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Maybe it was the weather. Having just braved an hour plus one way trip in a horrid downpour, I could have sworn it didn’t look like the apocalypse on my way out the door.
Maybe it was the truncated nap I took right before leaving. I woke up at 4:15 yesterday morning and biked to and from work for my monthly team meeting before the we opened for business, the latter trip soaking my first change of clothes. The afternoon provided little respite for my weary body and mind, as I took a quick 45 minutes of time in the snooze corral. I made sure to wake myself to give ample travel time, picking out items to bring for friends that I hadn’t seen all month, a good change of clothes from my mid-day lounging standby of pajamas, and a decent window for catching one of the last rush-hour busses west.
Maybe I didn’t give the restaurant a fair shake. When all is said, my dinner was still just a burger.

***

This month’s edition of Burger Club, a gathering of far-flung city friends with keen interest in what our area has to offer in terms of meat patties, found us at Lockdown, a hard rocking burger bar on the near North Side. It was half price burger night, invoking the veiled unspoken proverb as our host put it, “Money saved is a beer earned.”
We arrived in ones and twos- most, myself included, soaked through our Tuesday best with a cloud’s worth of Chicago HateWater®. Arriving somewhere in the middle of the group, 15 minutes before burger time, I sent my message with my head count for the evening. It was going to be me and a plus one, a newcomer to the group who lived closeby, loved burgers, and with whom I was due for a visit. (Hi, Niles!) We settled on a group of ten, and let the doorman know. Early in the evening, the place was finishing its first rotation of tables, but they assured us that the big table in the back was ours, and we bellied up to the bar for a pre-dinner drink.
While they had a decent drink selection, of which we all had one or two, as fifteen, thirty, and then forty five minutes had passed, we noticed that the place was approaching standing room, and over the chugging riffs of Metallica songs nobody had requested, you could almost begin to hear stomachs grumble.
An hour had passed. Someone whose name was not mine needed some food and quick, as the second or third adult root beer beverage was digging in and lashing itself to the bulkhead for a long and drunken night. We took a look back at our promised table. They had sat another party.
We’ve all been there. Many if not all of us had held positions in the service industry, so we could see how a large party of prompt and agreeable patrons could be forgotten abo…wait. No. That’s not how it’s supposed to happen. In the service industry, you agree on a fair service, you provide that service, and you complete the transaction with a profitable night for all involved. There are host books, failsafes, mouths and methods of communication to ensure that this doesn’t happen. It’s what professionals do.
We seem to have been left by the side of the road in favor of another party, a less agreeable (we’re all getting burgers. Easiest thing for a burger bar to do) group of folks. To one of us, this would not stand. She took a look at “our” table, back to the Doorman of Empty Promises, and stood up.
Reaming commenced, and our recalcitrant and unapologetic restaurant representative shuffled around for a bit, then gave us five to ten minutes before sitting half of us at a table. Not ready or willing to give our seats up at the bar, the remainder of us white flagged our way to a couple of menus, undernourished arms flailing to get the bartenders to bring us some food, any food. Any hope of a fair rating for the evening went out the window, as most of us wished to eat and remove ourselves as swiftly as possible. The four of us at the bar ordered burgers, some chili, some macaroni and cheese. And we waited.
***
Burger Club has been going on for over a year. In that time, every joint in the Chicago burgersphere, from Edzo to Mindy, from Naha to Nightwood, has been sampled. Last month’s offering, Pleasant House Bakery, had given us everything we had hoped and more. They knew we were coming, as all restaurants we sample do, and they went above our expectations while keeping their identity and quality standards intact. We had house-selected buns, signature chips, a well-seasoned and temped burger, and the addition of radish greens from their garden, English style bacon of their own recipe, and a British pub sauce topping the burger. The owner came out and talked to us, giving us a full explanation of the burger, why he chose it, why he LIKED it, and why he thought it would be a good match for their restaurant. He put a personal stamp on his business, and showed us why their style of food and service draw customers to Bridgeport from all over the city. More restaurants need to be as Pleasant.
***
We waited four minutes, or maybe it just seemed that short in comparison to how long we were without food. Out came burger number one, the Fat Elvis, Medium Rare. A Patty with Peanut Butter, Bacon, and Grand Marnier Flambeed Bananas, according to the menu. With a five bean dish of Ragu chili accompanying it, we got a burger that was cold in the middle slopped with peanut butter and two wet bananas in a pie pan. My burger of Bacon, Cheddar, Carnitas and Prosciutto came without discernable porkiness, aside from the languid pile of Cold Salty HamShredz® ready to attack my craw. It was also underdone. I’d expect CSHS® at Guy’s American Kitchen, but this here was a hand selected bar in CHICAGO, MEAT TOWN, USA, allegedly known for attitude and quality meat products. We couldn’t see past the grumbles escaping our mouths to see more than the attitude, I guess.
The receptiveness to the other burgers, by this point in the evening, was as cold as our burgers. I heard that the kimchi was “Cold Red WetSlaw®”, and our other half of the group, upon seeing that we had all-too-quickly received burgers that may or may not have had the special personal touches of a flipjockey who cared, began texting us with profanity.
YES. Profanity.
Our plates were cleared, and a woman curtly asked us if we were going to have another round. “Most likely not,” was our response. She went on about how she and her beau didn’t really care, but hoped that we’d be out of their soon because they wanted our seats.
Sure, lady. With pleasure. Good riddance, yeah?
A few minutes later, as we were settling up, another couple asked, nicely, if we were leaving. They were told, tongue in cheek, that they’d probably have to fight the rude woman and her boyfriend, but that they’d probably just be able to settle for having to sit next to them.
As we were unable to enjoy a meal as friends together, our half, finished and paid, offered to head to the lovely Sportsmen’s Bar down the street to secure tables for our party in short order. That offer was quickly accepted, and they joined us as fast as their full bellies and unsated appetites would allow.
On our way out, one of our group walked past the doorman.
“So you guys think I did a pretty bad job, huh?”
Not wanting to ruffle any feathers, he shrugged, sighed.
“Yeah.”
“Don’t cut me up too bad on your blog.”

I wasn’t going to, but…

***

I’m trying not to. I understand that for the night that it was, it most likely was an honest mistake, but that isn’t my problem. I’m blogging about this here because I don’t want to put a Yelp hit out on them. Comparatively, our experiences at other restaurants have been much better, and despite the low price tag, the added wait and lack of attentiveness detracted from the overall value and experience of our evening out. From me, this burger does not get a rating, because it could be seen as unfairly judged based on a bias that has little to do with the actual food. However, if as a restaurant you are known for one thing, and you have a promotion advertising this alleged great showcasing of your signature product, own it. Own it like you invented it. Do not make excuses, but make damn sure that you’re providing the same quality service that you’re allegedly known for and a product that meets or exceeds what the customer would expect. If you can’t achieve that, those Limp Boozy BananaChunkz® on the burger aren’t the only things I’ll write home about.

***

After we left the restaurant with the literal and figurative bad tastes swirling round our beef holes, we moseyed down to Sporty’s for a nightcap. Two guys behind the bar, mixing drinks, talking, working together, accommodating a full house of smiling friendly patrons on a rainy night. We played checkers, listened to a bit of Joni Mitchell, and unwound, putting a more pleasant bookend on our evening than our Lockdown experience alone could have provided.
To the anonymous doorman- Thank you for inspiring me to write again. May the remainder of your days at that establishment be filled with better experiences than ours, and may we both learn from that.

After reading through a mess of different things that I wanted to do, I’ve buckled down the past couple of weeks and made a true go of it. In the fridge, there’s currently cod doing its thing with some salt, a fairly large piece of beef curing before hanging to eventually become bresaola, and a piece of salmon steeping in a bunch of stuff, readying itself to become lox.

My ambitions this summer have not been tempered, merely misplaced. Early in the season, I was really into spirits. I made some infused liquors out of which a few nice cocktails came about. I wanted to take it to the next level, though, and I checked out recipes on how to make my own bitters at home using aromatics. Easy enough.

At the store, I bought a bottle of vodka, simply some inexpensive, not too terrifying neutral alcohol. I got some orange peel, some cardamom, some lavender, and other things that would make for that added dimension in whatever was going to be the final product. 

I got home and reread the recipe. My bottle of 80 proof vodka was not going to be strong enough to set the aromatics for the bitters. Ugh. Vodka is not a drink that I care for, unless it’s proffered by someone who knows what they’re talking about. In that instance, I’ll join them in a toast or two, and then go back to my old standbys of something with bourbon. Whatever I’d drink in that company, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to drink myself, and now with a bottle at home of something that wasn’t even good, I was at a crossroads. 

I know in dealing with booze that bourbon gives you sweetness and woody overtones, for lack of classic terminology. Gin is distinctly piney, and Scotch is peaty and sometimes smells like the inside of a pirate’s treasure chest. Vodka, though, there’s nothing to it. Cheap vodka, as well, is essentially gasoline-cheap, grain neutral spirits that you can add to something because aside from the burn, there’s nothing to it. Want cranberry juice, but want to get drunk? Put some vodka in it. 

That’s not my style. Oh, no. If I drink something, I want the flavors to blend, and the drink to be something that I can enjoy in a glass or a tumbler. I scoured my pantry at home for what to do with this beast, and I found a tin of green tea powder. 

A-ha. That’s a stronger flavor that will drown out the sorrow of this spirit. I added a couple of teaspoons, shook it around, and left it in the liquor cabinet to steep for a couple of days. 

When I returned, I opened it up and took a whiff. Smelled like grass, looked like wet, green sludge. Muddy, murky, mossy, not what I had hoped for. I strained it a few times, once through a sieve, once through a coffee filter, and it never lost the moldy aquarium look. I added a stalk of lemongrass wishing to leave it for another couple of days, hoping that it would temper this utter failure. 

I forgot about it longer than a couple of days. I found it last week, and it smelled about the same. The lemongrass did in fact mellow it out, but it wasn’t doing much of anything, so into the trash it went. 

Now, as I’ve been remiss in my summer mission to cure more meats, I’ve made a positive change to attempt more projects. The bresaola, the simplest of cured meats, is almost ready to hang after a couple of weeks in the cure, and I’ve done salmon so many times that once more won’t hurt it. 

The salmon will be my savior. 

Today, on the hottest of days, I picked up some seafood. Tonight’s dinner is going to be a hearty fish stew. I have lobster, and I got a handful of mussels, some shrimp along with a bunch of shells I’ve been saving, and used some of the cod and salmon trimmings, as well as a few tiny frames from some mullet that met their match at the end of my knife. I would have loved to attempt what I had in my head from a meal 15 years ago at the French Laundry, but after filleting one, I understand why top restaurants are renowned for their attention to detail. I just don’t have the patience to pinbone and skin two tiny fish for a total of 1/4# of meat. Into the soup they went. 

Back to the salmon, though. I still have all those aromatics, and I still intend to use them. For the salmon, I grabbed my salt and sugar, some dried orange peel, a small handful of peppercorns, and a bit of lavender. Mixed up and caked on, that was my cure. For my normal gravlax cure, I’d either use lemon juice or vodka, but hey. In the cabinet. Green tea vodka. Oh, sweet relief. Checking my ratios, I estimated I needed 1/4 cup for the piece I was curing. 

Only have to make 15 more batches before it’s gone. I’ll let you know how it is in a few days. 

I’ve been going through the meat apprentice program at work, where I’m learning how to fabricate different cuts of meat with the endgame of becoming a full fledged meat cutter. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten a good grasp on the breakdown of whole legs and primals to yield case-ready cuts of meat, but I’m still curious about where stuff comes from, and how it’s used.

The other day, I was breaking down a whole lamb, (you remember the lamb post, right?) and I was taking my time to seam out all the little flaps of meat. In doing so, I found the skirt steak, the flanks, and as I separated a layer of fat from an otherwise grinder bound portion of meat, the belly.

Neck, Shanks, Skirts, Bellies

Neck, Shanks, Skirts, Bellies

I’ve dealt with bacon before, curing it and smoking it a dozen times when I was working the smokehouse a few months back, but I’ve never done much with lamb belly.

As I’m prone to do when I get a food-related idea in my head, I scoured the internet looking for recipes on what to do with bellies. I stumbled upon From Belly To Baconwhich has been showing up lately in my searches at the top of the list. It seems that there’s another blogger out there with ideas similar to mine who attempts food projects on the regular that a guy like me would be interested in. I looked a bit closer, and it turns out that it’s a guy named Mark, who I’ve been in contact with through various Chicago-centric food events and tweets.

Reading through his post about making lamb bacon, I flipped through my mental Rolodex as to what spices I had in my pantry to make this happen. On our trip out east this Summer, from which we just returned, I picked up the sweetest fennel seeds from the madre, and I had some juniper berries available. Salt? Check. Pepper? Check. Cinnamon, clove? Double check.

I love being able to discover things that I can do in the kitchen or behind the meat counter, and with added knowledge and skills, I can fabricate and procure new and different cuts of meat with which I can experiment. Within about a week or two, I’ll have a couple of bellies that I personally trimmed ready for bacon or another application, along with a boneless neck for curing for coppa. I’m excited to find out the possibilities for a dish that I am eager to eat and share.

I’ve previously written about my friend Ben Starr, a former contestant on Masterchef.(1) Through watching the show, getting in contact with him, and trading ideas back and forth about travel, cooking and life, we’ve developed a kinship in our parallel existences. He has inspired me to further experiment with the aspects of food that I find fascinating, and I’ve been encouraged through meeting and hanging out with him to more actively pursue my goals in the kitchen.
In addition to being a friend of mine, Ben is also a travel writer, one who takes the greatest joy in combining his passions for exploration and food. Following along on his Youtube Channel, I’ve gotten glimpses of myself in what he finds so wonderful about life through his instructional videos on cooking with new ingredients such as Kangaroo Loin, how to quick thaw a turkey, (we’ve all been there), and the delight with which he hunts morel mushrooms and explores caves in Arkansas is infectious. Take a watch:

Ben is the reason why today’s post is titled thusly. Recently, he was shortlisted for a position with Tourism Australia, given the opportunity to compete for six months as Tastemaster of Western Australia, going around the country profiling where to eat and drink, foraging local bounty, and promoting Western Australia through their partnership to showcase the “Best Jobs in the World”.

When I first met Ben, he had come through Chicago on business, still maintaining ties with the cooking and television world. In between gigs, he was all over the map, and texted me from the far Northwest side of town at a pizza joint, in the loop at lunch, and a Brewpub around dinner time. Not letting the busy schedule stop him, nor the fact that he had spent the wee hours of the morning up talking with his friends and hosts, we met in Pilsen at Del Toro for a later dinner.  He showed up with a 30 lb. backpack and a phone almost out of juice. After exchanged hugs and pleasantries, he beelined to the bartender and talked his way into outlet access for a phone charge, just because that’s the type of person he is.

For the next couple of hours, we talked about all the places we’d been, all the experiences we’d had, and things that made us smile about our normal lives. The conversation flowed with ease, and there was never a dull moment, and this was a guy that we’d just met. What better ambassador for adventure than this new person who just walked in the restaurant, knowing neither me nor my lady personally at that point, but leaving the evening as though we were old friends.

A little over a month ago, he put out the feelers to find some great places to eat in New Orleans. I could have just told him what everyone else with no idea would say, “Get a Po’ Boy in the French Quarter, Go to Emeril’s”, etc. I told him to check out the restaurant where my old friend Tony was working. Sure, I hadn’t seen him in a year or two, but I hold Tony in high esteem, so anything he was associated with had to be good.

I got a text around dinner time one night when Ben was supposed to be down there, and through a little bit of wiggling, we found that Tony was indeed working that night. The messages I received from both Tony and Ben over the next couple of days were great. Ben and crew had tried everything on the menu, not wanting to miss a bite of all New Orleans had to offer, saying that Tony played a gracious host, and Tony said that they really enjoyed their meal and time there. It’s all about meeting new people and experiencing new things, from what I can gather.

We’ve kept in contact since then, talking about other endeavors, but this most recent opportunity he has is monumental. From a pool of over 600,000 people, Ben is a step away from getting a dream job, and I want to do something to help, so today I’m writing this and spreading the news. Go to his website, Youtube channel and read or view some of his material, like or comment on it, and if you’re on Twitter, further spread the word by posting something along the lines of “I hope @TheBenStarr wins #bestjobs #TasteMasterWA in @Australia! #Ben4TheWin @WestAustralia”. 

I like it when good people receive good things due to their hard work. Let’s make some dreams come true.

As so many things do during the wintertime, this blog lay dormant, with not a word written. It wasn’t for the lack of ideas, but the lack of going outside, exploring around, seeing things related to food, and just making a big to-do about what I make and eat.
However, today happened. With my bright, shiny new bicycle, I took to the streets, inspired to see things, go to the market (as opposed to every other day of my life) and invest my thoughts in creating something new and different with the burgeoning bounty of the Spring Harvest soon to be upon us.
I stopped at Publican Quality Meats, scoping out their sausage and cured meats case. It was a recent decision to start curing my own meats. I’ve done fish many times, and have kept meat mostly separate from my main diet for the last couple of years, but as an activity that I want to pursue with other interested parties (fun summertime activities), making a super moldy piece of dried pork or beef is high up on my list.
They had the usual selection. I saw some boudin, some coppas and lonzas, and long links of ‘ndujas hanging in the case. In the back, by the lunch tables, they had some snack sticks, some smoked string cheese, a few bunches of ramps (we’ll get to those later), and tiny packages of caul fat for wrapping sausage crepinettes.
Although the ramps were tempting, I didn’t have any plans within the next few days, and admittedly, I was hoping that the price had dropped since my last visit. Still unjustifiable, I moved on to my next destination.
I peddled down Fulton Market, past the open doors of abbatoirs flushed out for the afternoon, past the city’s most expensive and fancy restaurants on the next block, and continued West. Today, my journey took me at a leisurely pace through the warehouse district, past the coffee roasters, craft breweries and artists’ lofts, to Ukranian Village, where I stopped at a place I hadn’t ever heard of before.
It was called Sprout Home, and it was a Garden Center full of flowering trees, tiny succulents and cacti. I spent a few minutes in there, scoping out their terrariums filled with ideas and whimsy. Over the Winter, I’ve taken a shine to smaller plants, ones that we keep around the house, and as succulents and cacti are the only ones that I know I don’t run the risk of failing with, they’ve become the most appealing to me. I’ve looked at the Green Wall concepts, self watering installations that are popping up all over the place. I even found a guy who made this his mission project, creating a Living Building in India.
My dreams aren’t that big. I just want to make a small terrarium with a few of those cool looking things.
As I peddled on, I stopped at another meat shop, The Butcher and Larder. I’ve been there a few times, and it has taken me a while to warm up to the place. They offer sausage making classes, and they do whole animal butchery, yet every time I go in, the case seems rocked. As opposed to my shop, with 60 feet of meat, their case offers about five feet of visuals, the rest cut to order from the back. One lone customer came in as I ate a house made salami sandwich washed down with a Sprecher root beer, and he ordered some pork to “rotisse”.
From the back, they brought out a massive untrimmed 15 pound pork shoulder with a two inch rim of fat. It had all the signs that it was in fact a shoulder, with the visible blade, but curiously, it offered two extra ribs on the end. From doing the butcher’s apprentice training this Winter, I learned how to break down whole animals for maximum utilization. When I saw the giant piece of pork, it kind of made me think that they were losing money where they could be selling two more expensive pork loin chops alongside their remaining ten pounds of pork shoulder.
They’ve got a giant chalkboard which, by 3 p.m. on a Friday was covered in red Xs denoting all the cuts of meat that they were out of. I feel fortunate and also slightly disheartened that we rarely run out of beef tenderloin at work. Out of a 1200 lb. animal, the tenderloin yields less than 8 lbs. As we don’t break down whole cows ourselves, we are not force to deal with the creative marketing it takes to push other cuts of meat to ensure proper utilization.
Left on the board were ‘Flatiron of beef’, ‘Top Round’, ‘Tri Tip’, and of the cuts that were out of stock, there were a few that I don’t hear very often, ‘Vacio’, ‘Bavette’, ‘Paleron’, ‘Baseball Steak’. Looking them up when I got home, I realized that Paleron is another cut of Flatiron, just a top blade roast, Vacio is from under the sirloin resembling a skirt steak, and Bavette is also of the skirt/flank variety. As for the baseball steak, the best answer I can glean from the internet is that it’s a thick piece of top sirloin steak that puffs up like a baseball when cooked. Curious.
I finished my sandwich and made my way back down south.

IMG_1613***
I’m going to get out more, riding my bike because it’s Spring. Fresh vegetables are coming soon, along with the Pilsen Community Farmer’s Market, meaning Sundays will be the day to stock up on things for culinary projects throughout the week. I’m pretty excited to start with the curing of meats, as well as pickling anything and everything I can get my hands on. Our neighbor gave us a bread starter the other day, so there will be fresh bread in our future, and that is something to be excited about.

Today is a special day. It marks a couple of momentous events in our collective history as citizens of this planet. Both of them are relevant to me, and maybe more than one will be relevant to you.

First, today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Julia Child. Here’s where I could say that she left an indelible mark on my culinary engagement from the time I was a young person, seeing her on Public Television every day when I ran home from school to catch reruns of her program. I’m not going to say that, because it simply isn’t true.

What she did, though, is open up the pathway for acceptance of French cooking techniques into today’s modern kitchen, and bridged the gap from the ’50s model of Campbell’s soup and green bean casserole/church basement cookbooks to recipes that instill pride in both kitchen skills and quality of life. Her recipes and effervescent personality in the kitchen gave life to the housewives stuck at home, injected life into the grocery industry, and opened doors of the curious nature of the home cook who wanted nothing more than to perfect a dish that was outside the realm of what was considered a normal dinner.

Cookbooks, television shows, and countless dinner parties later, her influence can be seen in restaurants as well. Escoffier envisioned the brigade system in restaurants over 100 years ago, but it was the dishes of Julia Child that brought French culinary technique once again to the masses.

She did it with such zest. Her television appearances outside of the French Chef kitchen found her paired with David Letterman, whom she traded barbs with, playfully chiding him for his lack of an adventurous palate when a hamburger was transformed to a tartare au gratin thanks to a faulty heating element. Later in life, she shared a Public Television kitchen with Jacques Pepin, a similarly regarded French chef, and countless glasses of wine. The Julia Child I became engaged and enamored with was one enjoying her later years with glee, keeping a watchful eye over food while sipping on a cabernet. The aspect of a meal prepared for health rather than flavor was not frowned upon, but seen as a noisome bother. The reality of cooking in Julia Child’s kitchen was to use fresh ingredients, and blend flavors, aromas, and fill your kitchen and home with love.

***

The second event is equally as personal to me. My best friend Andy and his wife (also named Julia), this morning, welcomed their son to the world. There has been nothing more exciting for them in their young marriage than to anticipate the welcome of a child into all of our lives. It has been such a pleasure to see how they’ve grown as a couple from the first time I met her as his special lady, to their engagement, and by standing up at their wedding and promising to foster their relationship and marriage with support and care.

As a gift for their baby shower, I got them a pasta maker. I realize that everyone needs diapers. Everyone needs a stroller. The huge amount of love and support from their respective families, from the look of their registry, looked to have provided most of that for them. I started to think about my relationship with Andy and how food has played a huge part. We’ve known each other since middle school, and cooked with each other for just as long. We had a project in 7th grade geography where we made sushi together, and in high school, we made an instructional video for his French class on how to make crepes.

When I went through culinary school, we lived together. I’d bring home steaks, skate wing, potatoes. Every day, a giant takeout container would come back from my kitchen to our house. We’d experiment together on flavors, pore over recipes and techniques from my cookbooks, and watch cooking shows together. He’d ask questions, I’d try to answer them using what I’d learned at school, and our relationship with food and with each other was strengthened through the medium of cooking.

When we get together now, we always cook. It made sense to me to give the pasta maker as a gift. To use it properly, it takes patience, time, and multiple sets of hands. The finished product is one that you share with your family. Through the process of making pasta, and cooking together, you bring those with whom you work and teach closer together.

The way I phrased it when I picked it out, “Kid’s gotta eat”, may have been a little brusque, but it’s true. I hope that the best gifts I know how to give are ones that can be shared with family. I see that Andy’s great loves are family and cooking. I envision a kitchen filled with giggles, tiny, floured handprints on every surface. And I smile.

Congratulations, Andy and Julia. Happy Birthday, Henry.

After a day at work yesterday, I stopped by Maxwell Street, Chicago’s outdoor summer street fair. There’s a lot of stuff there that nobody would want- a stand that sells only shoelaces, one guy with an old, rusted out van with a panoply of similarly rusted circular saws and mechanical equipment. You pass a couple stands and do a double take. There are matchbox cars, straw hats, old video games, and a bunch of stuff that you don’t need, but you never knew you wanted until you see it.

I’m guilty of bringing home a couple of Super Nintendo games, and I have also been stopped in my tracks by the barkers who sell cases of vegetables for $5 each. When I’m there, though, there is the inevitable pass by the smokey outdoor food stands at the south end of the market. Running the smokehouse at work yesterday morning, I wasn’t looking at the two barbecue stands, although they smelled fantastic as always, but I was more excited by the stalls selling Tacos and Pupusas.

I had already eaten lunch, (big mistake), but I just stopped to watch what was going down. At Mama Lula’s, there was an older woman, presumably Mama Lula, on the griddle, flipping tortillas and scrambling various fillings with the other hand. On the far side of the stand, there was another matronly employee readying a giant tub of masa for tortillas, and yet another stirring a giant pot of simmering meat filling.

It smelled fantastic. It was warm and inviting. It looked incredible. There were blistering tortillas and pupusas flying over the counter. I didn’t taste anything because I was full, but the handwritten sign, “Tacos 4 for 5”, was more than inviting.

Unless you grew up with this, these weren’t your mother’s tacos. The menu was mostly in Spanish, but in addition to the usual offerings of tacos al pastor (pork), pollo (chicken) and barbacoa (beef), there was a selection of lesser known offerings: tripas (tripe), lengua (tongue), and a few more options that slip my mind. For those who knew, though, it was probably heaven. They wouldn’t have those items if they didn’t have a following.

Food cooked by a mom tastes better.

This week, we have two moms coming to town. My mom is coming in from Madison on Wednesday afternoon, and my lady’s mom, aunt, and family friend are coming in later that evening from the East Coast. The afternoon will bring some cooking alongside my mom, and by dinner time, I hope to have something fabricated that we can all eat and enjoy.

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