carrot cake, you don’t actually put chunks of carrots in carrot cake unless you’re a sadist, or live in Little Rock.

If you’ve never had pumpkin fudge, call Beth in Conway. She’ll undoubtedly make a batch for you, at no cost, with something like a smile on her face. You can also find her on Instagram by searching for #whoiscookingdinnertonightatthegoodrichhouse.

I know you think I misled you by promising to share Beth’s recipe. I didn’t say I’d share it. I said that she shared it with me. The recipe on MyRecipes is fairly close to what she uses.

Since you’re already voluntarily putting pumpkin in food, you can’t really hurt this recipe, regardless of how you modify it.

P.S. I put bacon in the picture because it’s a known fact that bacon subconsciously obliterates one’s ability to think critically. The fact that you’ve read this far proves it to be true.

Beanfield’s & Trombone Pants Syndrome

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In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” Douglas Adams described the alien Vogon spacecraft this way: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

While the description is metaphorical nonsense, it makes perfect sense. This is the sort of whimsical logic that appeals to me. While most observers would think it isn’t reflective of who I am, they are mistaken.

I recently tried another food which is nothing like the name would suggest. Somehow though, it eclipses the source inspiration for texture and flavor. In addition to a flavor that is plant-based, you don’t have to idly wonder how close to the pig’s anus the skin you’re eating might have been prior to being a pig carcass. When it’s fresh, it definitely fulfills one’s texture-based cravings.

On my last trip to my favorite cabin, I was shopping using the ‘anything goes’ method, one which is characterized by pure whimsy. On one of the aisles, I saw Beanfield’s Vegan Cracklins. The grocery stores in Eureka Springs and Holiday Island offer selections that are often unique, right alongside the expected staples of a smaller town grocery.

I’ve tried Beanfield’s bean chips. I loved the Pico de Gallo flavor. They aren’t available in my customary stores. I’ve been banned from Whole Foods ever since the incident on April 24th of 2019. Okay, that isn’t true either. But I like to think I made you wonder, just for a second, what I did to get banned from Whole Foods.

It sounds like a prank, doesn’t it? While I like putting fried pigskin in my mouth as much as the next guy, something about the packaging appealed to me. I picked the “Spicy Nacho” flavor under the mistaken notion that it would be the one my wife would enjoy the most. I usually choose based on whatever is the most outlandish.

Available in Chile Limon, Spicy Nacho, Ranch, Korean BBQ, and Frozen Bat’s Testicles flavors, there’s a flavor most will like. That last one? It isn’t real. They do, however, also have one labeled as “Aged White.” I can only ASSUME it is aged white cheese flavor, instead of some older gentleman named Archibald, Harold, or Bernard. Popular fads aside, most people don’t want products that are made from, or smell like, actual people. The people that do want to buy such products are not ones you should invite over for a game of poker unless you’re prone to self-loathing. Take note, Bachelor fans.

I didn’t buy them because they are vegan, gluten-free, rich in protein, or high in fiber. I bought them because it sounded weird to me.

My wife decidedly disliked the Spicy Nacho flavor, allegedly because it was ‘hot.’ Being of Irish, Scottish, and English descent, even white bread is a bit on the spicy side for her.

The texture is ridiculously crisp and the flavor pervades each cracklin.

For conservatives out there, eating this will not turn you into a liberal. You’ll experience a mild urge to tax and spend, so keep that in mind as you try them.

As with all bean products, over-consumption allegedly will give you Trombone Pants Syndrome. It’s not fatal, no matter how much your family groans and writhes as you all cluster together in the living room watching Netflix.

P.S. Eating these is what made me so buff.

 

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way…

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P.S. The picture is of my Dad and Uncle Buck. I don’t know who noted the names on the picture. But it is funny, too.

 

Since people kept saying, “What does a GOOD near-drowning story sound like?” I thought I should tell one which amuses me. It also highlights a few anecdotes about my Dad. I have some terrible stories about drowning, but this is the furthest thing from that.

My Dad had a propensity for outlandish humor. He wasn’t safe about it, either. I have a library of pranks my Dad was involved in, some of which border on pathological. For example, one year during one of the excursions to the “Deer Woods,” he and his drinking companions tied one of the other hunters to the top of a large stump and set it on fire. I’m not sure they had a contingency plan if he failed to be freed in time, although I wouldn’t put it past them to announce that he was part of the BBQ and break out the sauce. More than once, some fool would throw a box of ammunition in the fireplace or in the campfire. When we lived in Tontitown on old 68, Dad threw a box of ammunition in the fireplace inside the house. It went as you would imagine.

Although this is a tangent, when I was very young, I couldn’t figure out which state the “Deer Woods” was in, or why so much alcohol had to be taken for the trip. It perplexed me to think that a handful of grown men needed 30 cases of beer and a dozen bottles of whiskey.

Even if bears wanted a drink, a lot would get wasted, no pun intended.

Dad was mercurial, a word often used to disguise the fact that someone is a moody, temperamental asshole.  Other days, the fog would lift from his brain and he’d decide to enjoy life, or at least be carefree. Had he had more of those days, life would have been markedly different for him – and for all of us. On one such day, Dad insisted that I go with him fishing. Inviting me to fish was akin to bringing a framed picture of Satan to your first prayer meeting.

While I had hoped for a trip to Lake Elmdale on a smaller boat, instead, I found out we were going with Uncle Buck and their friend Jerry, who I’ve written about in another story, the one in which Dad sneaked into his house and poured a pitcher of water down his rear while he was bent over and washing his hair. Going to “the” lake, Beaver Lake, meant we’d likely take Uncle Buck’s bass boat. I wasn’t a boat aficionado. It wasn’t simply because I couldn’t swim well. It required me to be in close proximity to my Dad. Such circumstances often yielded the opposite of whatever a child experiences during a visit to Disneyland.

I wasn’t a good fisherman, but I did well. That annoyed my Dad. I loved watching the water and the complex machinations of those who enjoyed fishing. Most of it seemed to be entirely arbitrary. Watching Saturday afternoon fishing shows proved this to me. It amused me to think that grown men would ridicule their wives for watching soap operas, but would sit in front of a TV and watch other people fish. Additionally, like my Uncle Buck, a lot of men I knew bought fishing magazines. I used to joke I was going to do a fishing show and magazine. The magazine would just be a picture of a man casting a line into the water, followed by a page that said both “Reel in” and “Repeat.” Shockingly, no one in my family appreciated my well-aimed commentary at their expense.

If I felt really funny, I’d mock them for feeling proud that they could spend thousands of dollars just to outsmart a bunch of fish. Uncle Buck tolerated my quips. With Dad, I had to guess his mood before any such contemplation.

We went to Uncle Buck’s house. He lived in one of the first bigger subdivisions in Springdale on Ann Street. I jumped into the bed of the truck hauling the boat. It had a camper on it. Dad, Jerry, and Uncle Buck sat in front. Despite Dad’s morning sullen demeanor, he was beginning to pick at both of the other occupants of the truck. How Dad had done it is beyond me, but when Uncle Buck pulled away from the side of the house, the truck bounced crazily. When Uncle Buck exited the cab of his truck, he discovered Dad had put holding blocks a few feet from the rear wheels. “Damnit, Bobby Dean!” This would be the first of many “Damnit Bobby Dean!” utterances for the day. If Uncle Buck were particularly chagrined, he’d invoke the name of God with the phrase for special emphasis. While Dad pranked Uncle Buck less often than other people, he’d been known to lift up the rear axle a few inches off the ground, put an ignition firecracker on his truck (these things actually existed and Dad LOVED them, or do a variety of clever and interesting things to amuse himself.

Though it’s not relevant to the story, it was around that year that Uncle Buck had been pulled over in Springdale. “How’s your day, officer?” He asked the policeman who pulled him over. Uncle Buck was generally good-natured and loved to ‘jaw.’ “Did I leave an arm hanging out of my camper again?” The officer said, “No sir, but can you explain your license plate? Can I see the slip for your truck?” Uncle Buck dug the paper out of the glove box. In such matters, he was meticulous. At times he was so meticulous that I doubted he and my Dad could actually be related. The officer asked Uncle Buck to come around back. In place of his license plate, there was an antique plate from another state, one that looked to be fifty years old and shot with a .22. Uncle Buck knew immediately that my Dad had switched his plates. By the time he got to Dad, he realized that it was funny and couldn’t stay mad. He’d been driving for over a week with the old plates. For quite a while, Uncle Buck made a point to see if anything was amiss on his vehicles.

As we were leaving, I heard Dad ask Jerry, “Do you think it will work?” Jerry, who momentarily lost his sense of reason, said, “What, Bobby Dean?” Dad cackled, ready to fire off one of his favorite punchlines: “Windshield wipers on a duck’s ass.” Dad’s glee at being able to repeat this joke more than once on the same person was legendary.

We stopped at the bait shop near the old bridge by Beaver Lake, before the road was improved. Dad had a couple of containers of worms as he walked out. He wasn’t drinking, so I knew this would be a great day. My goal was to not annoy him. Because he had an audience, he walked up to the boat where Uncle Buck was talking to Jerry and someone Jerry knew. Dad took the top off the container and fished out a worm. He popped it into his mouth and swallowed it. I knew his secret: swallowing it quickly resulted in almost no taste. Before you ask, yes, I did have to eat a couple of worms in my life. I had to eat a whole lot of disgusting things growing up. None of them resulted in “making me a man,” as Dad hoped.

Dad held the white plastic container out for Jerry’s friend. “Want one?” The other man made a terrible face. Dad responded with one of his favorites Southern sayings: “Boy, you sure don’t know what’s good!” (You can still hear this today in the South. It’s the classic point made after someone declines to eat something, usually with an unreasonable amount of mayonnaise in it.) My Mom often said this, even if she eating something that smelled like it had been discovered in an abandoned fridge under a bridge.

Jerry was usually a good sport. While I don’t remember who else was present when he did it all those years ago, Dad grabbed Jerry’s face and kissed him on the mouth to flabbergast him. (Dad was drinking heavily.) “Could you put on some lipstick or something,” he asked him when he pulled away. “And I don’t like my women to have mustaches.” It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. Technically, it was assault. But yes, still funny.

As they got back in the truck, Jerry got in the middle. He started to yawn for some reason and Dad ‘yawn raped’ him. While there are other names for sticking your fingers into the open mouth of another person as a surprise,  ‘yawn rape’ best describes the enthusiasm with which Dad would do it. He would almost choke you at times. Though you might not agree with it, sticking one’s fingers in an open mouth is almost a right in most Southern states, especially for dads. In this particular instance, you should remember that Dad’s fingers had just been in the worm bucket. Jerry just nodded his head. This was one of the ways he’d let you know you had drawn his attention.

Note: it’s never a good idea to draw the attention of someone who loves those 80s Charles Bronson revenge movies. Like Charles Bronson, Jerry was often silent. I grew to appreciate his ability to think about ways to strangle you while smiling.

We arrived at the lake and Uncle Buck swiveled the truck to back in toward the boat ramp. Dad made me help get the boat into the water. I was more likely to contribute to the boat sinking, truth be told. I was wearing cutoff shorts and no shoes, so I didn’t care how wet I got in the process. Dad was wearing his plain work boots, which in reality were just simple cowboy boots of some type. I never understood going to fish in boots. What did I know, though? Like the trick with Charlie Brown, Dad loved signaling to Uncle Buck that the boat was loose. As soon as Uncle Buck gassed it, Dad would yell “Ho! Wait.” He could do this repeatedly and not tire of it. It amused me, too. Uncle Buck was the perfect straight man in a comedy routine. When Dad was in a great mood, he would offer to pay me to help him pull a prank on Uncle Buck. We often succeeded. While he didn’t say, “Et tu, Brute” to me after finding out I was involved, Uncle Buck did enjoy picking on me when I helped his brother torment him.

Uncle Buck parked the boat while Dad bothered with the boat. It gave him the chance to disconnect the spark plug wire from the outboard motor. We used the trolling motor to pull away from the bank. Jerry took a moment to carefully check the cooler for the fish. On more than one occasion, Dad had packed the cooler with a snake so that the first person to open it would be greeted by a snake looking back at him. Dad was also not above grabbing a snake out of the water or the trees and throwing it in the boot at someone’s feet, either. If Dad had been drinking, you’d have to be a fool or filming a documentary about the lives of crazy people to get into a boat with him.

Dad had thrown snakes into a person’s lap before, too, as they sat in their car or truck. Often, just to alarm them more, he’d say, “You mean to tell that some snakes are poisonous? I had no idea!”

Uncle Buck repeatedly tried starting the engine of the boat. “I’ll take a look.” Dad leaned over the motor housing and connected whatever he had disconnected. “Look here, I found it,” he said, in a serious tone of voice. As Jerry and Uncle Buck looked, Dad raised his hand away from the motor. He was giving them the bird. He laughed.  When Dad was in a humorous spirit, his laugh was infectious. I can’t imagine what life would have been like for him if that laugh had been his predominant characteristic.

As we sat in a cove, the three adults fished. I made it my mission to be silent and watch the treeline and water. Out of the blue, Dad asked, “Do you want to take a swim?” He was talking to me. I calculated how best to respond. Jerry intervened on my behalf. “No one wants to swim here. There’s probably snakes everywhere, Bobby Dean.” Dad thought about it. “How else is he going to make friends?” He laughed. I realized I had been holding my breath. For a second, I really considered hurling myself into the water just to be done with it. Waiting for a madman to decide one’s fate is worse than voluntarily jumping off the mountain.

If you don’t understand the above logic, congratulations; you’re normal.

Later, we pulled in another nearby cove. Jerry took over the boat because he knew the cove very well. Uncle Buck could trust him, whereas letting Dad drive the boat ran the risk of answering the question, “Can someone actually jump a boat over land like they did in that Burt Reynolds movie?” Jerry eased in closer to the overhanging trees, though still quite a safe distance away. He was a genius with anything mechanical and was the best fisherman of the group.

Dad started singing one of his favorite songs, one which he usually performed while drinking: “Lord, It’s Hard To Be Humble,” by Mac Davis. It’s no accident that Dad looked a lot like Mac in his prime. “You’re going to scare the fish,” Uncle Buck told him for no apparent reason. Jerry piped in. “You’re going to scare ME with that voice. You should be singing, “Lord, It’s Hard Not To Stumble,” Bobby Dean.”

One of my best fishing observations happened one day I was out on the boat with Dad. “When the fishing isn’t going well, silence is mandatory. When the fishing is going well, most of the adult men chatter like startled magpies – and no one complains.” Fish magically knew which scenario was occurring in the boat above them.

Jerry slowly turned the boat away from the trees.

As Dad sang, he stood up in the boat and went to one side. When Dad got his fishing pole in both hands to cast it near the trees, it happened.

In a perfect alignment of opportunity, vengeance, and humor, Jerry gunned the powerful boat. The front end rose as the boat lurched. Dad surprisingly did not see it coming, which made it much more comical.

He went off the side as he fell, while holding his fishing pole. Jerry gunned the boat more. Despite the engine, I could hear Dad’s indistinguishable yell of surprise. He hit the water and went under. Those cowboys boots were probably less than ideal at this point.

Jerry let off the throttle and began howling with laughter and pride. It was a rarity to catch Dad that far off guard. He was sputtering water, trying to stay above water while holding his pole. Despite his bravado, he didn’t look like he could stay afloat.

“I think he might need a hand, Jerry,” Uncle Buck said calmly. His voice was surprisingly calm. I think he could have said, “I see a shark” with the same calm. “Seriously.”

Jerry eased the boat around and throttled it momentarily. The boat eased into the cove near Dad. Dad was still spitting water and struggling. He put a hand on the side of the boat and reached a tie-off on the side.

Jerry knew better than to attempt to help Dad get out of the water. Uncle Buck tried to help hoist him in. The water made him much heavier. I took his fishing pole.

Finally, Jerry came over the side. Instead of reaching out to help Dad into the boat, he jumped into the lake. The look of surprise on Uncle Buck’s face was complete shock. How was he going to get two fools back into the boat? And did he really want them in the boat anyway?

As Jerry came up, he said what I was thinking. “I might as well jump in. Bobby Dean won’t be satisfied until either I’m in the water or the boat is on fire.”

Dad managed to get onto the boat. Jerry swam a bit and reached up for the boat. Uncle Buck and Dad grabbed him to help. Just as Jerry started to say, “Don’t let go, you asshole,” Dad let go and Jerry went back into the water.

Finally, we ended up back in the boat. They were all laughing, even Uncle Buck, who said, “I’m not jumping in.” At the risk of being proven wrong, I said, “Me either.”

I don’t remember what kind of fishing was done that day. I didn’t care, either. As long as it was rolled in cornmeal and fried like Uncle Buck fried it, I didn’t care if they caught a used pair of leather gloves. I tended to observe the fishing process with disinterest.

Fishing, after all, could easily be ‘drowning adjacent.’

Given the choice between hush puppies or fish, I’d opt to skip the drownings on the lake and sit at home and fry up a bucket of hush puppies. Fishing was a lot of work for no greater enjoyment in eating.

That day, though… It was golden-fried, too. I see that now.

Those days help mask the others, the ones hidden in shadows.

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From Fryer To Fruitcake

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Last night, Dawn still felt unwell. Out of the blue, she said, “I’d really like a piece of one of the fruitcakes I got you for Xmas.” Assuming she had temporarily lost her mind, I ignored her request. We had just used the air fryer for the first time and consumed at least 343 potatoes. She asked again. I’d never known her to appreciate the culture and taste of fruitcake, so I was a bit surprised and reluctant to offer her any.
 
Unlike most people in the world, I love fruitcakes, both the food and people with odd dispositions. There’s a vast disparity in quality, of course. Many people make the stubborn assumption that if you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all -as if crème brûlée (a dessert made from the hopes and dreams of fairies) from a gas station is the same as crème brûlée from a fine restaurant. Many fruitcakes should be used only as anvils, military projectiles, and doorstops.
 
I retrieved the three fruitcakes Dawn bought me and carefully opened one, peeling back the protective layer of secret paper used to seal them away from the jealous stares of those unlucky enough to have their own fruitcake. I presented her with a modest slice of the delicious treat. She forked her slice and put a piece in her mouth. Immediately, her face curled into a mass of displeasure and disgust, as if she had just bit into a rather sizeable live cricket, one who struggled to get free from the confines of her mouth, even as it burst open.
 
“What is this SUPPOSED to taste like?!” she moaned as she used her tongue to force out the morsels of fruitcake that stuck to her mouth. “WHAT are those green things!” I almost cried as I watched one of the best foods in the world go partially to waste. Meanwhile, Dawn was spitting bits of fruitcake as if she were a major league pitcher standing on the mound, ready to pitch a fastball.
 
On the other hand, I laughed like a man with his head caught in an elevator as I watched the chameleonesque metamorphosis of her facial expressions.
 
The picture with this post is several seconds later. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the initial horror pictured on Dawn’s face. This picture isn’t the first picture; instead, it is just a pale tribute to the horror written large on her face.
 
I’m submitting Dawn’s picture to the National Fruitcake Alliance for their next marketing campaign: “Don’t Get Revenge – Get Fruitcake.” I’ll let you know.
 
I hope Dawn feels better this morning. The magic of a fruitcake rarely surprises me.

Subway

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I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.

It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.

Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.

Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.

If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.

That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.

Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.

Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.

Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)

Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.

As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.

Pizzaheimer’s Pants

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There’s nothing quite like the realization that you might not have any pants to wear. No one wanted to see me prancing around sans pants twenty years ago; the situation hasn’t improved any, especially as pizza became my closest friend. The only time being pantsless is a benefit is when door-to-door salesmen make the mistake of ignoring my “No Soliciting” sign. The neighbors haven’t complained about screaming people fleeing my house. Since I don’t answer the door, I wouldn’t know if they did. It’s a win-win.

As a minimalist, I have the least amount of clothing of any other adult that I know. I tend to keep only a bit more than I need. After my last long-term successful weight loss, I dropped my guard and discarded the pants that looked like MC Hammer had designed my wardrobe. I’m generally relentless about getting rid of clothes I can’t or won’t wear.

Like all idiots, once I lose weight, I assume that I will somehow defy years of forgetting my promise not to get too large again.

I name this tendency/disease Pizzaheimer’s.

Over the last few months, I’ve adopted a more care-free diet, one characterized by total surrender to the joys of excessive stuffing. I tend to wear work pants instead of blue jeans. No matter how bad you think I might look in blue jeans, it’s worse. Imagine Danny DeVito wearing jeans and roller skating.

Because I have to wear slacks at work and my job being very physical, I wear both the relaxed fit and stretchy version of my preferred pants. (Note: I’m not too fond of using the word ‘slacks’ in reference to pants.) These give me the ability to kneel or bend without accidentally hitting a high note – and from splitting my the seat of my pants in an impromptu show of agility and exposed anatomy. The undesirable consequence of this is that I can put on 20 lbs without needing to get a size bigger pants. George brand pants do indeed stretch without complaint. So do I.

Because I may have to dress above my normal sloth-like appearance in a few days, it occurred to me that I might need to try on my normal dress wear pants. As you might expect, none of them fit. Either a magical seamstress has reduced them in my closet, or my battle with fat has been an unnoticed defeat. I’m going with the latter.

As a result, after work today, I had to buy more clothes, ones that don’t expose me to the risk of public nudity if I bend over. The numbers are getting a little large, too. As a general rule, if walking the distance displayed on your pants would wear you out, it’s probably not a good waist size, either.

It’s not my fault, though. I suffer from Pizzaheimer’s.

You Butter Think Twice

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As I was about to finish work, I thought I’d go to Subway to eat lunch. I couldn’t get the image of a double-tomato sub out of my mind. My wife was off in another part of the state so I could choose to eat anywhere. Just to stay in practice, I pretended to have the “I don’t care where we go to eat” argument with myself.

I left work and automatically drove toward Springdale instead of choosing one of the 946 places in Fayetteville. The traffic in Springdale got the better of me. One driver, in particular, seemed to be using a random speed generator to determine her speed. I was fantasizing about participating in an impromptu demolition derby and missed my turn for Subway. Naturally, I ended up at one of the breakfast diners which are coming back in popularity, a place I never choose.

Since I’ve put back on some weight, it didn’t trigger any warning bells as it should have. Let’s be honest, as comforting as the food at these places might be, there should be a heart on the sign by the highway. With an arrow through it.

I parked and as I entered, I waved at a large elderly man sitting on the bench near the main entrance. He was still there, immobile, when I left.

I sat at the counter until my ‘salesperson’ asked what I might like. (They aren’t waitstaff at this diner.) As I started to answer, she mentioned their special peach waffles. I never eat waffles, so of course, I ordered it. As for the rest, I told her to surprise me. She surprised me by bringing a plate-sized but thin waffle covered in peach syrup, eggs, hashbrowns, four pieces of toast, and two pieces of sausage. In the background, I could clearly hear the high-pitched mechanical scream of a bathroom scale. To balance it out, I chose the preferred drink of people who are fooling themselves: Diet Coke.

It was strange to eat at the counter of the diner in part because the entire end of the diner was filled with Latinos animatedly talking. Being a long-time citizen of Springdale, such a detail is not something that passes without me noticing. I tried not to eavesdrop – but I will say that they didn’t consider that I could understand what they were saying. I could write an entire season of “Desperate Housewives” from their conversations. Also, if your name is Pedro and you live near the Supercenter, you should leave town for a few days. (One of those women I overheard is probably going to eviscerate you Friday night after you get off work.)

When the salesperson asked me about the peach waffles, I logically concluded that the peach waffles would be adorned with sliced peaches. Instead, my waffle was slathered with an engine oil-like syrup that somehow simultaneously was sweeter than an entire bag of pure cane sugar and made me think of an insulin syringe inserted directly into my eyeball. I tried to calculate the total caloric value of the lunch I’d been served but the online tracker kept crashing due to insufficient digits available.

Despite knowing better, I ate most of my lunch. A feeling I can only describe as a malaise came over me, one characterized by an inability to think clearly. I recognized it immediately because for the shortest of moments I had the urge to watch Fox News. I tipped the salesperson/waitress exorbitantly in hopes that she might use a bit of the money to eat somewhere else when she finished working.

I waved ‘bye’ to the old man seated on the bench. Much to my surprise, a cardiologist didn’t jump from the bushes and tackle me.

Life is a series of choices. I learned again that I should ignore my instincts – and any buildings with an excessive quantity of yellow paint on the outside.

This Is The World’s Best Post

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“The World’s Best” anything is nonsensical.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the woman in the picture is eating raw meat. On the table, she has a cut tomato, black licorice, and maynnaise. On the further counter, there’s a fruitcake and plate of sushi. Chances are, one of those things gives you the urge to hurl your lunch.

It seems like a good cliché for a headline or when used as an easy marketing hook. When I see it, though, I wince. In the past, I was blasted by a critic who screamed at me for using the cliché, as well the one comparing anything to crack. I pointed out that criticizing me was acknowledging that my opinion held value. (Because who goes out of their way to attack a meaningless opinion?)

Tastes vary wildly. One man’s poison is another man’s passion. Perversely, some people love eating or ingesting actual poison – and I’m not referring to people who enjoy eating at Hardee’s.

Whether it’s raisins, black licorice, mayonnaise, fruitcake, whiskey, celery, beets, meats cooked rare, meats cooked well-done, eggs over easy, or dried crickets, there is no universal standard for food.

When I was growing up, a lot of Southerners would foolishly say, “You don’t know what’s good!” They’d smack their lips in condemnation at my refusal to eat some of the things they identified as ‘food.’ Some of these same people loved eating raw hamburger meat, spoonfuls of Crisco or lard, and half-cooked chicken gizzards, usually as they cooked over their stoves with a cigarette dangling from their lips. They also invariably had a tub of warm mayonnaise always open and sitting on the counter.

“The World’s Best” is a meaningless title, much in the same way all awards based on subjective taste are without foundation.

I like bitter, smoky coffee. My wife hates it. I like burned, dry food of all kinds, unlike literally everyone else. Hash browns? Burned. (But I do love standard hash browns too.) Some people hate shaved parmesan because it smells like foot odor. A ripe tomato is like a mouthful of phlegm for some and a delicacy for others. Milk, which is literally nutrition for only baby cows, gives many people the urge to vomit.

The two words, “I like,” are the critical component. If you like it, it’s good.

X’s Food Opinion Edict states: “All food is opinion.”

We can overlap on taste, of course, but it’s a rarity to find any two people whose opinion regarding taste is congruent.

Stop pretending that a universal standard for taste exists.

Like Buddy the Elf, he thought he’d found the world’s best cup of coffee, simply because the sign outside said so.

On the other hand, this is the world’s best post, right?

Chef X: Zucchini Noodles in the Real World

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You can waste 27 hours watching videos about how to make fantastic zucchini noodles. Or, you can read what I have to say about it.

The same process can be used to make sweet potato noodles, squash, and so forth. Since none of them are terribly expensive yet yield a great result, you should experiment liberally. I’m a firm believer in the “I like it, so shut your piehole” school of culinary arts.

You can buy a julienne peeler or even a spiral slicer. (Or steal one from your mother-in-law.) You can also just use a hand-held vegetable peeler on your first couple of attempts. Since you’re experimenting and obviously have no sense if you’re reading my cooking advice, use a cheap hand-held vegetable peeler on your initial attempt. (If you don’t know what a julienne peeler is, congratulations, you’re normal.) You can also save yourself some time if you have a child or bored spouse to do the slicing for you.

You can buy some good spiralizers for vegetables on Amazon. You can also buy a new carpet there, too. You don’t need to waste your money on a spiralizer until you figure out whether zucchini noodles remind you of eating tapeworms or spiders. Some mandoline slicers can make narrow strips, too, especially of your fingers if you’re not careful or have too much to drink while you’re cooking. Science has taught us, though, that pain is more manageable if you’re buzzed.

Cut the ends off 3-4 zucchini. Since it’s your first time making zucchini noodles, you’ll want to use the peel instead of removing it. You’ll note that there’s a lot of needless arguing about whether the zucchini is better or worse without the peel. Despite the experts whining about it, it is 100% personal preference. Make long slices with your vegetable peeler. For your first time, don’t cut down into the middle portion of the zucchini.

Mix your zucchini noodles with a bit of olive oil. I prefer to add minced garlic and other spices before I cook them. As with the other steps, some cooks get pissy about adding salt, garlic salt, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, or balsamic during the cooking process. Those critics need to chill out with a glass of wine or by being hit on the head with a bottle of wine.

Put the zucchini in a large skillet pan with a bit of oil. Cook and stir them until they are the desired tenderness. As with pasta, I’m going to avoid the stupidity of the al dente-versus-soft argument. I will say that it’s pointless to add water and cook them down. If you are careful and stir sufficiently, the zucchini strips will succumb to the heat if you give it enough time. With a decently sizzled pan, the zucchini will cook in a few minutes.

Place your portion on a plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and spices, or you can also use traditional sauces such as alfredo, pesto, or marinara. If you’re a hipster, sprinkle some cigar ashes on the noodles and enjoy.

If you’re not a purist, you can also use this mixed with actual pasta to give your regular pasta dishes a healthy boost.

If you make too much, it can be chilled and eaten later, hot or cold. (The food, not you.)

Zucchini noodles can be made with almost no added calories, which means that if you get your mix of spices and toppings just right you can eat enough zucchini to actually eat yourself into a food coma without all the guilt.

Some people call zucchini noodles “zoodles.” These people are dangerous.

In my opinion, it’s best to use a lighter pan, one which conducts heat quickly.

For those who need to be told, I recommend using a spatula to stir the zucchini frequently; if you use your hands, you’re likely to need medical attention. I never know if the person reading my cooking advice is from this planet or has ever cooked before.
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Gringo Needs a Taco

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One of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had happened this week. It wasn’t because my stepson was with us, either, because he coined one of my new favorite phrases/restaurant names: “Gringo Needs a Taco,” in comedic response to our increasingly despondent faces as we realized that we were in the middle of a culinary catastrophe.

We have some amazing restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, especially Tex-Mex ones.

Our closest go-to Tex-Mex place, Acapulco, is still closed due to a kitchen fire in January. They claim they’ll re-open in July, although I don’t believe it. Most of the great staff they had have found positions at other restaurants. One of our favorite people surprised us at Las Palmas in Springdale. The other similar eatery on this side of town has never managed much success. (Which basically applies to any restaurant on the east side of Springdale.) I’m convinced that Americans mistakenly believe that the other Tex-Mex place is taqueria-style. It doesn’t help that it’s in a shopping center that seems like the shooting stage for season one of the Walking Dead. By the way, Playa Azul has a buffet some days. It’s great, especially since it’s impossible to find a Tex-Mex buffet anywhere.

The shining grace was an effort by one of our favorite waitresses – one not assigned to our table or area of the restaurant. We tried to reward her with a tip before we left. She noticed that my 4-lb. order of pico de gallo had been left negligently on the serving shelf. Evidently, I’m the only one who orders massive quantities of this delicious menu item. She came back later to hesitantly ask, “Has someone taken your order?” I think her first clue was that we had read the entire first book of the Harry Potter series since we entered. Our assigned waitress seemed like someone had swapped her favorite beverage with a chilled cup of straight white vinegar.

She might have been Amish, as her shunning ability was expert level.

It seems like we were unwitting participants in a customer dissatisfaction experiment. We felt terrible about the experience. The manager was simply speechless at how badly things had gone and struggled to explain it. He was relieved when I told him, “No harm, no foul,” even as I complimented the waitress who wasn’t assigned to our table. We left and were rewarded with a torrential downpour. Our spirits were so hammered that we all drove to Burger King. As you probably know, its new motto is, “Where Dreams Go To Die.”

Saturday, Dawn and I went to another Tex-Mex restaurant. We walked out after 15 minutes. On the way over, we discussed the consequences of not following our instincts. The person seating walk-ins could not have been more reluctant, with the exception of the admiration and attention she was giving her personal cellphone. The matriarch of the family by the door was throwing eye darts as she uneasily shifted back and forth, waiting, while attempting to corral two young boys. We had the misfortune of being seated in the far back corner. The matriarch and her family received great attention. I could tell that woman simply wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans or inattention. It’s difficult for me to be pushy, though. The manager was so engrossed in something unrelated to work that I couldn’t even let him know that we were leaving.

I’ve been known to get up, go outside, and then go back inside sometimes as if I hadn’t just walked out. Usually, this either makes people confused or laugh. We left. I’m glad we did because our final choice was a delight.

We ended up at another restaurant and were delighted. The food and service were impeccable. We joked with all the staff. I drew pictures on my index cards as we chatted with everyone, even as watched a table of gringos make their faces numb with way too much alcohol. (The one bad moment was when one of the gringos was a little violent with a precious curly-headed little girl. He doesn’t know how close he came to being force-fed a plate.) It was strange to have such a great eating experience after two terrible ones.

As I always do, I ensured that karma was paid forward by tipping the waitress 100%. She was delighted. So was I. Belly full, and smiles for all.

One consequence of a bad dining experience is that I always find a way to pay it forward to the next great person we encounter.

P.S. I didn’t even order pico de gallo at this restaurant, as I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Gringo needed a taco.