Category Archives: Food

YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

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Adventure In Marketing

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Adventure In Marketing

As many of you know, I often do work for other websites, usually satirical, and often hare-brained. Most of it I do without credit, which works out favorably for all concerned.

Recently, I had the chance to apply for an unpaid ‘think tank’ for an unnamed major U.S. pizza chain. When I first interviewed, I was certain I wouldn’t be chosen – as one of the hurdles was an IQ test. Since anyone who knows me knows that I find these things to be ridiculous and without merit, I finished mine in less than 4 minutes, using a system I call ‘random.’

When I slid it back across the oak table to the person conducting the IQ tests, she said, “Sir, you have 25 minutes to complete it all.” Without missing a beat, I replied that I already knew my IQ score.

“Really? What’s your score?” she sneered.

“Low oxygen level,” I replied, without daring to crack a smile.

I went home and almost forgot about the application process. Three weeks later, a welcome packet arrived in the mail, along with a website login and a credentialing packet. I had been accepted despite my interview antics.

By sheer coincidence, I had recently tried to treat myself by ordering home delivery pizza. I had eaten healthy for a week and thought that a celebration was needed to keep my motivation.

It was a disaster. The cardboard box tasted better than the pizza. I was hoping to throw up, just to get the taste of that pizza out of my mouth.

The next day, I logged in to the marketing website to start an assignment. Lo and behold, the subject was the very same company which had reminded me how low the bar could be set for edibles.

I weighed the pros and cons of each option: submit great work and possibly be rewarded OR write the best food review possible.

This is the result: the new logo and motto for Pizza Hurt. Look for it at a location hopefully very far from where you are.

Never Buy Chocolate From France?

Never Buy Chocolate From France

Last year, my cousin Wynona went to Europe. When she stopped in France, she spent a fortune buying candy and treats for friends and family. She hadn’t traveled much and wanted to get everyone something to commemorate her experiences outside of the U.S.

Surprisingly, she sent me some chocolate. She included a note to inform me that France was famous for its chocolatiers and confectioneries. (She doesn’t get out much, it seems.) She later sent me a t-shirt from Germany, one missing the right sleeve.

Whether she did so as a joke or not, I’m not sure, but one of the bags she sent me looked exactly like a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. Each candy was foil-wrapped and shaped vaguely like a pyramid, too. The writing was French, though. I hoped she hadn’t spent money on a common chocolate without realizing it. I put the bag in the pantry and forgot about it, as I was trying to avoid consumption of large amounts of treats and unhealthy foods.

A week or so later, I was craving something sweet. I pulled out my cousin Wynona’s bag of candy, opened it, and went to sit on the couch to watch a little TV.

I opened the first Kiss and threw it into my gaping mouth, letting it melt instead of chewing furiously on it.

After a few seconds, I felt something rub against my tongue, like a faint tickle. After another few seconds, it felt like a worm was brushing against the inside of my lip and on the tip of my tongue.

I leaned over the coffee table and spit it out without thinking. In the melted mass of chocolate was a wriggling bit of something which definitely looked like a worm.

“Gross!” I hollered.

Since my friend JoJo speaks fluent French, I grabbed the bag of candy and the melted piece expelled from my mouth and drove over to her house.

When I arrived, we exchanged pleasantries and then I told her about the candy and the ‘worm’ in the chocolate.

When I handed her the original bag that resembled a U.S. version of Hershey’s Kisses, JoJo burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny, JoJo? I think I ate a worm or something.” I’m not sure why, but her levity irritated me a little bit.

“X, read right here,” JoJo said, pointing to the bag.

“That’s a piece of tongue in the candy. After all, they are FRENCH Kisses.”

Nasal Spelunkers and Weight Loss

Personal story. My apologies if I fail to express my ideas in a way that doesn’t cause consternation.

This one started with a new oven, all because I wanted one which would accommodate the pans I already possessed as I changed my eating habits. Living near the best produce market in Northwest Arkansas helped motivate me, too.

No, it really began when even stretch-waistband slacks began to scream as I tried to put them on. Shrieks of pain from one’s clothing is a sure sign that your bathroom scale indicating, “One person at a time” is no accidental aberration. As I joked when I made badges of dishonor a few weeks ago, you know you’re getting large when you sit down in the bathtub and the water rises in the toilet.

(Another one of my favorite self-deprecating jokes is that I was so large that it took 2 dogs just to bark at me.)

Luckily, a co-worker of mine was finally ready to stop jawing incessantly about needing to stop looking like the ‘before’ picture in every weight-loss ad. He knew his gut instinct (pun intended) to drop major weight was correct when Goodyear contacted him to rent ad space on his back. So, after months of cajoling and bitching, he agreed to form the now-infamous 2017 Invitational Blubber Loss Challenge with me and one other v̶i̶c̶t̶i̶m̶ friend/participant. The rules were simple: meet monthly goals or face a creative backlash of penalties, ones rooted in public acknowledgments and perhaps embarrassing requirements. I created a Facebook page to post the goings-on and updates as we passed each monthly milestone. Or millstone, as has been the case for one unlucky participant. Here’s the link: 2017 IBLC Facebook page.  This group challenge was the perfect catalyst for me to frame my overwhelming urge to change some things. Today, I challenged my 6-month goal 3 months early – and won.

My love affair with potato chips and “no thought” foods had won the skirmish, battle, and war with alarming decisiveness in my life. I could feel the impending knock at the door, a rap executed with folded skeleton fingers emerging briefly from an ancient black smock. Weight is a much different issue at 50 than it is at 20 – and only partially because we’ve become so adept at the rationalizations which permit us to slowly transform from elliptical in shape to circular. Example: any container with only one opening is in fact just one serving, no matter how large it might be.

Statistics tell me that this recent win against obesity will be short-lived. Almost all weight loss is followed by a sharp walk back up the valley wall. It is almost a certainty that those pounds I divested will come back to visit me. None of us like to admit we’re human with voracious appetites. And bad judgment. We like to ignore the warning light on our dashboards until we see smoke.

But I’ll shake hands with a temporary win. It is enough to sustain me for a while. I pick up four one-gallon jugs of milk, knowing that the heavy weight of these 4 jugs is how much of me I’ve sloughed off in 3 months. It doesn’t seem possible. That I should lose another amount equal to the first is a bit debilitating if I think too long about the implications.

Even as life conspires against me with a buffet of delights I know that I’m not done. Even though my recent success was couched in a competition with others, I’m really at war with myself. Those kinds of wars aren’t won: they stay within us, intermittently coming forth to remind us that nothing remains as it once was.

Part of my own admonition was the prohibition of gyms or workouts. Instead, I decided to move a lot more and to walk more. I didn’t care about FitBits, counting calories, or elegance. There’s too much process in the way we spend most of our lives already. Instead, I focused on working to spend more time in the kitchen and eating differently. I allowed myself to eat things that fall into the forbidden zone on diets, even if I did eat them with considerably less frequency. Much to my surprise, I discovered how much I had missed seeing places right in my own backyard, across town, and in between. I’ve walked hundreds of miles in the last 3 months and learned just as much in those miles as I’ve been rewarded with weight loss.

(Note to self: it is amazing how many people think they aren’t visible to onlookers. Whether you are a nasal Spelunker or secret smoker, chances are that strangers are seeing you, whether they wish to or not. People walking slowly tend to have time to really see what’s around them.)

I apologize to my wife and neighbors as I’ve experimented with exotic spices and foods, some of which may or may not be featured in “Poison Quarterly.” I’ve eaten such a variety of delicious things lately. It’s a lot of work thinking instead of devouring. Even though I’m a vegetarian at heart, it’s a lot more work to even try it seriously.

I don’t want pats on the back. The brutal truth is that I allowed myself to get way too fat. At 250, there’s a lot more going on that simply eating potato chips. To lose 12% of that in 3 months has been worth it and I’m not saying otherwise. But come see again in 3 months, 6 months, or a year. Will I be less than 200 and holding? Or will I be swimming in bacon-filled deliciousness?

I should have never allowed myself to get above 200. It’s easy to look back and slap myself mentally. As with all problems in life, the real meat of the question is, “What do I differently so that it never happens again?” I’m working on that answer.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go cook something which will probably smell like burned pigeons to innocent bystanders. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’d like to thank the Springdale Fire Department in advance for their service if they are called to my house.

The Spices of Life

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Over the last couple of months, I have eaten a lot fewer calories but have paradoxically tried so many new flavors. I’ve always been a spice and sauce person but it’s been amazing ingesting a metric ton of new flavors. Only in the presence of fresh french fries have I felt slightly cheated; otherwise, I think of all the people around me who aren’t trying all these crazy spices and flavors – and feel pity. Eating differently has opened my eyes to an entire buffet of weirdness.

My friend Jackie gave me a jar of tomato achaar, an Indian condiment made with a base of tomatoes. I paused for a moment of silence when I tried it, reflecting on the part of my life I lived without knowingly trying its deliciousness. This led me back to variations of tikka masala and curry and experimenting with my own versions of pico de gallo, which is quite possibly the closest approximation to the gods ever devised. There are a couple of local Mexican restaurants which probably want to ban me for picketing for more pico de gallo. They can keep the entrée or throw it out if they’ll just give me an entire bucket of pico.

Hidden Valley makes a sauce mix flavored as spinach & artichoke which is incredible on almost anything. Weirdly, I’ve never used it as directed. It could be a floor cleaner for all I know. McCormick expanded its selection by a factor of 10. There are so many versions of wasabi, horseradish, chipotle, garlic and lemon and lime spices that I’ve often started weeping with joy, which startles other Wal-Mart shoppers.

My wife Dawn either says, “Mmmmm” in admiration of the smells wafting through the house or “Gross,” as the concoctions I’m ingesting causes her eyes to water or her nose to collapse in on itself in horror.

At this point, I can only assume that some of the neighbors are convinced I’m perfecting a new recipe for meth, one punctuated by new flavors. Since I bought a new stove with a different oven in part to be able to cook more conveniently, it is possible that if the police are using thermal imaging to surveil me in my alleged drug lab, they too are convinced. During the hottest parts of summer, I’ve used the oven almost every day, even when the roof was about to spontaneously combust.

Until a large hole opens in my abdomen from the complex craziness of all these flavors, I’ll take it as a sign of optimism.

By the way, I’m still a terrible cook with a vulgar palate. But I’m smiling. I can see why people risked getting in boats attempting to find shorter trade routes to India.

The spice must flow, indeed.

Robinson Farms and Roasted Everything

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In a weird twist, my favorite fruit and vegetable stand, operated by an older gentleman named Jim (who I’ve written about before), accepts credit cards and now has a Facebook page. (Link at bottom…) Anyone who hasn’t included him on their routes is missing out.

I stopped in today for just a watermelon and departed with tomatoes, a cantaloupe, watermelon, and cucumbers. Once home, I made a plate of cut tomatoes, with a dash of red wine vinegar, curry, Tajin, and a few sprinkles of mozzarella. I’d tell you how good it was, but I would have to slap you for knowing how much I enjoyed it. PS: I ate basil, garlic and onion tomatoes for breakfast, directly from the can. I sprinkled them with Tajin and lemon pepper. I noted that people around me experienced burning eyes and dripping noses but the symptoms seemed to dissipate a few hours later.

I’ve discovered that I love roasted chickpeas. Just to be obstinate, I’ve been experimenting with a variety of roasted items. I made roasted black beans over the weekend. Last week, I bought a new stove with the intention of using it until it catches fire. I do most of the cooking, but my wife Dawn is by far the better cook. Being ignorant of what is supposed to work is half the fun for me. Most of the things I prepare for myself probably fall under the category of “chemical weapons” as far as she’s concerned. I’ve started rating her reactions based on the duration of her eye rolls once she sees what nonsense I’ve been preparing.

To appease my bottomless potato chip and french fry hunger, I’ve been making sliced potatoes in the oven a lot lately. Over the weekend, I made a marinade of sesame sauce and curry. I almost needed CPR it was so delicious. It’s true that the cat almost vomited when he smelled it, but I doubt cats are accustomed to catching sesame-curry mice in their native fields.

I’ve always known how much more I prefer the spices and sauces to the actual entrée, but it’s getting a little ridiculous. At some point, you can expect to find me dipping strips of cardboard into 23 little separate dipping bowls.

I did grill over the weekend. I discovered that there is a word for ‘lazy vegetarian,’ too. The word is “Reducetarian.” Dawn and I are quite fascinated with white meat ground turkey breast. It’s great in everything. Yesterday, I substituted almost all the white ground turkey with roasted corn I prepared in the new oven and tomatoes for my half of the dish.

In case I forget, if you don’t know what “Tajin” is or the incredible taste it can add to both fruit and vegetables, I would recommend it to anyone interested in trying something new. You can get it in single-serving packets or larger bottles. Start with the “Clásico” variety.

The prancing cat has nothing to do with my commentary. But everyone likes prancing cats.

Robinson Farms   (< Click for link.)

The Best Damn Roasted Cucumber Recipe Ever Devised

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Expert Cooking Advice From X Teri, Noted Chef

As a noted expert in the field of cooking, I’ve figured out the whole “Roasted Cucumber Slices” thing.

I made some today with lemon juice and Tajín. Dawn at least tried them when I said, “They evoke the taste of fried green tomatoes.” She popped one in her mouth and immediately puckered up. She then reminded me she doesn’t like fried green tomatoes. I’m glad Fannie Flagg is still alive, otherwise, my wife’s reaction would have earned her a downgrade in reputation.

If you’re interested, I deviate wildly from most of the recommended websites in regards to roasted cucumber slices. Some sites recommend low temperatures such as 170 for longer times. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

First, heat the oven to at least 400. Spray a metal cooking sheet with your favorite cooking spray.

As much as I love parchment paper, you don’t need it for this unless your cucumbers are more desiccated than the mouth of a starving vampire.

(Real men will note that they should use axle grease for the cooking sheet. But on the other hand, real men don’t know how to cook roasted cucumber slices: it’s in the rule book under “No.”)

Before putting the seasoned cucumber slices on the pan, heat it in the oven for 3-4 minutes. You should also count to 180 in a foreign language while you wait. It won’t help you cook any better, but it will give you a pretentious air necessary to be regarded as a “good cook.” (And not the “Breaking Bad” kind of cook, either, no matter how pretty Blue Ice is in the summer sunlight.

I prefer using smaller cucumbers. Wash them but don’t peel them. Only people who think limited-edition collector’s plates peel their cucumbers. Just don’t do it. Slice the cucumbers into very thin slices. You shouldn’t need an electron microscope, so don’t fret about how thick they might be. Whatever you think “thinly sliced” means, do that.

So help me god, if anyone mentions using a mandoline to slice the cucumbers, I will come to your house and shave the hindquarters of your favorite pet. Mandolines are simply not permitted in American households. If you have one, please stop reading now, get your mandolin from the kitchen, then throw it out the back door wherever you live.

For additional points, chop as quickly as humanly possible. Try to do it like that android on the “Alien” movie did the knife trick around fingers. Professional chefs worry too much about safety in the kitchen. We’ve been eating for thousands of years and no one has gotten seriously injured yet. Note from the lawyers: that last statement is false, so unless you are Republican, ignore that last part.

In a bowl, (the slices – not you), splash the slices with lemon juice as if you are doing a Catholic mass on Saturday morning. Add whatever seasoning you wish: curry powder, lemon pepper, Tajín, cheese sprinkles. If you aren’t sure, try it on there. Cucumbers are cheaper than opinions at a NASCAR rally.

Place the cucumber slices on a single level on the warm cooking sheet. Do not make neat rows or patterns when you do this. It annoys normal people to see neatly arranged things we’re all going to eat anyway.

Put the pan in the oven. (Where else would you put it?)

Don’t do anything for 10 -14 minutes. At 10-14  minutes, keep a cautious eye on the slices. They will turn from almost crispy and tinged with brown to flaming to the ceiling if you blink too long. Personally, I love almost everything even if it is burned. But for you normal people out there, you need to be cautious.  Except for the pyros: you guys can set the oven for 500 and leave it for 4 days if you want. (You only live once.)

One thing you need to understand about roasted cucumbers slices is that they simply don’t taste the same once heated and dried. If you take the time to make these and anyone in your family refuses to try them or appreciate the effort, borrow a gun if necessary and repeat your request that they at least try these delicious slices of heaven. Fire a warning shot if you don’t notice a dramatic increase in enthusiasm as your loved ones stuff their faces with these things.

As a bonus, if you make them as I indicate, they are very low in calories.

You’ll note that your life is suddenly awash with happiness and peace. It’s an inevitable change once you start following my cooking advice. 450 Ukrainian diplomats can’t be wrong.

 

PS: If you don’t trust me, you can Google recipes for these yourself. Be warned, though. There are a LOT of weirdos on the internet these days, some of whom are masquerading as good cooks.

 

 

 

 

Hot Springs: Fork You

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Hot Springs is a town of aromas. While the tourism board would like to entice you with outdoorsy scenes of frolicking on the lake, the reality is that this town is one which holds its center due to the eateries. Forget the “National Park” logos; this place is a silhouette of a grill, surrounded by 2,000 forks trying to get inside of it. If you are trying to avoid eating like a newly-awakened 15-year coma victim, this place is not for you. Even the ambulances yield to people trying to make turns into the parking lots of the local places to eat.

Last night, people who for some reason like me invited me along for a culinary trip to the Back Porch Grill, a steakhouse on the lakeside. I, of course, balked at eating meat as I usually do and instead had delicious grilled asparagus, salad, baked potato, vegetables, and a napkin. I ate the napkin by mistake, as I thought it was some sort of crépe. I also had some avocado quarter fries, which are cardiac-event starter packs, if you’ve never had them.

Earlier today, I parked the car a couple of miles from where I’m staying and walked. Yes, there are ‘better’ places to walk recreationally, but my old habits often flare up and insist that I do some urban walking. Being in another place allows me to stroll through as if I’m a traveling dignitary, one whose mission it is to see as much as possible while not feeling self-conscious. Walking a trail might connect you to nature, but walking the streets gives you a window into the place you’re visiting. And, instead of bears, you might be accosted. Being the keen mind that I am, instead of walking when it was cooler, I instead waited for clearer skies to ensure that my head might catch on fire. (It’s a fact that the sun is at least a million miles closer to Earth here in this part of the state.)

It’s difficult to walk and focus when you’re distracted by almost visible waves of cooking aromas. If I were a food critic, I’d say my review would be this: “There’s too much of it.”

Within a block of where I parked, I could count 20 places to eat, ranging from Colton’s, BBQ, pupusas and Southern-Style. (PS: ‘Southern-Style’ simply means it’s been murdered with oil and/or suffocated in gravy, much like my arteries.)

When I walked past some older apartments, a man sitting on the stoop near the street raised his hand and offered a bit of wit about the heat. I, of course, asked him, “Are you saying I’m whiter than a set of bed sheets and will burn like my mom’s toast or are you saying I’m too old to be doddering around?” He laughed and slapped his thigh. He asked, “What’cha listening to?” and pointed to my headphones. “Il Volo,” I said and he nodded his head as if he had just seen the group live in concert in Amsterdam. “Keep your head cool,” he told me, as I walked away. I’m not sure if he meant for me to be cautious about the heat or adopt a lighter philosophical touch in life; one never knows in these situations.

When I doubled back to intersect with the main road near Oaklawn, a couple arguing in Spanish approached me from the other direction. I turned down my headphone volume to hear them. In an argument as old as time, they were arguing about where to go eat, with the woman objecting to walking so far when there was BBQ just five minutes away. To them, I was invisible. As we drew close, in Spanish I said, “Colton’s has BBQ and what he wants.” The woman’s eyes widened and she said, “¿Qué dice?” (“What?”) So, I stopped long enough to point them toward Colton’s, where they could both eat exactly what they wanted without walking two more miles. I felt like a tourism guide at that point. (A nosey one, too.) I’m sure they reminded themselves to not assume they couldn’t be understood, even if it was some white-legged guy wandering the streets who might be eavesdropping.

While I was ambling about the town, I received a couple of texts, informing me that we were scheduled to dine at Fisherman’s Wharf again. When my wife texted to tell me, all I could think of to reply was, “Til death do us part.”

I have life insurance where I work, so death while eating wouldn’t be a terrible way to go. In fact, I’d agree that it’s likely.

My initial reaction when I read the words, “We’re eating at Fisherman’s Wharf tonight” was one of shock. I felt exactly like a fallen soldier from the Battle of Gettysburg might feel if he were resurrected and forced to relive and die on the bloody battlefield. I decided the analogy was unfair, as the soldier at least would have been armed. It would be awkward for me to start shooting the lights and windows out at a restaurant for bad service or food. Entertaining, too – just illegal.

For me, it’s more about the banter and interaction than it is the food at group meals. Large groups tend to take longer than trimming Methuselah’s toenails and the truth that food and service vary wildly. I’m glad just to be included. Everyone who knows me also knows that I simply can’t get bored, not even when the place I’m eating at is willfully trying to poison me or get me to run from the establishment in tears. There are times, though, when we need to be able to go out and dine and throw penalty red flags at the waiters and or managers at restaurants. Trying to get 3 people fed is a Ninja Warrior Challenge; with 20 or more, it would be easier to shoot them all and hide the bodies.

It’s weird how people will stand over their sinks and eat raw hot dogs for supper but insist on spending 12 minutes discussing the subtlest differences in dressings for their organic Hungarian carrot casserole appetizer. (This is the “Nathan Rule” of eating, by the way.)

My last visit to Fisherman’s Wharf was so epic that I followed up on the visit with an Iliad-length review, one which I published under a pseudonym. It’s a good thing, too, because it literally started an internet war on Zomato (Urbanspoon) and another review site. This pleased me to no end, I must admit. When we went to eat there, the meal took so long that I established residency in 7 other states just waiting to finish it. Also, I invented a new time measurement standard: the FW. I packed so many jokes into that review that I thought Netflix was going to pick it up as a series. When we left the restaurant, it had taken so long that I quipped to the staff that I needed to see a breakfast menu. In short, that visit was the de facto standard for “terrible,” if terrible could be defined as “being tortured while both angry and amused.”

By the way, the restaurant is on a scenic arm of the lake. It’s beautiful. But beware. Most people eat outside on the deck, with “outside” being the key word. Hot Springs can be hotter than a Republican fact-checker at a debate. I speculate that even though it’s outside, the staff has a secret thermostat for the areas where large groups congregate to dine. They get irritated if you jump off the railing and into the lake, no matter how much you start sweating. They get really irritated if you throw them into the lake. That waiter Pete is still mad at me to this day.

For a few years, all of us have amusedly laughed at Fisherman’s Wharf for our last experience, if only because we weren’t allowed to purchase the business and bulldoze it in frustration. It’s located on the lake and could be one of the best places to eat in the state of Arkansas. It should be, but a commitment to quality is much more difficult to maintain, especially when available staff seems better suited to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 than dealing with hungry miscreants like me.

So, in a town which memorializes great food, I’m going to instead return to the gastronomical scene of the crime and revisit my sins. While I’m optimistic that everything will be different, I can’t shake the foreboding that the Book of Life might be open there, awaiting my presence to inflict a new level of torment upon me. Perhaps I will get “time served” credits for being willing to return? I did try to arrange a revisit last year but was slapped and thrown into the trunk of an abandoned 1972 Dodge Dart just for daring to bring it up. Nevertheless, some anonymous sadomasochist decided for us all this year. I also can’t shake the idea that each time we visit this restaurant that we aren’t part of either a prank tv show or one of the reality cooking shows where the guests are fed pig testicles and sprayed with goat urine – and not the expensive brand of goal urine, either.

Joking aside, I would love to be proven wrong and have the best meal possible. If not, I’m taking my snorkel mask with me.

PS: ‘Concealed Carry’ in these scenarios means you have a bag of snacks hidden in your purse, even if you are a man. It would be embarrassing to die of starvation at a restaurant, don’t you think?

Jim & His Produce Stand

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Looking for something good? Go see Jim at his produce stand over by Don Tyson Parkway. He’s there most days early and until 6 p.m. His place is near the intersection of Ivey and George Anderson. If you’re coming off Don Tyson, it’s toward the eastern end of Don Tyson Parkway, near Butterfield Coach. There’s a balloon-laden sign where George Anderson Road intersects to catch your eye. East Springdale is truly bereft of many of the benefits of the other side of our town, without a doubt, but I sometimes speculate that the new parkway was built just so that people could get to Jim’s with less delay.

This morning, when I pulled up, Jim was out, busily arranging his array of fruits of vegetables: okra, tomatoes, corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, blackberries, blueberries, potatoes, and several other things. He guarantees the quality of his produce. His stand is deceptively spartan; trust me, you’ll find much more than you expected to when you walk up to see for yourself. It’s a trick older people seem to have mastered.

In case I forget to mention it, he also keeps some of the produce in a refrigerated trailer, as well as stocking it with both seeded and unseeded watermelon. In this day of political unrest, I recommend the seeded variety, both for the better taste and for the excuse to spit frequently.

Most people take a casual glance at me and don’t recognize the vegetable fiend that I am. You’d think 75% of my meals are comprised of pork rinds washed down with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. As I often boast, I look exactly like you’d imagine a bowling pro would look like, or the ‘before’ picture in the back of most magazines. Most of my problem is that I’m a lazy eater. Even though vegetables can’t run from me, they do require effort. (I often eat a can of spicy tomatoes directly from the can for breakfast, a fact which causes more than a few wrinkled brows.)

This morning was a fresh 65 degrees, the dew still on the grass, and the produce stand cloaked in the shade of the trees behind it. More importantly, though, the smell of ‘fresh’ slapped me. I wanted to run over and take a bite out of one of the tomatoes on the far end. (He had green tomatoes, too, which made my mouth water and remember Cotham’s and the other kitchens of good cooks.)

It’s not just the produce that’s good. It’s the moments you can stand and talk to the owner, a 78-year-old man with some interesting stories. He might tell you about that fateful day back in ’94 when a drunk driver slammed into him doing 80 mph; his face still carries the scars of the misery, but his voice and laughter erase any misgivings which might accompany them.

I admit I went a little crazy today with my selections. Jim ignored me and insisted that he help carry my purchases to the car. I left with cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, corn on the cob (he has shucked and unshucked), and peaches. I stopped short of filling the car because it’s just two of us most days at my house, although I tend to eat for three myself, just in case the zombie plague hits us without warning – it never hurts to have a small blubber reserve for those contingencies.

But, if you’re looking for something beyond the store produce, beyond even the busy farmer’s markets in NWA, I recommend a visit to Jim’s. It’s hard for me to pinpoint how pleasing it is to drive up to his stand on an early Saturday morning, anticipating not only the delicious variety of food but also seeing the owner standing there, appreciating the words and the business.

PS: I always tip him, which catches him off-guard. Just tell him to pass it along as a gift to his grandson and he’ll smile as he accepts it.

 
You’ll leave with more than you arrived with, even if by some miracle you don’t buy any produce.