Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sometimes You Wanna Go...

Where everybody knows your name.


If you don't have the 'Cheers' theme song going through your head, then you need to go right now to The Google and find it and listen to it.

Today, let's discuss bars, pubs, watering holes, etc. etc.

Bars are often known for a special cocktail, cheap draws of beer, super-good bar food, a great Saturday night DJ, an excellent convivial atmosphere, or comfy bar seats.  Sometimes...a bar gets lucky and is all of the above on these things.  More often than not, though, the watering hole itself scores high in only a couple categories.

Enter The Gate House Restaurant.  Incidentally, my place of employment for the last three (and next three) months.

1. Special cocktail: Yes.  A whole list of specialty drinks are available, including fruity martinis and a pickled Bloody Mary.  Jesse (inventor of the island-famous BaderBomb), Chad, Emma, Shannon, and Dre know how to pour an excellent Tanqueray and Tonic or Vodka Soda for Yours Truly.

2. Cheap Draws of Beer: Yes.  $2 pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon...which is practically the nectar of the gods here in Northern Michigan, I guess.  So, it is possible to have a cheap drinking night.

3. Super-good bar food: Yes. Especially the late-night menu, when you're craving some grease, it's possible to get a plate of really kick-ass nachos (they should be, anyway, when Yours Truly is the one who's made the Queso Blanco, Black Bean Dip, Nacho Beef, Pico and Guacamole that goes on it).  In the picture above you'll see I'm personally enjoying the Caesar salad.  I have grown especially fond of it.  Romaine, tomatoes, croutons, roasted garlic cloves and oil, grated and shaved Parmesan, and anchovies on top...and Caesar dressing on the side.

4. Great Saturday night DJ: Yeah, sometimes.  My favorite nights are when the bands come in to play.  The Gate House does fun theme nights, like All-White or All-Black Night (everyone wears white or black), International Night, and Ladies' Night.  And, always, the music is playing.

5. Conviviality: Yes, but only because I'm a local.  The odds are always really good I'll bump into someone I know here...which then leads to a round of drinks and a catch-up on the week of work.  Also, the bartenders know the locals and are a bit more chatty as opposed to the business face they put on for the tourists.

6. Comfy bar seats: Not really.  Hard wooden, not padded.  There are definitely places in town that have more comfortable seats...but then again, why spend $$$ on nice seats when people will be falling out of them or spilling Pabst Blue Ribbon on them anyway?

This is my wind-down, go-to place.  Where people know me, and I know them.  I can have my Caesar salad with my Johnny Appleseed Hard Cider, and get on the Wi-Fi and check my Internets.  And nobody judges.  Internet don't blink out weirdly, and I get good cell service.

It's not much to ask for, really.  Where everybody knows my name....

Friday, July 25, 2014

If You Offer Heather a Pancake, She'll Order a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It was Wednesday.

I had the day off.

Stella’s brakes were shot and her back tire was flat.

After dropping the bike off at a repair shop, my watch said noon.  My stomach said lunch.

I ended up at the Pancake House.

How do you like the hard-boiled detective (a la Dragnet) narrative I’ve got going?  No?  Very well.

I am a big fan of breakfast.  No, wait...I am a big fan of breakfast at any time of the day.  And naturally, when I walked into The Pancake House at noon on a weekday, I assumed I’d be ordering breakfast.  I’d order the weirdest, more creative breakfast item on the menu.  That’s what I thought would happen, anyway, when I sat down and perused the menu. 

But, then I realized...breakfast at The Pancake House was, well, mundane.  Skillets, omelettes, and the like.  And honestly, I can get all that at Denny’s.

Plan B: Cheeseburger.  So, I’m looking down the list of burgers and sandwiches, and then, I see it: The Ultimate Grilled Cheese.  And I am super-intrigued.  Because there’s a lot of cojones that goes into the decision to put the word ‘ultimate’ in front of any food dish.

Three different kinds of cheese (Swiss, provolone, and Cheddar) melted between Parmesan-crusted rye bread.

Oh, be still, my cholesterol-clogged heart.

So I place my order and check out the environs while I wait.  The decor is retro-farmhouse...red and white gingham wallpaper dotted with cows, chickens, and old-school milk bottles, white wainscoting and chair rail, Formica tabletops, and the padded, metal-frame chairs popular in 50s-era diners.  It’s bright and clean and busy.  Waitstaff bustle about in red polos and khakis, and I can’t help but think staff uniforms could have been more creative for such a charming, cozy dining spot.

Eventually, I get my sandwich.  It looks pretty cool...except for the Ruffles-esque potato chips that come as the side.  Potato chips?!  Ugh.  Dammit.  Give me a unique coleslaw or German potato salad or sweet potato fries instead of potato chips. 

In many ways, the Ultimate Grilled Cheese missed the mark.  I loved the globby, melty cheesy inside...but the flavor of the rye completely dominated the cheese.  And while I like rye bread, that’s all I tasted.  A Dijon mustard or chipotle mayo would have gone a long way in balancing that strong flavor.  And I would have ordered extra to dip my plain-Jane chips in.

Nevertheless, I will probably try this place again.  After all, it is only one of two or three places on the island that offer breakfast.

And if you offer Heather breakfast, she’ll want to order pancakes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

All I Really Know...Really Sucks

I have begun to suspect that when I return home to Iowa in another three months...

Hey!  I'm about halfway done with this internship!  Whoohoo!


I will spend a lot of my welcome-back time fielding one of two questions:

1.  So.  What will you do now?

2.  What amazing stuff did you learn in Michigan?

And I anticipate my answers will be as follows:

1. I don't know.  Or, I'm still trying to figure that out!

2. I learned lots of little things, hard to describe unless I'm in a kitchen.

The fact of the matter is, I don't know what lies ahead for me.  I suspect that getting back into education is somewhere in my future...but that's a ways away.  I do know that I won't be making a career out of being a line cook, even though I have been gaining very valuable experience there.  However, I can't say I wouldn't work in a restaurant...because there's some very awesome restaurants out there I'd love to be a part of.

I also suspect that staying in my Population 11,000 ruralish hometown is unlikely.  And in fact, leaving the state altogether sometime in the future is possible as well.

Timing is everything.

My oldest son is 15 and will be a high-school sophomore (my god, when did this happen?).  He graduates in two years, followed by my daughter in another two years.  They don't want to be uprooted for their high school years, and I don't blame them.  By the time my daughter graduates, the youngest will be just getting ready for his high school years. THAT is probably the earliest possible time that we might move away from this town.

Unless...a great opportunity presents itself before then.  Then, I'd consider moving.

Then there is the leaving-friends-and-family thing.  Both sets of parents are within 45 minutes, and we have enjoyed grandparental involvement over the last (almost) decade.  And frankly, the parents aren't getting any younger, and at some point, medical issues will take center stage.  How we will take care of our parents if we live four states away?  Also, while our social lives certainly are not off the charts, we enjoy the company of two particularly wonderful families.  We have many things in common, and we are discovering new interests together.  It's very sad to think about giving that up and totally over somewhere new.

Yet, it is the somewhere new that is intriguing for me.  I have wanderlust, I admit it.  I want to go to and even live in so many different places; I'm not as attached to home as my husband is.  With the exception of the 18 years I lived here in this town when I was growing up, the nine years I've lived here with husband and kids is the longest stretch of time I've stayed put in one place.  And I've been feeling the pull as of late.

There's a lot to think about.  A lot to contemplate.  One would think someone who is almost forty years old would have this bullpucky figured out.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Have You Heard This One? Five Americans Walk Into Canada...

Today’s blog entry will not be endorsed by the American Heart Association or Michelle Obama.

Just so you know.

The common thread between this post and the last one is gravy.  I used to think it was strictly an American thing, and that we had a fetish for covering our food with a starchy, meaty sauce.

But nope, turns out Canada’s been riding (and rocking) the gravy train for way longer than we have...but they do it with a lot more panache and pride than we do.

When Brent and the kids were visiting a couple of weeks ago, we decided to take a trip into Canada.  Why?  Because it was less than an hour away.  And because it’s a different country.  Miles became kilometers, the price of gas per gallon became the price per liter, Spanish translation of English signage became French translation.  Also, on two separate occasions we saw parents on bikes hauling their small children in wagon-looking contraptions...a sight you’d never see in safety-law-laden America.

Among other things, Canada is the original home of poutine.  Or, as Brent spells it: puteen.  Poutine is a slap-you-in-your-mouth, straight up heart attack...but it’s okay, because you know exactly what you’re signing up for.  Hell, when you got a dish in front of you that goes like this: French fries, cheese curds, gravy, and whatever special topping you’ve dreamed up, you just know you’re about to die from cholesterol overload.  And it’s totally cool, because you’re freaking owning it. 

We drove past Smoke’s Poutinerie (a freaking cool name for a place that sells poutine) as we were looking for another place to eat in Sault Ste. Marie.  Thankfully, my husband and kids are all good-natured, culinary-minded folk, and were willing to take chance.  It was a very successful gamble.

The base foundation of the poutine dishes at Smoke’s is French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.  Then, a plethora of add-on choices were available.  Kirby tried the special of the day: Samosa Poutine.  I had the Pulled Pork Poutine.  Brent went with the Nacho Poutine.  Spencer did a Bacon-Chili Poutine, and Elliot rocked a Bacon Cheeseburger Poutine.

My Pulled Pork
Kirby's Samosa
Spencer's Bacon-Chili Thing

Yeah. You’re seeing the pattern here, right? Not heart-healthy fare.  But...you already know that going in.  No delusions equals no guilt.  Well, maybe, a smidge of guilt, but you’re on vacation so who cares?

I’m surprised, honestly, that poutine is not a little more popular here in the US.  It’s got everything we love in excess...fries, gravy, and cheese.   

I’d consider open a poutine restaurant in my hometown, but I’m pretty sure it would not be Blue Zones-endorsed.  And Mrs. Obama would not like it at all.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pasties: The All-in-One Convenience Food

To me, pasty has to be one of the funniest words in the English language.  Say it with a long ‘a’ sound (pay-stee), and you get an adjective that describes most Midwestern complexions from November through April.  In another context, a pasty, pronounced the same as above, is a noun that describes the decorative adhesive bit strippers cover their nipples with.

Hahaha.  See how funny that is?

Now, say the word with a short ‘a’ sound (past-ee).  The first thing that might come to mind, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, are the Pumpkin Pastie goodies served on the Hogwarts Express.  They’re never really described fully, so one just assumes they are a yummy, sweet, confectionary pastry.  And the second thing that comes to mind, which will probably be the first thing if you’re from Northern Michigan, is the delicious meat-and-veg concoction wrapped in a pastry shell.

Pasty restaurants are in abundance here Up North.  From what information I can gather, a pasty is originally a British thing...particularly from the region of the country called Cornwall (way southwestern county of England).  I guess, as history has it, miners’ wives would bake up these meat and vegetable loaves and wrap them in a thin sheet of pastry dough (not sweet dough, though).  Then, they’d bake them and wrap the finished pasty in sheets of cloth or newspaper before sending them off with their hard-working menfolk.

Five hours later...these blue-collar menfolk would unearth their carefully prepared pasties just in time for lunch.  And then guess what?  The pasties would still be warm and yummy and filling.  It’d be like us today nuking a burrito at the gas station...except less cool because we’d burn our mouths if we tried eating the burrito right away.

And, then for probably some reason related to Pasty Persecution, those Cornwall folk made their way to America.  And they brought their pasties with them!  Typically pasties are served with gravy, but I don’t know if that was a Cornwall original or a New World thing.  Maybe it was the Canadians?  See a later post on poutine.  Anyway, the resourcefulness of such a foodstuff is obvious.  Who cares, really, what kind of meat the wives used?  It was cooked down into a loaf anyway...with some carrots, potatoes, rutabagas - whatever was on hand.  And then it’s wrapped in a yummy doughy shell...like below.

Courtesy of Millie's On Main, Mackinac Island, MI

 If those miners didn’t sing Yippee-High-Skippy-Ho-It’s-Off-To-Work-We-Go with such a delicious lunchtime treat in their hands, then I just don’t know what.

Naturally, when the family came to visit me here on the island, having a pasty was on top of the culinary list.  For the most part, we all enjoyed it...

Hunt's Pasties in Mackinaw City, MI

Elliot said later he did overdid it on the gravy.  Alas.
I will say that I wasn’t overawed by the blandish conglomeration of seasoned meat and vegetable.  However, there is some phenomenal potential for awesomeness here.  The question is not How To Make the Original Pasty Better? but What Cool Stuff Can I Wrap a Pasty Shell Around?

I have this strange feeling there will be a Pasty Party at my house when I get home.  Pasty-complexioned people wearing pasties will be most welcome.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events

...that I would like to get forget about forever and ever and ever.

It is my hope that I've been missed here at 'Be Food', and that you've all been maintaining a midnight vigil until my return...but I suppose that would be too much to ask.

Where do I begin to explain where the hell I've been the last month-plus?

Well, I'm not sure if I ever said here, but I was struck mad by some kind of cold-swollen throat virus sometime mid-to-late May.  I felt so poorly that I actually went to the island medical center...where I was told that I would just have to wait it out and keep taking over the counter medications to assuage the pain.

Pssht.  I should have just called my mom.  She would have said the same thing, and I wouldn't have had to pay for it.  Or rather, my insurance.

 For three days in a row after this, I slogged my way through work (thankfully we weren't terrifically busy yet), and then I came straight home, guzzled an adult amount of Nyquil, and slept until the next morning (kind of like in a regenerative Wolverine-esque fashion).  And after about a week and a half, I was finally on the mend.  Just in time for the beginning of the month of June.

Then, I started having laptop issues.  Like, I'd reboot in the morning, and I'd get a blank white screen instead my icons and information.  Some feverish texting happened between the husband and I...I tried this suggested tip and that strategy and nothing brought my laptop back into a state of viability.  I finally unplugged the piece and let it sit until Brent could look at it further for me (during a vacation visit in late June). 

In the midst of all this, I was "impelled" to move to a different room here at the housing complex I live in.   Let's just say that my move was due to an infestation...of the crawling parasitic type.  About a week after I'd gotten over my illness, I began to notice itchy spots on random parts of my body.  I didn't think much of it at first, because it's happened at home, too...wayward spiders creeping on me while I sleep, you know?  But the itching persisted, so I bought some Raid and fumigated my entire room.  On a whim, I removed all my bedsheets and sprayed the bed down, and that's when I saw the critters.

Anyone who knows me well (really well, that is) knows that this type of incident is like my worst nightmare come true.  It is my kryptonite, my Achilles' heel.  Give me heights, snakes, spiders any day of the week...but put me in a closed room with filthy microscopic blood-sucking parasites (ticks, mites, lice, bedbugs), and I will go irrationally freakout-batshit crazy.

Anyway, I informed the manager of the complex, and I was promptly moved to a new room.  And it was luxe...double (maybe triple) the size of my old room, my own bathroom, nice big closet space, AND a kitchenette.  However...dreams only last for so long.  A week and a half later, my old room had been seriously stripped down and fumigated and ready for my re-inhabitation.  Welcome back, welcome back, welcome baaaaack.

So, that left the laptop issue.  Two weeks ago, while Brent and the kids were here, we made plans to take the gadget to Petoskey, MI, to an Mac repair place...when lo and behold, the first time Brent powered it on, it worked like nothing was wrong with it.  Remember, it had been unplugged for two weeks (during which time I'd had no access to this blog)!  So, the trip to the repair place was nixed, and i'llbedamned if the laptop didn't start misbehaving again after that.  Well, the trip to Petoskey was not feasible for another week, but eventually we got it there, and my laptop was finally fixed and restored and returned to me on the Fourth of July. 

Happy Birthday, America!

Supposedly, that which does not kill us makes us stronger.  And I suppose that's true.  But I can't help feeling there was quite a bit of burden heaped upon my shoulders in a short space of time...and ultimately, that made me cranky and want to go home really bad.  But since I won't be doing that anytime soon, let it suffice for me to say that I have lots to tell you, enough for several catch-up blog posts...not to mention pictures!  Stay tuned.