The best and the worst…

First I’d like to thank Chrissie for letting me off the hook to coming up with a new idea tonight. Since she asked three questions, I’ll do my best to take them one at a time. The first, and not just because I’m waiting for what’s cooking away in the stove is a response to (and I’m paraphrasing here) “the best and worst meal I ever ate.”

The best I’ve ever had makes it a bit of a loaded question as I’m not a foodie, per se. My tastes tend to run a bit towards the traditional. No surprise there I’m sure. I could tell you about the half dozen out of the way local crab houses on both sides of the Chesapeake between St. Mary’s County and Crisfield that are all in the running for best crab cakes and/or blue crabs I’ve ever had. I could tell you about a remarkable slice of beef served at the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. I could tell you about the world’s most perfect cheeseburger, french fries with brown gravy, and strawberry milkshake combination that came from the kitchen of a health code violating former county sheriff in my home town. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve had dreams about that one.

With all that said, the best meal I ever had was actually a regular occurrence throughout my formative years. The local chapter of the Loyal Order of Moose had a steak feed once a month. They packed people in shoulder to shoulder at paper covered tables and served us the biggest bowl of buffet-style house salad I’ve still ever seen in person, a t-bone steak, and a potato. It was a monthly staple. It wasn’t the best cut of steak I’ve ever had (although they weren’t bad), but it was the company that made the meal. Steak at the Moose was one of the few times you could count on the entire extended family being together in one place. That was before my grandparent’s generation passed and the whole thing split into warring camps, before a couple of decades of hurt feelings and animosity. I’ve had better meals purely in terms of technical excellence, but I’ve rarely dined in better or more entertaining company.

The worst meal? In a world full of really appalling fast food options that’s a little more difficult to pinpoint. The only one that really stands out in my mind is more because it’s a meal I regret than it was because the chow was bad. The award belongs to some long forgotten Ethiopian restaurant in Adams Morgan. I was a college freshman in the city on a school-sponsored trip to get us hillbillies some culture in the form of dinner and a show. I liked the show well enough – I think maybe it was Rent – but I wasn’t quite evolved enough just yet to appreciate the virtue of truly ethnic food. The flavors were strange, the service was different, and I wasn’t a fan of everyone around me just diving in with their bare hands and some spongy bread. Between the end of the meal and when the time the bus showed up to deliver us across town, I managed to get a get across the street and wolf down a quarter pounder… and that’s what and why it ranks as my worst meal even though it says far more about 18 year old me than it does about the quality of the food.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Yeah, it’s a day of thanks and all, but it’s still a Thursday and no matter how thankful we are, that’s no reason to just ignore the annoyances that continue to be so plentiful.

1. Federalized healthcare. I’m really starting to wonder when the powers that be are going to fess up that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been a cluster and push it back. From my reading, it’s a goat rope that hasn’t seemed to improve much over the last six weeks and doesn’t seem likely to improve much over the next six. I think a president who stepped back, admitted that his people screwed the pooch, and focused in on Launch 2.0 might actually earn himself some goodwill. But you know me, I’m a crazy optimist.

2. Appeasement. I know that Prime Minister Chamberlain, errr… President Obama is expecting “peace in our time” with Iran, but it feels a bit like we’re giving away the whole damned store and getting nothing to speak of in return. Time was “because we said so” was a perfectly reasonable approach to take with a belligerent nation whose stated foreign policy is to destroy the United States and our closest allies. I’m not sure I even recognize what’s passing for foreign policy these days. The world is a dangerous place and doesn’t get any less dangerous when we roll over and play dead on the important issues.

3. Food. So. Much. Food. I’ve never thought about bulimia, but there’s a first time for everything.

Sunday traditions…

As often as not, Sunday dinner at my grandparent’s house meant roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and all manner of home cooked food. While I may not have a dozen or more gathered around my table at 5PM on the dot, at least once a month, my house fills with the savory smell of roasting beef as I do my best to keep with tradition. Sure, I’ve made some tweaks to the recipes – I use more garlic than my grandmother would have ever dreamed of, for instance – but the underlying idea is still the same. Sunday dinner is important, if for no other reason than it’s a touchstone with the past.

While we’re on the topic of touching the past, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that this week’s posts from the archive are now available for your reading pleasure. Pulled into the present from the last half of June and July 2008, today’s posts are a bit more pithy than they’ve been in the last few weeks. They feature a few more explanations of some of the more colorful words and phrases that show up in my vocabulary from time to time. Get your dose of the archives soon, because from the look of things, in two months this particular Sunday tradition will be drawing to an end.

Blue…

Despite the head full of crud that’s had me spend the better part of the last two days relegated to the recliner with a box of tissues and more liquid than any one person should drink, I feel like I need to rally this morning long Blue Crabsenough to celebrate that most magical time of year – April 1st. Sure, it’s April Fools day and I’m told it’s baseball’s opening day this year, but it’s also marks a far more important milestone: The opening of blue crab season in Maryland.

Sure, you can get blue crabs from other parts of the country and they’re fine if you need an Old Bay fix in the dead of winter, but for a Marylander, there’s something special about the crabs landed here in our own bay, by our own watermen. For my money, there’s no better food in all the world than Maryland crabs. It’s one of those seemingly small features of home that I only really learned to appreciate after spending five years in the landlocked middle of the country where “crab picking” ment dealing flash frozen snow or king crab legs.

For me, the Maryland crab is the quintessential taste of long summer afternoons. A bushel of crabs, an iced case of Natty Boh, what could possibly be better? Happy crab season, everyone.

Fast food, but not really…

There was a time in my life before I found myself fully entrenched in the middle of the organizational quagmire that is the federal bureaucracy. During that time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of the many jobs I had was flipping burgers at the local McDonald’s. There’s a better than average chance I worked there with some of the people reading this post. Since I spent the better part of four years doing every job in the place from fry cook to cashier, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I can speak from experience, if not with authority on the issue.

If I remember my cheesy video training correctly, it’s considered bad form for a “guest” to wait in line for 35 minutes to place his order and get his food handed across the counter. Sure, if a couple of buses show up, it’s no unheard of, but for your standard lunchtime rush, it’s pretty much frowned upon. Especially when there are only seven people in the line in front of you. This isn’t rocket science after all. We’re putting pre-pattied portions of cooked meat on buns and deep frying potatoes until the buzzer rings for us to take them out and add salt. I’m pretty sure if I took of my tie and dug up my old apron, I could still show you how everything is done.

I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances. There almost always are. Even so, there’s never a really good reason for a burger joint to take more than half an hour to produce a regular menu item… especially when my only option for getting out of line at the point is elbowing my way through to the end or climbing over or under the stanchions. That’s just bad business and the only reason I’ll need to take my business next door whenever I feel the need for a greaseball cheeseburger.

Sunday is for soup…

Some people are domestic by nature. They seem to have a knack for cooking, cleaning, and general homemaking. And I’m not talking just about the chicks, either. Me, on the other hand, I’m domestic by necessity; because I like to eat, wear clean clothes, and not have three inches of dust covering every flat surface in the house. That last part might be more a symptom of OCD that domesticity, but that’s not my point.

A few days ago I was informed that I had a lot of “kitchen stuff”… for a guy. I’m still not exactly sure how to take that, so I’ve decided that I’ll just take it as a compliment and move on. The fact is, I like good food and that has ment that I had to learn to cook. I suspect eating out every night only has a certain charm for people that haven’t had the experience of doing it. By the time a guy has reached tentatively into his mid 30s, I don’t think it should be surprising that he has a vegetable peeler and a couple of oven mits, right? Regardless, I decided it was better for the time being to keep the food processor, vast collection of spices, and collection of cook books and recipes to myself for the time being.

If I’m in a confessional mood, I’ll tell you that I actually enjoy cooking when I have time to really do it. Savory items are really my speciality. Comfort food, if you will. It’s rarely fancy, but more often than not it turns out to be somewhere between edible and pretty tasty. With enough effort over the weekend, I can usually make it all the way to Wednesday just on leftovers. So unlike many of my Y-chromosomed brethren this morning, I’m not preparing for an afternoon of football. I’m prepping to tend to a large stockpot of soup. The perk of soup is that it’s hard to ruin and easy to fix if you do screw it up… and it gets better after sitting for a day or two. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go give some of my abundant “kitchen stuff” a workout… and then stash it back in the dark recesses of the kitchen cabinets before all my secrets are revealed.

Office food…

The top dog around here wandered into our office this afternoon and announced that he had descended from the 5th floor because he’d heard that we had pizza. Not only did we not have pizza, but we also didn’t have a clue what would make him think we did. As it turns out, the pizza was for an office on the other side of the building, but hey sir, it was nice seeing you. Realistically, I can understand his confusion. Our office eats. A lot. There’s always a pie or a cake or, strangely, a ham sitting in a conference room somewhere. I’ve never worked in an office that wasn’t run by some arm of the government, so I have no idea if it’s this way everywhere. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to assume that it is.

Maybe it’s just my own proclivity, but most of office food makes me nervous. I’m ok with the bagels and donuts that come from the nice shop down the street. It’s the stuff that people bring in from home that worries me. I mean how well do you really know that cranky old battleax that sits down the hall? Want to tell me the last time her kitchen counters got a good scrub? How many cats did she say she had again? You get the point. Let’s be brutally honest here, there’s a pretty good chance your coworkers can’t even make a good cup of coffee. I can’t think of any legitimately good reason I’d trust most of them to make lunch.

Sure, you say, but most restaurant kitchens are filthy too. But what I have with the restaurant that I don’t have with my coworkers is plausible deniability. Plausible deniability and a certificate from some local government inspector that says yeah it’s dirty, but not dirty enough to kill you. Probably. But come on, you’ve met the people you work with. What are the chances they’re not going to try to kill you?

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.