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What’s Your “Back in Time”?

7 Apr

My friend Angwa hipped me to this BBC show called “Back in Time for Dinner,” which I’ve turned into my lunchtime fun time for the week. Each one-hour episode has the five-member Robshaw family living through a different decade, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The first floor of their house is transformed into what a typical house of that decade would look like–kitchen, living room, dining room; they wear the clothes; they do the things; and they eat the food.

In the 1950s, this means that mom’s stuck in the kitchen all day doing amazing amounts of housework. There’s no fridge–you keep things cool on a slab of marble in the larder. The country still is rationing food, so there’s not much meat.

Throughout the years–and some decades have massive amounts of change in a very short time–we see the introduction of refrigerators, freezers, TVs and highly combustible chip pans. Fish sticks, ready meals and Rice Krispies vie for stomach space. Society changes, and therefore the family changes with it–things like women working and kids moving out of the house. World events like the 1970s energy crisis have a major impact on day-to-day life that many of us would find shocking.

It’s fascinating to see how society changed with regards to our food and how we make it, and how our living standards have changed. It got me thinking about what’s “back in time” for me–and what’s not.

For example, the Boy and I don’t have a microwave. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this is an appliance that 90% of Americans have. I remember the magic of getting our first one when I was maybe 10. We could cook hot dogs in 45 seconds! We learned that you don’t nuke foil-wrapped burgers! We got yelled at if we stood in front of it while it was on!

But as an adult, I’ve never really cared about owning one. Last year, when our 16-year-old microwave–the one Ma Jaracz got me because she didn’t know how I was living without it–bit the dust, we decided not to replace it. Heating up leftovers is kind of a pain now, but we manage just fine doing whatever we did in the microwave by using the stove and oven–and have more counter space.

However, about three years ago, I joined the ranks of the 60% who have a dishwasher, and it’s  revolutionized my world. I grew up with a dishwasher, so spending most of my adult life without one was a big step back. Having one has completely changed how much time I spend washing dishes, which changes how much I’m willing to experiment with cooking and baking. If a recipe doesn’t work out, it’s not as miserable an experience to clean it up as when I had to spend an hour washing up the failure.

Even the food trends are interesting to think about–and how cyclical they can be. Consider popcorn. As a kid, it was a big deal to get an air popper. Then we graduated to microwave popcorn. Now I make it on the stove old-school style–but with my fancy popcorn pan.

We also have a lot more packaged food that makes life easier–but maybe isn’t really the best thing for you. When I was a kid, making a cake from scratch was the most difficult thing you, but the Boy’s chocolate cake recipe takes maybe five more minutes than a boxed cake mix. And it tastes much better.

But today we also have so many more global spices and flavors–and this has made our food so much more interesting and allows for a lot more variation and enjoyment.

At any rate, this week I’ve spent a lot of thinking about where our society has been with food and home innovations, and wondering where we’re going. I can’t imagine why I’d really want a smart refrigerator, but in 20 years will it be the norm? What new cooking gadgets will revolutionize our world? What food won’t we be able to live without?

Let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, I’ve got to eat lunch, which today means I’m going back to the 1980s. I hope I see an electric can opener!

 

 

Postcard from Woodbine

7 Oct

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Recently, the Boy and I were driving back to Massachusetts from Florida, and we needed to stop for lunch. We mostly take the I-95 corridor when we drive, which means you have ranges of advertising for your roadside stops. There’s a Wawa range, a Cracker Barrel range, a Bojangles range, and your BBQ joint range. Not to mention South of the Border.

When you’re in Georgia, you’re definitely in BBQ joint range. Along the highway there are some chain-type places and not-so-bad buffets, but if you’re willing to take a slight detour, I’d recommend going to Woodbine and stepping behind the magic fence at Captain Stan’s Smokehouse.

Since the Boy was driving, I was in charge of finding the place. Anyplace with a magic fence certainly intrigues me, so I directed him off the highway through about four miles of nothingness until we got to Woodbine. The town isn’t that large, and Captain Stan’s is on the main drag. You’ll probably smell the smoked meat before you see the place though.

The magic fence surrounds a really funky outdoor patio and creates a cool hangout place. The yard has an enormous tree in one corner that provides shade for a lot of the area. Some of the tables are covered with porch-like structures; some are out in the open. There’s a fire pit for when it’s cold and fans for when it’s hot. Posters and random paintings that one could stretch and say are folk art adorn the wooden walls. Stan’s has a regular roster of musicians that play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, Coke products (if you’re a loyalist, this will be a thing as you get into the Carolinas, which is Pepsi country), and meat. Oh, the meat!

When hitting up a BBQ place for the first time, I like to go with pork. It’s a basic. If you’re any kind of smokehouse (especially one with a magic fence), you know how to make a good pork sandwich. Boy, did Captain Stan’s deliver–and not just on the meat, but on the sauces too.

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The Boston Butt sandwich was smoky, rich in flavor and tender. I had a hard time choosing among the three sauces–there was a mild that was slightly sweet and tangy; a mustard-based one that wasn’t overly sweet; and a hot BBQ sauce that was spicy without being cruel. Even though I spread the sauce wealth around, I kind of wished I could eat three sandwiches so I could have a full sandwich with each kind of sauce.

Unfortunately, we could only make this a lunch stop, but it’s the kind of place where you could spend hours eating, drinking, listening to music and making new friends. It’s definitely on the list for a return visit. Put it on your list too.

****

Pro tip: Don’t eat too many of the in shell peanuts before your meal comes. You’ll need all that room in your stomach for the main course.

Winning at Lammington Roulette

4 Jun

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Back to Australia, where we’re on our last day on the road, and I still haven’t found a proper cream-filled Lammington. After leaving Buchan, we stopped for an excellent breakfast in Bruthen. I had high hopes for the small town’s bakery, but it didn’t even have Lammingtons. Onward.

We kept driving toward Melbourne and while going through the much larger town of Sale, I saw a bakery and we stopped. You know how you go to Europe and try to pronounce the name of something, and they have that way of correcting you where their tone of voice implies, “You ugly American. Our vowel pronunciation is much more civilized than your nasally twang. Always, always are our ‘a’s’ pronounced ‘ah”? It now doesn’t really matter where I travel, I automatically assume that if I’m outside of the United States and Canada, an ‘a’ is always pronounced ‘ah.’ Hence in Sale, I called it “Sah-lay.” Susy immediately corrected me. “It’s Say-el.” Gah! I’m showing not just my ugly American, I’m pulling out my ugly, pretentious American!

Anyway, Sale is where we hit the jackpot. They had Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons in both chocolate and strawberry coating! JACKPOT! I got one of each–even though they were huge, I couldn’t resist–and back into the car we went. I scarfed down one of them throughout the rest of the journey and saved the other for breakfast the next day.

Both were fantastic–and they had jam in them as well! Cream and jam Lammingtons? BONUS JACKPOT! While they were completely delicious, I almost had to agree with Kill C.’s sentiment that, “The best part about finding cream Lammingtons is that I don’t have to eat anymore Lammingtons.” Until one of our clinic students found out we liked them and made a batch for us that night. Homemade, they were even better because the frosting was spread really thickly. Man, I can still taste those now. It’s a good thing I don’t have a recipe (yet) or that America hasn’t heard about this treat–we’re hip to the cupcake, whoopie pie and donut now. Lammingtons could be just around the food trend corner!

The Anzac Biscuit that Got Away

20 May

I’ve been home for a week now, and I’m still thinking about this one Anzac biscuit that I did not purchase and devour. Mistake?

Let me back up for a second and explain the Anzac biscuit (note to Americans: biscuit = cookie). This biscuit is in honor of Anzac Day, which is on April 25 and honors the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s first major military action on Gallipoli during World War I (Anzac = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). As time passed and the globe experienced another World War, the day’s come to be an honor and memorial to those who’ve served in the Anzac armed forces, To an American, Anzac Day is basically Memorial Day on steroids. It’s a big deal. BIG deal. Everywhere you go, you’ll see billboards and public transit ads promoting memorial services and marches. I think it’s pretty cool, and although I’ve never been able to be in Australia or New Zealand for Anzac Day proper, I can appreciate how they honor those who’ve sacrificed for their country.

One of the traditions that go along with Anzac Day is the Anzac biscuit. This is a treat I found out about on an earlier trip to Australia, and now I know that if I’m there in April or May, I can find them. I’m sure that food manufacturers and bakeries have found a way to offer them all year round, but I’d like to think of them as something special, like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg, that you only get once a year. The Anzac biscuit is a non-chocolate, non-egg cookie that was made for soldiers in the war. Eggs were in short supply, so they used a golden syrup to hold this rolled oat, flour, butter and coconut mixture together. The result is a golden cookie that I find to be pretty tasty.

Since I got to Australia after Anzac Day, I wasn’t sure I’d find them (my Qantas flight–sometimes a good source for them–didn’t come through, so on the flight over I thought I was too late); however, it didn’t take too long after we got off the plane to find a cafe that had a jar of them. After spotting a manufactured package of them at the grocery store, I have a feeling that they’ve turned into something similar to the Reese’s (insert holiday-shaped peanut butter cup) phenomenon, where you can buy them year-round. I kind of hope I’m wrong about that, but Aussie reader, you can clue me in. Of course, soon thereafter, I embarked on my lamington challenge, which pretty much took up the share of stomach I was allowing for sweets, so I eyed most Anzac biscuits from afar, including the one I saw at the Bodalla Dairy Shed.

Once we picked up our Bateman’s Bay cabin and packed up the car, we headed south. First stop: Cheese. The Bodalla Dairy Shed produces small-batch cheese and yogurt and milk (and delicious-looking milkshakes, which I also passed on). The cheese is delicious–and they have a bunch of interesting varieties. As we were checking out, I saw the Anzac biscuits. Big ones. Delicious-looking ones. However, I’d stuffed myself with kangaroo breakfast burrito and had just tried every kind of cheese they sold. In the back of my head, I thought about the amount of weight I’ve gained over the last few months and how I really should work on getting that back off at some point. I didn’t really need a giant Anzac biscuit. Even though I’m on vacation. Even though I don’t see them at home. Even though it looked absolutely fantastic. And in a major display of willpower, I passed.

At our next cheese stop in Bega, which was more of a commercial outfit than Bodalla, I caved and got a sugar cookie with Smarties in it. It tasted pretty bad, and I didn’t even eat it all. So much for will power. The bitter, crumbly disappointment of this disaster made me wish I’d just gotten the Anzac biscuit and somehow not gulped it all down right away. It was big. I could’ve portioned it out. So much for plans and futile attempts at personal improvement. So much for what may have been the best Anzac biscuit I’d ever tasted. Or maybe not. Maybe I took a tiny step in the right direction. Maybe that Anzac biscuit was just a concrete disk. Maybe it was the better choice after all.

There’s a Barbie–Where’s the Shrimp?

18 May

On our second night in Bateman’s Bay, we decided to make use of the big grill and picnic tables by our cabin and got all the fixings for a big communal dinner. For me, these kinds of dinners make the best memories. From the grocery shopping to doing the dishes, the entire process is completely enjoyable because you’re a group of five separate people and here you are building something together. Sure, it’s just a meal that you’ll end up consuming, which means after a day (including leftovers for the breakfast burritos), the tangible elements have disappeared. However, the sense of community you’ve built in those few hours remains–along with the knowledge that Susy knows her way around the BBQ and Panti makes a mean breakfast burrito.

Communal dinner starts with a trip to the grocery store, which is a highlight for me on any trip. When I travel, I like to see how other people live, which means knowing what they eat. In a different country, it’s fun to see how American brands are marketed (smaller bags of Doritos, for instance), and it’s interesting to see regional food differences. In Australia, the grocery stores are a gateway to Tim Tams, unusual flavors of potato chips (camembert and quince, anyone?), ginger beer, and Australian yogurt.

This dinner meant the opportunity to sample some kangaroo meat, which is probably easier to find in the grocery store than it is to find on a restaurant menu. The meat tastes a little gamey and can dry out quickly if you cook it too long, so marinade and quick cooking helped. We also had sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and salad. Panti, who mainly eats vegetarian but does have fish now and then, decided he wanted to make shrimp shish kabobs, which Susy obligingly tossed onto the grill, much to our stupid American delight. We ate like royalty but still had leftovers for the next day’s kangaroo breakfast burritos.

Our little feast helped take the rest of the edge off of what had been a lousy morning, and I hope the memories will eventually completely overshadow that time so that I only remember the goodness of this trip.

Bakery Lamington Roulette

8 May

An aside from the travelogue to fill you in on the challenge that Kill C. and I are embarking on: Find the best lamington.

The lamington is a square of spongecake dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut. The better ones are filled with jam or cream. I know this, yet on our first trip to a grocery store, I purchased a six-pack of grocery lamingtons, much to the horror of the NSOs at our first clinic. They kindly informed us that grocery lamingtons are far inferior to bakery lamingtons and that jam and/or cream-filled laminations are far superior to the plain lamington.

We’ve yet to find a filled lamington, though it’s not for lack of trying. Almost every stop we make, if fresh lamingtons are available, one or both of us are trying. It’s quickly become a game of roulette–take a bite and see if you’ve hit the jackpot.

Oh, sure, at a bakery I could ask. And we could purchase a tray of grocery-bought jam-filled lamingtons (and maybe Kill C. did), but what’s the fun in that? Besides, a bit of really good sponge cake is hard to turn down, especially when laced with chocolate and coconut. I suppose I could claim that I want to learn how to make them at home, so I’m, um, doing research. This is partially true–I wouldn’t mind learning how to make them, but after the amount I’m eating, whether or I not should is the better question.

We’re a few days in and still haven’t won. We’ll keep trying though. Someday we have to win, no?

It’s the Kingier-Size Snickers

27 Apr

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This weekend the Boy and I stopped at a plaza on the Mass Pike to grab a drink and a snack while en route to a send off dinner for one of the Boy’s former co-workers. We grabbed our goodies, and the Boy went straight to the checkout line.

I, on the other hand, wandered around a little because you never know what you’re going to find. Lo, and behold, I found the biggest Snickers bar I’d ever seen. One full pound of chocolate, peanuts, nougat and caramel that was more loaf than candy bar. It’s meant to be cut up and shared, but you know there’s some trucker out there just gnawing on it for days.

“Hey, B!” I yelled.

He took one look at it and said, “Get it!”

I brought it up to the cash register, and this was where we learned one of the mysteries of pricing: It cost $14.99 for one, but you could get two for $20.

And this is why we showed up at a restaurant with two pounds of Snickers bar, which probably turned out to be much better than any dessert on the sub par menu.

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It's the length of a 20 oz. Coke!

The 200-lb. (or Maybe 20 lb.) Ham

7 Apr

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When planning a big meal, I’m not the best judge of how much food to actually buy. Case in point, this year’s Easter ham. We had ten people over–which is a lot for us–and when you figure in that our friends really like the Boy’s ham recipe (this is an understatement), leftovers for everyone, and the weight of a bone, we definitely needed a ham that was over ten pounds. This, of course, set off the stressful situation of exactly what size ham to buy when I went to the store. Do I go with the 13-lb. ham that doesn’t mention any of the features the Boy asked for (fully cooked, bone in, etc.)? Or do I go to the 20-lb. ham that’s exactly what we want? And why don’t I feel like asking the guy at the meat counter if they’ve got another size? I just asked him about casing, for crying out loud!

Well, the Boy is a man, and he gets a kick out of cooking a massive pile of meat. We also have this enormous stock pot (known to us as the “Ham Pot”) that’s so big, it only fits in one tall cupboard in our kitchen, and it’s a point of pride to be able to cook a ham so big that it needs a restaurant-sized stock pot for the boiling phase. A twenty pound challenge? Bring it!

The Boy was happy, the Ham Pot got used, the ham was delicious. However, what complicated things is that we also made five pounds of kielbasa, which essentially competed with the ham for share of stomach. This contributed to a ton of leftovers, and suddenly it seemed like our 20-lb. ham had yielded way more than 20 pounds. Our leftover happy friends should’ve managed to clean up nicely, but for some reason, everyone was a bit skittish and now we have a couple of bags of ham in our fridge and freezer.

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THIS Is Steak Dinner

12 Mar

My sister-in-law was in town this week on business, so the Boy and I met her for dinner. She suggested a steakhouse near her hotel, which triggered the mantra of Yes! Steak Dinner! in my head. Steak Dinner is one of my favorite types of meals, probably because I don’t have it all that often. For starters, the Boy doesn’t eat beef, which is not really a deal breaker because there are always other meat and non-meat options at Steak Dinner. However, Steak Dinner also gets expensive and there’s planning involved, so it turns into more of a special occasion meal (though Steak Dinner in and of itself is a special occasion). And there’s the fact that Steak Dinner can be a highly calorific meal, so it’s best to keep it in moderation. A couple of years ago I had Steak Dinner four weekends in a row, and while it was heavenly, at the end of the run my wallet and waistline said, No more! I’m salivating just thinking about it though.

By now you may have figured out that Steak Dinner is a particular kind of meal, much like Fancy Dinner or Nice Dinner, and thus it cannot be classified as such unless it meets certain specifications:

  1. Steak Dinner takes place at a steakhouse. If, for some unfortunate reason, you’re in an area where a steakhouse isn’t available, the restaurant menu must have multiple steak options. This is important. You’re primarily there to eat an expensive steak, so the restaurant should specialize in it. Service at steakhouses is also top notch, and that element can really make the meal.
  2. Dinner should include a cocktail and/or wine and/or a digestif. You don’t have to drink, but it helps. Savor the alcohol and you shall savor the meal.
  3. There shall be sides. I’ve eaten at enough steakhouses now to know that if your dinner includes its own sides (choice of potato, standard vegetable), it’s not going to be among the best steak dinners you’ve eaten. A la carte sides are expensive, yes, but they are meant to be shared, which gives your dinner a more communal, jovial feel. If you have a large group for Steak Dinner, it’s recommended to have a voting protocol for your side selections, because that makes life much easier when it comes time to order.
  4. Dessert should be a factor. Dessert should always be considered, but it doesn’t have to be ordered if the options don’t meet your personal specifications. For me, Steak Dinner should always end with a slice of cake as big as my head. If the restaurant doesn’t offer that option, I am likely to decline.

For me, the rituals help make Steak Dinner what it is, and beyond the points above, I just flat out fucking love a good steak. I realize that’s kind of sweary, but I will often say that phrase in my head throughout the meal–I don’t mean to; it just happens. Peruse the menu and make my selection? I fucking love steak. Take a bite? I fucking love steak. In fact, the steak can be so delicious that at times I will tune out of portions of the conversation because the steak is so fucking delicious and I love it so fucking much. Even just writing this, I fucking love steak.

So that’s what Steak Dinner is. Let’s dissect this dinner, shall we?

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Duped Every Time

6 Mar

I love a good piece of pretzel bread. With good butter. There’s not much that’s tastier than this combo.

But this?

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I know this is not going to be what I consider a soft pretzel to be. This is a completely soft roll made in pretzel style and dipped in food grade lye to get that dark brown pretzel color. I can tell just by picking it up that it’s lacking that slight crust around the outside that seals in all the goodness and gives it a little bit of a snap.

I bought it anyway. Brought it home. Ate the entire thing.

I was right.

At least I had good butter.

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