I’m electing M83’s album Saturdays=Youth as my album of the year, a record built on nostalgia and the awkwardness of being young. Often an album’s importance lies not only in the sounds and creativity of the songs, but also with the time that you hear it in your life. Saturdays=Youth played on repeat in the car for my final weeks in Rochester before Brie and I left on our bicycle tour. As I drove around the city tying up loose ends, and going to the last shows or parties that I would ever go to in my hometown (at least for a long time), this album reminded me that things weren’t so bad here, where I grew up, and that many of the things I experienced would stay with me forever, and many of them deserved to be cherished.
Here is a video from the record:
With Christmas quickly approaching, I thought: what better topic to discuss than mayonnaise? Many people love it, some people loath it, and as a bicycle-tourist, I can’t live without it–more specifically, I can’t live without the Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise packet. I know I am not alone, so I’ll come right out and say it: I am a mayonnaise snob. It’s true, and I won’t deny it. Home-made mayonnaise is off the table, because you often can’t beat that, but let’s be reasonable here, who’s making mayonnaise from scratch every time they need some? I’d wager, not many. This is about everyday mayonnaise. Kraft sucks, Duke’s sucks, I’ve heard Trader Joe’s is good but I’ve not tried it, I feel sickened even mentioning Miracle Whip, someone should file a lawsuit against the industrial food services, and to name names, I’m looking at you Sysco, I’m looking at you Aramark (perhaps two of the shittiest companies on the planet.)
When you’re riding a bicycle across the country you tend to eat a lot of sandwiches. At least Brie and I do. Before we even left home we knew that would be the case. There’s a number of reason’s for this, but to me the most important one is not having to pull out the camp stove, and everything that entails. So, since we knew this, early in our planning I began to collect condiment packets, and the Hellmann’s Mayonnaise packet was the most coveted of all packets. I discovered that the supermarket giant Wegmans provided them for people in their cafés, and so it went without saying that each time we went to this particular Wegman’s, the one in Pittsford, NY, I would line my pockets with these packets. Well, by the time we actually left, we had to leave some of them behind. When the trip began, I would estimate we started with about 75 mayonnaise packets, 30 mustards (Goulden’s & generic), a couple Frank’s Red Hot, a good amount of honey, and a couple of lemon juices. We ran out of mayonnaise in the first month, and only had one real chance to re-up (at the Onion River Co-op in Burlington, VT.) Once we ran out, it was over for us mayonnaise-wise. Once you’re in the middle-of-nowhere, you’re lucky to come across the aforementioned Sysco ‘1756’ Brand Mayonnaise, and the reality is that shit will fuck-up a sandwich. The significance of 1756 is beyond me. All I could dig up of any real importance was that it’s the year that ALF was born. In any case, running out meant the end of egg salad, and tuna; it meant dryer, less satisfying cold-cut sandwiches. (I was going to try to come up with some bizarre, off-the-wall use for mayonnaise, but I can’t top this: “Some physicians are now recommending the use of mayonnaise to combat head lice infections. Certain strains of head lice have become very resistant to the traditional chemical treatments, but leaving mayonnaise in the hair overnight with a shower cap will cause the lice to suffocate and die. Comb out any remaining nits with a fine tooth comb and repeat the process seven days later.” [from: Mayo-what!].) Right. So like I was saying, it was hard going without the stuff. This simple item really expands the possibilities of eating something decent and even delicious in a situation where you often had to settle for whatever was left at the bottom of your pannier. It dawned on me in Virginia that I should have made up a care-package of mayonnaises before we left, but alas, we rode our last two months mayonnaise-less.
So it went until we made it to Georgia, where we are currently wrapping up an extended break. As the day of our departure grows closer and closer, I had lately been thinking about our current mayonnaise situation again, and what we were going to do about it. We hadn’t come across any Hellmann’s since, I don’t know, Philadelphia, and the prospects seemed pretty bleak that we would discover a new supply, but I found some more. That’s right! They have Hellmann’s mayonnaise packets at Panera Bread! I started stockpiling them last week.
I picked these up at the grocery store where I’m working the other day. It makes me wonder if they’re selling race-specific grits anywhere else, or if it’s just a Georgia thing. I realize that it’s not a huge deal, and that things get marketed to specific groups of people all the time, but this is just blatant pandering–in the name of grits! So, before I posted this picture I looked up the trademark history’s of both Mr. Quaker and Aunt Jemima. The image of the Quaker was chosen because, at the time (still?), the Quakers represented honesty, integrity, and hard work; qualities the founder of the company thought were the foundation of his business. Aunt Jemima was chosen as a trademark, by a different company, Pearl Milling, that was some years later bought-out by Quaker, because the owners of the company happened to hear a catchy tune called ‘Aunt Jemima’ performed by a duo in blackface at a minstrel show. In any case, Aunt Jemima became an incredibly popular figure in the 20’s and 30’s, and remained popular for many years to come, but also she became associated as the female version of an Uncle Tom.
After I found these together in the store I showed them to a number of my co-workers, and there was a 100% split between the white people who often didn’t understand what I was showing them, and the black people who were generally incredulous, and thought it was very interesting–and funny.
The Fried Green Tomato Bacon Lettuce & Tomato with Goat Cheese Spread
One of my favorite sandwiches of all-time is the FGTBLT. I saw it for the first time on the menu at the Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC while my girlfriend and I were bicycle touring through the state, but I failed to order one then and there. However, the idea stuck with me, and once I was settled again (in a place with a kitchen) I endeavored to make this sandwich for lunch one day. It has quickly become an obsession, and I usually commit to making them whenever I see Green Tomatoes for sale somewhere, as they were at the farmer’s market the day before yesterday. My sandwich differs from most others that I’ve seen on menus here and there, including Hominy Grill, because I include fresh tomatoes, as well as the fried ones. Here I will describe how I make these giants of the sandwich world.
Ingredients: Green Tomatoes, Fresh Tomatoes, Thick-cut Bacon, Lettuce, A Good Loaf of Bread, Goat Cheese, a splash of heavy cream or milk, Flour, 2 Eggs, Panko (bread crumbs), Canola Oil, Spices
To begin, the Bacon:
When I cook bacon, I cook it in the toaster oven, and there are a number of reasons why. The first is because of the uniform nature this method facilitates. Each slice come out equally crisp, and shaped almost exactly alike from piece to piece. The second is because I always save my bacon fat, something I recommend that everyone who loves bacon do, and this method leaves the fat relatively clean compared with pan frying. Bacon fat is great for SO many things, including sautéing, biscuits and gravy, and if you save enough, confit. I could go on: Save your bacon fat! And the third reason is because it’s easy to clean up.
This is what you do: Turn the toaster-oven on to 375º, line the mini baking sheet included with tin foil (or if you don’t have one, just shape the tin into a pan), fit as many pieces as will fit or you want to make, and then put it in the oven and let it bake until it reaches your desired crispiness. This is how it comes out:
I know, it’s undeniable.
Now for the Green Tomatoes:
You will need one bowl with flour in it, a second bowl with the two eggs, lightly beaten, and a third bowl with the panko. If you don’t know what panko is, it is Japanese-style bread crumbs. They are the kind I prefer, but use whatever you like. I usually throw a bunch of herbs and spices into the panko, such as minced parsley, cayenne, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper–use whatever you like–and then mix it up really well. Another good addition is parmesan cheese. I use parmesan in this recipe, but it’s not essential.
Take the tomatoes, core them, and slice them very thin, say a 1/4″ or so. Next is the assembly line process: 1. Dip each slice in the flour, shake off the excess. 2. Dip the slice in the egg, shake off the excess. 3. Cover and press the panko mixture into the tomato slice. 4. Set breaded tomato slice aside. Repeat until you lose your mind, or you run out of slices, whichever comes first.
Next, heat a large, heavy skillet on the stove at medium-high heat with about 1/4″ inch of canola oil. A good way to gauge when the oil is ready for frying is to place a couple of un-popped popcorn kernels in the pan and wait for them to pop. When they pop, the oil’s ready. Start frying! Place the tomato slices around the pan, but don’t crowd them, stick to four at a time. This is to insure that the tomatoes don’t reduce the temperature of the oil. Check to make sure they are frying evenly, and if not rotate them, and if they appear to be cooking too fast, reduce the heat a bit. Once they are golden brown on the one side, flip them over, and do the same on the other. Add more oil as needed. Lay the cooked tomatoes on a paper towel to soak up some of the excess oil. When they’re all done they should look something like this:
Making the goat cheese spread is a breeze. Simply take a good portion of soft goat cheese, add a splash of heavy cream or milk, and whip it together until it reaches a smooth consistency. Don’t buy goat cheese spread! It costs twice as much, and this is just as good! You can even mix in herbs to your own liking.
Finally, all you have left is assembly. Toast the bread if you like it toasted, slice the fresh tomatoes, tear off a couple pieces of lettuce, spread the goat cheese on the toast, and stack it as high as you dare!
This is one of my favorite bands. I have *most* of their available studio and live recordings. If anyone wants them, leave me a message below, and I’ll send them to you.
Collard Greens and beets are two of my favorite vegetables. I swore up and down that I hated beets for years and years until I decided to buy some fresh ones at the market and try them out again. Both of these are cheap, and simple to prepare. One bunch of collards is enough to feed a family of four. I bought the bunch (about 5lbs) I used here for $3.50 at the supermarket, but they sell them at farmers markets for as little as $2.00. Beets are a great anytime snack, especially drizzled with olive oil with salt & pepper, or with, my favorite, rich goat cheese. I bought 5lbs of these for $3.00 at the farmers market–that’s 60¢ a pound! I do not recommend buying these in the supermarket, as they are usually exceedingly overpriced. This is how I prepare each of these:
Ingredients: 1 Bunch Collards, 1 Onion, a few cloves garlic, Salt Pork or anything with fat including just fat, bacon fat for instance, or to keep it vegetarian, about half a cup of Olive Oil, Chicken or Vegetable Stock or water, Vinegar, Salt & Pepper
Heat the Oven to 300ºF. Take one bunch of collards and trim the stalks from the leaves, then cut them up into about 2″X2″ pieces or smaller, and set aside. Peel and thinly slice an onion, and peel and mince some fresh garlic. Today we had some chorizo that we needed to use, so that’s what I used for the fatty pork. Cook whatever you have, or just heat the fat or oil, in a dutch oven or any large pot with a tight fitting lid. Once the pork is cooked and all the fat is rendered, you can either remove it and add it back in later, or leave it in the pot. I opt to take it out. Add the onion and garlic to the pot and quickly sauté and then start adding the collards. They won’t all fit in at once, so add as much as will fit, and stir until they cook down, then add some more until they’re all in there. Season with salt and pepper as you go. Add a cup of stock, give it a stir, and put it in the oven for an 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven, stir in a tablespoon or two of vinegar. This will yield a massive quantity. Be careful, it’s hard to stop eating them.
Ingredients: As many beets as you want to make at once, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper
Heat the oven to 425ºF. Take the beets (do not peel), and coat them in olive oil by mixing them around in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, then wrap them up in tin foil, either individually or in groups of two or three, so long as they are completely wrapped up. Place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Alternatively, place them on your charcoal grill when you have to let the coals burn down. They taste awesome off the grill, and it’s a great way to save yourself the guilt of losing so much charcoal. When they are cool enough to handle, peel, slice and serve.
We ended our first day on the road at Abbey Park in Lyons, NY. The benches and the bathrooms were a welcome sight for Brie , who was exhausted, even though our ride had covered a mere 36 miles. For my own part, I admit that I was happy to see the park, but decidedly less enthused about the group setting up in the pavilion. You could tell what they were by their name tags: Mormons. Now I am not proud that I felt the way I did, and I will be the first to say how wrong it was of me to dismiss the whole group as bothersome without even a word from them, but the truth is, I was not in the mood to be converted. I would have felt the same way about Hare Krishna’s, or Scientologists, for instance. It’s a question of wanting to relax more than saying ‘no thanks’ a hundred different ways. Anyway, one member of the group snuck over and invited Brie over while I was taking a dump. When I came out, she was adamant about going over; she didn’t want macaroni & cheese, she wanted a cheeseburger! So we went over and everyone was incredibly kind, made introductions, made jokes (‘He’s one of them “Salt Lake City” Mormon’s!’–a classic,) asked us what we were doing, and, what would prove to be a common question, why. Then we ate . . . and while we ate, the moment that I had been anticipating arrived: the story of who they were. Mormons, indeed. But that’s where they stopped, and I have to admit it was weird. They didn’t try to recruit us at all! I was thankful for that. All anyone offered was future kindnesses along the way.