Tag Archives: dining

How to Get Through Thanksgiving Without Overly Gendering Everything

It’s one thing to recognize I’ve reached adulthood, but it’s quite another to be able to look back over many, many years and see that the threshold was crossed quite a long time ago. I’ve now got under my belt a large swath of experiences that have pointed in the direction of today. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve learned to perfect my turkey preparation, just one of many aspects to the day that are now part and parcel of the holiday for me.

I’ve also gotten attached to a certain table setting for Thanksgiving, and to having the Macy’s Day Parade on in the background as I cook, which let me just say really sucks for people in the Pacific Time Zone. For those of us who grow up with Thanksgiving through our childhood and into adulthood, we have expectations around something that happens in that day. Eating the crappy green bean casserole, or at least having it on the table, arguing about who sits where, making a particular holiday cookie, there’s always something.

Also in my personal history is the need to dress up. It’s a formalish dinner, with the special china laid out and the polished silver on the fancy schmancy tablecloth. Mom would even enlist me in ironing the napkins, which of course I hated but which of course she hated worse. Which is why the job fell on me. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the enormous Jabba the Hut pile of ironing in the downstairs laundry.)

Now then, dress up often meant dress, which by the time I’d reached adolescence was more often a clean sweater and khakis, but my point, as obtuse as I’ve made it, is this: Thanksgiving is a gendered experience. Who sits on the couch, yelling at the football game, and who is in the kitchen prepping the meal. Who does the dishes afterward, who carves the turkey, there are many moments throughout the day that tell us something about gender roles and expectations.

Now that Emile is more aware of his surroundings and the relationships of the adults around him, it’s occurred to me that there are things I can do–as the adult that I am now–to help dial down some of the more sexist traditions that my culture has handed to me. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but maybe if we can make it through the next 15 Thanksgivings with less emphasis on sexist ideology, we’ll have made a small difference in the experience for our family and friends. Some of the ideas that come to mind are: Read More…

Explosion in the Produce Aisle

Several scientist type people insist that between our first and second years, humans set up their palates for the rest of their lives. Give your toddler too much sugary stuff and it’s all she’ll eat later on. Lean toward too many processed foods and you’ll have trouble getting him to eat macrobiotic, more nutritious food when he’s entering grade school. Nothing beats the tension of worrying that during those exhausting days after the infant stage you’re merely preparing for culinary disaster. Thus I attempt to balance the following when figuring out not only each and every meal for the baby, but my overall nutritional and taste goals for Emile:

  • Include whole grain and fiber, protein, vegetables, and fruit
  • Put out a melange of shapes and colors, some finger foods that he can wrestle on his own, and some spoon-fed
  • Keep everything in rotation so he doesn’t get bored by the same stuff
  • Make each piece of food easy to swallow so he doesn’t die
  • Ensure only organic, homemade, or all-natural food passes his tender lips

Above all else, however, is this:

Show no stress about trying to remember all of the above rules. Read More…

The Curious Case of the Missing Yelp Reviews

yelp angry logoWalla Walla found its tourism groove when the rolling hills that once were covered in wheat fields gave way to grape growers, and rows of vines, carefully structured, took over the topography. Sitting on enormous paychecks, the Seattlites who worked at Yahoo! and Amazon and Microsoft discovered that it was a pretty drive through the Cascades or a quick flight to the tiny airport, and they could boast of their own wine club memberships, since Napa and Sonoma were booked full.

It was only a matter of time then, for a hospitality industry to respond to the need to serve the west-side tourist while they spent copious amounts of money in our little town. One of the fastest growing businesses in Walla Walla was the independent restaurant. In fact, there are no mid-range chain restaurants within the city limits; right next store in College Place is an Applebee’s, and that’s notable for its singularity of presence.

When the bottom fell out of the economy, many of the fine dining establishments closed up. Even the Microsoft executives were feeling the pinch. But time passed, and people started carving out new opportunities for themselves in the city’s downtown. A public house, a beer tavern, gourmet pizza, $9 sandwiches that boast of their hand-craftedness. In the space of one month two breakfast eateries opened up, and excited as we were, Susanne and I tried them both out to see if they would likely stick around or make it onto our dining circuit. Read More…

124 Is the Loneliest Number

main street, walla walla, circa 1920sWe went out a couple of weeks ago to Public House 124, a new eatery and watering hole on Walla Walla’s Main Street, and no location gets any more “heart of downtown” than this. Inside, brick walls run from the front windows to the kitchen area, where a counter lets patrons watch the culinary work in action just like over at Whitehouse Crawford. This isn’t surprising, I suppose, given that PH124’s chef used to work there; he’s doubled down with a former bartender at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, and yes, the drinks are pretty tasty. There’s no word yet on if the Cocoa Cowgirl, a pint-glass of liquor with a little bit of cream, made it over to this new establishment, but I’ll ask the next time I go.

Which will be when the weather has cooled off, because PH124 doesn’t have air conditioning. Read More…

Nous Gourmands

We’ve explored a respectable swath of the eateries in Seattle these past six months, everything from food truck vendors to lunch counters, bakers, a chocolate factory, and German tavern fare. We’ve also pursued ethnic food from local Indian buffets to authentic Chinese food and Ethiopian shared plates (injera, mmm). So we jumped at the chance to have dinner at an upscale classic French restaurant, Le Gourmand in Ballard. Susanne made our reservation, since attempting to dine there as a walk-in is a long shot at best, and we drove over on a typically cold, rainy early winter Seattle evening. Read More…

Purple soup of a Thai persuasion

After our Indian cooking class a couple of weeks ago, Susanne and I headed out to Uwajimaya, the Asian grocery, to stock up on ingredients. After all, I’d either made a dish (palak paneer) or watched other people prepare sides and entrees, so surely I was past Square One for Asian Cookery. To be honest, I wasn’t really that overconfident, but I did think I’d be able to pull off something like a coconut soup. Sure, it wasn’t on our list of items to create in the class I attended, but Thai soup and Indian curried broth for poaching fish aren’t exactly total opposites, either. Read More…

Cooking from the hip

Susanne and I ventured a few blocks from our apartment last night to take part in a cooking class on Indian cuisine with HipCooks.com. Our rationale was that 1) we love Indian food in all of its permutations, and 2) Walla Walla has nothing close to an Indian restaurant, so learning a few techniques and recipes is a critical life skill once we return to the desert side of the state. Read More…

Mobile Chowdown V recap

Susanne and I had ourselves a blast at the Mobile Chowdown V last Friday, in the parking lot of Qwest Field. Romantic setting, I know, but we were there to explore the engine-inclusive side of cuisine, not make out in public. We lucked out and found a parking spot 1.5 blocks away, albeit only after accidentally making our way to the garage for the last home game of the Mariners. Fifteen dollars for parking is $15 less we’d have had for all of the fare at the event! Read More…

Food from a truck

In college, a battle took place every Friday and Saturday night, at the edge of the campus. Two white trucks served hamburgers to students, competitors looking to be top dog in some kind of feud. There was the Wimpy Wagon, and then there was the other one. I guess Wimpy’s won out, since nobody I know remembers the name of the other one, but there was a war, all right. Because this was Syracuse, New York, getting a late night burger anytime after October 15 meant trudging through at best, several inches of snow. That’s a kind of commitment to something that university students rarely muster.

Food trucks weren’t exactly bastions of quality cuisine in this environment. They were just cheap and available, and if a wagon were sixteen steps closer than the dining hall, a good percentage of students would make that their preference, easy. I have no trouble attesting that as a Syracuse University alum, if presented with a no-brainer, I will option that every time. This is why the wine tasting class was booked solid every year, as was Theater for Non-Majors. Read More…

Licensed to serve

We are vacationing this holiday season-come-semester break at Susanne’s parents house in the “southern thumb” of Michigan. Yes, when you ask a Michigander (it just keeps getting better, doesn’t it) where they’re from, they’ll hold up their hand and point. It’s actually pretty handy [sic]. Every state should look like a limb one could hold up and point to. “I live in the adrenal gland portion of the kidney,” say. Okay, maybe that’s not the best idea ever, especially given Manhattan’s geography.

Anyway, if they’re from somewhere in the vicinity of Detroit, the state’s most populous city, they may say something like “11 Mile,” referring to the regular spate of roads that run parallel to the north boundary, further and further to the top of the hand. Eminem made his 8 Mile movie, everyone already knows, about the area where the suburbs take over—but as far as I know, there are no plans for a “40 Mile” sequel, all about the drama of car parts factories on the outskirts of the dying automobile center. No wait, that was Roger and Me.

After a few days of meals at home, we descended on a local eatery, the Raiders Coney Island. By “we,” I mean me, Susanne, her mom, two brothers, sister-in-law, and their four kids, ranging in age from 2 to 17. It was a little Jon and Kate Plus 8 meets a Top Chef challenge—the elimination kind, not the simple quickfires, either. Taking up three booths in the small eatery, the waitress was a little overwhelmed.

Upon seeing customers who needed her service, she probably would have drawn a sharp intake of breath on a good day, but on this day she had no backup help, either, it being two days after Christmas and the other staff not having the same level of commitment to the family establishment that she did, since it was clearly her family’s establishment. But my immediate concern wasn’t for her ability to take our drink order, it was for the obvious extreme edema she had in her ankles. It was so bad I wasn’t sure how she’d managed to get her feet into her sneakers. My next worry was if her apparently chronic swelling had anything to do with the food in this place. Perhaps I could suck on a gratis lollypop and call that supper.

She slowly made her way to each table, starting with the ones who were already seated before we’d gotten there. Well, slowly isn’t really the right word. She was hurrying in a way that did little to increase her speed in any measurable fashion. Perhaps in an alternate universe we’d eaten already.

Finally she plunked down our menus, and the “raider” concept hit me. They had a knight on a horse, holding a spear, with a weiner at the end. This was the graphical fusion, I supposed, of the raider and Coney Island. Someone should tell the restaurant owners that Coney Island is about to be bulldozed into a suburban-like subdevelopment a la the Goonies. Only instead of pirate treasure maps we have the near-total collapse of the global economy. That’ll slow ‘em down. The raider, however, was smiling, so excited about the opportunity for a hot dog that he was obliquely unaware of the doom awaiting the old amusement park.

“Hey, isn’t that the mascot for your old high school,” I asked Susanne. She nodded. “Well, kind of. The real mascot looked more serious.” She paused.

“And there’s no hot dog in the real logo,” she added, just in case I leave this experience wondering why the superintendent of schools thinks it’s okay for the local high school to model such poor food choices to its impressionable students.

I appreciated that they hadn’t stolen the licensed image from the high school, even as they were clearly looking to it as their reference point. I later learned that they regularly give money to the high school, so I suppose they should go ahead an name themselves after the mascot—they’ve earned it.

“So was your school color orange,” I asked, looking at the menu cover. I went to Syracuse University for college, so I’m familiar with the futility of trying to work school-licensed clothes into one’s general wardrobe.

“Orange and black,” she said, knowing full well I’d be shocked. They were always ready for Halloween, I guess.

“My high school was brown and gold,” I said, “so I never thought I’d hear of worse colors than that.” I made famous a short story from my graduation, when one of the girls asked me why the women wore white graduation caps and gowns instead of gold, since the men were wearing chocolate brown, to which I’d remarked, “because they don’t want it to look like a lot of shit and piss out there.”

There is no restaurant, nice or not, in Hamilton, New Jersey, that has my old high school logo on it. Just saying.

The menu was a strange blend of Greek culinary tradition, pub fare, and Johnny Rockets diner food. I still don’t see my beloved pizzaburger outside New Jersey, but I won’t hold it against them. I tried to order the chicken kabobs.

“We don’t have those made up yet,” the salt-retaining waitress told me, as if any minute now, chicken kabobs would be good to go. “But this other chicken meal is the same thing, just not cut up.”

Wondering why cutting the chicken into smaller pieces would mean it would somehow take longer to cook, I saw that this other dinner also came smothered in green peppers, mushrooms, and provolone cheese, most of which are not to be found on Greek-style kabobs. So okay, I went with that, with a little hesitation about when any of this was going to take to arrive at our tables. Every so often she would call out to her mother for help, and I started to wonder if she wasn’t talking to a ghost or an imaginary friend. But finally, Mom showed up, agreeing to help make the four smoothies and milkshakes the kids had ordered. One look at the mother and I was certain their was some family illness with water retention going on here. Why had no one told them to seek medical help for their obvious swelling problems?

The cooks in the back were doing their best impressions of Wilson from Home Improvement, so I couldn’t analyze whether the male members of the family were afflicted with the same disease, but they put the food up on the counter when it was ready and voila, cheese and fungus-covered chicken was at my table. Susanne and I had finished an impromptu game of dots, with her finding the one and two box spots and me mis-selecting a long chain of 16 boxes for her to label. Damn dots game—you always make me pay for slow diner service by showing me what an awful player I am. Maybe I shouldn’t carry a pen with me wherever I go.

Half our orders were wrong—the mother made milkshakes instead of slurpies, which, 50 minutes after walking in, we were happy to drink anyway. Yes, they needed more serving staff. The food was fine though, and cheap, and finally we were back in the car, heading through the Christmas Week night and jazzed up to play some head-to-head solitaire. Maybe, I thought, we should just cook at home.

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