Saturday, September 1, 2012

How I Spent My Summer-- Part II: FOOD!

The Official Health Drink of New Jersey!
I’m always roughly 200% certain that when I go traveling my brain will rationalize that, this being a special occasion and all, it is entirely appropriate to eat with abandon. Unfortunately— or perhaps very fortunately— residing inside of that very same brain is the brain that has read 5,000 books about not eating crap, remembering the importance of local food and blah blah blah fucking blah.

Other voices weigh into this ongoing battle of mine. Having been born in Jersey across the river from Philly, I am genetically and culturally a Carbovore and a Sugarholic. And I am – literally not metaphorically— an addict, which is a very special kind of personality that comes with its own built-in Bullshit Justification System.

To wit—at the end of June I really truly quit smoking. (Aside: just typing those words makes me feel like I’ve jinxed myself and will immediately go buy a pack after I post this. But I swear to you and me both I won’t.) When I quit smoking— which I had been trying to do ever since I resumed smoking five years ago, after a six year break and during my Uber Traumatic Divorce— I told myself to be nice to myself, don’t be hard on myself, reward myself!!

This reward system manifested in a tri-Pavlovian setup, with the setting sun playing the role of the ringing bell. Every night at dusk I hopped into bed with four dogs, a pint of frozen Greek yogurt and at least two (usually three) episodes of Big Love. See, I buy into that theory that you can’t just quit a habit, you need to replace it with another. Well, the replacement theory worked this time but not without drawbacks. Let’s just say that I am definitely one of the legions of smoke-quitters that almost instantly experience IFB (inflatable butt syndrome).

When one suffers IFB, I find that one can go two directions: a) embrace the cushion as one might on a crashing airplane and just float along a sea of resignation or b) freak out and self-flagellate, an exercise which, sadly, doesn’t seem to burn many calories.

This was my mindset at Road Trip dawned. Could I fend off the hoagies and soft pretzels I knew awaited me in South Jersey? Could I convince my Warren, a man nicknamed the Good Eater-- not always for the quality of food on his plate but rather the quantity-- to embark on a journey of salad hunting throughout Canada?

I could not. So essentially I said fuck it, let’s just go for the donuts, be glad for the absence of smokes, and figure out WWMMW (What Would the Michelin Man Wear?) when I got back.

Happy to report that, since I’ve returned and save for the fourteen baskets of bread and Chicago-sized slab of coconut cake we had at Texas French Bread to celebrate our anniversary, I am back on track with dinosaur kale smoothies morning, noon and night. I refuse to regret the absolute glut of gluttony in which I indulged over the course of 22 days and 5,000 miles but, at least until I map out the next monster trip, I swear I swear I swear: Never Again.

Here, then, visual proof of my culinary insanity: 

We begin at exit 353 on I-35 North. Henry and I stop at the Czech Stop. He doesn't even eat kolaches anymore, I don't think, but this is an accidental tradition we started many, many years ago. Driving up to Dallas to visit the Morning News, for which I wrote a column, this became such a regular stop that once we spent a whole day there "researching" for an article which, for many years, hung over the register. A highlight of my journalism career!
Southern Fried Breakfast in Knoxville.
Egg sandwich, also Knoxville. For part of my pregnancy I lived in Knoxville and during this time I ate an egg sandwich almost every morning. 
I didn't actually buy these, but just spotting local-focus junk food amuses me. As you can likely guess, we found these at a gas station in Maryland.
Life imitates hyperbolic joke... So, okay, at the top of the post I named this as the Official Health Drink of NJ. In truth, I spotted this item in Maryland, too. But for years and years, long before such a thing existed, I used to tell people that in NJ the definition of a smoothie is cake batter with a straw in it. Well dang, look what I manifested. 
My mother's refrigerator-- she's got 9 kids and 26 grandkids and everyone likes to hydrate differently.
There is no food on earth finer than a hoagie on Philly hoagie rolls. I go for the cheese hoagie. Utterly sublime. You will note in this photo series no TastyKakes, which might seem blasphemous. I didn't eat any TastyKakes this time NOT as a futile nod toward healthfulness but because-- and I'm being serious-- TK is no longer allowed to use transfats so they don't taste as good. Yes, if it doesn't have transfats, I ain't eating it, not in Jersey anyway.
Behold, the Philly Soft Pretzel. These were still warm from the oven. OMG.
Secular Holy Communion. 
Secular Holy Communion Unveiled. 
Pizza for the kids. We adults ate something more mature. See below.
I believe my sister identified this as a panzoratti.  I had forgotten the definition and agreed when she said I should get one. So what is a panzoratti? Why it's DEEP FRIED FUCKING PIZZA. The word panzoratti translates from the Italian roughly as follows: I like big butts and I cannot lie. 
Forget Texas Salsa. These Italian style hot peppers will blow your nuts off. They blew my nuts off.
I got eggplant wrapped around ricotta. Because if cheese isn't involved, it's a cardinal sin.
Nick got the soft-shelled crabs. Fried. Natch. 
Warren got the scallops. I had a nightmare about scallops once. WTF are scallops anyway?
The above grub was ingested at this joint in Atlantic City, right before I blew around sixty bucks in the slot machines. Stay tuned for those pictures soon.
My East Coast peeps won't need any help identifying what this is, but for the rest of you let me explain. This is SCRAPPLE. Unlike the board game SCRABBLE, which involves the living human brain, SCRAPPLE involves the dead cow brain. Fried. Of course. And no, I did not eat this shit. Warren did.
I swear I did not partake in any of this boardwalk cuisine, but I took this picture to illustrate how Jerseyeans  have really gotten behind Governor Chris Christie's mandate that outlaws all vegetables except tomatoes for pizza and pasta sauce and any vegetable that can be turned into an oil for frying things like fucking OREO's for god's sake.

I call those things jimmies. Warren thinks this is hilarious. He calls them sprinkles. I'm right, right? 
After passing our nine billionth FRIENDLY'S, which Warren had (luckily) never indulged in, I finally agreed to stop so he could test out the "cuisine." 
Warren was able to identify all but one item on his plate at FRIENDLY'S.
I live a vegetarian lifestyle about 98% of the time, but make exceptions for the garlic shrimp sandwich at Tam Deli in Austin (cue the food porn bass guitar) and some seafood on the east coast. At FRIENDLY'S I had some spectacular from-a-can clam chowder (clam singular-- there was just one piece in the soup). I upgraded for a mere 99c, to a bread bowl, which Warren thought was hilarious. He also ate half of my bowl. I mean, the actual bowl. 
Finally we got to Canada where vegetables are legal. I had a Vege Burger!  It was tres magnifique.  It also unstopped my bowels, which were clogged from all that cheese in Jersey.
I can't even remember what Warren had that night, but I think he is coloring in this picture.
Some of my wedding clients highly recommended a number of food items in Montreal, including deli food, bagels and Tim Horton donuts. These were all great suggestions. Here, Warren and I start out our first full day in Montreal with latkes (me) and a massive chopped liver sandwich (him).
One sesame ball filled with red bean paste, acquired in Montreal's tiny Chinatown. I love sesame balls because they taste good, and they are fried and also because they remind me of Japan. More on that another day.
Warren purchased me a Biscuit d'epouse, aka Wife Cake. It was good and I also acquired a new nickname.
Don't knock a Best Western until you've looked at every sleazy un-airconditioned option before agreeing to pay extra for a cookie cutter hotel room. I was so psyched that they had these little coffee bags which I just love. They are like a cross between a ravioli and a tampon, don't you think?
St. Viateur Bagels was one of the highly recommended places and it was SO SO SO good. So good. 

I got bagels with eggs fried right into the holes.  
Warren got delish Jewish food and lovely garnish. 
This is bread from a chi-chi place where we ate in Quebec City, which is a super super cool city. 
In the same restaurant we ordered "fondue" for an appetizer, imagining something from the seventies involving a pot in the middle of the table with a bunsen burner beneath it and long pointy sticks we could use to skewer bits of bread and plunge them into liquidy cheese with a white wine overtone. Instead we got fried cheese cubes. C'est la vie!

Let's just say I musseled my way through Canada. 
And now, a closeup of my mussels. 
Aside-- I got that striped sweater for seventeen bucks at an H&M. I think H&M is coming to Austin. YAY! So I'm eating in this pic a maple frosted donut from Tim Hortons Donuts. This place was recommended but not realizing it was as common as Dunkin' Donuts, I felt a sense of urgency when I spotted my first one, insisting we stop. That wasn't a great idea since I immediately became addicted and had to stop at all the rest, which are about 3/4th of a mile apart from each other.  
Even the snack food is more exciting in Canada! 
More mussels. These were in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, where we went to whale watch. 
Warren got lobster, the ultimate trafe experience. He didn't know how to eat a lobster so our waitress, Lori, the nicest waitress on the planet, showed him how. I myself don't eat lobster, which is a funny example of weird food rules. So, like, crab and mussels? Fine. Lobster? Too big. Too easy to anthropomorphize.
I think, during a trip of wonderful food, this was my very favorite. It contains all four New Jersey Food Groups: Starch, Sugar, Fat and a non-vegetable. It's a blueberry bread pudding topped with Creme Fraiche and slathered with real maple syrup. I am still dreaming of this. I mean really. Amazing.  
St. Andrews seems to draw a lot of well-off retirees, which in turn inspires the sort of restaurants these folks like. Thus we found ourselves in a rather chi-chi joint for lunch. 
Warren had the Lobster BLT. 
I had the crab cakes which could also be a fitting nickname for me during certain points of the journey.  
Fresh blueberries in Maine.  
We made it to DAYS TAKEOUT in Yarmouth Maine with literally two minutes to go before closing time. This is one of my favorite restaurants in the universe. I took Warren here last year on our trip to Maine, so now, with a second visit, it's a tradition. They have lobster rolls and crab rolls-- basically the meat of those creatures mixed up with a little may and served on a grilled hotdog bun. So tasty.  
Warren had two lobster rolls. 
We were in Maine for less than 24 hours, and to fuel ourselves for the drive to PA we stopped at the STANDARD BAKERY in Portland, which is a fantastic bakery but not for the gluten-averse. 
Among other delicacies, I got one of these pretzely asiago cheese thingies. 
Driving to PA, Warren pulled into Danbury, CT to find a bathroom and a bite to eat. Who could've predicted that in the heart of Danbury we'd find an authentic Brasilian restaurant?  
Warren got a plateful of meat to go, plus some fried plantains and sweet potatoes. He shared some of the non-meat with me, but at one point offered up something smeared in meat juice and I nearly blew chunks on the spot. 
At this point we were in PA and I knew (seriously I did) that it was time to stop with all the donuts. But goldang it, we were in Pennsylvania Dutchland and my friend Chris, who's a local there and friends with the Amish, said we just HAD to try their donuts. Okay, what the hell, why not build up the built-in airbags some more, Spike?  
Still more pretzels. Can you even get real good soft pretzels  south of the Mason-Dixon line and/or west of the Mississippi?  
Next stop: St. Louis, home of Imo's Pizza. Like many non-locals, when I first moved to St. Louis and tried Imo's, my attitude was BULLSHIT, this is NOT PIZZA. But I learned, oh boy, did I. I even worked at Imo's eventually. And I spent the last trimester of my pregnancy in St. Louis, woking at Imo's right up until a few days before Henry arrived.  As with the Knoxville egg sandwiches, eating a personal pizza just about every day became ritual when I was pregnant. 
Not surprisingly, then, Imo's pizza was Henry's first solid food.  
In St. Louis we stayed with my friend Sue, whom I met when we both worked at Riddles Penultimate restaurant in the Loop in U. City Missouri. Sue took us to ROOSTER for breakfast-- they do a lot of locally sourced menu items. Warren had biscuits and gravy. 
I had crepes.  
We also ate in in St. Louis, which was great because Sue is an amazing cook. This was breakfast, featuring her homemade brown bread, some strawberry-rhubarb jam I got from the Amish, and her peach soup which is a dish best served cold.  
Then Sue and I went to the Farmers Market in Tower Grove Park and this guy told me all about his cheese, made local and award winning. 
Across the park from the Farmers Market was International Fest with food and craft tents set up representing pretty much every country in the world. It was such a diverse crowd it was like someone called central casting and said, "Send us several thousand people and make them look, as a whole, the complete oppositie of the blinding white ACL throngs." I got the above pumpkin/nut fillo dough thingie at the Bulgarian tent. 

Back at home, we had homemade kale chips from local organic kale. 
And Sue put out the sort of spread that would get her kicked out of New Jersey.
This included the amazing local cheese.
Then, because we didn't want to get too bogged down in healthy eating, Warren demanded a trip to White Castle. I watched, I did not eat. Our friend Thomas had the fish sandwich. Warren had four disgusting sliders. This was the primo WC, at Grand and Gravois, where you spend the entire meal fending off panhandlers. We actually got hit up on the way in by a small child whose parental unit sent her to beg from us. It was really unsettling actually, but no more unsettling than what those sliders did wo Warren's innards. 
Thomas and me.  
Knowing we were heading home to the Organic Green Bubble that is Austin, a place where people are more inclined to use frying oil to power their Willie Nelson inspired bio-diesel-engined vehicle than to use it as god intended it (to fry Snickers bars)... well knowing that, Warren took one last opportunity to buy a styro container packed with crap-fried-crap at a truckstop on the way south.  
I saw him and raised him one, pulling into the Sonic across the street from the truckstop, and ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, which I enhanced with ketchup and tater tots. 
And then I concluded as I had begun, back at the Czech Stop, for one last kolache before returning to Austin and my all kale all the time diet. 

No comments: