Letters to Harrison: 9

I came across a signed copy of Julip Saturday and bought it. Maybe you would think of me as an idiot or maybe you would be surprised that someone would keep such a thing, who knows? What is the point of collecting something just because a person signed it, one that you have never met and never will? Your grave is still a mystery and yet you would visit the graves of those that you admired if you had the chance. I can hope that you had your ashes spread and by chance a part of you is somewhere close, inhabiting the landscape in a way that haunts that which you enjoyed and loved so much. There is a film crew tracking your steps, visiting the bars and walkways you once traveled. I don’t know what they will find along the way or how accurate their movie will be. Everything is about perspective and if they want to paint you in a positive light or make you out to be the crass asshole you could be at times. I personally hope they find a middle ground and point out that you were just a man. Your aversion in being compared to Hemingway is understandable, a high marker that no man should be compared to because no matter how hard you try nobody could live up to the expectations one would immediately have on you. How fair is that anyway? It was a different time, a different world and only one person could possibly live the life is the one that he lived. That mold was filled and it was not reproduced with you. I was tempted to try my hand at ordering off of a menu as you had done, pointing to various items and saying “this… and this… oh and this too” going on until the table was filled and I would have to sit there until my buttons popped and people looked at me like I was a crazed individual that had just escaped from a concentration camp. Instead, I ordered the pork belly BLT and called it good. I’m not at that point yet plus I need a reason to go back and try something else. My life isn’t on the road and if I am to be in towns often that I don’t know I need something to look forward to. The sky finally cleared today, the weekend was clouded in gray and the cold rain hung over like a wet blanket of despair. Winter is not here yet and already I dread the lack of sun and the depression that comes with it. On the other hand, it leaves no option than to sit down and write, something I am lacking these days. I have noticed that once in a while you will mention books that you have read over your lifetime and I’m thinking about starting a list. Of course, I don’t know what exactly you enjoyed and what you didn’t but I have to assume that if you liked something that’s what you would have recalled, if I’m wrong you can always haunt my ass and set me straight. The deer are on the move lately, roaming the streets searching for food to prepare for winter. A giant buck has made it clear to me who owns this neighborhood and I am nothing but a nuisance in his eyes. I have considered going deer hunting this fall and after seeing him I wonder if I could actually pull the trigger this time if the option presented itself. There is a big difference between shooting a squirrel, catching a fish and having that disconnect between yourself and the life you took. The deer on the other hand seems to be a beast that knows you are out to get him and has an opinion about it. I suppose if I was hungry these thoughts wouldn’t come to mind and that could be the trick to a successful hunt. Leave with an empty stomach and you won’t have any qualms about taking a shot and dragging something out of the woods. Sorry bucko, I have mouths to feed and you looked pretty good at the time. It is the nature of things. Would things have been different this weekend if I had to shoot the pig behind the brewery to enjoy that BLT? I would like to say not but I know better. There is something different in a person that can take a life and even though I have been the end to many squirrel and fish I don’t know if I have it in me to take something bigger. That could be the next challenge I face this year. What is the worse that can happen? I have a nice day out in the woods? One couldn’t ask for less on a good day.

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Letters to Harrison: 8

Esquire has a podcast now where they go back and look at old articles that had been popular over the years and you will not be surprised that they covered your food column The Raw and the Cooked. They discuss your article The Days of Wine and Pig Hocks which I found to be funny and highly entertaining. Having never been on a book tour, only slinging paperback copies at local libraries and different venues where the odds of finding anyone who reads is like finding bigfoot, I have a hard time understanding the dreaded tour. I was glad to see you made a go of it, ingesting anything that looked or smelled good, and bringing a little extra weight back home with you. Bud is doing a gallery at the Lansing library and I have to say I’m excited to go. You must be the one person on the planet that doesn’t have more that five pictures of yourself on the internet but your friend Bud has enough to do a show. Have it be my luck to drive over an hour one way only to discover Bud has five photos to share and no prints. I could try to be less pessimistic but what is the point. Living my life as if the world is out to get me leaves me with a lack of surprise and yet it still finds a way to throw me a curve ball and beam me in the head. I heard that you had a knack for going into restaurants and ordering everything on the menu. I have never tried this for several reasons, for one my wallet would not allow it and I was raised not to waste food regardless of how bad it is. Well, until my parents tried it and almost threw up in their own disgust. I have always played the Guinea pig and while it has worked in my favor most of the time, I have to admit that there have been long days sweating in bed and mornings that drifted into afternoons while sitting on the toilet. This was in the days before cells phones so a good book came in handy. Try to grab something you checked out from the local library and share the love. There is a local Mexican restaurant that serves traditional tacos not far from my house and while I will say they have the best food in this category their service for the longest time was lacking. My wife convinced us to try it out again and forget the nightmare that happened a few years ago. There was only one thing I wanted to do when I arrived and that was to order every style of taco they had and try them all, which I did. I tried this before and I must have had the order that the cook decided was a pain in the ass. Still, how hard is it to make seven corn tortilla tacos with only onions, cilantro, and a wedge of lime? I waited one hour and fifteen minutes before my food arrived and the server never came back to check on me. The tacos were delicious, that wasn’t what left a bad taste in my mouth it was the lack of apathy to the customer. I ate the food and therefore paid for it but when it came to recommending the place years later, I pointed people to their reviews online and I wasn’t the only one. At some point the manager that the place was presumably named after, a tall blonde-haired white man with Buddy Holly glasses, either left or was finally fired, and the place named the Big White Cock in Spanish finally turned things around. I should do this more often, go into a place and order random things, but isn’t that what a buffet is for? Is the buffet just another form of cheating when it comes to good food even when you simply want to sit on your ass and stuff your face? I had a really good Sangiovese from Tuscany last night and slept like a rock. One of the five wine racks in the basement is drying up and I think it’s time to fill it up again. Maybe I will pick up some lunch along the way.

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Letters to Harrison: 4

The woods were silent yesterday morning except for the roar of truck tires on 131 to the west. The sun was hidden by the morning fog over the field as we walked through the grass trying to find a trail. The state park has been doing the best it can to erase our footprints. Two track trails are cut off by fallen trees and streams that appeared out of nowhere, eroded through the soil and sand, etching its way into the swamp below. The shotgun in my hands wasn’t as heavy as I remembered. The squirrels reminded me just how dumb we are. Creatures with the technology to send us to the moon in our pants pockets can be tricked by the slight of hand of the woods. In the early hours of the morning the woods came alive to the sound of woodpeckers, deer snorting at the scent of two men wearing freshly laundered clothes, crickets in the field, and blue jays fighting over the remains of a nest they bullied their way into. The hunting was good, but it wasn’t great. One rabbit slipped past us disappearing into the three-foot-high grass and we found more coyote tracks than we did deer. At the end of the hunt two unfortunate souls were in our bag. Last night we enjoyed wine, a Chianti and a Spanish red I had never heard of. Both were thoroughly enjoyed over much needed conversation. It is during hard times that we learn who our friends are and receive the comfort that we need. There is a magic in air as I walk through the trails and listen to absolute silence and a good drink is one that is enjoyed with friends. There is still joy to be found in the roughest of seas, calm waters do not make a good sailor. The world has a strange measure of perfection that is expected from everyone but no one can achieve. The woods don’t judge. The world is perfect in its imperfect beauty. It is rare that man will create something that will improve on its own. The empty lots and dilapidated houses of my own town remind me of that. This system that we created will fade away on its own, eaten up by its own rules and horrible expectations. The only solution is to castrate the world and let mankind disappear in a low whimper. Life continues to go on. Is there anything more to ask for than good company, a walk in the woods, some wine, and a full belly. Anything more than that doesn’t matter.

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This week in food

When one thinks of food trucks there is a stereotype that lingers over it of bad food and a run to the bathroom later. Although I have had some bad experiences in the past my recent adventures to the food truck rally at Bronson park has been the exact opposite. Two weeks ago, I noticed a few trucks with brisket on their menu and while I am more inclined to buy a taco over anything else, I decided it was time to try something new.
My first stop was to Pig Out BBQ, a blue cart that had several people standing around. This is always a good sign of something being good. I ordered a brisket sandwich and before I was finished paying the paper tray was slid across the counter to me. The meat was cut into half inch pieces and covered in a sweet BBQ sauce. The white bun would not be enough to hold this thing together. With the first bite a good portion of the sandwich fell onto the tray and I had to scoop the leftovers onto the sandwich as I ate. The meat was sweet and tender and if I had known I would be chasing after the little morsels I would have grabbed a fork and tossed the bun aside. For $8 it was pretty good.

My last stop for lunch was Lazy Man Bar-b-que. The cart was built to look like a log cabin with a fenced off smoker attached to the back. The sandwich, going by the same name as the one from Pig Out BBQ, was $10 instead of $8 and yet I saw several people ordering this meal. I placed an order and while I stood to the side, I watched one of these sandwiches come out the window. The meat was cut into long thin strips and folded through the bun. A horseradish sauce was smothered underneath and two choices of BBQ sauce sat on a counter by the window. Those that had been here before grabbed paper towels before leaving with their food. I, being the inexperienced soul who though they knew better, opted out of the paper towels already holding a child and a sandwich in my hands. I put a treatment of sweet BBQ sauce on the sandwich and received a surprise when the horseradish hit my tongue. The meat was cooked to perfection, not too tough but not undercooked either. The layer of fat resting on the top made every bite an even match to the one before. Between the two Lazy Man had the advantage.
That night I didn’t want the usual Taco Bob’s around the corner. I needed something that was old but new, a place I had not been to in a while. The last time I went to Coney Island I was disappointed by a middle-aged couple who thought they owned the damn place and the staff didn’t help dropping everything they were doing to answer questions and correct mistakes that were not theirs. The couple left a bad taste in my mouth and I left hoping they would wander out into traffic and make the world a better place without them. This time around I was second in line and ordered my food in a few seconds after entering the door. This was already a better situation than the last visit. I wasn’t that hungry but I still ordered a New York Dog, Chicago Dog, and the Coney Dog, something one has to order at the second oldest Coney Island in the country. The Chicago Dog is made different every time I go here. The peppers are either sliced or whole. I have never understood the fascination with the Chicago dog, maybe because I’m not from Chicago and I’m not a fan of the city either. Half of the time I’m tempted to throw some ketchup on top just to piss off some passer by that I know will say something. I took my food to go this time and walked down the street passing Fuse a place that opened a few years back doing a form of… well take a guess from the name. the Coney Dog had not changed a bit over the years and the New York dog was just as good as I remembered it, topped with sautéed onions and sour kraut. The Chicago dog still remains a mystery to me.

Saturday started out like may weekends these past couple of years driving out to my father-in-law’s place to do some work on the property. Once the sun was beating down for a few hours I called it quits after I found that the water was still not running in the house. That afternoon I went to Kelsey Block brewing and ordered the burger of the month. This month it was the barnyard burger, beef patty, smoked ham, cheese, and a fried egg. It hit the spot after a long morning of being out in the sun. across the street at Lowry’s I picked up a copy of The Raw and the Cooked by Jim Harrison. I figured if I was going to be doing this food blogging thing again, I should look to the best for how it is done.
Sunday, my wife and I took a trip to Leduc blueberry farm and picked up five pounds of berries. She also bought a jar of blueberry mustard and we each continued to sneak into the kitchen to have a few dipped pretzels while I was cooking brats and burgers on the grill. My appetite got the best of me while I was out shopping and I picked up a few other things along the way; muscles, duck breasts, smoked ham, pig shoulder, and cornish hens. All of these are to be cooked in the coming weeks once recipes are found for them, although I already have some ideas for how those will go.
On the way home from the blueberry farm I picked up a six pack of a beer I had not enjoyed in years, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse. This beer was a favorite of mine ten years back but hard to find and with a higher price tag it wasn’t worth the hunt that would ensue, but there on the shelf it sat and I quickly grabbed it to be my own. I was sad to see the Octoberfest was not available but maybe that will change in a few months. For the sake of cooking Edward Lee style, I bought some Buffalo Trace and hoped to find some recipes or watch some Mind 0f A Chef again to write down the recipes.
It’s Monday and the fridge is filled with leftovers. I won’t be going out any time soon and with the freezer filled I hope to do more of my own cooking in the near future. After all, if I’m going to be doing this food writing thing, I should know what I’m talking about by learning how to cook these things on my own. Nobody likes a critic who can not do the thing he is reviewing. That is the job of the movie critic.

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Baba Turk and the blue wedding

I have been reading Edward Lee’s book Buttermilk Graffiti and it reminded me of the adventure of food blogging that I had abandoned so many years ago. Beer and Loafing is still up and the articles still apply to today with the exception of a few places that have closed. Reading Lee’s book reminded me of the things to look for while out in the world. I wasn’t planning on a adventure today, taking care of a two year old makes the though of going anywhere nerve racking.
I cleaned at one of the local breweries this morning, part of a clean to drink program that was designed to keep the bartenders happy and prevent the customers from shit talking about the bathrooms. After a few years the program has proven to be a success and at the moment I have more beers saved up than I could drink in a year.
The downstairs bar is the recent casualty of a downsizing in the brewery. Designed like a speakeasy from the 1920s the lower bar now sits dormant except for the Friday night dinners specially designed for mug club members. Barrels stand as tables and the walls are covered in artwork featuring the previous tenants and pre prohibition brewing history. Once I finished mopping the floors I took my daughter for a walk on the downtown mall.
Zoey is tiny for a two year old. She is often mistaken for a baby that has just learned to walk and receives a lot of attention when out in public. Her hair is short for her age and can only wear it in a pony tail on top of her head making her look like one of the characters from a Dr. Sous story. We make our way to the library, me following her as she already know the way from two blocks down the street. As we come closer to the doors she speeds up and races through the sliding doors, down the hall, and into the kids room that she knows so well. She plays with the computers, keyboard, and the doll house in the playroom, rotating through them in a certain order that only makes sense to her. When I try to leave she runs to the refective image of the elevator doors and walks in when the doors open. We head downstairs.
Zoey doesn’t have a left or right option in her thinking, as soon as the doors open she moves straight into the bookstore and disappears. While she wanders through the shelves I find a first print hardcover copy of Ragtime by Doctorow and place a hold on it. The dustcover is still in great condition and the price is a dollar, I can’t pass it up. In the minute it took to talk to the cashier Zoey had cruised through the doors behind me and into the audio video section of the library. She came to the understanding months ago that because she is cute she pretty much owns the place while she is there. I look through the store and head out into the lobby to find a security guard talking to her and librarian looking for her parent. It wasn’t my best moment. Score for today, Zoey 1, dad 0.
Eventually we leave and Zoey isn’t too happy that big bird was still on the computer when I picked her up and carried her out after her third round of counting with big bird. The food truck rally was taking place at the park across the street and I had a few dollars to try something new. My entertainment has been a food kick lately of The Chef Show by Jon Favreau and Edward Lee’s book. I noticed a few trucks I had not seen before and a few that I had not been to yet. We cruise along the sidewalk reading the menus. Most items do not exceed $10 and from the portion sizes it’s a meal that will fill you up. Gorilla Gourmet stands out with their well known truck featuring the black image of a gorilla on a white background. There is the smoked meat truck that looks like a log cabin. Most of these places offer some form or taco, a term that has been bastardized but most likely for the better. I spot beef brisket and pulled pork, common American staples these days. Falafel is the main dish at one middle eastern truck. I decide on Baba Turk with their Turkish taco meal. I have had several versions of traditional Mexican tacos and have enjoyed most more than the American counterparts. Wanting to get away from the tomato, cheese, and lettuce that have ruined most people’s idea of a perfect taco I wait to see what this new form of fusion has to offer. The chicken meat is cooked on a spinning wheel and sliced off into small bits perfect for a white soft taco shell. The meat is then cooked in lamb fat for added flavor. A sour cream sauce is added along with tomatoes and onion. The small cardboard dish is filled to the top and I find a place in the shade where I give portions of the meal to my daughter as she watches the other kids play. Somewhere along the way Zoey had found a large piece of lettuce that had fallen off of someone else’s plate and immediately put it in her mouth. Current score, Zoey 2, dad 0.
There were a few hundred people at the park. I could imagine this was what places with food stalls would have looked like a hundred years ago in other cities when it was lunch time. After I finished the meal Zoey took me on a walk through the park and she gravitated towards a wedding party that was having photos done in the hot sun. most of the party was hiding under the large oak and maple trees waiting for their turn with the happy couple. I could tell Zoey was wanting to do one of her already famous photo bombs but I was able to nudge her away from the group. Current score, Zoey 2, dad 1.
As we went past the wedding party I spotted a young man smoking a cigar. It wasn’t a smell I recognized and the cigar itself didn’t look like the rolled quality that I had seen on my own cigar adventures earlier this year. The only credit I give to the man’s cigar is that it didn’t have the infamous smell of dog turds that some cigars are known for. The brides dress was spread out across the grass and the party was a collage of backgrounds I have known this city for. The bride was of Hispanic background. Out of the groom’s men I couldn’t spot the groom of the six men who were standing around in their blue tuxedoes. The party was black, white, middle eastern, Hispanic, and a few other ethnic groups I couldn’t place. Maybe this was the answer to the world’s problems? Maybe not. Only time will tell.
I try to aim us toward the parking lot where our car waited for us but to Zoey’s credit she took us on the scenic route through the mall and around the block until we finally made it to the lot. Then she kept walking. With the sun beating down on us and no shade in sight I picked her up and put her in the car. NPR was playing more coverage of the current presidential debate and I zoned out as the talking heads discussed the winners and losers of the day. Zoey’s name never came up. It was a long afternoon and I wondered if Zoey would ever have a craving for chicken meat cooked in lamb fat. Upon pulling into the driveway Zoey demanded another walk and once we finally entered the house she asked for a bottle and looked at the bills waiting for me on the table. Final score, Zoey 3, dad 1.

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