Archive for December, 2010

Typical Text

This is the kind of thing my brother texts me. I’ve learned to just play along.

The Giving of the Thanks: Part 2 (Electric Boogaloo)

Breakfast was no joke. They were right. We arrived Friday morning back at the house, pretty much completely recovered and I for one was absolutely ready to fully and completely enjoy the food without the sickening aftereffects of a hangover getting in the way.

I grabbed a plate and got in line, watching as airy biscuits were loaded with smooth sausage gravy, slices of crisp bacon and spoonfuls of fluffy scrambled eggs landed on plate after empty plate. I was instructed that it was standard practice and tradition to reserve one biscuit to be spread with butter and jam, just to balance out the savory flavors and saltiness of the meaty breakfast meats. (Little known fact: “country ham”  is just code for “even saltier ham”). The sweet biscuit was almost a breakfast dessert, which I was grateful for after polishing off the remainder of the sodium-laden meal.

The Friday after Thanksgiving finally graced us with a little sunshine, so as the little kids were ushered off to go to a movie, the rest of us decided to go hang out at B.’s uncle’s farm and ride around on ATV’s and just be generally awesome. B.’s Uncle R. is a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. I mean, the man breeds Australian shepherd puppies, raises and slaughters his own pigs, and makes his own moonshine. Moonshine! I was instantly charmed. I’ve been known to be somewhat of a moonshine enthusiast, though when it comes to actually trying the stuff I generally pretend I’m getting sick and probably shouldn’t be sharing glasses with people but thanks anyway.  B. and M.. clearly being braver men than I, sampled the blackberry flavor and assured me it was eminently delicious.

At one point, I found myself in the kitchen as Uncle R. whipped up a batch of margaritas. I found this beverage choice to be amusingly incongruous with my surroundings, and chuckled inwardly as B.’s uncles sipped pink blended drinks out of palm tree-shaped margarita glasses and gathered around the TV; grunting, watching football, and talking about what could be done to fix one of the broken-down ATVs. One of these things is not like the other.

Eventually, the ATV got fixed and off we went. I clung tightly to B.’s ribcage as we jostled our way across the rough terrain of the Kentuckian hills, following B.’s cousin closely over enormous logs and through dense thickets of trees.

“Watch out for the twigs, they’ll getcha right in the face!” B.’s cousin warned, and I decided it might just be best to bury my face in B.’s back until this ride was over, not wanting to risk a poked-out eye or a slashed face. It was actually a really beautiful day for this, and as we climbed up the hills behind Uncle R.’s house, I looked out across the landscape and marveled at the rolling fields and crooked little houses with smoke unfurling from their chimneys. It was like a postcard.

Our off roading adventure led us back to the house where we’d eaten breakfast that morning and dinner the night before. I had to get off the back of the vehicle so B. could urge the thing over a small creek and up a steep and muddy incline. “My work here is done!” I declared, dismounting the ATV, deciding things like this were better left to the menfolk to deal with. I then promptly got entangled in a bunch of thistles, from which it  took me about ten minutes to extract myself. Serves me right, I guess.

The rest of the evening was spent grazing on leftovers and fiddling with the color on the TV, which somehow had become stuck on the greener end of the color spectrum. We then went back to the cousin’s house where I got solidly whooped in both Taboo and Cranium. I blame the pinot grigio.

The next morning we were to depart for our final stop: Louisville.

A Word on Plagiarism

It has recently been brought to my attention that there is a blogger out there who is blatantly ripping off content, tone, and style from mine. I refused to believe that such a thing would happen, but upon closer inspection I saw that yes, this person is directly lifting topics and subject matter, even turns of phrase, straight from the pages of Hungrypants.

This makes me upset for a few reasons. Number one being, this blog is original content. I work hard at coming up with topics and tidbits to post here, and I consider it to be a unique and personal place that I can come and share ideas and insights and observations with my friends and followers. Number two, personal blogs are supposed to be just that: personal. You cannot imitate someone’s style and subject matter and then try to pass it off as your own. That is lazy writing and frankly a pathetic and embarrassing attempt at being individualistic that fails miserably when you can’t even come up with your own topics.

I realize I am not the only food blogger out there. Far from it. I am not operating under the delusion that I am a special snowflake in the food blogging world, but I can say that everything I write here comes from my own brain, written from my own experiences, or culled from my own viewpoints and sentiments about certain subjects. I pride myself on having strong opinions, and it brings me great pleasure to share them in this space and have them met with a huge range of reactions and arguments. I appreciate it when people don’t agree with me, and I like having this forum as an outlet for all the weird shit that passes through my head.

That is what makes it uniquely mine. If you have a blog that you’ve created, make it uniquely YOURS. Don’t pick and choose from what I post here and try to make those topics your own, because they are not. Be original. Be creative. It’s not hard.

Oysters on the Half Shell! Oyster Power!

Friday night was just one of those nights. I’d come off a hellish workweek and wanted nothing more than to spend the entire evening with in my pajamas, on my couch, drinking wine from Walgreen’s. B. had other plans, however. After a good hour of waffling back and forth between going out and staying in, I finally decided to cave into B.’s insistence that we have a “night on the town” and his desire for fresh seafood, so off we went to Half Shell on the northern edge of Lincoln Park.

I’d heard nothing about this place, ever, and I kind of feel like a bad Chicagoan for admitting this because apparently it’s in the same league as far as Chicago institutions go as The Berghoff and Gibson’s. It’s easy to miss, nestled as it is on an unassuming corner of Diversey, and hidden in a space no bigger than someone’s basement.

This is the kind of place that is downright ideal for whiling away several blissful hours on a cold and blustery winter’s night. It’s dark and lit mostly by strands of multicolored Christmas lights that I’m willing to wager remain on display all year round, a la Butch McGuire’s. Tables are mismatched and packed tightly together, assuring for some awkward maneuvers as people squeeze their way between chairs to get to their seats. A fireplace burns brightly in the back left hand corner of Half Shell, crowned with a plastic stuffed fish and surrounded by walls adorned with other such kitschy nautical items like anchors and rusted-out signs.

B. and I were expecting a long wait but the bartender, who is also in charge of seating in a remarkable lack of attachment to traditional restaurant seating procedures, informed us there was a small table in the back. Our table bordered the busy thoroughfare used by the staff and while this may have bothered some, it allowed us a firsthand view of the orders being brought forth out of the clanging kitchen. A few minutes later, the table behind us left and we were able to snuggle into a cozy, two-person booth right next to the fireplace. Our server was a no-nonsense, middle-aged dude with tatted arms and a thick, Ditka-esque accent; and whose way of asking if B. wanted a refill on his beer was to nudge the mug with his knuckles and raise his eyebrows.

The menu was slightly off-putting to me at first, as it was limited and filled with things like fried clam strips and fried oysters and other manner of breaded sea dwellers. Luckily, the specials board informed us that there was an Alaskan King crab and snow crab leg combo basket available, which instantly caught my eye. B. ordered six blue point oysters as our appetizer and they arrived at our table almost instantly. These oysters were meaty things, each rugged shell half was filled with a mouthful of briny oyster and the entire plate came with a tiny paper cup of horseradishy cocktail sauce and two lemon slices. B. chose to suck the oysters straight from the shell after a squirt of lemon and a dab of sauce, whereas I used my tiny fork to dislodge the meat from its shell. I slopped on blobs of the horseradish sauce and nearly drained the lemon of its juice to make a delicious little oyster soup of sorts before scooping it out with my fork. They tasted unbelievably fresh and juicy, with only a slightly brackish tang at the back end.

Our crab legs came in a big plastic basket; giant, steaming, hulking crab legs that dwarfed the basket itself and were served with little ramekins of melted, garlic herbed butter. After digging under the crab legs, a mountain of fries were unearthed, deeper still and there sat slices of toasted bread. It was like the never ending basket of seafood miracles. We instantly went to work on releasing the crab meat from its shell, crunching with our crackers and digging with our tiny forks for every last scrap. Half Shell’s crab legs weren’t any dinky, anemic excuses for crab legs from Red Lobster, no sir. These legs were bursting with meat and boasted a remarkably aromatic and fresh flavor, requiring so much work that for awhile our table fell silent as we focused intently on extracting the tastiest morsels.

Meals like the one at Half Shell are among my favorite kinds of dining experiences. There’s no frills, no pretension, just simple but completely and undeniably delicious food in a laid-back, jovial atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to take a date, or a friend, or your family, or a STRANGER for God’s sake, as long as they can appreciate a basket o’ crab and a cold beer.

The Giving of the Thanks: Part One

Thursday

B. and I were awakened at 5:45 AM by B.’s sister, A., calling my phone. She was outside my building in a cab with her boyfriend M., well-rested and ready to get on with the day. B. and I were still drunk from the night before, and sound asleep when her call came through. “What? Oh, you’re here? Totally, we’re DEFINITELY NOT ASLEEP and we’ll be down in two minutes!”

Our flight was at 8 AM and we showed up a good hour and a half before the boarding time, which is not wholly unusual for me as I was raised to get to the airport hours before takeoff time. Flight’s at 9 AM? Why not get up at 5? Takeoff scheduled for Wednesday?? Sure, let’s all get there on Monday, you know, just to be on the safe side. Getting to the airport obscenely early is just ingrained in my biological makeup at this point, but B.’s family loves cutting it close. Fortunately, B.’s sister had the foresight to account for any potential mob scene that could be taking place at O’Hare on Thanksgiving morning and got us there in plenty of time.

Around 7 AM, I choked down an Egg McMuffin, figuring I should probably eat something to soak up the booze sloshing around in my stomach. That, combined withe the following series of events is what made me–promptly and without fanfare–eject the contents of my stomach not ten minutes after the plane landed in Louisville, Kentucky. The plane we boarded was tiny; one of those deals where there’s two seats on the righthand side and one on the left and tall people have to stoop and crouch down to get to their seats. My hangover was already starting to kick in as the plane took off; the force of it shoving me back into my seat and sending my head reeling. I tried to ignore it as I flipped listlessly through US magazine, trying super hard to care about what kind of queen Kate Middleton will be and what brand of injectable poison Kim Kardashian uses to keep her face looking so delightfully swollen and mask-like.

B. fell asleep almost immediately, leaving me to struggle alone with my impending nausea and splitting headache. I begged the flight attendant for two glasses of water, loaded with ice, and chugged them in quick succession. Nothing. If anything, the icy cold water was making me feel worse. I breathed a sigh of relief when the PA system bing-bonged and the captain announced we were beginning our descent into Louisville. I gazed out the window at the gray clouds, waiting anxiously for a glimpse of land, thinking that if I could just see the ground I might feel better. Again, not thing. We were lost in the clouds, and staring out a window with nothing to look at was intensifying my headache and doing something weird to my eyes; they felt swollen and unable to focus.  This went on for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes. Then, something really special happened. We hit turbulence. Turbulence in a regular-sized plane, with no hangover, is bad enough but still kinda tolerable. Sickening, jolting, floating and then slamming turbulence in a mini-plane with nausea knocking at your throat is a whole different beast. B. slept soundly as I clutched the armrests, practically white-knuckled, alternating between pleading and praying as I tried desperately to find a place to rest my eyes that wouldn’t exacerbate my sickness.

Finally, mercifully, the clouds broke and I saw the ground, the houses, the blessed runway! At this point, I was sweating and I doing that thing where you’re breathing really carefully and swallowing a lot and just basically trying not to die right there on that plane. We shuffled off the plane and into that horrid funhouse of a hallway that always seems slightly tilted and off-angle, where I pretty much ditched everyone else and booked it to the bathroom.

It’s amazing what a good vomit will do for your spirits isn’t it? I felt loads better but was dreading the next leg of our trip: a three-hour car ride to Greenup, Kentucky. A three-hour car ride with me stuffed in the tiny third-row back seat of a Volvo SUV. A three-hour car ride in a car driven by B.’s dad, who believes firmly that making good time is far more important than slowing down from 75 mph to take those hundreds of turns on curvy country backroads. I honestly can’t believe I made it out of that car alive. We arrived at our destination at around 2pm, shaky and pale and nauseous but ready to indulge in Thanksgiving goodness.

Know what the absolute best hangover cure in the world is? Ale 8 ginger ale. I’d never had it before, and learned that its distribution is limited to very specific parts of Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. It is like a goddamn miracle in a bottle. After a few sips, my stomach felt settled and my head cleared and I finally didn’t feel like curling up under a bed and dying a slow, slow death. I was then taken around the house to be introduced to uncles and aunts and cousins and tiny little babies, all while clutching my bottle of Ale 8 with a death grip. I musta drank me about twelve Ale 8’s.

Gradually, I felt hunger slowly overtake my hangover and realized I hadn’t had a thing to eat since my airport Egg McMuffin earlier that morning. I inspected the growing collection of casserole dishes and bowls and plates that had been placed on the kitchen counter, and was told by B.’s aunt what to expect. There was regular stuffing, oyster stuffing, broccoli and cheese casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy, two kinds of dumplings, ham, turkey, cranberry salad, apples cooked in sugar, baked beans with bacon, and green beans cooked within an inch of their delicious life. Hot fluffy rolls had just been brought out of the oven, and in the dining room there sat an astonishing array of pies. I was ready.

I heaped my plate with steaming stuffings and fluffy mounds of mashed potatoes; slices of turkey and ham and a block of the broccoli casserole. Room was made for two deviled eggs and a roll, a spoonful of dumplings along with a plop of cranberry salad atop the turkey. I was still a bit shaky so I begged off a glass of wine, feeling at this point that a hair of the dog would only serve to worse my already unsteady stomach.

Aside from the ginger ale, I think it’s safe to say that a Thanksgiving feast will work just as well on a hangover. I was satiated almost immediately after my first plate, but went back for more mashed potatoes, this time ladling on the gravy I’d missed the first time around. It was everything you’d want out of a Thanksgiving meal; salty and full of carbs and meat and every sort of comfort food you can dream of. When the meal had petered out, we retired to the den to watch football in a tryptophan haze. I slept sporadically, waking up here and there to snuggle a baby or grab another glass of water.

Around 7 or so, I was about ready for dessert. I was itching to try the chocolate pie I’d seen sitting on the dessert table; it was smooth and creamy-looking with a perfect crust. The pumpkin roll was also tempting me with its ho-ho-like swirls of cream and pumpkin cake. I loaded a plate with a slice of the chocolate pie and a slice of pumpkin roll and retreated back to my spot on the couch. If you’ve never had chocolate pie, readers, then you are missing out on one of the most delightful dessert experiences I’ve ever had. Each bite was soft but slightly dense, infused with chocolate flavor and supported by a flaky, slightly crumbly crust.  The pumpkin roll, iced with frosting and thick as a slice of bread made for a perfect second dessert.

The time came to say our goodbyes for the night, and take off for B.’s cousins house where we’d be staying the weekend.  “Wait til you see breakfast,” everyone kept saying as we were leaving. “Just wait til you see breakfast.”