Things I Ate In General

This is a food blog that isn't always totally about food.

The third day of our road trip took us from Fort Collins, CO to St. George, UT. This was a long one; about 10 hours of driving, not including stops. The bulk of this route (more than 500 miles) required following Interstate 70 across Colorado and then into Utah. Here’s a fun tidbit from the I-70 Wikipedia page:

"Unlike most Interstate Highways, much of I-70 in Utah was not constructed parallel to or on top of an existing U.S. Highway. Portions of I-70 were constructed in areas where previously there were no paved roads. Because it was built over an entirely new route, I-70 has many features that are unique in the Interstate Highway System. For example, the 110 miles (177 km) between Green River and Salina makes up the longest distance anywhere in the Interstate Highway System with no motorist services.”

Driving 100 plus miles without passing anything is kind of unnerving (especially when you’ve already driven across the Rockies during a freak snowstorm and watched the scenery change from beautiful, lush mountain forests to something that looks more like Mars). We had enough gas in the tank to make it, but not enough that there weren’t a few tense moments. When we finally saw signs for the tiny little town of Salina (population 2,492) we immediately stopped at the first (only?) gas station in town and then went to Mom’s Cafe for some lunch.

Mom’s was known for something that they called scones, but I think anyone else would call “fried dough” or “frybread”. Our scone came with something called honey and butter flavored topping, which was both kind of good and kind of scary, which, now that I think about it, is a pretty apt description of Utah.

The formal name of our road trip was “To Utah and Beyond”, which doesn’t really bear mentioning except that it was the title of our itinerary and I want everyone to know that we were organized enough to have an itinerary. A typed itinerary.
After our night in North Platte we pushed on to Fort Collins, CO to visit Camille’s cousin Elsie. We spent a lovely not quite 24 hours with her, which included a very fun trip to the New Belgium Brewery. I think that breweries are pretty fun by default — people are just happier when around large quantities of beer — but the atmosphere at New Belgium was unlike anything I’ve experienced at any taproom. It was like everyone in the entire building had just ridden a really exhilarating roller coaster. I think this can be explained by 1) really good beer and 2) really happy employees. Elsie told us about how amazing the employee benefits at New Belgium are, and if you look here you’ll see that she wasn’t lying. I want to work for them! View high resolution

The formal name of our road trip was “To Utah and Beyond”, which doesn’t really bear mentioning except that it was the title of our itinerary and I want everyone to know that we were organized enough to have an itinerary. A typed itinerary.

After our night in North Platte we pushed on to Fort Collins, CO to visit Camille’s cousin Elsie. We spent a lovely not quite 24 hours with her, which included a very fun trip to the New Belgium Brewery. I think that breweries are pretty fun by default — people are just happier when around large quantities of beer — but the atmosphere at New Belgium was unlike anything I’ve experienced at any taproom. It was like everyone in the entire building had just ridden a really exhilarating roller coaster. I think this can be explained by 1) really good beer and 2) really happy employees. Elsie told us about how amazing the employee benefits at New Belgium are, and if you look here you’ll see that she wasn’t lying. I want to work for them!

On May 12th, the day after Mother’s Day, Camille and I set out on 16 day road trip that would take us from Minneapolis, to a wedding in St. George, Utah, and then on to San Francisco. We spent our first night at the Oak Tree Inn in North Platte, Nebraska and, upon check-in, were given a credit to use for breakfast at Penny’s Diner, which was next door. I wasn’t really feeling anything on the breakfast menu, so I ordered a BLT. It was pretty good. I didn’t eat the fries.

Clancey’s Meats & Fish in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis has been getting some very good press for quite some time now. Andrew Zimmern is in on Clancey’s (surprise), as is the Heavy Table, the City Pages, and MSP Magazine. Their butcher counter offerings are impressive, if not a bit overwhelming, but it’s their sandwiches that they’re really becoming known for.
This is the roast beef sandwich with everything on it: grated raw horseradish, mayonnaise, stone-ground mustard, Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, lettuce, and shaved red onion. It comes on a Rustica baguette, which is basically the gold standard for bread in the Twin Cities these days. I kind of expected my mind to be blown by this sandwich, and it wasn’t. But I would totally eat it again. View high resolution

Clancey’s Meats & Fish in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis has been getting some very good press for quite some time now. Andrew Zimmern is in on Clancey’s (surprise), as is the Heavy Table, the City Pages, and MSP Magazine. Their butcher counter offerings are impressive, if not a bit overwhelming, but it’s their sandwiches that they’re really becoming known for.

This is the roast beef sandwich with everything on it: grated raw horseradish, mayonnaise, stone-ground mustard, Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, lettuce, and shaved red onion. It comes on a Rustica baguette, which is basically the gold standard for bread in the Twin Cities these days. I kind of expected my mind to be blown by this sandwich, and it wasn’t. But I would totally eat it again.

If you’re at all dialed in to the Minneapolis food scene, there’s no escaping Andrew Zimmern. There’s a food festival happening in Loring Park? He’s doing a cooking demo! The State Fair just started? He’s on the radio doing a segment on his favorite Fair foods! You’re reading Food & Wine Magazine? He’s one of the 2014 Chefs-in-Residence! And here’s a blurb he wrote about how much he loves Tilia! You’re flying Delta? He’s behind the Destinations column in the Delta Sky Magazine! And here’s a blurb about how much he loves Tilia!
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I love what he does for the Minneapolis food scene, but sometimes it can be a little much. Given his enormous media presence, it’s easy to forget that he’s actually involved in producing food. But he is! He has a food truck here in Minneapolis called Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen. The food truck and I happened to run into each other at the Sol Bock Revival party at Harriet Brewing at the end of April. They served a cabrito (baby goat) butter burger with roasted tomatoes, charred onions, and sweet pickles that was absolutely perfect. It was goat-y and melty and soft and wonderful. I’ve been reading for several years now that goat meat is going mainstream and will soon be on menus everywhere. I’m still waiting. View high resolution

If you’re at all dialed in to the Minneapolis food scene, there’s no escaping Andrew Zimmern. There’s a food festival happening in Loring Park? He’s doing a cooking demo! The State Fair just started? He’s on the radio doing a segment on his favorite Fair foods! You’re reading Food & Wine Magazine? He’s one of the 2014 Chefs-in-Residence! And here’s a blurb he wrote about how much he loves Tilia! You’re flying Delta? He’s behind the Destinations column in the Delta Sky Magazine! And here’s a blurb about how much he loves Tilia!

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I love what he does for the Minneapolis food scene, but sometimes it can be a little much. Given his enormous media presence, it’s easy to forget that he’s actually involved in producing food. But he is! He has a food truck here in Minneapolis called Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen. The food truck and I happened to run into each other at the Sol Bock Revival party at Harriet Brewing at the end of April. They served a cabrito (baby goat) butter burger with roasted tomatoes, charred onions, and sweet pickles that was absolutely perfect. It was goat-y and melty and soft and wonderful. I’ve been reading for several years now that goat meat is going mainstream and will soon be on menus everywhere. I’m still waiting.

Yes, this is another post about Camille.

Her 25th birthday fell 6 days after I got to Minneapolis and she asked me to bake a cake for the occasion. She’s a pretty fantastic baker, which has plenty to do with her general insistence on meticulousness in all arenas of life. She makes all of the birthday cakes in her family but didn’t want to make her own cake, which is understandable. “You’re the only other person I trust to do it,” she told me. BOY WAS THAT A LOT OF PRESSURE.

She had already picked out not only the kind of cake she wanted, but the recipe she wanted me to use. It was a coconut cake with coconut custard filling, passion fruit Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, and toasted coconut flakes on top. She even let me borrow her 9” cake pans.

I like everything about baking cakes besides the assembly. Putting a cake together terrifies me. What if I fuck something up? What if it’s hideous? Luckily this cake turned out neither fucked up nor hideous. I transported it across town to her birthday party without incident and I got to use those adorable little HOORAY cake toppers which were from the Oh Joy! for Target collection last spring.

Taste wise the cake was largely a success, but, don’t bother making passion fruit curd or buttercream using passion fruit juice. The flavor just isn’t strong enough to translate well. If I were to make passion fruit buttercream again I would order some super concentrated passion fruit puree online and use that instead of juice. Or I would just order a cake from The Wedge, because anyone who has had it knows that their vanilla cake with passion fruit curd filling and passion fruit buttercream is the best cake ever. (Even though the last time I ordered a cake from them they wrote Congratulation! on it instead of Congratulations!)

Lebanese Stuff
“The smartest thing I ever did in high school was make a Lebanese friend.” - something I wrote on this blog almost three years ago
This statement remains true. Thanks to Camille I’ve experienced: Lebanese Christmas, a Lebanese wedding party, the Taste of Lebanon Festival at the Maronite Catholic church her family attends, a bunch of family parties and dinners with wonderful Lebanese food, and, this year, for the first time, Lebanese Easter. I charmingly referred to it as “Lebaneaster” for the entire day, which must have been tiring for everyone who wasn’t me. 
Church isn’t really my thing — I make potato knishes and kugel from scratch, but am an atheist in all respects beyond Jewish food — but Lebanese church is great. I don’t understand half of what goes on, but I like the Arabic and the incense and the singing and the women’s outfits. Easter Mass is especially great because it involves a hydraulic tomb rising up in front of the altar, with smoke effects. 
Camille’s parents throw a big party after Easter Mass every year. Every party at the Mefleh house, and I think every Lebanese party in general, is a massive feast. This is what’s on my plate, clockwise from the left: tabbouleh, raw kibbeh, pita, asparagus, babaganoush, ouzi, and roasted lamb. (The only thing better than the food at a Lebanese party is the leftovers. I went home with about five times what you see here.)
Feelings
I went through a phase right after getting back to Minneapolis where my emotionality was temporarily jacked up to 11 thanks to the roller coaster of change I had just ridden (leaving my job, leaving friends, leaving the East Coast after 7 years, and so on). For about a month or so anything even slightly emotional was enough to bring me to tears. I wasn’t crying myself to sleep every night or anything like that (in fact, most of the stuff that brought tears to my eyes was happy stuff), I was just feeling things more intensely than I was used to. 
I tried to be very patient with myself during this time. I went around saying things like “Maybe this is just what I’m like now. That’s okay! I accept my feelings and am open to experiencing them fully.” Eventually I started to feel more normal, and I’m kind of relieved about that. Being pressed right up against everything I felt for that month wasn’t actually that terrible, but it was often uncomfortable.
So you had better believe that being at the Meflehs’ Easter party three days after getting back to Minneapolis was overwhelming, in the best possible way. During the party at least one stranger asked me “Are you crying?” and it was all I could do to nod and squeak “I just love this family so much!” If I could have managed more it would have been this: 
Over the course of the seven years that we’ve been friends, Camille’s family has become my second family. They are kind and funny and interesting and generous and warm and really just some of the most delightful people I know, and a fantastic example of what a family can be. I feel utterly privileged to have them in my life. View high resolution

Lebanese Stuff

The smartest thing I ever did in high school was make a Lebanese friend.” - something I wrote on this blog almost three years ago

This statement remains true. Thanks to Camille I’ve experienced: Lebanese Christmas, a Lebanese wedding party, the Taste of Lebanon Festival at the Maronite Catholic church her family attends, a bunch of family parties and dinners with wonderful Lebanese food, and, this year, for the first time, Lebanese Easter. I charmingly referred to it as “Lebaneaster” for the entire day, which must have been tiring for everyone who wasn’t me. 

Church isn’t really my thing — I make potato knishes and kugel from scratch, but am an atheist in all respects beyond Jewish food — but Lebanese church is great. I don’t understand half of what goes on, but I like the Arabic and the incense and the singing and the women’s outfits. Easter Mass is especially great because it involves a hydraulic tomb rising up in front of the altar, with smoke effects. 

Camille’s parents throw a big party after Easter Mass every year. Every party at the Mefleh house, and I think every Lebanese party in general, is a massive feast. This is what’s on my plate, clockwise from the left: tabbouleh, raw kibbeh, pita, asparagus, babaganoush, ouzi, and roasted lamb. (The only thing better than the food at a Lebanese party is the leftovers. I went home with about five times what you see here.)

Feelings

I went through a phase right after getting back to Minneapolis where my emotionality was temporarily jacked up to 11 thanks to the roller coaster of change I had just ridden (leaving my job, leaving friends, leaving the East Coast after 7 years, and so on). For about a month or so anything even slightly emotional was enough to bring me to tears. I wasn’t crying myself to sleep every night or anything like that (in fact, most of the stuff that brought tears to my eyes was happy stuff), I was just feeling things more intensely than I was used to.

I tried to be very patient with myself during this time. I went around saying things like “Maybe this is just what I’m like now. That’s okay! I accept my feelings and am open to experiencing them fully.” Eventually I started to feel more normal, and I’m kind of relieved about that. Being pressed right up against everything I felt for that month wasn’t actually that terrible, but it was often uncomfortable.

So you had better believe that being at the Meflehs’ Easter party three days after getting back to Minneapolis was overwhelming, in the best possible way. During the party at least one stranger asked me “Are you crying?” and it was all I could do to nod and squeak “I just love this family so much!” If I could have managed more it would have been this: 

Over the course of the seven years that we’ve been friends, Camille’s family has become my second family. They are kind and funny and interesting and generous and warm and really just some of the most delightful people I know, and a fantastic example of what a family can be. I feel utterly privileged to have them in my life.

Moving across the country and making major changes to your life is, at best, unsettling. I got to Minneapolis right before Easter, which meant that I was able to immediately throw myself into ambitious cooking projects with Camille. We spent about five hours making these macarons for her family’s Easter party. The pink ones are rose flavored cookies with a Bonne Maman raspberry jam filling, the green ones are mint cookies with a chocolate ganache filling, the orange ones are orange flavored cookies with an apricot Swiss meringue buttercream filling, and the yellow ones are lemon flavored cookies with a lemon Swiss meringue buttercream filling. We used Martha Stewart’s recipe for the cookies and did our own thing for the fillings. I loved all of them, but I loved the pinks and the oranges most. View high resolution

Moving across the country and making major changes to your life is, at best, unsettling. I got to Minneapolis right before Easter, which meant that I was able to immediately throw myself into ambitious cooking projects with Camille. We spent about five hours making these macarons for her family’s Easter party. The pink ones are rose flavored cookies with a Bonne Maman raspberry jam filling, the green ones are mint cookies with a chocolate ganache filling, the orange ones are orange flavored cookies with an apricot Swiss meringue buttercream filling, and the yellow ones are lemon flavored cookies with a lemon Swiss meringue buttercream filling. We used Martha Stewart’s recipe for the cookies and did our own thing for the fillings. I loved all of them, but I loved the pinks and the oranges most.

My first Culver’s experience took place when I was about 11 or 12, during a family reunion in my maternal grandmother’s hometown of Baraboo, WI. I’ve since eaten Culver’s on many road trips. There’s one right on University Avenue in St. Paul, but I never go there. Culver’s is for road trips, not for everyday life.

This particular Culver’s trip was the final stop in my drive from Baltimore to Minneapolis (or, if you’re being really specific, in my drive from Milwaukee to Minneapolis). I dipped the cheese curds in the vanilla custard, which was delicious, but I didn’t feel very well for about an hour or so after that.

If you listen to NPR at all you’ve probably heard the Roadfood people — Jane and Michael Stern — do a guest segment on The Splendid Table. (Or maybe you’re one of those people who listens to NPR but hates The Splendid Table. I’m not here to tell you how to feel about Lynn Rossetto Kasper. This isn’t about her.) For the past 40 years, the Sterns have been driving around the continental US, eating at little roadside diners and cafés, and writing about it. They’ve published a ton of books, written articles for publications like The New Yorker, Saveur, and Gourmet, and won a few James Beard awards.

The Sterns’ website allows you to search the collective knowledge base of the community they’ve amassed over the years. It’s an incredible resource, especially when you’re interested in quirky local food. I used it to research where I should stop and eat while driving from Baltimore to Minneapolis. It’s how I learned about the Polish food at Babushka’s Table in Independence, OH and also how I became convinced that I had to eat a butter burger at Solly’s Grille while I was in Milwaukee.

I’d had butter burgers at Culver’s before, but they were nothing like this. Solly’s butter burger is a sirloin patty (I got mine with cheese) topped with stewed onions and served on a bun that’s spread thick with Wisconsin butter. The burger is served cut in half, and the butter that hasn’t melted into the meat pools onto the plate. I could have eaten two.

I looked over the Sterns’ Wikipedia page before writing this post, and it reads (to me, at least) just like a fairytale. They met as grad students at Yale, got married, and, after working in film production and academia for a bit, got an advance from a publisher to travel the country by car, researching a book about American roadside food. Love, food, travel, creative partnership. They have it all! Then I got to the bottom of the page and learned that they divorced in 2008 and that Jane has "a little known but long-standing career as a tarot card reader." Sigh. The people you envy are actually unhappy and have weird, probably made up, hobbies. That’s life!