Archive for February 2009

February 24th, 2009

Outlanddish

I was talking to Kate last night on IM about our upcoming visit and, at one point, the fact that Steph and I are trying not to return home completely broke came up. “If you’re worried about money, we can eat most of our meals at my place. London isn’t known for its amazing food,” she said.

Yeah: Bangers ’n’ mash? Steak and kidney pie? Blood pudding? I have to say, traditional British cuisine weirds me out a little bit.

Of course this made me think of some of the unusual stuff I have eaten in my lifetime. Here’s my top ten list:

10. Grits
And right now all you southerners are smirking at the screen, ’cause, c’mon everyone has had grits. Hold on there, Jethro. North of our Mason-Dixon line, no one has had grits. Some of you northerners are aware of grits, I’m sure, but can you describe them? What do they taste like? What are they are comprised of? During my early years in Michigan, I’d sometimes hear about “grits” and envision all kinds of different objects in a bowl. All I was ever told was they were sort of like oatmeal. Which led me to just imagine oatmeal…but perhaps purple in hue. Although the name “grits” meant this entree must be gritty. Was it a pile of very small rocks? Did Uncle Randy and Aunt Myrl eat rocks? Or maybe it was a type of meat? I saw all kinds of strange animals down south. Maybe it was something related to the guinea hen?  We soon moved to North Carolina and grits-consumption ensued. I recall not caring for them the first, oh, 200 times they were force-fed to me, but eventually I had a good batch and something clicked. My advice to any yankee planning to try them at some point in their lives: add lots of butter, lots of salt, lots of pepper, and — these last two things are not as widely used as “additives,” but if you can get your hands on them I’d recommend it, as grits are fairly bland — cheese and chives or a similar herb on top.

9. Steamed Oysters
These are not strange or exotic exactly, but I’m counting them as unusual because I don’t know many people who’ve tried them. I love steamed oysters. The only time I’ve eaten them was at an oyster roast two years ago. I watched skeptically as the oysters were dug out of a barrel with a garden shovel, placed on a scrap plate of steel heated above a fire on the ground, and covered with a wet burlap sack. After maybe two minutes, they were scooped up with the same shovel and spread out on the newspaper-covered sheet of plywood we were all standing around. What happens next is you pry the shell open with a knife, slurp up the slimy matter inside, and toss the shell in a trashcan. Didn’t really seem like my deal, until I learned that hot sauce is often applied to the slimy matter before you ingest it. I have something of a spicy-ness dependency, to the point where I would inhale a rotting hunk of buffalo carcass, if it were doused with Texas Pete or Sriracha. So I got started on the bivalves and, when I reached the point where I was considering placing my tongue on the scorching steel plate to cool it off, I sucked in a few oysters sans sauce. They were really quite good. I don’t know that I’d ever order oysters in a restaurant, but, in this context, I happily downed 80 of them. Oh, and you drink beer the entire time at an oyster roast. So, yeah, I love steamed oysters.

8. Eastern North Carolina Barbecue/Deer Jerky
This is a tie between two meats that I think everyone would love if they would just try. Going back to my north-to-south transition, I remember the first “pig pickin” (an event at which Eastern North Carolina barbecue is prepared and consumed) I attended. Everyone was saying we were going to eat “barbecue” which I found odd, as “barbecue” was clearly a verb. You used a grill to barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers. Then again, these people went around during the winter claiming they were wearing long wooden sleds on their heads, so I just let it go. Then I got to the front of the serving line and saw this huge swine splayed open on the rack, it’s head and feet still attached. Eeeeeeewwwwwwwwww. I have no idea how many toys or chore-free days my parents had to promise me to get me to try the pulled pork concoction, but, once it did, I found I had met the one true food-love of my life. To this day, I enjoy watching people who aren’t familiar with this niche cuisine get acclimated at a pig pickin. (And the reason the word “eastern” keeps appearing capitalized and in italics, for those of you who don’t know, is there is a on-going struggle between eastern North Carolina and the rest of the world — including western North Carolina — regarding which type of sauce is best on the hog. It’s not a matter of national security or anything…it is far more important and I will die a thousand deaths before any tomato- or mustard-based swill touches my pork! Ahem….) Deer jerky on the other hand is bizarre in name only. It is virtually identical in taste to beef jerky. And who can’t get down with some beef jerky? Even though, yes, they must be slaughtered before we can eat them, deer are allowed a natural, free existence beforehand. Also, most people who hunt deer are responsible outdoorsman who love the environment just as much as your average vegan, tree-hugger patchouliite. I just don’t get the aversion to eating deer, and I like throwing my Bambi DVD on and crying my eyes out on a rainy Saturday afternoon as much as the next dude. Wait, what now?

7. Chicken Livers
This is the thing I liked second-to-least on this list. Strange flavor and even stranger texture. And before you liver-lovers take the time, during the Matlock commercial break, to leave me comments telling me the livers I had probably weren’t done up correctly, you should know that these were wrapped in bacon. I think we can all agree that once a food item is enveloped with strips of bacon, there is no way said food item can be improved upon. Mathematically impossible. Case closed.

6. Peanut Butter, Banana, & Mayonnaise Sandwiches
My mom used to make these for us all the time when we were kids. Despite the unlikely pairing of ingredients, I find them delicious.

5. Moonshine
Do you enjoy a persistent burning sensation in your esophagus? Headaches? Getting completely hammered off of a thimble-sized amount of liquid? If so, low-grade moonshine is for you! This is the thing I liked least on this list.

4. Tomato Soup Cake
This one always takes some explaining. Apparently this spice cake recipe made its way into the Witchger family’s life via my great-grandparent’s straight-off-the-boat German housekeeper. The batter actually calls for two cans of tomato soup. Someday I’d like to witness someone trying this confection, without their having seeing what went into it or knowing what it is was called. Based on their reaction, perhaps I would understand if it’s any good. This cake is hands-down my dad’s favorite. He grew up with it. I grew up with it. I’ve sampled hundreds of them. And I still can’t make the call on its quality. Sometimes they seem scrumptious; sometimes they seem almost inedible. My mom claims they’re very hard to make consistently. Of course, this doesn’t really matter, because once this dessert’s name is out of the bag, nine out of 10 people won’t touch it. When I was old enough to start having friends over for my birthday, I was still asking for tomato soup cakes, primarily, I suppose, because it was the only cake I knew the name of. And so I’d tell everyone we were about to have “tomato soup cake,” not realizing it would likely be a deal-breaker for a group of second- or third-graders. A lot of double-portions of ice cream were doled out at my birthday parties.

3. Chocolate-Covered Crickets/Ants
I had a few of these at the “Bugfest” that the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science holds annually. The chocolate completely overpowers any taste the bugs might have. Additionally, they are roasted before they’re covered in chocolate and this crunchy texture in the middle of the chocolate is quite pleasant. No big deal.

2. Cheese & Coffee
This is my wife’s family’s food-related anomaly, dating back further than any of her relatives can remember. To make it, you drop a few chunks of cheddar cheese into a piping hot cup of coffee, then you spoon the resulting sludge out onto a couple of biscuits. It’s a unique flavor, but I like it. Interestingly the only time Steph’s mom or grandma will make coffee is to have this for breakfast. No one in either of their families is a coffee-drinker. They end up pouring their mugs out at the close of the meal. One might think you’d want to do this regardless of your feelings towards coffee, but Steph’s grandma told me that, after he’d taken all the cheese he was going to eat out of it, her father used to sip on his mug until the coffee was gone. This seems like true hard-scrabble farmer behavior. I’m currently working up to it.

1. Chocolate Gravy
This probably sounds much worse than it is. It is, in fact, the opposite of worse. It is better. Than anything. Ever. My family in Alabama are the only people I know of who make this breakfast dish. It’s really hard to describe, but I’d place its consistency somewhere between chocolate milk and chocolate syrup. I think there’s a mixture of milk chocolate and baker’s chocolate in it, so it’s not as sweet as you’d think. You cover a plate full of buttered biscuits with it and eat the whole thing with a fork. Then you run ten miles at a full sprint to offset the chances of having a heart attack later in the day. Fortunately, thanks to amount of sugar you’ve just eaten, you have plenty of energy.

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February 19th, 2009

Come Around and Talk It Over

In this video:

Yours truly: Lead vocals, ukulele.

Kevin: Backing vocals, upright bass.

Gerald “‘Neighbor’/Papa-(Jerry) aka Updyke” Updyke: Backing vocal, ukulele.

…and Half of the Cast of a Sounds of the Rainforest CD.

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February 16th, 2009

Come Lon-done

Kate’s time in the UK is growing short. Hard to believe, as it seems like I was just writing about her departure. The lease on her flat is almost up, and she has a flight home booked on April 15th. Once she arrives, she’s here indefinitely.

It will be nice having her around again, though it was also nice having a free travel guide and a free place to stay over there. Steph and I decided we should take advantage of “knowing somebody” in London one more time. We got our tickets over the weekend. We’re heading across the pond for a week, starting on March 6th.

Now that Barack Obama is president, I understand — based on my regular consumption of CNN and NPR — that American citizens are greeted abroad with confetti and brass bands playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and people putting leis around their necks.

I hope they don’t go too overboard with the festivities for Steph and I. Though, I must admit, receiving this grandiose hero’s welcome is basically the only reason I’m going.

Man, it’s gonna be sweet.

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